Paulo Nagamura, Claudio Bieler

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

Robbie Keane still entertaining offers ahead of return

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 12:  Soccer Player Robbie Keane arrives at the Premiere of IFC Films' "Pele: Birth Of A Legend" at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live on May 12, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
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Robbie Keane is still sorting out his future, and it seems unlikely he’s heading back to the past.

Keane is training in Dublin ahead of a return to the pitch. The 36-year-old striker left the LA Galaxy this offseason, and says he’s had several offers from Championship squads in England as well as a few clubs abroad.

[ MORE: Top Premier League story lines ]

Although he’s starred for Wolverhampton and Leeds, destinations where fans would welcome his arrival, Keane says not to hold your breath.

From TalkSport.com:

“I’ve had a lot of people asking me about coming back to Leeds and Wolves, and they’re great clubs I’ve played for, but you can’t go somewhere if people actually don’t offer you anything.

“Until it’s actually in writing to me I can’t comment much on it, but I definitely haven’t heard from Leeds or Wolves.”

Whether Stateside or in England, Keane can still have an impact on a team’s fortunes. We look forward to seeing him back on the field, and to hear some more quips as well.

Consider his answer to whether he’d entertain an offer from China:

“If they gave the money Diego Costa was offered, I’d walk there now,” Keane said.

Galaxy adds center mid from Portuguese top flight

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LA Galaxy’s roster reformation continues with the addition of Joao Pedro, a day after formalizing a deal with USMNT midfielder Jermaine Jones.

The 23-year-old center midfielder was with Vitoria Guimaraes in Portugal’s top flight, and comes to the club as a “Special Discovery Player” with Targeted Allocation Money.

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Pedro has a goal in 17 appearances this season, as Vitoria Guimaraes sits fifth in the Primeira Liga.

From LAGalaxy.com:

“Joao is an extremely talented midfielder who has experience playing at a high level in Portugal,” said Galaxy general manager Peter Vagenas in a written statement released by the club.

“He is only 23 years old and has the best years of his career front of him. We identified him as a top target this offseason and we think he can immediately help strengthen our midfield. We look forward to welcoming Joao to Los Angeles as we continue to prepare for the upcoming season.”

Pedro was a regular for Vitoria Guimaraes but is far from a certainty to star for the Galaxy. We do know that Vagenas has probably done his research as to whether Pedro fits with Jermaine Jones.

AFCON wrap: Senegal clinches first knockout round slot

Senegal's, Sadio Mane, right, is challenged by Zimbabwe's, Willard Katsande, left, during the African Cup of Nations Group B soccer match between Senegal and Zimbabwe at, Stade de Franceville Stadium, in Franceville, Gabon Thursday Jan. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
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Senegal has advanced to the knockout rounds of the Africa Cup of Nations, leaving three teams to work for the second Group B slot come the final day.

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Senegal 2-0 Zimbabwe

Sadio Mane (Liverpool) and Henri Saivet (Saint-Etienne) scored within the first 13 minutes as Senegal clinched Group B with a win over Zimbabwe. There were 48 shots between the two teams, 24 for Senegal, in a fairly open affair. As for the Warriors, they’ll need to beat Tunisia on Monday.

Algeria 1-2 Tunisia

Tunisia rebounded from a loss to Senegal without scoring from the run of play. Lille mid Naim Sliti scored a penalty after an Algeria own goal made it 1-0. Anderlecht midfielder Sofiane Hanni scored for Algeria.

Friday’s matches
Ivory Coast vs. DR Congo — 11 a.m. ET
Morocco vs. Togo — 11 a.m. ET

Wenger concerned Chinese wages become benchmark for players

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MARCH 15:  Arsene Wenger manager of Arsenal looks on during an Arsenal press conference ahead of their UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg match against Barcelona at Camp Nou on March 15, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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LONDON (AP) Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is hoping the high quality of competition in Europe will keep players from leaving for the financial gain in China.

Wenger is facing regular questions about the future of both Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, and the big money on offer in the Chinese league can complicate negotiations.

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Argentine striker Carlos Tevez joined Shanghai Shenhua last month in a deal worth $40 million over two years.

“The danger (is) that the Chinese offers become the benchmark for Europe,” Wenger said Thursday. “You cannot compete with that, but I still think that, when you’re a footballer, the first thing is that you want to play against the best players in the best teams.”

Wenger said players that want the best compensation for playing in the best quality league need not look to Asia.

“I think that combination is the best in England at the moment, so I don’t see why the players should leave the English Premier League,” Wenger said.

Wenger, whose team is fourth in the standings, has made only one signing in the January transfer window, picking up defender Cohen Bramall from non-league club Hednesford.

Arsenal has also decided to keep captain Per Mertesacker for another season. Wenger announced Thursday that the club has taken up a one-year option to extend the contract of the 32-year-old German, who has not played this season because of a knee injury sustained during a friendly in July.

Mertesacker faces a fight to get back into the team because Shkodran Mustafi, an offseason signing from Valencia, has built a strong partrnership with vice captain Laurent Koscielny at the heart of Wenger’s defense.