New England takes tentative control with a 2-1 playoff win over Sporting Kansas City

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In its first playoff contest since 2009, the New England Revolution scored twice after halftime to take a tentative one-goal margin into the return leg against Kansas City in the teams’ Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Andy Dorman and Kelyn Rowe scored in the Revolution’s 2-1 win Saturday at Gillette Stadium, where the playoff energy, artificial turf and shortened field made for a fast, hectic and rugged match. And an eventful one, as the important first goal was highly controversial, and where seven players will go into this week’s return leg at Sporting Park on yellow card warning after bookings in Saturday’s scrappy match.

(MORE: What we learned from Saturday’s match)

Kansas City center back Aurelien Collin had a back-post tap-in to cut the deficit to 2-1 in the 69th minute – otherwise SKC would go home facing a hairy and eerily reminiscent two-goal deficit. That was the exact situation Sporting faced a year ago, returning home against Houston after a 2-0 playoff loss.

So, while New England is certainly excited to win its first playoff contest in four season, and the first for young manager Jay Heaps, a one-goal lead against favored Sporting KC looks just shaky enough to be uncomfortable.

The Revs, with no chances, sketchy passing accuracy and little possession before the break, looked night-and-day better after intermission. Dorman’s opener was surely controversial, as three New England Revolution attackers were very close to being offside as a ball pinged around inside the SKC goal area.

Sporting KC, clearly affected by the controversial sequence, looked irritated and unfocussed – and paid the price 12 minutes later. Rowe, having such a sensational second season in MLS, slipped inside KC left back Seth Sinovic to collect a loose ball and double his team’s lead after 67 minutes.

As rain began to fall in suburban Boston, Collin was in the right spot to clean up a free kick into the Revs area that the home team couldn’t clear properly.

(MORE: Man of the Match, New England goalkeeper Matt Reis)

The first half was choppy and nervous, with chances scant on either side, but especially for the home team. Graham Zusi was able to find the right passing speed on a ball down the right to create the game’s first chance. And his corner kick into Chance Myers needed to be cleared off the line by New England’s Lee Nguyen.

Later, surprise starter Teal Bunbury slipped through in the 35th minute on Zusi’s delicate, lobbed pass. A fabulously soft first touch from the young American striker left Bunbury with only Revs’ goalkeeper Matt Reis to beat. Apparently not sensing how much time he really had, Bunbury’s hurried volley from inside 12 yards was directly at New England’s goalkeeper.

Revolution manager Jay Heaps did, expected, choose to keep Andy Dorman in the lineup, the holding man in his 4-1-4-1. That was to help match the league’s most physical team.

On the other side, Vermes used Bunbury along his three-man front line rather than recent starter Soony Saad. Bunbury, still recovering from major knee surgery as the 2013 season began, had started just one match during the regular season.

Lineups:

New England: Matt Reis; Andrew Farrell, A.J. Soares, Jose Goncalves, Darius Barnes; Andy Dorman; Dimitry Imbongo, Kelyn Rowe, Lee Nguyen, Diego Fagundez; Juan Agudelo.

Sporting Kansas City: Jimmy Nielsen; Chance Myers, Aurelien Collin, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic; Oriol Rosell, Lawrence Olum, Graham Zusi; Jacob Peterson, Teal Bunbury, C.J. Sapong.

Agent: Barcelona offered more than Real for Vinicius Junior

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If Vinicius Junior can become half the player at Real Madrid that Neymar has lived up to be at Barcelona, Los Blancos will be pretty pleased.

[ MORE: Man City closing in on Monaco’s Silva ]

Real closed the deal for the 16-year-old Brazilian this week, but there were several other lucrative offers on the table, according to the player’s agent, Frederico Pena.

[ MORE: Totti leaves future uncertain heading into final Roma match ]

That includes bitter Spanish rivals Barcelona.

The agent stated that the Blaugrana did in fact offer a higher deal to acquire the Brazilian, however, he felt it would have complicated matters further to seek a greater offer from Real.

“There is practically unanimous view of the deal as a success,” Pena said. “If anybody gets criticised it is Real Madrid, for the risk they have taken, but they are sure that it will work. There were other clubs interested, and one offered to pay more money … Barca’s remuneration package offer for the player was higher than Real Madrid.

“But as we had reached an agreement with Real, we did not want to make this last push for them to match it. That could have embittered the relationship. Many people think it is crazy what Madrid are doing, but they were not alone in this craziness. They were not the only ones willing to pay this much for Vinicius.”

Pena also clarified as to why Vinicius chose Real over Barcelona, citing the player’s excitement about the development of Los Blancos during recent seasons under manager Zinedine Zidane and prior.

“Because Vinicius liked Madrid’s project better. There is always the feeling that players choose based on financial reasons, but that is not true. I assure you of that. Real Madrid’s negotiating posture was better.”

Real is on the verge of winning its third UEFA Champions League trophy in the last four seasons as the club prepares to face Juventus in the upcoming final.

Zidane’s men also won La Liga during the 2016/17 campaign.

Pulisic pleased with U.S. Soccer’s improved landscape

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U.S. Soccer has come a long way over the years, and one of the nation’s most promising young players recognizes the progress the United States has made.

