Sporting Kansas City crowned 2013 MLS champions after 10 rounds of penalty kicks


KANSAS CITY, Kan. – After 120 minutes and 10 rounds of penalty kicks, the only thing that separated Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake was the bottom of a crossbar. But that post, saving goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen after he dove away from Lovel Palmer’s attempt, gave Kansas City their first Major League Soccer title in 13 years, the team’s 7-6 shootout win after Saturday’s 1-1 draw crowning Peter Vermes’ team champions after MLS Cup 2013.

It was the second straight MLS Cup appearance decided by penalty kicks for Real Salt Lake, who won the 2009 title in Seattle over the LA Galaxy in a shootout. But after second half goals from Kyle Beckerman and Aurélien Collin, the visitors couldn’t claim another extra time title, with the final set of kicks by field players (and Collin’s conversion) giving Sporting their second MLS title.

The home team went into the fifth round of penalties up 3-2, giving Graham Zusi a chance to claim the title before additional kicks were needed. But scraping the top of the crossbar before Javier Morales leveled the shootout, the U.S. international’s miss paved the way for extra tries, with an additional five rounds needed before Palmer’s miss gave Sporting the crown.

Sporting starts strong

The first quarter-hour pass with Sporting in control, the hosts holding 60 percent of the ball while registering the game’s first two shots. RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando initially went untested, however, the U.S. international left to manage his penalty area on Sporting’s four early set pieces.

No surprise, Zusi was central to Sporting’s early success. Playing behind Salt Lake right back Tony Beltran on a frozen east flank of the field, Sporting created their first near-chance through their star attacker, a cross from the left that an oncoming Paulo Nagamura couldn’t get on goal. Zusi came inside to create another near-chance in the middle of the half for Dom Dwyer, a through ball the striker couldn’t make turn into a chance on Rimando. In the 25th minute, back on the left, a Zusi cross floated far post for C.J. Sapong, who beat Nat Borchers and Chris Wingert to head down the first shot on goal. A diving save kept the match scoreless.

Four minutes later, Real Salt Lake nearly opened the scoring when a cross from left back Chris Wingert met a weak punch by Sporting keeper Jimmy Nielsen, the ball deflecting backward for RSL attacker Robbie Findley. Turning toward an open net, Findley hit the base of the right post from a sharp angle, the resulting rebound rolling back to a retreating Nielsen.

By the half-hour mark, the match had finally opened up: a header by Dwyer that forced Rimando to come claim a ball; a flick from Luis Gil that put Álvaro Saborío behind the defense; a 36th minute header from the Costa Rican that went just wide. If the coldest MLS match ever was frozen at kickoff, the 30th minute saw the end of its thaw.

By halftime, the game had taken on it’s early character, even if Real Salt Lake had started controlling more of the ball. Two late first half fouls deep in RSL’s half saw Zusi go wide on a direct kick before a restart from the left fell un-played in penalty area. When, after a weak clearance, Besler’s chip found Dwyer in front of goal, with Rimando forced into a diving challenge that preserved the scoreless first half.

The second half’s kickoff brought more Sporting set pieces, with a foul down their left in the 48th minute leading to a Sapong chance put over the bar. When Real Salt Lake needed a Chris Schuler challenge two minutes later to prevent Dwyer from going in on goal, the hosts appeared to have found momentum in the locker room – a notion that was dispelled moments later.

Real Salt Lake’s break through; Sporting’s response

In the 52nd minute, Beckerman’s no-look chip from 40 yards out found Saborío open just outside the penalty area, right back Chance Myers having kept the RSL number nine onside. Collin, retreating into space he had just vacated, ran past Saborío when as Salt Lake forward pushed the ball to his right, an ensuing shot lashed around Belser and past Nielsen for the game’s first goal.

source:  Just past the hour, Beckerman nearly doubled RSL’s lead, a layoff from  Findley seeing the Salt Lake captain put a shot off Nielsen’s left post. Twelve minutes later, the post favored Kansas City for the third time, with Javier Morales hitting the bottom of Nielsen’s right upright off another Findley layoff.

