MLS Playoff Preview: Sporting KC at New England Revolution

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  • Kickoff from Gillette Stadium outside Boston is set for 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN
  • Saturday is the first of two legs in the aggregate goals series
  • The Revolution is playing its firsts playoff match since 2009
  • Sporting Kansas City was the league’s best road team this year, an 8-5-4 record, and also the best defensive team
  • Young scoring sensation Diego Fagundez, just 18, led the Revolution with 13 goals this year

In Saturday’s Eastern Conference semifinal opener, we have a textbook instance of a playoff newbie in terms of the current roster and team makeup (New England) against an old hand at this MLS playoff business.

New England, a team with so much MLS playoff success in the previous decade, is back into the post-season swing for the first time since 2009.

Meanwhile, not only has Sporting Kansas City made the playoffs for the third consecutive season, but Peter Vermes’ team delivered relatively strong post-season accounts the last two years. Sporting trounced Colorado in the 2011 conference semifinal before falling to Houston in a tight conference final.

And came the downfall from Houston again in 2012, although Vermes’ team was strong in the return leg in the Midwest, dominating the Dynamo at Sporting Park (out-shooting the visitors 20-3) but falling a goal short on aggregate.

So a big edge in playoff experience goes to the visitors Saturday, a team that certainly doesn’t mind playing on the road. Sporting KC’s 28 points earned away from home this year (an 8-5-3 record) was best in MLS by some distance.

Kansas City is also the league’s top defensive team, with just 30 goals allowed.

Plus, Sporting KC went undefeated in Group Stage of Champions League – in fact, only allowing two goals in four matches while advancing to next year’s quarterfinals – while adding even more “big-game” largesse to this year’s checklist of achievement. Mostly though, it’s that feeling of being close to accomplishing something special the last two years, taking hardy sides into the playoffs but coming up short, that is providing all the drive to this year’s post-season bid.

“We’ve got a good, core group of guys that have been through this the last three years,” Vermes said this week. “That gives us, not comparing us to anyone else in the league, that just gives us a much better foundation as we move through the playoffs.”

The “foundation” includes what is probably the top back five in the playoffs (back four plus goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, that is). Center back Matt Besler, a U.S. starter, provides the stabilizing arm alongside the more volatile side the duo, Frenchman Aurélien Collin. In fact, we talk so much about those two that we probably don’t spend enough time commenting on right back Chance Myers and left back Seth Sinovic, both of whom are tough one-on-one defenders who can contribute a little punch to the attack, too.

Sporting KC’s offense mostly goes through U.S. international Graham Zusi (pictured above), whose assist total was down this year (from 15 to 8), but who did drop a career-best in goals, with six. Zusi’s recent return from a minor fall injury setback was among the reasons Sporting Kansas City finished on a four-game undefeated streak. Vermes’ team also won six of its last eight matches – and that was all after Kei Kamara left for England in a summer transfer.

New England has a little momentum of its own, however. Jay Heaps’ team from outside Boston looked a bit dead in the Back Bay about a month ago, staring at a tough schedule of road games, in need of a bunch of points to punch its way into the post-season. Well, punch they did, gathering up huge road wins at Montreal and Columbus, in addition to a draw at Supporters Shield winners New York, all in the month of October.

source: Getty Images
New England’s Diego Fagundez, only 18 … but he just finished tied in league scoring with a team-leading 13 goals.

Heaps’ team clinched its playoff spot just last weekend, in fact, with that 1-0 win at Crew Stadium.

One of the great things about having New England back in the playoffs is another chance to see Diego Fagundez, the Revs’ 18-year-old scoring sensation. Fagundez, finished tied for fifth in league scoring – and imagine what he could have done had he been the Revs’ PK taker, as league scoring leaders so frequently are.

He usually lines up wide (left lately) in the Revs’ 4-1-4-1 arrangement.

At the other end of the experience spectrum is goalkeeper Matt Reis, who lost his place this year – a difficult year that included unfortunate family involvement in the Boston Marathon bombings. Reis got things together and will be big part of this playoff push. So will center back Jose Goncalves, one of the real finds of the Major League’s Soccer’s off-season.

Another intriguing figure in a team full of them is Juan Agudelo, a young U.S. international (a bit farther back in the pool) who shook off some late-season injury struggles to make the Revs’ last four starts. In fact, his first goal since Aug. 25 was the playoff clincher last weekend against Columbus. Agudelo has already signed to play for Stoke City in January.

(MORE on MLS playoffs: ProSoccerTalk’s post-season picks and predictions)

Dempsey scores first goal of season, Sounders tie Fire

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SEATTLE (AP) Clint Dempsey scored his first goal of the season to match the Seattle regular-season career goals record, helping the Sounders tie the Chicago Fire 1-1 on Saturday night.

Dempsey tied the club record for regular-season goals with 47 set by Fredy Montero from 2009-12. It was Dempsey’s 57th goal across all competitions for the Sounders, three away from Montero’s overall mark.

Harry Shipp started the scoring play for the Sounders (3-8-3) midway through the first half, taking the ball up the attacking right side. He sent it ahead to Will Bruin, who took it to the top right corner of the 6-yard box. Bruin tapped the ball across, and Dempsey slid into it, sending his shot into the upper left side.

It was Dempsey’s first goal since last Nov. 30, when he scored in a 3-0 win over Houston in the second leg of the Western Conference final. His last regular-season tally was last Sept. 27 in a 3-0 victory over Vancouver in Seattle.

Chicago (5-7-5) went up 1-0 in the ninth minute. Brandt Bronico backheeled a pass to Aleksander Katai, who took control about 35 yards up from the goal. He dribbled up to the top left of the penalty area restraining arc and fired a shot past Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei to the back right corner for his sixth of the year.

