Inside Look, MLS Cup Playoffs: How Revs, Galaxy built very different one-goal leads

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Upon first glance at Sunday’s MLS scoreboard, you’ll find two teams — the New England Revolution and LA Galaxy — who hold similar one-goal advantages over the New York Red Bulls and Seattle Sounders in their respective conference championship series. The margin of victory is, however, where the similarities stop with regard to these title deciders at the halfway point.

First things first, the Revolution took control of their series with a 2-1 win at Red Bull Arena, meaning they now possess two all important away goals as they head home for the second leg next Saturday (Watch live on NBCSN and online via Live Extra, 3 pm ET), while the Galaxy’s 1-0 home win leaves them considerably less room for error in next Sunday’s decisive second leg (9 pm ET).

Furthermore, the Revs and Galaxy went about building their very different one-goal leads in very different ways.


 

Jay Heaps‘ Revolution side used a heavy dose of early high-pressure to force Mike Petke‘s men into early error after early error. Much like was the case with the Columbus Crew in the conference semifinals, the Red Bulls’ backline wasn’t prepared — and more importantly, capable — of keeping their heads and retaining possession under duress.

While neither of the Revs’ goals came as a direct result from this high press, the chaos inside the Red Bulls’ half of the field did two things: 1) Eric Alexander and Dax McCarty became very disconnected in the center of midfield, forcing the standout pair into lots of sideways and backwards passes; 2) Thierry Henry found himself doing the same down the left wing, stranding Bradley Wright-Phillips all alone on an island for much of the afternoon.

[ RELATED: Despite artificial turf, Henry says he’ll make Gillette Stadium debut next week ]

Also, Lee Nguyen is the man. His mere presence 25 yards from goal made Alexander reluctant to shade Teal Bunbury‘s side of the field on the game’s opening goal (directly below video). That’s a minor thing. His role in the second — and game-winning — goal, however, wasn’t minor. Here we see the MLS MVP finalist carry the ball 30 yards straight up the center of the field and thread a perfect through-ball to Bunbury which ends up at the feet of Jermaine Jones on the goal’s doorstep.

McCarty is stranded up field and substitute midfielder Tim Cahill — why, Petke? — is nowhere to be found in the center of the park. It’s a complete breakdown in the Red Bulls midfield, and probably one that will end their season a week earlier than they hoped.


 

source: Getty ImagesFirst of all, the Sounders did a fantastic job of funneling everything to Landon Donovan and Stefan Ishizaki very wide 30 yards from goal and in. Without Osvaldo Alonso available (hamstring strain), Sigi Schmid‘s gameplan — have all of the middle third you want, but we’re going to push you wide and into hopeful crosses all game long — was a very good one.

Chad Marshall will win aerial duels against any forward in the world for 90, 180 or 9,000 minutes if you ask him to. It wasn’t until the second half when the midfield, following wave after wave of attacking pressure and a sense of urgency from the Sounders, finally opened up a bit.

A one-goal deficit is hardly enough to worry the Sounders, scorer of 65 goals during the 34-game regular season. In 2014, they were best only by — you guessed it — the Galaxy, which makes their shorthanded stifling of the Galaxy’s potent attack all the more impressive and valuable.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s 2014 MLS Cup Playoffs coverage | PST on Twitter ]

Gyasi Zardes‘ struggles in front of goal continued, going a seventh straight game without scoring, but the 23-year-old remained dangerous throughout and provided some very good hold-up play to bring Keane into the attack in rare instance of Sounders attacks.

The Galaxy won’t drop 10 men behind the ball and defend for dear life in the second leg, but they’ll allow the Sounders to control the game and hope for one or two chances on the break when they open themselves up a bit too much. No team in MLS is better at finding that happy balance.

Brazilian player Taison banned in Ukraine for response to racism

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) Brazilian player Taison has been banned for one game for his reaction to racist abuse in a Ukrainian league game.

The Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder showed his middle finger to Dynamo Kyiv fans who had abused him with monkey chants and kicked the ball into the stands during a game Nov. 10. Taison was shown a red card.

[ MORE: Mou says Spurs can win the PL next season ]

The Ukrainian Football Association ordered Taison to serve a one-game ban plus a suspended two-game ban.

Dynamo has been fined 500,000 hryvnyas ($20,000) and ordered to play one game behind closed doors. Another one-game sanction is suspended.