[ MORE: Man City acquire Monaco’s Silva after passing medical ]

Christian Pulisic, who plays for Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund, is one of several young talents that U.S. hopes to finally bring the American men a moment of glory on the biggest of stages — the World Cup.

The 18-year-old has done just about everything a player of his age could do. He’s played in one of the top leagues in the world, appeared in various UEFA Champions League matches and now he’s likely on pace to appear in the 2018 World Cup, assuming the USMNT advances out of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

The U.S., who have reached the World Cup during seven straight cycles, have come a long way in a short period of time, and Pulisic is happy with the improving U.S. Soccer landscape.

“It’s been big flaw of ours in the soccer department that a lot of our best athletes go and play other sports,” Pulisic told The Guardian. “But I think young players have seen me, and others, go over to Europe and play in some of the best leagues — and MLS is improving so much too.

“There’s so much potential and I think it’s changing: we’ve had some bigger athletes in the past but I don’t think that defines us anymore.

“We’re going to keep moving forward, developing young players and we’re going to have a really good shot in the next few years.”

During this past Bundesliga season, Pulisic recorded three goals and added six assists for a club that has become well known for its high-powered offensive attack.

Report: Kyle Walker a top target for Manchester City

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Manchester City could be looking to bolster its backline further this summer, and the Citizens could turn to Tottenham for help.

[ MORE: Man City closing in on acquiring Monaco’s Silva ]

According to ESPN FC, Pep Guardiola‘s side is growing more and more enamored with Spurs defender Kyle Walker and believes City can acquire the experienced outside back prior to the 2017/18 Premier League season.

With City already losing Pablo Zabaleta and Bacary Sagna since the end of the PL season, Guardiola will have to address the club’s lack of depth at outside back.

Several other big clubs have been considered in the running for Walker’s services, including Chelsea, Manchester United and Bayern Munich.

The 26-year-old has been at White Hart Lane since joining Spurs in 2009 from Sheffield United and has made 222 appearances for the club in that span.

Alaves eyes upset of Barcelona in Copa del Rey final

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) The final of the Copa del Rey pits Barcelona’s star power against a tiny Basque Country club whose biggest weapons are its grit and gnawing hunger for a taste of glory.

[ MORE: Man City closing in on Monaco’s Silva ]

Win or lose, Alaves is savoring the cup final on Saturday as the perfect finish to its first season back in Spain’s topflight in an decade.

[ MORE: Three key battles ahead of Chelsea-Arsenal FA Cup final ]

But to have a chance of winning the first major trophy in its 96-year history, Alaves’ ragtag collection of journeymen has to be squeezed of every ounce of effort by coach Mauricio Pellegrino to upset the cup-holders led by Lionel Messi.

One statistic illustrates how daunting their task will be: Messi, all by himself, has scored exactly as many goals as the entire Alaves squad this season, with 53 across all competitions.

“We will need to play a very complete match to have a chance, but we are a team that always competes to the maximum,” said Pellegrino, who is completing a noteworthy first season with the club.

The final will be the last competitive match at Atletico Madrid’s Vicente Calderon Stadium. An exhibition match the next day will be its farewell before demolition.

The final will also be the last match for departing Barcelona coach Luis Enrique, who could bow out with a third straight Copa del Rey.

Here are some reasons Alaves can believe in an upset for the ages:

DONE IT BEFORE

Alaves has already toppled Barcelona this season.

A shocking 2-1 victory at Camp Nou on Sept. 10 was Alaves’ first win since its return to the first division following 10 years in the second and third tiers.

That surprise victory set it on its way to overachieving all campaign. It reached the Copa del Rey final by defeating the more talented Celta Vigo in the semifinals, and finished the league in a meritorious ninth place.

The bad news is that Barcelona showed no mercy back in Vitoria, where Luis Suarez scored twice in a 6-0 rout.

NO SUAREZ

But Suarez won’t be available for Barcelona on Saturday, when he serves a one-game suspension after being sent off during the semifinals against Atletico Madrid.

Luis Enrique could start Paco Alcacer in his place up front alongside Messi and Neymar.

OLD AND YOUNG

Alaves is not devoid of talent.

The 19-year-old right back Theo Hernandez, who is playing on loan from Atletico, is drawing rave reviews and interest from European powerhouses, including Real Madrid.

Marcos Llorente, a 22-year-old Madrid reserve player also on loan, has impressed as a defensive midfielder.

Captain Manu Garcia, at 31, is the only player who has been with the team through its rise from the third tier in 2013.

“Our coaches are telling us that by working as a team just like we have all year, we have a chance to win,” Garcia said.

OH SO CLOSE

Alaves came ever so close to winning the 2001 UEFA Cup when it defied expectations in its first European campaign by reaching the final against Liverpool.

Jordi Cruyff, son of Dutch great Johann Cruyff, scored late to level the thriller at 4-4 and force extra time, only for Alaves to succumb on an own goal by Delfi Geli.

“I want our fans to enjoy the day,” Garcia said. “I remember (the final in) Dortmund from when I was young. I have many memories of that day and that’s why I ask our fans to be proud of Alaves, and that they make the Calderon into our stadium because that is what we will need it to be.”