Sporting Kansas City v Houston Dynamo - Eastern Conference Semifinals

Drilling down on: at Houston Dynamo 2, Sporting Kansas City 0

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Sunday’s result was all Houston Dynamo fans could have hoped for  – a two-goal lead heading to Kansas City. Thanks to goals on each side of halftime from Adam Moffat and Will Bruin, the Dynamo are in the driver’s seat after one leg of their Eastern Conference semifinal, taking a 2-0 lead over Sporting Kansas City into Wednesday’s match at LiveStrong Park.

The performance was controlling and comprehensive, with a Kansas City team that was held to one shot on goal showing none of the qualities that won them the Eastern Conference. Now, on the brink of a second consecutive elimination at the hands of Dom Kinnear, Sporting head coach Peter Vermes has to go back to the drawing board. Houston seems to have Kansas City figured out.

Man of the Match: Adam Moffat had no right to score off that kind of shot, one that gave Houston the dreaded first goal. Chasing a goal against a Kinnear-led team puts Kansas City in an especially unenviable position.

Moffat’s blast was a thing of beauty (and he’s done it before). After getting the ball back from Will Bruin, the Houston midfielder took one touch before letting loose on a wicked half-volley from 30 yards out. With almost no spin, the ball seemed pulled on a string into the left side of Jimmy Nielsen’s goal, the Goalkeeper of the Year favorite left to leap in vain at the game’s first goal.

After his goal scoring heroics, Moffat did his part to lock down the middle. With Kansas City unable to move the ball through Houston’s front six, Sporting’s attacking trio of Graham Zusi, Kei Kamara and C.J. Sapong were non-factors.

MORE: Highlights from Sunday’s big Dynamo victory.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Houston’s pressure turned the tables on Sporting.

Normally it’s Kansas City that makes things uncomfortable for the opposition, with Roger Espinoza leading a pressing game that’s helped Sporting to the league’s best defensive record. Today, however, it was Houston making life miserable for KC, their pressure repeatedly pushing the ball back to KC defenders Aurelien Collin and Matt Besler. With fullbacks Chance Myers and Seth Sinovic too far up the pitch (and accounted for by Boniek Garcia and Brad Davis), KC’s central pair were left with few options. Defensive midfielder Julio Cesar did not doing enough to provide an outlet. With Collin and Besler left with a collection of bad options, KC could never get their attack going.

Compare Houston’s approach with what we saw last night from DC United. True, we’re talking different opponents and different personnel, but DC was too passive defensively. Even before Andy Najar got himself dismissed, New York was able to amble into attack, short passes with little urgency easily making their way through the middle third.

Tonight, Houston took the opposite approach, taking advantage of their home field to build a two-goal lead.

Houston’s two-man midfield worked

For much of the year, Houston played three in the middle, but shortly before the playoffs started, Dominic Kinnear switched back to his preferred 4-4-2 – two men in the middle. In theory, that would create a disadvantage against Sporting, who play with Espinoza, Cesar and Jacob Petersen in the center. But with Houston’s forwards pressing and Ricardo Clark’s range in front of Adam Moffat, the Dynamo were able to make two-on-three work for them. The extra man along Sporting’s line enabled Houston’s game-defining pressure.

The second goal could change everything

A 1-0 win would have been nice result against the conference champions, but with Will Bruin’s 75th minute goal, Houston takes an imposing lead out of BBVA. With a one-goal lead after one leg, the tendency is to stay the course, not change your approach, and treat the scoreline as if you scored an early goal in a conventional game. Kinnear may elect to take that approach, but a two-goal lead gives him more freedom to change his team and use his practice time preparing to preserve the lead.

Packaged for takeaway

  • The teams combined for only three shots on goal, two finding their way to nylon. Kansas City’s only shot came from an impossible angle wide left of Tally Hall’s goal.
  • Roger Espinoza showed few ill effects of an ankle injury that hampered him over the season’s last month, though he did leave after 77 minutes.
  • When you look to Kansas City’s bench, you see how much they miss Teal Bunbury, the young striker whose season was cut short by a major knee injury. Peter Vermes has few ways to change his team when he needs to chase the game.
  • Houston may be without Jermaine Taylor for Wednesday’s second leg. The Jamaican international picked up a knee injury in the first half, and although he tried to go in the second, Andre Hainault had to come on after 55 minutes.
  • Calen Carr showed why he’s preferred to Mac Kandji. Kandji may be the more dangerous player, but Carr’s work rate was essential on Sunday. He got the assist on Bruin’s goal.
  • If there was one question about Houston coming into the game, it was young right back Kofie Sardokie, particularly given the potential battle with Kei Kamara. Sarkodie acquitted himself nicely, even if Kansas City’s leading scorer had few chances to exploit the matchup.

