Sporting Kansas City defeat Philadelphia Union 3-1 in MLS season opener

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Chester, Penn. – Sporting Kansas City opened the 2013 season with a 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Union, but it wasn’t as smooth a match as the visitors would have liked.

An early goal for Philadelphia rattled Kansas City, but the Union’s second half breakdowns — “the little things,” as Union coach John Hackworth called them — led to three points in the opener for a Sporting team expected to again contend for the Eastern Conference crown.

“We felt like we had the chances, we were dictating the game and it was just a couple tiny plays that seem so inconsequential, yet they lead to something,” Hackworth said. “Credit to Sporting Kansas City because they take advantage of those little things. They believed in that and felt they could come back. And that happened.”

The first half was a case of something old, something new for the Union. Philadelphia came out inspired – perhaps in part by an unorganized Kansas City back line – and got on the board in the 17th minute when Sebastien Le Toux finished a perfectly-weighted Keon Daniel cross from the left wing.

Two ball-watching Sporting KC defenders, Matt Besler and Seth Sinovic, left Le Toux unmarked and the Frenchman celebrated his return to the club he leads in all-time goals, assists and points by putting the Union on the board. Le Toux calmly settled the ball with his right foot and slotted it into the back of the net from six yards out, scoring in his first game of the season, just as he did in his first stint with the club in 2010.

Le Toux and Daniel easily found space in the pockets in front of Sporting’s back line in the opening 30 minutes to give Philadelphia a new, confident look that it lacked last season.

It was a fitting return for Le Toux, who scored a hat trick in the team’s first-ever home game on April 10, 2010.

But Philadelphia’s seemingly fresh look of confidence was shaken just before halftime, when winger Graham Zusi punished the Union’s collective mental lapse to equalize.

Bobby Convey sent in a floated left-footed cross that forward Claudio Bieler knocked down into the path of an unmarked Benny Feilhaber. His shot from point-blank range was saved by Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath, but Zusi pounced on the rebound to make it 1-1 in the 41st minute.

(MORE: What a match from Sporting KC’s Graham Zusi)

Sporting returned from the break with more aggression than they had in the first half and managed to deflate much of Philadelphia’s early energy. The visitors were rewarded in the 66th minute, courtesy of an Oriol Rosell header off Zusi’s in-swinging free kick.

Philadelphia left Rosell unmarked just outside the 6-yard box for the go-ahead goal.

For the 2012 Eastern Conference regular season champions, order was restored – for now.

(MORE: Video of the first goal for MLS 2013)

Rust was present throughout the unconvincing win for Sporting Kansas City, however. Philadelphia nearly tied the match in the 77th minute when Besler chested the ball back to Nielsen inside the 6-yard box, forcing the unsuspecting goalkeeper to scramble for a save.

Bieler buried all hope of a season-opening win for Philadelphia when he easily slotted home a Chance Myers pass from 15 yards out to give Sporting Kansas City a 3-1 win.

“It gives us confidence on the road that we could come back from a deficit,” Zusi said. “The statistics in this league are not very high for teams that get scored on first on the road. You don’t usually see them come back and win the game, so that’s a good sign for us. Just the fact that we can dig deep in not an ideal environment, grind out the game — it wasn’t the prettiest game either — to know that we can grind those games out is a positive thing.”

Sporting faces another Eastern Conference road match on Saturday, March 9, at Toronto FC before playing its home opener March 16 against the Chicago Fire.

Match highlights are here:

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Reina faces hearing over links with trio connected to mafia

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ROME (AP) Outgoing Napoli goalkeeper Pepe Reina has been summoned to a hearing at the Italian football federation over his association with people with links to the mafia.

Reina, along with Paolo Cannavaro and Salvatore Aronica, is to face the FIGC’s disciplinary committee after an investigation by Naples’ anti-mafia department.

It is reportedly one of the reasons why Napoli decided not to renew Reina’s contract, with the former Liverpool goalkeeper set to move to AC Milan on a free transfer.

