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.

Xabi Alonso denies Spanish accusations of tax fraud

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The list of players pursued by Spanish authorities crying tax fraud is starting to resemble a pretty good team,

Call it The Longest Yard: La Liga.

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Xabi Alonso is being accused of not paying taxes on his image rights while a player at Real Madrid, joining Radamel Falcao, Neymar, Lionel Messi, Luka Modric, and Cristiano Ronaldo as World XI-caliber players who’ve faced legal troubles in Spain.

Jose Mourinho even had to travel to Spain earlier this season to face accusations from a Spanish court. Those found guilty have found punishment other than jail time.

Alonso denies any wrongdoing, according to Sky Sports:

Prosecutors say he defrauded the Spanish state of £1.75m between 2010 and 2012 and called for the same sentence to be applied to Alonso’s financial advisor Ivan Zaldua Azcuenaga and the administrator of consultancy shell company, Ignasi Maestre Casanova.

Iraq hosts friendly tournament after 3-decade FIFA ban

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BAGHDAD (AP) Iraq is hosting a friendly soccer tournament this week, with Syria and Qatar.

It comes just days after FIFA lifted a three-decade-long ban on Iraq hosting international competitions.

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An Iraq-Qatar match is to start Wednesday evening in the southern city of Basra.

FIFA lifted the ban on Monday for Iraqi cities of Basra, Karbala and Irbil, considered to be the safest in Iraq – but not the capital, Baghdad, which still sees frequent militant attacks.

Iraq’s minister of youth and sports, Abdul-Hussein Abtan, congratulated the Iraqi people following FIFA’s move and said it would change how Iraq is viewed in the region and beyond.

While the ban was in place, Iraq was still able to host friendly games and tournaments.

$280m? Who cares? Salah is the rare “unsellable” player


The gossip reports are out there, with lofty claims that Real Madrid and Barcelona are willing to pay as much as $280 million dollars for Mohamed Salah.

Normally that figure triggers something in my brain that screams, “Sell! Sell! Sell before they realize what they’ve offered!”

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That’s not happening with Mohamed Salah.

This isn’t an inflated fee for a young English player like Ross Barkley or John Stones, nor is it a club throwing a lofty and desperate figure at a very good but supremely overvalued player like Philippe Coutinho. Even Raheem Sterling, who I advocated selling, has proven replaceable.

In the case of Salah, his Golden Boot figure is likely to dwarf any in the Premier League era. He’s at 28, three behind Luis Suarez’s 31. Cristiano Ronaldo has bagged 31 once Alan Shearer and Andy Cole hold the modern record with 34.

Salah needs six to tie Shearer. Here’s Liverpool’s run-in: Crystal Palace (A), Everton (A), Bournemouth (H), West Brom (A), Stoke City (H), Chelsea (A), Brighton and Hove Albion (H).

Five of those teams absolutely hemorrhage goals. Would you bet against Salah?

By the way, Salah has 10 assists, too. Sure Jurgen Klopp deserves credit for buying and deploying the Egyptian wizard, but

When Klopp argued that Liverpool was not a selling club, this is the exact example to follow. Selling Coutinho — again, not trying to poke the bear that is ornery overvaluing fan — is fine in a world where your club has Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, and Mohamed Salah

But selling one of Europe’s leading scorers is almost never okay for a club challenging for a Champions League crown and with the clear caliber of a Premier League title hunter.

I’d argue that for this club, one who has sold Coutinho and Suarez, there is not a fee that meets Salah straight-on.  He’s 25 and living in the air just below Lionel Messi and Neymar.

The Messi comparisons I keep reading are fun but still unbelievably premature by every stretch of the imagination. By the time Messi was Salah’s age he had league seasons of 34, 31, 50, and was en route to a 46-goal mark. He posted 68 combined assists over those four seasons.

If this is somehow an aberration, and Salah cannot find this form ever again, well, that’s bad luck and a risk worth its weight in standard setting.

There is not a replacement player.

There is no fee.

Say it again now.

Dangerous playmaker Silva joins Montreal Impact (video)

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Alejandro Silva’s got a creative mind, and that’s something Montreal will welcome with open arms.

The Uruguayan signed with the Impact this week, joining Ignacio Piatti and Saphir Taider as playmakers in Quebec.

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Silva, 28, is a right-sided and forward-playing attacker who can also play right back if necessary.

The Impact lost two of three to start the season, winning this weekend’s 401 Derby versus Toronto FC to put a number in the win column.

Lanus has been a fertile ground for Major League Soccer clubs in recent years, with Lucas Melano (Portland Timbers) and Miguel Almiron (Atlanta United) making the move to North America.

The South American club has also sent Gustavo Gomez to AC Milan and Oscar Benitez to Benfica.