Sporting KC-Hou

Sporting Kansas City punches ticket for MLS Cup; downs Houston in Eastern Conference final

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Sporting Kansas City is going to its third MLS Cup final – and hosting its first, as MLS Cup 2013 will be played at Sporting Park on Dec. 7.

Sporting KC got there on a frigid Saturday night with a 2-1 win over Houston in the second leg of the teams’ home-and-away aggregate goals Eastern Conference finals series. The team’s had played to a scoreless draw in the opening leg in Houston.

Benny Feilhaber, Kansas City’s former U.S. international midfield playmaker, had been rather quiet in that first contest. But he was huge in Saturday’s return leg, with an imprint on Kansas City’s first goal and a beautiful assist on Dom Dwyer’s 63rd-minute game-winner.

Fans inside the packed house at Sporting Park will certainly remember Saturday’s match for the tough conditions, the coldest temperatures ever recorded in MLS.

Temperature at kickoff was 22 degrees; the league began keeping records of weather conditions in 2003. MLS executive vice president of communications Dan Courtemanche said before the contest that he believed Saturday’s match was indeed the coldest ever (regular season or playoff) going all the way back to the league’s 1996 launch.

With Saturday’s loss, the Houston Dynamo missed a bid to play in a third consecutive MLS Cup and a fifth final in eight years. Rather, Sporting Kansas City will participate in its third MLS Cup match, but its first since losing to D.C. United in 2004. Kansas City won MLS Cup in its only other championship game appearance, in 2000 (playing then as the Kansas City Wizards).

(MORE: Sporting Kansas City Man of the Match, Dom Dwyer)

Houston was up against long odds in this one even before kickoff – and it had nothing to do with the record-setting weather. Former U.S. international midfielder Ricardo Clark, probably the most important Dynamo man other than U.S. international Brad Davis and possibly goalkeeper Tally Hall, was held out because of a knee injury collected in the opening leg. Although Clark had not trained during the two-week break, he had never officially been ruled out.

Houston was also without Will Bruin, its starting striker and a fringe U.S. national teamer.

As a result of Clark’s absence, Houston manager Dominic Kinnear pulled his team from its typical 4-4-2, re-aligning the side into a far less familiar 4-3-3 look.

(MORE: What we learned in Kansas City’s big win)

The danger of another 0-0 stalemate (like the first leg) disappeared almost immediately as Houston’s Honduran international attacker Boniek Garcia finished an early surge with a shot that deflected into Kansas City goal after just three minutes.

Houston’s early goal was classic counter attacking stuff, as Feilhaber tripped over the ball while entering Houston’s defensive third. Houston’s Davis immediately set the visitors’ counter-attack into motion, with Andrew Driver soon beating Kansas City right back Chance Myers.

Eleven minutes later C.J. Sapong pounced first and with ferocity as a ball popped loose just inside Houston’s penalty area. Collecting the ball off a Dynamo tackle as a surging Feilhaber was stripped of possession, Sapong beat Tally Hall to the far post in the 14th minute.

Missed chances on either side marked much of the match, with Dwyer and Sapong failing from inside the six-yard box for KC, and Cam Weaver going well high on an uncontested shot from eight yards for Houston.

Feilhaber was front-and-center in events once again just after the hour mark, taking a pass from a galloping Graham Zusi and chipping a wonderful pass into stride for Dwyer for the game-winner.

(MORE: Save the date — MLS Cup will be at Sporting Park on Dec. 7)

Pochettino enjoying best spell of career ahead of massive clash at Man City

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 23:  Mauricio Pochettino (R) Manager of Tottenham Hotspur is seen on arrival at the stadium prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur at Selhurst Park on January 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Mauricio Pochettino is getting ready for one of his biggest matches in charge at Tottenham, but he’s not letting the pressure get to him.

The Spurs’ boss talked down the importance of Sunday’s match against Manchester City (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra), and went on to say he is currently having the most enjoyable time of his career.

[ WATCH: Full PL match replays ]

Pochettino has Tottenham sitting second on the table, and they travel to the Etihad this weekend for a clash against fourth-placed Manchester City, who sit one point behind Spurs.

When asked if this weekend’s match could be a decisive result in the title race, Pochettino was unwilling to admit it was anything more than three points in a long campaign. However, when asked about the season as a whole, the Argentinian manager said he was having great fun at White Hart Lane, responding “Is it my most enjoyable time of career? Yes, maybe yes if I’m honest.”

[ MORE: Who are the Premier League title favorites? ]

Pochettino’s work at Tottenham has made him one of the most well-respected managers in the Premier League, with some reports tabbing him as the potential future boss of Manchester United.

