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MLS Season Preview: Sporting KC

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Sporting KC is looking to follow up a championship season by doing what the Galaxy did in 2012: make it back-to-back MLS Cups.

It’ll be tough, if only due to the congested schedule headed KC’s way due to more CONCACAF Champions League soccer. There’s depth in the engine room, but what will be KC’s answer for the retiring Jimmy Nielsen in goal? Who will emerge as the No. 1 strike target up top? Or will multiple players battle for the mantle?

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Players In: Sal Zizzo (trade from Portland), Andy Gruenebaum (trade from Columbus), Jimmy Medranda (transfer from Deportivo Pereira)

Players Out: Teal Bunbury (traded to New England), Jimmy Nielsen (retirement), Kyle Miller (waived), Brendan Ruiz (waved), Federico Bessone (out of contract)

Key Players: Eric Kronberg and Gruenebaum

Who replaces Jimmy Nielsen? It’s a question that has to be at the front of every KC supporter’s mind. He was integral to what they do in so many ways. Kronberg will get every opportunity but look out for that veteran from Columbus, Gruenebaum. Heavy will be the head that takes over for the crowned.

Manager: Peter Vermes

source: Getty Images

What else needs to be said about Vermes, who is the only player in MLS history to win an MLS Cup as a player and coach for the same club? His job is to develop a true strike threat while navigating the change between the sticks.Outlook:

Pretty good. The defense is pretty much back together and there should be little adjustment there and in the midfield. The big questions are at the extreme ends of the park. Will the goalkeeping and finishing be enough to keep KC a threat for a championship? I tend to think so. As long as Graham Zusi, Benny Feilhaber (both right) and company are helping with the build-up, there should be plenty of opportunities for Soony Saad, CJ Sapong, Claudio Bieler or Dom Dwyer to bury balls behind the goal line.

PSG defender Serge Aurier to stand trial in September

CHARLOTTE, NC - JULY 25:  Serge Aurier #19 of Paris Saint-Germain beats Diego Costa #19 of Chelsea to a loose ball during their Internationl Champions Cup match at Bank of America Stadium on July 25, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images
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PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain defender Serge Aurier will stand trial in September after being charged with assaulting a police officer.

Paris prosecutor’s office said on Tuesday that Aurier has been released from custody and will appear before a court on Sept. 26.

[ MORE: Klinsmann says USMNT to “go for it” vs. Colombia ]

Aurier was arrested in the early hours of Monday near the Champs-Elysees following an argument with police after a night out in Paris. Prosecutors said the police officer needed to take a day off work because of the incident.

Aurier was suspended for six weeks in February after a video emerged on social media showing him making derogatory comments about PSG coach Laurent Blanc, striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and other players.

The Ivory Coast defender is widely regarded as one of the best right backs in Europe.

Payet, Milner in Top Five of UEFA’s “player barometer” for Euro 2016

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - MAY 27:  James Milner of England in action during the International Friendly match between England and Australia at Stadium of Light on May 27, 2016 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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It’s called the “ultimate form tracker” for players heading into Euro 2016, it’s hardly boring, and you’ll likely be surprised at the Top Ten.

UEFA has a sophisticated “player barometer” that tracks statistics for all players’ form before June’s tournament in France.

It’s no surprise that Cristiano Ronaldo is first and Zlatan Ibrahimovic second, unless you had them flip-flopped. And Antoine Griezmann as third, Dimitri Payet fourth? Sure.

[ EURO 2016: England squad releasedGermany, too ]

But fifth is James Milner of Liverpool and England, one of only three players in the Top Ten who aren’t from UEFA Champions League finalists Atletico and Real Madrid (Ibrahimovic and Payet are the others).

How does the weight work?

As the Barometer acts as a form tracker, the more recent the match, the higher the weighting assigned to the data from it i.e. player stats from yesterday are given more significance than those from last week. If a player is not active (e.g. due to injury or non-selection), his ranking will decrease over that period of inactivity.

Additional weighting is attributed for quality of opposition using UEFA coefficients as the foundation of the values.

Once UEFA EURO 2016 starts, statistical events (e.g. goals, assists, tackles, saves) for the 552 players will be given a significantly higher weighting to maintain an accurate ranking of those performing well in France.