The visitors were left to rue their missed chances when, in the 76th minute, a set piece finally broke Sporting’s way. With his sixth corner kick of the match,  Zusi lofted a ball to the penalty spot, where Collin had beaten Schuler. Rising above the RSL center half, the game’s Most Valuable Player headed the equalizer down and inside the left post, his third goal of the postseason making it 1-1.

That Collin was even on the pitch to score the winner will be a point of controversy. In the 69th minute, trying to defend Findley one-on-one down RSL’s left, Collin lunged in on the RSL attacker and took him down – the type of blunt challenge that would normally draw a caution. Carrying a yellow picked up in the first half, Collin was the beneficiary of referee Hilario Grajeda’s reluctance to unbalance the sides. Seven minutes later, the Frenchman was heading home the game’s equalizing goal.

In the 79th, Sporting nearly took their first lead. Substitute Claudio Bieler, open from 12 yards out, went well over with his first touch, a left-footed shot off a Sinovic cross that the Argentine put into the stands. It was the last decent chance of regulation, with MLS Cup needing extra time for the first time since 2010.

Prelude to a shootout

The start of extra time saw play resume in front of Real Salt Lake’s goal, with Nagamura going close with a shot from 20 yards out in the 92nd minute. Moments later, a long throw from Matt Belser fell in the middle of the area for Zusi, with a left-footed half-volley pushed over the crossbar by Rimando registering the first shot on goal of Zusi’s postseason career.

Sporting went close again in the 102nd minute when Bieler won an aerial duel with Nat Borchers, heading down for Sapong. Rushed by Schuler, the former Rookie of the Year went over the bar. One minute later, after a through ball from Benny Feilhaber, Schuler was again in place to contest a Sapong chance, with Sporting’s fans left appealing for a penalty after the defender got his body between his man and the ball. When, moments later, Salt Lake had their own near-goal denied (Saborío’s header from five yards out waved off as offside), the teams were ready to shift ends, 15 minutes closer to penalty kicks.

The final quarter-hour of play saw few chances, initial pressure from the hosts fading as extra time became inevitable. After 105 minutes of playing in below-freezing temperatures, the teams began bracing for the tiebreaker. For the first time since 2009, when Real Salt Lake beat Los Angeles in Seattle, an MLS Cup would go to penalty kicks.

Ten rounds to decide a title

After Bieler’s opener gave Sporting a 1-0 lead, Saborío produced the shootout’s first edge, putting his shot over the bar and into the sea of Kansas City fans seated behind Sporting Park’s north goal. Nagamura then gave Kansas City a two-goal lead, an advantage Nielsen strengthened with his ensuing save on Ned Grabavoy. Rimando would return the favor on the next miss, blocking Besler’s try, allowing Beckerman’s chip into the middle of goal to bring Salt Lake back within one.

Benny Feilhaber’s blast high and to the middle was nearly saved by Rimando, but the RSL keeper could only block the shot into the top of goal, making it 3-1, Sporting. With the shootout’s first must-make shot, João Plata went high and to the left, barely beating a leaping Nielsen.

Then, with a chance to clinch, Zusi went over the left of goal, giving Real Salt Lake a chance to pull even. With the visitor’s second must-make try, Morales sent Nielsen right before rolling his shot into the left of goal, making it 3-3 after five kicks.

Rimando would move early on the sixth kick, going to his left while Seth Sinovic finished to his right. Schuler would follow by drilling his try into the middle of goal, barely missing Nielsen’s outstretched leg a the Sporting keeper dove left.

At 4-4, Sapong finishing inside the lower left corner, forcing Beltran to make his shot to keep RSL alive. Nailing the left post, the Salt Lake right back beat Nielsen after the Sporting captain had guessed correctly.

Then, giving RSL their second major break of the shootout, a tentative Lawrence Olum rolled his shot well-wide of the left post, giving Sebastian Velasquez a chance to win it for the visitors. But guessing correctly for a second straight kick, Nielsen saved the  midfielder’s try, keeping the ball out of the right side of goal.

Starting the ninth round of kicks, Myers gave Sporting a 6-5 lead, chipping into the right of goal. Borchers would follow by driving a shot to the left, barely putting the ball over a goalkeeper who’d guessed correctly for the third straight kick.

