MLS Snapshot: Sporting KC 1-1 Philadelphia Union

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One game, 100 words or less: Graham Zusi was the only Sporting KC player to score, but he’ll be shaking his head after missing what would have been the winning chance just moments later. The USMNT winger gave KC the lead in the 54th minute, and an equalizer from Brian Brown just two minutes after coming on the pitch finished things out on NBCSN.

Goals

Sporting KCZusi 54′
Philadelphia – Brown 71′

Three moments that mattered:

41′ – Gruenebaum takes flight – The day after Sounders goalkeeper Mark Hahnemann enjoyed a ride in an F-18, Andy Gruenebaum tried his best to reach those heights, and came close. A free kick from Vincent Nogueira came in, bending beautifully around the wall and careened towards the top corner, but Gruenebaum leaped majestically to deny the midfielder in a half where both goalkeepers starred.

54′ – Zusi’s free throws: make, miss – Graham Zusi opened the scoring nine minutes after the break, but should have had a pair.  On the make, an errant headed clear by Ramon Gaddis, the ball fell to Toni and he easily hit Zusi running towards the near post and he struck far corner for the goal. However, just a minute later, with Philly on their heels Dom Dwyer sprung Zusi all on his own, but the USMNT winger – with essentially a mirror image of his chance a minute earlier – fired just barely wide.

71′ – Two minutes, one goal for Brian Brown – After the pair of chances from Zusi where the visitors looked a mess, the Union began to regroup and put together their response. Just on as Philadelphia’s first substitute of the mach, Brian Brown made Jim Curtin look really, really smart. Raymon Gaddis struck a venomous cross, and Brown snuck behind Kevin Ellis and nodded home with his head to equalize.

LINEUPS

Philadelphia – Macmath; Williams, White, Edu, Gaddis; Carroll, Okugo; Cruz, Nogueira (Fred 87′), Le Toux; Casey (Brown 69′).

Sporting KC – Gruenebaum; Juliao, Collin, Ellis, Peterson; Claros, Lopez, Feilhaber; Dovale (Sapong 68′), Dwyer (Steuble 89′), Zusi.

Three lessons going forward:

1. Sporting KC is the best team in MLS right now – You can debate all you want, but they now own the lead for the Supporter’s Shield by a point over the Seattle Sounders and have gone eight matches in a row unbeaten. All this while in a serious state of flux. Despite missing Matt Besler on a red card suspension, it was the offense that will take the blame for not securing their fifth straight win, not the defense. Peter Vermes continues to Vermes his way at the top of the Eastern Conference.

2. Philadelphia enjoys its trips to Kansas City – Coming into this match having won both of their last two times to Kansas City, the Union didn’t make it out with all three points, but they continue to prove tough for Sporting to deal with at home. Except for a five minute stretch around the 55-minute mark, the Union went toe to toe with the East’s top dog, and with Jim Curtin newly at the helm, this team has certainly seen a surge in play. Speaking of which…

3. Jim Curtin is a thing – Philadelphia now has nine points in six matches under the 35-year-old interim manager, and he was able to not only regroup his squad after it appeared they were crumbling to bits just after the break, but subbed in the 21-year-old replacement who would score the equalizer two minutes later. This is now something people should pay attention to. Good thing he can coach, because it would appear fashion is not his thing. Unless, of course, he thought he was going to an 8th grade graduation and ended up at Sporting Park.

Where this leaves them:

Sporting KC – At the top. Sporting KC’s point puts them one ahead of Seattle for the lead in the Supporter’s Shield race, and they have a two-point cushion over DC United, who plays Sunday in Houston. The Sounders have a chance to make up the gap or take the lead Saturday in San Jose. DC does have two games in hand on KC, and Seattle has three.
Philadelphia Union – The draw doesn’t give Philly any changes in the table, but it does bring them just two points from a playoff spot, although they have played more matches than anyone around them.  On 24 points, New York, Columbus, Toronto, and New England all sit within just two of Philadelphia.

Kevin de Bruyne questionable for injury-laden Belgium

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Belgium, already without superstar Eden Hazard for the upcoming World Cup qualifier against Greece, will now be without playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, who picked up an injury in training on Friday and will miss both the match against Greece and the subsequent friendly against Russia three days later…maybe.

The Belgian National Team official Twitter account sent out a quote from manager Roberto Martinez that confirmed De Bruyne would miss the pair of matches, but the tweet was quickly deleted.

Instead, this one was pushed out in its place, correcting his availability and also updating the type of injury:

Should De Bruyne miss out, it means Belgium would likely rely heavily on Dries Mertens and Kevin Mirallas for the playmaking duties, with midfielder Radja Nainggolan potentially taking on a more attacking role as well.

