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Vieira: NYCFC “paid the price” for lackluster finishing in the final third

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Tuesday night’s defeat at MAPFRE Stadium brought up a lot of the same issues that New York City FC has faced for the better part of its first three seasons in Major League Soccer.

[ MORE: Crew blast NYCFC in first leg of East semifinals ]

Manager Patrick Vieira and his side conceded four goals in Columbus against the surging Crew in NYCFC’s 4-1 loss, which now puts the Eastern Conference regular season runners’ up at a distinct disadvantage heading into leg 2 on Sunday.

It’s not only a similar situation to that of a season ago — when NYCFC trailed Toronto FC by a scoreline of 2-0 heading into the home leg in the East semifinals — but actually worse considering the number of chances the Crew garnered in front of their home fans.

[ MORE: Zack Steffen spoke to PST ahead of Columbus’ first leg vs. NYCFC ]

Meanwhile, Vieira’s side simply wasn’t clinical enough when it came down to the critical moments of the match.

“We paid the price heavily tonight,” Vieira said following Tuesday’s defeat. “When you concede four goals away from home, you make things very difficult for yourselves.

“Of course, it is going to be a tough challenge, but it is a challenge that we are going to try to prepare ourselves for, and get ready for it.

“We’re gonna try. It will be really important to internalize the game tonight and come away with a plan of how to create chances and try not to concede.

“We’re going to give ourselves a good chance. Every time that we play them, we have the opportunity to score goals — not just one, but a few goals.”

NYCFC boasted one of the top attacks at times during the MLS regular season — led by captain David Villa and his 22 goals. However, the Spanish international has had little support in the attacking third for much of the second half of 2017, leaving Vieira’s squad vulnerable when they don’t cash in on goalscoring chances.

The team’s second-leading scorer, Jack Harrison, has scored just twice since the end of June, while the trio of Rodney Wallace, Maxi Moralez and Tommy McNamara have combined for four goals since May 21.

Over the last 10 games, including Tuesday’s loss, the Bronx side has scored just 10 goals — which by their standards is quite low. In comparison, Villa and Co. registered 47 finishes through their first 25 MLS matches this season.

With attacking players not named Villa struggling to find finishing opportunities as of late, NYCFC’s uphill climb just became that much more difficult when the club travels back home to host the Crew.

“In the last seven or eight games, when we were struggling to win games a little bit, the content of our game was there,” Vieira explained.

“It’s just, we don’t score goals. When you look at the number of chances we created in the first half, we didn’t take our chances.

“They took their chances and we didn’t take them. When you create so many chances and you only score once, it’s not good enough.”

Defensively, NYCFC didn’t make things easier for themselves after Alexander Callens was sent off seven minutes into the second half after raising an elbow to Crew attacker Justin Meram’s face prior to a corner kick.

Without Callens — who has previously started every match this season for NYCFC — Vieira’s group is left with a thin set of options at the back. First-choice center back Maxime Chanot remains sidelined with an injury, potentially leaving Fredrick Brillant, Ethan White and 16-year-old James Sands up for selection on Sunday.

Mohamed Salah starts for Egypt despite int’l retirement talks

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Mohamed Salah is coming off of his best season as a professional, but reports suggest that his time with the Egyptian national team could soon be coming to an end for reasons that extend beyond soccer.

Salah will however be included in Egypt’s Group A finale against Saudi Arabia on Monday, though, after the team sheet was revealed by the Pharaohs ahead of the match.

CNN reported over the weekend that Salah believes he is being used by Egypt as a political symbol to represent Chechnya, which has sparked talks of the talented Liverpool winger ending his international career.

Egypt has already been eliminated from reaching the Round of 16 after losing its first two matches at the World Cup.

The tides have turned significantly for Toronto FC

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2017 gave Toronto FC its first MLS Cup, as well as significant notoriety for the club’s historic season, but Greg Vanney and his side are in a world of trouble in 2018 for reasons that are still unfathomable.

[ MORE: NYCFC tops TFC in come-from-behind victory ]

A deep run in the CONCACAF Champions League (which ended in heartbeat at the hands of Chivas) and a number of injuries have plagued Toronto this season, and for that, the defending champions find themselves in unchartered MLS waters.

Over the course of Major League Soccer’s 22 previous seasons, only three defending champions have gone on to miss the playoffs the next year (D.C. United in 2000, LA Galaxy in 2006 & Portland Timbers in 2016).

So, how poor has TFC been through nearly half the season?

The Canadian side has acquired 15 points in as many matches, which puts the club on pace to finish with 34 points in 2018.

That total would leave TFC well below the average points needed for a club to get into the playoffs. It varies on a year-to-year basis, but teams typically need somewhere in the range of 45 to 50 points to finish above the red line in their respective conferences.

Last season, three teams in MLS finished with less than 34 points (D.C. United, LA Galaxy & Colorado Rapids), and none of the clubs finished within striking distance of the postseason.

While Toronto wouldn’t be the first team to show signs of struggles in the first half of the season and then proceed to turn things around over the second portion, there are definite concerns for Vanney and Co.

In 2018, the Reds haven’t earned back-to-back victories in MLS play, leaving the club in 10th place in the Eastern Conference.

The talent within the squad remains there, and if TFC gets the rest of its squad healthy there could be a run made by the team, but as things stand, the club’s historic run a season ago looks to be crumbling in 2018.

Gressel ties it in Atlanta United’s 1-1 draw with Timbers

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ATLANTA (AP) Julian Gressel tied it in the 56th minute and Atlanta United held on for a 1-1 draw with the Portland Timbers on Sunday.

A loose ball deflection off defender Larrys Mabiala bounced into Gressel’s path and he pounced on it with a right-footed volley. Atlanta (10-3-4) stayed atop the MLS standings and extended its unbeaten streak to five games.

Mabiala opened the scoring in the 32nd minute. Samuel Armenteros was the first to get a touch with a left-footed stab on Diego Valeri’s free kick. Goalkeeper Brad Guzan blocked it out, but Mabiala headed home the rebound and Portland took the early lead.

The Timbers (6-3-5) extended their unbeaten run to nine.

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.