MLS Preview: Chicago Fire vs. Sporting Kansas City

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• Chicago Fire will be without head coach Frank Klopas and defender Bakary Soumaré, both sent off in Saturday’s 2-0 loss to the New England Revolution. For Sporting Kansas City, Kei Kamara’s sprained ankle from earlier this month has not healed yet.

• The all-time series heavily favors Chicago, with a record of 23-12-10, but Kansas City won 2-1 at Toyota Park on July 7, and the teams played to a scoreless tie on March 16, way back at the start of the season.

• Sporting has lost three of its last four games for the second time in 2013. Last time, Kansas City followed up that run with a difficult 1-0 win over Eastern Conference rival Houston Dynamo away from home.

When the Chicago Fire hosts Sporting Kansas City on Friday (8:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN), both teams could be fielding second-choice players in attacking spots.

Key Kansas City men Graham Zusi and Kei Kamara are questionable for the match, as is Chicago Fire leading scorer Mike Magee and the club’s second- and third-highest scorers, Chris Rolfe and Patrick Nyarko. As a result, neither club scored in its previous game, a 2-0 loss to the New England Revolution for Chicago and a 1-0 setback against the San Jose Earthquakes for Sporting.

Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen (pictured) has shown his worth as one of MLS’s top shot-stoppers in the past couple seasons, and he will have to be on point again for Kansas City to succeed in a tough Chicago environment. The way the wind whips around Toyota Park can confuse goalkeepers in reading aerial balls, and it can even slow down balls on the ground if it is blowing with enough intensity.

Chicago has lost just that one match in its previous five outings, a run that has seen the Fire draw closer to the line in the standings separating the playoff-bound teams from those whose seasons will end after the regular season. The team just above it, New England, was the one that beat it last week.

Kansas City, meanwhile, has a different goal in mind. Despite its loss last week, Sporting is just three points behind Real Salt Lake in the race for the MLS Supporters’ Shield, tied with the New York Red Bulls, Colorado Rapids and Portland Timbers with 38 points.

With both teams fighting for their lives in different respects as the MLS calendar nears its playoff run, it won’t matter which set of players ends up on the field — everybody will be desperate for points.

What they’re saying

Sporting Kansas City defender Seth Sinovic on playing the Fire: “It’s always a tough game against Chicago. It seems to be a battle, a low-scoring game. We took one from them last time we were up there in Chicago, and hopefully, we can get another one this weekend.”

Chicago Fire defender Gonzalo Segares on climbing up the table: “We’re definitely searching for points. Now, we’re in the final stretch of the season, with 12 games left. We’re right there. We’re knocking on the door. We’ve just got to keep pushing. It’s very, very important to get a win this Friday.”

Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes on the Eastern Conference standings: “Usually, the table gets sorted out a little more defined than it is right now. Everybody’s still in play. … A lot of teams are still in it. I think that’s the difference right now.”

Prediction

It’s hard to see a makeshift Fire back line stopping Kansas City from getting through, even without Kei Kamara on the field. Sporting has enough firepower in its second string to take down a lot of first-choice MLS teams — and both teams remember how quickly (inside the first 10 minutes) Kansas City jumped out to a 2-0 lead last time they met. A win here will help Sporting keep pace at the top of the league table.

Report: Chelsea line up Tuchel to replace Conte

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Reports in Germany claim Chelsea have met with Thomas Tuchel about replacing Antonio Conte as their manager.

[ MORE: 5 new stars in the PL ]

With relations said to be strained between Conte and Chelsea’s board following a summer of unrest regarding a lack of transfers, the Diego Costa situation and more for the reigning Premier League champions, losing to Arsenal in the Community Shield and then their Premier League opening to Burnley was far from an ideal start.

Still, Conte led Chelsea to the PL title last season, his first in England, with a record 30 wins from 38 games. How is he the bookies favorite to be the next PL manager to leave his job?

