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

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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.


Goals

Sporting Kansas City: Aurélien Collin 76

Real Salt Lake: Álvaro Saboríó 52

Lineups

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

PHOTOS: New aerials show rapid Tottenham stadium progress

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Tottenham Hotspur’s new home at White Hart Lane continues to take shape at a rather impressive rate.

[ MORE: Everton to get new stadium? ]

With this season expected to be Spurs’ final in their historic home, their stunning new 61,000 capacity stadium is being built around the Lane.

To anyone who has visited recently, Tottenham’s new home is starting to take shape.

[ MORE: A behind-the-scenes look at Spurs’ new home ]

All in all, it’s a very exciting time to be involved with Spurs as Mauricio Pochettino‘s men are in the FA Cup semifinal and are in second place in the Premier League table, 10 points behind leaders Chelsea.

On and off the pitch, the future is looking bright for Tottenham.

Take a look at the photos below for incredible aerial shots of the work, while the video above is from a recent episode of Premier League Download with Spurs.


Five questions for USMNT ahead of World Cup qualifiers

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The USMNT’s next two World Cup qualifiers will be pivotal in deciding whether or not they’ll qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

[ MORE: Cameron eager for return

With plenty of injuries restricting Bruce Arena, the upcoming games against Honduras on Friday and Panama next Tuesday are massive for the U.S. national team.

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Here’s a closer look at some lingering questions heading into the next seven days.


Who will play at full back?

With DeAndre Yedlin and Fabian Johnson out injured, the USMNT is without their top two full backs for these games. That’s a big, big problem. Arena may have to put some square pegs in round holes when it comes to playing Geoff Cameron at right back or even Matt Besler or Tim Ream at left back, while DaMarcus Beasley can also slot in at full back if needed but Jorge Villafana will likely start on the left. Simply put: the U.S. defense is weaker without Johnson and Yedlin at full back. They’ll be missing two of the four defenders from the unit which looked so strong at the Copa America Centenario last summer and the Cameron-Brooks partnership may be broken up in central defense. Far from ideal.

Can Pulisic deliver?

There’s been plenty of talk from Arena about Pulisic being ready to start and contribute regularly for the USMNT.

“He has the potential to be a great player and I think he’s going to be a big part of our team, he’s not going to be a role player. He’s going to be an important part,” Arena told Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherd earlier this month.

Pulisic, just 18 years old, is having a fine first full season for Borussia Dortmund (four goals and seven assists and a new contract is pretty decent…) and he may be used centrally for the U.S. in the next two games. He has the ability to control the tempo of games but often he’s played out wide for Dortmund and the USMNT. It would be a big call for Arena to hand the keys to the U.S. offense to Pulisic but he clearly has the talent to handle that pressure. Now, can he deliver on the international stage? The USMNT has a new star and they need him to deliver sooner than many would have expected.

Will Arena go for experience in central midfield?

With Jermaine Jones suspended for the Honduras game, there’s a big hole alongside Michael Bradley in central midfield to fill. Arena may well go for experience in this kind of situation. Sacha Kjestan and Dax McCarty are the obvious choices with Sebastian Lletget and Darlington Nagbe perhaps too inexperienced for these must-win games. Alejandro Bedoya could slot in alongside Bradley and he’d offer plenty of industry but his best position is out on the right and tucking inside to help build attacks. If I had to choose I’d go with Kljestan. His poise on the ball and his form for the New York Red Bulls over the last 12 months prove that he deserves the chance to step up and dovetail with Bradley in midfield.

Is USMNT capable of setting the tempo?

Having Kljestan start in midfield would be a big part of this as it’s likely that the U.S., especially against Honduras, will set the tempo of these games. Both Honduras and Panama will likely sit back and then look to hit the USMNT on the counter and without recognized full backs that could be very dangerous for the U.S.

This is all about game management. Arena’s men know that at times down in Panama they will be up against it and there will be severe pressure on their goal the longer the game remains scoreless. That said, they will be expected to create chances and they can’t just sit back, defend and hope to score goals from set pieces like they did at times in the Copa America last summer and for most of the 2014 World Cup.

Can Altidore carry the team?

Jozy Altidore will need to carry the U.S. to victory in these games. With Clint Dempsey still battling back to full fitness following his four months out, plus Pulisic still a teenager, the fact that Bobby Wood is out and Jordan Morris is extremely doubtful puts a lot of pressure on Altidore’s shoulders.

It may not have been the case during his time in the Premier League, but for Toronto and the U.S. national team he has been the go-to man in key moments. Altidore usually delivers and he has 37 goals in 100 appearances for the Stars and Stripes. If the USMNT can get Dempsey and Pulisic on the ball, then Altidore will get service in the final third. He always adds power and presence up top but not having Wood alongside him may mean he’s isolated for large spells of these games. The U.S. needs to stop that happening to not only get the best out of Altidore but also give themselves the best chance of grabbing the two wins they desperately need to get back on track in the Hex.

