What We Learned from Sporting Kansas City’s big win over New England

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  • Kansas City was just better, all around

Talent won out, up-and-down the field. Graham Zusi and Benny Feilhaber out played Kelyn Rowe and Lee Nguyen. Oriol Rosell was a better holder than Andy Dorman or Scott Caldwell. Claudio Bieler and C.J. Sapong contributed more than Dimitry Imbongo and Juan Agudelo, and Kansas City’s fullbacks thrived while New England’s struggled. Even the Revolution’s best player, Jose Goncalves, was out played by Aurelien Collin, who scored Kansas City’s opening goal.

The series was closer than many would have picked, New England’s two-goal lead a Gillette giving all of us plenty of reason to doubt. But ultimately, Kansas City was just too much, and after 113 oppressive minutes at Sporting Park, the favorites won out. Looking back on it — at all strong performances Kansas City got on Wednesday — it’s remarkable it took so long to separate the sides.

  • For New England, it was a year too soon

Nobody expected the Revolution to get here, and in their season’s final game, they looked like a team for whom making the league’s final four was asking too much. They didn’t have a way to get into the game tonight, a Kansas City team hungry from two years’ disappointment smothering them. They briefly regained hope after converting a set piece, but with the exception of a 15-minute stretch in the second half, they were decidedly second best.

They need more time to build – to have a roster able to adjust to these type of challenges. Nguyen and Rowe need more experience — more tricks that only time can treat — and head coach Jay Heaps probably needed tonight’s lesson. Ultimately, he couldn’t come up with a solution for Kansas City.

If they’re in this spot next year, New England will have a Plan B. The additional depth and experience will help close the gap. Tonight, however, that gap was huge, despite the close final score.

  • Big, forgotten names can still have a big impact

Peter Vermes seemed to have lost faith in Benny Feilhaber and Claudio Bieler. Not so. A surprise inclusion in the starting lineup, Feilhaber produced one of his best performances in a KC uniform. His read on Matt Reis’s 113rd minute pass created the final goal.

And then there’s Claudio Bieler, the Designated Player whose status had supposedly reached a new low after he was left out of the traveling party for the game in New England. Tonight, he that bit of experience and savvy Kansas City needed, the attacker amongst Vermes’s options that could start converting their control into chances.

Even before his winner, Bieler had a couple of close calls, and with C.J. Sapong and Dom Dwyer failing to do more with their chances, it’s tempting to wonder what Bieler could offer if he could find a fraction of his early season opportunism. Between Dwyer’s work rate and Sapong’s aerial prowess, Sporting would lose something if they sacrificed either, but Bieler gives them something they’re missing.

Perhaps he’s just an option to keep in reserve. Like tonight.

  • Some serious depth on display for KC

Paolo Nagamura, Benny Feilhaber, and Dom Dwyer came into Peter Vermes’s XI. Bieler and Ike Opara came off the bench, making their first appearances of the series. Soony Saad also provided an option, while first leg starters Teal Bunbury and Jacob Peterson didn’t even get off the bench. These are all players who, at one point this season, were part of Vermes’s starting XI. Now, they’re just part of the mix.

And it’s not just that they’re available. Tonight, each made a meaningful contribution. Nagamura filled in admirably for Lawrence Olum. Dwyer missed his chances but troubled New England at times with his pressure. Saad provided a wide option that allowed Zusi to move in, while Opara helped reinforce the defense when the team claimed their lead. And of course, you know about Feilhaber and Bieler.

Particularly with the international break separating the conference finals’ legs, who knows how the team will look at the end of its series with Houston. But Peter Vermes has a lot of options. On Wednesday, he used them.

  • But Sporting ain’t done nothing yet

The outcome was dramatic, but the team didn’t accomplish anything they weren’t expected to. Now comes the hard part – another crack at Houston. Win, and they’ll bury two years worth of demons and host MLS Cup. Lose, and it will be the same story as the last two years: Walking off Sporting Park’s field while a stage is erected for the Dynamo.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 10 — All eyes on Germany

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Many of the favorites in the 2018 World Cup have disappointed, but until Argentina fell 3-0 to Croatia on Thursday, Germany was the only one to suffer a defeat.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Die Mannschaft fell to Mexico in their opening match, with El Tri carving up the German midfield on the counter. Now, Joachim Low has had ample time to make the adjustments needed to go for victory as the Germans take on Sweden as they chase a spot in the knockout stages among Group F.

Meanwhile, Mexico looks to prove they’re not a one-hit wonder as they take on South Korea in Rostov. Juan Carlos Osorio has received plenty of praise – and rightly so – for his tactics in the upset victory, and that leaves El Tri with a chance to clinch a spot in the knockout stage with a win.

Before all that Group F craziness, Belgium takes the field in the morning against Tunisia as they look to follow up its comprehensive 3-0 victory over Panama in the opening round. A victory for the Red Devils would not only book a place in the knockout round, but also eliminate Tunisia from contention.

Below is Saturday’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 – Saturday, June 23

Group F
South Korea vs. Mexico: Rostov-on-Don, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Germany vs. Sweden: Sochi, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group G
Belgium vs. Tunisia: Moscow, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Kluivert junior leaves Ajax for Roma in $21m transfer

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ROME (AP) — Roma signed Justin Kluivert, the son of former Milan and Barcelona forward Patrick, from Ajax on Friday for a fee that could rise to 18.75 million euros ($21.8 million).

