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MLS Cup positional edges: Looks at the midfields for Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City

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Conventionally we think of Sporting Kansas City having a three-man midfield (4-3-3 formation) and Real Salt Lake with a four (4-4-2), but that’s our lazy numeric notation letting us down. Though they set up differently, each midfield functions as a three-plus-one with some  comparable roles. Vaguely:

  • The Holders: Kyle Beckerman is the most established defensive midfielder in the league, while Spaniard Oriol Rosell is an up-and-coming talent.
  • The Shuttlers: Veterans Paulo Nagamura and Ned Grabavoy provide give each team a box-to-box presence, able to complement the holder with help in front of the defense or get into the box and tip the balance in the attacking third.
  • The Connectors: Both Luis Gil and Benny Feilhaber provide their trio’s skill – players who can serve as outlets and turn on the ball at the edge of their own defensive third.
  • The Plus-Ones: They aren’t outright midfielders, but beyond the defensive third, Javier Morales and Graham Zusi are the team’s focal points, finding space between the forwards and midfielders that allows them to orchestrate their team’s opportunities.

Player for player, Real Salt Lake may have a slight advantage, but when we’re assessing edges for Saturday’s final, the players don’t exist in a vacuum. They match up against each other. Kyle Beckerman, with help from Grabavoy and Gil, will have to contain Zusi and account for Feilhaber and the oncoming Nagamura. Oriol Rosell and Nagamura will be charged with making life difficult for Morales.

We’ve seen RSL enough to know that years of experience in their system leaves Gil and Grabavoy less likely to overlook a runner, forget where they need to be when be as the midfield shifts, or misread an attacking chance that leaves the team light through the middle. But can we say the same for Feilhaber, who – for all as talents going forward, and his huge contribution defensively against Houston – is neither an old hand in this role nor consistent in providing that defensive presence?

It’s not that Feilhaber’s oblivious, loafing around the field, thumbing at his iPhone until you pass him the ball. He’s not. But if you’re looking for potential differences between the two units, this is one.

As with the goalkeepers and defense, this is practically a push, and depending on your point of view, that will either make for a great game or a stalemate. But if you’re asking who you’d rather have right now, in the roles they’ll play on Saturday, and given their current form:

  • Morales or Zusi?
  • Beckerman or Rosell?
  • Grabavoy and Gil or Feilhaber and Nagamura?

It’s a close call, but given one of these teams is defined and prides itself on how they setup and perform through the middle, it’s not surprise the Claret and Cobalt edge this one.

EDGE: Slight Real Salt Lake

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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

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MLS Cup positional edges: Goalkeepers

MLS Cup positional edges: Defenses

MLS Cup positional edges: Midfields

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

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MLS Cup history: the three best finals yet

Looking at how the playoff format worked in 2013

Spanish playmaker Bojan signs new long-term contract at Stoke City

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Bojan Krkic will be a Potter for plenty of years to come.

On Thursday Stoke City announced that Bojan, 25, has signed a contract extension keeping him at the Britannia Stadium for another four-and-a-half years.

[ MORE: New-look Stoke to progress

Since arriving from Spanish giants Barcelona at the start of the 2014-15 season the playmaker has been a revelation in the Premier League.

Despite suffering a serious knee injury midway through his debut season in England, Bojan has battled back this campaign and has scored five times in 23 outings for the Potters.

Speaking to the club website, Bojan revealed his delight in signing the contract extension that will see him stay with Stoke until the summer of 2020.

“I am very happy and motivated. Stoke City gave me the opportunity to play in the most competitive league in the world, the Premier League, and I have only words of gratitude for their trust and for the way they have treated me since the first day I arrived to England,” Bojan said. “Mark Hughes convinced me to come to Stoke, he has helped me and showed his trust in me from the beginning, he followed closely the recovery process from my injury and there is no doubt I have signed an extension of my contract thanks to him.”

With Mark Hughes’ side battling for a top six finish, being knocked out agonizingly on penalty kicks by Liverpool in the League Cup semifinal and still in the FA Cup, it’s been another stellar season for Stoke as their progress continues.