Chris Wondolowski thankful for call-up to national team

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Chris Wondolowski didn’t have to travel far when he got the call to join the U.S. national team ahead of two key World Cup qualifiers.

The U.S. will be playing Honduras on the home field of Wondolowski’s San Jose Earthquakes on Friday night as the Americans look to bounce back from an 0-2 start in the final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region.

“To represent your country is the ultimate pinnacle, especially as a soccer player in a World Cup qualifier in your hometown,” Wondolowski said. “I couldn’t have drawn it up any better. I’m very excited. I’m very honored to be a part of such a big game. It’s not necessarily the place we want to be, but it is an exciting place for U.S. Soccer right now. We have meaningful games in meaningful places.”

And Wondolowski might need to play a meaningful role with the U.S. short-handed at forward headed into the games against Honduras and then at Panama next Tuesday. Bobby Wood is out with a back injury, Jordan Morris has not practiced this week because of an ankle injury and Clint Dempsey said he might not be able to play 90 minutes after missing the final four months of the 2016 MLS season due to an irregular heartbeat.

That leaves just Jozy Altidore and Wondolowski as the only healthy forwards. The 34-year-old Wondolowski didn’t know whether he would get another chance at World Cup qualifying.

He didn’t get his first call-up to the national team until six years ago despite a prolific MLS career. He has played 35 international games, including two at the 2014 World Cup.

Wondolowski has scored 11 goals for the national team, but is most remembered for one he missed in the round of 16 against Belgium at the 2014 World Cup. With the game scoreless late in regulation, he had a chance at a game-winner but shot over the crossbar from inside the 6-yard box.

The U.S. lost 2-1 in overtime and Wondolowski has not played in any 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

“If you play well at the club level, you figure you can get a chance,” he said. “You never know if that will keep happening. You always have to cherish the times that you have.”

Wondolowski has done that by scoring 28 goals the past two seasons for the Earthquakes and one so far this season in three games. He doesn’t know if he will get a chance to play but has already been a valuable resource for his familiarity with the home stadium.

“They’ve been asking me about the field, the atmosphere,” he said. “I don’t have enough adjectives to tell them how great it is. The atmosphere you feel, the presence that the crowd provides throughout the game will lift you. It’s an amazing pitch, amazing fans, and hopefully we can get three points.”

After the losses to Mexico and Costa Rica last November that led to coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s firing and the return of Bruce Arena as coach, the U.S. has little margin for error.

The Americans are in last place in the six-team group that will send the top three teams to Russia in 2018 and the fourth into a playoff with the fifth-place nation from Asia.

“Some games you go in and you’re trying to implement things and work on your style,” Wondolowski said. “We’re worried about three points. Pretty, ugly, it doesn’t matter. Just grind it out any way possible.”

Swansea’s Gylfi Sigurdsson dreams of “big club”

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This will unnerve Swansea fans.

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Gyfli Sigurdsson, 27, has scored eight goals and assisted 11 times in the Premier League as the Swans have dragged themselves out of the relegation zone.

Swansea boss Paul Clement recently stated that Sigurdsson has the same ability of players he’s coached at Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid and with his quality from set pieces, finishing in and around the box and dictating play, it’s hard to argue with that.

Speaking to Goal.com, Sigurdsson revealed that Clement’s kind words were appreciated and he feels he can play for a bigger club.

“Of course that’s very flattering. Maybe he was just trying to give me confidence,” Sigurdsson said. “Of course, it would be a dream to play for one of these big clubs. Hopefully if I continue doing well for Swansea and Iceland then in the near future, I can play in a big club. I am enjoying being one of the senior players, though.

“We may be in a tough spot, but I am kind of enjoying the pressure of that. I am trying to make the most of that and help the team to get three points every week.”

Late in the January transfer window it was reported that some top teams in the PL came in with bids for Sigurdsson and the former Hoffenheim and Tottenham Hotspur attacking midfielder is definitely entering his prime.

He’s scored 33 goals in 115 appearances for the Swans over the past three seasons since joining from Tottenham and perhaps the main criticism some people have of Sigurdsson is that he prefers to be a big fish in a small pond. During his time at Spurs he scored just eight times in 58 appearances in the Premier League but now it seems like he is ready to go to the next level.

Swansea will ask for over $35 million for Sigurdsson but with clubs like Everton and Arsenal rumored to be interested in his services, a nervous summer could be ahead for the South Wales side. Swansea’s Icelandic playmaker will be a man in demand, irrelevant of whether or not the Swans survive relegation.