MLS Playoff Focus: Notes on Montreal ahead of Thursday’s meeting with Houston

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Ahead of Thursday’s single elimination playoff between Houston and Montreal, here are the most-knows about the visiting Impact ahead of the 8:30 p.m. ET kickoff (NBCSN):

  • Marco Di Vaio’s special season

The Impact’s last time on the field turned into the hated double bummer; Les Bleus fell to Toronto while watching striker Marco Di Vaio fail to claim the Golden Boot, never mind his sparkling 20-goal season. The 37-year-old striker wandered into final weekend soccer level with Mike Magee for league leadership. Magee scored, Vancouver’s Camilo scored even more and, well … Di Vaio did not.

Still,, what a season. Remember, 20-goal campaigns remain rare in MLS, still a significant benchmark. There were just 10 previous instances through 17 MLS seasons.

  • Alessandro Nesta is out

You could probably make some case that Marco Schallibaum’s team is better without the veteran Italian – although it would be something of a stretch.

Nesta’s foot speed just isn’t what it was previously during all those years at Lazio, Milan and with the Italian national team. (Truly, the man was one of the defensive giants of a land that appreciates defenders like it appreciates carefully crafted pasta.) So, he tends to get exposed when caught one-on-one against younger, faster types.

But again, it’s a case that looks like small noodles to me. Because Nesta’s positioning and anticipation is so good that he’s an expert at avoiding those situations. Plus, neither Houston striker, Will Bruin nor Giles Barnes, is particularly fast.

Besides, a guy with 78 caps for Italy and a World Cup winner’s medal (2006) … yeah, you want him on the field. Nesta is out with a calf injury. Young backup Wandrille Lefevre or possibly outside back Hassoun Camara will be the likely replacement at center back.

  • Backing into the playoffs

Clearly, everyone around camp Les Bleus would feel better about things if the Impact had won last weekend at Toronto, claiming their spot with a winning authority rather than backing in because Chicago got clobbered at Red Bull Arena.

The Impact concluded their second MLS campaign with a 1-0 loss at Canadian rival Toronto.

“We were disappointed,” Hassoun Camara told MLSSoccer.com. “Everyone knows it was an important game for us and we wanted to show that we are a playoff team. It’s hard to deal with that.”

  • Last time in Houston? Not that bad

Yes, the Impact’s recent skid included a 1-0 loss earlier this month at Houston. But this was far from a run-away, and the Impact improved considerably and even pressed Houston at times once Andrew Wenger came in for the final half hour.

Where Montreal lost the game was in midfield, where orange-clad Boniek Garcia, Warren Creavalle and Ricardo Clark were simply better than the visitors’ men in the middle third. Then again, Montreal was missing its main man in the center, Patrice Bernier.

So while the Impact’s 4-9-4 record away from Stade Saputo isn’t anything to shout about, they don’t have the very worst of memories of walking down that ramp at BBVA.

  • Choices in the Impact midfield

There are lots of edges that point to Houston, so it seems important for Les Bleus manager Marco Schallibaum to get his lineup absolutely right. Health and fitness will probably dictate the back line choices, but the Swiss manager does have options in midfield.

Veterans Justin Mapp (who was having a great season prior to the club’s fall dip) and Davy Arnaud look set on the outside. Arnaud is from Texas (not far from Houston, in Nederland), so this contest is extra special to him.

The real choice will be at attacking midfielder, where the decision is pretty much down to Wenger or Felipe Martins. Martins is the more creative and skillful, but he hasn’t been great lately – one of the reasons Montreal was shut out in four of its last five matches. (Then again, no one in Impact blue has done well lately except perhaps for Di Vaio.)

Wenger is more physical, and while the current Dynamo version doesn’t pack the physical punch of past teams in orange, playoff games against Houston will always have a certain bump and grind about them.

(More on MLS playoffs: Previewing Montreal Impact at Houston Dynamo)

Nguyen, Rossi help LAFC beat the Rapids 2-0

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LOS ANGELES (AP) Lee Nguyen and Diego Rossi each scored in the second half to help Los Angeles FC beat the Colorado Rapids 2-0 on Sunday night.

Nguyen scored the opener for LAFC (12-7-6) in the 49th minute, gathering Jack Price’s attempted clearance back into the area, rolling it back with his right foot to evade a defender and spinning around to create an opening for a left-footed finish.

[READ: Josef Martinez scores 27th goal of season]

In the 80th minute, Diego Rossi took Adama Diomande‘s back-heel flick just past midfield, dribbled it up the right side and finished his eighth goal of the season past goalkeeper Tim Howard.

The Rapids (6-13-6) had their three-game unbeaten streak snapped.

With the win, LAFC moved into a tie for second place in the Western Conference standings with Sporting Kansas City as both teams are on 42 points, just three behind first-place FC Dallas. LAFC also has a four-point gap above RSL in fourth place.

The Rapids meanwhile, averaging less than a point per game, sit in second-to-last place in the standings.

Ronaldo’s Juventus debut ends with goalkeeper in hospital

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MILAN (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo’s Serie A debut was marked not by a goal but by accidentally putting the opposing team’s goalkeeper in hospital.

