What We Learned from Sporting Kansas City’s big win over New England

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  • Kansas City was just better, all around

Talent won out, up-and-down the field. Graham Zusi and Benny Feilhaber out played Kelyn Rowe and Lee Nguyen. Oriol Rosell was a better holder than Andy Dorman or Scott Caldwell. Claudio Bieler and C.J. Sapong contributed more than Dimitry Imbongo and Juan Agudelo, and Kansas City’s fullbacks thrived while New England’s struggled. Even the Revolution’s best player, Jose Goncalves, was out played by Aurelien Collin, who scored Kansas City’s opening goal.

The series was closer than many would have picked, New England’s two-goal lead a Gillette giving all of us plenty of reason to doubt. But ultimately, Kansas City was just too much, and after 113 oppressive minutes at Sporting Park, the favorites won out. Looking back on it — at all strong performances Kansas City got on Wednesday — it’s remarkable it took so long to separate the sides.

  • For New England, it was a year too soon

Nobody expected the Revolution to get here, and in their season’s final game, they looked like a team for whom making the league’s final four was asking too much. They didn’t have a way to get into the game tonight, a Kansas City team hungry from two years’ disappointment smothering them. They briefly regained hope after converting a set piece, but with the exception of a 15-minute stretch in the second half, they were decidedly second best.

They need more time to build – to have a roster able to adjust to these type of challenges. Nguyen and Rowe need more experience — more tricks that only time can treat — and head coach Jay Heaps probably needed tonight’s lesson. Ultimately, he couldn’t come up with a solution for Kansas City.

If they’re in this spot next year, New England will have a Plan B. The additional depth and experience will help close the gap. Tonight, however, that gap was huge, despite the close final score.

  • Big, forgotten names can still have a big impact

Peter Vermes seemed to have lost faith in Benny Feilhaber and Claudio Bieler. Not so. A surprise inclusion in the starting lineup, Feilhaber produced one of his best performances in a KC uniform. His read on Matt Reis’s 113rd minute pass created the final goal.

And then there’s Claudio Bieler, the Designated Player whose status had supposedly reached a new low after he was left out of the traveling party for the game in New England. Tonight, he that bit of experience and savvy Kansas City needed, the attacker amongst Vermes’s options that could start converting their control into chances.

Even before his winner, Bieler had a couple of close calls, and with C.J. Sapong and Dom Dwyer failing to do more with their chances, it’s tempting to wonder what Bieler could offer if he could find a fraction of his early season opportunism. Between Dwyer’s work rate and Sapong’s aerial prowess, Sporting would lose something if they sacrificed either, but Bieler gives them something they’re missing.

Perhaps he’s just an option to keep in reserve. Like tonight.

  • Some serious depth on display for KC

Paolo Nagamura, Benny Feilhaber, and Dom Dwyer came into Peter Vermes’s XI. Bieler and Ike Opara came off the bench, making their first appearances of the series. Soony Saad also provided an option, while first leg starters Teal Bunbury and Jacob Peterson didn’t even get off the bench. These are all players who, at one point this season, were part of Vermes’s starting XI. Now, they’re just part of the mix.

And it’s not just that they’re available. Tonight, each made a meaningful contribution. Nagamura filled in admirably for Lawrence Olum. Dwyer missed his chances but troubled New England at times with his pressure. Saad provided a wide option that allowed Zusi to move in, while Opara helped reinforce the defense when the team claimed their lead. And of course, you know about Feilhaber and Bieler.

Particularly with the international break separating the conference finals’ legs, who knows how the team will look at the end of its series with Houston. But Peter Vermes has a lot of options. On Wednesday, he used them.

  • But Sporting ain’t done nothing yet

The outcome was dramatic, but the team didn’t accomplish anything they weren’t expected to. Now comes the hard part – another crack at Houston. Win, and they’ll bury two years worth of demons and host MLS Cup. Lose, and it will be the same story as the last two years: Walking off Sporting Park’s field while a stage is erected for the Dynamo.

