Major League Soccer team previews: SPORTING KANSAS CITY

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Each day from now until the beginning of Major League Soccer’s 18th season, we will preview one Eastern Conference team and one from the West. First kick is March 2.

No. 2 in the East is Sporting Kansas City:

Significant additions and subtractions: No, Kei Kamara and Roger Espinoza aren’t the biggest names ever to use MLS as a springboard to something bigger. But good heavens, it will be so very difficult to replace these two around Sporting Park. Probably more so than many casual MLS fans believe. SKC fans may have a better understanding of their fierce dedication to the serious work involved in Peter Vermes’ demanding, high pressure ways. (Which is why they are both playing in the world’s top league now, the English Premier League.

Julio Cesar is also gone, but Paulo Nagamura probably has a good hold on that spot.

The big additions started with DP striker Claudio Bieler, who didn’t have a fantastic preseason. Vermes says not to worry.

Not long after, the team added talented two-way midfielder Benny Feilhaber in a trade with New England.

Ike Opara, newly acquired from San Jose and probably in need of a career reboot, will provide center back depth.

Strengths: If there is a better all-around back line in MLS, right, left and center, someone will need to show me. Chance Myers, Matt Besler, Aurelien Collin and Seth Sinovic are all among the top seven in ProSoccerTalk’s rankings at their position. (Besler, Myers and Sinovic are all top four.) Behind them, goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen is No. 1 in our goalkeeper rankings. So, yeah, there’s a lot of “strong” in all that.

Feilhaber cannot replace Espinoza’s midfield industry or tackling, but the 2010 U.S. World Cup veteran is a superior passer and finisher.

Pressure points: SKC has looked unstoppable, if just a little short of striking power, over the last season and a half of league matches. But the playoffs have proven far more problematic; Vermes’ men fell to Houston in each of the last two years.

Speaking of missing some magic near goal, fans around Sporting Park are still trying to figure out how more than one of those chances didn’t go in as Houston clinched the home-and-away series last fall.

Bieler, who scored reliably in previous club stops in Argentina and Ecuador, needs to duplicate that proficiency. He could be the proverbial “final piece” for a club that’s stacked and packed in goal, in defense and in midfield and not bad out on the wing. (Better on the wing if Zusi is out there, even if it’s not his best spot.)

The schedule will be packed unlike it has been ever before for SKC, with CONCACAF Champions League to deal with, plus the title defense in the U.S. Open Cup.

Bobby Convey? We’ll see. He sure needs to find the next gear.

source: Getty Images

Difference maker: There’s reason to believe Graham Zusi’s career arc remains on the rise. He has seven assists two years ago and then 15 last year. If he goes any higher, Zusi could be flirting with records. His technical ability, fitness, desire and vision through the midfield are all above average. His set-piece delivery is well above average. Zusi may not be Major League Soccer’s best at any one thing, but he’s so well-rounded and so good at a lot of things, it’s no wonder he’s now a U.S. national team regular.

Potential breakout player: Can we call Feilhaber a “breakout” player? U.S. fans know so much about him already, and plenty believe he should be a larger part of Jurgen Klinsmann’s plan with the national team. But for whatever reason, chemistry issues most likely, he sometimes has trouble assimilating. Presumably, Feilhaber understands that fresh chances won’t keep coming forever.

Bottom line: Vermes’ team took a little step back with Espinoza’s move to Wigan and Kamara’s loan to Norwich City (which could easily become an outright  purchase given his early success with the Canaries). But Bieler and Feilhaber are the equalizers in terms of maintaining the collective level of talent at Sporting Park. The Eastern Conference champs could defend their title if the finishing improves. It’s really that simple.

(MORE: full roster of ProSoccerTalk’s Major League Soccer previews and predictions)

Lloris explains Son scuffle, which Mourinho deems “beautiful”

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Tottenham Hotspur captain Hugo Lloris explained his halftime dust-up with teammate Heung-min Son, with all in better spirits after a 1-0 home win over Everton on Monday.

