MLS Snapshot: Sporting Kansas City 0-3 D.C. United

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-IsSzXwT9ic]

One game, 100 word (or less): In this week’s version of “Who saw this coming,” D.C. United challenged all our assumptions about the Eastern Conference. Kansas City’s to lose? Not anymore. One favorite and a bunch of contender? Sorry, there are two front-runners now. Just as New York made a surprise run to first in the East (and league) last year, Ben Olsen’s men are ready to push Sporting into second, with first half goals from Fabián Espíndola, Chris Rolfe, and Perry Kitchen giving D.C. a 3-0 win that vaults the Black and Red to the top of the conference.

Goals

Sporting Kansas City: None.
D.C. United: Fabián Espíndola (24′), Chris Rolfe (28′), Perry Kitchen (31′)

Three moments that mattered:

24′ – Eight minutes the changed the East, Part I – Fabían Espíndola continues to be one of the league’s most impactful off season acquisitions, something few expected from a player United got throughout Re-Entry. Mid-way through the first half, though, United’s best attacked needed help from Aurèlien Collin and Jon Kempin to open the night’s scoring.

Beating the All-Star defender on a ball swung wide left, Espíndola cut in before rolling a shot from the corner of the penalty are toward Kempin’s far post. Somehow, the ball caught the far corner, with Kansas City’s young goalkeeper reacting slowly to a rolling shot that became the night’s game-winning goal.

28′ – Eight minutes, Part II – It was so uncharacteristic: Sporting’s defense not being able to execute an offside trap. But credit the D.C. staff. They must have seen something in Kansas City’s play that hinted at this weakness, one that left Peter Vermes bemoaning his back four’s performance after the match.

In the 28th minute, D.C. made the most of that weakness, playing Chris Rolfe (another great acquisition) behind a high line and in on Kempin. The finish gave United a quick 2-0 lead, sending a murmur of shocked  confusion throughout Sporting Park.

31′ – Eight minutes, Part III – Again, Kansas City’s defense, with two All-Stars at its heart, looked Dynamo-esque, with Perry Kitchen fed past the high Sporting line for another chance on goal. Cutting onto his right foot in the left of the area, the United midfielder fired his shot off Kempin and into the back of goal, giving the reigning champions a three-goal deficit with just under an hour to go.

Lineups

Sporting Kansas City: Jon Kempin; Igor Julião, Aurèlien Collin, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic; Lawrence Olum, Benny Feilhaber (Claudio Beiler 70′), Graham Zusi; Sal Zizzo (C.J. Sapong 37′), Dom Dwyer, Soony Saad (Toni 79′)
D.C. United: Bill Hamid; Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Steve Birnbaum, Taylor Kemp; Nick DeLeon (Alex Caskey 90′), Davy Arnaud, Perry Kitchen, Chris Rolfe; Luis Silva (David Estrada 68′), Fabián Espíndola

Three lessons going forward:

1. D.C. United has assuaged your doubts – Let’s go back to our new trick, quoting the weekend preview:

Out of respect for what they’ve done, nobody’s talking about it, but it’s clear very few people think D.C. United’s a real Cup contender. The team’s record, goals for, and goals allowed all say this team’s for real, but the names on the team sheet leave room for doubt. There are no game-breaking stars, while the team’s secondary numbers (like being out-shot on the season) suggest there’s room for regression. Ultimately, people look at D.C. United and see a team playing over its head.

Allow me rephrase:

Out of respect for what they’ve done, nobody’s talking about it, but it’s clear very few people think D.C. United’s a real Cup contender. The team’s record, goals for, and goals allowed all say this team’s for real, but the names on the team sheet leave room for doubt. There are no game-breaking stars, while the team’s secondary numbers (like being out-shot on the season) suggest there’s room for regression. Ultimately, people look at D.C. United and see a team playing over its head.

D.C.’s going to be one of the top two in my Power Rankings next week. I’m tired of undervaluing what they’ve done (and what they are).

2. Ben Olsen – Coach of the Year – More and more, I’m buying into the notion that coaches, like players, can have bad years. It seems weird, given coaching talents are mental, but perhaps each year’s set of circumstances presents a new challenge. Whereas one year’s problem’s easy to solve, the next year’s dilemmas may be too much to overcome. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of changing the puzzle, not the coach.