Better chance to advance: Mexico or USMNT at Copa America Centenario?

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 10: Alejandro Bedoya #11 of the United States Men's National Team in action against Mexico at Columbus Crew Stadium on September 10, 2013 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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We placed Mexico fifth and the USMNT seventh in our rankings of contenders for the Copa America Centenario, which begins Friday in California.

But how wide is the distance between the two sides, and is any gap in talent mitigated by bigger challenges in schedule?

That’s what we’ll try to suss out here.

Mexico embarrassed the United States in the CONCACAF Cup playoff match this Fall, and both sides have since seen more good results than bad.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

The Yanks, of course, suffered the ignominy of a 2-0 defeat in Guatemala in World Cup qualifying, but are 7-1-1 in their last nine matches. Jurgen Klinsmann’s men have looked especially strong in the past match-and-a-half, dominating both Ecuador and Bolivia.

PASADENA, CA - OCTOBER 10: Hector Herrera #16 of Mexico protects the ball against Michael Bradley #4 of the United States during the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup Qualifier at Rose Bowl on October 10, 2015 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)

El Tri hasn’t lost since the 2015 Copa America, and that was not a full-strength squad. Following the tournament, Mexico began a 12W-6D run which includes a Gold Cup win — suspect as the run was —  and a draw against Argentina. No, El Tri hasn’t beaten many opponents of power during the run, but the record is far from shaky.

Honestly, Mexico should expect to make a run at history. While they stumbled in qualification for the 2014 World Cup, their U-23s won gold at the 2012 Olympics. This generation of El Tri has been building upward, more or less, since that tournament.

[ COPA AMERICA PREVIEWS: Group A | BC | D ]

Mexico has rarely had trouble with group mates Jamaica or Mexico, and Uruguay will be without Luis Suarez. It would be shocking if El Tri failed to advance from the group, and Mexico should have a chance to win the group. Argentina or Chile likely await in the quarters, so the semifinals are neither a given nor particularly likely.

The U.S. is in a different spot altogether. Yes, they should be able to advance from Group A, but their host status is the only thing that will make them heavy favorites in any match. Costa Rica went further than the Yanks at World Cup, and Paraguay has drawn Argentina twice, Brazil twice (once losing in penalties) and Uruguay once in the past calendar year.

Britain Soccer USA Colombia
(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

The Yanks should be favored to finish above both those teams, but could be in a hole if they don’t start fast against Colombia on Friday in California. Colombia won its only warm-up match, a 3-1 decision over Haiti in Florida last week, but did not have star man James Rodriguez yet.

Winning the group is key for Klinsmann’s knockout round hopes, as Brazil should easily win Group B and face Group A’s runner-up. There’s a world of difference between facing Ecuador, Peru or Haiti, or tangling with Brazil.

[ EURO 2016: England squad released |Germany, too ]

So you could honestly make the case that while Mexico is far more dangerous side in this tournament, especially given their proximity to home, the United States edging Colombia for Group B gives them a far better chances of making the semis. The best team doesn’t always win. However, if the U.S. finishes second in Group A, it’s very difficult to imagine them taking down Brazil given September’s 4-1 thrashing at Foxborough.

The question is, would you fancy Mexico to have a better chance of upending Chile or Argentina? Most would say, “Yes.”

Soccer hooliganism still a threat heading into Euro 2016

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 26:  UEFA President Michel Platini and French Football Federation President Noel Le Graet speak during EURO 2016 Logo & Slogan Launch on June 26, 2013 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Xavier Laine/Getty Images)
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PARIS (AP) Hooliganism is making a comeback, and the timing could be bad with four high-risk matches in the first week of the European Championship in a country where the police force is already under huge strain.

Should one or more of these matches – England vs. Russia in Marseille on June 11; Turkey vs. Croatia the next day; and England vs. Wales and Germany vs. Poland both on June 16 – descend into violence, the football itself could quickly become overshadowed.

Police forces in France have been stretched since last November’s deadly terror attacks that killed 130 people. The last thing French authorities need is thugs causing mayhem. However, in the last two months alone there has been an increase in soccer violence around Europe.

