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

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If Álvaro Saborío is healthy, this one is easy.

As we’ve gone through Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake, examining the teams position-by-position, it’s basically been a stalemate. The goalkeepers were a tossup, perhaps with a slight lean toward Sporting because of the nature of Saturday’s matchup. Two defenses with imposing center back tandems were judged dead even, while the midfields were basically a tossup, even if we leaned Real Salt Lake in the end.

But when you look at the forwards who could play major roles on Saturday, Saborío’s name stands out. In four years in Major League Soccer, the Costa Rican international had never failed to register at least 11 goals. Scoring every 112 minutes this season, Saborío was one of the most efficient snipers in the league, and although injury has kept him sidelined since leg one of the conference semifinals, RSL’s leading scorer could be back on Saturday. If he is, Real Salt Lake clearly has the better forwards.

And if he’s not (highly unlikely, at this point)? RSL still aren’t in bad shape. Robbie Findley, who scored the team’s equalizer in the 2009 final, found goals in each leg of the Western Conference final. Devon Sandoval also scored in leg one and has the physicality to compete with Aurélien Collin and Matt Besler in the Sporting penalty area. With João Plata and Olmes Garcia off the bench, Jason Kreis will have two valuable ways to change things up, even if Saborío is not one hundred percent.

Depth, however, is Kansas City’s strength. Their leading scorer, Claudio Bieler (10 goals), will likely start on the bench, with a former U.S. international Teal Bunbury and one-time starter Sonny Saad also candidates to relive Dom Dwyer and C.J. Sapong. If Peter Vermes is looking to kill off the game late, Jacob Peterson will get the call. Of Sporting’s seven subs, four may be potential forward options.

But while options aren’t a problem for Kansas City, production is. Only three players scored more than four goals this season, one of whom (Kei Kamara) is now in Middlesbrough. At various points this postseason, that inability to produce goals has been all too apparent, Dwyer and Sapong’s troubles finishing costing Kansas City goals. Sporting generated enough chances to cruise through the Eastern Conference playoffs, but without a consistent finisher in the box, Kansas City were left chasing second leg deficits at home.

Graham Zusi (one of the players with more than four goals) is also listed as a forward, but in attack, he’s Sporting’s answer to Javier Morales. Defensive responsibilities shouldn’t be ignored, but when it comes to comparing the forwards, it’s really about each team’s leading pair. And it’s really about the threat they pose on the other team’s goal.

More readily, can Sporting put out a duo to match Saborío and Findley? And if Saborío isn’t one hundred percent, are Dwyer, Sapong, and their eventual subs better than Sandoval, Findley, and the players Kreis has in reserve?

EDGE: Real Salt Lake

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MLS Cup positional edges: Goalkeepers

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MLS Cup positional edges: Midfields

MLS Cup positional edges: Forwards

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Wasteful Poland snatches late 2-1 win at Montenegro

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Poland was in control for much of the game, but failed to finish in front of net until Borussia Dortmund full-back Lukasz Piszczek found the winner with eight minutes to go as the visitors increased their lead at the top of World Cup qualification Group E.

Robert Lewandowski put Poland in front five minutes before halftime with a brilliant free-kick that left Montenegran goalkeeper Mladen Blozovic completely baffled, but Montenegro looked sturdy at the back for much of the game and dangerous on the counter. They’d hit just past the hour mark as Stefan Mugosa headed in to level the score.

Lewandowski had a pair of massive chances in the second half, but couldn’t get either to go down as Blozovic was there to turn him away, and Montenegran defenders cleared off the line as well. Luckily for Poland, they had Piszczek who burst down the right to beat Aleksandar Sofranac, and he produced a stunning finish looped over the closing Blozovic from a tight angle, dinked off the far post, and into the back of the net.

That would do it for Montenegro who had little attacking ability outside of their countering abilities, and with Poland happy to ease out the clock, the hosts didn’t have enough.

The win pushes Poland six points clear at the top of Group E, a sizeable lead with five matches remaining. The battle for the second-place spot is tight, with Montenegro still in command on seven points, level with Denmark but ahead on goal differential. Armenia and Romania are even with six points each.

Netherlands manager Danny Blind fired after Bulgaria loss

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The Netherlands are in real trouble, and the manager has paid the price.

The Dutch national team has parted ways with Danny Blind the day after a 2-0 loss to Bulgaria left the Dutch fourth in their World Cup qualification group halfway through.

The move garnering all the headlines from Saturday’s loss was Blind’s decision to start 17-year-old defender Matthijs de Ligt. The Ajax youth product, who has just two Eredivisie starts to his credit, made two crucial errors and yanked at halftime, but the damage had been done. Spas Delev scored twice in the opening 20 minutes for Bulgaria, and that was all the home side needed as the Dutch offered little in front of goal.

Blind was also criticized for not getting Memphis Depay on the field as they chased the game. The Netherlands held 74% possession, but could only manage 3 shots on target. Depay has been in good form since his January move to Lyon, with five goals in his 10 Ligue 1 appearances.

This decision was something Blind saw coming. He told national broadcaster NOS immediately after the Bulgaria loss, “I blame myself. It can’t go on like this. Things have to change.”

“I need to think about [my future]. I do not throw the towel in here. I’m incredibly disappointed, especially since I had a good feeling about this match. It makes sense that I put myself in front of the mirror.”

However, the problems for the Dutch go far deeper than Danny Blind. They missed out on Euro 2016 largely thanks to the failed 2nd tenure for Guus Hiddink. His assistant Blind took over, but the results have been equally as poor. The Netherlands sit fourth in UEFA World Cup qualification Group A, with losses to Bulgaria and France plus a draw with Sweden. It’s not over for them though, as they sit three points back of a second place spot with five matches to go, and three of those five at home.

With the Netherlands still yet to play their friendly against Italy this coming week, former goalkeeper Fred Grim takes over on an interim basis. Grim collected 101 caps for the Netherlands, and has served as the Netherlands U-21 manager for the last two years. Before that, he took charge of his first full managerial job as head man of Dutch 2nd-tier club Almere City.

Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery, scores in England win

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Jermain Defoe’s friendship with terminally-ill Bradley Lowery has been special to watch unfold, and the Sunderland striker brought his little buddy to Wembley today.

Then he notched a match-winner.

Lowery walked Defoe out onto the field in a replica England kit before Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania, and then Defoe scored his 20th goal for country.

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It was his first since 2013, the last year Defoe was called up for the Three Lions.

Here’s the goal, which was followed by a second-half Jamie Vardy tally as England stayed atop Group F with a 2-0 win over Lithuania.

Two Russian soccer fans stabbed in Serbia

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) Two Russian fans have been hospitalized with serious injuries after being stabbed following a friendly soccer match between Red Star Belgrade and Lokomotiv Moscow.

Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said Sunday police were looking for the knife-wielding perpetrators who attacked a group of Lokomotiv fans in downtown Belgrade late Saturday.

Serbian media reports said the Russian fans were attacked by supporters of Red Star’s rival Partizan Belgrade.

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The match, which Red Star won 2-1, was meant to promote Serbia’s traditional friendship with Russia.

Stefanovic says “nobody should think they could hurt the Serbian-Russian friendship” with such attacks.

Serbia has seen a surge of fan violence inside and outside stadiums. In 2009, a French football fan was fatally beaten in Belgrade.