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!

Wenger, Kroenke meet; Arsenal board will be told decision Tues.

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Wenger watch is entering its final hours.

The BBC is reporting that Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke met with longtime manager Arsene Wenger on Monday to discuss the Frenchman’s future, and that the decision was going to be made together.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

It seems almost certain that Wenger is going to come back to the Emirates Stadium. From the BBC:

The outcome is unclear but the decision rests solely with Wenger and Kroenke and will be relayed to directors at a Tuesday board meeting.

Fresh terms were agreed in principle some months ago, but nothing is signed.

There have been questions about whether Wenger would accept a sporting director being placed above him, and if Kroenke believes the repercussions of keeping the boss would negatively impact the business.

Barcelona to keep goalkeeper Ter Stegen until 2022

Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
Leave a comment

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has reached a deal to extend the contract of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen until June 2022.

The club said the new agreement, which has a buyout clause of 180 million euros ($201 million), will be signed on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

Ter Stegen has been with the club since 2014, helping it win nine titles in three seasons.

The German goalkeeper has played 93 matches with Barcelona, conceding 90 goals in 71 wins, 10 draws and 12 losses.

Barcelona has already renewed the contracts of Javier Mascherano, Luis Suarez, Neymar, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic. It is still working on new deals for Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.

Report: Wenger ready to pay Ozil, Sanchez club record deals

AP Photo/Matt Dunham
Leave a comment

Arsenal knows its departure from the UEFA Champions League has to be a short one, and that keeping its two best attackers around is imperative.

That’s why Arsene Wenger is preparing to make Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez the top paid players in Arsenal history, according to a report from The Telegraph’s Jeremy Wilson.

The contract status of both players has been a touchy one this season, and Sanchez especially has been linked with some of the biggest clubs in Europe (including London neighbors Chelsea).

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

But perhaps the Gunners’ FA Cup triumph over Chelsea has Ozil and Sanchez feeling good vibes about the Emirates Stadium set, and Arsenal is ready to pounce. According to the report:

Wenger has told the board that he thinks he can win the Premier League if this group stays together and is supplemented by no more than two or three key additions. Ozil is understood already to have been offered more than £250,000 a week and the club are ready to go to around £280,000 for both him and Sanchez.

The Gunners need both players healthy and happy heading into next season, and appropriate additions as well (A top striker is a must. Again). Wage structure is important, but Arsenal will have a blessing in disguise if another player can make a legit case he deserves to be paid like Ozil and Sanchez any time soon.

West Ham, Everton, and the superstar striker’s need for the Champions League

Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Come up with a list of active elite level strikers, and it’s likely to be a short one filled with names from UEFA Champions League clubs.

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Costa, Luis Suarez, Robert Lewandowski, Edinson Cavani, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Harry Kane, even Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Rarely do names like these move to a non-UCL club while in their prime, and it’s just as uncommon to see them stay at clubs which have failed to qualify for the UCL.

The money, the prestige, the endorsements; All are amplified by the world stage. Given the massive import of their domestic stage and spotlight, Premier League sides have bucked this trend on occasion — see Romelu Lukaku — but it’s the exception to the rule.

That’s what puts an ambitious club like West Ham United between a rock and a hard place. The Irons have been vocal about their desires to bring in a top-end striker, and it’s likely they’d be happy to spend what it takes to attract Alexandre Lacazette, Aubameyang, or Cavani to town.

Lyon reportedly rejected a $45 million bid for Lacazette last season, admitting that ultimately the player’s desires would determine his future. Higuain, too, was linked to chairman David Gold’s wallet before moving to Juventus. Carlos Bacca also saw his future connected to the Irons.

Instead, Gold landed Andre Ayew from Swansea, and had to hope Andy Carroll could stay healthy or Enner Valencia would deliver. Not a striker, Dimitri Payet apparently decided to skip town soon after West Ham’s Europa League exit at the hands of Astra Giurgiu.

Now it’s Kelechi Iheanacho being linked to the London Stadium, another hopeful swing from the Irons that points a strong finger at the problem: West Ham can be as ambitious as it likes, but it’s going to need a miracle to pull an elite striker to London without European football.

And it shouldn’t happen, but what if Everton is bumped from the UEL in the third qualifying round or playoff next year? Will Lukaku follow Payet’s lead and sink another team from joining the discussion? Though an argument can be made it’s better for Everton to lose those summer games, the Toffees very much need to succeed in the UEL qualifying and also show signs of strength in the early PL docket. That’s the unforgiving life of sitting on the outskirts of the powerful tier.

Every team at every level is searching for the next elite striker. Some, like West Ham, will need to luck into a young buck on the rise or a flawed striker finding his potential. And how do they hold onto that player, one who will have alerted the big boys to his arrival, without qualifying for Europe? It’s improbable.

The ability of teams like Chelsea and Liverpool to compete for a European slot in the PL standings thanks to missing out on the UCL the year before signals hope for clubs like Everton and West Ham. And five Premier League sides competing in the UCL this year could extend an invitation to stay longer in the Top Seven discussion for sides like Southampton and Leicester City, too.

So this summer’s striker captures are huge for Slaven Bilic and David Gold. This is a window the league’s “next group” won’t have open annually, and West Ham’s hopes of barging into the discussion again hinge on who shows up by August.