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.

Pardew says Crystal Palace need a “big name” signing this summer

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 21:  Alan Pardew manager of Crystal Palace gives a thumbs up during The Emirates FA Cup Final match between Manchester United and Crystal Palace at Wembley Stadium on May 21, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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After losing to Manchester United in the FA Cup final on Sunday, Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew is already looking ahead to next season.

The Eagles’ boss was happy with his team’s performance against United, but admitted that the club needs to bring in some more talent over the summer transfer window.

MORE: All 2015-16 PL season reviews ]

Speaking about his summer plans, Pardew said he wants to bring a “big name” to Selhurst Park to help Palace continue their plan of growth.

We have shown that we have got talent in the group. We need to refine it a little bit, and we are going to try to do that in the transfer market. But we were a force to be reckoned with against Manchester United. We have given a real good, honest account of ourselves.

I think we have got to get players who are better than this. There is no point in getting players who are not potentially better than the ones we have got. Well, then they have got to be good players. So will there be a big name in there? There’s going to need to be.

After a hot start to the 2015-16 Premier League season, many believed Pardew had a Palace side that was able to compete in the top half of the table for a spot in Europe. However, after sitting fifth on Boxing Day, Palace won just two of their final 21 matches and slid all the way down to 15th on the table.

[ MORE: The best moments of LVG’s memorable yet bizzare tenure at Man United ]

Palace has far too much talent to be languishing near the relegation zone, but Pardew is right that work must be done over the summer. If the club’s new American ownership is willing to spend, a quality striker will be Pardew’s first target.

Last summer’s striker signing Connor Wickham finished the season tied for the team lead with five goals, level with Yohan Cabaye and Scott Dann. When considering that four of Cabaye’s five goals came from the penalty spot and that Dann is a center-back, the Eagles’ lack of attacking depth is quite clear.

FIFA fires finance director Kattner over bonus payments

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - FEBRUARY 26:  FIFA Acting Secretary General Markus Kattner looks on prior to the Extraordinary FIFA Congress at Hallenstadion on February 26, 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland.  (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
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GENEVA (AP) FIFA has fired finance director and interim secretary general Markus Kattner after an internal investigation revealed he got irregular bonus payments worth millions of dollars.

Kattner was due the payments over a six-year period from 2008-14 from additions to his employment contract, a person familiar with the FIFA investigation said Monday.

The extra payments were signed off by then-President Sepp Blatter and then-secretary general Jerome Valcke, Kattner’s immediate boss in that period.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s FIFA coverage ]

“We don’t yet understand why these payments were made,” the person said on condition of anonymity as details of the investigation are confidential. “These contract provisions were not known widely and not to the appropriate officers at FIFA.”

It is unclear if the contracted payments which came to light last week could form part of a wider investigation of criminal mismanagement at FIFA conducted by Swiss federal prosecutors.

“We are not in a position to determine the legality of the contracts,” the person said, adding that “the appropriate authorities are aware of the issue.”

FIFA’s ethics committee is likely to now open an investigation against the 45-year-old German official, with charges of conflict of interest and disloyalty to FIFA among potential outcomes.

[ MORE: Louis van Gaal officially sacked at Manchester United ]

Kattner joined FIFA as director of finance in 2003 and took the deputy secretary general title in 2007, the year Blatter hired Valcke for the top administrative job of world soccer’s governing body. Kattner was promoted in an interim role when Valcke was suspended last September for financial wrongdoing and then fired in January.

“Markus Kattner has been dismissed from his position effective immediately,” FIFA said in a statement Monday. “FIFA’s internal investigation uncovered breaches of his fiduciary responsibilities in connection with his employment contract.”

FIFA has already announced that United Nations official Fatma Samoura is due to start work next month as the new permanent secretary general.

Kattner’s alleged wrongdoing came to light last Friday, the person said, one week after Samoura’s hiring was announced by President Gianni Infantino.

The 45-year-old German official was at FIFA headquarters on Monday before his firing was announced.

His exit is unconnected with the timing of Samoura’s hiring and expected arrival at FIFA in June, the person said.

[ MORE: Frank Lampard responds after being booed by NYCFC supporters ]

“This is based on documentary evidence that is information which emerged in the last three days,” the person said, with no whistleblower involved in revealing the case.

FIFA is being subjected to an internal investigation led by United States-based legal firm Quinn Emanuel, which is working separately from investigations by federal prosecutors in the U.S. and Switzerland.

As a central figure overseeing FIFA finances for more than 12 years of Blatter’s presidency, Kattner’s name has been linked to allegations in the American and Swiss cases, and investigations of other officials by FIFA’s ethics committee.

Michel Platini has said that his invoice requesting a $2 million payment for backdated salary from FIFA was sent to Kattner in 2010. The now-banned UEFA president got the money approved by Blatter in February 2011.

[ MORE: Uruguay sweating Suarez’s fitness ahead of Copa America Centenario ]

In that case, Platini had a four-year ban confirmed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport this month, and Blatter awaits an appeal at CAS to challenge his six-year ban. They deny wrongdoing.

