Sunday, November 29, 2015

It Happened in America: Portland and Columbus survive to MLS Cup Final

FC Dallas 2-2 Portland Timbers (3-5 on aggregate)
Dallas may have been down two goals after the first leg, but at least they had an away goal to stand on and give them the sense that they would be able to become the first team in 11 years to come back from two down in the conference final.

Portland's plan for the match was to keep numbers back and concentrate on defending to keep their two goal lead int act. Any attacking would be accomplished on the counter.

The first half worked well for the Timbers. The only real chance for Dallas came form David Texeira. He was gifted a point blank header thanks to a ball watching Norberto Paparatto in the 32nd minute. Adam Kwarasey was up to the task of making the huge save.

The match really opened up in the second half. Dallas needed goals, and needed them fast. They sent increasing numbers forward while the Timbers, still looking for an away goal to cancel Dallas's in the first leg, were also pressing in their limited possession. In the 54th minute, a moment of brilliance came for the Timbers. Dairon Asprilla created a turnover deep in the Dallas end and fed it forward to Valeri along the right wing. The Argentine maestro picked out Fanendo Adi, who had powered his way off his marker to get wide open near the penalty spot. Adi's shot took a slight touch of Jesse Gonzalez and into the goal.

Portland had their away goal and only needed to keep Dallas from scoring thrice to seal a win without extra time. That quest got a little nervy less than 20 minutes after the Adi goal. Micheal Hollingshead found himself wide open along the left side of the Portland penalty area in the 68th minute. He was able to slot a shot beyond Kwarasey with ease to make the aggregate scoreline 4-2. Five minutes later Blas Perez headed home a free kick to get Dallas within a goal of forcing extra time.

After Perez buried the second goal, Portland looked to revert to their early season form. Diego Valeri set up two perfect chances to effectively end the match in the dying minutes, but poor finishing from Maxi Urruti and Dairon Asprilla squandered the chances. Meanwhile, on the other end, Dallas was throwing everything they had towards the Portland goal. Thier best chance came two minutes into stoppage time when Blas Perez was in the right place at the right tight to collect a wayward ball and hammer it towards a gaping net. Nat Borchers, along with his sweet beard, made a heroic challenge to block the shot and send it out for a corner. 

As Dallas failed to get anything from said corner, Portland was able to counter attack with the newly introduced Lucas Melano. The Argentine collected a Valeri pass and danced his way through every Dallas defender, including Gonzalez coming to challenge him, to find himself on the end line. Not to be thwarted by the boundaries of the pitch, Melano tiptoed the line and managed to squeak the ball over the line in what can only be described as a masterful finish.

FC Dallas were sunk and Portland could begin their celebrations as Western Conference champions.

New York Red Bills 1-0 Columbus Crew (1-2 on aggregate)
Columbus entered the Red Bull Arena with a similar plan to Portland. They were going to defend the desperate New York team. New York was in dire need of a couple goals since they couldn't grab anything in the first leg lest weekend in Ohio,

The first half was lively. New York had the possession advantage, but not the finishing, required to make the comeback happen. Columbus did get their chances on the counter, as well. Luis Robles had to make a save with outstretched arms in the 38th minute to deny Kei Kamara of a potential back breaking goal.

More of the same ensued in the second half. New York continued to attack with more and more force as the minutes ticked by. After a series of failed attempts at chances, the ending was quite magnificent to watch, even after many New York fans gave up hope and streamed for the exits.

It began in the third minute of stoppage time. That was when Anatole Abang managed to float a header past Steve Clark for the first goal of the game. The Red Bulls were not in the mood to celebrate and only wanted to squeeze an equalizer in the minute and a half they likely had left. That tying goal almost came. As the final whistle loomed, Bradley Wright-Phillips got his head to a mad scramble in the penalty area. Clark, who was probably a little overambitious in his pursuit of the ball, could only watch as it sailed away from him and began bumbling towards the far post. Thankfully for him, and the Crew, the post is all the shot would see as it harmlessly rolled away for a corner. Seconds later, the final whistle blew and Columbus was through to their first MLS Cup appearance in seven years,

Next Sunday afternoon, in Columbus, Ohio, the Timbers and Crew meet for all the MLS marbles. There will be a whole week to digest the matchup and come up with some form of prediction. Being a Timbers fan who had no idea the team would ever progress this far in the playoffs (I even bashed this team so far as to almost call for Caleb Porter's head back in the spring), it should be a fun match to watch and write about. You can catch all the action at 4pm eastern time next Sunday on ESPN.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Sunday Premier League: Liverpool victorious among a bunch of draws

Tottenham 0-0 Chelsea
We have come to expect done unexpected treks from Chelsea over the course if this season, but for once we aren't super shocked. A bland draw in North London does not come as a surprise with Chelsea and Spurs going at it. Jose Mourinho left Diego Costa, a great deal of his goal scoring power, on the bench, so there is still some cause for debate stemming from this morning's early clash. The Brazilian born, Spanish international wasn't pleased with the boss's decision to keep him off the pitch, he tossed his warm-up in Mourinho's direction in frustration at the end of the match. Tottenham stays in fifth place with the draw. Chelsea, in their first away clean sheet since April, moves up to 14th place.

West Ham 1-1 West Bromwich Albion
This was a tale of two halves. In the first frame, it was all West Ham. Mauro Zarata belted home a free kick in the 17th minute to put them in front and they were able to hold much of the ball until halftime. The second half saw things flip around. West Bromwich Albion was on more if the ball and earned a leveling goal in the 50th minute thanks to Winston Reid deflecting a Rickie Lambert shot in. The Hammers were able to get a few chances in the counter, but the only thing that added up was their injury problem. Diafra Sakho went down with a leg injury in the 72nd minute after he had a golden chance blocked before it could reach the wide open far side of the goal. Victor Moses had another great chance on a volley towards the end of the 90, but it sailed wide and both sides would be forced to settle for a draw. West Ham does climb one spot into eighth place with 22 points.

Liverpool 1-0 Swansea
Although there was plenty of action in the first half, no goals could be found for either side. James Milner's 64th minute penalty off a soft and stupid Neil Taylor foul gave Liverpool the win. Liverpool jumps into sixth with the win. Swansea continues to struggle. They are in 15th and only four points above relegation.

Norwich City 1-1 Arsenal
This match started off just about Joe everyone would expect. Arsenal was running the show and getting the majority of chances. Mesut Ozil gave them the less by beating John Ruddy to a pass at the half hour mark. Norwich did get a chance to go forward as the half came to a close. They leveled in the 43rd when Lewis Grabban got inside position on his marker before latching onto a through ball for an easy tap in past Petr Cech. They should have gone in front minutes later when Wes Hoolahan had an open volley eight yards out, but his effort was too high. The second half has action packed, but there was no reward for either team and a draw was in the offering.

Much like West Ham earlier today, Arsenal saw more injuries than goals. Laurent Kocielny went down before ten minutes had passed and, possibly of greater concern, Alexis Sanchez aggravated his hamstring injury and had to leave in the second half. The Gunners remain in fourth place, two points back of the leaders Manchester City and Leicester. Norwich gains themselves a point of buffer in the relegation fight. They are two places and three points above the drop.

