Defending champions get first win of the season, but scoring, chances still a question for Sporting Kansas City

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That pesky zero in the standings’ second column was gone after Sporting Kansas City’s visit from San Jose. Winless after the season’s first two games and having been eliminated from CONCACAF Champions League, Peter Vermes’ attempt to balance competing demands had been an unsuccessful one. Against a team trying to recover from their own Champions League disappointment, however, the defending Major League Soccer champions were able to collect their first victory of the season. Sporting’s 1-0 win gives it four points through three rounds.

But with Don Dwyer’s second half penalty conversion providing Saturday’s only goal, Sporting KC is still without and open play goal this season. Shut out in Seattle two weeks ago, the team’s only goal head of Saturday’s match came from a corner kick against Dallas. Perhaps as telling, it wasn’t taking a series of highlight reel stops to keep them off the board. Sporting were just not generating that many good chances.

Things improved slightly on against San Jose. Graham Zusi tested Jon Busch early. Sal Zizzo nailed the post. Ike Opara missed a couple of golden chances. Particularly in the first half, Sporting looked like their former selves.

By the second half, though, chances had dried up, something that could be explained by Dwyer’s goal 12 minutes into the period. After Steven Lenhart was whistled for a handball in the box, the 23-year-old striker put home his third career goal, giving Sporting the option to taking a more defensive stance over the match’s last 33 minutes.

Given San Jose’s record of late theatrics, though, it was unclear Sporting was trying to sit on that lead. As the match became more physical (17 of the match’s 37 fouls came after the goal), it also slowed down. The teams combined for only five shots with none on goal over the match’s last half hour. Having played in Mexico mid-week, the teams seemed worn down. Kansas City may have benefitted from that slowed pace, but accounting for three of those shots (two in succession near the 67th minute), it’s unclear that was by design.

If that sounds wishy-washy and a little muddled, it’s because the picture surrounding Sporting’s attack is a little muddled right now. Still not playing their full team, Sporting has an obvious reason why things don’t appear to be clicking. But Graham Zusi and Benny Feilhaber were both in the lineup on Saturday. Dwyer and C.J. Sapong (off the bench) played. Seth Sinovic is back, even if Chance Myers is still missing from the other side. Enough of the parts are there. When Chris Wondolowski missed from closer range in the second half, Sporting was almost made to pay for those parts’ inability to produce.

And with over 61 percent of the ball over its last two games, Sporting’s had plenty of time to create. They just need to a better job in the final third. At some point, if quantity doesn’t lead to quality, they may need to work on sacrificing one for the other, should the problem persist.

For now, let’s wait until Peter Vermes can start a full strength team before passing judgment on Sporting Kansas City. Let’s just keep the conclusions from the first three games in the back of our mind. Sporting has had a problem generating chances, but it’s too early to say whether that problem will persist.

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

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“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

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Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.