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.

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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)

FIFA reminds World Cup-bound Peru about government meddling

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has reminded the Peruvian soccer federation of rules prohibiting interference by national governments, one week after the South American country qualified for its first World Cup since 1982.

FIFA says the letter reacts to the “current draft of the Peruvian Sports Law” presented to a congressional committee last month. FIFA says the proposed text to lawmakers includes “certain items that, if implemented, would contravene the FIFA Statutes.”

In serious cases, FIFA can suspend a country’s national and club teams, plus officials, from international competitions and meetings.

Peruvian officials are due in Moscow next week for the World Cup draw.

Peru is not likely to be facing any action, but FIFA has promised to “continue to monitor the situation.”

PL Preview: Man United v. Brighton

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  • United have scored 19 goals, 6 wins from 6 at home this season
  • Brighton unbeaten in 5 games
  • Zlatan, Pogba, Rojo all fit for United

Manchester United host newly-promoted Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Red Devils aiming to keep their 100 percent home record in the PL intact.

[ MORE: Mourinho hits back at critics

Brighton are on a five-game unbeaten run in their debut campaign in the PL and Chris Hughton‘s side have settled impressively as they sit in ninth-place in the table.

Jose Mourinho’s United sit in second place but are eight points behind crosstown rivals Manchester City who are settling a rasping early-season pace in the Premier League. United and City clash at Old Trafford on Dec. 10 so Mourinho’s men can’t afford any dropped points between now and then.

In team news United are without central defenders Eric Bailly and Phil Jones, while Brighton have no new injury concerns.

What they’re saying

Mourinho on Pogba’s return to fitness: “Paul is still on this process where he cannot reach the fatigue limit, he cannot go more than 65 to 70 minutes because that’s when fatigue normally arrives and with so many matches consecutively we need to protect such an important player for us.”

Chris Hughton on Brighton’s mindset heading to Old Trafford: “There aren’t many teams at our level that are going to go there and win. You’ve got to play at a very high level and you’ve certainly got to have that bit of luck that goes with a win away from home at any one of the big clubs. But these are the days you’ve worked so hard for as a team and it’s what we got promoted for. What we hope to do is to make a good account of ourselves there and we hope we can do that.”

Prediction

I expect a big home win for United who are simply too powerful in attack for most PL clubs to handle. Sure, their direct approach gets criticized by many but they’re second in the PL table for a reason and Mourinho’s squad has extreme strength in depth in attack. 3-0 to the Red Devils.

Bookmakers odds on next USMNT boss

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After Sol Campbell (seriously) threw his hat into the ring to become the next U.S. men’s national team boss, now seems like a good time to check in on who are the current names being mentioned for the role.

Campbell told ESPN that he is interested in the vacant USMNT role as the former Arsenal and Tottenham star is currently the assistant coach of the Trinidad & Tobago national team.

“I think there is a lot of soul-searching [for the U.S. to do]. I think the main thing you’ve got to look at [with] America is where do they go now? They’ve invested a lot of money, and I think sometimes you’ve got to look in different area,” Campbell said. “You can’t always look in the same places. Yes, they want to keep it local, and they want to keep as much in USA with the players and the staff, but sometimes you’ve got to open up. I think there’s guys around the world who could contribute.”

“Maybe not [people] on their hit list, maybe not on the paper list, maybe not on the agent’s list, but guys who probably could help them in different ways on the field: attack-wise, defense-wise. Who knows? If they came to me, maybe I could help them out. Who knows? But I think they have got to start looking in different directions.”

Campbell’s coaching credentials are obviously limited but the former England international asking the U.S. to have a global coaching search isn’t asking for anything which hasn’t already been done. See: Klinsmann, Jurgen.

Of course, there is no imminent appointment expected with the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) presidential race happening in February 2018, so appointing a new boss between now and would be a big mistake if the coach’s philosophy doesn’t fall in line with whoever is the leader of U.S. Soccer moving forward.

Still, via betting site Oddschecker, it’s very intriguing to see some of the names being linked with the USMNT job. Here are the odds on offer…


Sam Allardyce – 1/2 favorite
Caleb Porter – 8/1
Gregg Berhalter – 14/1
Jesse Marsch – 14/1
Laurent Blanc – 14/1
Patrick Vieira- 14/1
David Wagner – 16/1
Peter Vermes – 16/1
Bob Bradley – 20/1


Sam Allardyce has already put himself out there with regards to the USMNT job and his vast experience leading club teams from ruin to redemption could work well in this scenario, even if Big Sam’s knowledge of Major League Soccer and the USMNT is vastly inferior to MLS coaches in the running.

Caleb Porter leaving his role with the Portland Timbers has led to plenty of intriguing reports and rumors but is he really the right man to lead the USMNT?

Other MLS coaches linked with the position are Jesse Marsch who continues to overachieve with the New York Red Bulls, while Gregg Berhalter in his uncertain situation with Columbus Crew could be a good shout, especially with his brother Jay playing a prominent role at U.S. Soccer.

David Wagner’s past as a USMNT player will resonate strongly with many involved in the American soccer community but he’s unlikely to leave Huddersfield anytime soon, and then there’s Bob Bradley on the list. Quite why he’s on there as he builds LAFC ahead of their debut season in MLS in 2018 says it all about these bookies odds.

Take it all with a hefty pinch of salt and expect no movement for a while as the USSF presidential election takes center stage over the next few months. When that concludes and a successor (more than likely) is selected to replace Sunil Gulati, then we should expect a new head coach to be appointed by the USMNT.

With no World Cup next summer or competitive games until 2019, what’s the rush?

We are talking about a nation which is not only 24th in the FIFA world rankings, but also one where the sport is growing an you get the sense a fine crop of players are bursting to come through and the 2018 World Cup could be the catalyst for significant change in the USMNT playing squad.

Time needs to be taken to assess who the best man for the job would be and, right now, nobody jumps off the page as the leading contender. After the World Cup next summer plenty of international coaches will become available as they come to the end of their cycle or they’re fired. In my opinion, why not wait until the end? Having an interim boss in charge for a friendly match in January and two more in March and June isn’t the end of the world and gives the U.S. plenty of time to make the correct decision moving forward.

This next hire is crucially important to the future of the USMNT.

Black Friday sale on NBC Sports Gold

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Celebrate Black Friday by getting a lovely discount on NBC Sports Gold.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ]

The deal, available from today until midnight next Wednesday, gives you 20% off of the Premier League Pass for the rest of the season, which includes 40 exclusive matches in the next 32 days as well as access to Premier League shows featuring the latest news, analysis and more – which are only available on NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League Today, Premier League News and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

Click on the link below for details on how to purchase the sale on NBC Sports Gold.