The FIGC says Reina “has had and continues to have inopportune association and friendship with Gabriele Esposito, Francesco Esposito and Giuseppe Esposito.” It adds that that includes holidays and “an exchange of favors.”

Cannavaro, who had two spells with Napoli, retired at Sassuolo last year. Aronica also spent several years at the southern club before joining Palermo in 2013.

Iran names initial squad for World Cup

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Jalal Hosseini and Vouria Ghaffouri have both been left off Iran’s provisional 24-man squad for the World Cup.

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz did not say why Hosseini, a Persepolis defender, and Ghaffouri were not included.

There was space for midfielders Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Hajsafi, however. Both played with Greek club Panionios against Maccabi Tel Aviv in August 2017. Iran does not recognize Israel and its supreme leader has threatened the country in the past. Both Shojaei and Hajsafi missed matches with the national team after the game.

Alireza Jahanbakhsh, a 24-year-old forward who plays in the Netherlands with AZ Alkmaar, is also in the squad, which was announced Sunday.

In the midfield, Queiroz chose Saeid Ezatolahi, although the Amkar Perm player will miss the team’s first World Cup match because he was given a red card in a game against South Korea in qualifying.

Nottingham Forest midfielder Ashkan Dejagah was also chosen.

Goalkeeper Amir Abedzadeh of Portuguese club Maritimo made the squad. His father, Ahmadreza Abedzadeh, was Iran captain and goalkeeper at the 1998 World Cup in France.

Iran will play in Group B at the World Cup with Portugal, Spain and Morocco. The team will play warm-up matches in Turkey and Greece before heading to Russia.

Goalkeepers: Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Rashid Mazaheri (Zob Ahan), Amir Abedzadeh (Maritimo)

Defenders: Ramin Rezaeian (KV Oostende), Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh (Padideh), Morteza Pouraliganji (Al Saad), Pejman Montazeri (Esteghlal), Seyed Majid Hosseini (Esteghlal), Milad Mohammadi (Akhmat Grozny), Roozbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal)

Midfielders: Saeid Ezatolahi (Amkar Perm), Masoud Shojaei (AEK Athens), Mehdi Torabi (Saipa), Ashkan Dejagah (Nottingham Forest), Omid Ebrahimi (Esteghlal), Ehsan Hajsafi (Olympiakos), Vahid Amiri (Persepolis), Saman Ghoddos (Ostersunds FK), Ali Gholizadeh (Saipa)

Forwards: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar), Karim Ansarifard (Olympiakos), Mahdi Taremi (Al-Gharafa Sports Club), Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan), Reza Ghoochannejhad (SC Heerenveen)

Six Premier Leaguers named to Argentina, but no Icardi

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Argentina’s World Cup roster features a number of the usual suspects, particularly up front, but Serie A’s top goalscorer has been surprisingly left off the list of 23.

[ MORE: Belgium goes to World Cup without Nainggolan ]

Manager Jorge Sampaoli’s squad was made official on Monday, which includes the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain.

The Albiceleste won’t be taking Inter Milan striker Mauro Icardi though, which has raised some questions about the decision.

Icardi led all scorers in Italy’s top flight this season, scoring 29 goals in 34 Serie A matches, while Paulo Dybala edged out the final striker spot in the Argentina squad.

Dybala is teammates with Higuain at Italian giants Juventus.

Meanwhile, six Premier League players were named into the South American nation’s squad, including goalkeepers Sergio Romero (Man United) and Willy Caballero (Chelsea), as well as Nicolas Otamendi (Man City), Marcos Rojo (Man United) and Manuel Lanzini (West Ham).

Men in Blazers POD: FA Cup recap, UCL final preview and more

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Rog and Davo recap a spite-fueled, snear-filled, peak Phil Jones FA Cup Final, preview this weekend’s Champions League tilt between Liverpool and Real Madrid and eulogize Big Sam… gone the opposite of too soon. Plus, World Cup rosters and MLS.

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