Kattner is also expected to be sought as a witness in German and Swiss investigations of unexplained payments between German organizers of the 2006 World Cup and FIFA.

When questioned at FIFA news conferences since October, Kattner has said he has been advised by FIFA not to comment on ongoing criminal and ethics cases.

Looking ahead for the USMNT: Two key friendlies before Copa 100

PORT OF SPAIN, TRINIDAD & TOBAGO - NOVEMBER 17: USA's #3 DeAndre Yedlin brings the ball under control as T&T's # 3 Joevin Jones looks on during a World Cup Qualifier between Trinidad and Tobago and USA as part of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers for Russia 2018 at Hasely Crawford Stadium on November 17, 2015 in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago. (Photo by Ashley Allen Getty Images)
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With the Copa America Centenario kicking off next week across the United States, what can we expect from the USMNT in their two upcoming friendlies?

After defeating Puerto Rico in a glorified scrimmage on Sunday, the U.S. has two more matches before the tournament that will pose a much tougher challenge for Klinsmann’s men.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

The USMNT faces Ecuador on Wednesday, May 25 in Texas before traveling to Kansas City to take on Bolivia on Saturday, May 28. Both of those South American sides will be competing in the Copa America.

While Klinsmann may have given some of his younger players minutes against Puerto Rico, you would expect a much stronger lineup to be fielded in the friendlies against Ecuador and Bolivia.

However, as all U.S. Soccer fans know, you can never predict what Jurgen Klinsmann is going to do.

[ MORE: Louis van Gaal sacked after two years at Manchester United ]

Klinsmann confirmed that Brad Guzan will be his number-one goalkeeper at Copa America, which means we will likely see the Aston Villa man in net for both upcoming friendlies.

The USMNT will also get some reinforcements on the back-line with both Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler joining up with the team ahead of the Ecuador match. Cameron and Besler have worked together well as a solid center-back pairing in the past, but Besler will likely find himself behind John Brooks, who is coming off of a great season with Hertha Berlin.

The midfield is probably the biggest question in this team, as Klinsmann has endlessly tinkered with both formation and player selection. Michael Bradley is a surefire pick, but the other spots are much harder to determine. Klinsmann has recalled one of his personal favorites Jermaine Jones to the squad, a veteran who has found some good form in Colorado this season. Jones could slot into the middle alongside Bradley, but at 34-years-old, his lack of pace could cost the U.S. when facing a side like Colombia in the Copa America.

[ MORE: Liverpool set to sign Mainz goalkeeper Loris Karius ]

Borussia Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic is the youngest player in the side, with the 17-year-old entering this week with just one cap to his name. While Klinsmann may have brought the teenager just for the learning experience, fans will want to see Pulisic on the pitch and these friendlies could be a time for the midfielder to earn valuable minutes for his progression. However, if Klinsmann has no plans to play Pulisic at the Copa, it would be better for the team’s consistency if he does not feature in the pre-tournament matches.

Up top, Bobby Wood may have finally done enough to lock down a starting position. With Jozy Altidore out injured, this is Wood’s time to shine and prove he should be Klinsmann’s first choice striker every match.

The USMNT kicks off the Copa America Centenario on June 3 in Santa Clara, California, facing Colombia at Levis Stadium.

Arnautovic’s Stoke future up in the air ahead of EURO 2016

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 23:  Marko Arnautovic of Stoke City looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Stoke City at Etihad Stadium on April 23, 2016 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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After leading Stoke City in scoring this season, Marko Arnautovic may be on his way out.

Despite being under contract for another year, Arnautovic has yet to sign an extension with the Potters as he takes some time to decide on his future.

MORE: All 2015-16 PL season reviews ]

Arnautovic’s current contract contains a release clause of about $18 million, a price many top European clubs would be willing to pay after the winger scored 11 Premier League goals this season.

Speaking with the Stoke Sentinel, Potters’ CEO Tony Scholes said that while they want to sign Arnautovic to a new deal, the player and his agent are holding out.

I would love to appear more knowledgeable than anyone else on this, but the truth is it’s in Marko’s hands. And at the moment, the decision he’s taken is that he doesn’t want to sign yet.

He’s not out of contract for another year, albeit there is a release clause in his contract. We hope he will sign, but as I sit here now I can’t give you a definitive answer on that.

We want him to sign. He knows what we are prepared to pay. We believe this is the best place for him given the season he’s had, but at this moment in time Marko and his agent are biding their time.

Arnautovic is likely waiting to sign a new deal until after the European Championship, which runs from June 10-July 10. A starter for an Austrian team that went undefeated during qualifying, Arnautovic could see his value rise even more if he puts in a good showing in France.

[ MORE: Pirlo, Giovinco left off of Italy’s provisional roster for EURO 2016 ]

Losing Arnautovic would be a huge blow for the Potters, as he was their best player this season and a key piece in the club’s growth moving forward. Stoke is surely a club on the rise, but it’s up to Arnautovic to decide whether his future lies at the Britannia Stadium.