Sporting Kansas City defeat Philadelphia Union 3-1 in MLS season opener

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Chester, Penn. – Sporting Kansas City opened the 2013 season with a 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Union, but it wasn’t as smooth a match as the visitors would have liked.

An early goal for Philadelphia rattled Kansas City, but the Union’s second half breakdowns — “the little things,” as Union coach John Hackworth called them — led to three points in the opener for a Sporting team expected to again contend for the Eastern Conference crown.

“We felt like we had the chances, we were dictating the game and it was just a couple tiny plays that seem so inconsequential, yet they lead to something,” Hackworth said. “Credit to Sporting Kansas City because they take advantage of those little things. They believed in that and felt they could come back. And that happened.”

The first half was a case of something old, something new for the Union. Philadelphia came out inspired – perhaps in part by an unorganized Kansas City back line – and got on the board in the 17th minute when Sebastien Le Toux finished a perfectly-weighted Keon Daniel cross from the left wing.

Two ball-watching Sporting KC defenders, Matt Besler and Seth Sinovic, left Le Toux unmarked and the Frenchman celebrated his return to the club he leads in all-time goals, assists and points by putting the Union on the board. Le Toux calmly settled the ball with his right foot and slotted it into the back of the net from six yards out, scoring in his first game of the season, just as he did in his first stint with the club in 2010.

Le Toux and Daniel easily found space in the pockets in front of Sporting’s back line in the opening 30 minutes to give Philadelphia a new, confident look that it lacked last season.

It was a fitting return for Le Toux, who scored a hat trick in the team’s first-ever home game on April 10, 2010.

But Philadelphia’s seemingly fresh look of confidence was shaken just before halftime, when winger Graham Zusi punished the Union’s collective mental lapse to equalize.

Bobby Convey sent in a floated left-footed cross that forward Claudio Bieler knocked down into the path of an unmarked Benny Feilhaber. His shot from point-blank range was saved by Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath, but Zusi pounced on the rebound to make it 1-1 in the 41st minute.

(MORE: What a match from Sporting KC’s Graham Zusi)

Sporting returned from the break with more aggression than they had in the first half and managed to deflate much of Philadelphia’s early energy. The visitors were rewarded in the 66th minute, courtesy of an Oriol Rosell header off Zusi’s in-swinging free kick.

Philadelphia left Rosell unmarked just outside the 6-yard box for the go-ahead goal.

For the 2012 Eastern Conference regular season champions, order was restored – for now.

(MORE: Video of the first goal for MLS 2013)

Rust was present throughout the unconvincing win for Sporting Kansas City, however. Philadelphia nearly tied the match in the 77th minute when Besler chested the ball back to Nielsen inside the 6-yard box, forcing the unsuspecting goalkeeper to scramble for a save.

Bieler buried all hope of a season-opening win for Philadelphia when he easily slotted home a Chance Myers pass from 15 yards out to give Sporting Kansas City a 3-1 win.

“It gives us confidence on the road that we could come back from a deficit,” Zusi said. “The statistics in this league are not very high for teams that get scored on first on the road. You don’t usually see them come back and win the game, so that’s a good sign for us. Just the fact that we can dig deep in not an ideal environment, grind out the game — it wasn’t the prettiest game either — to know that we can grind those games out is a positive thing.”

Sporting faces another Eastern Conference road match on Saturday, March 9, at Toronto FC before playing its home opener March 16 against the Chicago Fire.

Match highlights are here:

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John Cena makes entertaining Premier League predictions

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We do not recommend putting any money on John Cena’s Premier League predictions for this weekend.

The actor and WWE star was the guest picker on the BBC site on Friday, and admitted his soccer knowledge doesn’t extend much further than Cristiano Ronaldo and a tour of Tottenham (he has a fondness for Spurs, it seems).

[ PL PREVIEW: Chelsea vs. Southampton ]

But his actual selections are quite amusing. From picking matches based on species to trying to anger his fiancee’s Arsenal supporting brother, Cena brought the goods.

Our favorites:

Why West Ham will win at Stoke: “Who doesn’t love a good ham? It provides you with nourishment, happiness and a sense of community. It is always served at a big family function gathering. I like West Ham. 0-1.”