It Happened in England: Vardy sets a record, insane ending at Bournemouth

Manchester City 3-1 Southampton
Manchester City was on a mission to get back on top of the Premier League and, with a little help from their cross town rivals, did just that. A quick goal from Kevin de Bruyne in the ninth minute got it started. Fabian Delph doubled the lead in the 20th. Shane Long pulled Southampton within a goal four minutes after the start of the second half, but Aleksander Kolarov buried City's third to secure the three points.

Bournemouth 3-3 Everton
This one was wild before the dying minutes, but those were what made this one memorable. Thanks to Ramiro Funes Mori in the 25th and Romelu lukaku in the 36th Everton enjoyed a seemingly comfortable 2-0 lead for much of the second half. Bournemouth got back into it with Adam Smith's 80th minute goal and they leveled in the 87th with a goal from Junior Stanislas. Stoppage time came, and almost went, before Ross Barkley put Everton back in front, seemingly for good. the Cherries had other plans, however. Before the final whistle could sound, Stanislas buried his second of the match to earn Bournemouth an improbable share of the points.

Aston Villa 2-3 Watford
Aston Villa has a long, long way to go before they can escape the relegation discussion, and a loss to newly promoted Watford hardly helps. Odion ighalo got Watford on the board in the 17th minute to set the tone. Micah Richards leveled before halftime for the Villains, but it was all for naught. An own goal off Alan Hutton and an insurance goal from Troy Deeney put it away in the second half. Jordan Ayew got Villa within a goal in the penultimate minute, but it was far from enough to rescue a result. Villa remains in the basement with only five points, Watford sits with midtable respectability in 11th.

Crystal Palace 5-1 Newcastle
Papiss Demba Cisse scored for Newcastle in the tenth minute, but it was only false hope for the visitors. Palace dominated for the duration of the match behind braces from James McArthur and Yannick Bolasie. The duo first struck in the 14th and 17th minutes. Wilfried Zaha got the third in the 41st. Bolasie got his second in the 47th and McArthur's came three minutes into second half stoppage time. Palace now finds themselves in sixth, two points back of Tottenham for a Europa League place.

Sunderland 2-0 Stoke City
Two late goals from the home team brightened up a dull affair. Patrick van Aanholt got Sunderland on the board in the 82nd minute and Duncan Watmore secured the points two minutes later. Those two goals kept Sunderland above the drop zone, for now, while Stoke is in boring 12th place.

Leicester City 1-1 Manchester United
Jamie Vardy secured some Premier League history. His 24th minute goal marked his 11th straight match with a goal, breaking Ruud van Nistelrooy's Premier League record for scoring in consecutive matches. Next up for the sudden superstar will be the England top flight record of 12, held by Jimmy Dunne from way back in 1931-32. Bastian Schweinsteiger scored for United in first half stoppage time to make sure Vardy;s history maker would only earn the Foxes a draw. They are level on points with Manchester City for first place, but are behind on goal difference. Manchester United sit in third, a point back of City and Leicester.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

It Happened in Europe: Real Madrid the latest group winner

Group A
Malmo 0-5 Paris St. Germain
A win would mean PSG are certainly through, and Adrien Rabiot scored three minutes in to aid that cause. Angel Di Maria added the second in the 14th. That would be the halftime site, but PSG unloaded in the second half. In the 49th minute, Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored against his boyhood club for the first time ever. Di Maria added a second goal for himself in the 68th. Things were finished by Lucas Moura in the 82nd.

Shakhtar Donetsk 3-4 Real Madrid
The top spot in the group was available for Real Madrid's taking. Cristiano Ronaldo was also battling Lionel Messi, who scored yesterday, in their never ending battle for Champions League scoring supremacy. A goal from him in the first half have Real Madrid a leg up in their mission. They held that until halftime, and in the second hand things got wild. Luca Modric, Dani Caravajal, and another from Ronaldo have the visitors a 4-0 lead with 20 minutes to play. The Ukrainian comeback began with a penalty scored by Alex Teixeira in the 77th. Dentinho scored six minutes later to cut the deficit to two. Teixeira's second in the 88th dropped it to one. Despite their best efforts, no equalizer could be found and Real Madrid escaped victoriously.

Real Madrid will win the group thanks to their defeat of PSG, who finish second, in the fourth group stage round. Shakhtar and Malmo will vie for the third place Europa League spot in two weeks with Donetsk holding the tiebreaker..

Group B
CSKA Moscow 0-2 Wolfsburg
Moscow had the best chance of the match around the hour mark when Pontus Wernbloom drilled the woodwork. A few minutes later, Wolfsburg picked up a bit of a fluke goal of their own. An awful mistake from goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev off an attempt by Andre Schurrle in the 66th minute gave the Germans the lead. Schurrle, who had come on as a sub in the 61st minute, gave them the victory for certain with his second goal in thr 88th minute.

Manchester United 0-0 PSV Eindhoven
PSV cane in with a plan, which was to defend their way to the best result possible. Despite a few quality chances from the Red Devils, a scoreless draw was the best outcome here.

The Moscow loss eliminates them from Champions League contention and helps Wolfsburg into the top spot. A point in the final round will be enough for them to advance. Things are a little dicier for Untied, who need a win against Wolfsburg or a PSV defeat against the already eliminated Moscow.

Group C
Astana 2-2 Benfica
Astana has done very well at home during their Champions League campaign, having earned a pair of draws on home soil against some stiff competition. It looked like they would improve on that form in the early stages today. Patrick Twumasi gave them the lead in the 19th minute and Marin Anicic doubled the advantage in the 31st. Benfica would have the comeack in them, however. Raul Jimenez scored his first of the night in the 40th minute to cut the lead in half by halftime. He levelled the score in the 72nd minute to earn his side a share of the points on thier tricky trip across Europe to Kazakhstan.

Atletico Madrid 2-0 Galatasaray
Anoinne Greizmann scored in the 13th for Atletico as they quested to become tied for the top spot in the group while clinching a spot in the round of 16. His second on the 65th secured the win and qualification.

Astana, the first Kazakhstani side to make it to the group stage of the Champions League, is eliminated with this defeat and will not progress any further. Meanwhile, Atletico and Benfica will move on with first place on the line when they face each other in two weeks.

Group D
Juventus 1-0 Manchester City
Having already defeated City earlier in the completion, another win Weiss be quite nice for the defending runners up. Mario Mandukic scored in the 18th minute to give them they only goal they needed.

Borrussia Monchengladbach 4-2 Sevilla
Lard Stindl scored in the 28th minute to put Monchengladbach in front on their search for their first win of the campaign. American Fabian Johnson scored in his second Champions League game in a row to double the lead in the 68th. It became a three goal advantage ten minutes Jarrett with a Raffael goal. The had hearted Sevilla comeback began in the 82nd minute with a penalty from Vitolo, but Srindl's service of he match quashed that a minute later. Ever Banega scored a consolation goal in the final minute to finish the final score.

Despite the loss, City moves on asking with Juventus. The Italians are in first, but then losing coupled with City winning will see them fall to second with Manchester City winning the group.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

It Happened in Europe: Barcelona, Bayern emphatically win their groups

Group E
Barcelona 6-0 Roma
Barcalona got their big guns involced early. Luis Suarez got the first goal for them in the 15th minute and Lionel Messi, in his first Champions League game since returning from a knee injury, scored the second three minutes later. In the 44th minute, Suarez scored his second to make the first half blowout official. The rout continued in the second half with a Gerard Pique goal in the 56th minute. Additional second half goals from Messi and Adriano piled onto the lead before Eden Dzeko scored at the final whistle to give Roma a consolation goal.

