Philadelphia Union v Sporting Kansas City

MLS Playoff Preview: Sporting KC at New England Revolution

1 Comment
  • 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)

Mathieu Valbuena injures shoulder but won’t need surgery

GENT, BELGIUM - SEPTEMBER 16:  Mathieu Valbuena of Lyon runs with the ball during the UEFA Champions League Group H match between KAA Gent and Olympique Lyonnais held at Ghelamco Arena on September 16, 2015 in Gent, Belgium.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

French midfielder Mathieu Valbuena will miss a month with a dislocated shoulder, but while initially it was feared he would need surgery, that is no longer an option, and four weeks should be an adequate recovery time according to reports in France.

The 32-year-old has struggled with injuries this year, missing a pair of matches with a hip problem, and now will be sidelined much longer after a hard landing in the 75th minute on Saturday in a loss to Guingamp.

After the match, president Jean-Michel Aulas told TV channel Canal+ that Valbuena would likely need surgery, but after further testing they will look to get him back by the start of December.

Lyon is struggling mightily, having lost three of four in Ligue 1 play and falling to 10th in the table.

Valbuena has been a regular for the French national team, missing just two matches since late 2012. With this injury, he will most certainly miss France’s World Cup qualifier against Sweden in early November, plus the following friendly against the Ivory Coast.

Three things we learned from Chelsea’s win vs. Man United

Leave a comment

LONDON — Chelsea beat Manchester United 4-0 on Sunday in an unhappy return to Stamford Bridge for Jose Mourinho.

[ RECAP: Chelsea batter United ]

First half goals from Pedro and Gary Cahill set them on their way and then Eden Hazard and N'Golo Kante added gloss to the scoreline as United unraveled as Chelsea went into the top four.

Here’s what we learned from a humbling afternoon for Mourinho back in west London.


“You’re not special anymore!”

“You’re getting sacked in the morning!”

“Who are ya? Who are ya?”

Those were just sum of the chants directed at Manchester United’s manager Jose Mourinho on his first return to Chelsea since he was sacked last December.

It was an incredibly uncomfortable afternoon for Mourinho as his side fell behind after 30 seconds and never truly recovered.

A man who has been revered around the Kings Road for over a decade had the indignity of being torn apart in front of them. Only once had a Mourinho side conceded four or more goals in a Premier League game, but his side simply waved the white flag when it came to their defensive responsibilities. Going forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ander Herrera and Jesse Lingard were denied by the brilliant Thibaut Courtois, but United were never truly in this.

A shocking display was summed up by N’Golo Kante’s goal to make it 4-0. The French midfielder waltzed into the box and past a token challenge from Chris Smalling and then Paul Pogba made no effort to track Kante as he held his arms in the air. That one action alone summed up Mourinho’s return to Chelsea.

Chelsea’s fans sung Jose Mourinho’s name loudly after they went 4-0 up. But instead of the happiness it was usually sung with during the three PL titles he delivered in five full seasons in charge, there was a smugness in the tone. The Blues have moved on without Mourinho and the toxic atmosphere his departure created last season. After this abject display, Mourinho will have to work incredibly hard to move on from this.

Standing on the halfway line for the final 20 minutes of the game with his hands in his pockets, the Portuguese coach looked lost in a place where it always felt like he would be a champion forever. With 14 points from his opening nine games this season, maybe the fans are right. Maybe he isn’t special anymore…


United simply couldn’t get to grip with Chelsea’s 3-4-3 formation. They got it all wrong defensively. A United side which was able to shut down Liverpool expertly on Monday at Anfield were set up to defend resolutely once again, but Pedro’s goal after 30 seconds changed all of that.

The gaps between center backs Chris Smalling and Eric Bailly were huge. Daley Blind and Antonio Valencia couldn’t cope without Pedro and Eden Hazard cutting in from the flanks and both Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford provided no defensive help out wide.

Conte’s Chelsea have now scored nine goals, won three-straight games and conceded none since he switched to a 3-4-3 formation.

It was always going to take the Italian coach time to find his feet in the Premier League and adapt his defensive methods but he’s found the correct formula to get the best out of his players. Chelsea looked perfectly balanced but United’s inability to shut their wide players down certainly made them look much more effective.


Racing around his technical area like a madman throughout, Antonio Conte is a born winner. You can see it in his eyes.

It’s tough to see know how much of a difference his antics make to his team on the pitch, but how would you not want to play for him? He is a hard task master, even for the fans. With United’s fans singing away as their side trailed 4-0, Conte took his eyes off the game and urged the home fans to sing.

The entire stadium began to chant. The Italian has an infectious desire and drive within him and thinking back to Chelsea’s 3-0 defeat at Arsenal last month, he’s made big changes to the way they play and it’s paying dividends.