The 19-year-old Dutch international forward has agreed a five-year contract with Roma.

“I’m very happy. I’m at an incredible club,” Kluivert said. “I cannot wait to start. I believe that Roma is the ideal team for my growth, which will allow me to play at the highest levels.”

Kluivert junior made 56 appearances and scored 13 goals for Ajax. He has one cap for the Netherlands.

He joins Roma for an initial 17.25 million euros ($20.1 million) and performance-related clauses could see the price rise by 1.5 million euros.

Ricketts family, owner of the Chicago Cubs, interested in purchasing AC Milan

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The Ricketts family, who purchased a controlling stake in the Chicago Cubs back in 2009, have interest in further pursuing ownership in financially troubled Italian club AC Milan.

According to a family statement, “The Ricketts family brought a championship to the Chicago Cubs through long-term investment and being great stewards of the team … They would bring this same approach to AC Milan.”

First reported by the Chicago Tribune, the news of the Tom Ricketts’ interest in the team comes on the heels of news that current owner Li Yonghong had failed to meet a Friday deadline for a $37 million loan payment. According to reports, the missed payment means that Li will cede control of the club to Elliott Management, who loaned the Chinese businessman the money to complete his initial purchase of the club last April.

The Chicago Sun-Times also reported the family’s interest in the club, and quoted their source as saying, “The Ricketts put together the management team, resources and training facilities [for the Cubs]. [They did] everything you need top to bottom to be successful.”

Ricketts has plenty of history in soccer ownership, having previously been a part of the group that owned English club Derby County before selling back in 2015. This May, Ricketts also announced he was leading an investment group that is looking to bring a USL expansion team to Chicago.

Forbes values AC Milan at $612 million – a massive 26% 1-year decline – and ranks them the 17th most valuable soccer club in the world. That valuation could be further on the decline, as the storied club missed out on Champions League qualification for the fifth straight year, although they qualified for their second straight Europa League appearance with 6th place finish in last year’s Serie A table, eight points behind Lazio in fifth.

AC Milan also faces heavy sanctions from UEFA regarding Financial Fair Play, although those fears could be eased with the financially-troubled Li selling the club.

The Ricketts family’s wealth comes largely from investment banking, with Tom’s father J. Joseph Ricketts having founded Ameritrade back in 1975. Tom is estimated by Forbes to be worth $1 billion, while his father has an estimated net worth of $2.1 billion.

Xhaka, Shaqiri display controversial goal celebrations in win over Serbia

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A seemingly innocuous goal celebration performed by both Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri has thinly veiled, politically charged undertones and could potentially land the pair in FIFA disciplinary proceedings following Switzerland’s 2-1 win over Serbia.

Both displayed a bird hand signal as they celebrated scoring goals, and considering their pre-match comments, post-match social media posts, and ethnic backgrounds, those were clearly meant to represent the double-eagle symbol in the middle of the Albanian flag.

This is a complicated political scenario, but it could be considered by FIFA to be politically provocative. Shaqiri is Albanian, born in Kosovo before moving to Switzerland with his parents and three siblings when he was just a year old. Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008 and is not recognized as a sovereign nation by Serbia. Xhaka is of Albanian descent, and his father previously participated in a demonstration against the communist Yugoslavian rule in Kosovo that landed him a lengthy jail sentence. Albania and Serbia have a particularly tumultuous relationship, with their leaders meeting for the first time in over 60 years in 2014, which caused tempers to flare.

Following the match, Xhaka posted a picture of his celebration on his Instagram story, with the caption in Albanian roughly translated to, “Here you go Serbia, this is why they call me Granit Kosovo!” He deleted the post, and replaced it with an image of his celebration side-by-side with Shaqiri’s, with the slightly more cryptic caption, “We did it, bro!” in English.

FIFA is wildly against any type of political demonstration or involvement in the world of soccer. The governing body has punished individual nation federations in the past for government involvement, while political demonstrations on the field are fiercely frowned upon.

Switzerland captain and new Arsenal signing Stephan Lichtsteiner came to the defense of his two teammates after the match. When asked about the celebrations, he said to Goal.com, “We had a lot of pressure, it was not an easy game for us. We have a lot of Albanians, so there is a lot of history between Serbia and Albania. It was a very tough game for them mentally.”

“It was good. Why not? This is the history for them,” Lichtsteiner continued. “The war between them was so difficult. I spoke to the father of one of our players who is Albanian, and he told me about this history. This is more than football. This is more than football because they have this period, this war that gave them both big problems. I understand them. I think it’s normal, it’s part of their life. There was also big provocation ahead of the game from them [Serbia], so I think it’s normal.”

Shaqiri could be in especially hot water. The Stoke City midfielder wore boots with the flags of Switzerland and Kosovo. He has made it clear in the past that he values his roots, saying, “I was born in Kosovo, but I grew up in Switzerland. I live both mentalities, it’s not a big difference.”

Switzerland finishes its World Cup group stage round with a match against Costa Rica on Wednesday in which a win would secure a spot in the knockout stage.