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)

Day Six: All the action from the U20 World Cup

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For the second consecutive tournament, the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team is poised to qualify for the knockout stages of the FIFA Under-20 World Cup.

[ MORE: U-20 World Cup latest

In its second match of this year’s edition in South Korea, the U.S. earned an important three points in a 1-0 victory over Senegal, while its main rivals Ecuador fell, 2-1 to Saudi Arabia. The win shot the U.S. up to first place in Group F with four points while Senegal and Saudi Arabia sit just below with three points. Ecuador occupies the final spot in the group with one point through two games.

Seventeen-year-old Josh Sargent scored for the second straight game and the defensive unit anchored by Erik Palmer-Brown and Cameron Carter-Vickers in central defense held tight to earn the U.S. a clean sheet. The U.S. finishes up the group stage on Sunday against Saudi Arabia.

In Group E action, France thrashed Vietnam 4-0 and New Zealand defeated Honduras 3-1.

Click on the link above for all the latest news from the U-20 World Cup, while below are video highlights from Thursday’s four games in Groups E and F.

Group E

USA 1, Senegal 0

Saudi Arabia 2, Ecuador 1

Group F

France 4, Vietnam 0

New Zealand 3, Honduras 1

Rooney left off England squad for matches with Scotland, France

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This summer could be the start of a new era with the England National Team.

England and Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney was left out of Gareth Southgate‘s 25-man squad ahead of a pair of international matches in June. England faces Scotland on June 10 in a World Cup qualifier at Hampden Park before traveling to the Stade de France three days later for a friendly match with Les Blues.

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While Rooney didn’t make the squad, his Manchester United teammate Marcus Rashford did make the team, with Southgate preferring him to be with the senior squad instead of play for England’s Under-21s at the UEFA Under-21 Championship this June in Poland.

“He’s in the senior squad on merit, and has been for a year,” Southgate said to FA.com. “He had one game with the Under-21s when I was there in September and he was outstanding that day, but he’s not really been a part of the Under-21 squad. His performances warrant him being in the senior squad.”

Other notable inclusions in the squad are Tottenham right back Kieran Trippier, who is in line for his first senior international cap, as well as 34-year-old Sunderland forward Jermain Defoe, coming off back-to-back Premier League seasons with 15 league goals.

If Rooney’s time with the Three Lions is over, it would mark a true changing of the guard in the England squad. Rooney, who has 119 caps and is England’s all-time leading goal scorer with 53 goals, made his debut in 2003 in a friendly match against Australia, at the time becoming the youngest player to make his England debut at the age of 17. The record was broken by Theo Walcott.

Rooney came to prominence with the Three Lions with a burst in Euro 2004 in Portugal, leading England to the quarterfinals. Perhaps England could have gone farther if Rooney hadn’t broken a bone in his foot and had to limp off in the first half of England’s ouster against Portugal.

Since then, it’s been a mixed bag for Rooney. While he’s scored bags of goals, he’s never really lived up to the hype in the big tournaments.

Under his watch, England’s never made it past the quarterfinals in either the World Cup or European Championships and he’s been part of big disappointments, including failing to qualify for Euro 2008 and getting bounced by Iceland in Euro 2016. England also failed to make it out of the group stage at the last World Cup.

It’s possible that Southgate left Rooney off the squad purely based on form as Defoe was included, but it could be a sign of things to come, which is a chance for younger players like John Stones, Alli and Kane to take leadership positions within the team.

Stream Live: USA takes on Senegal at U20 World Cup

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The U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team is halfway home in its second game of the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup group stage, holding a 1-0 lead over Senegal after Josh Sargent’s left-footed blast.

[ LIVE: USA U-20 vs. Senegal ] 

Tab Ramos’ side came back to draw Ecuador 3-3 in a wild first game of the tournament but after losing central midfielder Gedion Zelalem, holding midfielder Derrick Jones has moved into the starting lineup and provided more stability in the center of the park.

Below you can watch a replay of Sargent’s first-half goal and above is a link to stream the U.S. game live via Telemundo Deportes.

LAFC makes plan for training complex east of downtown

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LOS ANGELES (AP) The MLS expansion Los Angeles Football Club plans to spend $30 million to build a training complex on the campus of Cal State LA.

LAFC revealed its proposal Wednesday after the plans were approved by the California State University Board of Trustees.

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LAFC will renovate the university’s stadium field while constructing a complex to house its players, staff and coaches, along with the LAFC Academy youth development team.

The team’s two-story training building will be financed entirely by LAFC’s deep-pocketed ownership group. LAFC also committed to donate $1.5 million to the university.

The complex will be located on the north campus of Cal State LA, just 10 miles east of Banc of California Stadium. LAFC will begin MLS play in its under-construction downtown arena in March.