Dominic Oduro was the game's dominant force, but Sporting Kansas Cty was able to take full points out of BMO. (Credit: Chris Young/Canadian Press/AP.)

MLS Snapshot: Toronto FC 1-2 Sporting Kansas City

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHnV8nueLNg]

One game, 100 words (or less): An impressive first half from the home team saw the Reds reach intermission with a one-goal, Jackson having opened the scoring in the 16th minute. Though Graham Zusi equalized just after halftime, the speed of Dominic Oduro (who set up the opening goal) constantly threatened to tilt the game in TFC’s favor.

That threat left Seth Sinovic injured, Igor Julião on a yellow, and Matt Besler dismissed after two infractions, but Sporting responded to its captain’s dismissal with a goal in the 80th minute, with Jacob Peterson giving the East’s leaders an unlikely 2-1 win in Toronto.

Goals

Toronto: Jackson 16′
Sporting KC: Zusi 48′, Peterson 80′

Three moments that mattered:

48′ – Zusi gets time to equalize – Toronto was the better team in the first half, with its quality also evident through most of the second. Just after intermission, however, that quality abandoned them as chaos in front of a poorly positioned Joe Bendik created an opening for Zusi. Just inside the penalty box, the U.S. international was given time to move the ball onto his right foot before finishing into an abandoned goal, nullifying all the good Toronto did before halftime.

75′ – Foul or no foul on Matt Besler? – I vote foul, but check out the highlights, above, and judge for yourself. Also, know that Sporting Kansas City had become desperate in their attempts to stop Dominic Oduro. Julião, with outstretched arm, had already desperately pulled him down, while Besler had earned a yellow for taking him down while trying to cover on the left.

So when I see Besler turn his shoulder toward Oduro and try to take him out, I don’t have much sympathy. Oduro’s theatrics while avoiding contract don’t change the bottom line: Besler still obstructed him, preventing him from following through on his chance. Given the cynical nature of the technique, I have no problem with the card.

source: AP
Dominic Oduro was the game’s dominant force, but Sporting Kansas Cty was able to take full points out of BMO. (Credit: Chris Young/Canadian Press/AP.)

80′ – Deflection, Dwyer help Peterson doom Toronto – Sometimes the breaks conspire against you, but when you’re playing 11-on-10, you can’t let breaks decide a game. Just because a cross into the penalty area deflects to Peterson, and some nice footwork from Dom Dwyer’s required to create a chance, you can’t have pity on Toronto. Up a man, and generally the better side throughout the night, the Reds shouldn’t have let Peterson’s right-footed finish doom them to defeat.

Lineups

Toronto: Joe Bednik; Nick Hagglund, Bradley Orr (Dwayne De Rosario 82′), Doniel Henry, Justin Morrow; Dominic Oduro, Collen Warner (Jonathan Osorio 80′), Michael Bradley, Jackson; Luke Moore, Gilberto
Sporting KC: Andy Gruenebaum; Igor Julião, Matt Besler, Aurèlien Collin, Seth Sinovic (Kevin Ellis 55′); Laurence Olu, Benny Feilhaber, Mikey Lopez (Jacob Peterson 77′); Graham Zusi, C.J. Sapong (Soony Saad 71′), Dom Dwyer

Three Four lessons going forward:

1. Wherefore art thou, Michael Bradley – Stop me if this sound familiar: It’s not that Bradley was bad, it’s just that he wasn’t Michael Bradley. Yeah, it’s the World Cup refrain, I know, but it was still true. As good as Toronto was in the first half, it was because of strong work from Oduro and Jackson, good movement from Gilberto and Luke Moore, and the efforts Collen Warner did in the middle. As dominant as Bradley was in March, he’s been pretty average this summer.

