What we learned in MLS Cup about Real Salt Lake

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The obvious lesson after 10 rounds of penalties: There isn’t much separating Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake, a message that comes across crystal clear in the final score (1-1). But for a team that barely missed out on a second Major League Soccer title, there are a few other, minor lessons to take from Saturday’s performance:

Experience mattered early

Sporting Kansas City earned the right to host MLS Cup, an advantage that nearly paid off early. When Tony Beltran was getting beat early by Graham Zusi and Seth Sinovic, that was Sporting taking advantage of a their home field before the visitors had time to adjust. The entire east flank of Sporting Park’s pitch was frozen solid.

Real Salt Lake knew what they were in for, though. They knew the elements would be a factor, the crowd would pile on the pressure, and Sporting would come with their characteristic intensity. Eventually RSL was able to adjust, leveraging the experience of a team whose core has been together for over five years.

Would a less-experienced team have been able to weather the storm? Possibly, but it’s not hard to explain RSL absorbing Kansas City’s energy in terms of a squad’s been there, done that past. Perhaps that past didn’t include a situation that mirrored Saturday’s challenges, but having adapted to a myriad challenges over the last five years, Real Salt Lake was able to adjust. They got to halftime even.

The Jason Kreis story was a non-factor

Again, this is where experience mattered, but all the controversy around Jason Kreis’s will he, won’t he decision? It didn’t matter. Asking players after the game, the story was clearly a non-issue. The players have long come to grips with the fact their head coach might move on. There was no added urgency, no sense that this would be an end of the road of sorts. Generally satisfied with their performance, the team was left to rue a series of near-misses, not anything that might happen this offseason.

Rimando’s penalty kick mastery didn’t shine through

source:  If the game went to kicks, conventional wisdom held, Real Salt Lake would have the advantage. Nick Rimando is the man you want between the pipes, the league’s most successful goalkeeper on penalty kicks having already won an MLS Cup shootout in 2009. If Kansas City was going to win on Saturday, they needed to do so before a shootout.

Not so. In fact, Rimando was out-shone in the shootout by Jimmy Nielsen, who guessed correctly on three of the last four tries. The only one he didn’t read correctly? Lovel Palmer’s blast off the crossbar.

Perhaps Rimando didn’t fail as much as he was beaten, but of eight penalty shots that went on frame, he only saved one. While nobody’s going to say he should have done better, he wasn’t nearly as unbeatable as the pre-shootout talk would have you believe. Rimando was second-best.

For RSL’s center halves, it was only a matter of time

Nat Borchers and Chris Schuler had another strong game, but on Kansas City’s only goal, Schuler was beaten. Aurélien Collin got above him and kept him on the ground for Sporting’s second half goal, heading home the corner that pulled back Álvaro Saborío’s opener.

Given how many set piece chances Real Salt Lake was allowing, it was only a matter of time. Between corner kicks conceded and the fouls committed deep in their own end, RSL was rolling the die too often against a team that has Graham Zusi providing service, Collin and C.J. Sapong attacking crosses.

Although Borchers and Schuler did a decent job throughout the match, the junior member of the pair was eventually beaten. It was only a matter of time.

No one remembers how you lose

Over the past four years, Real Salt Lake has been the beneficiary of our selective memories. Few people have dwell on how they won their first title, even if it was on kicks. All that matters is that they were champions in 2009. Nobody cares that they won by tiebreaker.

For 2013, those selective memories will work against them. Ten rounds of penalty kicks imply there was almost nothing between the two sides, but thanks to a crossbar, an MLS Cup sits between Sporting and Salt Lake.

“Almost champions”? It’s just not part of our lexicon. Real Salt Lake know it. It’s what makes this loss so hard.

WATCH: Camila’s wicked swerving goal for Brazil

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The Tournament of Nations got underway earlier Thursday, with Brazil and Japan drawing 1-1 in Seattle.

While some in the crowd may’ve been waiting to see the United States women’s national team and Australia in the second game of the twin bill, they got an absolute treat from Brazil’s Camila.

[ MORE: Galaxy’s season-changing signing ]

The Orlando Pride midfielder is yet to scoop up 10 caps, but blasted this 25-yard goal home with a wicked outside bend.

The aesthetics are terrific.

LA Galaxy’s second Dos Santos signing is a season-changer

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Remember this day, MLS fans, as one that perhaps helped determine an MLS Cup Finalist.

The LA Galaxy have signed Villarreal midfielder and Mexican national teamer Jonathan Dos Santos, and he’s the sort of player who could alter the landscape of the Western Conference.

Like Nicolas Lodeiro to Seattle last season and New England’s addition of Jermaine Jones in 2014, Dos Santos’ move comes with the distinct possibility of elevating LA into the next stratosphere.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Arriola attracting transfer interest ]

Take the Galaxy’s history of winning, and toss in a midseason coaching improvement from Curt Onalfo to Sigi Schmid, as well as MVP-in-their-own-right caliber teammates Giovani Dos Santos, Romain Alessandrini, and Jelle van Damme.

Don’t sleep on the fact that Schmid might be gathering momentum from inheriting a talented and underachieving roster and a brand new game-changing midfielder, which feels a bit like karmic retribution for Seattle firing him and signing Lodeiro the next day last season. Seattle only went and won the MLS Cup.

Schmid has used any number of formations, but could deploy a 4-3-3 with Jona Dos Santos, Jermaine Jones, and Joao Pedro in the midfielder and Giovani Dos Santos, Alessandrini, and Gyasi Zardes up top (Sebastian Lletget could return at some point, too).

Now FC Dallas is very deep, Sporting KC looks powerful, and Seattle won it all last year — plus, may be adding Derlis Gonzalez?!? — but LA’s move to add Dos Santos creates a quartet of teams with proven mettle (Houston looks decent, too, but I have concerns about their first-time as a unit in the playoffs).

Joey Barton’s gambling ban lowered by almost 5 months

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Joey Barton’s 18-month ban for betting on almost 1,300 soccer-related events has been lowered to 13 months and one week.

Putting aside the hilarity of grown men and women discussing whether an extra week was necessary, the alteration means he’ll be eligible to return to football on June 1, 2018.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Arriola attracting transfer interest ]

While that still hampers the idea of the 34-year-old playing again — he’ll be 36 when the ban ends — it’s a significant change if he’s open to the idea of returning to the game.

Barton’s original ban expired in late October 2018, well into a season. From Sky Sports:

The appeal board also agreed: “It was clear that Mr Barton was not involved in any cheating, he did not influence any games and there was nothing suspicious about his bets.

“(The reduction) reflects the overall seriousness of the breaches and also the mitigation of Mr Barton’s addiction.”

Barton’s remarkably controversial career has including several suspensions and imprisonment, but he always found his way back to the field and was very good when in form. After time at Manchester City and Newcastle United, Barton fended off naysayers with stints at QPR, Marseille, Burnley, and a regrettable move to Rangers.

We may see him on the field in August 2018.

FIFA fines Qatar after players’ political support for Emir

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has fined Qatar’s soccer federation after national team players breached rules against political statements by displaying T-shirts of the country’s Emir at a World Cup qualifier.

FIFA says its disciplinary panel imposed a 50,000 Swiss francs ($51,800) fine and reprimanded Qatar, the 2022 World Cup host.

[ MORE: Nainggolan staying at Roma ]

The incident happened in Doha on June 13, amid a dispute with regional rivals Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

Qatar’s players warmed up for a 3-2 win over South Korea wearing white T-shirts with an image of Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani to show their support for him.

FIFA says the charges related to “displaying a political image” and “political displays” by spectators.