BBVA Compass 2

MLS Playoff Preview: Sporting Kansas City meets Houston in first leg of MLS conference final

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  • Houston has eliminated Sporting KC from the last two MLS playoffs
  • Kansas City pulled four of a possible six points from two matches at Houston’s BBVA Compass Stadium this year
  • Both teams are playing on very short rest, having claimed their Eastern semifinal series victories on Wednesday
  • Game time Saturday is 2:30 ET on NBC
  • It can also be seen on NBC Sports Live Extra

In terms of creating a psychological edge, this one is hard to sort out.

The remaining Eastern Conference survivors are quite familiar, especially when it comes to playoff smash-ups. Sporting Kansas City meets the Houston Dynamo on Saturday in the first leg of this home-and-away series. Houston has eliminated Houston both of the last two years en route to MLS Cup appearances (both of which the Dynamo lost to Los Angeles.)

So it’s clearly advantage Houston, right? The Dynamo, looking once again like a team of destiny in general, has this team’s number and all that, right?

Not so fast. Sporting Kansas City has a reason to be confident – or at very least has enough reason not to fear another trip into South Texas. That’s because Houston took four of a possible six points out of BBVA this year, a win and a tie in the teams’ two meetings at the orange-washed downtown ground.

In fact, Sporting Kansas City had the “honor” of being the very first team to beat Houston at BBVA. Back in May, SKC defender Aurelien Collin supplied the 73rd-minute game-winner as his team cut down Houston’s record home unbeaten streak at 36 games in all competitions. Sporting was the first team to win in Houston in almost two years, in fact, going back to June of 2011 (the last year Houston played at Robertson Stadium on the University of Houston campus).

(MORE: Sporting Kansas City notes)

“It’s obviously great from a perspective of the regular season, we’re trying to get points and chase Supporters Shield.” Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes said Friday.

“But at the same time, it really doesn’t mean anything at this point of the season. It’s a new series. … As much as those were good results, they really don’t do anything for us at the moment other than give us, at least, some idea that teams can come here and get results.”

But that seems like an awful lot, that belief that good things certainly can happen against Dominic Kinnear’s playoff masters, especially at BBVA Compass Stadium. Houston was 9-4-4 there in 2013.

One of the Dynamo draws was also to Peter Vermes’ club, a scoreless result in October at BBVA.

The teams started a conference semifinal series there last year. Kinnear’s team won, 2-0, and that second goal was absolutely massive. Sporting KC absolutely dominated the return leg – but could not quite overturn the two-goal margin and had to watch Houston celebrate advancement in its building for the second consecutive year.

Both teams will have to work against fatigue Saturday. Houston has it worse, about to play its sixth match in 17 days.

SKC, driven by U.S. international Graham Zusi and backed by the league’s top defense, arrives into Houston having eliminated New England in the conference semifinals.

Vermes’ team required an additional 30-minute period to get past the Revolution. Kinnear’s men in orange, consummate playoff grinders, also needed 30 extra minutes in upsetting the heavily favored New York Red Bulls.

PHOTOS: Tottenham release new images of stadium development

Source: Tottenham Hotspur
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Tottenham Hotspur is cracking on with work at White Hart Lane.

Big time.

[ MORE: Mourinho wields the axe

Spurs have already demolished part of their current home as they continue to construct their new $570 million stadium next to the footings of the original stadium which has stood for nearly 117 years.

Check out the dramatic images below to see a large chunk of White Hart Lane missing as part of the redevelopment which will see a brand new 61,000 seater stadium built on land adjacent to the current White Hart Lane stadium, with the their old home to be demolished next summer.

[ MORE: Manchester derby cancelled ]

Next season Tottenham’s home will have a reduced capacity of just under 30,000 and they will have to move away to another stadium for at least the 2017-18 campaign as work to demolish the original WHL continues.

Wembley Stadium is said to be the favorite to house Spurs for at least a season with the English Football Association confirming talks had taken place between the two organizations.

All being well, Spurs plan to move into their new home for the start of the 2018-19 season with a whole new area created around the stadium with schools, housing, shops and more included in the Northumberland development project.