Why Southampton will win at Chelsea: “From where I am from, in Massachusetts, Southampton is a pretty cool place, so I am going to have to pick them, only because of how it relates to the States.”

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Southampton

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  • Chelsea leads all-time 41W-28D-28L
  • Saints have points in 3 of 5 at Stamford Bridge
  • Southampton winless in four straight league games

Chelsea returns home following an emphatic away win to meet a Southampton side fresh off embarrassment at home (Watch live Saturday at 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Saints were battered 4-1 at St. Mary’s by former coach Claude Puel, while Antonio Conte‘s Chelsea rebounded from a loss at West Ham by battering Huddersfield Town 4-1 at the John Smith’s Stadium.

Conte was asked to compare Alvaro Morata to club legend Didier Drogba, as the Spanish striker has reportedly been studying footage of the big Ivorian.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

“They are two different players with different characteristics,” he said. “Didier Drogba brought history to this club and he’s a wonderful player, a wonderful striker because he continues to play. He’s a great striker, more powerful than Alvaro but Alvaro, don’t forget, has a lot of space for improvement. He’s strong physically, he’s a technical player and I see a great future for Alvaro.”

Chelsea still won’t have David Luiz available, while Southampton has no new injury concerns despite the recent schedule congestion.

What they’re saying

Antonio Conte on Southampton premonitions“‘My expectation is for us to suffer, I have this sensation, so we must pay great attention. When you play after a bad defeat, especially at home, there is great attention of the coach and the club because they don’t want to continue a bad run. They want to give a good answer against a strong team like Chelsea.”

Saints’ Mauricio Pellegrino on facing Chelsea: “We want to show our best version. Chelsea is a really difficult side but maybe we can find more space.  We have to do a really good game to have a possibility of winning, but hopefully after a difficult moment we can bounce back. In this club, we want to show we are committed to trying to be competitive, our energy and commitment to the club.”

Prediction

Saints are wounded, but Chelsea has the better depth and form. Charlie Austin or Sofiane Boufal may force a goal past Thibaut Courtois, but look for the Blues to pull out a 2-1 win.

FIFA suspends Brazilian soccer president Marco Polo del Nero

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has suspended Brazilian soccer federation president Marco Polo del Nero for 90 days while he is under an ethics investigation.

Del Nero has remained in power in Brazil despite being charged by American authorities with racketeering and money laundering in 2015.

FIFA says Del Nero has been provisionally banned from all soccer activities as formal ethics investigation proceedings are conducted.

Del Nero fled Zurich in May 2015 when FIFA colleagues were arrested, quit the executive committee of soccer’s governing body after missing meetings and was then indicted in the United States in December 2015. He has not been extradited from Brazil to face the charges.

Preview: How can Tottenham stop Man City?

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Can anyone stop Manchester City? Tottenham Hotspur will try this Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) with Mauricio Pochettino‘s men aiming to give the chasing pack some hope that City can be caught.

[ LIVE: Stream Man City v. Spurs

Pep Guardiola‘s men have won 15 consecutive Premier League games to stretch their lead atop the PL to 11 points heading into the busy festive season, but a visit from Spurs represents one of their toughest tests of the season so far.

Spurs currently sit in fourth place in the table but are 18 points behind City.

In team news Man City have no fresh injury concerns as Vincent Kompany could return after missing out at Swansea City in midweek, but John Stones remains out injured.

Tottenham will be missing Victor Wanyama and Toby Alderweireld through injury, while Davinson Sanchez serves the final game of his three-match ban.


What they’re saying

Guardiola on Man City going the entire season unbeaten: “It is not going to happen. We are going to lose games, it belongs to Arsene Wenger. Now what happens is an exception, it’s not normal what we’ve done. We’ll try to maintain it but we are going to lose games. It is important is to play better, that’s important. Records are OK but they stay there and one day they will be broken. We focus on the pitch and try to be better, make chances, concede few. I’m happy with the way we play – although I feel we can do much, much better.”

Pochettino on Man City’s incredible run: “They [Manchester City] are showing that they are not only the best in England but in Europe too with the Champions League. They are playing so well and deserve all the praise. It will be so tough. I think Manchester City deserve all the credit with what they are doing.”

Prediction

Spurs will prove a tough test for a rampant Man City squad and I expect Dele Alli and Harry Kane to cause plenty of problems for a threadbare City defense. 2-2.