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

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  • 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.

Transfer grades: How did Premier League teams do this summer?

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 19:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United celebrates scoring the opening goal with Paul Pogba during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Southampton at Old Trafford on August 19, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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The summer transfer window is shut.

That was fun.

[ MORE: Every Deadline Day deal ]  

A record $1.5 billion was spent on new players by all 20 Premier League teams this summer as stars like Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, David Luiz, Islam Slimani, Sofiane Boufal and Jack Wilshere were on the move.

Let’s take a look at the deals and give each PL team a grade based on the business they did this summer.


TEAM GRADE
source:  A Man United: The Red Devils went big and did their business early as Jose Mourinho just beat Pep Guardiola to win the summer window. A world record fee for Paul Pogba, plus Zlatan on a free, Bailly is a beast in defense and Mkhitaryan will deliver assists. Mourinho cut out plenty of bit-part players and has a tight squad who area already being as ruthless on the pitch as their manager is off it. Box office rebuild from United.
source:  A Man City: A huge overhaul for City as Hart, Bony, Mangala and Nasri left, as Sane, Gundogan, Nolito, Stones and Bravo arrived for almost $200 million. Guardiola has been ruthless in his recruitment but you can already see his clear style of play flowing through this team. When you hire Guardiola, you let him rip the team apart and start again. He has done that this summer and City look much better for it. Great window.
source:  A- Chelsea: What a Deadline Day for Chelsea. David Luiz arrived in a sensational deal from PSG and he will give Antonio Conte the option of playing a three-man defense and he’s a huge character. Marcos Alonso is a solid buy, plus N'Golo Kante has slotted in seamlessly and Batshuayi is already contributing. Conte hasn’t changed much but the players he has signed will contribute massively. No big names left either. Bellissimo.
source:  B+ Leicester City: The Foxes focused on keeping all of their stars this summer and the only one they lost was N’Golo Kante. Signing Vardy and Mahrez to new deals was massive but then adding Slimani for a club record deal plus Musa was the icing on the cake. Mendy and several depth players will also help them in their UCL quest. Brilliant business, once again, from Leicester.
source:  B Bournemouth: Jack Wilshere arrived on Deadline Day on loan from Arsenal. Incredible signing and the biggest in club history by far. Eddie Howe has pulled of a masterstroke but his side did start the season poorly after he put all his trust in youngster Jordon Ibe and others. That said, getting in Wilshere and beating the likes of Roma and AC Milan to his signing is a major coup. Wilshere will suit the Cherries’ style and as a leader he will make their young team tick.
burnley fc crest  B Burnley: The Clarets broke their transfer record twice during the window as Defour and Hendrick arrived in midfield and suddenly Burnley look much better suited to staying up this season than they did two years ago. With Gray and Vokes up top, they can score goals. Now they need to stay tight and let Hendrick and Defour build a partnership. Well done, Sean Dyche.
source:  B Stoke City: Strong Deadline Day saved Stoke’s window. Wilfried Bony is perhaps the missing piece of the jigsaw, as he joined on loan from Man City. The Ivorian striker is the clinical finisher they’ve been searching for. Martins Indi was also a good buy, as was Joe Allen. All in all, very good business from a very well run club.
source:  C+ Arsenal: Arsene Wenger spent a record amount for a summer window as Xhaka, Perez and Mustafi arrived for a combined total of $115 million. Some Arsenal fans still won’t be happy but the Gunners added a striker and center back, plus shipped out some squad players on loan. Overall, a decent window.
source:  C+ Crystal Palace: The Eagles saved themselves late in the window after signing Christian Benteke for a club record fee and then adding Loic Remy on loan. Alan Pardew sold Bolasie for big money and missed out on Jack Wilshere, which was disappointing, but overall Palace addressed their needs with two international strikers.
source:  C+ Liverpool: Jurgen Klopp still has plenty of issues in defense, especially at left back. The signing of Sadio Mane was expensive but already looks like good business and Klopp has cut so much deadwood he could be a lumberjack in his spare time. Seriously though, the jury is out on Wijnaldum, Klavan and Matip although the latter has showed signs of promise. All in all, good outs but could’ve done with two marquee defenders arriving.
source:  C Everton: A solid summer of business for Ronald Koeman, who was the biggest signing by far, but you get the sense Everton’s fans were a little underwhelmed. They sold Stones for a huge fee which covered the costs for Bolasie and Williams. Lukaku is staying around but they missed out on Sissoko and Lucas Perez late in the window. Close, but no cigar. This squad is stronger than last May, though.
source:  C West Ham: The Hammers had a rough summer with injuries and we have to remember that, but Slaven Bilic had plenty of deals fall down after early Europa League exit. Feghouli, Zaza and Arbeloa will become starters but you worry about their strikers staying fit, especially after letting Valencia leave.
200px-Middlesbrough_crest  C Middlesbrough: Some very shrewd signings from Aitor Karanka as newly-promoted Boro added firepower with Alvaro Negredo and Gaston Ramirez plus adding depth all over the pitch. They didn’t spend a huge amount of money but they did enough business to give their fans plenty of hope they will survive this season.
source:  C Southampton: Sofiane Boufal was fine pickup for Saints for a club record fee but Claude Puel‘s other arrivals are also young but Redmond and Hojbjerg have shown promise. Losing Mane, Pelle and Wanyama was a big blow but Saints should be okay and they kept hold of captain Jose Fonte. They needed one more striker in the window to make it a success.
source:  C Tottenham: Spurs somewhat salvaged their transfer window by snapping up Moussa Sissoko but he’s still a temperamental character. Let’s see how this goes. Vincent Janssen will take time to settle and Wanyama is a midfield destroyer but they already had that in Dier. After qualifying for the UCL and having a great campaign last season, Spurs missed a chance to go big and solidify their title credentials. That said, they do have a new stadium to pay for…
source:  D Swansea City: The Swans have lost Ashley Williams and Andre Ayew, their talismanic captain and top scorer from last season. Guidolin didn’t really replace them. Swansea are really lacking up top with Llorente experienced but unproven in the PL, while you also worry about them in central defense. New American owners may have to pump money in during the January window.
New Hull City Club Crest  D Hull City: It has been a turbulent offseason for the Tigers and although they tried incredibly hard in the latter days of the window to rectify their sluggishness, there wasn’t much quality let for them to hoover up. Ryan Mason, Will Keane and Mbokani have arrived but Mike Phelan will feel like it was too little too late. More strengthening was needed to save them from a relegation battle but with a takeover deal close, it was a difficult situation.
source:  D Watford: New manager Walter Mazzarri has done plenty of business this summer but you have to argue if many of the signings strengthen the Hornets at all. It will largely be the same starting lineup which faded badly last season and after a shaky start this season, it could be a long campaign at Vicarage Road.
source:  D- West Brom: The Baggies signed Hal Robson-Kanu on Deadline Day but will he really add more than 5/6 goals? Nacer Chadli was a decent signing but it feels like the Baggies have got so many central midfielders. A poor window for West Brom, especially with new owners in charge. Pulis won’t be happy.
source:  F Sunderland: There’s no two ways about this. It was a shocking window for Sunderland. David Moyes came in late after Sam Allardyce left for England and he managed to keep hold of Kone but signed a handful of Man United youngsters and a DM in Didier Ndong. With no experienced goalkeeper, holes in central defense and a lack of firepower, Moyes and the Black Cats are struggling.

