What we learned at MLS Cup about Sporting Kansas City

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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.

Everton loses Coleman to leg break on Ireland duty

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A horror tackle from Wales’ Neil Taylor snapped Seamus Coleman‘s leg in gruesome fashion on Friday.

Taylor was given a red card, and Coleman was stretched off the pitch in the 0-0 draw.

[ MORE: UEFA World Cup qualifying wrap ]

Ireland manager Martin O’Neill confirmed what was apparent from the match replay: the Everton man has a broken ankle.

“It’s a bad break. He’s a fantastic player and character. It’s a major blow for the lad, his club and us.

“Apparently it wasn’t the best challenge in the world – I haven’t seen it. He’s gone to hospital. I saw his reaction immediately and it didn’t look good. He was holding is leg up and it didn’t look good.

This is not only awful for the player, but causes stress as Everton mounts its assault on the Top Six. The right back has also manned right mid for Ronald Koeman this season, and has four goals and four assists in 26 Premier League matches.

Mason Holgate, Muhamed Besic, and Phil Jagielka have played some right back for Everton, while Ramiro Funes Mori has deputized at left back.

Emotional McClean speaks after honoring deceased teammate (video)

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After wearing the No. 5 to honor of his recently deceased teammate, James McClean met with the media following Ireland’s 0-0 draw with Wales in World Cup qualifying on Friday.

McClean played with Ryan McBride at Derry City, and left Ireland camp to attend funeral services after McBride died following a match last weekend. McClean was also mourning the death of friend and Sinn Féin politician Martin McGuinness.

Throw in a gruesome injury to teammate Seamus Coleman and, in McClean’s words, “I’ve had better weeks”.

[ MORE: UEFA World Cup qualifying wrap ]

McClean, 27, spoke with evident emotion following a Man of the Match turn in Ireland’s draw (video below).

“It was a really tough week. The lads here have been great. They rallied around me. The manager was first class as well. He let me go up to Derry there on Tuesday and say my goodbyes. It’s been a tough week with Seamus injury as well. It’d been nice if we had have got a win and ended on a positive note, but it wasn’t to be.

“(McBride and McGuinness) were going through my thoughts today. I wanted to put in a performance that would make them proud. In the national anthem and the moment’s applause, holding my wee girl, it was emotional but I tried to put that in the right way into my performance. Hopefully tonight I’ve done the lads proud.”

World Cup qualifiers: Wales in trouble; Buffon hits 1000

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Friday’s matches mark the midway point of the main round of qualifying in UEFA, and the tables remain tight near the top of Groups D and G.

[ MORE: Smalling hurt, Gibson called up ]

Group I, however, is seeing some distance between first and second thanks to Croatia’s result versus Ukraine.

Republic of Ireland 0-0 Wales

Neil Taylor was sent off in the 69th minute for Wales, whose World Cup hopes are in trouble.

Seamus Coleman was stretchered off after the tackle, with a scary-looking injury that will leave Everton fans sick in more ways than one. Coleman’s leg was broken, and left dangling by the challenge.

Ireland couldn’t take advantage of the sending off, and failed in a bid to overtake Serbia for first in Group D. The Irish trail on goal differential, and will host Serbia on Sept. 5.

But Wales will rue the result more, remaining four points back of second-place Ireland. Chris Coleman’s side drops a point behind Austria as well, and will not have Taylor or Gareth Bale (card accumulation) in its next match. That comes against leaders Serbia.

Italy 2-0 Albania

Daniele De Rossi scored a 12th minute penalty kick won by Andrea Belotti, and Ciro Immobile scored late to provided the goals in Gianluigi Buffon’s 1000th appearance for club and country. Fittingly, it ended in a clean sheet. The match was briefly delayed after flares were thrown onto the field.

Spain 4-1 Israel

David Silva, Vitolo, and Diego Costa stakes the Spaniards to a three-goal lead, with Lior Refaelov ruining David De Gea‘s clean sheet with 11 minutes to play. Isco scored the match’s final goal.

Spain remains atop Group G on goal differential, eight better than second place Italy. Israel is four points behind both.

Croatia 1-0 Ukraine

Fiorentina’s Nikola Kalinic’s 38th minute goal was enough for the hosts, and Croatia is now five points clear of Ukraine and three above Iceland midway through qualifying.

Elsewhere
Austria 2-0 Moldova — RB Leipzig’s Sabitzer nabs winner
Liechtenstein 0-3 Macedonia — Ilija Nestorovski bags brace
Kosovo 1-2 Iceland — Sigurdsson PK the match winner
Georgia 1-3 Serbia — Mitrovic, Tadic lead the way
Turkey 2-0 Finland — Brace for Cenk Tosun

Boro’s Gibson called to England after injury to Man Utd’s Smalling

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Scoring goals has been the biggest problem for Middlesbrough in its return to the Premier League, and that overshadows how well the Northeast club has defended its own goal.

Ben Gibson has been a huge part of that, and now he’ll earn the chance to represent his nation thanks to an injury to Chris Smalling. Gibson will join England ahead of Sunday’s home World Cup qualifier against Lithuania.

[ MORE: Podolski leads Germany past England ]

Gibson has far and away been Boro’s best player, leading the side in blocked shots and clearances. The blocked shots total is tied for ninth in the Premier League, 11 behind current leader and new England teammate Michael Keane.

Smalling’s undisclosed injury is a bigger problem for Manchester United, which had already lost center back depth on England duty when Phil Jones was hurt.