Lloris needed to be separated from Son as the two walked off the pitch, though cameras caught them making up at halftime and hugging after the final whistle.

Lilywhite reconciliation.

TOTTENHAM – EVERTON FULL MATCH REPLAY

As our broadcast crew surmised, Lloris was unhappy that Son quit on his press after a giveaway. That led to a Richarlison scoring chance before halftime.

Lloris faced the cameras after completing the clean sheet in North London.

“What happened between me and Sonny is something that’s part of football some times but there’s no problem at all,” Lloris said. “You can see after the game that we are more than happy to be part of the team. … To concede a chance a few seconds before halftime because we don’t have the proper press is annoying but that’s football.”

Spurs manager Jose Mourinho loved it.

“It’s beautiful,” Mourinho said to Sky Sports after the game. “Probably it’s consequence of our meetings. If you want to blame somebody for that, it’s me because I was critical of my boys because they are not critical themselves of each other. I asked them to be more demanding, to put their colleagues under that pressure, that team spirit where you have to do everything for everything.

“An amazing kid that everybody loves like Son, a team boy, but in that situation the captain said you have to do more and give more to the team. A couple of bad words, I don’t know if there was a push, but that’s important for a team to grow up. I was really pleased. At halftime I told them, when you have those reactions I have no doubt you will stick together til the end.”

Mourinho went on, calling back to Spurs’ Thursday loss at Sheffield United which featured a bizarre and controversial decision from VAR chief Michael Oliver to take a goal off the board after a fouled, falling, and looking the other way Lucas Moura had the ball hit his arm prior to a Harry Kane goal.

“It tells me that they care. They were upset, frustrated and probably blaming each other for the last result. I could be very protective of my team and my players and put all the blame on Michael Oliver. A lot of people did it and rightly so but inside I was in the direction of forget Michael Oliver and focus on our performance so today we knew, right?”

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

The North Londoners are one point behind local rivals Arsenal ahead of this weekend’s big derby (though there’s still a Thursday visit to Bournemouth for Spurs).

“We are in a situation we need to fight against,” Lloris said. “We are not happy to be in that position but what’s important today is to say focused on the team and do everything to finish as high as we can. When you play a system like this one, it’s very easy to fall apart as a team. To think about the interest. But today we showed we are ready to fight until the end.”

Spurs will like their chances to win at desperate Bournemouth if they can stay focused on the task at hand and not focus on the North London Derby.

Own goal pushes Tottenham past Everton

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A first-half own goal sent hosts Tottenham Hotspur to a 1-0 win over Everton in North London on Monday.

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Giovani Lo Celso’s shot took a wicked deflection off an unknowing Michael Keane to fool Jordan Pickford and give Spurs a much-needed win.

TOTTENHAM – EVERTON FULL MATCH REPLAY

Spurs move onto 48 points, seven back of fifth-place Manchester United. The North Londoners are one point behind Arsenal ahead of this weekend’s big derby (though there’s still a Thursday visit to Bournemouth for Spurs).

It was the first defeat since the restart for Everton. The Toffees’ 44 points have Carlo Ancelotti’s men 11th, four points off the Europa League spots.


Three things we learned

1. Mourinho peak-Mourinho versus Ancelotti: We can’t judge either manager’s tenure at their new club yet, but the home team’s boss used the tools at his disposal to frustrate Everton’s attack. Hopefully we get to see two Spurs-Everton duels next season with new weapons at both clubs. Odds are Spurs still might look a lot like this even with new pieces. That’s how Mou like to fight his way out of a slump.

2. Everton generates little: Maybe Richarlison isn’t at full fitness or perhaps the midfielders just didn’t have danger in them today. Maybe both, but key scorer. Dominic Calvert-Lewin joined strike partner Richarlison in struggling to produce good chances in an ugly-enough loss.

3. Tempers rise for Lloris, Son: All might seem well for a team leading a very decent visitor at halftime, but Hugo Lloris had to be restrained from Heung-min Son on the way off the field after 45 minutes. It was unclear why the South Korean star became a target of the French backstop’s ire, the broadcast team later showing that Lloris may have been angry with the forward not tracking back after a stoppage-time error.

