Philadelphia Union v Sporting Kansas City

MLS Playoff Preview: New England Revolution at Sporting Kansas City

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  • Revolution won leg one 2-1 on Saturday
  • Kansas City eliminated on home ground each of the last two seasons
  • First leg featured seven yellow cards

Over 180 regular season minutes, Sporting KC kept New England off the scoresheet. That’s why it was so disconcerting to see the Revolution score twice by Saturday’s 67th minute, Kelyn Rowe’s goal coming 12 minutes after Andy Dorman’s controversial opener. Granted, one of Sporting KC’s shutouts over New England (the one in Foxborough) was against a much different Revolution team – the spring version of Jay Heaps’ side that was all parry, no punch. Since, New England’s a much different team, settling on a 4-1-4-1 formation that can leverage their wealth of attacking talent. Unfortunately, they still lost 3-0 at Sporting Park in August.

But the relevance of that result to Wednesday’s second leg is questionable. The departed Kei Kamara scored the first two goals. Then New England saw two players sent off. Benny Feilhaber, who added Kansas City’s third just before the whistle, isn’t expected to play a significant part on Wednesday. With each of August’s major events unlikely to be replicated on Thursday, we might as well throw that game out the window, too.

So what are we left with? What we saw on Saturday – a chippy, often ugly affair where capitalizing on breaks defined the match. After being neutralized throughout the first half, New England got theirs with Gorman’s potentially offside goal. Rocked, Kansas City gave up a second 12 minutes later but capitalized on their own break at the end, where chaos in the penalty area left Aurelien Collin alone in front of goal. Had Kansas City done better with their first half chances, Collin’s could have been an equalizing or winning goal.

[MORE: MLS Playoff Focus: Notes on New England ahead of tonight’s game at Sporting Kansas City]

That’s easy to say in hindsight – that benevolent state that tricks you into thinking everything will go right in the next time around. But there’s a reason why Kansas City wasn’t converting on those chances. When Teal Bunbury fires an uncontested volley right at Matt Reis, it’s because he’s Teal Bunbury and not a more established scorer. When Jacob Petersen and C.J. Sapong aren’t producing goals, it’s a reminder that this wasn’t the plan. Claudio Bieler was supposed to be Sporting’s go-to guy, but that didn’t work out, either. You can’t just look back at the previous game and expect every chance you generated to come good next time. In reality, most teams don’t have sure-fire finishers up top. It’s always a game of chance.

source: Getty Images
Teal Bunbury (left) was a surprise starter on Saturday in New England, with his best chance shot straight to Revolution keeper Matt Reis. (Photo: Getty Images)

Clearly, if Graham Zusi continues generating those types of chances on Wednesday, the odds sway in Kansas City’s favor. But those odds will balance out if New England gets more production from their midfield creators. Lee Nguyen and Kelyn Rowe, making their first postseason appearances, are the keys to this team’s success, yet in the first half in Foxborough, they weren’t their normal selves. Some of that is on KC, but as we saw in the second half, a lot of that is on the two creators. They’ll be better on Wednesday.

Which leaves us with Kansas City’s recent history. Each of the last two years, home field went for naught, Kansas City eliminated from the postseason in front of their home fans. All the good work they did in the regular season to earn their conference’s first seed went for naught as they came up short of the MLS Cup final. Is history repeating itself?

Possibly, and when you consider the team’s personnel, style, and results, you can see why. Kansas City is habitually among the best defensive teams in Major League Soccer not only because of their great personnel (is there a better central pair than Collin and Matt Besler?) but also because of their tactics. No team is better set up (and more willing to try) to kill off a one-goal game. Sporting won took five 1-0 wins this season, winning 2-1 on five other occasions. (New England, by contrast, had three 1-0 wins and two 2-1s.)

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

But often (and definitely in the 1-0 results), that approach is predicated on scoring the first goal. They didn’t in this series. They didn’t in the 2011 conference final, but they did in the 2011 conference semifinal (taking a 2-0, opening leg win out of Colorado). Now, instead of being able to revert to what they do best, they’ve been forced out of their comfort zone. Sporting’s ability to adjust will dictate whether they can truly put the last two postseasons behind them.

Manchester City 3-1 West Ham: Sterling shines with double

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 28:  Raheem Sterling of Manchester City celebrates scoring the opening goal with Nolito, Gael Clichy (2ndL) and David Silva (L) during the Premier League match between Manchester City and West Ham United at Etihad Stadium on August 28, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)
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West Ham gave Manchester City a bit of a scare early in the second half, but Raheem Sterling‘s second goal of the afternoon provided the home side with all three points at the Etihad Stadium.