BATE 1-1 Bayer Leverkusen
Bate got off to a nice strong start in this one. Mikhail Gordechyuk put them in front in the second minute. They were able to defend the lead for over an hour before Leverkusen was able to snag their equalizer.  Admir Mehmedi was able to put one across in the 68th minute to save a point for the Germans on their trip to Belarus.

Barcelona ave their 13 points win the group with ease while the final qualification spot is still wide open. Roma and Leverkusen each sit with five points while BATE is right behind with four. Leverkusen has to host Barcelona, making their task a bit tougher even though Barca has nothing to play for. Roma hosts BATE, portrait giving them the advantage.

Group F
Arsenal 3-0 DInamo Zagrab
The winner here still would still have a prayer of advancing to the round of 16, the loser would be done. Mesut Ozil would provide Arsenal the leg up on survival by heading home an Olivier Giroud cross in the 29th minute. Four minutes later, Alexis Sanchez broke his six game scoreless streak to make it 2-0 to the Arsenal. A second from Sanchez in the 69th minute sealed the deal on Arsenal's second win of the campaign.

Bayern Munich 4-0 Olympiacos
A point would have been enough to see Bayern through, but we all know they never settle for only what they need.  They scored twice in the first 20 minuites to set the tone nice and early. Douglas Costa started it in the eighth minute and Robert Lewandowski, who does nothing but score goals, doubled the lead in the 16th. Thomas Muller made it three all of four minutes later. A fourth came in the Kingsley Coman in the 69th.

Arsenal's win means they are still alive in the race for second. It will come down to their match with Olympiacos is two weeks to determine who moves on. Zagreb is out of it and Bayern Munich wins the group with 12 points and the tiebreaker over the Greeks. An Arsenal win by more tab a goal means they would move on. Anything eke sees Olympiacos through.

Group G
Maccabi Tel-Aviv 0-4 Chelsea
Chelsea was in pretty good shape heading into Israel with the chance to clinch a spot ion the round of 16. Gary Cahill, of all people, gave them the lead in the 20th minute to help out that cause. Tel-Aviv's small chances took an even bigger hit when Tal Ben-Haim was sent off for a reckless foul in the 40th minute. Chelsea was able to take off with the man advantage in the second half. Willian and Oscar scored on the 73rd and 77th minutes and Kurt Zouma added the fourth in stoppage time to complete the win.

Porto 0-2 Dynamo Kiev
Andriy Yarmalenko scored from the spot on 35 minutes to put Kiev in front. Derlis Gonzalez found the second in the 65th and Kiev had a huge win in Portugal.

The group is now wide open. Tel-Aviv is the only club pot if the hunt for first place. Chelsea currently leads with ten points while Porto acc Kiev each have eight. Chelsea gets to host Porto on the final match day while Kiev welcomes the goalless Israelis to Ukraine. I suck at predictions, but I say Chelsea wins the group and Kiev comes in second.

Group H
Lyon 1-2 Gent
Jordan Ferri gave Lyon a much needed lead in the 7th minute. That lead would hold until Danijel Milicevic equalized for Gent in the 32nd minute with a wonderful free kick. That score would hold until the final minute. Kalifa Coulibaly bagged Gent's winner at ghee death of the match to spoil Lyon's slim hopes of moving on.

Zenit St. Petersburg 2-0 Valencia
A goal after nearly a quarter hour from Oleg Shatov got St. Petersburg started here. They continued to run the show for the rest of the match and got their insurance foal in the 74th from Arten Dzyuba. That would seal the deal as they were able to keep Valencia off the scoreboard and earn the home three points.

Zenit remains perfect and cleanly wins the group. The big Gent win gives them seven points, one higher than Valencia. The Belgians host Zenit on the final day while Valencia has Lyon at home. Should be a fun time, but I like Valencia to leap frog into second when all is said and done.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Monday Night Football: Late Defoe goal sinks Palace

Crystal Palace 0-1 Sunderland
Crystal Palace could have leapt into sixth place has they been able to defeat the relegation fighting Black Cats, but Jermain Defoe has other plans. The former Toronto FC man scored in the 80th minute to send Sunderland home with three points to aid in their bake against the drop.

Palace won the match in every way except the final score. They held 67% of the ball and launched 19 shots. None of the seven on target were really quality chances. Sunderland used a defender first approach to try and keep their opponents out of the goal, acc it worked to perfection.

As was everything Sunderland did offensively, the Defoe goal came against the run of play. Defender Scott Dann failed to chase down a ball that had evaded the Palace back line. He figured Wayne Hennessey, his keeper, would play the ball on his own. He didn't and Defoe was quicker to the ball and he blew past both men with ease on his way to the winner.

Sunderland are still in the drop zone despite the win. They are in 18th and a point back of their arch rivals Newcastle for safety. Palace finds themselves in tenth place after they fail to get anything with the chance to move up four spots.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

It Happened in America: Columbus keeps it clean against NYRB, Dallas gets away goal, but Portland bags three at home

Columbus Crew 2-0 New York Red Bulls
Nine seconds. That's all it took for Columbus to play a long ball off the opening kick of that fell to Kei Kamara, then find Justin Meram, then the back of the net. It was the fastest goal in MLS Cup Playoffs history, and it gave the Crew a start that was better than a dream.

New York had a strong response. Five minutes into the match Sacha Kljestan had a point blank shot go just after it was saved by Steve Clark. The end to end action in the first 20 minutes was very easy on the eye, to say the least. The Red Bulls had other chances besides the Kljestan near miss. Columbus took to their usual vicious counter attacking style that almost resulted in a second goal multiple times. Columbus and they're defense first attitude rode that 1-0 scoreline into halftime.
Columbus has history on their side heading into the second half. The Crew had been perfect in nine playoff matches where they led at halftime.

In the second half, the Crew was able to turn their counter attacks into some pretty dangerous possession. Any shots they allowed New York to take were harmless ones from distance. They played an effective game of keep away that lead to their second goal in the 85th minute. Substitute Cedrick Mabwati showed some fantastic footwork on his way through the Red Bull back line before getting a quality shot on Luis Robles. The rebound fell to a wide open Kei Kamara who was there for what might be the easiest goal he's ever scored.

That, as they say, would be that. Columbus takes a huge two goal lead and a clean sheet into the second leg next weekend in suburban New York. Not only do the Red Bulls need to penetrate a stout back line, but they need to do so at least twice without conceding to a dangerous counter attacking side that can turn around and score almost at will.

Catch next Sunday's second leg from Red Bull Arena at 7:30pm on FS1.

Portland Timbers 3-1 FC Dallas
The Timbers came close to getting almost as quick of a start at Columbus did. At the 30 seconds hath, Darlington Nagbe led a counter attack and latched a pass onto Lucas Melano, who has his shot stopped by Jesse Gonzalez. Portland was, by far, the superior side for the first half. They managed to hold 60% of the possession while out countering the high counter attacking FC Dallas. They got their goal off a corner taken by Nagbe that feel to an unmarked Liam Ridgewell for the tap in goal in the 23rd minute.

Neither side was interested in slowing down the frantic pace in the second half, especially Portland. After cries for a free kick j just outside the Dallas penalty area went unheard in the 54th minute, Dairon Asprilla created a turnover and ripped home a golazo into the upper corner of the goal to give the Timbers a huge two goal lead.