You could almost say it reminded you of a certain Portuguese coach in his early days.

At the final whistle Mourinho and Conte embraced but the former lent in and had plenty to say to Conte. The Italian boss didn’t seem impressed. He has that swagger about him.

Chelsea 4-0 Manchester United: Blues carve up United defense from start to finish

Leave a comment

Jose Mourinho returned to Stamford Bridge to a warm reception, but was soundly beaten at his own game by Antonio Conte.

Comprehensive defense and cutting-edge finishing left Chelsea with all three points as they topped Manchester United 3-0. Pedro scored just 30 seconds into the match, and goals from Gary Cahill, Hazard, and N'Golo Kante put it away. On the other end, Manchester United defense put in an embarrassing performance, caught sleeping under a minute in and left red-faced by a scything run from a defensive midfielder near the end.

That early goal came in stunning fashion and left Mourinho’s gameplan in tatters. Marcos Alonso lofted a searching ball over the top for Pedro alone against three defenders, but the ball fell to the Spaniard and with Chris Smalling out of position and completely confused, Pedro broke free and clipped home the opener.

[ WATCH: Pedro scores Chelsea opener 30 seconds in ]

Manchester United seemed to respond immediately, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic headed just over the bar from close range with 7 minutes gone by. Marcus Rashford was a threat down the left as well.

Eden Hazard had a chance on 14 minutes off a corner, but his low volley skittered just wide of David De Gea‘s right post. Set pieces looked dangerous for Chelsea, and they bagged a second via that route. Hazard swung in a 21st minute corner, and it clipped Ander Herrera, falling right into the path of Gary Cahill who blasted it into the back of the net with little contest.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

United continued to have issues at the back as Pedro dispossessed Daley Blind in a dangerous position, but De Gea was there to stop the ensuing cross with a 2-on-1 developing. The visitors had another chance forcing Thibaut Courtois into action, saving off a long swerving shot from Herrera and again on the rebound from Jesse Lingard.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

The hosts were lucky to remain with 10 men five minutes before the break when David Luiz shoved his studs into the thigh of Marouane Fellaini with an ugly, high-footed challenge, but the referee only showed him into the book with a yellow.

After the break, Manchester United got away with one as Eric Bailly – already on a yellow card – downed Hazard on the edge of the area for a clear foul, but it was waved away by the referee. The 22-year-old then went down injured minutes later, replaced by Marcus Rojo.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

United pushed for something, anything in front of net to try and get back into the game. Lingard forced a save by Courtois with a shot from distance just before the hour mark, but instead of building on the possession, it would get worse. Eden Hazard put Chelsea 3-0 up thanks to a beautiful feed from Nemanja Matic slicing up the United defense, and the Belgian superstar was there for a cutback and a shot into the back of the net. The fourth came on a beautiful run on the ball by Kante to leave the defenders in his wake and bag his first goal with the Blues with 20 minutes to go.

The win for Chelsea moved them up to 19 points, remaining in fifth but just a point off the top in the crowded Premier League table. Manchester United is stuck in seventh, left with 14 points and falling further behind the top bunch.

Brad Davis announces retirement at the end of the MLS season

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MAY 27:  Brad Davis #14 of the United States in action against Azerbaijan during their match at Candlestick Park on May 27, 2014 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The 15-year career of Brad Davis will come to an end at the end of the MLS season, Sporting Kansas City announced Sunday.

The 34-year-old has spent his entire career domestically, currently with Sporting KC for a season after spending ten years with the Houston Dynamo where he won two MLS Cups in 2006 and 2007. The club made it to the final again in 2011, but Davis missed it with an injury and the team fell to Los Angeles.

Davis also collected 17 caps with the U.S. National Team. He debuted in 2005 in a Gold Cup win over Cuba, but was a late bloomer with the national team, making 12 of his 17 appearances from 2013 or later. He earned his final cap for the Stars & Stripes in the 1-0 loss to Germany in the 2014 World Cup.

“I can’t believe that the last 15 years have gone by so fast and that this journey has come to an end,” Davis told the official Sporting KC website. “Along the way, I have met a lot of great people and have had the privilege to play alongside many great players. There are so many individuals that I look forward to thanking who have made me the person and the player I have become.”

The announcement came just hours before Sporting KC finishes its regular season against San Jose in front of the home fans at Sporting Park. With Kansas City teetering on the edge of the playoff picture, it’s likely they wanted to allow Davis the opportunity foir a sendoff should they fall short of extending the season.

Sporting sits in the final playoff spot on 44 points, level on points with Portland but above on goal difference by a single goal. The Timbers finish their regular season on the road at 9th-placed Vancouver.