MLS playoff focus: Notes on Houston Dynamo ahead of Wednesday’s second leg at New York

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  • Ridiculously busy days for the Dynamo

The last two weeks have been an absolute whirlwind for Dominic Kinnear’s men. Most likely, a physically taxing one, too.

On Oct. 24 they were in Central America, falling in Champions League action to Panama’s Arabe Unido. Then they traveled …

On Oct. 27, they fought their way into the post-season by winning at D.C. United. Then they traveled …

Four nights later, on Oct. 31, they cruised past Montreal in a 3-0 elimination match win over the visitors from Canada. Keep in mind, that was three consecutive “elimination” matches. That’s a lot of mental stress and required focus. …

Three days later, last Sunday, they were on the field again in that 2-2 draw with New York. That second half rally was certainly something else, but it’s also fair to wonder how much that took out of the Dynamo, who may not have a bunch in the tank anyway. …

Now, just three days after that, Kinnear’s crew will be playing its fifth match in 14 days (with four lengthy plane trips). Let that sink in.

  • Penalty kick appeal at the end Sunday

The series looks different thanks to Ricardo Salazar’s choice to eject Jamison Olave in the 65th minute Sunday.

It was the right call. Olave was late. His tackle was from behind, reckless and potentially injurious. Furthermore, it was absolutely unnecessary (not that Salazar should factor that part … just saying.)

So perhaps the man in the middle would have been more inclined to whistle the late penalty kick appeal, as center back Ibrahim Sekagya clattered into Houston striker Omar Cummings from behind a step inside the penalty area. How different would we all feel about this series if Houston could play for the draw?

(MORE: Preview of Wednesday’s match at Red Bull Arena)

  • Ricardo Clark rising

Is there a Houston Dynamo man playing better right now that center midfielder Ricardo Clark?

Admittedly, no one will ever confuse the Dynamo’s rangy midfielder, better suited for a holding role, for a pass-master of Andres Iniesta quality. But he’s doing some creating work in the middle lately, playing slightly further forward than fellow Dynamo central midfielder Warren Creavalle. He supplied some tricky stuff in the team’s 3-0 win over Montreal and then provided a lot of gritty drive as the home team rallied Sunday to make up a two-goal deficit.

Clark probably gets a little more room in midfield because the man to his right, Boniek Garcia, gets so much defensive attention, drawing the second and third defender by taking on the first opposition arrival.

  • Omar Cummings off the bench

The Dynamo may have something in the ability to bring Omar Cummings off the bench. The former, longtime Colorado Rapids striker hasn’t put much of an imprint on his first Dynamo season, with much of the year spent still in injury recovery. But he did change the game Sunday upon his introduction for Giles Barnes.

Awareness of his speed may have prompted Olave to lunge into that telling tackle (the red card), which changed this series in an instant. Cummings may have drawn that penalty kick (see the item above) and then he did find some room to poke in that stoppage time equalizer.

Kinnear seems likely to stick with Barnes to start, but look for Cummings around the 60th minute once again, depending on the situation.

  • Better set-piece service from Davis ahead?

Davis’ service on restarts wasn’t consistent Sunday, probably having something to do with the short grass at BBVA Compass Stadium, where the fall weather has erased the regional growing season.

Players on both sides commented on the fast field, and it’s difficult to hit a precise restart when there’s no room to get beneath the ball just a bit.

The Dynamo has been dangerous on corner kicks and free kicks for so long, in large part, because Davis can reliably hit balls into the near post, far post or directly on top of the primary aiming point at the top of the six-yard box.

MLS: NYCFC beat TFC in new coach Torrent’s debut

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NEW YORK (AP) — Jo Inge Berget scored twice and coach Domenec Torrent celebrated his New York City FC debut with a 2-1 victory over Toronto FC on Sunday.

Berget made it 2-1 in the 68th minute, following Maximiliano Moralez’s direct pass up the right channel and slotting it home.

NYCFC (9-3-4) tied it at 1 in the 51st minute on Berget’s back heel from the top of the 6-yard box.

Víctor Vazquez opened the scoring for Toronto (4-8-3) in the 37th minute. Vasquez outran his defender on Auro’s long ball up the right side and sent a chip shot over the onrushing goalkeeper.

NYCFC’s David Villa left the game in the 28th minute with a non-contact injury.