With the score locked at 2-2 late on in Juventus’ match at Chievo Verona, Ronaldo collided with Stefano Sorrentino in a chaotic penalty area.

[ MORE: Juventus win on Ronaldo’s goal-less debut; Napoli chasing again ]

Sorrentino was knocked out cold briefly and there were an anxious few minutes as he received immediate treatment before being substituted.

The 39-year-old goalkeeper was immediately taken to the hospital and released on Sunday morning with a fractured nose, bruising to his left shoulder and whiplash.

Sorrentino was able to joke about the incident, posting a photo on Twitter with the caption: “Thanks for your messages of support, affection and esteem. We are a fantastic group and yesterday we almost achieved the feat: while CR7 got me in full!”

He also later revealed on the social media site that Ronaldo had been in touch: “I received a message of support and wishing me a speedy recovery from Cristiano Ronaldo. Thanks legend!”

[ MORE: Edin Dzeko starts Roma off right with stunning winner ]

Sorrentino pulled off several fine saves to deny Ronaldo and his Juventus teammates – although Chievo went on to lose the match 3-2 following Federico Bernardeschi’s stoppage-time winner.

“Before coming onto the pitch I told myself I would have to try to stop him in every way possible,” Sorrentino said on Italian television. “I did that in the real sense of the word.”

During the commotion Juventus was awarded a goal using goal-line technology, then it was disallowed a few minutes later on video review.

[ MORE: Lazio ultras want to ban women from “sacred space” in stadium ]

Paulo Dybala and Giorgio Chiellini celebrated when the goal was given, causing widespread outrage as Sorrentino was still receiving urgent treatment.

“Paulo wrote to me, apologizing because he hadn’t realized the seriousness of the situation and he was celebrating for a goal that I didn’t even know I had conceded,” Sorrentino said.

DCU win again, look like genuine playoff contenders

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The game in 200 words (or less): No individual — other than Ben Olsen, perhaps — has benefitted from the arrival of Wayne Rooney at D.C. United more so than Luciano Acosta. Through his first 82 games in MLS, Acosta managed to rack up nine goals and 23 assists — a healthy enough haul considering the lack of quality around him since day one in 2016. Still, the frustration and unhappiness were plain to see, every time the Argentine playmaker’s teammates weren’t able to link up or finish one of his brilliant through balls. In United’s last five games (Acosta has played 438 of 450 minutes), including Sunday’s 2-0 win over the 10-man New England Revolution: four goals and three assists. Of course, United, as a whole, have benefitted greatly, too. Their record in Rooney’s eight games: 5W-1D-2L (prior to his debut, the Black and Red won just two of 14 games). Olsen and Co., have risen from last place in the Eastern Conference and reach the dizzying heights of eighth place, where they are now just six points back of fifth and sixth place — a de facto impossibility just a month ago, when they had just 10 points to their name and were 13 off the pace of sixth.

[ MORE: Josef Martinez ties MLS record with 27th goal in 2018 ]

Three moments that mattered

13′ — Acosta finishes with aplomb at the back post — The three Revs defenders, who let the ball run across the face of goal without making any attempt to play or clear it, could have done just about anything else and it would have been preferable to what they did.

73′ — Caldwell gets a second yellow, Revs down to 10 — Scott Caldwell didn’t need to run into Junior Moreno a full second or two after the ball was away, but he did so anyway. No advantage to gain from the “challenge,” and Caldwell’s teammates had to finish the game a man short.

89′ — Stieber gets in behind, makes it 2-0 — Rooney had skied a nearly identical chance just seconds earlier, leaving it up to Zoltan Stieber to put the game to bed.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Luciano Acosta

Goalscorers: Acosta (13′), Stieber (89′)

Lazio ultras want to ban women from “sacred space” in stadium

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ROME (AP) Lazio’s “ultra” fans have caused outrage by telling women to avoid their “sacred space” in the club’s Stadio Olimpico.

The die-hard supporters distributed flyers ahead of their team’s Serie A opener at home to Napoli.

[ MORE: Juventus win on Ronaldo’s goal-less debut; Napoli chasing again ]

“The Curva Nord represents for us a sacred space, an environment with an unwritten code to be respected,” read the flyer. “The first few rows, as always, have been experienced like the trenches. In the trenches, we do not allow women, wives and girlfriends, so we invite them to position themselves from the 10th row back.

“Those who choose the stadium as an alternative to a carefree and romantic day in (Rome’s) Villa Borghese (gardens), should go to other sections.”

Lazio spokesman Arturo Diaconale told Italian news agency Ansa on Sunday that “it is not the position of the club, we are against any discrimination.”

He added: “Moreover, there is an enormous number of Lazio fans, this instead is an initiative from a few fans. We can’t always intervene to avoid politically incorrect displays like this.”

[ MORE: Edin Dzeko starts Roma off right with stunning winner ]

Some Lazio fans caused outrage last season when they littered the Stadio Olimpico in Rome with images of Anne Frank — the young diarist who died in the Holocaust — wearing a jersey of city rival Roma. Lazio was fined $63,000 by the Italian soccer federation because of the anti-Semitism displayed by the team’s fans.

It was the latest in a series of racist and anti-Semitic incidents, with Lazio previously having its stadium fully or partly closed for European and domestic matches as punishment.