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.

Spanish police dismantle match-fixing scheme in 3rd, 4th tiers

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MADRID (AP) Spanish police have dismantled a match-fixing scheme involving players and clubs in the country’s lower divisions.

Authorities said more than 20 people have been detained as part of the police operation launched on Monday, including players, although no names were immediately disclosed.

The matches under suspicion were in the third and fourth divisions this season and last season.

The match-fixing scheme reportedly involved Chinese betting sites.

The Spanish league said the operation was based on information collected by its analysts about suspicious activities.

UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas

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  • Chelsea vs. Barcelona, at Stamford Bridge
  • Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas, at Allianz Arena
  • Champions League round of 16 resumes on Tuesday

[ UCL: Spurs fight back to draw Juventus | Liverpool thrash Porto in leg 1 ]

Chelsea, mired in some of their worst form since the disastrous 2015-16 season, welcome a Barcelona side enjoying one of the best six-month runs of results in the famed club’s entire history. The Blues have won just four of their last 12 games across all competitions, while the Blaugrana have lost once in 38 games.

On the plus side, Chelsea enter Tuesday’s colossal clash as winners of their last two games — back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018 — having outscored the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Hull City by a combined 7-0. Star striker Alvaro Morata returned to action against Hull after five weeks out with a back injury, thus Antonio Conte has something of a selection dilemma on his hands with the Spaniard perhaps only partially fit, and Olivier Giroud racking up a goal and three assists in the last two games, his first starts for the club.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have conceded just two goals in their last nine games (all competitions) and even managed to overturn their lone defeat, to Espanyol, and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals (and eventually final). Despite losing Neymar in the summer, Barca mostly cruised through their Champions League group, only dropping points in draws away to Juventus and Olympiacos. Lionel Messi has, strangely, never scored a goal in his eight career appearances against Chelsea, a record which has been spoken about at length in the build-up to Tuesday — similarly to the goal-less record which plagued him against Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he finally bested back in September.

[ MORE: Man City win big away to Basel | Real Madrid 3-1 PSG ]

In the other round-of-16 first-leg matchup on Tuesday, five-time (soon-to-be six) defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host surprise winners of Group G, Besiktas, ahead of the likes of Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto.

Since taking over on an interim basis (through the end of the season), Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes has won 21 of 22 games of which he’s been in charge, including four of six games during the group stage en route to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain, while also racing out to a 19-point lead back home in Germany.

Aguero involved in clash with Wigan fan after FA Cupset

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Sergio Aguero was involved in a confrontation with a Wigan fan as ugly scenes marred the end of the third-division side’s shock FA Cup win over Manchester City on Monday.

[ MORE: Wigan shock Man City, the world and themselves ]

Fans spilled on to the pitch at DW Stadium as the host celebrated its 1-0 fifth-round win against the runaway English Premier League leader.

Supporters from both clubs were involved in disturbances, while television pictures appeared to show a home supporter and striker Aguero involved in a physical exchange.

Aguero appeared to hit the supporter after the fan said something to the player, and Aguero had to be held back by his City teammates.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Advertising hoardings were also ripped out and thrown as a pitch invasion by Wigan fans got out of hand while the defeated City players were being escorted off the pitch.

Footage also appeared to show objects, including an advertising board, being thrown at police officers by fans in the City end.

Wigan shock themselves: “Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet”

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Wigan Athletic didn’t just shock Manchester City with their FA Cup fifth-round slaying of the runaway Premier League leaders; nor did they merely shock the rest of the footballing world; they also shocked themselves into disbelief, according to defender Dan Burn.

[ MORE: Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup ]

Speaking following Monday’s triumph over Pep Guardiola‘s quadruple-chasing side at the DW Stadium, Burn admitted he himself didn’t know what to make of the night that would undoubtedly highlight and change his own professional career — quotes from the BBC:

“Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet. It was a really tough game. The belief was always there. We’ve got Will Grigg, who does what he keeps doing.

“We pride ourselves on our clean sheets. We had a couple bad results before, so we wanted to prove ourselves, so a clean sheet against the best team in England is great.

“Once we scored, the fans really got behind us, just knew we needed to hang on. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life.”

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Manager Paul Cook was able to articulate his happiness and pride only slightly better — “It feels great” — but offered the highest of praises to his players, whom “had to ride [their] luck at times” during the game, and gave everything they had to the cause, because that’s the only way you beat a team like Man City:

“It feels great. It’s such a severe test. They’re such a strong side and move the ball so well. We had to ride our luck at times and the sending off is always a big incident.

“Our lads deserve credit for their work and some of the blocks they made were outstanding, and to beat Man City you have to do that.”