MLS playoff preview: Houston Dynamo at Sporting KC

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Wednesday’s game on the big field at Livestrong Sporting Park promises to look nothing like Sunday’s scrappy match on a smaller patch of beaten down grass in Houston.

It will surely still be physical, but a surface more conducive to a skillful game will mean a little more soccer, a little less scuffling for 50-50 balls and scrapping for second balls.

Either way, Sporting KC has its work cut out. Goalkeeper Tally Hall and the Dynamo back line have a two-goal cushion thanks to Sunday’s win in Texas, so a draw will do for a highly confident Dynamo team that knows its way around the MLS playoffs. In fact, even a one-goal loss would suffice.

Kickoff: 9 p.m. ET, Livestrong Sporting Park, MLS Live

Houston leads the total goals series, 2-0

On the Houston Dynamo

  • Houston is 5-1 in the playoffs over the last two years. Let that sink in.
  • Dominic Kinnear’s team was just 3-9-5 on the road this year, with a minus-12 goal difference. But … the Dynamo did go into Chicago last week and come out with well-managed win.
  • More critical in framing this one is Houston’s relative success at Livestrong Sporting Park. They haven’t lost in three appearances since a 3-0 loss last year in Houston’s frist trip to 18-month-old stadium. Houston stunned SKC in last year’s Eastern Conference final and managed two draws at Livestrong this year.
  • Hall was excellent in the September draw (1-1), making seven saves.
  • He’ll need to be on his game again, especially if Jermaine Taylor can’t play. Bobby Boswell’s central partner along the back line limped out of Sunday’s contest and remains questionable, although he did train Tuesday before the team left Houston. Canadian international Andrew Hainault will man the position if Taylor cannot.
  • Few central midfielders will cover as much ground over a match as Ricardo Clark, who sets up at the top of Houston’s midfield diamond, but drops reliably in alongside Adam Moffat as the opposition draws in closer to Houston goal.
  • Kinnear, on his team’s subdued celebration following Sunday’s win and the understanding that nothing has been accomplished just yet: “The music is not boucning off the wall in the locker room. These guys have been through this before. They know what’s happening. This series with Kansas City is 180 minutes and a lot can happen out there. … We can’t let down.”

(MORE: Analysis of Sunday’s match)

On Sporting Kansas City

  • Sporting Kansas City is the Eastern Conference champion and plenty of people within the league and close to it had circled K.C. as the site they suspected MLS Cup 2012 would land. That’s in some doubt now.
  • The home team Wednesday suddenly has a hole to fill. Defensive midfielder Julio Cesar suffered a quadriceps injury late in Sunday’s 2-0 loss. Ordinarily, it wouldn’t be a huge blow because Paulo Nagamura could fill in quite capably. Except that he’s hurt too. So…
  • SKC center backs Aurelien Collin and Matt Besler won more than their share of battles Sunday with Houston’s big stable of big forwards. (Although Collin picked a bad time to get stretched out of position, allowing himself to be turned en route to the Dynamo’s second goal).
  • Striker C.J. Sapong contributed some adequate hold-up work to the effort, and he made the Houston center backs work. But wingers Jacob Peterson and Kei Kamara need to be better Wednesday.
  • To win outright (without the extended period or penalty kicks) SKC will need to score three goals. How many times did they score more than two over a 34-game season? Just three times.
  • Graham Zusi led the league with 15 assists this year; Houston’s Brad Davis tied for fourth with 12.
  • Midfielder Roger Espinoza: “It’s going to be very tough, but it’s not impossible. I’ve seen it happen many, many times. I don’t think I’ve been on a team before that’s done that, but it’s happened before. This is what we play for – to make amazing things happen.”

(MORE: No excuses offered from Peter Vermes)

Bottom line:

It really is about the first goal Wednesday.

If Houston gets that one, Sporting Kansas City’s uphill climb goes from tough to something just this side of impossible.  But if Sporting KC can turn up with the opener, the Blue Hell of Livestrong Sporting Park will be about as loud and blue as you can possibly imagine – and it’s not hard to imagine a second goal dropping in short order as the energy, initiative and motivation soars.

