MLS Playoff Focus: Notes on New England ahead of Saturday’s meeting with Sporting KC

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Ahead of Saturdays’ first-leg of this conference semifinal series, here are the must-knows about the New England Revolution: (Saturday’s match kicks off at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN):

  •  Jay Heaps is youngest MLS playoff coach

He isn’t by much, but New England Revolution coach Jay Heaps is the league’s youngest playoff coach. Heaps is 37, same age as Mike Petke, but about six months younger than the Red Bulls’ boss.

Heaps, in his second year in charge at Gillette Stadium, is the second youngest coach in the league, period, behind only D.C. United’s Ben Olsen. Olsen and United did not advance into the post-season.

Speaking of Heaps, he just oversaw the league’s second-best improvement of 2013. From last year to this year the Revs improved by 16 points to 51 points. That was second best only to the Portland Timbers’ 23-point increase.

  • No goals for the Revs this year versus KC

New England won’t find these in the “confidence inspiring” department:

First, Heaps’ team scored zero goals in two matches this year against Sporting Kansas City. The teams drew, 0-0, at Gillette back in March – although it was an odd duck of a match, played in a ferocious wind.  The only good to say about a 3-0 loss to KC in August is this: two of the goals came from Kei Kamara, who is no longer with the team.

Well, maybe this, too: the Revs’ didn’t have Agudelo for either of those matches. He’ll be in the Saturday’s starting lineup.

That August match extended the Revs’ run of struggles against SKC; The Revolution hasn’t beaten Sporting since July of 2011, 0-3-3 in that time.

  • Heaps’ big choice in midfield

Heaps has a big decision to make at holding midfielder, where Revolution Academy product Scott Caldwell, just 22, has done so well this year. (Considering the way big lineup choices worked out in the playoffs this week for Colorado’s Oscar Pareja and Montreal’s Marco Schallibaum, both of whom paid the price for what sure looked like some serious over-thinking, we know these can be monumental choices, in fact.)

Andy Dorman has been strong in starting the last two matches as the screener in the Revs’ 4-1-4-1 look. He doesn’t have Caldwell’s passing skill, so the distribution into Lee Nguyen and other Revs’ attackers tends not to be as smooth. Plus, the way Kanas City can press and force turnovers in bad spots, Dorman could be the shakier choice.

On the other hand, Dorman is far more physical and looks like a much better matchup for SKC, one of the league’s most physical teams. (Probably the most physical in the playoffs, in fact.)

In fact, it was Dorman who got a straight red for a brutal tackle on Kei Kamara as the teams met in the Midwest back in August. And don’t think the SKC fans have forgotten about that one.

  • Matt Reis in charge

Matt Reis, the longtime fixture in goal around Gillette Stadium, had some difficulties in 2012. His struggles continued into 2013, as Reis even lost his starting spot for a stretch to the younger Bobby Shuttleworth. (Some of that was about Reis doing his part to create family stability after his father-in-law was wounded during the Boston Marathon bombings.)

But the man certainly rebounded. Re-focused and apparently re-energized, the 38-year-old keeper, now in his 16th MLS season, has been on top of things lately – and then some. In fact, Reis just carved out a little place in history: by finishing with a 7-0-4 record, he became the first MLS goalkeeper to play at least 10 games and finish unbeaten in a season.

Reis isn’t just providing saves and swell stats, either. Given the relative youth of the team, having one of the old hands on MLS (no pun intended … hands) adds some useful balance.

  • About the underrated Kelyn Rowe

If second-year midfielder Kelyn Rowe doesn’t make your All-Underrated Team in MLS, he must surely be close.

Rowe is versatile enough to play centrally or along the wing (and did split his 26 starts this year, although 22 were in the middle.) Along with a team-high eight assists, Rowe contributed seven goals. Those are stats that most MLS midfielders would take, never mind the two game-winners, and never mind that he’s a young American rather than a high-paid DP.

Left back Chris Tierney is another underrated man, probably the team’s top crosser.

And if you believe some, sturdy center back Jose Goncalves falls on the underrated side, although the Revs’ first-year man from Portugal is likely to get some mentions for Defender of the Year. So, it probably depends on your definition of underrated … and on how much you “rate” the Revs’ smooth center back in the first place.

(MORE: Previewing Sporting KC at New England)

Report: Morata sale allows Madrid to pursue Mbappe

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For months rumors have claimed that Real Madrid had been priced out of a move for Kylian Mbappe.

Now, they may have the cash, and a way throught.

