Sporting Kansas City v Montreal Impact

MLS Playoff Focus: Notes on Sporting Kansas City ahead of tonight’s visit from New England

  • League’s best defense needs to play like league’s best defense.

Kansas City gave up less than a goal-per-game this year (0.88 goals/game) and didn’t concede in 180 regular season minutes against New England, but in a 13-minute span of Saturday’s second half, Sporting conceded twice. The outburst ended a near-three month span where Kansas City had failed to concede multiple goals (last doing so on Aug. 3, vs. New York).

The first goal? Perhaps the team could have done something to stop it, but there was a degree of chaos and controversy to Andy Dorman’s opener that makes it hard to blame the defense. The second, however, came when Kansas City needed their defense to step up most, and after their midfield turned the ball over near the center line, nobody kicked up Kelyn Rowe until it was too late. The second-year pro lingered on the right while the Revolution moved toward Kansas City’s penalty area. Just when it seemed that Seth Sinovic was in position, Rowe created enough room to poke Lee Nguyen’s pass beyond Jimmy Nielsen.

Part of that is Kansas City’s want to release their fullbacks early, but it was also an issue with execution. Nobody stopped Juan Agudelo from pushing forward after the turnover. Nobody stepped to Lee Nguyen as the creator tried to find the right ball. A team with two defensive midfielders and two all-league caliber defenders may as well have been D.C. United.

Matt Besler seemed conscious of the problem in a mid-week radio interview, knowing the next mistake may be their season’s last.

“We cannot give up a goal on the counterattack because it puts us in the same position as last year, needing two just to tie,” Besler told Kansas City’s SportsRadio 810. “A lot of focus is going to be not allowing the counterattack goal, and if a couple of us focus on that and do our job, I’m confident in the rest of the guys that they’re going to be able to get a ton of chances and get goals.”

  • Using that midfield shield.

The postseason’s best example of the virtues of two defensive midfielders came in Los Angeles, where Jason Kreis’s use of Yordany Alvarez next to Kyle Beckerman kept the Galaxy counter at arm’s length for the first 60 minutes. In theory, if Kansas City’s guarding against counter attacks, their formation offers the same virtues, with Oriol Rosell and Lawrence Olum’s replacement (potentially Paolo Nagamura) sitting in front of the defense.1 But on Rowe’s Saturday goal, Olum allowed himself to be drawn toward Rosell, abandoning the space in front of Aurelien Collin, giving Lee Nguyen a place from which to create the goal.

So it’s not foolproof, but if Rosell and Nagamura do their jobs, fears of Nguyen and Rowe doing damage in transition should be mitigated, allowing Besler and Collin to track Agudelo while play’s slowed higher up the pitch. How they slow play, well, we’ll talk about that below, but if the defensive midfielders do their job, counters need not be as dangerous as Rowe’s was on Saturday.

Then again, if we see the return of Benny Feilhaber (and Kansas City doesn’t use two defensive midfielders), Besler’s right to be concerned about the counter.

  • It’s all about chances. It’s all about goals.

Sporting need two to avoid penalty kicks (one to tie), eminently possible but made more difficult by a New England team that’s capable of holding out. The Revolution kept 14 clean sheets this season and  notably went into shut down mode in the season finale at Columbus, scoring first then playing prevent to keep a clean sheet in Ohio.

That’s one concern for Kansas City. Others: Their goal scorers. Where they have depth (Teal Bunbury, C.J. Sapong, Dom Dwyer, … Claudio Bieler?) they lack the kind of quality you envision winning a one-on-one battles with Jose Goncalves. No, that’s not the only way to score goals, but it does illustrate Sporting’s problem. Graham Zusi can create as many chances as he wants in front of the line (and tonight, expect New England to be better about containing that), but unless somebody steps up to finish, it’s all for naught. Sporting’s left relying on penalty area chaos that finds the likes of Collin.

