What we learned at MLS Cup about Sporting Kansas City


A few take-aways from Sporting Kansas City’s side on the clubs’ MLS Cup triumph Saturday over Real Salt Lake at Sporting Park:

  • Jimmy Nielsen is good at penalty kicks, too

Nick Rimando’s uncanny ability to turn away spot shots is something close to legend in MLS. So when the clock struck 120 and moved toward the penalty spot, the inclination was to believe RSL had the edge. Maybe a big one.

But clearly SKC keeper Jimmy Nielsen knows a thing or two about penalty kicks, too. He saved one straight away (and watched another one fly well high), putting the visitors in position to chase the score through the early rounds. Later Nielsen guessed correctly on Sebastien Velasquez, cradling the young RSL shooter’s attempt and adding pressure on RSL shooters once again.

  • Claudio Bieler misses his share

Claudio Bieler came close to scoring. Then again, everyone came close to scoring in a match where blown opportunities were a big part of the bitterly cold night.

The problem for Bieler is that he gets paid to score goals, and paid quite well as a Designated Player.

At least he got a chance Saturday, which wasn’t always the case in the 2013 playoffs. Young striker Dom Dwyer once again got the start over the much-better compensated Argentine veteran, but wasn’t getting much done against RSL’s highly effective center backs. So in came Bieler in the 72nd minute, and it didn’t take him long to find some room in front of RSL goal.

His 79th minute blast from about 14 yards, a sweet little pass from left back Seth Sinovic rolled nicely along the ground, flew well high.

When the euphoria dies down on Sporting KC’s big achievement, what happens going forward with Bieler will once again be a big talker around SKC supporters.

  • Graham Zusi eventually finds some spaces

One of the night’ stop individual battles happened along Sporting KC’s left flank, where U.S. international Graham Zusi and almost-international Tony Beltran went at it. Beltran won his share of skirmishes early, but Zusi was causing trouble after the break and into the extra time.

Even as Zusi began finding spaces, isolating Beltran one-on-one by pulling out wider, the RSL right back made Kansas City’s U.S. international work. Zusi was honest in his defensive duties, never failing to get back and assist left back Seth Sinovic.

  • Kansas City as a big-time sports town

The weather was bone-chilling, but you could not tell it from the crowd. The seats were packed well before kickoff, and no one left, even as temperatures dropped into the teens. Clearly, this is a great sports town.

In fact, one of the week’s really cool moments came with Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid talked about Sporting KC and wished the soccer team luck.

“This is an incredible sports town,” a Champagne-drenched Peter Vermes said after the game. “The fans have had their downs for many years but they keep supporting their teams. From our perspective, we’re happy to reward them for the support they have continued to show through thick and thin. It’s an exciting time for the city and an exciting time for Sporting.”

  • Oriol Rosell’s injury hurt Sporting KC

So much was happening during an eventful championship that it’s easy to forget this: Sporting had to play most of the match without injured, starting defensive midfielder Oriol Rosell.

Rosell suffered a sprained ankle and had to leave after just eight minutes. When Lawrence Olum entered the match, his was the earliest substitution in MLS history.

Olum had not played since Nov. 3, missing three matches in the interim. Either way, he’s not as effective in the position as Rosell, a crafty Spaniard who was Vermes’ starter at the position from Day 1 in 2013.

As a result, Paulo Nagamura had to drop in and play a little more defensively, which usually meant one fewer man joining the attack for Sporting KC.

Report: Guardiola to take manager’s job at Man City next season

Pep Guardiola, Bayern Munich

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Manchester City desperately want to lure Pep Guardiola away from Bayern Munich and pay the Spaniard tactician lots and lots of money to come manage in the Premier League.

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Of course we’ve all heard it before — a number of times, in fact. So, what’s different about the latest report, hitting the headlines very late Thursday night in Europe, linking the 44-year-old to Man City?

Well, apparently, we’ve moved past “Man City will offer Guardiola whatever he wants to come to the Etihad Stadium,” and arrived at “Guardiola has agreed terms to become manager at Man City.”

However, the respected Spanish radio station Cadena COPE is reporting that Guardiola has already decided he would like “a change of scenery” and will succeed Manuel Pellegrini at the Etihad Stadium.

“Pep Guardiola will leave Bayern Munich at the end of this season and will train Manchester City next season,” read the report.

“Guardiola has decided on a change of scenery. He considers his time in Germany will end on 30 June after three seasons and, therefore, fulfil one of his wishes: to coach in England.”

With all due respect to every player Man City have signed in the last decade, the acquisition of Guardiola would be, by far, their greatest coup to date — a manager with a clear ethos, a clear plan of action and a track record of having succeeded and won in the UEFA Champions League, which remains the most elusive trophy to City’s cabinet.