Sporting Kansas City certainly has the ability to carve out a memorable night … but it’s hard to bet against a cushioned, Kinnear-coached team in this one.

Americans Abroad wrap: Goals for Boyd, Gooch, Ariyibi

Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images
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Not every American player abroad found himself beneath a cleat this weekend, like DeAndre Yedlin.

[ PL PREVIEW: Arsenal vs. West Brom ]

The Magpies right back went 90 minutes for Newcastle and delivered good service in the 1-0 loss to Brighton and Hove Albion. How did other Americans fare abroad?

Germany

Bobby Wood led Hamburg in attempts on goal in Hamburg’s 3-0 loss at Bayer Leverkusen.

— American teenager Weston McKennie made his second-straight start for Schalke, but was again on the losing end in a 2-0 defeat at Hoffenheim.

— Fellow 19-year-old Christian Pulisic went 64 minutes for first-place Borussia Dortmund, leaving with BVB up 5-0 and en route to a 6-1 victory over Borussia Monchengladbach.

— Not many Foals had good matches in that 6-1 defeat to BVB, and Fabian Johnson departed after 72 minutes with his side down four.

— Credit Timmy Chandler for a match-best four crosses in Eintracht Frankfurt’s 2-1 loss at RB Leipzig.

— In the second tier, Terrence Boyd came off the bench to fire his first goal of the season, a 90th minute header that was joined by Tobias Kempe’s 93rd minute marker to give Darmstadt a 3-3 draw versus Dynamo Dresden.

— Alfredo Morales went 90 minutes in the midfield as Ingolstadt lost 2-0 at Bochum.

— Julian Green got another 90 at left midfield/wing but Greuther Furth fell 3-1 at home to Nurnberg.

— On loan from Schalke, Haji Wright went 59 minutes at center forward as Sandhausen fell 1-0 at Erzegebirge Aue. Ken Gipson was on the bench for the ninth time but did not feature for the eighth.

— Jann George had an assist for Jahn Regensburg in a 2-1 win against visiting Eintracht Braunschweig.

England

— Yedlin went 90 for Newcastle, as detailed above.

— On the otherside of the Tyne-Wear rivalry, Sunderland midfielder Lynden Gooch had a moment to remember in a loss to Cardiff City. Gooch converted a penalty that briefly leveled the match.

— Eric Lichaj isn’t getting Championship run for Nottingham Forest, but went 90 minutes at right mid in a 5-1 League Cup loss to Chelsea at midweek.

— Tim Ream has played all 810 league minutes for Fulham, who drew 1-1 versus Middlesbrough at Craven Cottage

— On loan from Everton, Antonee Robinson is still yet to taste victory as a member of Bolton Wanderers. They fell 3-0 to Brentford, with Robinson putting in 75 minutes at left mid.

— On loan from Spurs, Cameron Carter-Vickers went the distance for Sheffield United in a 4-2 derby win over Sheffield Wednesday. The Blades have won both of the 19-year-old’s starts.

— In League One, Gboly Ariyibi scored for the third time in six days as MK Dons won 2-0 at AFC Wimbledon.

— Duane Holmes put another 90 in the books at right mid for Scunthorpe United in a 2-0 win over visiting Portsmouth.

Elsewhere

— Ethan Horvath picked up a win as Club Brugge went to RSC Charleroi and won 2-1. Brugge is 7W-1L in league play this season, and the 22-year-old has played every minute.

— On loan from Chelsea, Matt Miazga went 90 minutes at center back for Vitesse in a 2-1 win at Ajax.

Benitez peeved by block on Brighton’s clever set piece goal (video)

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Brighton midfielder Dale Stephens and Newcastle United boss Rafa Benitez obviously feel quite different about the match-winning goal the Gulls nabbed off a set piece on Sunday.

[ MORE: Recap | Hemed denies intent vs. Yedlin ]

Both agree on one thing, though, there’s blocking involved in the play’s success.

“We’ve tried it a few times,” Stephens said. “I’m glad it paid off. We change the blocker each time.”

