Jimmy Nielsen, Aurelien Collin, Kelyn Rowe

What we learned from Saturday’s New England-Sporting Kansas City playoff match

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  • Football lines. Sigh

For all the wonderful strides in Major League Soccer, every now and then the smack in the face arrives, the one that reminds everyone the league still has miles to go.

Saturday the reminder blow came from both playoff venues, one outside Boston and one in Seattle. In both cases, games were played on artificial turf, as usual per the facility. The difference was in the dizzying American football lines, as both venues prepare to host NFL games to come.

It’s not just that it clobbers the game’s aesthetics. In New England’s case, the NFL’s Patriots – the Kraft family owns both teams that play at Gillette Stadium, the MLS club and the NFL organization – shorten the soccer field so that it won’t intrude on the Patriots’ end zone logo.

So the field plays at about 106 yards, just barely enough to comply with FIFA regulations. A shorter field, combined with the fast, skidding pace we always see from artificial turf, made for a hectic match. One that was pretty hard on the eyes, too – hardly what the league ideally wants to showcase in its post-season money matches.

  • Claudio Bieler did not travel for KC

When a Designated Player cannot get into the starting lineup, trouble is a’ brewin’.

When a DP doesn’t even travel, something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.

Argentine striker Bieler lost his place in manager Peter Vermes’ starting lineup lately for Kansas City. It had to do with a groin injury, we think; from there it’s all kind of murky. Did he come back unfit? Or is he just turning out not to be what the club expected?

Bieler started well enough in his first year at Sporting Park, among the league’s leading scorers early in the season. But his scoring fell off the table in the summer – and then he lost his place in the lineup.

(MORE: New England’s 2-1 win provides tentative margin for second leg)

  • Talking about the refereeing, and the controversial goal

The game wasn’t without controversy, as Andy Dorman’s opener was very close to offside. (Hat tip to journalist Travis Clark, who summed it up best like this: “Consensus from my Twitter feed about that goal: clearly onside and offside.” Exactly.)

It was an extremely tough call. I keep watching it, and I still cannot be sure.

Otherwise, referee Ismail Elfath probably managed this helter-skelter mess of a match about as well as it could have been. Elfath is one of the less experienced MLS referees, but generally one who can manage players better than some of the older hands.

Remember, Sporting KC led the league in fouls. That’s a statistical fact. Not so easily proven through data is this: Sporting is the league’s best team at the cynical art of tactical fouling. So, that’s a lot for the man in the middle to sort out, and Elfath wasn’t completely overmatched by it.

Sporting KC right back Chance Myers may hear from the league about twice getting his hands to the face/head of New England players. And so may New England’s Dimitry Imbongo, who always had the elbows up high too often.

By the end, seven players were booked.

If notoriously physical KC to advance, its depth will surely be tested. Two post-season bookings will mean that a player sits out the following match.

  • Kansas City didn’t respond well

Sporting Kansas City got just a little lucky in getting that absolutely massive 69th minute goal, cutting New England’s lead in half. First, Imbongo’s bad foul along the flank gave the visitors a free kick, which turned into an opportunity and a goal.

It happened at a moment when Sporting KC was falling absolutely to pieces, not dealing at all with the controversial goal – or with the deficit that came with it. Clearly frustrated, they were fouling and missing runners – which is exactly how New England’s Kelyn Rowe slipped in for the Revs’ second strike.

It was all so reminiscent of last year’s playoff ouster – from which Sporting KC apparently learned absolutely nothing. Peter Vermes’ team fell behind by a goal at Houston. Rather than playing it safe and sticking with the original plan, SKC pushed forward. Instead of concocting an equalizer, they were exposed and gave up a second goal to Houston … which was one goal too many for the furious return leg.

It’s a two-game series, guys. You know that, right?

(MORE: Man of the Match is New England’s Matt Reis)

  • Revs young attackers have a hard time

Revolution 13-goal scorer Diego Fagundez? He was virtually nowhere to be found Saturday. It was, after all, the 18-year-old’s first playoff game. And dealing with Myers along SKC’s right side is never a bunch of fun.

And second-year man Kelyn Rowe certainly made a huge moment with his game-winner – but he wasn’t having a great match before that.

In all fairness, attacking players with good matches weren’t really to be found at all Saturday at Gillette. The field was small and fast, and both defenses were in charge.

The exception early was Kansas City’s Graham Zusi, who was able to find just enough space to do a little bit of creating for his team. Zusi was the conductor on the only three first-half chances, all from the visitors. But he was quiet after intermission, as the Revolution gained some possession and managed to put a foothold on the game.

Once again, the match highlights from NBCSN:

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Chelsea sign Marcos Alonso from Fiorentina for $30 million

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Chelsea have signed Spanish left back Marcos Alonso from Fiorentina.

[ STREAM: Deadline Day show ]

The Serie A side confirmed the news on Transfer Deadline Day as Alonso, 25, is believed to have cost Chelsea around $30 million.