The last Sporting field player to kick, Collin put his shot into the right side netting, one ball length wide of a diving Rimando. It was a margin that would prove decisive when Palmer, with the 20th kick of the shootout, put his shot under the bottom of the bar, giving Sporting a 7-6 win in the 10-round shootout.


Sporting Kansas City: Aurélien Collin 76

Real Salt Lake: Álvaro Saboríó 52


Sporting Kansas City: Jimmy Nielsen; Chance Myers, Aurélien Collin, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic; Oriol Rosell (Laurence Olum 6), Paulo Nagamura, Benny Feilhaber; C.J. Sapong, Dom Dwyer (Claudio Bieler 71), Graham Zusi

Unused substitutes: Eric Kronberg, Federico Bessone, Ike Opara, Teal Bunbury

Real Salt Lake: Nick Rimando; Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Chris Schuler, Chris Wingert (Lovel Palmer 71); Luis Gil (Sebastian Velasquez 87), Kyle Beckerman, Ned Grabavoy; Javier Morales; Robbie Findley (João Plata 117), Álvaro Saborío

Unused substitutes: Jett Attinella, Cole Grossman, Olmes Garcia, Brandon McDonald

2015-16 Premier League Power Rankings, Vol. IV: Foxes on top of the world

NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 21:  Jamie Vardy of Leicester City gestures to the fans during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle and Leicester City at St James Park on November 21, 2015 in Newcastle, England. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty images)
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The last time we visited the world of Power Rankings, the two North London rivals held the top two slots.

A month later, with the North London derby having ended in a 1-1 draw, it seems there are plenty of good teams in the Premier League, but are there any great ones? We have to give the #1 spot to someone, but it doesn’t feel like any of the regulars want it. The top five teams are all within four points. In the last month, Arsenal, Manchester City, and Southampton all lost, and Manchester United barely squeaked by Watford.

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So where does that leave us? You bet. Soak it in Foxes, the Premier League table isn’t all you’re on top of. Are they strong enough to remain there? Well, that’s not what we’re here to debate. With Spurs refusing to lose as well, the Premier League giants are looking up at two unusual clubs in front.

source: 1 UP 4 Leicester City: Jamie Vardy can do no wrong. He has a chance to insert himself into Premier League lore, and the Foxes are forcing people to consider them as shocking Champions League contenders. With 4 in a row and 5 wins in 6, their body of work, right now, is the best in the League.
source: 2 Tottenham Hotspur: Spurs look a much improved team at the back, which was their weakness last year. They haven’t lost in Premier League play since opening day, and with three wins in their last four, they look to be turning one point into three points, an important key to challenging for the title.
source: 3 DOWN 2 Arsenal: Every time it appears the Gunners have it figured out, they go and lose to someone like West Brom. It’s a small blow, but it seems that’s all – even with all the injuries – as they dominated that game and appeared slightly unlucky. They’re still a title contender, which is a testament to Arsene Wenger.
source: 4 UP 2 Manchester United: It hasn’t always been pretty for the Red Devils, such as their late win over Watford, but they’re just a point off the top and have a relatively healthy squad, which is a huge advantage given where some of the other teams stand.
source: 5 UP 3 Liverpool: They have work to do, but the Reds appear to be getting much healthier, and Jurgen Klopp has added a fire to this team not seen in a while. 8 points back from the top, but a soft schedule could set up a massive showdown with Leicester on Boxing Day.
source: 6 DOWN 3 Manchester City: As opposed to Arsenal, who is still producing results, Manuel Pellegrini seems to be struggling to cope with the injuries. One point in their last two, they can’t let the demolition by Liverpool become something larger.
source: 7 DOWN 2 Southampton: A loss at home to Stoke City last time out is a huge blow. With Liverpool and Everton charging, and stuck in a logjam in the table (2 points separate places 6-11), they need to reassert themselves to remain challengers for a Europa League place.
source: 8 UP 1 Everton: The Toffees have rebounded nicely since a pair of losses to top teams, putting up 11 goals in their last three. Can they take advantage of a soft schedule through into the New Year, and put themselves in a position to challenge at the top? Questions of their earlier struggles remain.
source: 9 UP 6 Stoke City: The Potters are sneakily returning to the top half of the table. A 2-0 loss to Watford the only blemish of the last 6 weeks, and a 1-0 win over Chelsea has positioned them well.
source: 10 UP 3 Crystal Palace: Still have no idea what this team is. Just look at their last two results: a win over Liverpool, followed by a loss to Sunderland. Huh?
source: 11 DOWN 4 West Ham: We knew the Dimitri Payet signing was huge, but it’s never more evident than now. They have to prove they can play without him, as he’ll be out for three months, but at the moment things look dire.
source: 12 UP 2 Chelsea: This still isn’t where the Blues want to be, and they probably won’t get there this season with the hole too big, but things appear to be steadying, albeit slowly. Still, there’s a long way to go to eliminate the embarrassing results, and they remain in the Champions League hunt.
source: 13 West Bromwich Albion: Another team that’s hard to figure out, and that’s probably going to be the case all year. Nevertheless, they’ve won a few games they shouldn’t, and have taken care of the teams they should. The Baggies look to be strong enough to avoid the relegation conversation.
source: 14 DOWN 4 Watford: This is the Watford we all expect. They put up a fight against both Manchester United and Leicester, but a tough November turns a bit nicer until a holiday season gauntlet. Can they pick up vital points the next few weeks?
source: 15 DOWN 4 Swansea City: The true relegation battle seems to be forming here. The Swans have just one win since Aug 30, over lowly Aston Villa. With Liverpool, Leicester, and Man City all up next, alarm bells are starting to go off in Wales.

