Philadelphia Union v Sporting Kansas City

MLS Playoff Preview: Sporting KC at New England Revolution

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  • Kickoff from Gillette Stadium outside Boston is set for 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN
  • Saturday is the first of two legs in the aggregate goals series
  • The Revolution is playing its firsts playoff match since 2009
  • Sporting Kansas City was the league’s best road team this year, an 8-5-4 record, and also the best defensive team
  • Young scoring sensation Diego Fagundez, just 18, led the Revolution with 13 goals this year

In Saturday’s Eastern Conference semifinal opener, we have a textbook instance of a playoff newbie in terms of the current roster and team makeup (New England) against an old hand at this MLS playoff business.

New England, a team with so much MLS playoff success in the previous decade, is back into the post-season swing for the first time since 2009.

Meanwhile, not only has Sporting Kansas City made the playoffs for the third consecutive season, but Peter Vermes’ team delivered relatively strong post-season accounts the last two years. Sporting trounced Colorado in the 2011 conference semifinal before falling to Houston in a tight conference final.

And came the downfall from Houston again in 2012, although Vermes’ team was strong in the return leg in the Midwest, dominating the Dynamo at Sporting Park (out-shooting the visitors 20-3) but falling a goal short on aggregate.

So a big edge in playoff experience goes to the visitors Saturday, a team that certainly doesn’t mind playing on the road. Sporting KC’s 28 points earned away from home this year (an 8-5-3 record) was best in MLS by some distance.

Kansas City is also the league’s top defensive team, with just 30 goals allowed.

Plus, Sporting KC went undefeated in Group Stage of Champions League – in fact, only allowing two goals in four matches while advancing to next year’s quarterfinals – while adding even more “big-game” largesse to this year’s checklist of achievement. Mostly though, it’s that feeling of being close to accomplishing something special the last two years, taking hardy sides into the playoffs but coming up short, that is providing all the drive to this year’s post-season bid.

“We’ve got a good, core group of guys that have been through this the last three years,” Vermes said this week. “That gives us, not comparing us to anyone else in the league, that just gives us a much better foundation as we move through the playoffs.”

The “foundation” includes what is probably the top back five in the playoffs (back four plus goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, that is). Center back Matt Besler, a U.S. starter, provides the stabilizing arm alongside the more volatile side the duo, Frenchman Aurélien Collin. In fact, we talk so much about those two that we probably don’t spend enough time commenting on right back Chance Myers and left back Seth Sinovic, both of whom are tough one-on-one defenders who can contribute a little punch to the attack, too.

Sporting KC’s offense mostly goes through U.S. international Graham Zusi (pictured above), whose assist total was down this year (from 15 to 8), but who did drop a career-best in goals, with six. Zusi’s recent return from a minor fall injury setback was among the reasons Sporting Kansas City finished on a four-game undefeated streak. Vermes’ team also won six of its last eight matches – and that was all after Kei Kamara left for England in a summer transfer.

New England has a little momentum of its own, however. Jay Heaps’ team from outside Boston looked a bit dead in the Back Bay about a month ago, staring at a tough schedule of road games, in need of a bunch of points to punch its way into the post-season. Well, punch they did, gathering up huge road wins at Montreal and Columbus, in addition to a draw at Supporters Shield winners New York, all in the month of October.

source: Getty Images
New England’s Diego Fagundez, only 18 … but he just finished tied in league scoring with a team-leading 13 goals.

Heaps’ team clinched its playoff spot just last weekend, in fact, with that 1-0 win at Crew Stadium.

One of the great things about having New England back in the playoffs is another chance to see Diego Fagundez, the Revs’ 18-year-old scoring sensation. Fagundez, finished tied for fifth in league scoring – and imagine what he could have done had he been the Revs’ PK taker, as league scoring leaders so frequently are.

He usually lines up wide (left lately) in the Revs’ 4-1-4-1 arrangement.

At the other end of the experience spectrum is goalkeeper Matt Reis, who lost his place this year – a difficult year that included unfortunate family involvement in the Boston Marathon bombings. Reis got things together and will be big part of this playoff push. So will center back Jose Goncalves, one of the real finds of the Major League’s Soccer’s off-season.