Spurs have won six on the spin in all competitions, and will be confident facing a City side they smashed 4-1 earlier this season. With leaders Leicester facing Arsenal on Sunday, Tottenham could see themselves just two points off the pace if results go their way.

Chicharito sidelined two weeks with muscle injury

ROME, ITALY - NOVEMBER 04:  Javier Hernandez of Bayer 04 Leverkusen celebrates after scoring the team's second goal during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between AS Roma and Bayer 04 Leverkusen at Olimpico Stadium on November 4, 2015 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
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Bayer Leverkusen must move forward without their top talisman as Javier Hernandez is out with a muscle injury.

The Mexican international was forced off in the second half of Leverkusen’s midweek loss to Werder Bremen in the German Cup.

[ MORE: Arsenal to play MLS All-Stars ]

Hernandez scored in that Werder Bremen match before getting injured, as the striker has now scored a remarkable 20 goals in his last 18 appearances for Leverkusen.

With a torn muscle fiber in his left glute, Leverkusen boss Rogers Schmidt announced Chicharito could be out for two or even three weeks.

[ RELATED: Messi wins his first La Liga Player of the Month award ]

Including this weekend’s match at Darmstadt, Hernandez will likely miss both matches against Sporting Lisbon in the Europa League as well as a huge Bundesliga clash with Borussia Dortmund.

Premier League Preview: Sunderland vs. Manchester United

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  • United 6 points outside the top four
  • Sunderland winless in four
  • MUFC has one loss in 27 vs. SAFC (W20, D6, L1)

Manchester United’s uphill battle for a top-four finish continues on Saturday when the Red Devils travel to the Stadium of Light to face Sunderland (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

United won this fixture in September 3-0 behind goals from Memphis, Wayne Rooney, and Juan Mata.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Sunderland sit 19th on the table four points from safety as the time has come for Sam Allardyce‘s side to start getting results. Without a win in their last four matches, the Black Cats must turn things around if they want to stay up in the Premier League. Jermain Defoe scored last time out in a draw at Liverpool, and he’ll once again be tasked with finding the back of the net if Sunderland are to win.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League Picks for Week 26 ]

For Manchester United, the pressure is still on Louis Van Gaal as rumors and reports circle linking Jose Mourinho to the job. Fifth on the table and six points behind Manchester City, a top-four finish is slipping away from United if they don’t rattle off a few wins. A late goal at Chelsea last weekend cost the Red Devils all three points, but they’ll look at this matchup against Sunderland as a good opportunity to get a positive result.

What they’re saying

Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce: “Providing chances for Jermain Defoe is critical for us. But our first major problem is that we haven’t kept a clean sheet in nine matches. We need to start putting a zero against us in games and if we start doing that we’ll win more matches. If we win more matches, we’ll get out of trouble.”

United manager Louis van Gaal: “We had lost four matches in a row in December and you see us now. You can only say that we are mentally very strong and that we can cope with the pressure. That is not enough as we have to improve our results and consistency to win a lot of matches in a row. We have to minimize the gap to our competitors.”

Prediction

Sunderland need all the points they can get to try and stay up, but United always seem to cause the Black Cats problems. Jermain Defoe is kept off the board as Louis van Gaal takes the win. Sunderland 0-2 Manchester United.

Costa breaks nose, will be fit to play for “Zorro team” vs. Newcastle

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 07:  Diego Costa of Chelsea reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on February 7, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Chelsea striker Diego Costa broke his nose in training after a clash of heads, but should be fit to play in Saturday’s match against Newcastle (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

Costa has six goals in his past seven Premier League games as Chelsea are unbeaten in their last 11 in all competitions.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines ]

Manager Guus Hiddink spoke about the injury in his press conference on Friday, saying Costa collided with an Academy player in training. Hiddink said he believes Costa will be ready to play this weekend for his “Zorro team” as Costa joins Gary Cahill, Nemanja Matic, and Cesar Azpilicueta as Chelsea players to wear a mask this season.

It was not a tough duel but he put his nose on the back of the head of one of the youngsters from the Academy that we like to participate in our training games. He was very unlucky.

They are putting a mask on Diego as well, we are the team with a lot of masks, a Zorro team, and he will come back do some light training this afternoon as he must experience how he is dealing with the form and the fitting of the mask.

Costa scored a stoppage-time equalizer against Manchester United last weekend as Chelsea continue to get results under Guus Hiddink. The Blues are up to 13th on the table, just three points outside the top half.

[ RELATED: Frank Lampard urges Chelsea to sign John Terry ]

Chelsea will look to extend their unbeaten run to 12 matches on Saturday against a Newcastle side that is just one point above the drop and in need of a result.