Dallas wasn't let down by the deficit. At the 61 minute mark, minutes after Liam Ridgewell was subbed off for Norberto Paparatto due to injury, FC Dallas got their away goal courtesy of David Texeira.

The match took on a more cautious tone after that goal. Portland was wary to send numbers forward out of fear of getting caught without proper defense against Dallas's high speed attackers. Alexei Lalas said it best when he pointed out that there was a level of contentment for both teams at 2-1. Portland was happy to take a lead into the second leg while Dallas was perfectly fine pocketing their away goal and fighting back on their home turf. After all, they came back from down 2-1 in the second leg against Seattle, why couldn't they do it again with Portland?

The Dallas plan went awry when Portland wasn't content with only two. On a corner at the 90 minute mark, Paparatto got the first touch with his head. That was spotted by Gonzalez, but the mad scramble that ensued resulted in Nat Borchers getting his boot to the ball over the line to give Portland a massive third goal before the second leg. That goal greatly changed the complexion of the tie. Instead of being in a virtual tie on their way to Dallas (who owns the best home record in MLS this year), the Timbers gained themselves a little cushion for leg number two. An away goal for them at any point in the match next Sunday probably seals a trip to the final.

Although they gave up three goals, FC Dallas's away goal means the result of second leg is far from predetermined. They will have an uphill climb, for sure, but a comeback is not out of reach. The second leg kicks off at 5pm Sunday on ESPN from Frisco, Texas.

Sunday Premier League: Kane double slows down West Ham

Tottenham 4-1 West Ham
West Ham have had done pretty strong performances against upper table opposition this season, but today was not the latest addition to that list.

The usual suspects were at it for Spurs as it was their local hero Harry Kane doing most of the damage. Kane scored his first of the afternoon in the 23rd minute by collecting a  Delle Alli poss and evading cask Jenkinson. His second came from a powerful effort from the edge of the penalty area in the 50th.

In between Kane's strokes, Toby Alderweireld headed home a corner in the 33rd to double the Tottenham lead at the time.

The three goal lead was enough to send the home team into their defensive shell for the final 35 minutes. Kyle Walker pot the exclamation point on this one on a give and go move with Ryan Mason in the 83rd. West Ham did break the clean sheet eventually. Manuel Lanzini gave them a consolation goal in the 87th, but it was far from anything useful for them.

These two entered the day level for fifth place with 21 points. The win puts Spurs ahead and a pair of points behind fourth place Arsenal. West Ham remains in sixth, five back of a Champions League spot.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

It Happened in England: Leicester to the top after Arsenal and Man City fall

Watford 1-2 Manchester United
Memphis Depay's 11th minute goal was all United could muster for quite some time. United grew increasingly passive as they game wore on. In the final minutes it began to look as if the Hornets would actually equalize. In the 85th minute, Marcus Rojo chopped the leg of Odion ighalo in the penalty area to set up Troy Deeney's equalizer. United decided to step on the gas at that point and managed to get an equalizer at the death of the 90 minutes. Bastian Schweinsteiger scrambled to the far post to grab a rebound and bank home the ball off Deeney.

Chelsea 1-0 Norwich City
Jose Mourinho's side truly needed a big win to begin the salvage operation that will be the final two thirds of the season. After a scoreless first half, Diego Costa slotted home a Cesc Fabregas feed in the 64th minute to put them in front. That would be enough to give Chelsea the three points they needed.

West Bromwich Albion 2-1 Arsenal
Arsenal took an early blow as their defensive midfield stalwart Francis Coquelin went down injured and had to be replaced. Despite being short handed, they got their first goal in the 28th minute when Olivier Giroud got his head to a Mesut Ozil free kick for an easy tally. Lazy Arsenal defending on a James McClean WBA free kick from allowed the home team to go level. James Morrison was on the other end to claim the goal. A 40th minute own goal courtesy of Mikel Arteta gave West Brom the lead. McLean played the initial cross that found the arm of Arteta and bumbled its way into the goal.

Although Ozil almsot brought the Gunners level a couple minutes into the second half, Arsenal was forced to use a second substitution in the midfield for an injury. Arteta, who replaced Coquelin, went down hurt just after that Ozil chance. After pressuring for the entirety of the second half, Arsenal got their shot at an equalizer at the stroke of 83 minutes. Chris Brunt trampled Alexis Sanchez off the ball in the penalty area to set up Santi Cazorla from the spot. The Spaniard slipped on his attempt and sent his shot sailing well over the goal to keep the score at 2-1. That would be the best chance for Arsenal to resuce a result. They fall down to fourth in the table thanks to the Leicester and Manchester United wins.

Everton 4-0 Aston Villa
It was all Everton all the time here. Ross Barkley scored the first in the 17th. Romelu Lukaku made it a pair in the 28th. Barkley's second made it 3-0 in the 42nd. The second half looked much like the first. Lukaku got his second just before the hour mark to make the win all the more emphatic for Toffees. Last place Aston Villa never really stood a chance today.

Newcastle 0-3 Leicester City
Jamie Vardy continued his historic start with a goal in his tenth straight match. That equals Ruud van Nistelrooy's Premier League record for most consecutive matches with a goal. The Foxes went up two in the 62nd minute when Leonardo Ulloa was gifted a free header by absentee Newcastle defending. The rout was complete with Shinji Okazaki's rebound goal in the 83rd minute. The Liverpudlian thumping of Manchester City means Leicester, who spent last season fighting relegation, sits atop the table more than a third into the season.

Southampton 0-1 Stoke City
Bojan Krkic's well placed shot in the tenth minute gave Stoke City the early lead in Southampton. Stoke's defense held firm as they held the Saints to only one single shot on goal on their way to a big away win.

Swansea City 2-2 Bournemouth
There was plenty of first half action in Wales as Bournemouth jumped out to the early lead. It took less than ten minutes for Joshua King to find their first goal. DanGosling doubled the lead in the 25th, but that two goal advantage would only last a minute and a half before Andre Ayew pulled one back for the hosts. Some level of theatrics in the penalty area from Ayew bought them a penalty which was buried by Jonjo Shelvey to bring the score level. The second half was significantly quieter. No goals could be found and the teams had to settle for their wild first half draw.

Manchester City 1-4 Liverpool
A first half onslaught from Liverpool was more tab enough to unseat the league leaders. An own goal off of Eliaquim Mangala in the seventh minute set the tone early. Philippe Coutinho doubled the lead in the 23rd and Roberto Firminob made it three in the 32nd. Sergio Aguero pulled one back for the home team a minute before halftime,  but the hope didn't last. Martin Skrtel put a bow on the blowout on the 81st minute and City was out three home points. They drop to third place with the missed opportunity.

Monday, November 9, 2015

It Happened in America: Dallas through on penalties, Crew come back late over Montreal

New York Red Bulls 1-0 DC United (2-0 aggregate)
Red Bulls did not have to do much to win this game. They had their away goal and clean sheet from the first leg, all they needed to do was not royally mess things up and they would be through to the Eastern Conference Final. For the first half they were quite successful. They may not have scored, but they kept United off the board and continued their strong defensive efforts by not allowing a shot on goal.