Former Czech Republic defender Rajtoral kills himself

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PRAGUE (AP) Former Czech Republic defender Frantisek Rajtoral, who won the domestic league title four times before joining Turkish club Gaziantepspor, died on Sunday. He was 31.

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The Czech football federation said in a statement that Rajtoral had “committed suicide in Turkey.”

His agent Pavel Zika confirmed the player’s death, describing it as a “huge tragedy.”

Gaziantepspor announced Rajtoral’s death in a brief statement on its website.

Rajtoral played 14 international matches for the Czech Republic.

In the top Czech league, he won four titles with Viktoria Plzen and played in the group stage of the Champions League twice for the club. He moved to Hannover in the Bundesliga in 2014 for half of the season, on loan.

He left Viktoria Plzen last year to move to Turkey.

Bellerin wants to represent Spain U21s despite Wenger’s wishes

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Arsene Wenger has made it clear about Hector Bellerin representing Spain this summer but the Arsenal defender is prepared to go against his manager’s wishes if he is selected.

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The 22-year-old has said he hopes to play for Spain’s Under-21 side this summer during the 2017 European U-21 Championship but Wenger has been weary of Bellerin’s injury status and wants his fullback to maintain a clean bill of health throughout the offseason.

“I really want to play,” Bellerin told IBTimes. “Representing Spain is very important. If [Albert] Celades gives me the chance I’ll be there.

“Those are opinions of the managers. I have to keep working. The truth is that I had a difficult injury but I think that I am at 100% now and I’ll try to prove it when I get the chance.”

Bellerin signed a six-and-a-half year deal with the Gunners in November, where he has resided since coming up in the club’s academy. He has made 102 appearances for Wenger’s team in that span over all competitions.

Roma boosts bid for 2nd in Serie A by beating Pescara 4-1

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PESCARA, Italy (AP) Roma boosted its bid for second place in Serie A and automatic entry into the Champions League with a 4-1 win at Pescara, which was mathematically relegated on Monday.

[ MORE: Newcastle joins Brighton in promotion to Premier League ]

Roma moved four points clear of third-placed Napoli, which drew against Sassuolo 2-2 on Sunday. Third place in Serie A receives a Champions League playoff.

Pescara remained 15 points behind Empoli. There are only five matches left and Empoli has the better head-to-head record, which is the deciding factor if two teams finish level on points.

There were 48 goals in total in the 33rd round, matching the record set in October 1992.

Roma took control shortly before halftime, with Kevin Strootman breaking the deadlock after Stephan El Shaarawy unselfishly rolled the ball across the area.

Radja Nainggolan, who earlier hit the bar, doubled Roma’s lead two minutes later.

Mohamed Salah extended Roma’s advantage three minutes after the break and the winger doubled his tally on the hour following a swift counterattack.

Ahmad Benali got a consolation for Pescara and a Cristiano Biraghi free kick also hit the post for the home side.

Frank Yallop resigns as Phoenix Rising coach shortly after Drogba arrival

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The timing is a bit sudden and certainly leaves many questions up in the air, but Phoenix Rising will have to look for a new manager.

[ MORE: Chicharito talks heating up with LA FC ]

On Monday, head coach Frank Yallop resigned from his position with the United Soccer League (USL) club less than one day after former Chelsea legend Didier Drogba joined the organization as a player-owner.

With Phoenix seen as one of several lower-level clubs with ambitions of making the leap to MLS over the coming seasons, Yallop’s departure is surely a shock to many.

According to ESPN FC, Rising lead owner Berke Bakay was quite surprised by Yallop’s decision to step down, as was Drogba.

“Didier was as surprised and disappointed as we were that Frank is unable to continue coaching our Club,” Bakay told ESPN FC. “But, we all respect his decision to put his family first.

“Didier’s focus will remain on improving our team as a player and assisting our MLS expansion team ownership group as a co-owner. Frank will be helping with our international search for a new head coach.”

Rick Schantz, the current Rising assistant coach, will head the team’s managerial duties for the interim while the club completes a full search for a new manager.