Another intriguing figure in a team full of them is Juan Agudelo, a young U.S. international (a bit farther back in the pool) who shook off some late-season injury struggles to make the Revs’ last four starts. In fact, his first goal since Aug. 25 was the playoff clincher last weekend against Columbus. Agudelo has already signed to play for Stoke City in January.

(MORE on MLS playoffs: ProSoccerTalk’s post-season picks and predictions)

UCL roundup: Real Madrid nearly blow 4-0 lead; PSG roll in Sweden

Luka Modric, Real Madrid CF
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A roundup of all of Wednesday’s action in the UEFA Champions League…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

Juventus 1-0 Manchester CityFULL RECAP

Mario Mandzukic scored the game’s only goal (WATCH HERE), putting Juventus back atop Group D as Man City tumble into second place. With just one game left to play, City sit two points behind last year’s CL runners-up and risk going into the runners-up side of the draw for the knockout stage, which could mean a date with Barcelona, Bayern Munich or Real Madrid in the round of 16.

Manchester United 0-0 PSV EindhovenFULL RECAP

The red half of Manchester has even more to worry about, however, as Man United failed to qualify for the knockout stage on Wednesday by drawing 0-0 with PSV Eindhoven. With one game left to play, United sit second, just a point ahead of the Dutch side, with a difficult away trip to face Wolfsburg looming in two weeks’ time. PSV, meanwhile, will host CSKA Moscow on Dec. 8.

Shakhtar Donetsk 3-4 Real Madrid

Rafa Bentiez is truly special, isn’t he? From 4-0 up, to holding on for dear life and a 4-3 victory over Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk, Benitez’s position may, somehow, be even more untenable today than it was following Saturday’s 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Barcelona. Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice (WATCH HERE), and Luka Modric and Dani Carvajal provided the other two goal before three goals from minutes 77 to 88 put the final result in serious doubt.

Malmo 0-5 Paris Saint-Germain

Zlatan Ibrahimovic made his triumphant return to his boyhood club and marked the special occasion with — what else? — a goal (WATCH HERE). PSG were up 2-0 after 14 minutes thanks to goals scored by Adrien Rabiot and Angel di Maria, so the result was never really in doubt. Ibrahimovic added the third before Di Maria and Lucas Moura ballooned the lead in the game’s final 25 minutes.

Elsewhere in Champions League action

Group B

CSKA Moscow 0-2 Wolfsburg

Group C

Atletico Madrid 2-0 Galatasaray
FC Astana 2-2 Benfica

Group D

Borussia Monchengladbach 4-2 Sevilla — WATCH FABIAN JOHNSON’S GOAL HERE

Man United 0-0 PSV Eindhoven: UCL hopes hang in the balance

Wayne Rooney, Jorrit Hendrix
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Manchester United drew 0-0 with PSV Eindhoven at Old Trafford on Wednesday as Louis Van Gaal‘s side were frustrated as they missed the chance to qualify for the knockout round and now face a pivotal final Group B game away at Wolfsburg.

[ MORE: Champions League standings

Jesse Lingard, Morgan Schneiderlin and Anthony Martial had the best of the chances for United but PSV threatened in the second half as Phillip Cocu’s side can still qualify for the last 16 heading into their finale against already eliminated CSKA Moscow.

As for United, they know a win in Germany in two weeks time against group leaders Wolfsburg will seal their spot in the last 16 and top spot but anything less and a PSV win would mean an early UCL exit.

United started brightly with Anthony Martial trying to play in Wayne Rooney and then Bastian Schweinsteiger smashed a shot in on goal which was easily saved. As the first half wore on it was one-way traffic with the Red Devils pushing hard. Rooney almost got in at the back post but the ball flashed by, then he set up Jesse Lingard but a poor first touch saw the chance go to waste.  Morgan Schneiderlin came close to scoring as he tried to bundle the ball home at the back post after Daley Blind‘s corner caused havoc but Jeroen Zoet saved bravely.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule

Finally, PSV began to wake up with Luuk De Jong setting up Jorrit Hendrix but David De Gea was equal to his curling effort as the Dutch side flexed their offensive muscles. With half time approaching United pressed hard as Anthony Martial got free on the left side of the box but his shot was saved when he really should’ve scored. The Frenchman went close again before half time but Zoet saved his shot at the near post as United were frustrated by the reigning Dutch champions.