That isn't to say that DC United had been totally pacified. They were able to break forward a couple of times leading to some moderate chances, but nothing that made you wonder why they didn't score. The same could be said for the Red Bulls. Other than an early free kick from Mike Grella, they never truly threatened to score either. What they did do best, however, was hang onto the ball. They held 68% of the ball, which went a long way towards keeping DC scoreless.

As the second half wore on, New York had less and less motivation to press forward. They kept nine men behind the ball in order to prevent United from concocting a late equalizer. In second half stoppage time, they took advantage of DC throwing numbers forward and managed to get Bradley Wright-Phillips to get past the back line and tap the winner into a wide open net.

New York advances to play the Crew in the Conference Final beginning on Sunday, November 22 in Columbus.

Columbus Crew 3-1 Montreal Impact (4-3 aggregate)
Columbus was a little behind the eight ball after Montreal's win in the first let, so a lightning fast start would have been nice, Kei Kamara headed home cross in the fourth minute to give them that quick opening. Kamara came inches away from another headed goal in the 12th minute. Only the crossbar got in the way of his thunderous effort.

After trying to find their footing for a great deal of the rest of the first half, Montreal started making an impact as the 40 minute mark approached. Dilly Duka found the equalizer in the 40th minute when he found the ball in a scramble at the edge of the six yard box. He was offside on the play, but the referee's assistant did not raise the flag and the goal stood.

Montreal looked like they would let that goal stand as the one to put them through to the Conference Final. This was especially true after Evan Bush saved an Ethan Finlay penalty in the 67th minute. Turns out Finlay had other plans. In the 77th minute, he levelled the aggregate score by latching onto a loose ball and finding the open net.

This set up extra time where none other than Kei Kamara played the hero for Columbus. His 111th minute back post header sent the Crew into an Eastern Conference Final date with New York Red Bulls.

FC Dallas 2-1 Seattle Sounders (3-3 aggregate) (4-2 in penalties)
It looked like Seattle's stout defense would hold out long enough to earn the scoreless draw that would get them into the Western Conference Final until the most bonkers final ten minutes you will see anywhere. It began in the 84th minute when Tesho Akindele banged home a cross from Je-Vaughn Watson. That was enough to send Toyota Stadium into a frenzy, but Seattle was able to squash that before the smoke cleared.

Chad Marshall got his head to a corner in the final minute before stoppage time, leaving Dallas with five stoppage time minutes to find another goal to send this into extra time. They did jsut that seconds after the Marshall goal. Walker Zimmerman banged home a Blas Perez cross to rile up the home fans once again.

Extra time began with the same fury the second half ended with, only without the goals. Dallas was on the front foot and had several great chances right from the kickoff. Tesho Akindele had the best chance of extra time when he bolted down the end line and took a close range shot that Stefan Frei got a hand to. Clint Dempsey almost drew a penalty in the dying minutes, but he went to ground theatrically enough for the referee to waive away his protests.

Penalties were next. Jesse Gonzalez made two huge saves on Andreas Ivanschitz and Chad Barrett. Ryan Hollingshead buried the winner in the fourth round as Dallas never missed in the shootout.

Seattle crashes out of the playoffs once again, this time after the Conference Semi-Finals. FC Dallas moves on to the Western Conference Finals and will play the Timbers in Portland for the first leg in two weeks.

Vancouver Whitecaps 0-2 Portland Timbers (0-2 aggregate)
The Timbers travelled into Canada knowing a non-scoreless draw was all they needed in order to advance to the Western Conference Final. AFter an eventful first half, they had their huge away goal. Vancouver took a bit of a hit in their attacking game, too. In the 25th minute, Kekuta Manneh had to be subbed out with an ankle injury. He already had a couple of nice scoring chances in the match, including one that hit the pots, glanced off Adam Kwarasey, and barely out for a corner kick. Mauro Rosales was his replacement.

Portland's first half goal came courtesy of Fanendo Adi in the 31st minute. Diego Valeri got himself free along the endline following a throw and was able to pick out the darting Adi. The Nigerian blasted his shot into the roof of the net to give the Timbers what was essentially a two goal lead. Extra time was now impossible as Portland was able to break any tied score with their crucial away goal.

One would think defending would be the Portland plan heading into the second frame, but they instead transformed themselves into a possession based, short triangle passing team. It was something you would expect to see out of an Arsenal team when they are up a goal on Watford, or something. The Whitecaps showed little desire to advance as Portland toyed with them throughout the second 45 minutes.

When Vancouver did finally start throwing men forward, they never could put together a cohesive attack. In stoppage time, Adi and Diego Chara ran a counter attack that resulted in the second Portland goal that put this one far out of Vancouver's reach.

The Timbers advance to the Western Conference Final for the second time in three years. In 2013, they fell to Real Salt Lake 5-2 over the two legs. Now they try their hand against the FC Dallas, the top seed in the West.

Conference Final Schedule
First Leg - Sunday, November 22
Columbus Crew vs. New York Red Bulls - Kickoff TBA - FS1
Portland Timbers vs. FC Dallas - Kickoff TBA - ESPN

Second Leg -Sunday, November 29
New York Red Bulls vs. Columbus Crew  - Kickoff TBA - FS1
FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers - Kickoff TBA - ESPN

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Sunday Premier League: North London level, City falter at Villa

Aston Villa 0-0 Manchester City
Aston Villa's post Tim Sherwood era is doing alright for itself so far. Remi Garde's troops bag a scoreless draw against City here, although it may have been a bit fortunate. Villa weren't all that bad considering it was the last place team going up against the top of the table. City only had 13 shots and 55% of the ball. Not that Villa's little possession ever meant anything, but they did better than yesterday's Newcastle in terms of shots. There wasn't any lucky winner in store for the Villains however. City will rue many missed chances on their way to this set back. 

Liverpool 1-2 Crystal Palace
While everyone else was busy with the North London Derby, Liverpool was having a bit of a rough go at home today. Palace went in front 21 minutes in thanks to Yannick Bolaise. The hosts were able to level before halftime with some nice patience and passing that ended in Philippe Coutinho drilling a shot to the back of the net. Palace took the points amongst the frustrated Liverpool faithful in the 82nd minute. Scott Dann got his head to a corner that was initially saved, but he was in the right place to knock the rebound in to give Palace a big three points away from home. The win sends Palace above tenth place Liverpool into eighth. 

Arsenal 0-1 Tottenham
Harry Kane was at it again for Spurs. In the 32nd minute, the Tottenham local beat the Arsenal offside trap (a popular thing to do these days, as Bayern Munich proved) to pot himself clear on goal. He calmly slid a shot past Petr Cech  for the lead. Arsenal failed in most attempts to get into the Spurs penalty area. They're only real chance came when Olivier Giroud got a pass inside the six yard box, but was ruled offside.

Arsenal came alive in the second half, but was clearly missing something in their attack. Their shorthanded midfield was being beaten all game, which made it tough to get anything going forward. Mesut Ozil set up their 77th minute tying goal beautifully. He whipped in a well placed cross to Kieran Gibbs (playing out of position along the left wing), for a headed goal to allow Arsenal to share the points.

The Gunners miss a chance to go to the top of the table with City dropping points. The two remain level at 26 points with Leicester, of all clubs, only a point behind them.