I know they won’t enjoy comparisons to Arsenal but their new digs — check them out in full here — looks very similar to the Emirates Stadium but, crucially, it will have an extra 740 seats to make it the biggest club stadium in London…


USMNT youngster Zelalem in Arsenal squad for US tour

Gedion Zelalem, USMNT U-23s
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Gedion Zelalem, 19, is heading to the United States of America with Arsenal.

[ MORE: Mourinho wields the axe ]

On Monday Arsene Wenger and his squad — he named 23 players to the roster which included teenager Zelalem — flew to the U.S. ahead of their game against the MLS All-Stars in San Jose, Calif. on Wednesday.

The Gunners will also play Chivas Guadalajara at StubHub Center, Carson, Calif. on Sunday to round off their two-game tour of the U.S.

[ MORE: Allardyce bullish on England ]

Wenger has named a strong squad for the tour, with the full list below.

The only major absentees are players who made a deep run in major tournaments with their countries this summer.

Arsenal’s French contingent who reached the final of EURO 2016 — Laurent Koscielny and Olivier Giroud — aren’t in the squad, while Alexis Sanchez is omitted after winning Copa America Centenario with Chile and suffering an ankle injury plus Aaron Ramsey hasn’t been named in the squad after reaching the semifinals of the European Championships with Wales.

Mesut Ozil is also left out after reaching the final four of EURO 2016 with Germany but the likes of Jack Wilshere, Granit Xhaka, Santi Cazorla, Petr Cech, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Santi Cazorla all make the trip.

As for Zelalem, Arsenal boss Wenger thinks highly of the youngster who was born in Germany but spent his formative years in Maryland, hence why he was able to obtain U.S. citizenship and play for the U.S. national team. The fluid two-way midfielder has silky skills on the ball but is still young and his body is yet to develop into a powerful unit.

That perhaps explains why Zelalem is yet to make his debut for Jurgen Klinsmann’s full national team but he did play a starring role in Tab Ramos’ U-20 side during the World Cup in 2015. His progress with the U-23 side has somewhat stalled in recent months after Zelalem was loaned out to Glasgow Rangers in the Scottish second-tier last season. After a good start to the campaign with Rangers he found minutes hard to come by in the second half of last season.

ProSoccerTalk spoke to Wenger about Zelalem in the summer of 2015 and he said he will always give him, and other youngsters, a chance to impress in preseason before either including him in the first team squad of loaning him out.

With Wilshere, Ramsey, Cazorla, Francis Coquelin, Mohamed Elneny and Xhaka in front of him in the pecking order for a midfield spot, it seems likely that the young U.S. national team prospect will again spend time away from the Emirates Stadium in the upcoming season.

A few strong performances in preseason could change that though.

Report: Man United make several star players available for transfer

WIGAN, ENGLAND - JULY 16: Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho looks on during the pre season friendly match between Wigan Athletic and Manchester United at the JJB Stadium on July 16, 2016 in Wigan, England. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Jose Mourinho’s is about to wield the axe at Manchester United.

The Daily Mail claims that up to seven high-profile international players at United will be put up for sale this summer.

[ MORE: Manchester derby cancelled ]

Bastian Schweinsteiger, Marcos Rojo and Matteo Darmian are apparently surplus to requirements at Old Trafford, while Juan Mata, Adnan Januzaj, Ashley Young and Memphis Depay have all been told they won’t be regulars, per the report.

Mourinho has already added Eric Bailly, Henrik Mkhitaryan and Zlatan Ibramimovic to his squad this summer and is looking to trim his wage bill considerably to tidy up the roster left behind by Louis Van Gaal.

Negotiations over Paul Pogba’s massive $130 million move from Juventus are said to be continuing behind-the-scenes and all of that adds up to a bloated squad at United.

What of the three highest profile players who are apparently up for sale? Well, we all know Mourinho’s thoughts on Mata.

[ MORE: Allardyce bullish on England job ]

The Spanish playmaker, 28, was sold by Mourinho when he took over at Chelsea for his second spell in charge of the club. It was claimed Mata’s defensive abilities was the main reason Mourinho sold him to United and now it looks like the Spanish international could be on the outside looking in once again.

As for Schweinsteiger, 31, the German national team captain endured an injury hit first season at United last season and played 31 times, scoring twice. He was a key signing in Van Gaal’s era but now the veteran midfielder may be moved on, especially if Pogba does arrive.