 

Chelsea sends USMNT’s Miazga on loan to Eredivisie side Vitesse

SWANSEA, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 09:  Jefferson Montero of Swansea City and Matt Miazga of Chelsea compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Chelsea at the Liberty Stadium on April 9, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images)
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Matt Miazga is off to the wide-open world of the Eredivisie.

Miazga, 21, is heading to Vitesse on loan, one year after joining Chelsea.

Vitesse counts American striker Kai Koreniuk in its reserves, and has fellow Blues loanees Lewis Baker and Nathan on the roster.

[ MORE: Luiz rejoins Chelsea ]

The center back left the New York Red Bulls last January and appeared in a pair of league matches for the Blues.

But Antonio Conte brought in Deadline Day signings Marcos Alonso of Fiorentina and David Luiz, and wants Miazga to see regular playing time.

Chelsea also loaned Christian Atsu to Newcastle for the entire season, and Lucas Piazon to Fulham until January.

It was never going to be straight into the Starting XI of a UEFA Champions League power for Miazga, so this move will help his development as the defender continues to adapt to Europe.

Vitesse knows what Chelsea expects in development, having been a regular loan destination for Blues prospects.

It’s happening, folks: Chelsea has bought David Luiz… again!

CARSON, CA - JULY 30:  David Luiz #32 of Paris Saint-Germain in action against Leicester City during the 2016 International Champions Cup at StubHub Center on July 30, 2016 in Carson, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
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He’s back.

Versatile Brazilian veteran David Luiz has rejoined Chelsea from Paris Saint-Germain in a shocking Transfer Deadline Day move.

[ LIVE: Every Deadline Day deal ] 

The move is reportedly a $40 million deal. Chelsea sold Luiz to PSG for more than $65 million in 2014.

The 29-year-old won both the Champions League and Europa League with Chelsea before leaving for Ligue 1, where PSG won every domestic title there was to be won.

From ChelseaFC.com:

“I’m delighted to return to Chelsea. We had a fantastic story during my first time at the club and I want to help the team and Antonio Conte achieve a lot of success.

“I always had a wonderful relationship with the fans and I am looking forward to wearing the blue shirt at Stamford Bridge once again.”

How’s this for a stat?

Sissoko confirms Spurs switch, leaving Newcastle and spurning Everton

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 18:  Georginio Wijnaldum of Newcastle United celebrates with Moussa Sissoko as he scores the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Norwich City at St James' Park on October 18, 2015 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
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Unhappy Newcastle United midfielder Moussa Sissoko is now smiling Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Moussa Sissoko, signing a five-year deal with the club on Wednesday.

The 27-year-old Frenchman was at the center of a deadline window battle between Everton and Tottenham, and chose the latter.

[ LIVE: Every Deadline Day deal ] 

Sissoko has been eager to find a Champions League side, but relegated Newcastle was happy to wait until someone reached its evaluation of the player.

Reports said Sissoko was headed to Everton for a medical, but Spurs reportedly matched the Toffees’ $39 million bid and landed the player.