New England Revolution v Sporting Kansas City

MLS Cup: Notes from Sporting Kansas City press conference

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KANSAS CITY – Most of the media members pulling into town arrived Wednesday or Thursday, so the MLS Cup event schedule more or less began today.

First up was a press conference with members of both teams. Real Salt Lake was delayed out of Utah (weather and all), but Sporting Kansas City was in place and right on time. A few notes out of SKC’s session:

  • No frost on the field this time

The temperature at Sporting Park will set an MLS Cup record for cold, and easily so. But the field should be fine … and we’ll see none of the frost that made the field a bit treacherous toward the end of Sporting KC’s (similarly frigid) Eastern Conference final series clincher over Houston. Or so says Vermes.

Vermes explained that was all about a facility crew miscommunication. SOP on MLS grounds is to water the field, to increase ball speed. But the message somehow got lost that watering the field wasn’t a good idea with sub-freezing temperatures.

“There was a little bit of a frost toward the end of the game that started to come onto the field,” Vermes said. “That’s not going to happen this time around.”

He reminded the room (jam-packed with media) that Sporting Park is equipped with an underground heating system, so a frozen ground should not be an issue.

As for the cold temps and how it might affect the players? Nielsen talked about how cold he was during the win over Houston. And he’s from Denmark!

But Zusi just kind of shrugged: “Cold is cold,” he said. “When you’re moving around, it’s no big deal.”

  • Claudio Bieler will appear in the SKC 18

It’s a little weird that Vermes would need to be asked about Claudio Bieler’s role Saturday – seeing as he is a Designated Player and all. But it’s a very legit question considering how the Argentine striker’s playing time has virtually disappeared over the last two months. (And considering that he didn’t even travel for SKC’s first playoff match.)

Vermes said Bieler would be in the 18-man game roster. Past that … ? The manager said he hasn’t decided on a starting 11.

Vermes went on to say nice things about how Bieler has adapted to the league and has scored important goals, and about how his late-summer injury coincided with some other strikers getting healthy, etc. But, clearly, something has gone wrong here. Otherwise, we’re not talking or asking about this.

  • Nielsen on a championship, and what it means

SKC players clearly respect their veteran captain, goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen (pictured above). So perhaps they will heed his words.

Nielsen told a quick story about winning a championship in Denmark when he was quite young – and about being quite sure more would regularly tumble in. Since then, he’s one just a U.S. Open Cup, which he cited proudly, but which he clearly places below a league crown on the achievement scale.

“Fifteen years later, I’m still standing on one real championship,” Nielsen said. “I’m sure that Saturday I would appreciate a championship a lot more than I did 15 years ago. Now I know how hard it is to win a championship.”

  • Teams training Friday

Both teams will train Friday at approximately the same time as kickoff on Saturday (3 p.m. locally). Real Salt Lake (which trained in Utah prior to chartering in Thursday evening) will practice at at Sporting Park. SKC will train at its usual facility at Swope Park, on the south side of the city.

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  • Sporting Kansas City

What we learned as SKC dispatched Houston in the Eastern finals

Sporting KC’s new way; the team is far more versatile today

MLS Cup 2000 flashback: Meola, Molnar and the SKC heroes

The Benny Feilhaber conundrum; has Peter Vermes finally cracked the code?

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MLS Cup will close banner 2013 season for Sporting Park

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Looking at how the playoff format worked in 2013

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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