Ryan Meara

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Sporting KC claims its fourth Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup (video)

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Latif Blessing and Daniel Salloi scored as Sporting KC held on to beat New York Red Bulls 2-1 in the 104th Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final on Wednesday at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas.

Bradley Wright-Phillips blasted a Gonzalo Veron rebound beyond Tim Melia in the first minute of stoppage time to set up a nervy final five minutes. It was the Red Bulls’ second final, and second loss.

The win marks KC’s fourth title, tied for the most amongst active clubs, and its third in six tournaments.

KC now qualifies for the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League.

[ MORE: Pulisic scores 10th BVB goal ]

Sporting KC could’ve been down a man within five minutes, as referee Hilario Grajeda was handing out a yellow card to Seth Sinovic when Diego Rubio inexplicably kicked Felipe Martins in the ankle. It went unseen, and VAR is not a part of the final.

Gerson arrived on the doorstep with the ball and instead side-footed a pass that never got to Benny Feilhaber, a huge let-off for the Red Bulls.

Sacha Kljestan ripped a shot through traffic that forced a save out of Tim Melia in the 14th minute.

KC went ahead when Graham Zusi’s cross was somehow missed by a trio of Red Bulls defenders, allowing Blessing to pound a header home.

Benny Feilhaber committed a pair of fouls to allow a Red Bulls free kick from just outside the 18 and the end line, but the chance was blocked. A counter attack pass from Blessing sprung Gerso on a breakaway, but Ryan Meara blocked the shot.

Meara made another save after the first ball off the ensuing corner cranked off the cross bar.

Feilhaber then cued up Salloi for the insurance marker, before tournament leading scorer Wright-Phillips pulled one back for New York.

Ike Opara ripped down Wright-Phillips in the sixth of six stoppage time minutes, earning a yellow card and giving RBNY a free kick from 23 yards. Felipe skied his effort over the bar.

Major League Soccer’s draft: yes, it still matters

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We keep writing the obituary for Major League Soccer’s draft. It goes something like this:

Surely with all the other player acquisition mechanisms, and with such emphasis being hammered into every clubs’ academy and the attached efforts to sign home grown talent, the draft will be drift further and further toward irrelevancy, right? Or, at best, it will be deemed nominally significant as a player personnel tool?

Thing is, we’ve been saying that for several years now. And yet the annual college draft keeps churning out talent that gets regular feature in matches, with various levels of difference-making threat.

Major League Soccer’s pre-draft combine kicked off today; the league’s annual SuperDraft happens one week from today, Jan. 16 in Philadelphia.

So, let’s take a very quick look at how the draft continues to impact the MLS game.

In 2012, Darren Mattocks, Kelyn Rowe, Luis Silva, Nick DeLeon, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Austin Berry and Matt Hedges all went within the first 11 picks. All are solid MLS starters (or in Mattacks’ case, surely blessed with MLS-starter quality, even if his entire reserve of ability has yet to be tapped).

Four players from the same window of early selections in 2013 are already valued MLS starters: Andrew Farrell (pictured), Carlos Alvarez, Deshorn Brown and Dillon Powers. Powers, Brown and Farrell were Rookie of the Year contenders; Brown took the honor.

So, clearly, it’s not just good talent that can be plucked from the draft; potentially greatness is there to be found as well.

After the first 15 picks or so, it becomes a real mixed bag. Yes, there are finds out there; New York goalkeeper Ryan Meara, RSL midfielder Sebastián Velásquez and Houston midfielder Warren Creavalle were all selected near the bottom of the second round in 2012 (between picks Nos. 31 and 37) and any club would be happy to have any of them today. On the other hand, 15 of the 19 picks from that round have yet to make a solid impact in MLS after two seasons.

MLS Playoff Focus: Notes on New York Red Bulls ahead of Sunday’s match at Houston

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Ahead of Sunday’s first-leg of this Eastern Conference semifinal series, here are the must-knows about Mike Petke’s Red Bulls (Sunday’s match kicks off at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC):

  • A team of lunch pail toilers

In a lot of ways, managing in this league is about navigating Major League Soccer’s restrictive salary cap. More specifically, where do you put your bargain guys? Because every team has quite a few of them.

For the Red Bulls, the lower salary guys are on the flanks, where Eric Alexander (right) and Jonny Steele (left) have gotten almost all of the starts this year. Both are consummate MLS toilers, quick into the tackle, quick to drive the team forward with some energ, always OK with finding Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill as quickly as possible, 100 percent amenable with letting the pricey types do what they are so handsomely paid to do.

