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)

Wayne Shaw under investigation for pie-eating stunt

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280-pound goalkeeper Wayne Shaw has become an internet sensation. It may come at a cost though.

[ MORE: Arsenal beat Sutton ]

Both the English FA and the Gambling Commission in the UK have opened investigations into whether Shaw (dubbed “The Roly Poly Goalie”) was paid by a bookmaker, believed to be Sun Bets, to eat a pie in the second half of their defeat to Arsenal and if that impacted betting patterns.

Yep. You read that correctly…

The Sutton United reserve goalkeeper, 46, was a meme machine ahead of, and during, the fifth-tier side losing 2-0 to Arsenal in the FA Cup fifth round on Monday. Shaw was seen in the bar at Sutton’s Gander Green Lane home at half time of the narrow defeat to the Gunners, while he was also spotted vacuuming up the dugout area prior to the arrival of Arsene Wenger‘s men.

Yet Shaw’s actions towards the end of the clash which are in question as the goalkeeper starting eating a pie (he claims it was a pasty, a delicacy from Southern England) after Sutton’s third sub came on, meaning he would not come on. So, Shaw started chomping on a pie and the TV cameras zoomed in on him.

What’s the big deal?

Sun Bets (who also sponsored Sutton for the biggest game in their history) promoted had offered odds of 8-1 for Shaw to eat a pie while on the bench. He duly obliged and despite stating he did not have a bet on the novelty wager, Shaw’s actions are now being investigated by the Gambling Commission in the UK.

“Integrity in sport is not a joke and we have opened an investigation to establish exactly what happened,” Richard Watson from the Gambling Commission said. “We’ll be looking into any irregularity in the betting market and establishing whether the operator has met its licence requirement to conduct its business with integrity.”

The FA are also looking into whether or not Shaw broke any of its gambling rules with his actions.

What does this mean?

Most likely the betting company concerned could be fined or have its licence revoked if any wrongdoing is found, while Shaw can be called as a witness in the investigation. As for the FA, Shaw could be in plenty more trouble for his actions if he is found to have done something wrong by chewing on the pie in the 83rd minute.

Speaking after the game Sutton’s manager Paul Doswell wasn’t too happy with Shaw’s antics and neither was chairman Bruce Elliott. “I don’t think it shows us in the best light,” Doswell said.

While Shaw had his own say on the incident which has somewhat overshadowed Sutton’s FA Cup fairytale coming to an end.

“A few of the lads said to me earlier on, ‘What is going on with the 8-1 about eating a pie?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, I’ve eaten nothing all day, so I might give it a go later on’,” Shaw said, via The Independent. “As I say what is that? Sun Bets had us at 8-1 to eat a pie? I thought I would give them a bit of banter and let’s do it. All the subs were on and we were 2-0 down.”

He also confirmed that a few mates and fans may have put bets on him eating a pie.

Now, I grew up in Southern England and actually played in a game with Shaw just under 10 years ago. He was on the goalkeeping coaching staff at Eastleigh, a current fifth-tier side who were also managed by current Sutton boss Doswell at the time, and due to a serious injury to our goalkeeper Shaw stepped in for a few games.

He is a lively character and is at the heart of everything mischievous. However, things may have gone a little too far this time though…

Wayne Rooney set for Manchester United return

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Wayne Rooney is back in business.

Well, almost.

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With rumors continuing to swirl that Rooney, 31, will leave Manchester United at the end of February and join the Chinese Super League, United’s captain is back in training ahead of their UEFA Europa League Round of 32 second leg tie at St. Etienne on Wednesday.

Rooney hasn’t played for United since Feb. 1 in the 0-0 draw against Hull City in the Premier League as he first picked up a muscle injury and then needed dental treatment to fix a root canal issue. United haven’t struggled recently in their last four games without Rooney as Jose Mourinho’s men remain 16 games unbeaten in the Premier League.

United’s all-time leading scorer was seen training in Manchester on Tuesday but, alongside Chris Smalling and Michael Carrick, Rooney trained in a separate group from the rest of the squad.

That suggests Rooney may not feature against St. Etienne in France on Wednesday with United 3-0 up from the first leg and all but through to the last 16 of the Europa League.

Rooney’s potential return will boost Mourinho’s attacking options ahead of the EFL Cup final against Southampton at Wembley on Sunday.

But does he really need him?

With Zlatan Ibrahimovic in fine form, plus Anthony Martial, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marcus Rashford all chipping in with goals and assists in Rooney’s absence the England and United legend may find it tough to just make the bench for the EFL Cup final.

If he’s fit enough, Mourinho will surely give Rooney at least a place on the bench. Who knows, it could be his final chance to lift a trophy as United’s captain before he departs.

Rooney’s time at United appears to be coming towards an end, be it now or in the summer, but surely he’d like to lead them out at Wembley at least one more time and lift his 11th major title as a Red Devil.