Belgium and Martinez also confirmed that right-back Thomas Meunier will miss out after failing to recover from an ankle injury, while Marouane Fellaini‘s status is unknown after he was held out of Thursday’s training session.

The injury also leaves De Bruyne’s status for Manchester City up in the air, with a pair of massive games in London in quick succession after the injury break. City visits Arsenal next Sunday, followed by a hop over to Stanford Bridge on Wednesday.

Landon Donovan retires again, this time for good

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After coming out of retirement last fall to join the LA Galaxy for one more shot at an MLS Cup, Landon Donovan has once again called time on his career, saying he’s certain he will not play again.

With a number of other ventures on his plate, the USMNT all-time leading scorer is looking forward to spending his time elsewhere.

“Yeah, I’m done,” Donovan said. “I’m done. No more playing for me. I have not [gone public with it yet]. But that is definitely the case.”

Donovan scored one goal in nine games for the LA Galaxy in his comeback bid, with the club ravaged by injuries and still gunning for the Cup. However, after the season was over with a loss to Colorado in the Conference Semifinals, the Galaxy confirmed it was nothing more than a short-term stopgap.

“With Landon, when he came back, it was always going to be a short-term thing,”team president Chris Klein said to the L.A. Times in December. “He’s enjoying what he’s doing and we see we’re comfortable in the direction that we’re headed.”

In January, reports claimed Real Salt Lake had offered Donovan a Designated Player contract, but it appears he’s turned it down, and will now have time to concentrate on his other ventures. Off the field, Donovan is an analyst on Fox’s soccer coverage, is on the advisory committee for the Los Angeles 2024 Olympics bid, and has joined the ownership group attempting to bring an expansion MLS team to San Diego.

Former Spurs midfielder Paulinho scores thunderbolt for Brazil

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Brazil topped Uruguay 4-1 to move on the verge of World Cup qualification, but there was much more to the first half of this match than meets the eye.

Uruguay went ahead 1-0 on a 9th-minute penalty won and scored by Edinson Cavani, and for a moment it seemed like the home side might find its way to pull within a point of Brazil at the top of the CONMEBOL standings. That would not last very long.

[ MORE: Full roundup of CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying action ]

Just 10 minutes later, a bad giveaway near the midfield stripe saw Neymar casually feed Paulinho a good 50 yards from goal. The former Spurs man took matters into his own hands, charging forward and unleashing a vicious strike that continued to rise until it ripped the chords in the top-right corner.

 

Not only was the goal a sight to behold, it was an important moment in the match. Brazil was back level at 1-1, and Paulinho would be on his way to an eventual hat-trick with a pair in the second half. Neymar scored once as well to complete the 4-1 final scoreline, and the three points for Brazil saw them remain perfect in the World Cup qualifying round as they march seven clear of Uruguay at the top of the standings.

For Paulinho, the hat-trick brings him to four goals in the World Cup qualifying round, adding to his score in the 3-0 win over Argentina. They also mark an important moment for the Chinese Super League, where Paulinho now plays, having moved from Spurs in July of 2015. Some national team coaches have left players on the outside of the squad for moving to leagues such as the Chinese League or Major League Soccer, but Paulinho has clearly been an asset to Brazil despite his club situation. In fact, in China, Paulinho has scored four goals in his four league matches for Guangzhou Evergrande this season plus another in the Asian Champions League, leaving him in top goalscoring form coming into this international break, something which has clearly translated directly to international play.

The 28-year-old had lost his place in the national team squad in 2014, going over two years without a single international appearance, but has been a mainstay in the Brazilian side during this World Cup qualification cycle.

Dele Alli banned three European games for straight red card

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Spurs may be out of the Europa League this season, but should they end up qualifying for the Champions League next season, they will start the campaign short-handed.

Tottenham will be without midfielder Dele Alli for the first half of the group stage after his horrifying tackle on Brecht Dejaegere of KAA Gent in their 2-2 draw which saw Spurs out of the competition on aggregate in the Round of 32.

Alli went to ground on the 39th-minute challenge, and made contact on high up on Dejaegere’s leg with both his studs, finishing with a scissior-whip motion. It was a blatant red card, and now UEFA’s disciplinary committee has handed down the three-match ban. Straight-red cards for violent conduct only carry a minimum penalty of one match in UEFA tournament play, but the disciplinary committee clearly thought a longer punishment was necessary, with the ability to sentence anyone up to five matches.

The straight red was the first of Alli’s professional career. Alli apologized to Dejaejere after the match, according to the Gent midfielder. He’s since scored in four straight matches, and when asked on Sunday if that moment was still in his mind, he said, “I’m never going to say sorry for wanting to win or trying as hard as I can but things happen and you have to learn from them.”

Spurs currently sit in second place in the Premier League table with 59 points and look to be in a strong position for Champions League qualification, with a seven-point cushion on fifth-placed Manchester United.