Claudio Bieler’s 113th minute goal puts Sporting Kansas City into the Eastern Conference final

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He didn’t even make the traveling squad for Saturday’s first leg in Foxborough, but after 113 minutes on Wednesday, Claudio Beiler made his impact on the series. Beating Matt Reis with a one-timer from 12 yards out, the Argentine Designated Player put Sporting Kansas City into the Eastern Conference final, their 3-1, extra time win over New England allowing them to advance on aggregate, 4-3.

Bieler’s goal came after an ill-advised throw from Reis was intercepted along Sporting’s right by Benny Feilhaber, the former U.S. international carrying the ball deep down the flank for rolling a cross toward the penalty spot. With the defense still reacting to the unexpected turnover, Bieler was unmarked in front of goal, his right-footed finish into the left of the net giving Reis no chance to make up for his game-changing error.

Kansas City had reached halftime on the back of goals from two defenders, with Aurélien Collin opening the scoring in the 42nd minute. After Dimitry Imbongo’s second half goal had reclaimed New England’s lead before Seth Sinovic scored in the 79th minute, setting the stage for Bieler’s extra time winner.

The win puts Sporting in their second conference final in three years. There they will meet the Houston Dynamo, a team that has become their nemesis. Dom Kinnear’s side has seen Sporting out of the last two playoffs, and with their win tonight, the Dynamo will face Kansas City for a chance to play in a third straight MLS Cup final.

Kansas City generated the match’s first good chance in the 17th minute with a cross from Sinovic attacking the right post. A nice run from wide from C.J. Sapong drew both right back Darius Barnes and central defender Jose Goncalves, allowing Dom Dwyer to fan out into space. The KC striker’s header from eight yards out went down toward Reis’s line, but a quick reaction from the Revolution keeper saw the veteran to make a diving save.

Sapong’s influence would be felt throughout the half, losing Barnes on a 33rd minute corner headed into Reis’s hands before playing a part in the opening goal. In the 41st minute, a cross from the right from Chance Myers targeted Sapong in the middle of the box. The chaos he caused saw the ball fly over challenging defenders and onto the thigh of an unsuspecting Andrew Farrell. When the resulting ball fell to Collin, the Kansas City defender had his second goal of the series.

It was culmination of Kansas City’s dominant half, one that rarely allowed New England possession in their attacking half. Sporting outshot their visitors 11-2 over the first 45 minutes, putting four shots on target without allowing the Revolution to test Jimmy Nielsen. They had 72 percent of the half’s possession while limiting New England to 58 percent passing.

Moments after the second half’s kickoff, Sporting nearly doubled their lead, with a movement down the right flank creating a chance for Dwyer near the spot. Reis would swallow that chance and also deny the English forward 10 minutes later, when his header starting a two-chance sequence that ended with a diving save on Feilhaber.

By that time, however, New England had asserted more control of the match. The introduction of defensive midfielder Scott Caldwell (at Andy Dorman’s expense) helped the Revolution create more turnovers in the middle of the park, while improved play higher up the pitch mean New England had started to generate chances.

Their efforts paid off in the 70th minute, with two Matt Besler mistakes helping the visitors regain their lead. The U.S. international had fouled Juan Agudelo along New England’s right ahead of a Kelyn Rowe restart – a cross to the edge of the six that saw Imbongo outmuscle Besler to volley home a go-ahead goal.

The Revolution’s 3-2 lead wouldn’t last long. Nine minutes later, shortly after Imbongo was subbed off, Sinovic beat Chad Barrett to a Graham Zusi flick. Although the Kansas City defender has never scored in the regular season, his finish bent the far side netting, pulled the home side even.

In the 85th minute, an aerial challenge lost by Collin left Besler exposed at the back, with Diego Fagundez bearing down. The Revolution attacker elected to shoot from just outside the penalty area, his right footed curler grazing the cross bar as it went out for a goal kick.

In extra time, with Sporting controlling play, the Revolution had another chance to secure the upset, with Juan Agedulo beating Besler to go in on goal in the 109th minute. A quick read allowed Nielsen to get off his line and cut off Agudelo’s options.

Four minutes later, Sporting Kansas City had their winner. After a poor outlet throw from Reis, Feilhaber intercepted the ball on the right. With a surprised defense collapsing toward the edge of their six-yard box, an unmarked Bieler had plenty of time to redirect the ball into the left side of goal, giving Kansas City a 4-3 lead.