Torrent replaced Patrick Vieira in New York shortly after Vieira’s departure for OGC Nice was officially confirmed. Torrent had been the right-hand man to Pep Guardiola for the last 11 years, most recently at Manchester City.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 12 — Time to settle Groups A & B

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Day 12 of the 2018 World Cup is up next, on Monday, and with it begins the final round of group games to decide the 16 teams headed to the knockout rounds. For the next four days, we’ll be treated to four games each day.

Also, the end of 8 a.m. ET kickoffs. Hooray for sleeping in.

[ SCENARIOS: Who needs what, to finish where, in final round of group games ]

First up, the conclusion of Group A, where both the hosts, Russia, and Uruguay have already advanced with wins in their first two games. Now, the two meet in the southwestern city of Samara to determine who’ll go through to the round of 16 as the group winners, and who’ll be the runners-up. Most likely awaiting either of them will be Spain and Portugal, pending the order in which they finish in Group B.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

Speaking of Group B, Spain will finish group play against fourth-place and points-less Morocco, while Portugal have a tricky meeting with third-place Iran, who sit just a point behind the reigning European champions. The winner of Group B will face the runners-up of Group A, and vice versa.

Below is Monday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Monday, June 25

Group A
Uruguay vs. Russia: Samara, 10 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Saudi Arabia vs. Egypt: Volgograd, 10 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group B
Spain vs. Morocco: Kaliningrad, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Iran vs. Portugal: Saransk, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Transfer rumor roundup: Emery raiding Sevilla; Wilshere’s suitor(s)

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Unai Emery has reportedly been in contact with at least one former player, Ever Banega, in an attempt to convince the Argentine midfielder to join him at Arsenal.

[ MORE: Latest transfer news

Banega, who’ll turn 30 on Friday, played two seasons under Emery at Sevilla — where they won back-to-back Europa League titles (Banega was only at the club for the second and third of three straight from 2013-2016).

With Banega reportedly on the fence about whether or not to leave Sevilla again — he only just returned last summer after one season at Inter Milan — Emery is said to have made a personal call after Arsenal’s bid of roughly $23 million triggered the release clause in Banega’s contract. Sevilla will join Arsenal in the Europa League next season after finishing seventh in La Liga.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Jack Wilshere announced last week that he will leave Arsenal this summer — thus opening up the handful of games for which he was healthy and fit to play each season, perhaps for Banega — which leads us nicely to the final bit of transfer talk for Sunday: West Ham are interested in the 26-year-old, but are reportedly only willing to offer him a one-year contract.

The Hammers’ hesitancy is, of course, a response to his years-long battle with injuries — he’s made just 66 appearances over the last four PL seasons (three with Arsenal, one on loan to Bournemouth).

Two other clubs to keep an eye on, as they’ve reportedly indicated interest in Wilshere and/or been in contact already: Everton and Juventus.

Durmaz condemns Sweden fans’ racist abuse after World Cup loss

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KRASNODAR, Russia (AP) — Sweden midfielder Jimmy Durmaz says the racist abuse aimed at him over social media following the 2-1 loss to Germany at the World Cup has been “completely unacceptable.”

[ SCENARIOS: Who needs what, to finish where, in final round of group games ]

After coming on as a substitute, Durmaz gave away the free kick that led to Toni Kroos curling in an injury-time winner in Saturday’s group game. Durmaz has since been subjected to online abuse, including threats to his family.

Before a training session on Sunday, Durmaz — standing in front of the rest of the Sweden squad and beside coach Janne Andersson — read out a statement to the media from a mobile phone.

“When you threaten me, when you call me ‘Arab devil,’ ‘terrorist,’ ‘Taliban,’ then you have gone far beyond the limit,” Durmaz said in the statement, which was published on the Swedish Football Association’s website.

“And even worse, when you go after my family, my children, threaten them. Who does such a thing? It is completely unacceptable.”

Durmaz was born in Sweden to Assyrian parents who emigrated from Turkey.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“I am Swedish and I am proud to play in the Swedish national team. That’s the biggest thing you can do as a football player,” he said in the statement. “I will never let any racists destroy that pride. We must all stand against all forms of racism.”

The Swedish FA has reported the abuse toward Durmaz to police.

“We do not tolerate a player being exposed to threats and violations,” said Hakan Sjostrand, secretary general of the Swedish FA. “It is unpleasant and very upsetting to see the treatment that Jimmy Durmaz has suffered. Completely unacceptable.”

The loss to Germany left Sweden tied on three points with its opponent. Both countries are three points behind Mexico with one game left. Sweden plays Mexico in Yekaterinburg on Wednesday, with Germany taking on South Korea at the same time.