In a lot of ways, Steele and Alexander represent the team in manager Mike Petke’s image more than the stars. Dax McCarty certainly does; the Red Bulls scrappy, busy midfield harrier remains in constant motion, interrupting passing lanes and making himself ever available as the defenders’ initial outlet.

Petke wasn’t a star guy, of course, during his not-so-distant playing days; he was a lunch pail guy in his years as a player for the New York organization.

(MORE: PST previews Dynamo-Red Bulls)

  • Thierry Henry can still score a crackerjack, can’t he?

Of course, even a team of toilers loves to have a guy around who can score (and inspire) with highlight-making goals. That’s Henry, a studious, intelligent soccer man who always knows how to save a little for the stretch-run.

We all remember that fabulous hit just last week against Chicago, right?

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Here’s the thing with Henry: he took some flak from names in the game for his choice not to go play on the artificial turf in Seattle late in the year, and fair enough. But the man knows his body, and can we just see his side for a second?

Maybe, just maybe, if Henry does go play on the artificial turf in Seattle, perhaps he aggravates those heel issues and then doesn’t have that kind of a goal in him. Maybe.

  • The key to the offense is … Peguy Luyindula?

Can it really be that a team blessed with talented types like Henry and Cahill is having its offensive strings pulled by … a guy whose name most of us cannot pronounce? Looks like it.

Peguy Luyindula had two assists last week, and he seems to have found role at the top of the Red Bulls’ midfield diamond.

Here’s the thing about New York’s attack in 2013: Henry could probably perform the creative duty, and does so to an extent, but usually as his team moves in closer to opposition goal. He is a forward in the Red Bulls’ typical 4-4-2 setup, so when Henry drifts too far back into the midfield, the team can sometimes suffer in getting enough men into the attack. We’ve seen that happen over the last two or three years in Harrison, N.J.

Tim Cahill can man the attacking midfield role, but it’s clearly not his best spot.

The team thought it had the answer in Brazilian technician Juninho, but he proved too old and washed out by mid-season. (I mean, who saw that coming? Oh, wait a minute … ) That left the club without anything close to a true playmaker. Until Luyindula’s arrival into the role, that is.

(MORE: CSN Houston’s video preview of Dynamo-Red Bulls)

  • Luis Robles in charge

If we’re being honest, most observers didn’t expect to see Luis Robles between the pipes for the Red Bulls by this time of the year.

Ryan Meara, who was so good last year before injury chopped down his potential Rookie of the Year campaign, seemed to be getting healthy and fit in the preseason. And Robles, who was more or less out of the professional game with the club picked him up late last year, seemed prone to gaffes, like a couple that really hurt the Red Bulls early this year.

But Robles settled into the role and has established himself as a dependable man behind commanding center back Jamison Olave and the Red Bulls’ back line.

Oh, and he makes the occasional big save, too, which is exactly what you want from a goalkeeper. His big, diving reach into the upper corner during the team’s last trip into South Texas was truly outstanding stuff.

  • Fastest goal in MLS history

We cannot really talk about this year’s lopsided series (New York won all three meetings, including two in Houston by a stunning combined score of 7-1) without mentioning Tim Cahill’s early goal as the teams met at BBVA Compass Stadium two weeks ago.

It was the fastest goal in MLS history. In fact, let’s not talk about it. Let’s just watch the darn thing:

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New York re-signs promising goalkeeper Ryan Meara

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Injuries are always a bummer, of course.  But look at what a summer injury took away from Ryan Meara.

He was enjoying an excellent season at Red Bull Arena, probably headed toward a Rookie of the Year award.

From his first moments in Red Bulls goal, the Larry Bird doppelganger looked like anything but a rookie (and an unknown rookie at that).

Coming out of Fordham – hardly a known producer of soccer talent – no one could have seen the season Meara began building last March. Usually looking composed, Meara posted a 9-5-4 record in 18 starts and set a rookie record for consecutive scoreless minutes, 321 from April 28 to May 19 during a five-game winning streak.

His season ended in August, however, due to a hip injury.

The club rewarded their young goalkeeper with a new contract Tuesday; details were not released.

He could still have competition; the club needed some time to settle in with Luis Robles, but the former national team prospect performed well down the stretch for New York.