16 Newcastle United: They needed a win over Bournemouth and they got it, but much more is required to keep them up.
17 UP 1 Norwich City: October hit the Canaries hard, but a win over Swansea got them some space above the relegation zone. The schedule looks tough in December. If they can steal one or two, they would do themselves a world of good.
source: 18 Bournemouth: You have to feel for the Cherries, who’ve been battered by injuries to key players like Tyrone Mings, Max Gradel and Callum WilsonThat’s what we wrote last time. Nothing much has change. Tough season is ahead.
source: 19 UP 1 Sunderland: They’re not out of the relegation zone yet, but a win over Crystal Palace was huge.
source: 20 DOWN 1 Aston Villa: Remi Garde knew this would be a tough job. Yea, it is.

MLS preview: MLS Cup places to be booked on Sunday

Darlington Nagbe, Portland Timbers FC
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The last team to overcome a two-goal deficit in the second leg of a two-leg MLS Cup Playoffs tie was the 2004 Kansas City Wizards. On Sunday, two conference finals favorites — higher seeds, at least — will take their shot at rewriting the above piece of history in their bids to qualify for MLS Cup 2015.

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The New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas, each the top seed in their respective conference and one-two finishers, respectively, for the Supporters’ Shield, have 90 minutes to overcome two very difference two-goal deficits against the Portland Timbers and Columbus Crew SC.

Note: A player who accumulates his second yellow card (of the MLS Cup Playoffs) in the second leg of the Conference Championship series IS ELIGIBLE to play in MLS Cup, as playoff yellow card accumulation resets following the Conference Championships. (A red card, whether a straight red or two yellows, in the second leg still equals a suspension for MLS Cup.)

FC Dallas 1-3 Portland Timbers — 5 p.m. ET, ESPN

While history isn’t on the side of teams attempting to come back from two goals down in the second leg, FCD have one thing going for them: an away from the first leg — of course, they would have been better served to have not given away a third goal in the game’s dying minutes and headed home slight favorites with an away goal and a one-goal deficit. As things stand, though, 2-0 puts FCD through to MLS Cup — which they would host against Columbus Crew SC and play away to New York Red Bulls.

A big problem for FCD in the first leg was how much time Portland’s full backs, Alvas Powell and Jorge Villafana, spent overlapping into FCD’s defensive half. Because of this, FCD’s rabid wingers, most notably Fabian Castillo, were limited in their effect on the counter after being forced to drop so deep to defend. With Portland defending a two-goal lead on Sunday, look for Powell and Villafana to sit back quite a bit more, thus putting the keys to FCD’s season into the hands of Castillo and Mauro Diaz. The great thing about Diaz, if you’re an FCD supporter, is that he’s brilliant enough to singlehandedly pick teams apart whether they’re stretched all over the field or bunkered deep.

