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

13 Comments

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:

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

After late goals broke Panama’s hearts in 2013, US returns

Getty Images
Leave a comment

PANAMA CITY (AP) With Panama about 90 seconds from reaching a playoff against New Zealand for a World Cup berth, Graham Zusi and Aron Johannsson scored in second-half stoppage time four years ago to give the already qualified United States a 3-2 win and eliminate the hosts.

“You felt this place dip,” Jozy Altidore recalled Monday. “You heard people crying.”

The U.S. will be back Tuesday night in a match that matters for both teams. The Americans routed Honduras 6-0 Friday at home and are looking for a second straight win in World Cup qualifying under coach Bruce Arena, who replaced Jurgen Klinsmann after an 0-2 start in the final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region.

Before a light workout at Estadio Rommel Fernandez, American players thought the Panamanians might still have that 2013 match on their minds. Panama needed a win, but the late U.S. goals kept Mexico alive and El Tri went on to reach the 2014 tournament in Brazil. Panama has never advanced to the World Cup.

“If we were smart enough, we wouldn’t have broken their hearts. Pretty stupid, if you ask me,” Arena said humorously. “You think Mexico would have scored a goal at the end of that game?”

Panama opened the hexagonal, as the final round is called, with a 1-0 win at Honduras and a 0-0 tie at home against Mexico, and then lost 1-0 at Trinidad and Tobago. Five players from that 2013 loss to the U.S. were in the starting lineup for Friday’s defeat.

“It was obviously probably pretty devastating for the players,” said American midfielder Sacha Kljestan, also among those on the field that night. “I’m sure it still means a lot to them.”

Mexico leads the hexagonal with seven points, followed by Costa Rica with six, Panama with four and the U.S., Trinidad and Tobago, and Honduras with three each. The top three nations qualify for next year’s tournament in Russia, and the fourth-place team again goes to a playoff, this time against Asia’s No. 5 nation.

“The reality of the situation that we’re in and the reality of the start that we had is we’re not playing with house money,” U.S. captain Michael Bradley said. “We’re not in a situation where we can just say, great, we took our three points at home, whatever we get on the road is extra. No, we have to come here and take points. We want three. We’re going to play in a way that gives us a chance, a big chance to get three.”

LINEUP CHANGES

Arena predicted as many as four or five changes to his starting lineup. There will be at least two.

John Brooks will miss the match because of a sinus infection and Sebastian Lletget is out with a foot injury. The players who replaced them against Honduras could start, Tim Ream for Brooks in central defense and Alejandro Bedoya in place of Lletget in right midfield.

Jermaine Jones, back from a one-game suspension for yellow-card accumulation, could enter in a central midfield role, which would push Christian Pulisic to the left flank in place of Darlington Nagbe.

APPROACHING A RECORD

After scoring his second international hat trick Friday, Clint Dempsey has 55 goals, two shy of Landon Donovan’s American record.

“Yeah, it’s on your mind,” the 34-year-old Dempsey said. “But if it comes, it comes. If it don’t, it don’t.”

OLD FRIENDS

Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, a holdover from the 2013 game, played for Arena on the LA Galaxy from 2013-15.

“Jaime Pinedo is one of the finest people I’ve ever met in the game,” Arena said. “We enjoyed him very much. Our fans loved him.”

WEATHER-WISE

After playing on a cool, damp night in the San Francisco Bay Area last weekend, the U.S. will deal with far different conditions. The game-time temperature is forecast to be 80 degrees with high humidity.

Panama’s players also may not be used to the heat, given some play in New York, Seattle, Toronto, Switzerland, Romania and other cool climates.

Report: Man United ready to pay $217 million for Neymar

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The thought of Neymar leaving Barcelona seems outlandish and so are these figures, but stranger things have happened…

[ MORE: PL giants announce preseason tours

Spanish outlet Sport claims that Manchester United are willing to pay Neymar’s eye-watering $217 million release clause and also offer him over $27 million per season net.

Per the report, Mourinho and United have reached out directly to Neymar’s representatives on multiple occasions to let them know a move will be lined up this summer if the Brazil superstar wants to make the switch from La Liga to the Premier League. Neymar has scored 235 goals in 401 appearances for Barca since arriving from Santos in 2013, winning two La Liga titles, two Copa del Rey’s, a UEFA Champions League and Club World Cup.

That reported wage offer would mean United are willing to pay Neymar almost double what he currently earns at the Nou Camp and the Brazilian national team captain may see it as an offer too good to turn down.

That said, he is now 25 years old and will soon be handed the key to Barca’s offense with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez perhaps having a maximum of four to five years each left at the top. Can Neymar wait for another few seasons before he becomes the main man at Barca? Or should he move to United this summer and become the king of Old Trafford?

With Wayne Rooney‘s power waning and veteran Zlatan Ibrahimovic clinical but yet to agree a new deal for next season, Mourinho’s options up front for next season are primarily youngsters Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford. With talk of Antoine Griezmann joining United this summer dying down, a massive move for Neymar would certainly give their forward line a new star.

The world-record transfer fee of $217 million is quite outrageous but they paid over $106 million for Paul Pogba last summer and United aren’t scared to spend.

Securing Neymar, or any other elite forward, will hinge on qualifying for the UEFA Champions League next season by either finishing in the Premier League’s top four or winning the UEFA Europa League this season.

The latter seems the most likely option right now and if United do squeak through then huge riches will follow as the third richest club on the planet (according to Forbes’ latest rich list anyway) will get richer through clauses in commercial deals being triggered, money from UEFA and beyond.

Neymar’s shirt sales would surely cover his transfer fee in a few seasons but the thought of Barcelona letting him go seems outlandish, even if they Brazilian star has been under investigation for alleged tax fraud and is yet to be the main man at Barca.