Memphis’ struggles last season are well documented with the Dutch winger, 22, scoring just twice in the Premier League all season after his $40 million move from PSV Eindhoven. With Mkhitaryan arriving, plus the emergence of Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford last season, open slots in wide positions seem to be sparse in Mourinho’s squad.

That also spells bad news for Young and Januzaj, with the latter loaned out to Borussia Dortmund last season, while the full back position seems stacked too as Rojo and Darmian appear to be behind youngsters Luke Shaw and Timothy Fosu-Mensah in the pecking order.

Mata and Memphis could still fetch sizable transfer fees, while Schweinsteiger may be tough to move on given the fact that he’s reportedly on almost $200,000 per week at Old Trafford. Young, Januzaj, Darmian and Rojo may be hard to move on too, but loan deals seem likely if United picks up a chunk of their wages.

With Mourinho and his team heading back to Europe following the cancellation of their International Champions Cup friendly against Manchester City in China on Monday, the serious business of trimming down his squad and making tough decisions has already begun.

Winds of change are swirling around Old Trafford.

Allardyce on England unveiling: “Time to stand up and be counted”

BURTON-UPON-TRENT, ENGLAND - JULY 25:  Newly appointed England manager Sam Allardyce attends a press conference at St. George's Park on July 25, 2016 in Burton-upon-Trent, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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Sam Allardyce gave his first press conference as the new manager of the English national team on Monday and the overriding theme was easy to pick up: confidence.

Allardyce, 61, strode into the room with a huge smile on his face and gave forthright answers, as expected, on his appointment as new boss of the Three Lions.

[ MORE: Manchester derby cancelled ]

The former Sunderland manager insisted England hasn’t “hit rock bottom” and admitted this “will be the greatest challenge for me in my long career.”

Asked about his style of play and his somewhat direct tactics clashing with the now widely-stated DNA of the English FA, who want to be a passing team, Allardyce shared his belief that he has always adapted his playing style to the players at his disposal.

“I think choosing styles of systems depends on the players available and who we are playing. My coaching technique is to try to give players the opportunity to win football matches, home or away, and make them aware of the opposition,” Allardyce said. “I think the bonding of the team is exceptionally important and trying to create that team spirit and have some fun. I have enjoyed my life in the game, this job is the pinnacle and I want to enjoy this the most.”

He also pointed to diminutive forward Jermain Defoe playing up front on his own last season for Sunderland and the Englishman scoring 18 goals.

Allardyce is still trying to dispel the myth he is a long-ball merchant and it could take some time to convince England’s fans despite the overall reaction to his appointment being a positive one.

When asked if Wayne Rooney would still be his captain when his first game rolls around — a World Cup qualifier at Slovakia on Sept. 4 — Allardyce was coy, not confirming if Rooney would indeed be his skipper.

BURTON-UPON-TRENT, ENGLAND - JULY 25: Newly appointed England manager Sam Allardyce poses after a press conference at St. George's Park on July 25, 2016 in Burton-upon-Trent, England. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
(Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

Allardyce also gave some interesting comments when asked about the possibility of having a winter break in the Premier League and the former Bolton Wanderers, Blackburn Rovers, Newcastle United and West Ham United boss was crystal clear in his belief that the PL should take a break.

“I have been an advocate of that for 10 years or more. The demand on players is enormous,” Allardyce said. “The Premier League is the best league in world so demand has to be on the players. It would help the Premier League and us at international level if we could try and achieve it. In my time when we finish at Christmas, in January and February it is always the most difficult time to get players through.”

With the English national team the youngest in terms of average age at EURO 2016, Allardyce was asked about the potential of the players he is inheriting.

“It is not potential anymore, it has to be reality and they have to stand up and be counted. The young players have a lot of experience now and some has been bitter. They don’t want to feel like that again,” Allardyce said. “Potential is not a word I want to use, you want the quality player to produce his best performances immediately. This squad of players is very experienced and going forward hopefully will produce better.”

One thing is for sure, “Big Sam” tells it like it is and we can expect plenty more honest answers in the years to come as England first aim to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and then improve drastically on their recent poor record in major tournaments.