For whatever reason, things never clicked for D.C. United last season, with a three-win season leaving some surprised Olsen retained his job. This year, he has taken a collection of disparate parts, rejected by other franchises, and molded one of the best teams in the league, with a large part of the team’s success do to his tactics and game management. This has to guy is the runaway Coach of the Year, right now.

As bad as 2013 was, to 2014 has been just as good. He’s much better at this year’s puzzle.

3. Two bad performances in three for KC – We gave them a pass on their showing in Vancouver (our Eastern teams in BC rule). Last week against Toronto, Sporting looked good, although given how the Reds played today, that performance may need a re-think, too. Regardless, D.C. exposed Sporting’s defense – exposed it in a way that make you wonder if other teams can capitalize on United’s relatively straight-forward approach. Like the Galaxy, whose stout defense conceded seven in two games coming into the weekend, Sporting needs to regroup.

Where this leaves them:

  • Second in the conference, second in the league, Sporting now has to look up at D.C. United, having conceded the lead in the Eastern Conference.
  • With 43 points and a game in hand, D.C. has taken control of the conference. Only Seattle is earning more points per game, but after tomorrow’s game in Portland, United may have that honor, too.

Dempsey, Sounders steal a point on wild night in Portland

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The game in 100 words (or less): An entire game can change in the blink of an eye. For the Seattle Sounders, that blink came in the 44th minute of Sunday’s 2-2 draw with the Portland Timbers. Up 1-0 by way of Joevin Jones’ opener in the 27th minute, the defending MLS Cup champs were poised to head into halftime with a one-goal advantage and every belief imaginable that they’d been the better team for the entire first half. Blink. Brad Evans wrapped his legs around Darlington Nagbe, giving away a penalty and earning himself a red card, just like that, in the blink of an eye. Fanendo Adi stepped up to convert from the spot, but it still was to be a hard-fought 1-1 scoreline from Seattle’s perspective. Then, Dairon Asprilla got loose, completely unmarked atop the six-yard box, on a corner kick, and it was 2-1 after four minutes of first-half stoppage time. 45 more minutes pass, and the Timbers… blink. Clint Dempsey, 34 years old but fresh off the bench 40 minutes earlier, out-leaps everyone in the box and heads past Jake Gleeson to steal a point for Seattle.

[ MORE: San Jose fire Kinnear after 2.5 seasons ]

Three Four moments that mattered

27′ — Jones gets two chances, puts the second away — It’s a classic case of “I dropped my controller” from Alvas Powell, who just stops as Jones cuts across the penalty area. There’s no reason Jones should get a second look on this one.

44′ — Evans brings down Nagbe in the box, sees red — Goodbye, lead. Goodbye 11 versus 11. Things would unravel very quickly for Seattle.

45+4′ — Asprilla rises above to make it 2-1 — Seattle’s marking of Asprilla was nonexistent, and the Colombian showed off some serious hops to get his head to David Guzman’s corner kick.

90+4′ — Dempsey heads home deep in stoppage time — A costly turnover by Asprilla, a hit-it-and-pray cross by Roman Torres, and Dempsey snatches a point at the death.

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Man of the match: Cristian Roldan

Goalscorers: Jones (27′), Adi (45′ – PK), Asprilla (45+4′), Dempsey (90+4′)

Russia has reasons for optimism despite Confed Cup exit

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MOSCOW (AP) When the anger subsides after another group stage exit and another goalkeeping blunder, Russian fans might find they can be proud of their team at the Confederations Cup.

Russia failed to reach the knockout rounds of a fourth major tournament in a row, but there’s no shame in losing by one goal to European champion Portugal and North American champion Mexico.

“We will move on,” coach Stanislav Cherchesov said after Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Mexico. “We have won (the fans’) hearts and minds to a certain extent in this month that we have been together … I think that we have given some reasons to feel optimistic about us.”

If Russia’s fans agreed with Cherchesov that Russia had done well to limit Portugal to a single Cristiano Ronaldo goal, there was frustration that Russia hadn’t done better against a poor Mexican side.