Mourinho-Costa feud could mean January transfer activity for Chelsea

Diego Costa & Jose Mourinho, Chelsea FC
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Perhaps no man in the footballing world has been embroiled in more controversy this season than Jose Mourinho, who remains in charge of Chelsea despite a horrid start to the club’s 2015-16 Premier League campaign.

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The Portuguese mastermind has fallen out with a number of his own players and staff this season, so why not add another name to the growing list? Come on down, Diego Costa, you’re Mourinho’s next combatant.

The two reportedly got into a heated locker-room exchange following Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv. Given Costa’s increasingly poor form all the way back to the final weeks and months of the 2014-15 season — just seven goals scored in the last 10 months — Mourinho is reportedly less and less sure the Brazilian-turned-Spaniard is the right man to lead the line for the reigning PL champions.

The details of Mourinho and Costa’s halftime spat, from the Guardian:

Mourinho, just as he did after a similar situation against Norwich on Saturday, made his frustrations clear at the forward’s lack of anticipation over an Eden Hazard pass, which would have provided the striker with a tap-in had he been on the move. Costa returned his manager’s remonstrations in kind. Oscar and John Terry tried to calm him down only to be pushed aside. The manager subsequently suggested there had been “a few kisses, a few cuddles” in the dressing room at the interval, and “no problem,” though the public show of dissent was notable.

The club’s hierarchy is reportedly considering dipping into the transfer market in January — something they’re extremely loath to do — to replace the misfiring Costa. The names of Emmanuel Adebayor, Robin Van Persie and Saido Berahino are the biggest currently linked with the Blues, given the lack of elite players typically available — as well as not being cup-tied in the Champions League — during the January window.

Chelsea, who currently sit 15th in the PL, return to league action on Sunday when they visit Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane (Watch live at 6:30 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra).

Wenger expects “hunting lion” Sanchez to be fit for Norwich clash

Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal FC
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Alexis Sanchez is, by regular human standards, questionable for Arsenal’s Premier League clash with Norwich City on Sunday (Watch live at 11 a.m. ET on Live Extra), thanks to a tweak to his hamstring during Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League victory over Dinamo Zagreb.

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There’s just one problem with the above premise: Sanchez, according to manager Arsene Wenger, isn’t exactly human; he’s more like a lion, says Wenger — a hunting lion chasing after and feasting on its prey.

Wenger, on Sanchez’s ability to recover quickly and star for the Gunners — quotes from the Guardian:

“When he does something, he does it 100%. He finishes and you think: ‘He’s dead now.’ But then he recovers and gives 100% again. You always see signs of exhaustion but it’s not [that], because two days later, he’s fine.

“His style is very explosive, it’s a very committed style. Jamie Vardy is a bit similar. When they go, they go. They are like the lion. He has to catch the animal in the first 200 metres. If he doesn’t get there, he’s dead [on his feet] afterwards. They are these kind of killers. When they go, it is to kill and after, they have to stop.”

“I take information, especially from the medical people who know him and treat him everyday and after, we look at his overall recovery as well. When there are alarming signs, we want to make the right decision at the right moment but as long as the guys are confident, they score goals – it is always difficult to rest them.”

Sanchez’s production this season — 9 goals, 4 assists in 17 appearances – all competitions — is right on par with his spectacular debut in the PL last season. “What is also remarkable is that he goes to South America to play,” Wenger went on to say. “He comes back on Thursday night and on Saturday he can play without a problem, even if he’s jet-lagged.”

Expect Sanchez to feature on Sunday, and probably to score a goal or two, as well.

“Unprofessional” Grealish banished to U-21s after nightclub incident

Jack Grealish, Aston Villa FC
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2015 has been an eventful calendar year for Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish, to say the least.

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First, there was his emergence as a prominent first-team player for his boyhood club; followed by the Villans’ run to the FA Cup final in May; then came the England-versus-Ireland tug-of-war for his international services; a forgettable vacation to Spain for the 20-year-old; and another managerial change at Villa Park. After yet another off-field incident last weekend, in which Grealish was photographed in a nightclub hours after a 4-0 defeat to Everton, his new manager, Remi Garde, has labeled Grealish “unprofessional” and sent him away to train with the club’s U-21 side.

Garde, on Grealish’s actions and subsequent punishment — quotes from the Guardian:

“This is not professional. It is not what is expected from my players. That is why now Jack is training with the under-21 team for the moment. He won’t be included in the squad for Watford. At this stage he is not playing this weekend and he is training with the under-21 team. That is all I can say for the moment.”

“Sometimes players in every country ask to stay in the city we have played in and this is not a problem for me, it happens one or two times a season. The problem with Jack was not that he wasn’t on the bus. The problem was elsewhere.”

Villa, who will welcome 13th-place Watford to Villa Park on Saturday (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET on Live Extra), currently sit rock bottom in the Premier League (5 points from 13 games), five points away from climbing out of the relegation zone.