Friday, November 6, 2015

It Happened in England: Newcastle steals from Bournemouth, Stoke the latest to down Chelsea

AFC Bournemouth 0-1 Newcastle
Newcastle got away with a bit of highway robbery on the south coast this morning. Ayoze Perez scored for them in the 27th minute. To say the goal was against the run of play would be an understatement. Other than the goal, the first half was all Bournemouth. In fact, the Perez tally was the only shot Newcastle took for the first 80 minutes of the match avg they only had two overall. The visitors parked the bus in front of their goal and refused to give Bournemouth an inch of space on their way to a big, if undeserved, road victory.

West Ham 1-1 Everton
Manuel Lanzini's lopping shot found the top corner at the half hour mark to give the Hammers the lead. Everton equalized in the 43rd after Romelu Lukaku collected a picture perfect through pass from Gerard Deulofeu that traversed a good third of the pitch. Lukaku's finish was classy as well. He had to dance around both West Ham center backs to get to his chance. The second half looked better for West Ham add they kept more of the ball than their foes, but there weren't any goals to be found and it ended in a draw.

Sunderland 0-1 Southampton
Ryan Bertrand took down Yann M'Vila in the Sunderland penalty area to set up Dusan Tadic from the spot for the first goal in the 69th minute. That works be enough for Saints as they get a road win against the relegation candidates.

Norwich City 1-0 Swansea City
Jonathan Howson collected an errant defensive header and tapped it in for Norwich seconds before the 70 minute mark. That works be all it would take to see them beyond visiting Swansea, who really look like a different team every game they play.

Leicester City 2-1 Watford
The Foxes got their deserved advantage in the 52nd minute through N'Golo Kante's first of the season. A more normal goal scorer doubled the lead. Jamie Vardy, the leading scorer in all of the Premier League, buried a penalty in the 65th. Watford was able to score a penalty of their own to get in the board. It was Troy Deeney in the 75th minute getting the Hornets within a goal, but that would be all they would get.

Manchester United 2-0 West Bromwich Albion
It took United longer than it should have to give the first goal and it came from an unlikely source. Jesse Lingard collected a failed clearance and covered his attempt at goal in the 53rd minute. Their second came off a penalty in second half stoppage time. Gareth McCauley was sent off for hauling Anthony Martial to the ground as he was clear in goal to allow Juan Mata to score the goal that sealed the deal for United.

Stoke City 1-0 Chelsea
Jose Mourinho watched from the stands as he was suspended for this latest Chelsea failure. Chelsea was in charge for the first half. They controlled nearly two thirds of the ball, but the Stoke defense was up to the challenge and kept them out if the net. In the 53rd minute, Stoke counter attacked their way into their goal. Marko Arnautovic scissor kicked a cross into the back of the net to put his side ahead. Chelsea had their fair share of chances as the clock wound down. However, each time they found some way to thwart themselves in their search for an equalizer. With only a few minutes left, Loic Remy was brought down in front if the goal, which very well could have been a penalty to Chelsea, but the referee didn't make the call and the Blues were sunk again.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

It Happened in Europe: Bayern Munich demolish Arsenal, Chelsea survive Kiev scare

Group E
Roma 3-2 Bayer Leverkusen
Mohammed Salah gave the home Roma a lightning fast start. It took him all of a minute and a half to give his side the lead. It became a two goal advantage with an Eden Dzeko goal in the 29th minute. The game turned itself on its head in the second half. Leverkusen got themselves in the board all of 30 seconds after the break thanks to a goal from Admir Mehmedi and found themselves level when Chicharito Hernandez scored in the 51st. Roma got themselves back in front after Salah was shoved down in the penalty area in pursuit of what would have been a tap in goal. Miralem Pjanic confidently buried the attempt to put Roma a goal up with ten minutes to play. They were able to hold off their German opposition after that goal, leading to the 3-2 victory.

Barcelona 3-0 Bate
Bate spent this match defending as the much superior Barcelona was on the attack right from the start. It took a penalty for them to get their first goal, however. Neymar scored from the spot after Filip Mladenovic handled the ball in the box just before the half hour mark. Neymar turned provider for a Luis Suarez goal just before the hour mark to secure a trio of points, and knockout round qualification, for the home team. Neymar tapped in his second of the game to make it 3-0 in the 83rd minute thanks to a wonderful run and pass from Suarez.

Barcelona are now through the the knockout stage thanks to the win. The top spot ion the group can be wrapped up next matchday. The Leverkusen-Roma fight for second got a lot more interesting with the Roma victory. They leap over Leverkusen for the second spot with two matches to play.

Group F
Bayern Munich 5-1 Arsenal
Arsenal was in need of at least a point in Germany to really feel like they had a shot at advancing, but their trip to Munich ended in miserable failure.

Just before the clock hit ten minutes, Bayern Munich got the goal they failed to get on their trip to North London a few weeks ago. Robert Lewandowski, who is no stranger to scoring goals, beat Arsenal's offside trap to nail an easy header from just outside the six yard box. Mesut Ozil thought he had equalized a minute later, but it was ruled the he handled the ball into the goal. The call, made by the goal line official, was very close, indeed. Bayern controlled just about the entire ball after the Ozil almost goal and was able to double their lead in the 29th minute when Thomas Muller latched onto a blocked shot in the penalty area that he was able to boot in with ease. It was only a matter of time before the third goal showed up, and it came from an unlikely source. Defender David Alaba hammered a distance shot into the upper corner of the goal in the 44th minute. Bayern Munich's halftime lead ws 3-0, but in truth, it could have been a lot more.

The second half looked an awful lot like the first . Bayern Munich are not the type of club to sit back and defend with a big lead. They just keep thrusting forward for more goals. They got a fourth goal in the 55th minute from the just barely introduced substitute Arjen Robben. Olivier Giroud did get the Gunners on the board with a consolation goal  in the 69th minute. Not that it had any true effect. Muller added Bayern Munich's fifth goal in the 90th minute to finish the embarrassment of the Gunners.

Olympiakos 2-1 Dinamo Zagreb
Armin Hodzic gave the visitors a big first goal in the 20th minute. Their lead would not hold up, however. Felipe Pardo leveled for the Greeks in the 65th minute. Olympiakos completed the turn around with a late winner. It was Pardo providing his second goal to give the Greek champions the leg up on qualification for the knockout rounds.

Arsenal's humbling at the hands of Bayern Munich pretty much their chances at making the Round of 16. Had Zagreb held onto their lead, or even held on to draw, against Olympiakos, the Gunners would have a shot. Instead, their six points back coupled with a -4 goal difference sinks them. Bayern Munich and Olympiakos, while not technically qualified yet, are pretty much through. Both sit with nine points to Arsenal and Zagreb's three.

Group G
Chelsea 2-1 Dynamo Kiev
Amidst rumors that their manager is about to be thrown out, Chelsea was in need of some Champions League points against Kiev at home. It took an own goal to put them on the board. Aleksander Dragovic headed a cross from Willian into his own goal in the 34th minute. Dragovic made up for his error by heading a corner into the Chelsea net in the 77th to tie the score, but Willian was able to restore the advantage in the 83rd with a wonderfully struck free kick.

Maccabi Tel-Aviv 1-3 Porto
Porto went in front by a Cristian Tello goal in the 19th minute. Andre doubled the advantage in the 49th. Miguel Layun continued the rout by scoring in the 71st. Tel-Aviv's first goal of this Champions League campaign came in the 75th minute with a penalty from Eran Zahavi.

