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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Norwich City striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel signs with former club Vitesse Arnham

NORWICH, ENGLAND - AUGUST 17:Ricky van Wolfswinkel of Norwich City celebrates after scoring their second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Everton at Carrow Road on August 17, 2013 in Norwich, England. (Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)
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Ricky Van Wolfswinkel, Norwich City’s record transfer at the time of his purchase from Sporting CP in 2013, is moving on after a largely unsuccessful four-year stint with the Canaries.

The 27-year-old has returned to his home country, moving to Vitesse Arnham – the club he went professional with as a 19-year-old. Van Wolfswinkel made his professional debut in April of 2008 with Vitesse, and now returns for an undisclosed fee.

Van Wolfswinkel came to Norwich in 2013 with much fanfare, signing for a reported fee of $11 million – a club record signing at the time.

He proceeded to score just a single goal in 25 appearances during his first season in the Premier League, with Norwich finding itself relegated. He moved to Ligue 1 on loan with Norwich in the Championship, but still managed just five goals in 28 league appearances with St. Etienne. He never made another appearance for the Canaries, instead moving on loan again Real Betis last season, but flopped there too, scoring just once in 16 league appearances.

“I debuted in professional football on behalf of Vitesse and that is something you never forget,” van Wolfswinkel said upon signing. “After several foreign adventures I look forward to returning to the Dutch fields. I hope to find my niche and want to play well and add many goals and assists for Vitesse.”

Report: Arsenal continues to push for Lacazette transfer, readies another bid

LISBON, PORTUGAL - JULY 23:  Lyon's forward Alexandre Lacazette celebrates scoring Lyon«s goal during the Friendly match between Sporting CP and Lyon at Estadio Jose Alvalade on July 23, 2016 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images)
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According to Friday’s edition of French publication L’Equipe, Arsenal is set to table yet another improved bid for Lyon striker Alexandre Lacazette should the current one of $44 million be rejected.

The Gunners have spent little this transfer window, with the capture of Granit Xhaka their only incoming purchase thus far, and it has unsettled many supporters. The club has looked to calm those fears, going so far as to claim they are unable to spend big like many others across England, but on the inside they appear ready to spend for the French frontman.

Should Arsenal submit yet another bid for Lacazette, it would be their third. An initial bid for $39 million was rejected earlier this week, the Ligue 1 side announced on Wednesday.

“The reality is that the Arsenal made an offer of £30m,” the club confirmed in a statement, “which Olympique Lyonnais did not respond to for one reason only: OL wishes to keep Alexandre Lacazette because he is irreplaceable and one of the major leaders of Bruno Genesio’s group.”

The Frenchman scored 21 goals last season in Ligue 1 play, including 11 goals in the season’s final 10 games. His total haul was second in the league behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s whopping 38.

It seems that, with this report out in public, Lyon would be silly to accept the new bid, given that Arsenal is likely to have another improved one soon to follow.

Europa League qualifying roundup: West Ham falls in Slovenia

NYON, SWITZERLAND - AUGUST 08:  The UEFA Europa League trophy is displayed during the 2014/15 UEFA Europa League Play-off round draw at the UEFA headquarters, The House of European Football on August 8, 2014 in Nyon, Switzerland.  (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)
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In what is often described as more of a distraction than anything for English teams, the Europa League third qualification round is under way, and a Premier League club is in danger of crashing out of the competition prior to the group stage for the third straight season.

West Ham fell 2-1 at NK Domzale, the third-placed finishers in the Slovenian league last season. Mark Noble grabbed an 18th-minute penalty, the only takeaway from an otherwise depressing road result. On the other side, 24-year-old Matic Crnic scored twice to put Domzale through.

Last season, the Hammers also dropped out of the competition in the third qualification round, to Romanian club Astra Giurgiu, although they had wins in the first and second rounds after entering the competition via fair play. In addition, Southampton also crashed out of last year’s Europa League in the playoff round to Danish side FC Mitdjylland. Hull City dropped out of the tournament two seasons ago in the playoff round.

West Ham has the opportunity to turn things around at home in a week as they host Domzale at the Olympic Stadium on Thursday, August 4 in what will be West Ham’s first competitive game in their new home.

Other notable scores from Europa League qualification include:

  • Lille 1-1 Gabala FC
  • Panathinaikos 1-0 AIK
  • Genk 1-0 Cork
  • Pandurii Targu Jiu 0-3 Maccabi Tel Aviv
  • Videoton 0-1 Midtjylland
  • Hertha BSC 1-0 Bronby
  • AZ Alkmaar 1-0 Giannina

Napoli chief calls Gonzalo Higuain a “traitor,” striker hits back

Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain shows the Juventus' jersey as he arrives in the team headquarters in Turin, Italy, Wednesday July 27, 2016. Italian champion Juventus said Tuesday it has signed  Higuain from Serie A rival Napoli for 90 million euros ($99 million). (Alessandro Di Marco/Ansa via Ap)
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Gonzalo Higuain’s summer move to Juventus has not come without bad blood.

When the 28-year-old striker moved from Naples to Turin thanks to Juventus activating his release clause, it left Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis with a sour taste in his mouth. “There are those who say that talk of betrayal is an exaggeration, but I think the opposite,” De Laurentiis told Corierre dello Sport. “Because, in this decision, there is the full sense of betrayal, which also includes ingratitude.”

“We never seriously thought he would leave. Nor that he would have erased in a flash the memories of his three years in Naples.”

That didn’t sit well with Higuain, who fired back that it was de Laurentiis who drove him out of his former club.

“It was my decision to leave, but it was [De Laurentiis] who pushed me into making it,” Higuain told the media at his Juventus unveiling. “I’d like to thank the fans and my teammates, but not De Laurentiis. I no longer had a relationship with him; I couldn’t stand another minute with him.”

Higuain was more celebratory about his time at Stadio San Paulo. “These have been three amazing years,” Higuain said, “and I can only say thanks for all the love I was given, but this was a decision I took for my own reasons. I can understand that they are angry with me and I’ve seen the insults, but it is something I had to do and I’m happy about it.”

Napoli visits Turin in Serie A play on October 30, while Juventus will not travel to Naples for the return fixture until early April of 2017.