Russia wasted chances to exploit Mexico’s ragged defending and add to Alexander Samedov’s opener, while goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev performed an inexplicable lunge which allowed Hirving Lozano to head in the winner. Akinfeev was lucky not to be red-carded, too, after his foot caught Lozano in the chest.

Akinfeev was the immediate scapegoat for Russia’s exit, with fans and newspapers calling for his removal.

The most-capped player in the squad – the Mexico game was his 101st international appearance – Akinfeev’s bulletproof consistency in the Russian Premier League has kept him the undisputed national-team No. 1 for years.

When the world is watching, though, he gets flustered and makes mistakes.

Against South Korea at the 2014 World Cup, an innocuous long shot slipped from his grasp and went in, paving the way for another early Russian exit from the tournament. There have been more than a few blunders in the 43 games since Akinfeev last kept a clean sheet for CSKA in the Champions League, too.

But it’s hard to see who could replace him. The naturalized Brazilian reserve keeper Guilheme is agile but injury prone, while Vladimir Gabulov is a solid but unspectacular veteran. Zenit St. Petersburg’s Yuri Lodygin challenged Akinfeev for a while, but was brought low by his own tendency for embarrassing errors.

On the positive side for Russia, defender Georgy Dzhikiya was solid in all three group games after having only made his debut on June 5, and Cherchesov’s three-man back line was mostly reliable.

Less successful was Cherchesov’s attempt to bolster the midfield by starting Roman Shishkin – usually a defender – in a defensive midfield role against Portugal and Mexico, while 33-year-old ex-Chelsea winger Yuri Zhirkov did his World Cup hopes no favors with a red card Saturday.

Russia’s run of injuries before the tournament weakened the midfield in particular, with Alan Dzagoev and the promising Roman Zobnin both missing out. Forward Artyom Dzyuba’s absence left Cherchesov relying heavily on Fyodor Smolov, who showed touches of class but missed a good chance against Portugal.

Perhaps the biggest damage from Russia’s Confederations Cup exit will be to Russian pride.

Officials have often bragged that the home advantage for next year’s World Cup could drive Russia to new heights, perhaps a repeat of South Korea’s charge to the semifinals in 2002. Those expectations are now being reviewed.

Just one World Cup host in history – South Africa in 2010 – has failed to get out of the group stage. Avoiding a repeat may be the most Russia can hope for.

FOLLOW LIVE: Timbers host Sounders in PNW showdown

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They don’t get much bigger, or more heated, than this one in MLS — it’s Portland versus Seattle, the Timbers versus the Sounders, tonight at Providence Park (10 p.m. ET).

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Timbers vs. Sounders ]

To keep up-to-the-second informed on proceedings in Portland this evening, hit the above link, or click right here.

Seattle won the first meeting between these sides, 1-0 back on May 27, on their home turf at CenturyLink Field. Cristian Roldan, who’ll depart for U.S. national team camp following Sunday’s game, scored the only goal that afternoon in Seattle, a 4th-minute header from three yards out.

Mustafi: Arsenal players powerless, hope “brilliant” Sanchez will stay

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Shkodran Mustafi admits that he, along with his Arsenal teammates, feels helpless with over the ongoing transfer saga of Alexis Sanchez.

[ MORE: Sunday’s transfer rumor roundup | Saturday | Friday ]

The Chilean superstar is linked with a move away from Arsenal this summer, as the Gunners fell out of the Premier League’s top-four and the 28-year-old’s contract is set to expire next summer. Perhaps most importantly, Sanchez hasn’t so much as publicly stated a desire to remain at the club, which, from the outside, appears to have left his future in even greater doubt.

Mustafi admits he hasn’t a clue how things will shake out in the coming weeks, but he’s quick with a pleading sales pitch for Sanchez to stay — quotes from Goal.com:

“I have no idea. Obviously the other players cannot make that decision, he has to make that decision.

“I’m not too much involved. I hope he stays because he is a really brilliant football player but there’s nothing in my hands that I can do.”

[ MORE: De Boer set to be named new Crystal Palace boss ]

Arsenal would likely have to double (if not more) Sanchez’s current $180,000 weekly wages in order to convince him to forego a season in the UEFA Champions League and commit his long-term future to a club presently trending in the wrong direction.