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MLS Cup preview: Real Salt Lake meets Sporting Kansas City to decide Major League Soccer’s 18th championship

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KANSAS CITY – Playing careers will be defined and future coaching careers could be shaped Saturday on a bone-chilling afternoon at Sporting Park, where Major League Soccer’s 18th championship will be decided.

Sporting Kansas City will look for its second MLS Cup title overall, but the first for this current bunch, when the match against Real Salt Lake kicks off on ESPN just after 4 p.m. ET.

RSL, meanwhile, will aim for its second championship in five years, with many of the same central figures still around from the winners who triumphed over David Beckham and Landon Donovan in MLS Cup 2009, that one played in Seattle.

Saturday’s coaches are a big part of the plotlines here. RSL’s Jason Kreis was the youngest MLS manager to claim the title when he won in 2009 as a 36-year-old. He’s still considered one of the bright young minds of the business – so much so that well-heeled New York City FC has targeted Kreis as the choice to build their club. We’ll find out soon after Saturday’s contest if Salt Lake’s intense, introspective leader will remain in Utah or aim for something bigger.

On the other bench, a win Saturday for SKC manager Peter Vermes would tick the one unchecked box on his own promising managerial career. Kansas City has been a solid performer and U.S. Open Cup winner over the last three seasons, but this is his first time in the league’s ultimate match. Win Saturday and, who knows, perhaps we’ll all start mentioning Vermes along with Kreis as a potential, future U.S. national team manager.

The other looming story line: We already know Saturday’s match will set a record for coldest MLS Cup yet, much further on the frigid scale than the other chilly championships, rainy nights in Washington, D.C., in 1996 and in Seattle in 2009, and a wind-swept night in Toronto in 2010. Temperatures were in the low 40s for those; they’ll be down into the low 20s at best, and perhaps into the teens at Sporting Park.

An underground heating system should keep the field from freezing; it looked to be holding up fine as Real Salt Lake trained there Friday afternoon.

This is Major League Soccer’s second year under a format that gives host duties to the finalist with a better record. The net out means unpredictable weather, but the atmosphere inside a packed ground will be worlds beyond all those years of neutral-site deciders witnessed by largely indifferent audiences.

How will the game play out? Defensively, most likely, thanks to the dominant figures involved; A majority of the best players at Sporting Park on Saturday will be goal preventers more than goal producers, the goalkeepers, defenders and defensive-minded midfielders.

This crop of crème starts with Real Salt Lake center backs Nat Borchers and Chris Schuler have found the sweet spot lately, a major reason RSL dispatched the two-time MLS defending champion LA Galaxy and then blew past Portland, which was everyone’s stylish choice to win the West.

source: Getty ImagesBut Sporting KC’s pair of center backs stand every bit as respected: U.S. international Matt Besler is the brains and irascible Frenchman Aurelien Collin is the brawn, if you will. Either way, they are quite effective, guiding the way to the league’s top goals against average over 2013.

There are, of course, goal scorers afoot, too. Robbie Findley, who scored in RSL’s 2009 MLS Cup win, has been huge in this year’s playoffs. Playmaker Javier Morales (left, in the middle) has been exceptional, as well, and the ability to find Findley on the break (probably behind one of the SKC fullbacks if they stray too far into the attack) is RSL’s top scoring ploy.

For the home team, during the Eastern Conference finals win over Houston, former U.S. international Benny Feilhaber was finally the playmaking presence everyone thought he could be upon this year’s arrival into the heartland. On their games, he and fellow pass-master Graham Zusi operating out of the 4-3-3 can create plenty of opportunities for whichever forwards are up in something of a rotation Kansas City.

MORE ProSoccerTalk MLS CUP COVERAGE

  • 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

Sporting Kansas City’s key players

  • Team versus team

MLS Cup positional edges: Goalkeepers

MLS Cup positional edges: Defenses

MLS Cup positional edges: Midfields

MLS Cup positional edges: Forwards

  • 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

Allardyce after Black Cats’ big win over Man United: “We got what we deserved”

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 13:  Sam Allardyce, manager of Sunderland thumbs up on arrival at the stadium prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Manchester United at the Stadium of Light on February 13, 2016 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
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In some ways, Sunderland took a page from Leicester City’s book in keeping their Premier League safety hopes alive with a 2-1 win over Manchester United on Saturday.

