Portland Timbers v Real Salt Lake

Saborío, Wingert’s returns a reminder: Real Salt Lake may have another level

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Let me tip my hand here and let Sporting Kansas City’s backers try to level my opinion, because after watching each teams’ first four games of the postseason, Real Salt Lake looks like the slightly better team going into next Saturday’s MLS Cup final. With enough people leaning the other way, saying this may just be Sporting KC’s year, I feel like I may be missing something obvious.

Talent-wise, the teams looks pretty even, but when you look at their postseason performances, you see sides preforming at slightly different levels. RSL beat Portland by three goals in the Western Conference final, whereas Sporting had to come from behind in leg two to eliminate a Houston team playing without Will Bruin and Ricardo Clark. A one-goal win (2-1) saw Sporting past their nemeses.

Whereas Real Salt Lake posted a 3-1-0 record against Portland and the LA Galaxy, Sporting Kansas City went 2-1-1 against two inferior opponents (Houston and New England). Sporting  has talent and the home field advantage to pull this off, but Real Salt Lake seem like the better team. At least, they’re playing like it.

And when they take the field on Dec. 7, there’s a chance Real Salt Lake could be even stronger than the team that came through the west. Jason Kreis’s team was missing two key players in the conference final, striker Álvaro Saborío (out both games) and left back Chris Wingert (injured in the first) forced to the sidelines against the West’s top seed. By Wednesday, though, both starters had moved back into the picture for next week’s final.

“[W]e think it’s likely [Saborío will] be available for [MLS Cup],” Jason Kreis told reporters at practice on Wednesday. Should Saborío continue to improve, the Costa Rican’s availability stands to be a major boon in KC.

Rarely healthy during the regular season, Saborío averaged a goal every 112 minutes, a rate comparable to Golden Boot winner Camilo Sanvezzo’s (109 minutes). The 31-year-old Designated Player is Real Salt Lake’s greatest scoring threat – a versatile target man that rounds out a team that has scored seven goals through four playoff games.

Rather than look at this as a straight addition, though, it’s bigger to consider how Saborío might improve on Devon Sandoval’s performance. The rookie from New Mexico had a great leg one in Sandy, scoring Real Salt Lake’s third goal in a 4-2 win. But the target man was mostly quiet in leg two, missing an early set piece chance that could have iced the match in the fourth minute.

If we’re comparing Saborío’s contribution to what Sandoval gave Sandy, the Costa Rican may not be an improvement at all. But barely done with his rookie season, Sandoval’s not yet a player that can give you that production game-in, game-out.

There’s a better chance Saborío decides Saturday’s game than Sandoval. Regardless, over the course of 90 (or 120) minutes, Real Salt Lake will be better for having both options.

The trade off’s not so murky at left back, though Wingert is more of a question mark than Saborío. Having suffered a broken rib in leg one of the conference final, Wingert may not be ready by next Saturday.

His words, on Wednesday:

“Hopefully I’m healthy enough to at least make it a tough decision on (coach) Jason (Kreis) and the staff and possibly be able to help the team, and if not, of course we’d much rather play someone else,” said Wingert.

“I want to win as much as everybody else, and if that means somebody else should be playing then so be it.”

Wingert is a clear upgrade on Lovel Palmer or Abdoulie Mansally, but as RSL showed in Portland, they’re capable of winning without their veteran left back. Yet Wingert’s ability in the air could be missed, particularly if Peter Vermes deploys C.J. Sapong on the right.

If he and Saborío both return, RSL could actually be stronger than the team that downed Portland 5-2 in the Western Conference final. If they’re clear, we’ll be left asking if Sporting’s home field advantage is enough to slow down a team firing on all cylinders.

Goal-line technology to be used at Copa America

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 07: The goalline technology is tested prior to the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Swansea City at the Boleyn Ground, May 7, 2016, London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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CHICAGO (AP) — Hawk-Eye will be installed for next month’s Copa America, marking the first use of goal-line technology by the soccer’s governing bodies for South America and for North and Central America and the Caribbean.

The 16-nation tournament will be played at 10 U.S. sites from June 3-26.

Organizers also announced the match officials Wednesday. Three of the 18 referees are from the United States: Mark Geiger, Jair Marrufo and Armando Villarreal. Geiger officiated three games at the 2014 World Cup, including a second-round matchup between France and Nigeria in which he became the first American to referee a knockout stage match at soccer’s top tournament.

The other referees are Joel Aguilar (El Salvador), Jose Argote (Venezuela), Julio Bascunan (Chile), Enrique Caceres (Paraguay), Victor Carrillo (Peru), Andres Cunha (Uruguay), Roberto Garcia (Mexico), Heber Lopes (Brazil), Patricio Loustau (Argentina), Yadel Martinez (Cuba), Ricardo Montero (Costa Rica), John Pitti (Panama), Wilmer Rodan (Colombia), Gery Vargas (Bolivia) and Roddy Zambrano (Ecuador).