Bojan’s presence has been central to attracting top names to join him at Stoke, with the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri, Ibrahim Afellay and Mark Arnautovic all part of a new-look attack which in-turn has provided a much more attractive team to watch on the pitch.

Amid interest from plenty of other teams around the Premier League and Europe, Stoke have kept hold of their main creative hub and fans will be delighted to see the Barca academy product progress with the Potters over an extended period of time.

VIDEO: USWNT’s Press scores stunning goal after amazing spin move

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What a first touch.

The U.S. women’s national team beat Costa Rica 5-0 in the opening game of their CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying campaign on Wednesday and USWNT forward Christen Press scored the pick of the bunch after she teed herself up with a superb first touch.

[ MORE: NBC to stream every Olympic qualifier

Click play on the video above to watch the World Cup winner control the ball with a deft outside-of-the-foot touch before spinning and striking home in a mesmerizing movement.

Majestic.

Press and the USWNT face Mexico on Saturday in their second Group A game (Watch live, 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

On the up, off the pitch: Manchester United’s revenue continues to rise

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Manchester United have announced that revenue levels for the three months leading up to December 31 rose by 26.6 percent.

The Red Devils released the figures on Thursday which show revenue of $192.4 million, with commercial revenue up a massive 42.5 percent but matchday revenue was down 1.6 percent.

[ VIDEO: Ferrell – “I got Mourinho fired”

The overall profit for the quarter was $26.7 million and over that period club debt fell by 6 percent but still stands at an eye-watering $463.6 million. That said, in a recent review of the finances of the top clubs on the planet Deloitte believes United will top the rich-list next season.

Despite Louis Van Gaal‘s future being questioned, United being knocked out of the UEFA Champions League at the group stage in December and being six points off the top four with just 13 games of the current Premier League season to go, the strength of their results off the pitch continue to show just how successful a business they’ve become.

Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward told investors that: “Our solid results off the pitch help contribute to what remains our number one priority – success on the pitch.”

Woodward has also vowed to continue United’s “strong commitment to investing in our squad, youth academy.”

[ MORE: Report – Mourinho tells friend he will take over at United

Van Gaal, 64, will need a strong finish to the season on the pitch to help United to success and in turn improve those financial figures for next season. Failure to finish in the PL’s top four and qualify for the UCL will substantially impact United’s financial results next season, and the pressure remains on him and his players to claw back the deficit.

With speculation mounting that Jose Mourinho could be appointed as United’s new boss there also seems to be a surplus of cash which Rob Harris from the Associated Press speculates could be used for a new manager…

Morgan, USWNT cruise past Costa Rica 5-0 behind early flurry of goals

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The U.S. Women got off to a flying start in Olympic qualification Group A play by torching Costa Rica 5-0, including goals from Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, and Crystal Dunn.

Morgan led the way with a double, including one in the opening 12 seconds – only six passes off the opening kick – that set the record for quickest goal in U.S. Soccer history. Lloyd and Dunn both struck in the opening 15 minutes to make it 3-0 before Costa Rica even had time to blink. Lloyd’s came on a penalty after Dunn was felled for the captain’s 83rd international goal, and then the latter bagged one of her own minutes later on a rebound off a shot by Morgan.

[ VIDEO: Alex Morgan caps off a 12-second, six-pass goal ]

The visitors were able to make it Morgan scored her second after the hour mark to cap the goal tally. Jill Ellis completed her trio of substitutions after the fourth goal and the U.S. saw the game out easily.

The fifth came late on a cross from Tobin Heath that fell to Christen Press in the box. With her back to the goal, the 27-year-old produced a simply stunning first touch, back-heeling the ball down before whipping around the opposite direction to lose her defender and firing home the fifth goal.

With the final whistle, the United States improved their record against Costa Rica to a perfect 13-0. The U.S. will play Mexico next on Saturday before finishing out Group A play against Puerto Rico on Monday, February 15.