This isn’t the type of game Kansas City likes to play, but champions have to succeed outside their comfort zone. Sporting need to implement a plan that creates better chances. Instead of protecting a lead, they have to be able to hunt one, because tonight at Sporting Park, they may get a taste of their own medicine.

  • This is where style could hurt.

Beyond a want to sit on leads, one of Sporting’s distinct characteristics is their, umm, “strategic physicality”. Another way to read that: Fouls. They pulled away from the pack as the league’s most foul prone team, and while that tendency wasn’t in full effect on Saturday, the game did feature seven cards.

Here’s a problem for KC: What if the whistles aren’t going their way? What if the cards start flying early, Rosell, Nagamura,and Collin can’t take their usual liberties, and they’re left trying to keep New England on two without the ability to play to their strengths? All of a sudden, the likes to Agudelo, Rowe, and Nguyen are going to seem particularly quick.

Or, what happens if they keep picking up yellow cards? Those inevitable accumulation suspensions aren’t going to hurt them in the next round?

While we’re throwing out theories as to why Kansas City’s can’t translate regular season success into postseason glory, this is part of the picture. Maybe it’s not about total whistles and cards, but maybe it’s about a physical approach that’s much better suited to playing from ahead. And in the postseason, against better teams, you’re just more likely to fall behind.

  • Obligatory note about history.

About those postseason problems:

  • In 2010, Sporting finished first in the regular season, got by Colorado in the conference semifinals but lost at home to Houston in the East’s title game.
  • In 2011, Sporting finished first in the East and lost in the conference semifinals to Houston.
  • In 2012, they return home down 2-1 after leg one in New England.

It’s time to reverse the trend.

1 – Thanks to a reader’s comment, below, we were reminded (a.) we went too fast, and (b.) didn’t note Lawrence Olum’s injury. The man’s done for the season. Thanks to dreadpirate82 to picking up a mistake we should have caught before posting the story.

Watch Live: Leicester City vs. Man United (Lineups, Live Stream)

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 07:  Jamie Vardy of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Watford at The King Power Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Leicester City host Manchester United to the King Power Stadium (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via Live Extra) on Saturday.

And, remarkably, the Foxes are in first-place as Claudio Ranieri‘s side continue to stun everyone with Jamie Vardy leading the charge.

Vardy, 28, has scored in 10 consecutive Premier League games, equaling Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record. He can set a new record by scoring against Ruud’s old team on Saturday.


As for United, they sat in second place heading into the weekend but with goals continuing to be an issue for Louis Van Gaal, United’s fans aren’t overjoyed despite looking solid at the back. In this game last season United lead 3-1 but lost 5-3. Expect a tighter game this time out.

In teams news Leicester start with Okazaki up top with Vardy, while United bring in Paddy McNair, Michael Carrick, Juan Mata and Ashley Young into the starting lineup.


Leicester City: Schmeichel; Simpson, Huth, Morgan, Fuchs; Mahrez, Kante, Drinkwater, Albrighton; Okazaki, Vardy. Subs: De Laet, King, Schlupp, Ulloa, Dyer, Schwarzer, Inler

Manchester United:  De Gea, Darmian, McNair, Smalling, Blind, Carrick, Schweinsteiger, Mata, Young, Rooney, Martial. Subs: Romero, Borthwick-Jackson, Fellaini, Memphis, Pereira, Schneiderlin, Rashford

Saturday’s transfer rumor roundup: Bender to Gunners, Demichelis to NYCFC

<> on September 29, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.
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Arsenal, Manchester United, Newcastle, Sunderland and Manchester City are all running through the transfer gossip mill this weekend.

The London Evening Standard has linked Arsenal with a sextet of players in January, apparently eschewing the tradition of a low-movement winter window.

Bayer Leverkusen defensive midfielder Lars Bender is the headline subject, with Arsenal looking for answers at the position outside of current options Mathieu Flamini and Calum Chambers. If they don’t get him — and this is purely cheeky conjecture — perhaps his twin brother Sven could be lured from Borussia Dortmund.

