Seth Sinovic

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.

Men in Blazers podcast: Celebrating Leicester’s title with Arlo White

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In the latest Men in Blazers podcast, Rog and Davo celebrate Leicester City’s improbable Premier League title with Leicester’s own Arlo White.

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European police say Russian mafia infiltrating soccer clubs

LISBON, PORTUGAL - NOVEMBER 04:  Sporting Lisbon fans celebrate after their team score a goal during the Portuguese Liga match between Sporting Lisbon and Uniao Leiria at the Alvalade XXI Stadium on November 4, 2005 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Portuguese and European police say they have broken up a cell of an important Russian mafia group that allegedly laundered money through European football clubs.

Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, said in a statement Wednesday the group identified EU football clubs in financial distress and infiltrated them with benefactors who brought much-needed cash.

[ MORE: Man City bounced from UCL ]

Once they were in control, the mobsters allegedly laundered millions of euros (dollars) through player transfers, TV rights deals and betting.

Portuguese and European police on Tuesday raided third-division Portuguese club Uniao de Leiria and arrested three key members of the Russian gang. Three other Portuguese clubs’ premises were searched.

Europol said the operation helped identify serious crimes in Austria, Germany, and the United Kingdom, though it gave no details.

Emre Can back in the Liverpool side ahead of Europa clash vs. Villarreal

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 14:  Emre Can of Liverpool battles for the ball with Idrissa Gana of Aston Villa during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Liverpool at Villa Park on February 14, 2016 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Emre Can has recovered from an ankle injury and will be in Liverpool’s squad for their Europa League semifinal against Villarreal on Thursday night.

The German international has not played since April 14 when he was forced off in the Reds’ wild 4-3 win over Borussia Dortmund.

[ MORE: Liverpool prepping for Villarreal ]

Giving his team update on Wednesday, manager Jurgen Klopp said Can is back in the team, although captain Jordan Henderson is still out. The Reds enter the second leg trailing 1-0 on aggregate.

Another positive note out of Melwood was the return of Danny Ings to first-team training. The 23-year-old striker signed with Liverpool last summer, but managed just eight appearances before having his season end to a torn ACL in October. Ings is still far away from his full return, but it was a good sight to see him back on the pitch and making progress in his recovery.

Disappointed Pellegrini rues lack of offense in Man City’s loss to Real

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 04:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City reacts during the UEFA Champions League semi final, second leg match between Real Madrid and Manchester City FC at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on May 4, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images )
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Manchester City put in an uninspired performance against Real Madrid on Wednesday, losing the match 1-0 and falling out of the UEFA Champions League.

[ RECAP: Real Madrid 1-0 Man City ]

The match was decided by just one goal, but the scoreline was flattering to City as they failed to create any kind of real chances at the Bernabeu. Over the two legs, City managed just two shots on target.

While City were wildly disappointing in the second leg, manager Manuel Pellegrini did not think the match was that one-sided, saying both teams struggled on the attack.

I am disappointed because I think that was a very close game with two teams who did not create many chances. The two teams were working with no-one making a difference.

It is not the best thing changing a defender very early but I don’t think we had any problems in defence, we had problems creating, same as Real Madrid. They did not create many chances.

Real Madrid was not in top form, but they still could have scored three or four goals on Wednesday. Joe Hart had to come up with some big saves to keep things close, as the England goalkeeper was by far City’s most valuable player throughout the tie.

[ MORE: Liverpool preparing for Europa League match vs. Villarreal ]

The absence of David Silva through injury certainly hurt City’s attack, but there was very little service moving forward from the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Yaya Toure. The poor play in the midfield left Sergio Aguero stranded alone up top, nearly invisible in the second leg.

Without service, Aguero was forced to track back to try and find the ball himself, leaving City no options to hit on the counter. For a tie between two of the most expensive teams in the world, neither side was truly impressive, but City surely disappointing.