Chelsea's win moves them into second over Kiev, but they have a long way to go to catch Porto in first, who is a win away from sealing qualification along with the group's top spot.  Tel-Aviv can only play spoiler at this point as their zero points mean they are done.

Group H
Gent 1-0 Valencia
No goals were scored in the first 45 minutes, and the only goal of the second half needed a penalty to go through. Gent were the beneficiaries if the call as Sven Kums scored from the spot in to 49th minute.

Lyon 0-2 Zenit St. Petersburg
It was Artem Dzyuba giving the visitors the lead in the 26th minute. His second goal came in the 57th to give them an unlikely 2-0 lead. Any hope of a Lyon comeback was thwarted when Maxime Gonalons was sent off for a second yellow in the 72nd minute.

Zenit are in the Round of 16 as they continue their perfect record in Group H. Gent's big win against Valencia puts them right back in the chase for second place. They sit with four points in third, only two back of Valencia. Lyon will need plenty of luck if they want to have a prayer at moving on.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

It Happened in Europe: Real Madrid through, both Manchesters into first place

Group A
Real Madrid 1-0  Paris St Germain
The battle to win Group A comes to a close. Real Madrid got a 35th minute goal from Nacho to give them a halftime lead. That goal wound staff through the end and give Real Madrid the jump on their only real competition for first place.

Shakhtar Donetsk 4-0 Malmo
As the two powerhouses were battling for the top spot in the group, these two relative minnows were fighting for the leg up on the Europa League spot earned for finishing third. Oleksandr Gladkiy put the Ukrainians ahead in the 29th minute. Darijo Srna scored from the spot in the 48th minute. The rout was on in the 55th even Eduardo scored the third goal. The finishing touch came from Alex Teixiera in the 73rd.

Real Madrid, barring an epic collapse, will take first in the group and have already cliched their place in the Round of 16. PSG will likely finish second and seal their spot next matchday, eliminating Donetsk and Malmo.

Group B
Manchester Untied 1-0 CSKA Moscow
No first half goals to speak of as United loss to overcome their slow start and secure a foothold on second place in the group, or more. Wayne Rooney finally ended Manchester United's long Champions League goal drought and delivered them the home win in the 79th

PSV Eindhoven 2-0 Wolfsburg
Wolfsburg was liking to hold onto the top spot in the group on their tricky trip to the Netherlands. Neither team found a breakthrough in the first half. PSV came alive in the second half. Jurgen Locadia broke the deadlock in the 55th minute and Luuk de Jong put it away for them in the 86th.

Manchester United got the result they wanted, even if it wasn't pretty. They go to the top of the group thanks to the PSV upset of Wolfsburg. The Dutch side are now in second place on goal difference with a pair of matches to play. They staff a real chance if going through, as well. If they can get a win over Moscow and navigate a trip to Manchester they would make it.

Group C
Benfica 2-1 Galatasaray
Benfica went ahead in the 52nd minute through Jonas after a scoreless opening frame. Galatasaray pulled even in the 58th with a Lucas Podolski goal. The Portuguese went back in front when Luisao scored the winner in the 67th.

Astana 0-0 Atletico Madrid
Trips all the way across Europe into Kazakhstan are never easy. Real Madrid priced that as the colossal Spanish club waltzed into Astana's home park and failed to get a goal. The draw was probably the best result in Astana's history. Having never been in European commission before, they will take a draw against one of the largest clubs in the world.

The draw on the other side of the continent means Benfica climbs into the top spot of the group. Galatasaray is still alive for second place as they are only three points back of Atletico. Astana, while still technically alive, will probably be eliminated after the next round, but did manage three home draws in their Champions League debut.

Group D
Borrussia Monchengladbach 1-1 Juventus
American international Fabian Johnson scored for Monchengladbach in the 18th minute to give the home Germans the lead in the defending runners up. The less would hold until the final minute before the halftime whistle when Stephan Lichtsteiner leveled for Juventus. That would be it for the scoring as the second half saw no goals, but did see Juventus's Hernanes get sent off in the 53rd for a reckless challenge.

Sevilla 1-3 Manchester City
Three first half goals for Manchester City power their way through a trip to Spain. Raheem Sterling scored in the eighth minute to give City the fast start. Fernadinho doubled the lead three minutes later. After Benoit Tremoulinas got Sevilla on the board in the 25th, City hit the finisher from Wilfried Bony in the 35th.

Manchester City takes advantage of the dropped points from Juventus to take the top spot in the group by a point. A single point over the next two games sees them through to the knockout rounds. It's still a wide open race for first place, however as the two still have to face each other in Italy. Sevilla misses a chance to climb back into the hunt and is now at risk of being eliminated after next matchday. Borrussia Monchengladbach isn't technically eliminated, but they're goal differential means that, even if they recover their six point deficit for second, they still would be out on tiebreakers.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Monday Night Football: Spurs down Aston Villa as Garde's tenure begins

Tottenham 3-1 Aston Villa
Last place Aston Villa kicked Tim Sherwood to the curb last week and they were hoping to welcome in their new boss, Remi Garde, who was watching from the stands, with a little bit more inspiring of a performance. Tottenham took all of two minutes to throw that plan to the wind. Mousa Dembele fount Brad Guzan's five hole less than 150 seconds into the match to put Spurs ahead. Villa settled in more after that opening goal, but Spurs were still controlling a great deal of the ball. Even with nearly two thirds of possession, there weren't many shots and/or chances for the home side worth speaking about until stoppage time. Dele Alli nabbed his first goal at White Hart lane by volleying home a Danny Rose cross that left Guzan helpless in his net.

Playing keep away would have been enough to secure a win for Spurs in the second half, but Aston Villa showed some punch in the attack as the half wore on. They came inches away from an equalizer in the 79th when Leandro Bacuna took a shot that grazed the fingertips of Hugo Lloris and glanced of the post. Seconds later, after corralling the rebound, Jordan Ayew did level the score with a shot that Lloris stood no chance at saving. The Villains tried to concoct an equalizer, but Harry Kane's 90th minute goal squashed any of those plans.

Villa remains in last place and hands Remi Garde the difficult task of turning their ship around to avoid their first ever relegation out ifthe Premier League. On the other end of the table, Spurs  are within a point if the top four. They sit with 20 points in fifth with Manchester United ahead of them with 21.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

It Happened in America: Red Bulls, Crew, FC Dallas all get crucial away goals

DC United 0-1 New York Red Bulls
The first have was quite passive from both sides. Bill Hamid in the United goal was the busier of the two keepers, but the chances weren't overly threatening on either end. 

The Red Bulls came out in the second half with guns blazing, although it took them until the 72nd minute to get the goal. Dax McCarty was the provider as he got free behind the DC defenders taking on a Sacha Kljestan free kick. McCarty's falling header was taken with no hostile present nearby and was an easy goal. United never truly threatened, even when down a goal and with the clock ticking down towards their demise.

New York got more than just their away goal to carry into the second leg at home next weekend. They earned a clean sheet to give them a huge advantage going forward. They did take a bit of a knock when Damien Perrinelle had to be carted off the pitch in the 51st minute. They should survive the second leg anyway. DC United's backs are really against the wall here.

Portland Timbers 0-0 Vancouver Whitecaps
The Timbers were a little short handed here as starting goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey was forced to sit out this one with the flu. This would make their quest for a clean sheet a little more difficult, but for the first half their backline of Liam Ridgewell and Nat Borchers were plenty up to the task. The Whitecaps were trying to attack with pace using short passes through the middle to set up Octavio Rivero and Kekuta Manneh, but the Timbers center backs shut them down well in the first 45. On the offensive end, the Timbers game of crosses was thwarted by Vancouver's Kendall Watson and Tim Parker.

