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.

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.

[ PREVIEW: Tuesday’s Premier League action ]

“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.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

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.