[ EURO 2016: England squad released |Germany, too ]

At the French Cup final, fans managed to sneak flares and objects into the Stade de France, despite a two-meter high security wall and triple security checks, while others tried to invade the pitch, raising serious concern ahead of Euro 2016, where the opening match between France and Romania takes place on June 10. In Germany, too, several hundred fans from Dynamo Dresden were held back by riot police to stop them attacking bitter rivals Madgdeberg in a third-division match in April, and mass arrests were made in May during the troublesome local derby between Frankfurt and Darmstadt.

In Sunday’s League One playoff final at London’s Wembley, fights broke out among supporters; Rangers and Hibernian fans poured onto the field to do battle at Hampden Park in the Scottish Cup final – a worrying throwback to the mid-1980s when hooliganism blighted Britain – Liverpool and Sevilla fans traded punches in the Europa League final in Switzerland; FC Zurich thugs charged down the tunnel last Wednesday to try to attack their own players following relegation from the Swiss Super League, and then battled riot police outside.

Although centered on inter-club rivalries, these troubles highlight how hooliganism has been creeping back after several years of good behavior.

In November, 2014, 43-year-old Deportivo fan Francisco Javier Romero Taboada died in hospital after emergency services had rescued him from a river where he was dumped after being heavily beaten during a fight against rival hooligans from Atletico Madrid.

This season, the Europa League has been hit with football violence. Heavy fighting at night between Italian side Napoli and Polish club Legia Warsaw, street battles between Spanish side Athletic Bilbao and Marseille; city center riots in Amsterdam between Ajax played Turkish club Fenerbahce. Other trouble involving, Lech Poznan from Poland; Belgian side Anderlecht, and Moscow-based sides CSKA, Lokomotiv and Dinamo.

[ MORE: Klinsmann says USMNT to “go for it” vs. Colombia ]

A further 10 matches at Euro 2016 are identified as risky – including Germany vs. Ukraine; Slovakia vs. England, and Russia vs. Wales – and there will be increased border controls and tighter security at train stations and airports, in addition to eight police spotters from each country to identify potential hooligans.

“All of those who are subject to a banning order will be prevented from leaving their country by their local police in so far as their legislation allows,” said Antoine Boutonnet, the head of French police’s anti-hooliganism division. “Furthermore, we have gathered information on potential risks and will continue to do so during the tournament.”

But hooligans show determination and ingenuity to avoid police detection.

—-

A LOOK AT THE 5 HIGH-RISK GAMES AT EURO 2016 AND OTHER RISK FACTORS:

ENGLAND VS. RUSSIA: JUNE 11 IN MARSEILLE:

The match is being held in the sunny seaport of Marseille and the fact that English and Russian football fans are likely to be drinking in the sun adds to the risk. As well as potential for violence between English and Russians, there is history between the English and the local Arab population of Marseille stemming from the 1998 World Cup, where Marseille’s old port and nearby beach were turned into battle zones in two days of fighting around the England-Tunisia game.

“That is a considerable time ago and the behavior of England fans has improved markedly since,” assistant chief constable Mark Roberts, who leads soccer policing in Britain, told The Associated Press. “(But) we need to be careful not to assume.”

The risk of confrontation with Russian groups could be higher because their traditional inter-club rivalries will have been put aside, with a new hooligan’s charter explaining how they should stick together. One bulletin point reads: “During Russian national team matches, all groups must be united, without fighting each other. This is cease-fire.”

TURKEY VS. CROATIA: JUNE 12 IN PARIS:

This match also carries risk, on a historical and geo-political level.

“When Turkey played Croatia in the Euro 2008 quarterfinals in Vienna (Austria), there were incidents in Mostar (Bosnia) where the Bosnians were supporting Turkey,” Loic Tregoures, a lecturer in world politics at Lille university and a specialist in Balkans football, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

The Croatians have a few virulent groups, notably Dinamo Zagreb’s BBB (Bad Blue Boys) and Hajduk Split’s Torcida.

Another potential problem could arise from PSG hooligans, who were among the most active in Europe in the past 20 years until a massive clampdown five years ago. Banned from their own Parc des Princes stadium, PSG hooligans have targeted Champions League fixtures, clashing violently with Zagreb’s BBB in the Bastille area of Paris the night before a Champions League game in Dec. 2012. As well as the potential for clashes between PSG’s hooligans and BBB – another dark threat exists.