Sporting Park’s explosion at Matt Grieger’s final whistle may as well have been a sight of relief, one that transcends the roller coast nature of their Eastern Conference semifinal. With much-discussed failures of the last two postseason brought back into focus by Saturday’s performance, Kansas City was not only had defeat the Revolution but also their recent history.

Thanks to Sinovic’s equalizer and Bieler’s winner, Kansas City get another chance to put their recent past behind them. A conference final against Houston gives them a chance at redemption.

Goals

Sporting Kansas City: 41′ Aurélien Collin, 79′ Seth Sinovic, 113′ Claudio Bieler

New England Revolution: 70′ Dmitry Imbongo

Lineups

Sporting Kansas City: Jimmy Nielsen; Chance Myers, Aurélien Collin, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic; Oriel Rosell, Paolo Nagamura (97′ Soony Saad); Benny Feilhaber (115′ Ike Opara); Graham Zusi, C.J. Sapong, Dom Dwyer (84′ Claudio Bieler)

Unused subs: Eric Kronberg, Jacob Petersen, Teal Bunbury, Mechak Jerome

New England Revolution: Matt Reis ; Andrew Farrell, A.J. Soares, Jose Goncalves, Darius Barnes (115; Jerry Bengtson); Andy Dorman (46′ Scott Caldwell); Dimitry Imbongo (78′ Chad Barrett), Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe, Diego Fagundez; Juan Agudelo

Unused subs: Clyde Simms, Bobby Stuttleworth, Stephen McCarthy,  Donald Smith

Dempsey, Sounders steal a point on wild night in Portland

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The game in 100 words (or less): An entire game can change in the blink of an eye. For the Seattle Sounders, that blink came in the 44th minute of Sunday’s 2-2 draw with the Portland Timbers. Up 1-0 by way of Joevin Jones’ opener in the 27th minute, the defending MLS Cup champs were poised to head into halftime with a one-goal advantage and every belief imaginable that they’d been the better team for the entire first half. Blink. Brad Evans wrapped his legs around Darlington Nagbe, giving away a penalty and earning himself a red card, just like that, in the blink of an eye. Fanendo Adi stepped up to convert from the spot, but it still was to be a hard-fought 1-1 scoreline from Seattle’s perspective. Then, Dairon Asprilla got loose, completely unmarked atop the six-yard box, on a corner kick, and it was 2-1 after four minutes of first-half stoppage time. 45 more minutes pass, and the Timbers… blink. Clint Dempsey, 34 years old but fresh off the bench 40 minutes earlier, out-leaps everyone in the box and heads past Jake Gleeson to steal a point for Seattle.

[ MORE: San Jose fire Kinnear after 2.5 seasons ]

Three Four moments that mattered

27′ — Jones gets two chances, puts the second away — It’s a classic case of “I dropped my controller” from Alvas Powell, who just stops as Jones cuts across the penalty area. There’s no reason Jones should get a second look on this one.

44′ — Evans brings down Nagbe in the box, sees red — Goodbye, lead. Goodbye 11 versus 11. Things would unravel very quickly for Seattle.

45+4′ — Asprilla rises above to make it 2-1 — Seattle’s marking of Asprilla was nonexistent, and the Colombian showed off some serious hops to get his head to David Guzman’s corner kick.

90+4′ — Dempsey heads home deep in stoppage time — A costly turnover by Asprilla, a hit-it-and-pray cross by Roman Torres, and Dempsey snatches a point at the death.

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Man of the match: Cristian Roldan

Goalscorers: Jones (27′), Adi (45′ – PK), Asprilla (45+4′), Dempsey (90+4′)

Russia has reasons for optimism despite Confed Cup exit

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MOSCOW (AP) When the anger subsides after another group stage exit and another goalkeeping blunder, Russian fans might find they can be proud of their team at the Confederations Cup.

Russia failed to reach the knockout rounds of a fourth major tournament in a row, but there’s no shame in losing by one goal to European champion Portugal and North American champion Mexico.

“We will move on,” coach Stanislav Cherchesov said after Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Mexico. “We have won (the fans’) hearts and minds to a certain extent in this month that we have been together … I think that we have given some reasons to feel optimistic about us.”

