MLS Preview: DC United at Sporting Kansas City

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  • Sporting Kansas City one point behind New York, Portland in Supporters’ Shield race.
  • DC looking to avoid record for fewest wins in MLS season.
  • Sporting with four points from teams’ two previous 2013 meetings.

The matchup looks lopsided — a Supporters’ Shield contender hosting a team on the verge of a league futility record — but there are ways of looking at Friday’s meeting between Sporting Kansas City and DC United (8 p.m. Eastern, NBCSN) that see a competitive match. And we’re not talking about obscure, acute angles that require as much imagination as incredulity to see United with a chance. We’re talking two very relevant things when considering what could happen at Sporting Park: Recent history; and incentive.

The team’s previous 2013 meetings don’t show a Cup contenders overwhelming an surprising underachiever. If you didn’t know better, you’d swear they were from last year, when United were actually good. In Kansas City on April 5, it look Sporting 89 minutes to breakthrough, Claudio Bieler converting late to give the home side a 1-0 win. Just over a month later at RFK, Ike Opara broke through on the hour only to see Kyle Porter equalize five minutes later. The match ended 1-1. Even though DC have not won in Kansas City since 2007, this year — over two games, two venues, and 180 minutes — the only thing that separates the sides is a late Claudio Bieler goal.

Then there’s incentive, which both teams have, if at opposite ends of the competitive spectrum. Sporting Kansas City has designs on the Supporters Shield, their 52 points leaving them one behind chase leaders New York and Portland. DC, however, are trying to avoid becoming the fifth team in MLS history to go winless on the road. They also need one more win to tie the league record for fewest wins in a season (four, Chivas USA, 2005). As motivating as achievement may be for Sporting, DC’s fear may win out.

source: AP
Perry Kitchen, D.C. United’s first choice defensive midfielder, is likely to start in central defense Friday against Sporting Kansas City. (Photo: AP Photo.)

That’s assuming DC are in fact scared of that ignominy. Given their surprise win at Rio Tinto to claim the U.S. Open Cup, United are certainly capable of motivating themselves. But did that piece of silverware represent an end point, mentally? Despite that success, United’s been unable to stop a winless run that’s reached 10 games.

The biggest challenge to ending that run will be in defense. Injuries have forced Perry Kitchen to resume a center back’s role we last saw him play in 2012’s Olympic qualifying. Former Montréal defender Dennis Iapichino is also likely to start, leaving D.C. United with a back four with little experience playing together. With Claudio Bieler and Grahama Zusi set to return for Sporting, that lack of familiarity could be exploited.

Kansas City has their own problems in defense, though. Matt Besler will be back from his time with the U.S. national team, but his central defense partner, Aurelien Collin, will be taking another of his periodic, yellow card-induced sabbaticals. Despite an otherwise standout season, Collin has accumulated 12 yellow cards, bringing his total to 28 over the last three seasons.

His absence, along with the national team commitments of Besler, mean former first round pick Ike Opara has made 16 appearances this season, leaving Sporting well-equipped to handle an attack that’s only produced 21 goals this season. But with each game comes new hope D.C. can play beyond this year’s results and find something to build on for 2014.

A win in Kansas City may only be their fourth of the year, but it would give United something to smile about as they try to put 2013 behind them.

 

Schweinsteiger waiting on visa, training in Mallorca

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Bastian Schweinsteiger is waiting on a visa to make his trip to Chicago official.

It’s a formality, albeit a bit trickier now given the political climate in the United States. The former Manchester United midfielder is training at Real Mallorca ahead of the move.

The transfer was announced one week ago, and Schweinsteiger is anxious to get back on the pitch. Set for a 1-year, $4.5 million deal, the midfielder has not missed any Chicago matches yet.

[ MORE: Under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

The Fire is 1-1-1 to start the new season under Veljko Paunovic, and has three home matches next: Montreal (Saturday), Columbus (Apr. 8), and New England (Apr. 15)

Report: Arsenal interested in Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel

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According to a report by The Sun, Arsenal is monitoring the progress of Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

The rumor does make sense. With Petr Cech at 34 years old and having a poor season in front of net and backup David Ospina failing to challenge him for the starting job, the Gunners are looking elsewhere to bring in a potential future starter.

Schmeichel has been one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League the past two seasons. Last season he led the Foxes to the Premier League title, organizing a stunningly good defensive line of patchwork players. This season, the defense has largely regressed and let Schmeichel down, but he has still performed well and has the metrics to remain one of the league’s top shot-stoppers.

The Danish keeper is 30 years old himself, but that puts him in his prime for a goalkeeper. He has been with Leicester City since 2011, and he will tick 250 appearances for the club with his next match. Schmeichel was rumored to be a member of the secret player delegation that worked hard to see Claudio Ranieri pushed out of the club, a sentiment which he and the other players have strongly denied.

Still, with an improbable Premier League title in hand and an appearance in the Champions League quarterfinals now on the cards, there probably isn’t much else for him at Leicester City. It’s possible Schmeichel could look to bank on his past performances and secure a move to a bigger club this summer.

Should Arsene Wenger stay with Arsenal past this season, a possibility that looks more and more likely, he could look to move on from Cech despite signing the former Chelsea goalkeeper just two summers ago.

Diego Costa injured, but will stay with Spain squad for friendly

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Chelsea striker Diego Costa pulled up in Spain training on Sunday, and with the Blues in first in the Premier League and Costa in great form, there were obvious concerns.

With Costa struggling with leg and ankle injuries, the RFEF informed Chelsea that there was an issue, and Costa was pulled from training and sent for tests. X-Rays at the local hospital in Madrid were negative, and he’s rejoined the squad.

According to the RFEF, doctors will continue to monitor the 28-year-old and he will continue with the national team for the rest of the international break. With a World Cup qualification win over Israel already in the books and just a friendly against France to go on Tuesday, it’s odd that Spain would risk Costa moving forward, but they will continue to keep him around.

Costa has scored 18 goals this season to lead the Blues, and he scored in the win over Israel. Spain takes on France in Saint-Denis on Tuesday, with both teams leading their World Cup qualification groups. Spain has a goal-differential lead on Italy with both teams miles above the rest of the Group G, and France is ahead of Sweden by three points in Group A, with the Netherlands back in fourth.

Foul or flop? Player “headbutts” referee, is sent off

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Well, there must be something in the water down in Brasilia, because things got a little weird this evening.

Flamengo drew with Vasco da Gama 2-2, but that was just the start.

In the 54th minute, with Vasco da Gama leading 1-0 at Estadio Nacional Mané Garrincha, 36-year-old Luis Fabiano was sent off for “headbutting” the referee. Headbutting is in quotes because looking at the video, it certainly appears there was little to no contact, and the referee flops.

Yes, the referee flopped. Take a look:

To be fair, Fabiano was already on a yellow, so getting in the referee’s face even without the headbutt/pelvic thrust would likely still have seen him sent to an early shower.

So the former Porto and Sevilla man was sent off, and Vasco da Gama was down to 10 men. Immediately after the red card, Flamengo took advantage, powering in a pair of goals via Willian Arao and Orlando Berrio to take the lead 2-1. But Vasco wouldn’t quit, and they earned a penalty five minutes into stoppage time, which Nene buried for the 2-2 draw.

To top things off, a player named Yago Pikachu scored the opener for Vasco da Gama, which was followed by a delay in the game seven minutes later after a power surge in the stadium. Go figure.