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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


  • Real Salt Lake

Report says Jason Kreis on sure track to take NYCFC job; the RSL manager just frowns

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

  • Team versus team

MLS Cup positional edges: Goalkeepers

MLS Cup positional edges: Defenses

MLS Cup positional edges: Midfields

  • 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

Kevin de Bruyne out injured for Man City; Pep to rotate

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10:  Kevin De Bruyne of  Manchester City shows his frustrations after a near miss  during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on September 10, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Kevin De Bruyne won’t be the main man at Old Trafford this time.

[ MORE: Rooney to leave? ]

De Bruyne, 25, starred in Manchester City’s 2-1 win at bitter rivals Manchester United last month in the Premier League but ahead of the EFL Cup last 16 clash between Manchester’s two clubs, Pep Guardiola confirmed that the Belgian international will play no part after picking up a calf injury in the draw with Southampton on Sunday.

Speaking to the media, Guardiola also confirmed that Pablo Zabaleta will be out, plus Vincent Kompany will likely play a part.

“Kevin, no way, he cannot play,” Guardiola said. “Pablo I think cannot. Vincent I think he can but I don’t know today. I need to see training and regeneration [before making a decision].”

Guardiola also confirmed that he expects to give some of his squad players a chance to play despite the desire to win the big derby game.

“We are going to rotate. Some are going to play. I need to see the players today in training and after we will decide the team,” Guardiola added.

City’s squad is still ridiculously strong with the likes of Nolito, Fabian Delph, Kelechi Iheanacho and Aleix Garcia all set to play a big part in the cup tie.

Watford investigated over alleged forged bank documents

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 30: Troy Deeney of Watford during the pre season friendly match between Queens Park Rangers and Watford at Loftus Road on July 30, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)
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The Daily Telegraph has struck again.

A few weeks after it’s investigation into corruption in English soccer unveiled plenty of wrongdoing, some of which led to Sam Allardyce stepping down as England manager, The Daily Telegraph has some more damaging evidence.

This time Watford Football Club is at the center of the allegations.

According to a report on Tuesday, Watford submitted forged bank documents back in 2014 when Gino Pozzo became the sole owner of the club from his father, Giampaolo, at the beginning of the 2014-15 campaign which saw them win promotion to the Premier League. The bank documents via HSBC (the Telegraph claims that Watford did not bank with that company at the time) were used to show proof of funding that Pozzo could bankroll Watford.

The English Football League has opened an investigation into the matter, along with an internal one from Watford, and if any wrongdoing is found then the Hornets could be subject to a fine and a points deduction.

An EFL spokesman told the Telegraph:

“We can confirm, following receipt of information from The Telegraph, that we immediately commenced a disciplinary investigation into serious allegations made against Watford Football Club. The club has been formally contacted by the EFL and is now required to provide a full and detailed response to the allegations. Once that response is received, it will be fully considered by the EFL and appropriate action will be taken under our rules and regulations.”

Watford has until next week to respond to the EFL.

The Telegraph also reports that just before the HSBC letter was accepted by the EFL as proof of funds, an earlier letter from Credit Suisse (a bank the Pozzo family and the parent company which owns Watford, Hornets Investment, did use) was rejected by the EFL and that would have put a hold up in the sale of the club.

Report: Jose Mourinho willing to let Wayne Rooney leave

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 07: Wayne Rooney of Manchester United shakes hands with Manager of Manchester United, Jose Mourinho during The FA Community Shield match between Leicester City and Manchester United at Wembley Stadium on August 7, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Wayne Rooney‘s future at Manchester United seems increasingly uncertain.

[ MORE: Tight title race? ]

A report in the Sun newspaper states that United’s captain and talisman, 31, has been told by manager Jose Mourinho that he can leave if it’s regular game time he wants.

Rooney hasn’t started any of United’s last four Premier League games and was left out of their squad for the 4-0 thumping at Chelsea last weekend with a small injury.

Per the report, Mourinho has spoken to Rooney’s advisers and has told them he can not guarantee the England national team captain a starting role.

There’s no doubting Rooney’s huge impact at United over the past 12 years since he arrived at Old Trafford. He’s won five Premier League titles, a UEFA Champions League title, two League Cups and an FA Cup.

Rooney is also just three goals shy of breaking the all-time club record for number of goals scored — he has scored 246 times for United in all competitions — which Sir Bobby Charlton has held for over 40 years and although he has this season plus two more on his huge contract, it seems like he’s reaching a major crossroads in his career.

Even if he is willing to stick around for the final years of his playing days and get stuck into a bit-par role a la Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, you know that Rooney will still make an impact.

The Englishman is stuck in a rut but so are United.

If fit, it would be very surprising to not see him feature heavily in the next few days as United host bitter rivals Manchester City in the EFL last 16 on Wednesday and then Burnley in the Premier League on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports).

Griezmann wins best player award in Spain for last season

SEVILLE, SPAIN - OCTOBER 23:  Antoine Griezmann of Club Atletico de Madrid looks on during the match between Sevilla FC vs Club Atletico de Madrid as part of La Liga at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuanon October 23, 2016 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)
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VALENCIA, Spain (AP) Antoine Griezmann has won the best player award in the Spanish league for last season.

The Atletico Madrid forward was announced as the winner in a ceremony organized by La Liga in Valencia on Monday. The Frenchman was not at the ceremony.

[ MORE: Ballon d’Or omissions ]

Atletico also had Diego Simeone win the best coach award, Diego Godin earn the best defender award, and Jan Oblak clinch best goalkeeper.

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi was selected as the best forward, and Real Madrid’s Luka Modric as the best midfielder.

Team captains voted for the top players in each position, while a data-analysis system generated the best player award.

Barcelona won the Spanish league last season, ahead of Real Madrid and Atletico.