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.

 

Liga MX wrap: Pachuca earns first win, Leon stays unbeaten

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All of Saturday’s action from around Mexico’s top flight…

Pachuca 3-1 Lobos BUAP

A strong first-half push from the hosts was all Pachuca needed on Saturday night to earn their first victory of the 2018 Clausura season. Angel Sagal brought the home side in front after just 10 minutes off of a near-post header, before Pachuca’s lead soon doubled 14 minutes later from the penalty spot when strike Franco Jara converted on the dead-ball attempt.

Just prior to halftime, Pachuca was out to a 3-0 advantage when 20-year-old outside back Erick Aguirre tallied his first goal for the club.

Last-place side Lobos got on the board three minutes into the second stanza via a finish from Heriberto Olvera, however, it wasn’t enough to provide anything more than a consolation for the visiting side.

Necaxa 1-3 Chivas Guadalajara

Mexican international Alan Pulido made it a dream start for the visitors from Guadalajara at the Estadio Victoria, however, that lead was cancelled out in first-half stoppage time after Carlos Gonzalez leveled the match up at 1-1.

The difference proved to be with 25 minutes left to play, when a goalkeeping error by Marcelo Barovero allowed Chivas to regain possession inside the Necaxa penalty area, before Ronaldo Cisneros tapped home the winner.

Then, a third goal came just prior to the end of regulation when Edwin Hernandez killed the game off for Matias Almeyda’s men, who also earned their first victory of the Clausura season.

Rest of Saturday’s Liga MX action

Cruz Azul 0-0 Club Leon
Queretaro 0-0 Tigres UANL
Monterrey 0-0 Club Tijuana

Sunday’s matches

UNAM vs. Club America — 1 p.m. ET
Santos Laguna vs. Morelia — 7 p.m. ET

The 2 Robbies: Alexis/Mkhitaryan transfer saga and more

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle recap all the key stories from the latest Premier League Saturday fixtures including Manchester City’s 3-1 win over Newcastle (0:20), Chelsea’s 4-0 victory at Brighton (10:15) and the latest on the Alexis Sanchez/Henrikh Mkhitaryan saga after wins for Arsenal and Manchester United (19:00). Plus, a closer look at the bottom of the table and thoughts go out to James McCarthy after his serious injury against West Brom (29:00).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

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Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Video: Stoke’s Imbula scores stunner on loan at Toulouse

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Stoke City supporters know the name Giannelli Imbula, and perhaps they’ll be clamoring for the Frenchman to return to the bet365 Stadium if he can score more goals like this.

[ MORE: PL Roundup — Top three all victorious; Gunners thrash Palace ]

The holding midfielder is currently on loan with Ligue 1 outfit Toulouse, and for the first time this season, Imbula opened his goalscoring account in some fashion.

Right on half-hour mark, Imbula unleashed a left-footed strike from nearly 40 yards out to give Toulouse the lead over Montpellier (below).

Imbula joined Stoke during the 2015/16 PL season, and has made 26 appearances for the Potters in his time with the club, prior to his loan to France.

Willian proves he’s Chelsea’s x-factor against Brighton

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There’s a considerable difference when watching a Chelsea team that plays with and without one of its Brazilian influences in the attacking part of the field.

Willian — who first debuted for the Blues back in 2013 — hasn’t always managed to be a regular starter for Chelsea, whether it was Jose Mourinho, Guus Hiddink or current manager Antonio Conte at the helm, though.

[ SOURCES: Jack Harrison expected to join Stoke City this winter ]

The 29-year-old plays with considerable flair, something that certainly isn’t uncommon amongst many players that have grown up in Brazil.

At times Willian’s overconfidence is a significant blessing, and at others it can be considered a curse, however, the former Corinthians player’s presence is something that Chelsea needs now more than ever.

That was on display on Saturday during the side’s 4-0 win at Brighton, a match in which Chelsea dominated from start to finish with Willian on the pitch. While the performance cannot solely be attributed to the attacking midfielder’s showing, it’s easy to argue that the Blues midfielder is becoming the club’s biggest x factor — one that can determine the outcome of a match.

Just look six minutes into the match, when the Blues put together one of the best team goals you’ll see in a match this year (or any year for that matter), which of course, was started and finished by none other than Willian.

What stands out about the play isn’t the brilliant slicing shot into the near post corner by the veteran playmaker, but instead the confidence that Willian exudes and brings to a Chelsea lineup that has plenty of talent to be considered one of the best teams in England and all of Europe.

After all, Conte’s group is just a season removed from winning the Premier League and still sits inside the top three in the world’s top league.

Then, there’s the Blues’ third goal against Brighton, which was set up by a smart, and instinctive, through ball played into the path of Eden Hazard by Willian (below).

Even though Hazard ends up with a ton of time on the ball to make his next decision, which was ultimately to cut inside on his preferred right foot, the run by Willian towards the end line dragged a defender away from the Belgian international — allowing the sequence to progress.

Arguing Willian’s importance isn’t a knock on Hazard — a world-class player in his own right — or Alvaro Morata, who has had the intolerable task of replacing a key player like Diego Costa.

Instead, it simply shows that Chelsea has a plethora of talent, and that some of the club’s attacking struggles throughout the 2017/18 season can be chalked up to Willian being left out of the starting XI on a regular basis.

[ MORE: Sergio Aguero continues to display brilliance for Man City ]

The Brazilian international has scored eight goals and added seven assists this season in all competitions for the Blues, despite only starting 19 matches.

The mind of manager Conte is an ever-changing one, so maybe Willian still doesn’t get the starting nod on an every week basis, but just by watching the team’s performance at the Amex Stadium it’s quite hard to argue against the player being on the field as much as possible.