2. And about Warner (or, more specifically, Toronto’s kicks) – Imported from Montréal, Warner is playing as well as he did in Salt Lake, but it is really worth it to give him this time when it could be used to develop Osorio or Kyle Bekker? Both players have done well this year, and while Ryan Nelsen surely knows more about those options than we do, it’s strange to see a defense that features Doneil Henry, Bradley Orr, and Nick Hagglund unwilling to give kids the benefit of the doubt in the middle.

3. Sporting wins a possible conference final – Not offense, D.C. United, but if you faced Toronto in the playoffs, I’m picking the Reds (potentially foolish, given the result of the teams’ most-recent meeting). So if Saturday was a preview of the Eastern Conference final, you have to give credit to Sporting, who overcame a strong Toronto performance and a red card to get a result.

In the short-term, the win increases their buffer in the East. In the long view, the result gives Sporting something to fall back on should they visit BMO in November.

4. Dominic Oduro was (and could be) huge for Toronto – Had Toronto won the game, you’d say Oduro defined the match (he was fouled 8 times, set up four shots, drew three cards and got the opponent’s best player dismissed). That he didn’t only underscores Sporting’s resilience.

Still, for a team that prefers a more conservative approach, Toronto may have found the perfect fit. Just kick Oduro the ball, let him beat his man, and don’t worry about having to commit players forward. Out wide, isolated on full backs, he’s an attack onto himself.

Where this leaves them:

  • Toronto remains third in the East, albeit 12 points back of Sporting KC.
  • With D.C. entertaining Fulham, Sporting’s four clear in the East. And thanks to a big edge in the games played column, they’re even with Seattle in the Supporter’s Shield.

Watford “Behind The Badge” airs third installment; Catch up on Episode 2 here

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Catch up on Watford’s look “Behind The Badge” ahead of Sunday’s third episode of the four-part glimpse into one of the Premier League’s promoted sides.

The Hornets sit 11th, currently 7 points clear of relegation danger, and are giving fans a better idea of what’s been going on at Vicarage Road.

[ MORE: Behind the Badge archive

In an exclusive series, NBC Sports followed around the Hornets in a very similar fashion to HBO’s Hard Knocks which joins the preseason camp of one NFL team each summer.

Below is the schedule for the three remaining episodes on Watford, which you can watch on NBCSN and live online via NBCSports.com in the coming weeks, plus a link to watch episode one in full from last week.


First episode: Watch full episode, here
Second episode: Embedded above
Third episode: Sunday, Dec. 11, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Fourth episode: Sunday, Dec. 18, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN

Follow @NicholasMendola

MLS Cup Final preview: Seattle, Toronto battle subzero temps for first Cup

Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley walks off the field after a training session, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016, in Toronto, for the MLS Cup soccer championship. Toronto hosts the Seattle Sounders on Saturday. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP
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  • First MLS Cup Final for both
  • Sounders all-time 7W-2L-2T
  • TFC joined in 2007, Seattle 2009

It’ll be in the high twenties (-1 Celsius) when Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders kick off the MLS Cup Final on Saturday night in Ontario (Kickoff is Saturday at 8 p.m. EDT).

Combine the visible breath and slight chance of snow with a BMO Field which has been relentlessly loud throughut TFC’s playoff run, and we have the makings of an all-timer.

[ MORE: PST’s MLS Cup roundtable ]

Toronto and Seattle met up at the same venue on July 2, the 1-1 draw perhaps a bit deflated by the absence of Clint Dempsey for Seattle and TFC’s American duo of Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore.

Seattle superstar Nicolas Lodeiro wasn’t there, either, still weeks away from arriving from Boca Juniors.

This is the second MLS Cup Final at BMO Field, after Colorado defeated FC Dallas in 2010. TFC men Drew Moor and Clint Irwin were part of the championship-winning Rapids in that one.

Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris greets fans who gathered to send off the team after MLS soccer training, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, in Tukwila, Wash. The Sounders were scheduled to travel to Toronto later Wednesday to prepare to face Toronto FC in the MLS Cup Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Seattle’s Jordan Morris (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

[ MORE: PST’s Michael Bradley interview ]

Toronto will bring star power to go with a challenging formation; While accolades rightly go to Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, and Sebastian Giovinco, the Reds’ 3-5-2 under Greg Vanney features versatile wide men in Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow.

Seattle is powered through Nicolas Lodeiro, the ex-Boca Juniors playmaker who has been nearly as effective as Giovinco (albeit with a smaller MLS sample size). Goalkeeper Stefan Frei, the ex-TFC man, has been very good at the back, but can the Sounders’ back line handle Altidore and Giovinco?

The metronomes could be the difference. Bradley’s been good for TFC, but Osvaldo Alonso gave an MLS MVP caliber performance this season.

[ MORE: PST talks with Ozzie Alonso ]

What they’re saying

Toronto FC keeper Irwin on the weather: “It’s probably the most difficult part. As a field player, you can move around. You’re warmer, more active. At this point, there’s not much we can do other than bundle up, and I’ll stay moving back there.”

Seattle forward Jordan Morris on Lodeiro“The first thing Lodeiro said to me is, ‘When I get the ball, you just run.’ I think of him like a quarterback.”

Prediction

Look to the engine rooms here. Alonso is a handful and a magnificent passer of the ball. On his day, Bradley is even better. Will it be? Neither player will shirk from pressure. We’re thinking extra time after a 1-1 match. And Toronto’s depth and home field will propel it to a 2-1 win.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Premier League Preview: Leicester City vs. Manchester City

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 29:  Bacary Sagna of Manchester City clears the ball from Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester City at The King Power Stadium on December 29, 2015 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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  • Man City leads all-time 53W-29D-28L
  • Leicester took 4 of 6 pts last season
  • MCFC won previous four

To cure what ails, Leicester City has to knock off one of the top contenders to its Premier League throne: Manchester City (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. EDT Saturday on NBC and NBCSports.com).

There are some advantages for Leicester, though, as Fernandinho and Sergio Aguero are suspended for their red cards picked up the loss to Chelsea. Pep Guardiola used Pablo Zabaleta next to Fernando in the UCL draw with Celtic, and looks set for the same come Saturday.

Leicester rested the majority of its starters in a 5-0 loss at Porto this week, following up a 2-1 setback at Sunderland that left the champs just two points ahead of the 18th and 19th placed clubs in the PL.

What they’re saying

Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri on the task at hand: “I was waiting for a period like this. Now it’s important to react with a big effort together from the team. That is my focus now. We have to be focused on these matches until Christmas Day. We have to get points. We need points and we have to fight. This part of the season is our key moment. I think every match gives us an opportunity. We have to fight. I repeat, we have to fight.”

Man City’s Pep Guardiola on Zabaleta’s positional change“But I think Pablo Zabaleta can play in the middle – he is very experienced and he can play there as he did very well against Celtic. I think in the last years of his career he’ll play more in the middle and it gives us another option.”

Prediction

As much as the injuries hurt Man City, there’s certain harm in the wounded unit that fell 3-1 to Chelsea. We believe the Foxes will strike, but Kelechi Iheanacho has proven more than a suitable fill-in for Aguero. Man City 2-1.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks – Week 15

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Week 15 of the Premier League is here.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Click play on the videos below to hear my score prediction and preview of each game.

[ VIDEO: Previews of every PL game – Week 15 ]

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Chelsea 3-0 West Brom – (Sunday, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Liverpool 4-1 West Ham – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Leicester City 1-3 Man City – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

Arsenal 2-0 Stoke City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

DON’T TOUCH THIS… 

Swansea City 2-3 Sunderland – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, CNBC) – [STREAM]

Watford 0-1 Everton – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Burnley 1-2 Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Southampton 1-1 Middlesbrough – (Sunday, 9:15 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Man United 1-2 Tottenham – (Sunday, 9:15 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Hull City 2-1 Crystal Palace – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]