MLS Cup positional edges: Looking at the goalkeepers for Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake

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Amongst MLS’s goalkeeping elite, Jimmy Nielsen and Nick Rimando can both claim places, each veteran number ones having held major sway on the league’s last two Goalkeeper of the Year honors. In 2012, the Sporting captain snared the award, while the Real Salt Lake veteran finished second to Portland’s Donovan Ricketts this season. Over the last two seasons, these may be Major League Soccer’s two best keepers.

They are, however, very different players, a divide that starts with their stature. At 6’3″ tall, Nielsen has the traditional size of a top flight keeper, while at 5’9″, Rimando’s height is more reminiscent of an outfield player. Yet whereas you’d expect the taller man to have the greater presence coming off his line, the opposite’s actually true.

Nielsen’s earned his nickname “White Puma” for his cat-like reflexes, attributes most often displayed while the 36-year-old stays between his sticks. With defenders like Aurélien Collin and Matt Besler patrolling the box, his strategy may be influenced by his teammates, but entering the final years of his professional career, it also serves a player whose athleticism continues to wane. At his best waiting and reacting, Nielsen rarely presses his luck off his line, something that can come back to haunt him on the rare occasion one of his central defenders is beat in the air.

Rimando is surprisingly strong in the air – an attribute that’s improved throughout his career. Though his size still works against him, Rimando’s quick, decisive reads on crosses allow him to beat opposition players to the ball, his ability to read the game seeing him evade most physical challenges. Particularly on deep crosses, Rimando distinguishes himself from his peers, with his performance in the 2012 conference semifinals at Seattle standing out as one of the best games from a goalkeeper in MLS postseason history.

source: Getty ImagesRimando’s other obvious edge on Nielsen is in his distribution. Whereas the Real Salt Lake keeper is thought to be one of the best in the league putting the ball back into the field, Nielsen’s kicking game isn’t considered a strength. His play on the ball is another area where the more well-rounded Rimando makes up for his six-inch height disadvantage.

But being well-rounded doesn’t make you a better keeper any more than having a more versatile skill set automatically makes a midfielder better than a pure goalscorer. The overriding principle: How do you influence the bottom line? Rimando can be the most well-rounded goalkeeper in the world, but if he isn’t preventing more goals than Nielsen, he’s probably not the better keeper.

Though Rimando probably was the better keeper in 2013, the gap between Saturday’s keepers isn’t so big that one game’s variables couldn’t shift the scales. Particularly against an RSL team unlikely to persistently challenge with crosses (16th in MLS in crosses per game), Nielsen’s weaknesses will be masked. Likewise, Sporting’s become less apt to use their strikers as target men (13th in crosses), meaning Rimando’s unlikely to replicate last year’s performance in Seattle.

If it’s a battle of shot stoppers, Nielsen’s ability to cover more of the goal may give him the edge, but given the razor-thin nature of that advantage, you’ll forgive us a slight cop-out:

EDGE: Basically even

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Looking back on RSL’s top moment as a club, the 2009 MLS Cup

Real Salt Lake in 2013: the “not-so-rebuilding” year

Looking back on 2013: Talking through Real Salt Lake’s path to MLS Cup

  • 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?

Notes from Sporting Kansas City’s Thursday press conference

  • MLS Cup general

MLS Cup will close banner 2013 season for Sporting Park

MLS Cup first: manager who are both former players in the league

Debunking the myth of Sporting KC, Real Salt Lake as bitter rivals

MLS Cup history: the three best finals yet

Looking at how the playoff format worked in 2013

AT THE HALF: Manchester derby scoreless after 45 minutes

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After 45 minutes, the final Manchester derby of the 2016-17 Premier League season — the one that’ll go a long, long way toward deciding which of the city’s sides will finish in the top-four — is scoreless, but not without incident.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

The game’s best chances thus far fell Manchester City’s way, as Sergio Aguero missed a clear-cut chance after 10 minutes — Kevin De Bruyne whipped in the perfect ball to the back post, and Aguero put it wrong side of David De Gea‘s post.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Ander Herrera has, once again, be Manchester United’s danger man, combining well with Marcus Rashford and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but Claudio Bravo made the one save he was forced into during the first half. One thing to keep an eye on during the final 45 minutes: Rashford picked up a knock very early on, and struggled to move around the field after that.

STREAM LIVE: The Manchester Derby

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The third Manchester Derby of the season is the first away from Old Trafford, as Manchester United visits Manchester City (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday.

There’s much on the line, as the sides sit just two points apart in the race for the Top Four. Man City would leapfrog third-place Liverpool with a win, while United could join the Reds on 66 points with a match-in-hand.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Sergio Aguero starts for Man City, with Gabriel Jesus on the bench.

On the other side, it’ll be a physical middle-third guarded by Ander Herrera, Michael Carrick, and Marouane Fellaini. Wayne Rooney and Jesse Lingard start on the bench.

LINEUPS

Manchester City: Bravo, Zabaleta, Kompany (C), Otamendi, Kolarov, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, Sterling, De Bruyne, Sane, Aguero. Subs: Caballero, Sagna, Fernando, Navas, Clichy, Gabriel Jesus, A. Garcia

Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Blind, Darmian; Herrera, Carrick, Fellaini, Mkhitaryan; Rashford, Martial. Subs: Romero, Shaw, Fosu-Mensah, Tuanzebe, Young, Lingard, Rooney.

Ex-Liverpool CEO shares biting story of Suarez transfer

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Ian Ayre’s got jokes.

The former Liverpool CEO lifted the lid on some transfer stories during a Merseyside lecture this week.

Of note, Ayre admitted that the club thought Dele Alli demanded too much given what he had produced when the Reds has the chance to sign him as a 16-year-old, and said that Liverpool could’ve landed Alexis Sanchez but the player wanted to live in London (“We couldn’t move the football club to London, unfortunately,” he quipped).

The best part relayed by Sky Sports had to do with Luis Suarez, and shows the relentless nature of the transfer market. Clearly Barcelona had interest in Suarez before the fiery striker bit Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup, because, well…

“I remember the sporting director of Barcelona calling me during that game, immediately as Suarez bit the player, and he said to me ‘my friend, he’s bitten somebody, how can this be the price?’ I said ‘he’d already bitten somebody when you first bid!'”

We’re sure there’s a certain amount of storytelling in there, but undoubtedly some truth.

Given Barca paid a reported $84 million for the striker, the asking price couldn’t have started that much higher.

Men in Blazers podcast: Chelsea tops Spurs, Top Four predictions

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Rog and Davo return to discuss Chelsea’s FA Cup semifinal victory over Spurs, update their Top Four predictions (again), and dive into the depths of the relegation zone. Plus, the very important movement to change “Hudson Street” to “Ray Hudson Street.”

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