Red Bulls Henry celebrates after scoring against Impact during their MLS soccer match in Montreal

MLS preview: Sporting Kansas City at New York Red Bulls


Mid-week matches in MLS remain a tough sell; weekend contests will be better attended until supporter interest reaches such a critical mass that the “whens” and “wheres” and “whatevers” are irrelevant.  At that point, fans will ignore weather and early mid-week wake-ups and everything else to support their team – a little like what happens in Portland and Seattle but only a little bit everywhere else.

Until then, good tickets can be had for most MLS mid-week matches – especially ones involving middling sides.

All that said, tonight’s MLS mid-week contest, the Round 8 opener, looks like sweet and juicy fruit. If the league is to present mid-week matches, wouldn’t it be great if they were all as inviting as Sporting Kansas City’s visit to the New York Red Bulls tonight in Harrison, N.J.?

Included: the league’s best player in Thierry Henry (pictured); One of the league’s hottest teams in Sporting Kansas City; two confident sides; two favorites to top the East at year’s end.

The results have improved lately but remain something of a mixed bag overall for New York, where rookie coach Mike Petke has seen his team score regularly – but also watched as an alarming number of goals drop on his seemingly experienced back line. At 10 goals allowed in seven matches, the Red Bulls defense is among the worst in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference.

As for the attack, it’s Henry’s world and the rest of the Red Bulls are just living in it. Tim Cahill had a strong match Saturday in a confidence-boosting win at rival D.C. United – but he still doesn’t have a goal in 2013. Fabian Espindola is available again but surely not 100 percent; he was a second-half substitute Saturday following a two-game absence due hamstring problems.

But there’s always Henry, who has just two goals this year but always looks dangerous – and continues to affect contests because he scares the bejeebers out of opposition defenses.

Most defenses anyway; Sporting Kansas City’s might be the exception. Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen and center backs Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin are the backbone of a defense that is inching near club records. Kansas City has not allowed a goal in more than four matches. In fact, the team’s 429-minute shutout streak is second longest in club history.

What Henry said about facing Besler, Collin and SKC’s collective ability to be among the league’s best at tactical fouling. (Something that should be cracked down on … but MLS officiating is still, well, “getting there.”)

It goes without saying that Besler and Collin are, for me, the best partnership at the back in MLS by a distance but you have to give credit to their team. They frustrate teams, if they have to make a professional [foul], they will make a professional foul to make sure you can’t counter on them. [They are a] very tough team, play hard in a good way, but [Besler and Collin] are the masterminds of that operation.

As for the SKC attack, Argentine striker Claudio Bieler may not have Henry’s reputation or resume, but his four goals this year (in six matches) stand among the league’s best. He is exactly what Sporting needed to go get in the offseason, an instinctive striker to complement a midfield with a useful balance of creativity and defensive grit. So, credit the SKC front office for some precision off-season work.

Klinsmann blames Costa Rica loss on Mexico hangover

Jurgen Klinsmann

The United States lost their third straight match on home soil tonight, the first such losing streak since 1997.

Following an extra-time loss to Mexico on Saturday, the U.S. failed to compete in a friendly against Costa Rica, putting in another poor performance as the side continues to struggle.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

In his post match press conference, Jurgen Klinsmann said his team was still shaking off the loss against Mexico, and couldn’t recover in time for tonight’s game.

Yes, the United States’ match against Mexico went 120 minutes. Yes, it was a very tough game both physically and mentally. However, it’s time for Klinsmann to stop making excuses.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from the USMNT’s loss to Costa Rica ]

Of the starting XI against Costa Rica, only four started against Mexico. Of the six substitutes Klinsmann brought in today, only Bobby Wood played in the Mexico match, and for less than 25 minutes.

The problem isn’t that the U.S. lost tonight; it’s that they didn’t even show up. What Klinsmann needed to do was walk into his press conference and say, “We didn’t come to play tonight. We stunk. That can’t happen and we need to be better. It starts with me.”

[ PLAYER RATINGS: Howard’s return highlights poor performances from USMNT ]

Top teams don’t dwell on past results. Top teams rebound quickly and back up poor performances with strong performances. When a top team would have bounced back, the United States fell flat.

Clearly the argument is, well, the United States isn’t a top team. But isn’t that what Klinsmann was brought in to do? To help develop the USMNT into a top team? The least they could do is act like one, and that starts with the manager.

College Soccer Update: Tragedy strikes USC Upstate with horrible car accident

USC Upstate
USC Upstate
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No interviews today. No star players and programs. Just mourning.

USC Upstate lost four students earlier this week, two of them men’s soccer players, in an early morning car accident this weekend. A fifth was injured when the car they were driving in ran off the road, hit a tree, and caught fire.

James Campbell and Mills Sproul are the soccer players who’ve left the pitch for the final time.

[ MORE: College soccer news ]

USC Upstate’s athletic department held a candelight vigil on Monday, and honored both players with online memorials.

From Campbell’s, entitled “James Campbell Was an Intense Player Whose Competitiveness Made Those Around Him Play Harder”:

While Kyle Juell and James attended different high schools, they played club soccer together. “James was intense and passionate on the field,” Juell said. “He was the kind of aggressive player you wanted as a teammate. He was fun and warm and full of life and he cared so much about his teammates.”

From Sproul’s, entitled “Mills Sproul Put the Needs of Others Before His Own and Was Accepting of All”:

Mills’ teammate Deon Rose said that Mills was like the brother he never had.

“The first time I met him, I knew that he was special,” Rose said. “Not because he asked me if we had beaches in Canada or how Canadians survived without Chick-fil-A, but because he had an unconditional love for everyone and everything.”

Our thoughts are with the USC Upstate team, and entire community. Rest in peace.

Three stars of the week

1. University of California Santa Barbara — The Gauchos leapt from “receiving votes” to No. 14 in the nation. The Gauchos have won five-straight, all in-state, by a combined score of 13-3.

2. Joey Piatczyc, West Virginia — The midfielder leads the nation in assists with 12, one coming in Tuesday’s upset of Penn State, a match in which he also scored his first of the year. The Mountaineers shocked PSU with a 3-0 home win in Morgantown.

3. Francis Atuahene and Colin McAtee, Michigan — The Ghanaian freshman is a lightning bolt, and keeps producing goals along with the redshirt senior McAtee, who hails from San Diego. The Wolverines beat Duquesne 3-0 on Tuesday.

Other notes

— Creighton dropped two of its 24 first place votes, one each to North Carolina and Stanford, but remains the No.1 men’s team in the nation.

— Wake Forest hasn’t allowed a goal in three matches, against quality competition in NC State, South Carolina and Boston College. There were stretches in the 2-0 win over South Carolina where they looked unbeatable.

— Speaking of the Demon Deacons, they’ll face dangerous UNC on Saturday in what will be a cracker.

— Also No. 1:Florida State (Women’s D-1), Gannon (Women’s D-2), Trinity of Texas (Women’s D-3), Pfeiffer (Men’s D-2), Franklin & Marshall (Men’s D-3).