The Timbers controlled the run of play when the rains came in the second half. Their best chances came in the 72nd and 89th minutes when David Ousted barely got his fingertips to a masterfully taken Diego Valeri free kick. In the penultimate minute, substitute Maxi Urriti got ahold of a through pass, bead Ousted with his shot, but got nothing but the far post. 

A scoreless draw suits Portland just fine. they kept Vancouver off the away goals scoreboard, which gives them an advantage in next Sunday's second leg. One goal may well be enough to see them through the Conference Finals. Getting that one goal, however, could prove difficult.

Montreal Impact 2-1 Columbus Crew
Didier Drogba has been the Impact's hero in the tail end of the season, but he played the goat midway through the first half in this one. In the 33rd minute, in an attempt to clear a long ball into the Montreal penalty area, the Ivorian headed his clearance straight to Federico Higuain, who bolted a shot right into the net. Thankfully for the home team, they equalized four minutes later when Patrice Bernier headed home a corner for his second goal of the playoffs.

Montreal was able to control the run of play through much of the second half. They got their second goal in the 77th minute on a turnover created and finished by Johan Vanegas. The Costa Rican stole from Michael Parkhurst in the midfield to set up a two on one with him and Drogba. Instead of passing to the superstar, Vanegas took the shot himself and beat Steve Clark low inside the far post. Minutes later, it almost became 3-1 to the home team when Drogba launched a free kick that Clark managed to reach and tap over the bar.

Although the Crew lost the overall battle tonight, they did get a crucial away goal to make thier home leg a little easier. Knowing Montreal's struggles away from the Stade Saputo this season, it is far from inconceivable to think they can comeback and win the round next weekend. The Impact will probably try a defensive game to keep Columbus off the board while trying to steal a goal on the counter or from a piece.

Seattle Sounders 2-1 FC Dallas
FC Dallas was ruling the game early on and they got their opening goal just as the Emerald City Supporters were warming up. Fabian Castillo latched onto a long ball and calmly slid a shot past Stefan Frei right in front of the Seattle hooligans in the 17th minute. Dallas had their away goal, and the energy had been sucked away from CenturyLink Field. That energy would return as Seattle's attack picked up around the half hour mark. They would get a series of half chances that all ended up blocked or sailing just wide of the target instead of giving them a first half goal.

Seattle came out in the second half trying everything they had to find an equalizer. It came in the 67th minute when Andreas Ivanschitz, instead of passing as he had done all game, decided to do the dirty work himself and fired a shot past Jesse Gonzalez to even the score at one. After some thrilling end to end action, the Sounders got a goal in the unlikeliest of ways for them. Having been the only MLS team to not score a goal from a direct free kick in the regular season, it was sort of shocking when Clint Dempsey fired one into the top right corner in the 87th minute. In truth, Gonzalez probably could have done more to make the save. Seattle continued to press behind the now ruckus crowd, but a satisfying two goals would be all they would get.

The Sounders, after looking down and out for much of the match, turn things around and earn an advantage heading into the second leg. Dallas will take the away goal, but they really should have held on for a more favorable result in this one. 

MLS Conference Semi-Final Predictions

DC United vs. New York Red Bulls - 3pm - ESPN
DC United looked pretty weak towards the end of the season and the only reason I feel they have gone this far is because they faced an equally weakened New England side in the knockout round. They toom advantage of some undisciplined play from the Revs and hit a late goal followed by a little luck to carry themselves into this match with the heavily favored Red Bulls. The Red Bulls may have turned into New York's "other" team since the arrival of New York City, but make no mistake, these guys are good. They won the Supporters Shield and I don't think any Eastern Conference team is capable of slowing them down. That includes United over these two legs. New York will have loftier ambitions than a simple away goal this afternoon.  I expect a win on their trip down the Atlantic Coast.

First Leg Prediction: DC United 1-2 New York Red Bulls

Portland Timbers vs. Vancouver Whitecaps - 5pm - ESPN
The Timbers got an exiting, and tiring, win over Sporting Kasas City on Thursday night. One of their biggest challenges here will be recovering from the physical and emotional exhaustion of that match. Also working against them is their poor form against Vancouver this season. In three matches against their Cascadia rivals, the Timbers are 0-1-2. They lost 2-1 on the road back in April and have drawn twice at home since then. They have been finding their goal scoring form of late, and their back line is still pretty good. Vancouver will be happy with an away goal, but the Timbers will be reluctant to give it to them. I am expecting a bit of a defensive game here.

First Leg Prediction: Portland Timbers 0-0 Vancouver Whitecaps

Montreal Impact vs. Columbus Crew - 7pm - FS1
The Impact have found new life since the arrival of Didier Drogba. They creamed Toronto last week and will have plenty of momentum heading into a home first leg. The Crew have quietly been one of the best teams in the league, however, and will be quite the formidable opponent today. I expect Montreal to get a goal or two, but the away goal they should concede will come back to haunt them next weekend in Ohio.

First Leg Prediction: Montreal Impact 2-1 Columbus Crew

Seattle Sounders vs. FC Dallas - 9:30pm - FS1
I am not sure what to think of the Sounders yet. I know Dallas is one of the league's best and came close to the Supporters Shield this year. But the Sounders have been so streaky that I really don't know if they can hold it together for both legs here. The only way I see them getting through this alive is with a clean sheet and multiple goals in game one. I think Dallas is too good to let that happen.

First Leg Prediction: Seattle Sounders 1-1 FC Dallas

Sunday Premier League: Everton hammers Black Cats, Saints take out Bournemouth

Everton 6-2 Sunderland
Everton welcomed Sunderland into Goodison Park and sent them away with a beating they won't soon forget.

The Toffees got their first goal in the 19th minute from wonderkid Gerard Deulofeu. Arouna Kone followed with his first of a wonderful night in the 31st. The Black Cats actually managed to level the score with a goal on either end of halftime. Jermaine Defoe scored in the final minute before the whistle and Steven Fletcher's equalizer came in the 50th minute. Everton wouldn't let them get too confident in themselves, however. Sebastian Coates put one onto his own net to give Everton the lead back in the 55th. Romelu Lukaku returned them to a two goal advantage five minutes later. Kone bagged his second after all of two more minutes and the hat trick came in the 76th.

Everton jumps to ninth place, four points behind a top four spot. Sunderland, meanwhile, continues to fight the relegation demons as they sit in 19th with only six points through three matches.

Southampton 2-0 Bournemouth
Saints got a pair of mid-first half goals to lift them to victory over the newly promoted Cherries.

Steven Davis gave them the lead in the 31st minute and Graziano Pelle doubled it five minutes later. Bournemouth kept their heads up and managed to stay in the game despite the two goal disadvantage. They kept their attacking heads on and managed to force Southampton to defend their tails off as the game went on. They gt a bit of a boost when Victor Wanyama was sent off for his second yellow card in the 78th. Unfortunately for the Cherries, they were unable to capitalize on the manpower advantage.

Southampton leap frog over Everton into seventh place, sitting three points back of the top four. Bournemouth holds onto a surviving spot with eight points in 11 games, good for 17th place.