“There are Serbs among the former PSG hooligans, so you can imagine what could happen,” Tregoures said. “This kind of tournament is the opportunity to measure oneself.”

[ MORE: Marcelo giving away UCL medal via Facebook ]

ENGLAND VS. WALES: JUNE 16 IN LENS:

Among the more prominent hooligan elements in Britain are Chelsea’s “Headhunters” and Cardiff’s “Soul Crew”- and hundreds fought on the Kings Road in London before an FA Cup match between the sides in 2010. Such inter-club rivalries may potentially resurface on the international scene, where hooligan groups have followed the national team. This means potential scope for trouble between thugs from Wales and other English hooligan groups should they come across each other; and also Welsh in-fighting between sworn enemies Cardiff and Swansea.

The location of Lens, in northern France, makes it easy and quick to reach from Paris.

“Given the proximity to France there is the potential for people to make multiple trips out there,” Roberts told The AP. “If we identify someone who causes problems we will seek a banning order immediately to prevent them traveling again to France.”

GERMANY VS. POLAND: JUNE 16 IN PARIS:

Polish and German hooligans seeking to clash at the 2006 World Cup were foiled when police intercepted Polish hooligans trying to enter Germany. The hooligan culture in both countries tends more toward pre-arranged meets – “Fights” – often in forests or deserted areas.

There has been a revival in hooliganism in Germany, especially in the east with teams from Dresden and Liepzig, while Poland has some of Europe’s most violent hooligan groups (Lech Poznan, GKS Katowice, Legia Warsaw, Cracovia and Wisla Krakow).

The main threat here would be a confrontation of a pre-arranged type, rather than a sporadic outbreak of violence.

“(Polish hooligans) will try and make contact, offer to arrange meetings – but whether anyone accepts is a different matter,” Tregoures says.

UKRAINE VS. POLAND: JUNE 21 IN MARSEILLE

While football violence in Ukraine is prominent at club level among hooligans from Dynamo Kiev, Shakhtar Donetsk, Meltalist and Dnipro, Ukrainian hooligan groups don’t usually travel to national team games. However, they have put aside club feuds and have extra incentive to come to France.

“This is the first tournament since the war, and the Russian presence may increase their motivation to travel,” Tregoures said.

MOTIVATION LEVELS:

So long as they manage to enter the country, journeying to France should not pose a problem for thugs because their motivation goes a long way – sometimes literally.

Last November, hooligans from Red Star Belgrade drove for hours in white minivans – slipping the police by claiming they were on a wedding-party trip to Athens – in order to attack Balkan rivals from Dinamo Zagreb’s BBB hooligans at Athens airport.

Zagreb fans were flying back from the airport following a Europa League game against Olympiakos. So Red Star teamed up with thugs from Olympiakos – friends from a long-standing alliance – to attack BBB hooligans.

The explosion of ultra-violence, in broad daylight and captured on Greek TV, ended with two BBB hooligans lying on the floor, blood pouring from their heads.

When Dynamo Kiev hosted Dinamo Zagreb in 2012, Russian hooligans from Spartak Moscow travelled nearly 900 kilometers to fight with BBB.

“They left three days before, saying they were going to a concert,” Tregoures said.

POLICE OVER-REACTION

Unlike other countries like Germany, the French riot police do not initiate dialogue with troublemakers. It is more about repression than defusing a situation, and police over-reaction can escalate a rowdy situation into a dangerous one. When Lille hosted Everton in the Europa League in October, 2014 beer-fueled Everton fans, singing songs and dropping the odd glass, were baton-charged and had CRS gas sprayed on them. When PSG faced Chelsea in the Champions League in February, there were reports of Chelsea fans being tear-gassed during their goal celebration.

There will be multiple situations during Euro 2016 where large groups will gather, drinking and singing – without necessarily posing a threat.

“We have got to understand that the numbers going, some of them may not have been to football before,” Roberts said. “They will have been encouraged to go by the festival atmosphere. And when you get that number of people taking drink there is always the potential for some issues.”

AP Sports Writer Rob Harris in London contributed to this report.