World players’ union FIFPro says “sanctioning a victim of racial abuse is beyond comprehension and it plays into the hands of those who promote this kind of disgraceful behavior.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Top Premier League storylines: Week 13

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Yes, Jose Mourinho is back in the Premier League and, sure, both Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manuel Pellegrini are in managerial hot seats, but is there any match more intriguing than Man City and Chelsea squaring off with the knowledge that a bad outcome could see them double digits out of first?

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ] 

Below we take a look at the key storylines to keep an eye on across the PL this weekend.


The Jose Mourinho Era begins against a familiar foe

  • West Ham v. Tottenham Hotspur — Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN

Manuel Pellegrini and Jose Mourinho have matched wits many times, which could help the former in his bid to get ready for a rankled Spurs side to kickstart the Premier League weekend.

Mourinho has only matched up with six managers more than Pellegrini in his career, and boasts a 7W-3D-4L record. Can he quickly get Spurs put together for a visit to a desperate Irons side.


Chelsea, Man City put slim title hopes on the line

  • Manchester City v. Chelsea — Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC

Both Pep Guardiola‘s City and Frank Lampard‘s Chelsea have lost to Liverpool, meaning their chances to directly affect the Reds’ title hopes are limited. Matches like this one are the ones that get the Reds salivating, in fact, knowing that only one team can snare three points.

City enters the day nine points back of first and a point behind Chelsea and Leicester City. The Top Four race sure looks clear cut right now — the chasing pack is eight points behind fourth — but failure to win on Saturday will likely leave either side double-digit points back of first.


Knock off the Red Devils? Wilder things have happened

  • Sheffield United v. Manchester United — Sunday, 11:30 p.m. ET, on NBCSN

Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder has the newly-promoted side in fifth place on the table, one point better than his celebrated visitors. The Blades will sit no worse than five points back of the Top Four if they can beat Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s Red Devils, adding another big name to a season of results which already includes a defeat of Arsenal and draws against Chelsea and Spurs. United is still without Paul Pogba and now will also miss Scott McTominay. Another upset brewing?


Reds hope to get back to business as usual in title fight

  • Crystal Palace v. Liverpool — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

A week removed from a glitzy show against Man City, Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds now visit a Palace side who is probably getting sick of facing the Premier League’s best. Roy Hodgson‘s table rise has been stunted by a four-match winless run that includes 2-0 losses to Man City, Leicester City, and Chelsea to go with a 2-2 draw against Arsenal.

A Liverpool win will boost it clearer of Man City and/or Chelsea, as the Reds seek a double-digit lead on the field (Second-place Leicester City is away to Brighton and Hove Albion).


Arsenal looks to right wobbly league ship versus slumping Saints

  • Arsenal v. Southampton — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSN

Unai Emery‘s Gunners may be doing fine in the Europa League, but they’ve taken just two points from 12 since an Oct. 6 defeat of Bourrnemouth at the Emirates Stadium. Saints only win since mid-September in any competition is a 4-0 demolition of rivals Portsmouth. If Arsenal cannot get right here, well…

The 2 Robbies break down Tottenham’s big switch from Poch to Mou

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Maybe you saw the firing of Mauricio Pochettino coming, and maybe you even though Jose Mourinho could be in the running to take his place, but the whole thing happening in rapid fire fashion calls for something different.

Call it an emergency podcast for The 2 Robbies.

[ MORE: Ederson back in training ]

Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle respond to the shocking and divisive news coming from North London earlier this week.

Tottenham Hotspur sacked Pochettino and quickly replaced him with The Special One. This episode also includes some of Jose’s first words as the new Spurs Head Coach.

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Pochettino leaves emotional whiteboard message to Spurs

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Mauricio Pochettino and his backroom staff have left Tottenham Hotspur, but not without fond words for the North London set.

Pochettino’s backroom staff was also dismissed, with assistant Jesus Perez and coaches Miguel D’Agostino and Antoni Jimenez leaving to make room for Jose Mourinho’s crew.

[ MORE: Mou says Spurs can win the PL next season ]

And Perez wanted to make sure that the world knew the final words Pochettino left for his players, something that has Tottenham supporters even more emotional.

It also surely plays as a political piece which will increase the villain status of Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, who’s been under fire for not helping Pochettino by selling players who did not want to be in North London.

Even Mourinho heaped praise on his predecessor.

“Mauricio, for the work he did, this club will be always his home,” Mourinho said. “He can come when he wants. When he misses the players, when he misses the people he work with. The door is always open for him. He will find happiness again. He will find a great club again. He will have a great future.”

Get your tissues, Spurs fans.