After selling Alvaro Morata to Chelsea for $75 million, the club may have the funds – and enough offsetting cashflow to appease Financial Fair Play – to make a serious play for the 18-year-old superstar. In addition, the club has almost completed the slale of Danilo to Manchester City for $35 million, and James Rodriguez to Bayern Munich, although they see little return from that immediately, as the deal is a two-year loan with an obligation to buy at the end.

[ MORE: Man City bid for Mendy rejected ]

According to a Goal.com report, Mbappe is now Madrid’s top transfer target, although it seems there is little chance of prying him away from Monaco this late. According to the same report, Mbappe has been advised by unnamed parties that staying at Monaco gives him the highest likelihood of making the French squad for the 2018 World Cup.

“Mbappe is very good,” said Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane. “He’s a very good player and he has shown that all year, but he is not my player. I can’t say anything else.”

PSG is also reportedly in for Mbappe, but it’s understandable that Monaco would be hesitant to sell to a chief league rival.

Follow Live: Jamaica and Canada battle for semifinal spot

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Jamaica and Canada are looking ahead to a possible semifinal spot as they match up at 7:30 p.m. ET in Glendale to mark their beginning of the 2017 Gold Cup knockout round.

Both clubs make up the majority of their rosters from MLS clubs, with Cyle Larin heading the line for Canada and Andre Blake manning the backstop for Jamaica. Nonetheless, it’s Larin’s fellow attacker Alphonso Davies who’s picked up three of Canada’s five goals thus far.

[ LIVE: Gold Cup scoreboard ]

Both teams are putting heavy importance on this match with each already eliminated from World Cup contention.

Jamaica has only allowed one goal all tournament, shutting out both Mexico and Curacao. The Reggae Boyz made the final last time around, but will find that same result much more difficult this time around.

LINEUPS

Jamaica: Blake, Taylor, Lowe, Lawrence, Powell, Watson, Lambert, Francis, Gordon, Mattocks, Williams.

Canada: Borjan, Vitoria, Jakovic, Davies, Petrasso, Piette, Tiebert, Arfield, Larin, De Jong, Hoilett.

US Soccer shares bite-mark photo with CONCACAF

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U.S. Soccer spokesman Michael Kammarman told the Washington Post that the Federation has shared a photograph of a bite mark on the back of Omar Gonzalez with the CONCACAF disciplinary committee.

Cameras caught El Salvador defender Henry Romero bite Jozy Altidore and pinch his nipple in the scrum prior to a corner kick in the second half of the 2-0 USA victory over El Salvador. However, Gonzalez said after the match that he was also bitten, and had the mark to prove it.

According to the Washington Post report, the CONCACAF disciplinary committee approached U.S. Soccer asking for any further information they could provide on the incidents. Thus, they shared the photograph of Gonzalez’s shoulder taken immediately after the game. There was reportedly no visible bite mark on Altidore that could be shared.

CONCACAF spokesman Brent Latham refused to confirm an investigation into the incidents.

After Gonzalez’s post-match comments, a review of footage showed that there did indeed appear to be a bite in the 81st minute by El Salvador midfielder Darwin Ceren.

Neither incident was witnessed by the referee, and thus no punishment was dished out in the form of penalties or cards. Altidore admitted he “barely” kept his composure after he was assaulted, saying, “You’ve got to keep your cool because these things happen. I shouldn’t be saying these things happen, but they do.”

Altidore joked about the incident, saying his significant other was angry at him.

Report: Man City bid for Mendy rejected

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According to a report by Sky Sports, Manchester City has seen a bid for Monaco full-back Benjamin Mendy rejected, and will have to significantly increase their offer for the transfer to be completed.

The report states that Manchester City bid $58 million for the 23-year-old French international, but Monaco values Mendy at the $65 million level Man City paid for Kyle Walker, a world record for a defender.

[ MORE: Barcelona president warns PSG over Neymar move ]

Monaco is in an advantageous position in this situation, with Manchester City desperate for full-backs and Monaco not obligated to sell. Mendy’s current contract with the defending Ligue 1 champions runs through the summer of 2021.

City has already purchased Walker, but with the departure of aging full-backs Pablo Zabaleta, Gael Clichy, and Bacary Sagna, the club is almost completely devoid at the position, with just Walker and Aleksandr Kolarov on the roster.

Mendy has shown blistering pace and great crossing ability, racking up 11 assists last season across all competitions, including four in seven Champions League appearances. His tackling numbers are also surprisingly competent for such a young defender, completing just about 50% of his attempted tackles during league play last season, and sporting a 64% completion rate in Champions League play.