Aguilar officiated the 2013 Snow Classico World Cup qualifier between the U.S. and Costa Rica in Commerce City, Colorado, a match played in a snow storm.

Sebastian Giovinco says he was “upset” about being left off Italy’s Euro roster

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07:  Sebastian Giovinco #10 of Toronto FC comes close to a goal during the first half of an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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When asked about leaving Toronto FC star Sebastian Giovinco off his Euro 2016 roster, Antonio Conte had some fightin’ words for Major League Soccer.

“When you make a certain choice and go to play in certain leagues, you do so taking it into account that they could pay the consequences from a footballing viewpoint,” Conte said.

Giovinco isn’t not just playing in MLS, he’s tearing up the league, winning the MLS MVP and Golden Boot last season and continuing that form this year. Naturally, the 29-year-old didn’t take kindly to Conte’s decision or his justification.

“I was upset. I need to keep improving so I can find my place back on the national team,” Giovinco said. “I’ve said before, the league is continuing to grow and it’s a beautiful league.”

However, Giovinco stopped short of criticizing the national team’s manager. “At the end of the day, you need to understand what the coach says when he chooses the team. It can be right and it can be wrong, but it’s not really my place to say. I think that he knows best, and I think it’s a good decision if he says so.”

Not all is lost, however. Toronto FC will keep its superstar through the Euro tournament, a positive for manager Greg Vanney. “Seba has done everything he can to show his worth,” Vanney told the Toronto FC official website following training on Tuesday. “I am sad for him, but at the same time, we have him here with us and we stand to benefit from this.”

His teammates shared the sentiment. “Obviously we feel for Sebastian, we wanted him to go and play for his national team,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson. “I don’t think playing in MLS in any way takes away from the player that he is.”

Bradley captain, Dempsey striker for USMNT vs Ecuador in final Copa America warmup stretch

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 29:  Michael Bradley #4 of the United States Men's National Team controls the ball against Guatemala during the FIFA 2018  World Cup qualifier on March 29, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. The United States defeated Guatemala 4-0.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Tonight begins the final stretch for the US National Team before the Copa America begins on June 3.

With the “transitional roster” from the Puerto Rico match gone and most of the regulars here, it’s time for the team to get things right with the South American powers coming to town. They take on Ecuador tonight in Frisco, TX with kickoff set for 8:00 p.m. ET.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: USMNT on Twitter ]

There are few surprises in this lineup. With Geoff Cameron nursing a slight injury, he was expected to rest before the tournament begins. In his place is Steve Birnbaum, with John Brooks expected to start throughout the Copa America. Fabian Johnson is one of the best wingers in the US pool, but with nobody else to take the left-back spot, Jurgen Klinsmann is forced to play him along the back line.

The midfield is as expected as well, with Kyle Beckerman sitting deep and Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones providing the link-up between the back and the front. Bradley has returned to the captaincy, with Alejandro Bedoya rested after holding the armband against Puerto Rico.

In the attack, it’s a bit surprising that Bobby Wood hasn’t started after looking good against Puerto Rico, as Clint Dempsey is alone up front. Gyasi Zardes and Graham Zusi provide support along the flanks, leaving some US fans disappointed that young sensation Christian Pulisic didn’t get a look on the flank.

Finally, US Soccer announced that William Yarbrough is on hand to replace Zack Steffan, as the latter suffered a hamstring injury.

LINEUP

United States: Guzan; Johnson, Brooks, Birnbaum, Yedlin; Bradley, Beckerman, Jones; Zardes, Dempsey, Zusi.

Ecuador: Domínguez; Paredes, Achiller, Erazo, Ramírez; Montero, Noboa, Gruezo, Mena; Bolaños, E. Valencia.

Jozy Altidore’s foundation funding Copa America watch parties in Haiti

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07: Jozy Altidore #17 of Toronto FC looks on during the second half of an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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Jozy Altidore has never shied away from his Hatian decent, and while the 26-year-old will miss the Copa America, but his second home certainly won’t.

Altidore’s charity organization the St. Luke Foundation has set up watch parties across Haiti so the island nation can watch all the United States and Haiti matches, as well as the semifinals and finals.

In a phone interview with Sports Illustrated, Altidore cited that Haiti had not been invited to a major international tournament since 1974, and that the country should be able to watch. According to SI, the watch parties will allow those in the country to watch who otherwise would be unable to do so.

“I thought this would be something cool knowing how much Haitian people love their national team” Altidore told SI, “to have thousands of people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to see the matches broadcast the group games and see them perform.”

Haiti plays in Brazil’s Group B along with Peru and Ecuador, with group stage games on June 4, 8, and 12.

[ MORE: Copa America Group B preview | USA in Group A ]

Altidore will miss the tournament due to a hamstring injury which will take 6-8 weeks to recover from.

The New Jersey product has been very active with charity work in Haiti in the past, mostly through his foundation. Altidore’s parents were both born in Haiti. He said he hopes that the Haitian team “can surprise some people” in the upcoming tournament.