The Black Cats allowed visiting United two-thirds possession — 66 to 34 — but were very good when they had the ball in out-attempting the visitors 21-12.

[ MORE: Stream 10 a.m. ET matches or watch full PL match replays ]

Manager Sam Allardyce saw a win like this coming, and the normally bombastic Englishman says the three points were both deserved and overdue.

“Today was very similar to the way the Manchester City game went (which Sunderland lost 1-0) but this time we got what we deserved from the chances we created.

“I thought we might be punished for not taking them and wondered whether it was going to go our way, but it ended up being an unbelievable win for us.”

The real story for Big Sam is that Sunderland’s transfer window buys are looking fantastic. Ex-Bordeaux man Wahbi Khazri, at least to start, has looked like an absolute game-changer, while Lamine Kone bolted in the winner (even if it’s being credited as an own goal).

Sunderland is now a point back of derby rivals Newcastle United for 17th place, and four points back of Swansea. The Magpies face Chelsea at 12:30 p.m. ET, while Swans hosts Saints at 10 a.m. ET.

Sunderland 2-1 Man United: Huge win for Black Cats; dark day for Van Gaal

during the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Manchester United at the Stadium of Light on February 13, 2016 in Sunderland, England.
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  • Black Cats 1 point from safety
  • Wahzri scores 1st for Sunderland
  • United six points off top four

Sunderland beat Manchester United 2-1 at the Stadium of Light as two January signings made the difference in a huge win for the Black Cats.

[ RELATED: Watch full match replays

Wahbi Khazri gave Sunderland the lead early on but Anthony Martial equalized before half time with a superb finish. In a second half which Sunderland edged, Lamine Kone headed home late on (the goal later went down as a David De Gea own goal) to send the home fans wild.

With the three points Sunderland move to within one point of safety on 23 points following Sam Allardyce‘s first-ever home win against United, while the Red Devils stay six points off the top four and Louis Van Gaal‘s tenure is becoming increasingly untenable.

A frantic start saw Sunderland take the lead with Khazri scoring less than 10 minutes into his home debut to put the Black Cats 1-0 up.

The Tunisian playmaker whipped in a harmless looking free kick from the left which went towards Defoe and as he attempted to flick the ball goalwards but missed, the skip off the service deceived De Gea and nestled into the far corner.

Less than 15 minutes in Sunderland had to make a change as defender Jan Kirchhoff was forced off with a hamstring injury and Jack Rodwell replaced him. Anthony Martial continued to be United’s brightest attacking talent as Rooney couldn’t quite get on the end of his teasing cross.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

As half time approached Sunderland looked dangerous on the break with Khazri curling a shot over and then having a penalty appeal turned down after his shot struck Morgan Schneiderlin‘s arm in the box. At the other end Juan Mata sent a harmless shot towards goal which Vito Mannone saved easily.

Before the break United also had to make a change with Donald Love coming on for his debut and replacing the injured Matteo Darmian. Moments later USMNT international DeAndre Yedlin — who had been dealing with the threat of Martial well — was first booked for blatantly diving and trying to win a free kick, then United were level. Mata’s shot was saved by Mannone by Martial lost Yedlin and delicately dinked the ball home. 1-1. Game on.

[ RELATED: Latest Premier League standings ]

In the second half United looked to take control but Sunderland had a great chance to go ahead when Patrick Van Aanholt got behind Love and his cross almost found Jermain Defoe but Daley Blind‘s last-ditch tackle denied him.

A big chance arrived for Sunderland just after the hour mark when Dame N'Doye was set free but De Gea’s outstretched leg denied him to keep the scores level.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

United regrouped and increased the pressure late on as Mata’s shot was blocked well by Rodwell, Chris Smalling had a header deflected wide and then Memphis sent a shot right at Mannone after good work from the impressive Cameron Borthwick-Jackson.