Benitez saw his club’s three-match winning streak end largely on the merit of that goal, and thinks a foul should’ve been spotted by Andre Marriner.

Ciaran Clark is partially and purposely blocked from moving toward Stephens at the back post, and also misses the ball after Stephens nods back across goal.

It’s a clever play which led to an important goal, but Benitez feels it was insidious and illegal.

“I am not happy with the way we conceded. It was a block, an illegal block. You cannot argue too much but it is very difficult to understand some things. They pushed my players.

What do you think? There’s not much in the block. At the same time, it’s hard to call it anything but a block.

Hemed denies intention in Yedlin stamp

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Tomer Hemed‘s day could’ve gone south despite scoring what turned out to be the match-winning goal on Sunday against Newcastle United.’

[ RECAP: Brighton 1-0 Newcastle ]

Standing over a prone DeAndre Yedlin, the Brighton striker stamped down on the American fullback’s calf. The foul left Yedlin on the turf in pain for a moment.

The move was not seen by officials, and the Gulls needed every one of their 11 men to hold off a furious late charge by the visiting Magpies.

Hemed says the stamp was an accident, and had nothing to do with a previous incident between the two players. From The Newcastle Chronicle:

“No. It was by accident. Before I just told him: If you cannot jump for the ball, why push me? Try to take the ball, don’t push me. But after that, it was by accident. If I hurt him, I am sorry.”

Brighton boss Chris Hughton says he saw the play, but thought it was an accident.

“My very first impression is no intent,” he said. “There has been contact but my first impression is no intent and knowing the individual I would say no intent.”

The incident threatens not only to color the Gulls’ resolute defending and win, but could cost Hemed a three-match ban upon review.

Brighton and Hove Albion 1-0 Newcastle United: Gulls hold off Magpies

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  • Scoreless at half
  • Hemed nabs 2nd PL goal
  • NUFC leads in shots 17-7

Tomer Hemed‘s early second half goal helped Brighton and Hove Albion end Newcastle United’s three-match win streak in a 1-0 match at the Amex Stadium on Sunday.

Newcastle drops to eighth on goal differential, while the win boosts Brighton 13th.

Newcastle faces Liverpool on Oct. 1 ahead of the international break, while Brighton is off to Arsenal.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

A first-minute foul on Joselu cued Matt Ritchie up for a free kick which led to a Newcastle corner kick. The effort swerved outside the 18, where Mikel Merino forced Mat Ryan into a diving right-handed parry.

At the other end? Something akin to a rugby ruck inside the 18 was barely cleared by the Magpies as the first five minutes promised an entertaining encounter.

Brighton worked a scintillating counter in the seventh minute, but it only led to a Tomer Hemed low effort. It was scooped easily by Rob Elliot.

The Seagulls saw Gross’ wide-open rocket clatter off Anthony Knockaert in front of the Newcastle goal, but Brighton had to feel good about the progress of the match.

It was against the run of play that Newcastle almost opened the scoring, as Christian Atsu sent Ayoze Perez down the left and his cutback found Joselu. The Spaniard dragged his shot just wide of the far post.

A wide open game, Chancel Mbemba found Perez for a shot that blazed wide of the frame in the 31st minute. Ritchie hit a free kick into the arms of Ryan eight minutes later.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Hemed gave Brighton its lead in the 51st minute off a free kick headed back into the mix by Stephens. Hemed plucked the ball out of the air with a raised boot to make it 1-0.

It could’ve been 2-0 five minutes later when Bruno found Solly March, but Elliot made a sliding boot save on the line.

Ritchie earned a dangerous free kick that was turned into a corner following a Merino rip, and the 63rd minute chance was played short and pushed out of bounds by Newcastle.

A series of corners arrived following the introductions of Jonjo Shelvey and Dwight Gayle, though the Gulls handled them fairly well.

The 79th minute saw a terrific cross from DeAndre Yedlin go for nought when Atsu grounded a shot at Ryan.

Substitute Jesus Gamez bounced a shot wide of the near post in the 84th minute, as time was running low for the Magpies.

Hemed stamped Yedlin’s calf in the 88th minute, the clever dirty play unseen by the officials.