If Russia’s fans agreed with Cherchesov that Russia had done well to limit Portugal to a single Cristiano Ronaldo goal, there was frustration that Russia hadn’t done better against a poor Mexican side.

Russia wasted chances to exploit Mexico’s ragged defending and add to Alexander Samedov’s opener, while goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev performed an inexplicable lunge which allowed Hirving Lozano to head in the winner. Akinfeev was lucky not to be red-carded, too, after his foot caught Lozano in the chest.

Akinfeev was the immediate scapegoat for Russia’s exit, with fans and newspapers calling for his removal.

The most-capped player in the squad – the Mexico game was his 101st international appearance – Akinfeev’s bulletproof consistency in the Russian Premier League has kept him the undisputed national-team No. 1 for years.

When the world is watching, though, he gets flustered and makes mistakes.

Against South Korea at the 2014 World Cup, an innocuous long shot slipped from his grasp and went in, paving the way for another early Russian exit from the tournament. There have been more than a few blunders in the 43 games since Akinfeev last kept a clean sheet for CSKA in the Champions League, too.

But it’s hard to see who could replace him. The naturalized Brazilian reserve keeper Guilheme is agile but injury prone, while Vladimir Gabulov is a solid but unspectacular veteran. Zenit St. Petersburg’s Yuri Lodygin challenged Akinfeev for a while, but was brought low by his own tendency for embarrassing errors.

On the positive side for Russia, defender Georgy Dzhikiya was solid in all three group games after having only made his debut on June 5, and Cherchesov’s three-man back line was mostly reliable.

Less successful was Cherchesov’s attempt to bolster the midfield by starting Roman Shishkin – usually a defender – in a defensive midfield role against Portugal and Mexico, while 33-year-old ex-Chelsea winger Yuri Zhirkov did his World Cup hopes no favors with a red card Saturday.

Russia’s run of injuries before the tournament weakened the midfield in particular, with Alan Dzagoev and the promising Roman Zobnin both missing out. Forward Artyom Dzyuba’s absence left Cherchesov relying heavily on Fyodor Smolov, who showed touches of class but missed a good chance against Portugal.

Perhaps the biggest damage from Russia’s Confederations Cup exit will be to Russian pride.

Officials have often bragged that the home advantage for next year’s World Cup could drive Russia to new heights, perhaps a repeat of South Korea’s charge to the semifinals in 2002. Those expectations are now being reviewed.

Just one World Cup host in history – South Africa in 2010 – has failed to get out of the group stage. Avoiding a repeat may be the most Russia can hope for.

FOLLOW LIVE: Timbers host Sounders in PNW showdown

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They don’t get much bigger, or more heated, than this one in MLS — it’s Portland versus Seattle, the Timbers versus the Sounders, tonight at Providence Park (10 p.m. ET).

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Timbers vs. Sounders ]

To keep up-to-the-second informed on proceedings in Portland this evening, hit the above link, or click right here.

Seattle won the first meeting between these sides, 1-0 back on May 27, on their home turf at CenturyLink Field. Cristian Roldan, who’ll depart for U.S. national team camp following Sunday’s game, scored the only goal that afternoon in Seattle, a 4th-minute header from three yards out.

Mustafi: Arsenal players powerless, hope “brilliant” Sanchez will stay

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Shkodran Mustafi admits that he, along with his Arsenal teammates, feels helpless with over the ongoing transfer saga of Alexis Sanchez.

[ MORE: Sunday’s transfer rumor roundup | Saturday | Friday ]

The Chilean superstar is linked with a move away from Arsenal this summer, as the Gunners fell out of the Premier League’s top-four and the 28-year-old’s contract is set to expire next summer. Perhaps most importantly, Sanchez hasn’t so much as publicly stated a desire to remain at the club, which, from the outside, appears to have left his future in even greater doubt.

Mustafi admits he hasn’t a clue how things will shake out in the coming weeks, but he’s quick with a pleading sales pitch for Sanchez to stay — quotes from Goal.com:

“I have no idea. Obviously the other players cannot make that decision, he has to make that decision.

“I’m not too much involved. I hope he stays because he is a really brilliant football player but there’s nothing in my hands that I can do.”

[ MORE: De Boer set to be named new Crystal Palace boss ]

Arsenal would likely have to double (if not more) Sanchez’s current $180,000 weekly wages in order to convince him to forego a season in the UEFA Champions League and commit his long-term future to a club presently trending in the wrong direction.