Kone then rose highest in the 83rd minute and headed home Khazri’s corner from the right which a combination of De Gea and Martial couldn’t clear. 2-1 to the home side.

Memphis then forced Mannone into a fine stop and had another effort blocked by John O'Shea late on but United couldn’t grab an equalizer and the “Van Gaal out” brigade is growing stronger by the day.

Watch Live, Stream links: Everton-West Brom, Palace-Watford; every 10am ET game

Everton's Tom Cleverley, left, celebrates his goal with his teammates during the English Premier League soccer match between Newcastle United and Everton at St James' Park, Newcastle, England, Saturday, Dec. 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
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Five Premier League games are coming your way at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday, with plenty of tasty matches on the slate.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Click on the link above, or the individual links below, to stream every single game live online via Live Extra. Plus, if it’s lineups, stats and a box score you are after, click on the link below.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

So, here is your one-stop streaming shop for every PL game kicking off at 10 a.m. ET.

Saturday, 10 a.m. ET kick offs

Everton vs. West Brom – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

After two wins on the spin, the Toffees’ top six hopes are alive. Can the Baggies give themselves some breathing space from bottom three?

Norwich City vs. West Ham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, USA) – [STREAM]

After five-straight defeats the Canaries have dropped into the bottom three. The injury-hit Hammers will be hoping to stay in the top six with a win.

Crystal Palace vs. Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) –  [STREAM]

Just one point from six games for the Eagles in January. Alan Pardew needs Emmanuel Adebayor to deliver some goals. As for Watford, they only have one win in eight. Expect a nervy encounter.

Bournemouth vs. Stoke City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Stoke are sliding after three defeats on the spin. Can they get back on track at Bournemouth? The Cherries are 2-1-1 in their last four but are still in danger of getting sucked into the relegation battle.

Swansea vs. Southampton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

The Swans are four unbeaten but still in touch with the bottom three, while Saints have kept five clean sheets in a row and have won four of their last five to keep their top six hopes alive.

Van Gaal would be “disappointed” if Mourinho talks held

Manchester United v Chelsea - Premier League
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Louis Van Gaal has admitted he’d be “disappointed” if he found out Manchester United’s directors have held talks with out of work Jose Mourinho behind his back.

The current United boss, 64, is contracted to be in charge at Old Trafford until the end of next season.

[ VIDEO: Ferrell – “I got Mourinho fired”

However, amid mounting speculation that Mourinho is being lined up to replace him and with United currently sitting six points off the top four with 13 games to go, many expect LVG to be let go this summer.

Asked by the media if he’d be upset if he found out executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward and other United directors had been holding talks with Mourinho behind his back, LVG had this to say.

“Then I’d be disappointed,” Van Gaal said. “In a football world that is possible, I know, but I do not think that. I have a relationship with Ed and the Glazers, they tell me, I think.”

Following United’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea last Sunday LVG snapped at a journalist for asking about his future and the fact that the club hasn’t made any comment about the Mourinho rumors or publicly backed their current boss with any statements. Van Gaal insists he’s fine with the club policy of not commenting on speculation but you do sense a growing realization from the Dutchman that Mourinho’s shadow is lurking ominously over Old Trafford.

[ MORE: Rumors persist about Mourinho arriving at United

A top four finish for United and winning either the FA Cup or the UEFA Europa League this season seems like the only thing that can save Van Gaal beyond the summer.

He will be given until the end of this season to prove his worth to United but after 18 months of erratic results, an early UEFA Champions League exit this season and spending over $375 million on new players, time is running out. He knows it, but he is also correct to be “disappointed” if Mourinho is holding talks with United right now.

Doing things the right way has always been paramount to United and even though it would be smart to already have a successor lined up for Van Gaal should they fire him, it would also be incredibly disrespectful for one of the most successful coaches in Europe.