Tuchel, 43, has been out of work since leaving Borussia Dortmund at the end of last season and Sport Bild is reporting that Chelsea’s director Marina Granovskaia has approached Tuchel about replacing Conte, while it is also stated that former Barca boss Luis Enrique is a contender.

Could Tuchel succeed at Chelsea and in the Premier League? Of course he could.

At Borussia Dortmund he developed one of the finest attacking teams in Europe with talented youngsters playing in a fluid system. Tuchel didn’t leave Dortmund on good terms and although he was linked with plenty of vacant jobs across Europe, including the Arsenal job if Arsene Wenger stepped down, he remains without a club.

Tuchel is a very good coach but what Conte has done at Chelsea over the past 12 months is a borderline miracle.

The situation regarding Conte and Chelsea does appear to have been blown out of proportion, particularly with the Nemanja Matic situation as Conte was reportedly unwilling to lose his Serbian midfielder but the deal was sanctioned by those above him. Given the fact that Conte signed a new contract this summer but only for improved terms and not for an extended period of time past 2019 also raised alarm bells.

Chelsea fans have, understandably, not reacted too kindly to reports that a successor is being lined up for Conte. The Italian coach is adored by the Blues faithful after leading a rapid rebuild of their squad in his famed 3-4-3 formation last season. His passion on the sidelines is now a hallmark of Chelsea matchdays and if he does leave anytime soon due to issues behind-the-scenes, expect a mutiny from the fans.

Yes, managers have come and gone and frequently and success has remained under Roman Abramovich but hooking Conte may even be a step too far for the notoriously expectant owner.

Barcelona’s Twitter hacked to claim Di Maria signing

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FC Barcelona had eyeballs popping across the Twitterverse for a solid 90 seconds there.

La Liga’s giants Tweeted out a welcome to Angel Di Maria, the current PSG and former Real Madrid star, with the hashtag #DiMariaFCB.

[ MORE: EFL Cup Tues. wrap ]

It was an odd Tweet for 4 a.m. local time, as humourously pointed out by our Andy Edwards, and the hackers were quick to claim credit before any Tweets could be deleted.

So if someone tells you Angel Di Maria is the latest member of Barcelona, be sure to stop the spread of fake news.

On a day where Barca’s reportedly ready to up their bid for Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho, something tells us someone at the Camp Nou is turning over their keys to the club’s social media.

Rescheduled Yankees game moves NYCFC-Houston to Connecticut

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A rescheduled New York Yankees game is moving New York City FC to Connecticut.

Relax, it’s only for a day.

NYCFC will entertain the Houston Dynamo at Rentschler Field at 3 p.m. on Sept. 23 instead of their regular home of Yankee Stadium.

[ MORE: EFL Cup Tues. wrap ]

The club will offer tickets to another match to current ticket holders, and will also discount tickets to the game in East Hartford for fans who hold tickets to the Yankee Stadium game and want to travel for the Dynamo match (More info here, if you are in either of those camps).

This is the third of three scheduled seasons NYCFC will play at Yankee Stadium, and it doesn’t look like it’ll find a new home any time soon.

Given the everyday nature of Major League Baseball, it’s surprising there have not been more conflicts for NYCFC. We just remain hopeful for the day we can watch NYC’s star-studded roster play on a bigger home field.

“Injustice.” “Incomprehensible.” Ronaldo again protests suspension

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The five-game suspension Cristiano Ronaldo received for making contact with an official is not sitting well with the forward.

Better put: it’s still not sitting well.

Six days ago, Ronaldo took to Instagram to say he was being persecuted after his red card in the Spanish Super Cup.

[ MORE: EFL Cup Tues. wrap ]

Tuesday afternoon, he kept up the strong words by saying the suspension is “incomprehensible” and “an injustice.”

Roughly translated, Ronaldo posted, “One more incomprehensible decision. From injustice to injustive, they will never overcome me. And as always I will come back stronger. Thank you to all who have supported me.”

We’ll say this: He’s a really good soccer player.