What a match from Kansas City’s Graham Zusi

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Sporting Kansas City surely has some work ahead in sorting out a midfield that needs plenty of sorting out.

But it was Graham Zusi to the rescue as the United States national team attacker put in an early bid for MLS Player of the Week, guiding his Sporting KC bunch to three points in a match where the club was surely not at its best, 3-1, over Philadelphia in Major League Soccer’s first 2013 contest.

SKC’s rebuilt midfield – not one of the SKC central triangle from 2012 was in his same spot for the 2013 opener – was an absolute mess to start this one. They could never gain a toehold in the middle with the ball. Without, SKC was worse.

Minus any pressure in the right spots in midfield against a motivated bunch from PPL Park, the visitors were completely exposed to balls over the top for Union striker Sebastian Le Toux, who was finding all the gaps and all the room behind the back line.

(MORE: Sporting KC downs Philadelphia, 3-1)

SKC came close to being overwhelmed, and Philly Union men will certainly rue the missed first-half chances.

But this is what difference-makers do.

Zusi scored the first goal on a quality, well-placed finish, a timely and invaluable equalizer just before the half. (With lots of help from a terrific header set-up by new DP Claudio Bieler.)

Zusi’s swell free kick – he’s known for those, you know – arranged the visitor’s second goal, with a big assist from some bad Union defending and unsure goalkeeping. (You Union fans feel free to stop us if you’ve heard all that before.)

And Zusi had those paw prints all over SKC’s third goal, making a big run to launch the attack and then supplying a telling ball into the penalty area, which Bieler turned into the late insurance strike, and his first MLS goal.

All the while, by the way, most of the effective SKC attacks had little to do with new midfield addition Benny Feilhaber, nor with left wing Bobby Convey, both of whom need big years to get their careers pointed the right way again. (Convey did help start the first goal, in fairness.)

But whenever Zusi drifted inside from his (sort-of) right wing spot, that’s when SKC’s attack really tended to work.

Zusi generated a little MVP chatter in 2012; he’ll generate a lot more with afternoons ahead like this one.

Match highlights are here:

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Europa League Preview: Everton, Milan look to make group stage

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Everton look to make it back into the Europa League group stage for the first time since the 2014-2015 season and it has a two-goal advantage heading into the second leg of its tie.

Ronald Koeman and co. travel to Croatia to face Hadjuk Split Thursday having won the first leg at Goodison Park, 2-0. Everton is coming off a hard-fought draw on Monday with Manchester City and will be on short rest heading into the match.

Elsewhere in Europa League action, AC Milan take its 6-0 aggregate lead to Skopje, Macedonia as the legendary club looks to return to the group stage of a European competition for the first time since 2013-2014.

Here’s a look at all of Thursday’s Europa League matches, with the current aggregate scores:

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League Cup wrap: Southampton, Newcastle knocked out by Championship sides

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Last season, Southampton made it to the EFL Cup final. This year, it’s a different story.

The Saints were bounced by Wolverhampton Wanderers, 2-0 at home on Wednesday in the second round of the cup. Joining Southampton of Premier League sides going home early was Newcastle, which lost 3-2 after extra time at home against Nottingham Forest.

Four other Premier League sides did advance to the third round, as Stoke City, Huddersfield Town, West Ham United and Burnley all won their fixtures.

Here’s a look at the rest of Wednesday’s EFL Cup action:

Blackburn 0-2 Burnley

Cheltenham 0-2 West Ham

Huddersfield 2-1 Rotherham

Newcastle 2-3 Nottingham Forest

Southampton 0-2 Wolverhampton

Stoke City 4-0 Rochdale

Breaking down who each Premier League team could face in the UCL Group Stage

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The UEFA Champions League group stage lineup is complete, with five Premier League clubs making the list.

On Wednesday, Liverpool joined Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City and Manchester United in the group stage after beating Hoffenheim, 6-3 on aggregate in the playoff qualification round.

Thursday’s Champions League draw (2 p.m. ET) will place clubs into groups of four, where they’ll play three matches at home and away.

Here’s a look at the four coefficient pots and who each Premier League club could face:

(more…)

Follow Live – Texas Derby, Cascadia Cup headline busy night of MLS action

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Welcome to MLS Rivalry Week.

The surging Houston Dynamo could move to first place in the Western Conference with a win over rivals FC Dallas while the current first-place side, the Seattle Sounders travel north and across the border to face Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

The Dynamo have made an impressive turnaround under coach Wilmer Cabrera and he’ll have the trio of Ricardo Clark, Alberth Elis and star forward Erick Torres available to face Dallas after missing the Dynamo’s match at Vancouver last weekend, which ended 2-1 in favor of the Whitecaps.

FC Dallas are in its worst form of the season, winless in its last four games, but the team will be extra motivated to beat its rivals.

El Capitan is on the line after draws between FC Dallas and the Dynamo in two matches earlier this season.

Meanwhile up in Vancouver, the Whitecaps host a Sounders squad that pulled out a last-gasp victory last weekend over Minnesota United. While the team is in great form on the road recently (two wins and two draws), the top story heading into the game is the unexpected absence of Joevin Jones, who left the Sounders for his home in Trinidad and Tobago ahead of the upcoming international break.

[ FOLLOW: Live MLS scores ]

On the other side, Fredy Montero faces his former club and carries an interesting record into Wednesday’s match. Of his 35 MLS goals, 11 have been scored against Cascadia Cup competition.

Here’s a look at Wednesday’s action:

Full schedule

Columbus Crew vs. LA Galaxy – 7:30 p.m. ET

D.C. United vs. Atlanta United – 7:30 p.m.ET

FC Dallas vs. Houston Dynamo – 8 p.m. ET

Toronto FC vs. Philadelphia Union – 8 p.m. ET

Real Salt Lake vs. San Jose Earthquakes – 10 p.m. ET

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Seattle Sounders – 10 p.m. ET

Portland Timbers vs. Colorado Rapids – 10:30 p.m. ET