Regular season: POR 3-1 FCD (4/4); FCD 4-1 POR (7/25)
Injuries: FCD — OUT: Rolando Escobar (facial fracture) | POR — OUT: Ben Zemanski (knee)

New York Red Bulls 0-2 Columbus Crew SC — 7:30 p.m. ET, FS1

If FCD are standing on tenuous ground, the New York Red Bulls are running on quicksand. No away goal in the first leg, coupled with Kei Kamara‘s late goal to make it 2-0, means anything but a perfect performance on Sunday, and they’re out. 2-0 send the series to extra time, but here’s where it gets supremely tricky for the Red Bulls: a single Crew SC goal in the second leg means RBNY need four goals to advance. That would seem quite unlikely.

For the entirety of the 2015 season, RBNY’s greatest strength was their spine: Matt Miazga and Damien Perrinelle at center back, and Dax McCarty, Felipe Martins and Sacha Kljestan in midfield. In the first leg, the midfield trio had its worst game of the season — completely overwhelmed with pressure and unable to press high themselves — which put the center of defense — already down Perrinelle to a season-ending knee injury — under tons of pressure. From the moment Justin Meram hit the back of the net, eight seconds into the game, RBNY’s entire gameplan was out the window — they were forced to chase a goal they didn’t really want, and in turn gave up a second late on. They’ll need to start better in the second leg, set their high line of pressing much more quickly when turning the ball over, and attack the wings to limit the attacking impact of full backs Harrison Afful and Waylon Francis, who absolutely destroyed them in the first leg.

Regular season: CLB 1-2 RBNY (3/28); CLB 2-1 RBNY (7/4); RBNY 2-1 CLB (10/3)
Injuries: RBNY — OUT: Damien Perrinelle (knee), Chris Duval (broken leg) | CLB — OUT: Kristinn Steindorsson (knee)

Slaven Bilic wants West Ham to stop whining about missing Payet

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 24: Slaven Bilic manager of West Ham United looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Chelsea at Boleyn Ground on October 24, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
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Sometimes nominating the signing of the season is difficult to do until we get a glimpse of a team without their new addition. We’re seeing that this year as West Ham, who were in fifth position before summer signing Dimitri Payet went down with an ankle injury that could see him out for three months.

Without Payet, they looked lost in a 4-1 defeat to Spurs at White Hart Lane, and the void left in midfield was all anyone could talk about.

Slaven Bilic hates that.

“Losing Payet is a blow but we have two options: one is continue to talk about it and the other is to get together and play better even without him,” Bilic said prior to Sunday’s home matchup with West Brom. “He’s a player who has made a huge impact. He’s a key player for us and is doing the things that every club needs.”

Before the Spurs match, Bilic was adamant that the team was losing its best player. Now, he’s of the opposite tone.

“In my team I have enough players who can make his absence to feel it less,” Bilic said. “We have enough quality to play without Dimitri. We were hugely disappointed and angry with the way we played [against Tottenham].”

Jamie Vardy setting up academy to help discover non-league talent

during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Leicester City at St Mary's Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Southampton, England.
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In 2012, Jamie Vardy was playing non-league football for Fleetwood Town.

Today, he is the top scorer in the Premier League with Leicester City, and is currently on a record run of scoring in ten straight matches.

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Vardy’s meteoric rise is the stuff of fairytales, and now he is giving back to those who are trying to break through as he did a few years ago.

The 28-year-old striker has set up the V9 Academy, a program aimed at finding non-league talent and helping the players develop into “the next Jamie Vardy.”

I know there are players out there in a similar position to where I was that just need an opportunity,

More and more players are dropping out of the system early. For me, it was at Sheffield Wednesday when I was 16 because they thought I was too small. I remember how that felt and it’s difficult to come back from or even think about the professional game.

I’ve thought for some time that something could be done about it and after several conversations with my agent and my fiancee, Becky, we decided to set up V9 to unearth talent and give those players a shot – hopefully at earning professional contracts but also to learn what it takes to be a professional at the highest level.

In just his second season in the Premier League, Vardy has become one of the most prolific strikers in Europe, earning him Player of the Month honors for October as well as a call-up to the England national team.