Defoe reveals vegan diet key to comeback

Getty Images
Leave a comment

If you want to score goals, be a vegan.

[ MORE: PL teams release tour dates

That’s pretty much the message from Jermain Defoe as the 34-year-old striker rolled back the years on Sunday and scored in England’s 2-0 win over Lithuania in a 2018 World Cup qualifier at Wembley.

The Sunderland striker was recalled to the England squad for the first time since 2013 by Gareth Southgate and Defoe, like he has done all season, looked sharp and in the zone. Despite playing for struggling Sunderland who sit bottom of the Premier League table, Defoe has scored 14 goals in the league.

The only Englishman who has scored more times in the PL this season is Harry Kane.

Via the Guardian, Defoe has revealed the lengths he has gone to, off the pitch, in order to sustain his goalscoring prowess.

“Everyone wants to feel fresh in the game – there’s no better feeling – so I just make sure I’m doing the right things and trying to tick every box: cryotherapy, massage, eating the right things … I’m trying to turn vegan,” Defoe said. “That’s a funny one because, when I go to my mum’s, she’s got every kind of meat you can imagine out on the table.

“I think I’ve managed [to adopt veganism] successfully. My girlfriend suggested I gave it a go. Well, she said to me: ‘You’ve got to do it’ and she’s always showing me documentaries on it. It’s always nice to have someone around you who helps you and drives you on and wants you to do well. I don’t find anything hard to give up, as such, because I know the feeling scoring goals gives me. So, while getting in an ice bath isn’t nice, I just think: ‘You know what? I’m going to do this and be rewarded.’ It’s hard but in another way it’s easy because all I want to do is play well and score goals.”

Defoe is definitely doing the latter as he scored his 20th goal for England to join an elite list and is making the most of his opportunity back in the Three Lions’ setup.

As well as turning vegan, Defoe cut out alcohol many years ago and has also got rid of chocolate as well as limiting caffeine. All of this is obviously working. Defoe has scored 33 goals in 78 PL appearances for Sunderland since arriving in 2015 after many believed his England career was over following his move to Toronto FC for the 2014 Major League Soccer season.

How wrong they were. Southgate has said Defoe could play a part in Russia in two years time of England qualify and he’s still scoring goals in the PL. The chances of that seem pretty decent given Defoe’s incredible dedication to prolonging his career.

His body is a temple and one which keeps scoring goals.

CONMEBOL WCQ: Venezuela, Bolivia teetering on elimination

Pedro Vilela/Getty Images
Leave a comment

CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying is always a challenge, and this World Cup cycle is no different.

With six teams currently separated by a mere five points under leaders Brazil, everything is left to play for as Round 14 hits South America.

[ MORE: Messi could face suspension from CONMEBOL ]

Here’s a look at what’s on the docket for Tuesday:

Bolivia vs. Argentina — 4 p.m. EDT

It wasn’t pretty at all, but La Albiceleste picked up a crucial three points against Chile, which could produce a morale lift for Argentina given their past struggles against the reigning Copa America holders.

Lionel Messi’s actions from the match could harm the Albiceleste though, with the Barcelona man reportedly facing sanctions from CONMEBOL for verbally abusing a linesman.

Meanwhile, Bolivia is in desperate need of a win in La Paz, and anything but three points could potentially end La Verde’s hopes of reaching Russia 2018.

Ecuador vs. Colombia — 5 p.m. EDT

It took a long time for Colombia to crack the Bolivia backline on Thursday but a late run from Juan Cuadrado helped set up the eventual winner from James Rodriguez, and kept Los Cafeteros in the top four.

Ecuador didn’t have the same fortunes though four days ago after falling to a very game Paraguay side. La Tricolor have gone winless in three of its last four World Cup qualifiers, leaving Gustavo Quinteros side with little margin of error against the Colombians.

Chile vs. Venezuela — 6 p.m. EDT

Chile’s qualifying struggles continued on Thursday after falling to La Albiceleste in a closely-contested match. Arturo Vidal’s six goals leave the Bayern Munich midfielder third in all of CONMEBOL this campaign, but the Chileans still sit on the outside looking in at the moment and in sixth place.

Venezuela is teetering on the edge of elimination, and a loss against Chile would all but seal their fate of missing out the World Cup. After reaching the quarterfinals at last summer’s Copa America Centenario, La Vinotinto have failed to replicate that form this qualifying campaign with just one win to show.

Top scorer Josef Martinez is no longer with Venezuela after suffering an injury in Thursday’s 2-2 draw against Peru, creating a major void in the side’s attack.

Brazil vs. Paraguay — 8:45 p.m. EDT

The Selecao continue to score at a lightning pace this qualifying campaign with 32 goals in the first 13 rounds of play. Despite conceding early to Uruguay on Thursday, Brazil responded emphatically with four goals, and most notably Paulinho‘s hat-trick.

Elsewhere, Paraguay kept itself within striking distance of the top five after its 2-1 win over Ecuador. The side is just two points behind fifth place Ecuador.

Peru vs. Uruguay — 10:15 p.m. EDT

Los Incas have not reached a World Cup since 1982, and although the team is just five points behind fifth, they need to pick up victories. Ricardo Gareca will be pleased with his side’s resiliency against Venezuela on Thursday, but more draws simply won’t do with only four rounds remaining after Tuesday.

Uruguay still sits in a solid second position after Thursday’s slip up against Brazil but another defeat could be potentially disastrous for La Celeste, who are just three points above sixth place Chile. However, Edinson Cavani’s nine goals leads all of CONMEBOL and Peru has allowed the third-most goals this campaign (22).