At the start of the second half United began brightly with Lingard flicking a header past the far post and then Memphis wriggled free of his marker but sent a shot straight at Zoet.

With 30 minutes to go United made two changes with Memphis and Schweinsteiger replaced by Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini, however Davy Propper had a decent strike on goal but De Gea saved well after the Dutch midfield juggled his way into a good spot. Young whipped in some delicious crosses after coming on but PSV pressed hard and United looked to have run out of steam.

Propper forced De Gea into a stop after his rasping shot from 35-yards out, and PSV were giving it a right go late on at Old Trafford. That said,  Lingard squandered a gilt-edge chance as Young’s cross deflected right into his path but the local lad couldn’t keep his half volley down and sent the ball over with the goal gaping. Fellaini just failed to get on the end of a cross to the back post with the Red Devils huffing and puffing in the final moments but they couldn’t find a way through as they fired a blank to set up a nervy finale in Germany on Dec. 8.

Juventus 1-0 Man City: Mandzukic puts Juve past City, top of Group D

Mario Mandzukic, Juventus FC
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A first-half goal from Mario Mandzukic resigned Manchester City to UEFA Champions League defeat on Wednesday, taking control of Group D out of their own hands and putting it into those of Juventus, 1-0 winners on the night.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

Juve took the lead through a simple tap-in off the boot of Mario Mandzukic in the 18th minute. Alex Sandro sent a high, looping ball toward the back post where Mandzukic lost his marker, Nicolas Otamendi, when the Argentine tumbled over backwards after a slight touch on the shoulder from Mandzukic.

The Croatian striker nearly doubled Juve’s lead 10 minutes later, but his right-footed side-volley was very well saved by Joe Hart at his left-hand post. Claudio Marchisio sent a long ball to the corner of the six-yard box, where Paulo Dybala laid back a soft, cushioned header to Mandzukic for his low, powerful strike to the near post.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s UCL roundup — Barca, Bayern clinch spots in KO round ]

Sergio Aguero had Man City’s best chance of the first half, just before halftime, when Marchisio played an unthinkable back pass toward Gianluigi Buffon. Aguero was quick to react and suddenly found himself one on one with the legendary Juve and Italy goalkeeper, but his first two touches took him away from goal and Buffon did very well to rush out and close down the angles quickly.

It was Otamendi who went inches from equalizing for City shortly after halftime. Kevin De Bruyne‘s free kick found the Argentine center back at the top of the six-yard box, where he headed the ball for the far post, but the outstretched hand of Buffon tipped the ball onto the inside of the post and back into his hands.

[ MORE: UCL standings | Schedule ]

Juve went straight down to the other end of the field and would have doubled their lead, if not for a pesky post. Alvaro Morata, introduced into the game seconds earlier, got behind the City defense and lifted the ball over Hart toward the far post for Dybala, but the Argentine striker’s deft touch found only the outside of the post, denying the bianconeri a classy goal.

Juve’s victory means the four-time reigning Serie A champions have leapfrogged City for top spot in Group D, two points ahead with one game left to play. City will be home to Borussia Monchengladbach, while Juve will play away to Sevilla on the group stage’s final matchday.

VIDEO: USMNT’s Johnson scores stunning goal in UCL

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U.S. men’s national team star Fabian Johnson put the icing on the cake for Borussia Monchendgladbach against Sevilla on Wednesday.

Johnson, 27, cut inside and hit a dipping, curling shot into the far corner to give Monchengladbach a 2-0 lead late on and give themselves a great chance of finishing third in Group D and qualifying for the Europa League.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]  

The German-American cleared up his differences with USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann after being sent home following the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico in October, and in this type of form he has proven why Klinsmann has recently played him in a left-wing role for the U.S. instead of at full back.

Watch the video below to see Johnson’s superb strike, his second UCL goal in as many games and the second of his career.