The Citizens held on for a 3-1 win on Sunday after Sterling found the back of the net twice, with the second coming in the dying minutes from a close-range tap in.

In the 18th minute, Kevin De Bruyne hit a superb free kick directly into the path of Fernandinho, who smashed home a header to give the hosts a 2-0 advantage.

Without a host of players for the visitors, City took it to their opposition early on when David Silva started a strong attack down the center of the West Ham defense. The Spaniard played the ball out wide to Nolito before finding an open Raheem Sterling, who calmly slotted his effort into the corner for the lead after seven minutes.

Michail Antonio provided West Ham with a lifeline following halftime, however, it wasn’t enough for the visitors to complete the comeback. Antonio headed home at the far post just prior to the hour mark after Arthur Masuaku beat his man and found the attacker.

Video: City clinical on set piece to double lead

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Manchester City has lived up to the billing early on in the Pep Guardiola era, and the first half of Sunday’s match against West Ham has been everything the Spaniard could hope for.

After taking an early lead through Raheem Sterling after seven minutes, Fernandinho doubled the City lead in the 18th minute after a stellar set piece situation.

Kevin De Bruyne‘s stepped up for a free kick before the Belgian curled his effort directly into the path of Fernandinho, who headed home the hosts for the 2-0 lead.

Even though West Ham is understandably undermanned with Dimitri Payet, Andy Carroll and others, City is putting on a show right now at the Etihad.

West Brom 0-0 Middlesbrough: Guzan holds Baggies scoreless

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - AUGUST 28: Cristhian Stuani of Middlesbrough takes on Brendan Galloway and Claudio Yacob (R) of West Bromwich Albion  during the Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Middlesbrough at The Hawthorns on August 28, 2016 in West Bromwich, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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It wasn’t the most attractive perfromance all around but Middlesbrough remained perfect on Sunday after finishing level in their 0-0 draw with West Bromwich Albion from The Hawthorns.

Brad Guzan earned his second start in net on Sunday since joining Middlesbrough, and the U.S. Men’s National Team keeper was active early on, making two key saves in the first half to keep the match scoreless.

Despite Boro’s success in possession, the team lacked a final touch early on and failed to register a shot on target in the opening 45 minutes. West Brom was successful in limiting Alvaro Negredo’s touches early on, which prevented the road side from getting any sort of offensive rhythm.

West Brom continued to press for the opener in the second stanza, however, the home side’s remained limited and largely unthreatening. Craig Dawson had an opportunity to open the scoring in the 63rd minute with a header from close range, but the attempt missed wide of net after Matt Phillips played in the service.

Watch Live: Manchester City vs. West Ham (Lineups, Live Stream)

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 23:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City battles with Aaron Cresswell of West Ham United during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Manchester City at the Boleyn Ground on January 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Pep Guardiola remains perfect in his early run in the Premier League and looks to continue that trend on Sunday as Manchester City hosts a difficult West Ham United side at 11 a.m. E.T. from the Etihad Stadium on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

Joe Hart has been the talking point for weeks now at City, but with the new signing of Claudio Bravo finalized earlier this week the attention turns to whether or not the Englishman will be offloaded before the transfer window closes next week.

WATCH LIVE: Manchester City vs. Sunderland live online

West Ham needed a late winner a week ago to edge Bournemouth at home, however, Slaven Bilic‘s side has battled hard in both of their fixtures to start the season.

The Hammers will be extremely undermanned on Sunday as Dimitri Payet headlines the group of players that haven’t travelled with the team to Manchester. Striker Andy Carroll won’t be at the Etihad either, leaving West Ham lacking with depth up front.

Enner Valencia and Cheikhou Kouyate will play key roles for the Hammers as they look to fill the voids left by Payet and Carroll.

Meanwhile, City will keep Will Caballero in net while Bravo finishes his transition into the squad. Nolito also gets the start alongside Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero up front, which will give West Ham fits defensively.

LINEUPS

Manchester City – Caballero, Zabaleta, Otamendi, Stones, Clichy, Fernandinho, De Bruyne, Silva, Sterling, Nolito, Aguero.
Bench – Hart, Fernando, Nasri, Kolarov, Delph, Iheanacho, Navas.

West Ham – Adrián, Ogbonna, Reid, Masuaku, Collins, Noble, Kouyate, Antonio, Tore, Enner Valencia, Fletcher.
Bench – Randolph, Byrum, Burke, Oxford, Obiang, Lanzini, Calleri.