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.

Eibar routs Betis 5-0 to snap 8-game winless streak in Spain

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MADRID (AP) Eibar routed 10-man Real Betis 5-0 in the Spanish league on Monday, ending an eight-match winless streak in all competitions.

Eibar hadn’t won since Sept. 15. It had lost six of its eight matches since then.

[ MORE: Brighton, Stoke finish level after Izquierdo’s second-half finish ]

The hosts got on the board with an own goal by Betis defender Jordi Amat just six minutes in, and midfielder Gonzalo Escalante scored with a header near halftime.

Striker Charles Dias scored twice in the second half, and Sergi Enrich closed the scoring in front of less than 5,000 fans at Ipurua Stadium.

“We deserved a victory like this to help us regain our confidence,” Enrich said.

Betis played with 10 men from the 55th as Aissa Mandi was red-carded for the foul that prompted a penalty kick converted by Dias.

“It was difficult to recover after we went a man down and they scored the third goal,” Betis midfielder Joaquin Sanchez said.

Eibar remained 17th in the 20-team standings, just outside the relegation zone.

Betis, winless in three matches, dropped to ninth place.

Barcelona leads by four points over second-place Valencia.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

Pogba believes Man United can win Premier League if squad stays fit

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There’s no doubt that on paper Manchester United has all the workings of a Premier League contender, and Paul Pogba certainly agrees.

[ MORE: Brighton, Stoke settle for draw in back-and-forth affair ]

The influential midfielder made his return to the Red Devils lineup this weekend in United’s 4-1 beatdown of Newcastle, along with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo.

With Jose Mourinho’s squad finally getting healthy, Pogba believes that the sky is the limit for his side as they look to chase down league leaders and cross-town rivals Manchester City.

“To win the league we need all our players,” Pogba told MUTV. “When you have one injured here, one injured there, it doesn’t help. It’s always better to have a full team.

“Zlatan’s back and Marcos after a long injury. It was hard for them but they kept believing and worked hard to come back. We need them to win the league and we’re really glad they’re here.”

Pogba’s presence was certainly missed in his absence, and he wasted no time in making an impact upon his return, scoring a goal and adding an assist against the Magpies.

The French international also spoke about his struggles last season with several minor injuries, but he’s hoping to remain in his United side for the rest of the 2017/18 campaign.

“Most of last season I had injuries but small ones. You just have to recover well because the Premier League is different to Italy — it’s more intense and you just have to think about recovery, then you have more games. Otherwise, I just feel good, just to come back.

“I’ve trained very hard to come back fit. The season is really long so we have to be fit — not only me but all the players. To come back, to play again, to see Old Trafford, to see the fans again, to score at Old Trafford on my comeback, I feel blessed. But we had to win — that was the most important thing.”

Red Bulls freestyler shows off dribbling skills… on a treadmill (Video)

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Players from around the world display their skills on social media on a regular basis, but they’re usually on a soccer field or blacktop when they do so.

[ MORE: Almiron wins MLS Newcomer of the Year, beats out Nikolic, Martinez ]

This New York Red Bulls freestyler had a different interpretation of how he’d show off his ball control on Monday.

DJ Diveny (@djdiveny on Twitter) posted this video — below — across his social media platforms today dribbling a soccer ball on a treadmill, while his colleagues appear to introduce cones at random points as obstacles.

In addition to his talents as a freestyler, Diveny is also a youth coach with Student Athlete Coaching & Consulting, based out of New Jersey.

Again… he’s on a treadmill while doing this. Pretty cool stuff.

Watch below.

Villa: Seeing Pirlo retire showed me that I have to train harder

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New York City FC has quickly become one of Major League Soccer’s most exciting clubs in three short seasons, and a lot of its success can be attributed to be David Villa.

[ MORE: Miguel Almiron named MLS Newcomer of the Year ]

The Spanish international has been with the club since completing a move to MLS in 2014, and has easily been NYCFC’s most important signing since the team’s inception.

Despite boasting an impressive 22 goals in 2017 for Patrick Vieira’s side, Villa knows that his days in MLS are starting to count down after one of the legends of the international game recently announced his retirement.

“[Seeing Andrea Pirlo retire showed me] that I have to train harder every day if I want to continue extending my career. Someday I will leave, as will everyone, it’s a fact of life. But I’m going to fight to make it as late as possible,” Villa told Marca.

Villa, 35, received a one-year extension to his contract in 2017, leaving his future with NYCFC up in the air beyond next season.

Additionally, the forward says that he constantly receives positive feedback about MLS and he knows that there is a lot of interest from players outside the United States in the developing league.

“Really, quite a few [have reached out],” he said. “The MLS is growing a lot and is having more and more global impact. Many have called me and are interested in what’s going on here.”