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

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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.


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.


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.

VIDEO: Premier League Player of the Week – Matchday 9

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There was some eye-popping moments in the Premier League this weekend, yet still very little debate who shone brightest.

Stoke City’s Xherdan Shaqiri scored a pair of Goal of the Month competitors in the same day in the Potters’ 2-0 win at Hull City on Monday.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

The first was a curling wonder from distance, while the second came from a bit closer as the big-calfed Swiss attacker bamboozled the Hull wall and goalkeeper.

The Potters are up to 16th in the Premier League table with nine points.

Finnish fans celebrate surprise title for IFK Mariehamn

IFK Mariehamm
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HELSINKI (AP) Fans of IFK Mariehamn have gathered in the main square of the remote Finnish town to celebrate their team’s surprise league title.

“I feel very proud,” the club’s managing director, Peter Mattsson, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview on Monday, adding that “thousands” were expected to turn up for the party.

Watched by more than 4,000, Mariehamn clinched the Finnish title on Sunday with a 2-1 home victory over Ilves, from the industrial city of Tampere.

[ MORE: Full MLS Cup bracket ]

Mariehamn held off 11 other teams, including the traditionally strong Helsinki club, HJK, and defending champion SJK from western Finland. It ended three points clear of second-placed HJK for its first league title.

Local media dubbed the team “Leicester” after the surprise English Premier League champions last season.

Mariehamn, which has a population of 11,500, is the capital of the Aland islands off the southwestern Finnish coast

Kroenke: “Very high” on Wenger who is “very hard” to replace

Jeff Fisher
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LONDON — Arsenal remains “very high” on Arsene Wenger and it will be “very hard” replacing the manager who is in the final year of his contract, owner Stan Kroenke told The Associated Press on Monday.

Wenger this month celebrated 20 years in charge of Arsenal and has offered no indication whether he wants to sign a new deal into next season.

The 67-year-old Frenchman became the Premier League’s longest serving manager when Alex Ferguson retired from Manchester United in 2013. United is now on its third manager in three years and has not competed for the Premier League title since Ferguson’s departure.

In a rare interview about Arsenal, Kroenke noted the tricky post-Ferguson succession at United while discussing the challenge of eventually replacing Wenger.

“You see it (at United), you bring up a comment like that,” Kroenke told the AP after Arsenal’s annual general meeting. “It’s very hard. He’s a great manager.”

Wenger signed his last three-year contract extension in 2014.

“We will sit down and discuss the future at the appropriate time,” Arsenal chairman Chips Keswick told shareholders at a meeting where Wenger didn’t address his contract situation in his speech.

Although Wenger has won the Premier League three times, the last success came in 2004 – a drought which frustrates fans.

“He’s been a wonderful influence on the club,” Kroenke said. “We are all very high on Arsene. We are (joint) top of the table right now.”

Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool are only separated on goal difference at the summit. Despite Wenger only winning the FA Cup twice since 2004, the team is in the lucrative Champions League for the 19th successive year thanks to its runner-up finish last season. Wenger is yet to win European football’s top prize.

“I know a number of (sports team) owners that are very successful that say the same thing – the hardest thing to do is be consistently competitive at the top of the league,” said Kroenke, who also owns the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams. “Arsene has always done that and Arsenal has always been in that position. We have always been competitive.

“We may not always win the things we want to win. We are very focused on winning for sure the league. Arsene’s been consistently at the top and I will tell you – it’s very, very hard to do if you look around sports.”


2016 MLS Cup playoffs bracket in full

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07:  Michael Bradley #4 and Jozy Altidore #17 of Toronto FC celebrate a goal by teammate Tsubasa Endoh #9 during the first half of an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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With Major League Soccer’s Decision Day 2016 in the books, we now know who will battle it out for MLS Cup.

[ MORE: Who will win MLS Cup? ]

Up first on Wednesday and Thursday are the four knockout round games, then the Conference semifinal first legs kick off this weekend.

We get into it thick and fast.

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The PST crew already selected their picks for the postseason and filled out their bracket. You can see that by clicking on the link above. FWIW, I have Toronto FC beating the Seattle Sounders in MLS Cup…

[ MORE: Ranking MLS playoff teams ]

Below is the MLS playoff bracket in full so you can make your picks and let us know who you went for in the comments section below.


MLS Playoff bracket, 2016

MLS Playoff bracket, 2016