The pair were then shown hugging in the tunnel before returning for the second half, and then again after the final whistle. In case you’re wondering, Mourinho loved all of it.

Man of the Match

Lo Celso — And not because of the goal considering his shot was heading wide when it turned off Keane. Clearly comfortable at the PL level now, Lo Celso was a joy to watch on Monday. An early flubbed possession was an outlier, the 24-year-old Argentine showing a good range of passing while getting stuck into duels and making three tackles.


Tottenham – Everton recap

A sleepy, feeling-out first 20 minutes yield to excitement in an instant when Lucas Moura snapped a hard shot from distance past Everton keeper Jordan Pickford but also the post.

Spurs’ opener came after Everton blocked two successive shots only to see the third shot take a hard turn off Michael Keane to defy Pickford for 1-0 just before the first half water break.

Lo Celso then won a free kick off Mason Holgate on the edge of the 18, the English defender earning a yellow for his hard sliding challenge.

There was little to love in the second half, a cagey affair indeed. Pickford made a nice save on Son, while Moise Kean’s late shot through Eric Dier’s legs was scooped up by Lloris.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

WATCH: Lloris, Son separated by teammates at halftime

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All might have seemed well for Tottenham Hotspur holding a 1-0 lead over Everton at halftime of a big Premier League encounter on Monday in North London.

But normally calm goalkeeper Hugo Lloris had to be restrained from Heung-min Son on the way off the field after 45 minutes.

[ MORE: Mourinho, Lloris react to Son spat ]

It was unclear why the South Korean star became a target of the French backstop’s ire, but the broadcast team showed that Lloris may have been angry with the forward not tracking back after a stoppage-time error allowed a chance to the Toffees.

Our crew breaks down the incident above, as two unlikely combatants needed to be separated before being caught making amends in the tunnel before the second half.

[ MORE: Sargent, Bremen pull off great escape ]

Sargent, Werder Bremen avoid Bundesliga relegation (video)

Werder Bremen avoids relegation
Photo by Pool/Ronald Wittek/Pool via Getty Images
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Werder Bremen is staying the Bundesliga on away goals after a 2-2 draw at Heidenheim in the second leg of the promotion/relegation playoff preserved their place in Germany’s top flight.

Bremen’s American forward Josh Sargent had a front-row seat for the decisive goal, getting the last touch before Norman Theuerkauf put it in his own goal in the third minute.

Heidenheim thickened the drama late when Tim Kleindienst put home the rebound of a shot smashed off the crossbar in the 85th, but a grinder’s effort from veteran Fin Bartels to set up Ludwig Augustinsson in stoppage time put the tie to bed. Heidenheim added a penalty at the death as Kleindienst finished his brace.

[ MORE: Marsch named Coach of the Year ]

Bremen avoids its first relegation in nearly 40 years. Heidenheim finished third in 2.Bundesliga while Bremen was third-bottom of Bundesliga.

Sargent, 20, worked his way into becoming a Bremen regular this season, featuring in its last 17 league matches and both playoff matches. He started Monday, one of 15 starts between the Bundesliga and playoffs. He finished the season with four goals and four assists.

His stats over 88 minutes were good. Sargent had two shots on target, one blocked, completed two of four dribbles, and influenced the own goal (SofaScore). One of his shots saved could’ve easily been a goal but it did not cost Bremen. The industrious Sargent was involved in 24 duels and drew two fouls.

Manager Florian Kohfeldt asked Sargent to run his shorts off and press hard at forward and Bremen was not good at getting service to anyone this season. Sargent will have hardened his game this season and can now claim to be a part of one of the greatest escapes in Bundesliga history.

An editorial note of pure opinion: Keep an eye on Heidenheim’s Niklas Dorsch, a Bayern Munich academy product who drove Heidenheim with influential performances all season. Unsure there’s another year in the second tier for him.