Alonso previously played at Bolton and Sunderland in the Premier League and the Real Madrid academy product has now returned to England.

[ LIVE: Every Deadline Day deal ] 

In a brief statement on La Viola’s website, they confirmed the deal.

“ACF Fiorentina announces that it has sold, outright to the rights of the player Marcos Alonso Mendoza to Chelsea Football Club.”

More to follow…

Burnley sign Hendrick in club-record deal; Adama to Middlesbrough

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 13:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic (C) of Sweden competes for the ball against Wes Hoolahan (L) and Jeff Hendrick of Republic (R) of Ireland during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group E match between Republic of Ireland and Sweden at Stade de France on June 13, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
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Burnley have signed Republic of Ireland international Jeff Hendrick on a three-year deal.

[ STREAM: Deadline Day show ]

Hendrick, 24, shone for Ireland at EURO 2016 this summer and that persuaded Burnley to pay over $13.7 million to Derby County for the energetic central midfielder.

That means the Clarets have now spent nearly $30 million on new players this summer and have smashed their transfer record twice in the last two weeks after Belgian international Steven Defour arrived from Anderlecht.

Speaking to the club website, Hendrick revealed Burnley’s summer-long interest in him was a big factor in him signing.

“The Premier League was a big draw for me and it’s where I aspire to be after the summer I’ve had,” Hendrick said. “Burnley did so well last year going unbeaten for five months and how much they wanted me this summer was a real positive for me. I know there have been a number of bids and I was sitting there waiting for one to be accepted. I would have preferred it to happen earlier to and get to know your team mates and coaching staff a bit more, but I am just thankful it’s done now and I can go away with Ireland known my future is settled.”

Hendrick will add plenty of power to Burnley’s midfield as the Clarets aim to do something they’ve never done in their previous two seasons in the PL: stay up.


There was another Deadline Day deal for a newly-promoted team in the PL as Middlsebrough signed 20-year-old winger Adama Traore from Aston Villa.

[ LIVE: Every Deadline Day deal ] 

Traore was signed by Tim Sherwood from Barcelona for $9.1 million but failed to break through in Villa’s woeful campaign last season which ended in their relegation from the Premier League.

Now the pacey winger has another chance in the top-flight as he becomes Boro’s 11th signing of the summer and Albert Adomah heads in the opposite direction.

Aitor Karanka isn’t messing around and Middlesbrough’s unbeaten start to life back in the PL is testament to that.

Sunderland sign Didier Ndong for club-record fee

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Sunderland have made their first signing of what is expected to be a busy Transfer Deadline Day at the Stadium of Light.

[ STREAM: Deadline Day show ]

Gabon international midfielder Didier Ndong has signed for a club-record fee of $17.8 million and has a five-year contract at Sunderland.

The 22-year-old defensive midfielder joins the Black Cats from Ligue 1 side Lorient and David Moyes could add as many as five new players on Deadline Day.

[ LIVE: Every Deadline Day deal ]  

Speaking to Sunderland’s website Ndong revealed his delighted at moving to the Premier League.

“It will be an honor to wear the Sunderland shirt and I will wear it with a true understanding of what it means,” Ndong said. “I am excited to meet everyone at the club, to see the stadium and of course the fans. Today is the most beautiful day of my life.”

Ndong will add to an injury-hit Sunderland midfield and it could free up U.S. U-20 international Lynden Gooch to play in a more attacking central role.

Moyes will be hoping he can add some more defenders between now and the summer transfer window shutting at 6 p.m. ET today, with rumors persisting that Lamine Kone could be on his way out.

Report: Roma lead chase for Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere

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Early on Transfer Deadline Day it seemed like Premier League duo Crystal Palace and Bournemouth were the two options for Jack Wilshere.

Not so fast.

[ STREAM: Deadline Day show ]

According to multiple reports Arsenal’s 24-year-old central midfielder is reportedly being chased hard by AS Roma with regards to a season-long loan deal.

Wilshere has expressed his desire to leave Arsenal for regular action this season and over 22 clubs have reportedly expressed interest in taking him on loan.

[ LIVE: Every Deadline Day deal ] 

That list had been whittle down to three main contenders and it is believed the England international met with Palace boss Alan Pardew and Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe on Tuesday as he decided where he should go.

Now, though, it appears a Serie A giant is pushing hard to get Wilshere.

His good friend Wojciech Szczesny is already on loan from Arsenal to Roma and with the Italian side able to offer UEFA Europa League action, plus challenge for the top four in Italy’s top-flight, Wilshere may see it as more worthwhile than going on loan to Palace or Bournemouth who will both be challenging to finish in the upper reaches of midtable in the PL.

The transfer window in Italy shuts at 5 p.m. ET, an hour earlier than in England, so Wilshere will have to get a move on if he fancies spending the next year in the Italian capital.