Egypt high court upholds death sentences of 10 soccer rioters

CAIRO, EGYPT - JANUARY 26:  Egyptian 'Ahly Ultra' soccer fans gather at the Al Ahly home stadium during celebrations after the announcement that 21 fans of the Al Masry football club involved in a football stadium massacre last year were sentence to death on January 26, 2013 in Cairo, Egypt. A verdict was announced Saturday in a case over the deaths of more than seventy fans of Egypt's Al-Ahly football club in a stadium massacre on February 1, 2012, in the northern city of Port Said, during a riot that began minutes after the final whistle of a match between Al-Ahly and Al-Masry. 21 fans of the Al Masry football club were given the death penalty in the court case, a verdict that must now be approved by Egypt's Grand Mufti. The verdict was handed down during a period of high tension across Egypt, one day after the second anniversary of the beginning of Egypt's 2011 revolution that overthrew the regime of former President, Hosni Mubarak.  (Photo by Ed Giles/Getty Images)
Photo by Ed Giles/Getty Images
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CAIRO (AP) Egypt’s highest appeals court on Monday upheld the death sentences against 10 people convicted over a soccer riot that killed over 70 fans in 2012, becoming one of the world’s deadliest soccer disasters.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

The verdict by the Court of Cassation is final. The defendants were charged with murder, along with other charges. The court also upheld convictions of 22 suspects who received up to 10 years imprisonment over the rioting. A total of 11 defendants were sentenced to death but one remains at large and was tried in absentia.

The rioting erupted on February 2012, at the end of a league match in the Mediterranean city of Port Said between Cairo’s Al-Ahly, Egypt’s most successful club, and home side Al-Masry.

In a socking and unexpected turn, Al-Masry fans rushed to attack Al-Ahly supporters with knives, clubs and rocks. Witnesses and survivors described victims falling from the bleachers as they tried to escape. Hundreds of others fled into an exit passage, only to be crushed against a locked gate with their rivals attacking from behind.

[ MORE: Brazilian player in tears after 90 mins. of racist chants in Serbia ]

The riot led to the suspension of Egypt’s top soccer league for over a year. The league later resumed, but with matches played in empty stadiums.

The first Egyptian Premier League game in which fans were allowed back into the stadiums was played in February 2015, but that occasion was also marred by the death of 22 fans in a stampede outside the grounds. The stampede followed the use of tear gas by police to stop what authorities at the time said was an attempt by fans to storm the military-owned stadium in a suburb east of Cairo.

In the Port Said disaster, most of the victims belonged to Al-Ahly’s “Ultras Ahlawy,” an association of hard-core fans now banned by authorities. In 2015, an Egyptian court ruled that the “Ultras” were a terrorist organization.

[ MORE: Wenger “didn’t really enjoy” Arsenal’s FA Cup win over Sutton ]

Members of the “Ultras” have long been at odds with the nation’s highly militarized police, taunting them with offensive slogans during matches and fighting them in street battles. Hard-core fans of other clubs also identify themselves by going under variations of the Ultras’ name. During the 2011 uprising that toppled autocratic President Hosni Mubarak, the Ultras often provided muscle at street rallies, directing protesters, leading chants and standing first in the line of fire as riot police unleashed tear gas.

Earlier this month, Egyptian police detained more than 100 Al-Ahly fans over a period of two days on suspicion they had planned to stage a protest on the anniversary of the Port Said rioting. The Ultras subsequently cancelled a planned commemoration. Five of those detained were charged with inciting protests and belonging to an outlawed group.

Public gatherings without a permit are banned under Egypt’s draconian anti-terrorism laws.

Kane: Wembley needs to be “our home” long before next season

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 14: Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur reacts during the UEFA Champions League match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and AS Monaco FC at Wembley Stadium on September 14, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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Tottenham Hotspur have been — how should I say this? — less than stellar at Wembley Stadium this season.

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In their three UEFA Champions League group-stage games played inside England’s national stadium, Mauricio Pochettino‘s side was thrashed by a vibrant Monaco side; blunted into apathy by Bayer Leverkusen; and victorious against last-place CSKA Moscow, but only after having already been knocked out of the competition.

Ahead of Thursday’s Europa League round-of-32 second leg against Belgian side Gent — which will be played at Wembley, as they will do for every European fixture this season — Spurs’ captain of the future, Harry Kane, has called upon the north London side to make themselves at home inside the 90,000-seat arena on the following counts: 1) they’ll be playing the entirety of the 2017-18 season there; 2) they’re a victory over League One side Millwall away from an FA Cup semifinal, at Wembley, this season — quotes from the Independent:

“If we get through the next round of the FA Cup it’s to Wembley, and we play at Wembley on Thursday. Hopefully we get through. We’ve got to try to make Wembley our home. We could be there next season, so we want to make it as good for us as possible, try to win as many games there as we can and get that confidence going. We could be playing there a few times yet this season.”

[ FA CUP QF: Chelsea-Man United; Spurs-Millwall; Arsenal-Lincoln ]

As for Spurs’ recent form, perhaps best described as indifference, Kane says that’s an issue which was raised during a series of meetings in which Pochettino and a handful of the young side’s more senior figures called for more “hunger” and “sharpness” from the opening kickoff — quotes from the Independent:

“We’ve been starting quite slow in games and it was just about bringing the desire and hunger back to the team, chasing balls down, running in behind. We did that great on Sunday. Sometimes we need that — we need a reminder of who we are and what we’re about. We had a couple of meetings between us and we were glad to go out and put that right.”