The soccer news starts with the clear favorite in the 2018 MLS playoffs, and that's Atlanta United. With all due respect to the other half of the bracket, this is now Atlanta's MLS Cup to lose. It would take a meltdown of epic proportions in the second-leg on Thursday (7:30pm ET - FS1) for the New York Red Bulls to stage an unlikely comeback. FiveThirtyEight puts that Red Bulls scenario at 6%. They've got Atlanta at 66% to win MLS Cup.
So no pressure then, for a club that knows their coach is done when they are and an offseason upheaval is likely. There's no helpful percentage on it, but a lot of that praise directed at Atlanta United is due to Tata Martino and Josef Martinez. They're the difference, turning United into the type of team that's tough to outplay.
Red Bulls coach Chris Armas thought he was onto something, opting not to press in Atlanta. The scoreboard tells the story, but there was something to Armas's thinking. He was trying to shakeup United while well aware of what that could mean.
“We watched the New York City series, their 20-plus percentage of long balls and that was against New York City," he said. "So against us, we really expected direct play, which is exactly what we saw,” Armas said. “So on the day we see 23 percent long from Atlanta without us all-out pressing so if we started pressing them what was it going to be, 30 percent 35 percent? So the idea of not getting stretched, I think was a good one. We thought we had to pick our poison."
As unlikely as it sounds, Armas deserves some credit for his planning. MLS is no longer a league where a team can decide to be insular, do what they do, and hope for the result. Well, at least teams that make it this far into the playoffs. NYCFC didn't exactly look overmatched against Atlanta at home. On the road, they turned into a team that couldn't make the adjustments to keep the game and the series close. The Red Bulls held on longer. If Atlanta's stoppage time goal ends up the difference in this series, the Red Bulls should feel like they did their job.
On the other side of the bracket, it's tough to make the case for Sporting KC or Real Salt Lake as anything but underdogs. The road won't be kind to either of them. Should Atlanta do as expected, one of the Western Conference coaches will be staring down what we'll respectfully refer to as "the Armas scenario." What might make sense on the whiteboard can turn into a disadvantage over 90 minutes at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Also in the soccer news, Lynden Gooch scored in Sunderland's 4-2 home win over Barnsley. An Aiden McGeady converted a Sunderland penalty in the 19th minute with Josh Maja making it 2-0 a minute later. Gooch scored in the 32nd. Burnley came back with goals in the 41st and 61st, but Luke O'Nien scored Sunderland's fourth in the 83rd minute. Sunderland is 2nd in the League One table, four points behind Portsmouth.
In the Championship, Geoff Cameron's QPR drew 2-2 at Rotherham United. Trailing from the 6th minute, Nahki Wells equalized in the 12th. Rotherham went ahead in the 15th with Luke Freeman equalizing a minute into stoppage time. Eric Lichaj's Hull City finished 0-0 at home with Norwich City.
The Oregonian's Jamie Goldberg reports that a stadium upgrade now delayed due to the Timbers' playoff run will put Portland on the road for an extended period to start the 2019 season.
SBI Soccer's David Wilson on Alphonso Davies already in Bayern Munich's first team plans. Statsbomb's Mike Goodman asks if age is catching up with Lionel Messi.
Fandom in Spain, according to recent poll (in AS today). The social reality I often mention (and one that is ever more reinforced, perpetuating).— Sid Lowe (@sidlowe) November 28, 2018
Two thirds of country support RM or FCB. pic.twitter.com/vOcAGOQFtM
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