Sporting Kansas City v Houston Dynamo - Eastern Conference Semifinals

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.

Mourinho on Manchester United’s injured CBs, Rooney usage

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 23:  Chris Smalling of Manchester United tackles Diego Costa of Chelsea during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on October 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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Jose Mourinho has three center backs available to him to help stop Harry Kane and Dele Alli, but it was nearly more dire than that.

Eric Bailly is available for Manchester United for Sunday’s match against Spurs after appearing to be injured late in Thursday’s encounter at Zorya Luhansk.

Chris Smalling won’t be, however, meaning Bailly will likely pair with either Phil Jones or Marcos Rojo in the back of the Red Devils formation.

[ MORE: Stoke’s Hughes likes Arsenal’s PL odds ]

This won’t surprise too many, but the conversation turned to Wayne Rooney. The attacker has three goals and eight assists in 20 matches this season (one and four of those in the Premier League).

Mourinho says he expects more goals from Rooney, but no more than he does any of his other attackers aside from Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

From Sky Sports:

“In the national team he is their player, he is not my player, and they can do what they want. If they want to play him right-back, they can play him right-back. It’s not my problem.

“In my team, he is an attacking player – he will play as a nine or a 10, or eventually coming from one of the sides.”

Nothing new there, but you can understand how any manager and Rooney himself would tire of answering the same questions every week. And it won’t ease much if he leaves Old Trafford.

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Stanford looks for 2nd straight title as College Cup begins

Jordan Morris, Stanford University
Lauren Collins/Winston-Salem Journal via AP
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HOUSTON (AP) Stanford got off to a rough start this year, but rebounded in a season where everyone wanted to take the Cardinal down to make it back to the College Cup.

After winning the first national championship in program history last season, No. 5 Stanford continues its title defense in the second semifinal on Friday night against No. 9 North Carolinas. In the first semifinal, No. 2 Wake Forest faces undefeated No. 6 Denver.

[ MORE: This week’s top 5 PL Storylines ]

Stanford had with three ties and a loss in its first six games before winning 13 of its next 16 games to win a third straight Pac-12 championship and return to the College Cup.

“I think it was kind of a wakeup call seeing how hard we were going to get played and I think we adapted to that as the season progressed,” said defender Tomas Hilliard-Arce, who was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year last month.

Stanford hopes to become the first team since Indiana in 2003-04 to win consecutive national championships. Coach Jeremy Gunn’s team is the first to return to the College Cup the season after winning the national championship since Wake Forest returned in 2008 after winning it all in 2007.

Stanford lost some key players from last season, including MLS Rookie of the Year and the reigning Hermann Trophy winner Jordan Morris. But it returns six starters from last season’s team. Five of those players were named to the All-Pac-12 first team last month, and one was on the second team.

[ MORE: Hughes on Arsenal, “Could be their year” ]

“We had some great players leave after last year and I think some people wanted to write us off this year,” Gunn said.

Stanford is led by Co-Pac-12 player of the year Foster Langsdorf. The junior forward has led the team’s attack this season, scoring 15 goals, including one in each of Stanford’s three tournament games. In their 10 Pac-12 games, Langsdorf scored 12 goals.

North Carolina comes to Houston for its first College Cup appearance since winning a national championship in 2011. The Tar Heels also reached the national semifinals in 2009-10.

Some things to know about the College Cup.

H-TOWN CONNECTION: The Tar Heels come to Houston with many connections to the area. Three Houston Dynamo players, defenders Jalil Anibaba and Sheanon Williams and goalkeeper Tyler Deric, played at North Carolina, while head coach Carlos Somoano is from nearby Seabrook, Texas. The Tar Heels leading scorer, Tucker Hume, said players from the Dynamo have reached out to them and that they’ll be at Friday’s game.

“My formative soccer years and experiences were done right here in Houston,” Somoano said. “So for me it’s very special to be back here.”

YOUTH MOVEMENT: After losing key players from last season, including three who were selected in the top 12 of the MLS SuperDraft, North Carolina has had to rely on its youth in 2016. The Tar Heels have 12 players who have appeared in all 20 games this season, six of whom are either freshmen or sophomores. Sophomore forward Nils Bruening leads the team in goals with eight, while redshirt sophomore goalkeeper James Pyle has allowed just 10 goals this season.

[ MORE: Atleti gets new logo ]

“They’ve been a bit of a revelation for us,” Somoano said. “It’s just fascinating to see how they evolve through the year. They’re not the same players now than they were in August.”

FAMILIAR FACES: Denver head coach Jamie Franks and Wake Forest’s Bobby Muuss have plenty of history. Muuss was an assistant coach for the Demon Deacons during Franks’ freshman season in Winston-Salem and was the coach at Denver from 2007-14, with Franks serving as his assistant for three seasons. When Muuss took over at Wake Forest before the 2015 season, Franks took his place at Denver.

“I love Wake Forest . but at the end of the day, these are my boys,” Franks said. “These are my kids, and Wake Forest is standing in our way.

WAKE EYES REDEMPTION: Last season, Wake Forest was the No. 1 team in the country with a 17-2-2 record before falling in the quarterfinals to the eventual national champions Stanford in overtime. This season, the Demon Deacons enter the College Cup with an 18-2-3 mark with a pair of shutouts in wins over Coastal Carolina and Virginia Tech.

DOMINANCE REWARDED: Since Franks took over as the Denver head coach, the Pioneers have lost just one game, a defeat to SMU that ended the 2015 season. The team feels its 35-1-6 record under Franks it has not received enough credit, mostly because the Pioneers play in the Summit League. This is Denver’s first appearance in the College Cup and the players are embracing their underdog role.

“It’s more a historical thing than an actual thing because no one in our locker room is surprised to be here, we expected to be here,” sophomore forward Andre Shinyashiki said.

British police: 83 potential suspects in soccer abuse probe

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 14:  Police officers stand outside the Embassy of Ecuador as Swedish prosecutors question Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on November 14, 2016 in London, England. Mr Assange has been inside the embassy since 2012 and he is being questioned over allegations of rape that date from 2010. Mr Assange has not been charged and denies the claims.  (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
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LONDON (AP) Police overseeing the sex abuse scandal in British soccer say 83 potential suspects have been identified and linked to 98 clubs.

Officers across the country are sifting through 639 referrals received by both police and a helpline established last month when former players started going public to say they were abused by coaches while in youth teams.

[ MORE: Atleti gets new logo ]

The National Police Chiefs’ Council said in a statement on Friday that the age range of potential victims was 7 to 20 years old.

The NPCC says 98 clubs have been “impacted” but added that this does not equate to them all being “under investigation.”

The NPCC says the unidentified clubs are from across all levels of the English game “from premier clubs through to amateur.”

Atletico Madrid unveils new crest, stadium video

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Atletico Madrid has a new look to go with its new home (which has a name, also obviously new).

The La Liga giants will eliminate that dot of green from their badge when they hit the Wanda Metropolitano next summer.

Yep, that’s when the new stadium will open. Ideas move quickly.

[ MORE: Stoke’s Hughes likes Arsenal’s PL odds ]

The blue in Atleti’s crest is navy, and the red stripes are wider. There are still seven stars, a bear, and a strawberry tree.

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