MLS roundup: SKC roar back vs. HOU; FCD hammered by RBNY

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A roundup of, plus a few quick thoughts about, all of Saturday’s action from Week 16 of the 2018 MLS season…

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Sporting Kansas City 3-2 Houston DynamoFULL HIGHLIGHTS

Peter Vermes’ side fell 2-0 behind by halftime, courtesy of a costly error by reigning Defender of the Year Ike Opara in the second minute and a disastrous midfield breakdown in the 45th — both scored by Mauro Manotas. Sporting KC, who entered the weekend level on points with FC Dallas for first in the Western Conference (and four back of Atlanta United in the Supporters’ Shield race), were read the Riot Act at halftime, per Vermes, and responded accordingly.

Daniel Salloi bagged his fifth goal of the season in the 59th minute, and it was one-way traffic favoring Sporting from that point forward. Diego Rubio’s equalizer (assisted by Salloi, also his fifth) didn’t came until the 85th minute — the same minute in which he entered the game as a substitute — and Khiry Shelton’s winner (also assisted by Salloi) came three minutes later.

New York Red Bulls 3-0 FC Dallas — FULL HIGHLIGHTS

Despite playing with 10 men for more than an hour, the Red Bulls hammered the aforementioned side from Dallas to the tune of 3-0 at Red Bull Arena. The defeat snaps a four-game winning streak for FCD, as well as a seven-game unbeaten run dating back to late April.

Bradley Wright-Phillips opened the scoring in the 23rd minute, followed by Aaron Long (now a man down) in the 39th and Kemar Lawrence in the 48th (assisted by Kaku, making the 23-year-old Argentine-turned-Paraguayan the first player to reach 10 assists this season).

Los Angeles FC 2-0 Columbus Crew SC — FULL HIGHLIGHTS

LAFC did their damage early — Laurent Ciman in the 4th minute and Adama Diomande in the 8th — and Bob Bradley‘s side held on for 82 more minutes while limiting Crew SC to just one shot on target and handing Gregg Berhalter’s side a second straight loss and extending their current winless skid to five games. After riding alongside Atlanta atop the East standings a few weeks ago, Columbus have fallen to fourth and trail the Five Stripes by six points.

Elsewhere in MLS

Philadelphia Union 4-0 Vancouver Whitecaps
Orlando City SC 0-2 Montreal Impact
Colorado Rapids 3-2 Minnesota United
Real Salt Lake 1-1 San Jose Earthquakes
Seattle Sounders 1-1 Chicago Fire

Sweden players, coaches left fuming after last-minute loss

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — A last-minute goal. A non-called penalty. A disrespectful celebration.

Sweden had a lot to be upset about when the final whistle blew on Saturday.

[ MORE: Low: Germany survived “a thriller full of emotion” ]

The Swedes were within seconds of holding defending champion Germany to a draw, and moving into good position to advance to the round of 16 at the World Cup, when Toni Kroos scored deep into stoppage time to give Germany a 2-1 come-from-behind victory.

“I’m sorry that we didn’t get at least one point,” Sweden coach Janne Andersson said. “But I’m not blaming anyone tactically or analyzing too much right now, there are so many emotions going around. This is probably the heaviest conclusion that I’ve experienced in my career.”

Kroos’ goal from a set piece came in the fifth and final minute of injury time. The draw would have kept Sweden ahead of Germany in Group F and needing only a draw against Mexico in the last match.

[ MORE: Germany snatches late win over Sweden to avoid elimination ]

“It was just bad luck,” Sweden forward John Guidetti said. “Now we need to try to find a way to win the last match. In a few days we play again and we have to win it. It’s simple.”

Germany, which is tied with Sweden on points and goal difference, will play against South Korea in the final round.

“We still have an excellent opportunity to qualify,” Andersson said. “Now we have to clean up, tidy up after this game. We’re going to do that.”

The Swedes were leading Germany at halftime thanks to Ola Toivonen’s goal in the 32nd minute at Fisht Stadium. They felt they could have been ahead even earlier if the referee had called a penalty when Marcus Berg appeared to be fouled inside the area with a clear chance to score. There was no formal video review called for.

“If we have the (VAR) system, it’s very unfortunate that he (the referee) can feel so secure in the moment that he doesn’t go and have a look at the situation,” Andersson said.

He and the Swedish players said they also couldn’t understand why Germany decided to celebrate near their bench.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“You shouldn’t celebrate in front of our bench the way they did, that’s disrespectful,” Guidetti said. “You can celebrate with your own fans. Don’t celebrate in front of our bench like that. That’s why they apologized, because they knew they did something wrong.”

Andersson said he was “very annoyed” by seeing the Germany team “running in our direction and rubbing it in our faces by making gestures.”

“We fought hard for 95 minutes,” he said. “And when the final whistle blows, you shake hands.”

WATCH: World Cup, Day 11 — England, Colombia back in action

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Day 11 of the 2018 World Cup is up next, on Sunday, with England back in action and in need of three points — and a resounding win — to keep pace with Belgium in Group G.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Following Belgium’s 5-2 thrashing of Tunisia — the same side that England beat in stoppage time earlier in the week — on Saturday, the Red Devils have positioned themselves perfectly to win the group with a draw against the Three Lions on Thursday. England need a five-goal victory at 6-1 or higher to the finish top of the group following a draw on the final day.

Then, it’s a pair of Group H fixtures, kicked off with Japan (1st) versus Senegal (2nd) — both of whom won their first game — followed by Poland (3rd) versus Colombia (4th).

Below is Sunday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Sunday, June 24

Group G
England vs. Panama: Nizhny Novgorod, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group H
Japan vs. Senegal: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Poland vs. Colombia: Kazan, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE