Home Grown fullback Kevin Ellis delivers Champions League victory for Sporting Kansas City against Cruz Azul

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Sporting Kansas City’s choice to hold back some regulars from Saturday’s team that opened the Major League Soccer season paid off on Wednesday, with fullback Kevin Ellis’s early goal proving enough to hand the team a 1-0 CONCACAF Champions League win over visiting Cruz Azul. The victory gave the defending MLS champions a lead ahead of next week’s second leg in Mexico City, with La Machina suffering their first loss of tournament.

Ellis’s winner came in the 17th minute after play build down the right found the team’s nominal right back in the left of the penalty area. With his second touch, the 22-year-old Home Grown defender beat José de Jésus Corona inside the left post, the shot’s power pushing the ball past a goalkeeper who appeared to have his vision slightly blocked by one of his defenders.

The goal was part of a first half that saw Kansas City’s pressure cause troubles for Mexico’s leaders. Cruz Azul, unlike Toluca last night at San Jose, elected to start a full-strength squad in Kansas, yet a team featuring Marco Fabián, Joao Rojas, Mariano Pavone, Cristian Giménez and Mauro Fórmica couldn’t muster a meaningful threaten Eric Kronberg’s goal. With Claudio Bieler nearly putting the hosts up two in the middle of the period, Sporting took a deserved one-goal lead into half-time.

In the second period, however, Pavone nearly broke through early, with a ball played past a high line allowing the Argentine attacker to one-on-one with Kronberg. After rounding the keeper just inside the penalty area, Pavone saw a shot into a presumably open net blocked by Ike Opara, who had recovered to defend Kronberg’s abandoned goal.

Moments later, Cruz Azul had another potential equalizer saved off the line after the redirection of a corner kick forced Seth Sinovic to come up with the back line’s second save in as many minutes. The play was controversial, however, for a possible handball on Benny Feilhaber, with replays unable to conclusively show whether the U.S. international, standing near the goal line, had intentionally kept the ball out of goal.

Cruz Azul would continue to be the more controlling side throughout the rest of the game, though a late ball over the top of the Mexicans’ defense nearly gave Claudio Bieler a chance to double Sporting’s lead. A good read from Corona to come out of his area to clear the ball prevented the Kansas City striker from getting a shot on goal, keeping the home side’s lead at one.

Come full-time, Sporting had secured their first CONCACAF Champions League victory at Sporting Park, a result that will emboldened them ahead of next week’s trip to Estadio Azul. With one of the best defenses in Major League Soccer, Peter Vermes has reason to believe his side can keep a clean sheet against the Cementeros..

But down only one, Cruz Azul should still be considered most likely to go through. Having thrown their best at MLS’s champions tonight, however, Luis Fernando Tena’s team also learned Liga MX success may not necessarily translate to CONCACAF Champions League results.

Though Kansas City did little more than hold serve, it’s now up to Cruz Azul to do the same next week in Mexico.

West Brom: Evans relegation release reportedly just $4m

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Jonny Evans has been fantastic for West Bromwich Albion this season, shepherding the Baggies back line while being involved in as many goals as any player not named Salomon Rondon or Jay Rodriguez.

[ MORE: High profile loan for Palace ]

So it would make sense for West Brom to hang onto the player at almost all costs given its status as a team in danger of the drop after its slow start under Tony Pulis has kept its lackluster pace under Alan Pardew.

Here’s the rub: Some big clubs would like to purchase Evans, who has 18 months left on his deal but reportedly no interest in signing a new deal the Hawthorns. Even worse? Monday’s story that a Baggies’ relegation would make his buyout clause just over $4 million.

Defenders who cost more last summer on the Premier League market include Jan Bednarek, Nathan Ake, Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire, Michael Keane, Florian Lejeune, Mathias Jorgensen, Andrew Robertson, Bruno Martins Indi, and many others.

Heck, Evans’ buyout clause is the same price Derby County paid Liverpool for Andre Wisdom. And these fees are all pre-Virgil Van Dijk to Liverpool madness.

Considering only Swansea and Brighton have scored fewer league goals than the Baggies, who are just now committing to a two-striker approach under Pardew, does it make sense for West Brom to sell now?

Evans’ value at 18 months out will be more than it is at 12 months out even if the Baggies avoid relegation, but he’s possibly a lynch pin of the team. And the volatile value for attackers mean the $25-35 million he’d generate may not make for like-for-like value.

It’s not an easy decision, but desperate times call for similar measures. The Baggies have played in four nil-nils this season, and lost 1-0 to relegation rivals Southampton and Huddersfield Town away. Both of the reverse fixtures remain.

There are creative options here, too. Would Jurgen Klopp sanction a high(ish) profile attacker loan to WBA in order to pair Evans with Van Dijk? Same for Pep Guardiola at Man City?

Palace loan: Rakip joins Malmo hero Hodgson

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Erdal Rakip’s whirlwind season is heading to London.

The Swedish international sealed a permanent deal to Benfica this month, but is set for a loan at Crystal Palace.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

Rakip, 21, has made 120 appearances with 12 goals for Malmo in betrayal of his tender age, including a career-high nine goals in 2017 as the Swedish champs sealed a fourth title in five years.

Helping seal the deal was Hodgson’s status as Malmo legend, leading the club to five league titles and two Swedish cups. From CPFC.co.uk:

“It will be an honour playing for Roy. He is a legend in Malmö and everyone know who he is,” Erdal added. “Crystal Palace is a fantastic club with a lot of history that plays entertaining football, and was the best option for my development and my career at this stage.

Malmo has lost two big players in the past six months in Rakip and Orlando City midfielder Yoshimar Yotun.

Given Palace’s injuries, players like Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Yohan Cabaye were going to be taxed a lot by the run-in to safety. Rakip will help with that.

Premier League Preview: Swansea City vs. Liverpool

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  • Reds clobbered Swans on Boxing Day
  • Swans six points adrift
  • Reds go third with three-goal win
  • Liverpool leads all-time 23W-8D-11L

Liverpool looks to avoid a letdown when it visits Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium on Monday (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Swansea City has managed a win over the Reds in each of the previous two seasons, but was simply crushed by Jurgen Klopp‘s men in a 5-0 defeat at Anfield last month.

WATCH ON NBCSN AND ONLINE HERE AT 3 P.M. ET

The hosts badly need to pick up points, though few expect them to do so on Monday. Skeptics, however, will note that Liverpool under Klopp has been giants against the top teams and often lackluster against the other sides.

What they’re saying

Swansea boss Carlos Carvalhal on springing an upset“I would prefer to be Goliath, I would rather be in his position. But during my career most of the time has been spent in the position of David, and we have been able to do some surprises as David. We have done it often, we are working to make more of them. I was kind of the Goliath when I was with Besiktas and Sporting Lisbon, but during those moments Goliath was a little ill.”

Liverpool’s Klopp on goalkeeper Loris KariusMy favourite solution, always, is that we do it with our boys. They step up, they deliver, they improve. The problem they have is that everyone is watching them (through a magnifying glass) and saying ‘still not good enough!’ I will only mention one name. Everyone talks about him with us and that is Butland. I only saw the game (against Manchester United). Fantastic goalkeeper but was he perfect? No. He wasn’t in that game. But everyone says ‘still better than our boys!'”

Prediction

It’s hard to see this going in Swans favor at all, though we’ll peg them to keep it close on the score board: 2-0 to Liverpool.

Transfer rumor roundup: Schurrle to Newcastle, Spurs

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A new name has emerged on the loan market, as Borussia Dortmund forward Andre Schurrle is reportedly being made available for the second half of the Premier League season.

[ WATCH: Full PL match replays ]

Newcastle United reportedly leads the pack for the former Chelsea scorer, who is struggling to get time at BVB thanks to a glut of fantastic wingers including Christian Pulisic.

Magpies boss Rafa Benitez has a good relationship with the Westfalenstadion set, having taken Mikel Merino off their hands in August. Newcastle currently uses Christian Atsu on the left wing and Matt Ritchie on the right, but Schurrle can play center forward and Benitez may prefer to use the 27-year-old in the middle of his trident.

But they’ll face competition, and HITC says BVB is willing to pay half of his wages on an 18-month deal to keep him reasonable for some clubs. This could be a boon for Spurs.

Newcastle and Stoke City have also been linked with Galatasaray midfielder Papa “Badou” Ndiaye, with the Magpies said to have bid just a bit higher than the Potters but still under Gala’s buyout clause.

And here’s a wild one, according to ESPN: Chelsea’s rumored pursuit of current Premier League scorers now includes Marko Arnautovic. The audacious Austrian attacker cost West Ham around $35 million when his head was turned from Stoke City in the summer.

He didn’t perform well but Slaven Bilic, but David Moyes has been able to get some fine performances from the powerful Arnautovic. Chelsea has previously been linked with West Ham teammate Andy Carroll, Burnley’s Ashley Barnes, and Stoke’s Peter Crouch as it attempts to find a center forward to ease the burden placed on Alvaro Morata in his first Premier League season.