Philadelphia Union v Sporting Kansas City

MLS Playoff Preview: New England Revolution at Sporting Kansas City

  • 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.

EURO 2016: Ireland shock Germany, Northern Ireland qualify

Shane Long, Ireland
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A recap of Thursday’s action in 2016 European Championship qualifying:

Ireland 1-0 Germany

Southampton striker Shane Long scored the goal that knocked off the defending world champions and pushed Ireland one step closer to next summer’s European Championship in France. Long, who entered the game in the 65th minute, latched onto Darren Randolph‘s ball over the top in the 70th minute, took one touch to settle and fired for the far post, beating Manuel Neuer for the game’s only goal.

With one game still to play, Ireland (18 points) sit third in Group D, level on points with Sunday’s opponent Poland. While the winner of Sunday’s clash could leapfrog Germany (19), they will more likely finish second in the group and qualify automatically. A draw on Sunday could still see both sides qualify automatically through the ranking of third-place finishers (the top third-place finishers from group play earns an automatic berth at EURO 2016).

Northern Ireland 3-1 Greece

Norther Ireland (20 points) topped Greece (3), 3-1 on Thursday to officially book their place at EURO 2016. Steven Davis scored twice and Josh Magennis added the third for Michael O’Neill’s side.

With one game still to play (Sunday, at Finland), Northern Ireland can finish no lower than second. A draw against Finland, or any points dropped by Romania (17) would see Northern Ireland finish top of Group F.

Portugal 1-0 Denmark

Joao Moutinho scored the only goal of the game to secure Portugal’s (18 points from just seven games) place at next summer’s tournament. The defeat sees Denmark remain second in Group I, a point ahead of third-place Albania, who lost to Serbia on Thursday. Having played all eight of their group games, Denmark can go no higher than 12 points, meaning they would fail to qualify if Albania beat Armenia on Sunday. A draw between Albania and Armenia would see Denmark qualify based on tiebreakers.

Elsewhere in EURO 2016 qualifying action

Group D

Scotland 2-2 Poland
Georgia 4-0 Gibraltar

Group F

Hungary 2-1 Faroe Islands
Romania 1-1 Finland

Group I

Albania 0-2 Serbia

Jurgen Klopp announced as new Liverpool manager

Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool FC
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Enough with the speculation and reports already, because it’s finally officially official: Jurgen Klopp has been appointed the newest manager of Liverpool Football Club, the Merseyside club announced on Thursday.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Klopp will be unveiled to the world at an introductory press conference at Anfield on Friday.

According to early reports, Klopp’s three-year contract could pay him as much as $10 million per season.

[ QUOTE KING: Top 10 “Klopp-isms” from his time at Dortmund ]

The 48-year-old German has been out of work since stepping down at Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund following a seventh-place finish to the 2014-15 season. Klopp’s seven seasons in charge of Dortmund weren’t without success and silverware, though, as he led Der BVB to back-to-back league titles in 2011 and 2012, a German Cup triumph in 2012 and a UEFA Champions League final appearance in 2013.

PST’s Joe Prince-Wright will be at Anfield on Friday for Klopp’s unveiling, so be sure to follow JPW on Twitter and check back to PST for wall-to-wall coverage of Klopp’s first press conference as Liverpool manager.