MLS Preview: D.C. United at Sporting Kansas City

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Safe to say that March didn’t get served up as ordered for Sporting Kansas City or for D.C. United, two favorites to claim this year’s Eastern Conference crown.

Sporting KC, whose flag flew high through the last two regular seasons but kept losing wind in the playoffs, took a fresh tactical approach. Minus two of his high-pressure energizers (who left for greener EPL pastures), manager Peter Vermes took his foot off the schematic gas pedal. They now prefer a little more patient possession, a little less go-go-go pressure all over the field.

But the early returns were marginal, just two wins for SKC over five games in March.

That was double D.C. United’s win total (although United played one fewer match.) Still, three wins in nine matches between them is not what anyone expected – and then some. (The MLS standings are here.)

That makes tonight’s match at Sporting Park (a fairly rare Friday kickoff, set for 8:30 p.m. ET) fairly important – as important as April contests can be, considering we are only now at that point where an increasingly early-starting MLS season would have begun in years past.

So, we’ll mark both clubs down as “Works in progress.” And surprisingly so.

D.C. United’s chances didn’t look awesome in this one based on recent trips into the heartland. The Black and Red have not won in Kansas City since 2007, 0-4-3 since then. Yesterday’s news that Dwayne De Rosario will miss the match – yes “De Ro” has been tame in two appearances this year … but still – won’t help a bit. Somewhere in there lurks the 2011 league MVP; the breakout won’t happen in this one, as De Rosario is out with an adductor strain.

Ben Olsen’s team is having trouble scoring goals, with just two so far. Like De Rosario, Chris Pontius has had trouble releasing the hand brake this year (not just unfortunate for United, but for the young attackers ability to get onto Jurgen Klinsmann’s U.S. national team radar.)

A night against one of Major League Soccer’s top defenses (guided by newly minted national team man Matt Besler, but strong all the way around), is hardly an opportunity to invigorate an offense. Olsen is likely to add an extra defensive midfielder alongside Perry Kitchen, sitting back in a 4-2-3-1 the way United has in other road matches, looking for a slower, lower-scoring match.

It’s also something Vermes’ teams have found difficult to break down; the SKC manager has even complained about the “bus parking” recently. (Seriously, coach Peter … more “figuring it out,” less belly-aching about it, please.)

It would surely help if Benny Feilhaber can rise the way he did in last week’s two-assist night, as Sporting upended previously unbeaten Montreal. Graham Zusi has been, well, Graham Zusi so far in 2013, looking much like the man who led MLS in assists last year. If Feilhaber can gain the consistency, giving defenses that much more to deal with, SKC should be off and running.

In a lot of ways, this game will be about the clubs’ off-season choices on striker.

United chose to stick with the continually underwhelming Lionard Pajoy, who works hard but has ultimately failed in accomplishing a striker’s main mission, scoring doggone goals! Pajoy has nine in 36 matches with Philadelphia and United over two years. It’s just not good enough; and yet, there he is.

SKC, meanwhile, went out and collected Claudio Bieler. The sample of evidence remains small, but so far so good. The Argentine veteran (pictured above) has three goals in five contests and looks like exactly the right fit – a nice package of skill bundled up with a real strikers’ instinct – to increase the output around teeming Sporting Park.

The Major League Soccer preview is here.

Liverpool to lose $82m Alisson to Real; Klopp turns to Lazio GK?

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Brazilian national team starter and Liverpool transfer target Alisson looks increasingly likely to only see Anfield as a visitor.

Italian outlet Corriere dello Sport says Real Madrid is going to tempt Roma with an $82 million bid that could rise with add-ons.

[ MORE: Lozano to Barcelona? ]

And Real would also offer a near $6 million annual salary to the Brazilian backstop.

It’s coincidence that this news comes on the day that both Alisson and current Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas were at opposite ends of the pitch.

Alisson had little to do, while Costa Rican backstop Navas was outstanding until Philippe Coutinho and Neymar scored during stoppage time.

Meanwhile, TalkSport says the Reds are in on a different Serie A goalkeeper: Lazio’s Albanian backstop Thomas Strakosha.

The 23-year-old old played all 38 league games for the Roman club this season.

Lozano to Barcelona? Father says future decided after World Cup

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Mexican hero Hirving “Chucky” Lozano made the jump from Liga MX to European football last summer, and now may be set for an even bigger move.

We just won’t know until after the World Cup.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

The goal scorer from Mexico’s 1-0 win over Germany will turn 23 in late July, and is coming off a 17-goal, 11-assist campaign with PSV Eindhoven.

He’s now being linked with Barcelona amongst other teams, and his father was asked about Lozano’s future. From ESPN:

“There have been approaches, but right now there’s nothing concrete,” Jesus Lozano said in an interview with ESPN when asked about reported interest from Barcelona and other teams.

“I think after the World Cup it will be clear if he stays at PSV or leaves for another team.”

So what do you think? Should the Mexican stay at PSV for playing time? I’m kidding… see how you sound, U.S. fans?

Nigeria beats Iceland; Argentina still alive

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Ahmed Musa scored a pair of terrific goals as Nigeria set up Group D for a thrilling final day with a 2-0 win over Iceland in Volgograd on Friday.

Gylfi Sigurdsson was arguably Iceland’s Man of the Match before he sent a penalty kick over the bar.

Nigeria now has three points, two more than Argentina and Iceland. Nigeria plays Argentina and Croatia faces Iceland on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Gylfi Sigurdsson swung a dangerous early free kick over the bar, then produced the game’s second chance. That one was caught by Francis Uzoho, the 19-year-old Deportivo de la Coruna backstop.

Nigeria’s breakthrough came courtesy a lethal counter attack, as Kenneth Omeruo headed a cross clear of the Eagles’ 18. Kelechi Iheanacho collected and found Victor Moses racing down the right flank.

Moses’ cross was collected by Musa with an unorthodox outside of the boot trap, allowing him a second against his surprised mark. Musa lashed home for 1-0.

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The game was delayed for a bit when Ragnar Sigurdsson was waylaid with a head injury.

Wilfred Ndidi had a rip deflected over the bar in the 57th, and Nigeria opted for a short corner.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

Musa then basically put it to bed when he cut into the 18 and danced around two defenders with the goalkeeper in between before putting a composed finish into the goal.

Iceland got new life through an 81st minute penalty kick awarded via Video Assistant Referee, but Gylfi Sigurdsson blazed it over the bar.

Jorginho to Man City? Italian report, Noel Gallagher say so

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I don’t know about you, but I like my transfer news served up piping fresh from the hot stove of Oasis.

Well, at least ex-members of Oasis.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Noted Man City fanatic Noel Gallagher was performing in Naples on Friday with his band the High Flying Birds.

After pumping through a couple Oasis tunes and a cover of The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” on Thursday, the singer tossed a little banter toward the crowd.

You see, Man City really wants Napoli midfielder Jorginho, and Gallagher at least looks like a man in the know as Italy’s Corriere Della Sport is reporting that the midfielder is trading his blue shirts between countries.

Jorginho will cost City $57 million, according to the report, which follows this barb from Noel.