[ MORE: Alex Teixeira says he’s “deep” into talks with Chelsea ]

Also linked with the Gunners: Sevilla’s Grzegorz Krychowiak andSporting Lisbon’s William Carvalho, with Napoli’s Lucas Biglia and a pair of Nice players in the fray (Vincent Koziello and Nampalys Mendy).

Will Louis Van Gaal go for another Ligue 1 forward to help inject danger into his attack? Former Alex Ferguson-era target Lucas Moura is said to be in play, and the 23-year-old PSG attacker is only a part-time starter in France.

The Daily Mirror tabs Martin Demichelis as a potential departure from Manchester City, at least on loan. And it says they could use him to shore up the back line at brother club New York City FC.

Speaking of MLS, this one slipped through the cracks over Thanksgiving, but could Seattle Sounders striker Obafemi Martins make a short-term return to goal-hungry Northeast England?

Let’s say you’re a 16-year-old goalkeeper who’s already appeared five times for AC Milan. What are you worth on the transfer market? Gianluigi Donnarumma’s super agent Mino Raiola says, “I’d compare him to a [piece by Italian artist Amadeo] Modigliani. He’s worth 170 million.”

WATCH: USMNT’s Johnson bags brace for Gladbach from the wing

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Jurgen Klinsmann’s lack of strong left backs puts the USMNT in a bind when it comes to the use of Fabian Johnson, but the Bundesliga star keeps making his case on the wing for Borussia Monchengladbach.

After scoring in the UEFA Champions League at midweek, the slick-moving American added two more to his account on Saturday.

The first came when he finished off this gorgeous bit of a ball movement against Hoffenheim.

[ MORE: Alex Teixeira says he’s “deep” into talks with Chelsea ]

Johnson’s razor-thin run was finished with a fortunate dink off the goal post and in, as the 27-year-old picked up his second Bundesliga goal of the season.

The second goal needs no words.


Klinsmann has sometimes used normal center backs at left back in order to deploy Johnson further up the field, where he’s been a key part of ‘Gladbach’s success. Many who didn’t watch the Bundesliga had been critical when Johnson began to be deployed further forward by the U.S. national team coach.

Much like Michael Bradley, the temptation to use Johnson in a second- or third-best position is high for Klinsmann. Saturday’s goal only adds to that predicament.

Watch Live, Stream links – Man City vs. Saints, every 10am ET game

Southampton v Stoke City - Premier League
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Five Premier League games are coming your way at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday, with plenty of tasty matches on the slate.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Click on the link above, or the individual links below, to stream every single game live online via Live Extra. Plus, if it’s lineups, stats and a box score you are after, click on the link below.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

So, here is your one-stop streaming shop for every PL game kicking off at 10 a.m. ET.

Saturday, 10 a.m. ET kick offs

Manchester City vs. Southampton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Injury-hit City will look to rebound from that crushing home defeat to Liverpool last week, while Saints also need to get back on track but Graziano Pelle is missing.

Sunderland vs. Stoke City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, USA) – [STREAM]

The Black Cats put in a composed defensive display away at Palace on Monday to win, while Stoke have won two-straight games and victory could take them into the top six.

Aston Villa vs. Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) –  [STREAM]

Boy, it’s getting serious for Villa. Remi Garde’s side were battered at Everton last week and Jack Grealish is in trouble. Watford are solid and will fancy this, big time.

Bournemouth vs. Everton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

The Cherries are without a win in seven and let a 2-0 lead slip at Swansea last week. Everton are flying after a 4-0 win over Villa with Lukaku and Barkley running the show.

Crystal Palace vs. Newcastle – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Alan Pardew facing his former team and even though the Eagles are struggling to score goals, they’re in a much healthier position than relegation-haunted Newcastle.