Adam Moffat talks big goals, big Sunday wins:

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Klopp played three positions in Liverpool staff team’s draw with Stanford

Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool FC (Photo credit: @StanfordMSoccer)
Photo credit: @StanfordMSoccer
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From the Endearing Jurgen Klopp Tales file, the Liverpool manager reportedly starred in defense, midfield and attack for a squad full of Reds coaches against Stanford on Sunday.

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Liverpool, who have based themselves on the sunny, warm Stanford University campus as part of their preparations for the 2016-17 Premier League, took on the collegiate side and played the youngsters to a 1-1 draw.

Klopp failed to get his name on the scoresheet, though the former Mainz striker had one golden chance turned away by Stanford’s goalkeeper. The same couldn’t be said for physiotherapist Ruben Pons, who scored from beyond the halfway line on a mishit long ball over the top.

With all the goodwill Klopp has banked with Reds fans in his first nine months at the club, he’s now only a PL title away from securing his place as an eternal Liverpool legend.

Liverpool will take on Chelsea in each side’s first International Champions Cup fixture Wednesday night (11 p.m. ET) in Pasadena, Calif.

Former Fergie assistant Phelan wants Hull job — “I want to be a manager”

SCUNTHORPE, ENGLAND - JULY 23:  Hull City interim manager Mike Phelan prior to kick off in the pre-season friendly between Scunthorpe United and Hull City at Glanford Park on July 23, 2016 in Scunthorpe, England.  (Photo by Daniel Smith/Getty Images)
Photo by Daniel Smith/Getty Images
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Following Steve Bruce’s sudden and unexpected resignation this week, Hull City find themselves without a first-team manager 20 days before the 2016-17 Premier League opener, which will pit the PL newcomers (again) against the reigning PL champions (not again) Leicester City on Aug. 13.

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The man presently in charge of the club, Mike Phelan, who served as Sir Alex Ferguson‘s no. 2 for a number of years at Manchester United, has essentially no first-team managerial experience, but he’s eager to cut his teeth and wants the job anyway — quotes from the Hull Daily Mail:

“I want to be a manager. I don’t really see why I shouldn’t want to be a manager. Time will tell. That decision doesn’t sometimes come down to you.

“I’ve had a small chat and I was asked if I would carry on being in charge for now. We have games, we have preparations, we’ve still got three weeks to go.

“My job is no different to what it has been except now I’m stood on the touchline in games doing my bit. We just have to do our job, there’s nothing else we can do until the powers that be make their decisions.”

Here’s why it’s (obviously) crazy for the club to delay a final decision any longer than absolutely necessary: with every passing day, important preparations for a PL season, a campaign in which the Tigers will almost certainly be fighting for their top-division status, are being undertaken by an interim boss who, based upon the daily whims of an outgoing owner, may or may not be the man to lead Hull into that 38-game battle.

Phelan previously served as interim manager for Norwich City in 2015, for a period totaling four days.

Int’l Champions Cup: Aurier scores twice as PSG throttle Inter Milan

Paris Saint-Germain's Serge Aurier, right, gets a shot past Inter Milan goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, left, in the first half of the International Champions Cup soccer match at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore., Sunday, July 24, 2016. (Andy Nelson/The Register-Guard via AP)
Andy Nelson/The Register-Guard via AP
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EUGENE, Ore. (AP) Serge Aurier scored twice and Paris Saint-Germain beat Inter Milan 3-1 on Sunday at the University of Oregon’s Autzen Stadium.

Layvin Kurzawa also scored for PSG on a free kick in the 61st minute in the International Champions Cup match. Stevan Jovetic scored for Inter Milan on a penalty kick in stoppage time following the first half.

Autzen Stadium, the home football field of the Oregon Ducks, hosted the match, part of the International Champions Cup. Real grass was laid down on the artificial turf field, obscuring the yellow `O’ at midfield.

The International Champions Cup is an exhibition tournament involving 17 teams playing on four different continents. It serves a tuneup for the regular season.

Inter Milan was coming off a 2-1 victory over Real Salt Lake earlier in the week in Utah. Striker Mauro Icardi played in that match, and was given the day off against PSG.

Paris Saint-Germain, which beat West Bromwich Albion 2-1 its last time out on July 14 in Austria, is embarking on its first season under Unai Emery, who took over for Laurnet Blanc. In addition to the new manager, PSG will also need to adjust to the departure of enigmatic forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who signed with Manchester United earlier this month.

Ibrahimovic had 38 goals in 31 French league games last season, helping PSG to a fourth successive title. On Sunday midfielder Javier Pastore wore No. 10.

Angel Di Maria, Edinson Cavani and Thomas Meunier entered as subs for Paris Saint-Germain in the second half.

Di Maria had just returned to his club team earlier in the week after taking some time off following the Copa America tournament. He played for his native Argentina in the final, which Chile won on penalty kicks.

David Luiz apparently did not make the trip to Eugene from Los Angeles, where PSG was training.

Aurier, who played in the 2014 World Cup for his native Ivory Coast, left-footed the rebound of a free kick off goalkeeper Samir Handanovic into the bottom left corner.

Inter Milan evened it on Jovetic’s penalty kick into the top right corner in extra time following the first half. The penalty was awarded when Lucas Moura was called for a handball.

Aurier had a good chance in the 57th minute but his shot hit the crossbar. A few minutes later, Kurzawa struck a perfectly placed free kick that Handanovic couldn’t reach that put PSG in front.

Aurier’s second goal was a header off a cross from Alec Georgen in the 87th minute.

Is MLS MVP a three-horse race at the All-Star “break”?

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco laughs after being named Major League Soccer's 2015 Most Valuable Player in Toronto, Wednesday, Dec.  2, 2015. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)
Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP
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With the 2016 MLS All-Star Game set to be played Thursday night (versus Arsenal, at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, Calif.), it got me thinking about the race for this year’s Most Valuable Player award. (If MLS is going to continue holding the All-Star Game every year — and they are — it should include an actual break, as is the case in all other America sports.)

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While the field is a small one at this point of the campaign, it’s also much closer than it was last year, when Sebastian Giovinco took home the honor in an absolute landslide of a vote.

Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC

The reigning MVP is on pace for something of a come-down in his second season in MLS, but when you put up 22 goals and 16 assists in your debut campaign, can you really expect to replicate that kind of production from one year to the next? Still, 11 goals (on the most shots in the league – 124) and 7 assists through 20 games (Giovinco has played in 19) has him on pace for 18 goals and 12 assists. Of course, when you consider he snapped a skid of eight games without a goal with a hat trick Saturday night, and that he’s unlikely to endure such a slump through the final 14 games, 18 and 12 should be considered the proverbial floor.

TFC have scored just 25 goals this season, and Giovinco has scored or assisted 18 of them (72 percent).

As for TFC’s present standing and how that impacts Giovinco’s MVP candidacy, fifth place through 20 games is a disappointment considering this was to be “the year” where they were less of a collection of talent, and more a functional team. Of course, injuries (and national team call-ups) have robbed the Reds of Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Will Johnson for lengthy periods already. That TFC find themselves presently a playoff team, and a measly six points back of the Eastern Conference’s top spot with two games in hand, should benefit Giovinco’s case more than hurt it.

David Villa, New York City FC

This one’s pretty simple: NYCFC weren’t supposed to be anywhere near the top spot of the East this season, yet that’s where they find themselves at the break, and Villa has spearheaded their unlikely run by scoring 13 goals (most in MLS – on 117 shots – 46 more than the next-closest player) and one assist through 22 games (Villa has played in 21). The question is this, though: will Patrick Vieira’s side still be there come the end of the season? So much of Villa’s claim to MVP is that he’s been the best player on one of the best (and certainly most surprising) teams in MLS this year.

If they’re to fall back into the pack (they’re just two points clear of the New York Red Bulls following Sunday’s 4-1 derby disaster, and only four points from fourth), Villa will quickly fall from MVP candidate to “the best best player on a subpar team.”

New York City FC forward David Villa, left, and New York City FC defender Chris Wingert celebrate Villa's early goal during the first half of the match between New York City FC and Toronto FC, Sunday, July 12, 2015, at Yankee Stadium in New York. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)
(AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)

Ignacio Piatti, Montreal Impact

The Impact have, for my money, the most complete roster in the Eastern Conference. Didier Drogba is arguably the most dominant goal-scoring force MLS has ever seen (8 goals in 12 appearances this season; 11 in 11 last year), and the depth in midfield and defense is unparalleled, yet Piatti has been the unrivaled star through the first 20 games of the season (he has played in 18). His 12 goals and 5 assists are rivaled only by Giovinco’s numbers, and he’s been a far more consistent contributor than the Italian (never more than three games without a goal, while playing as a non-forward, unlike Giovinco).

The knock on Piatti has always been his inability to stay healthy and approach a pace of 30 appearances in a single season. Finally consistently healthy in 2016, he’s taken his short-term production and replicated that same kind of output over 90 percent of his team’s games this season. If he can reach 30 games played this year, Piatti has the best chance of stopping Giovinco from becoming the first back-to-back MVP winner in league history.

Montreal Impact's Ignacio Piatti, left, of Argentina, scores a goal as Vancouver Whitecaps' Kendall Waston, of Costa Rica, defends during first half MLS soccer action, in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Sunday, March 6, 2016. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
(Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)

On the fringe, with a chance to catch the leaders: Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls – 5 goals, 12 assists), Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers – 9 goals, 5 assists)