Sporting Kansas City, Houston play to 0-0 draw as Eastern Conference finals series opens in Texas

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Goal-scoring chances were at a premium from two exhausted teams as Sporting Kansas City and Houston played to a scoreless draw Saturday at BBVA Compass Stadium. This makes it “advantage KC” as the home-and-away Eastern Conference finals series now goes to the Midwest.

The second leg is Nov. 23; the prolonged period of inactivity is about an upcoming, week-long break for FIFA international matches.

When the teams do return to the field, presumably far better rested, Kansas City will see a partially clear path to the organization’s second MLS Cup title. Kansas City will be favored in the return leg, and if Peter Vermes’ team can advance into this year’s championship match, it will host the final at always-raucous Sporting Park.

Houston has, however, won in Kansas City when a trip to MLS Cup was on the line. It happened that way two years ago as the Dynamo prevailed 2-0 in the Eastern Conference final at Sporting Park.

(MORE: Sporting KC Man of the Match, Aurelien Collin)

Saturday the teams combined for 25 shots, but neither goalkeeper was tested significantly (just six shots on target, three apiece). Both sides went through 120 minutes of tense soccer on Wednesday, both requiring extra time to squeeze through their semifinal matchups. Plus, both clubs traveled cross-country the next day.

Houston was also playing its 7th match in 21 days, an absolutely debilitating gauntlet of games.

Being so physically drained (from Major League Soccer’s ill-considered, stacked and packed playoff schedule) made for a sluggish match throughout, with more injuries and stoppages than actual scoring opportunities.

In the first half, Jacob Peterson found himself unmarked as one ball came scooting across Houston goal, but the SKC left-sided attacker scruffed his shot well wide. At the other end, Will Bruin was close with something that would have been quite special, just high with a shot on the run from every bit of 35 yards.

And Boniek Garcia put Kofi Sarkokie though along the right in the 17th minute. Houston’s right back was called offside even though it appeared Matt Besler kept the Dynamo man onside.

Garcia’s free kick later in the half from 20 yards required quick attention from KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen; that was the closest either team came to scoring.

Houston’s hopes in the series suffered a mighty blow when Ricardo Clark, playing so well throughout the playoffs, limped off with a strained MCL after 25 minutes. He hurt himself during a midfield tackle. As a result, Kinnear was forced to shuffle his entire midfield arrangement, adding an extra man in the middle to compensate for all the ground that Clark usually covers.

Cam Weaver’s introduction at halftime for the gassed Will Bruin brought just a little more life to Houston’s attack. Both teams, in fact, made attack-minded substitutions through the second half, but chances remained at a premium.

After slow start, Belgium takes care of business against feisty Panama

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All it took was one goal to bring Belgium to life.

Following a frustrating first 45 minutes, in which Belgium put a pair of shots into the side netting and forced saves from Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, Dries Mertens 47th minute goal opened the floodgates, as Belgium went on to defeat Panama, 3-0, Monday afternoon in Sochi.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

But Panama never made it easy for the Belgians. From the opening whistle the CONCACAF nation showed its incredible spirit, chasing down Belgium all across the field and making life incredibly difficult for Belgium attackers Romelu Lukaku, Mertens and Eden Hazard. Hazard was hacked down all over the field, and while he did earn fouls and a few yellow cards were issued to Panamanian players, it was enough to get in Hazard’s head.

Two minutes into the second half, everything changed. A wonderstrike from Mertens opened the game, and forced Panama to attack and try and tie the match, which gave Hazard, de Bruyne and Lukaku more space to operate.

In the heat and humidity of the Sochi summer, Panama’s veteran defense began to tire, allowing de Bruyne the space to deliver a terrific assist to Lukaku in the box, putting Belgium up 2-0 in the 69th minute.

 

Six minutes later, Lukaku was put through on the break, chipping over Penedo to confirm the victory.

With the win, Belgium moves to the top of Group G. Up next for Belgium is Tunisia on Saturday, while Panama takes on England on Sunday.

VIDEO: de Bruyne delivers gorgeous assist on Lukaku goal

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It took a little bit of patience, but Romelu Lukaku finally got on the scoresheet at the 2018 World Cup, thanks to a delicious assist from crosstown club rival Kevin De Bruyne.

The Manchester City playmaker delivered a spectacular outside-of-the-boot cross into the box, where Lukaku’s head met it and guided it towards the far post for Belgium’s second goal of the day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Arsenal close in on Leno; Man City near Jorginho signing, and more

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Arsenal looks like it will have a new man between the pipes for next season.

According to a report from German publication SportBild, Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper Bernd Leno will be introduced as an Arsenal player on Tuesday, after a reported $23-29 million transfer fee. The 26-year-old was on Germany’s 35-man pre-World Cup squad, but was one of the last cuts as Joachim Low went with Manuel Neuer, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Kevin Trapp in Russia.

Leno became the full-time starter for Leverkusen as a 20-year-old, and has held the position of the No. 1 for the last six seasons, earning plenty of Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League experience along the way.

It’s unclear what will happen to current Arsenal No. 1 Petr Cech. The 36-year-old Premier League legend experienced one of his worst seasons in net for Arsenal and he could begin the season as a backup, unless he moves to a new club. He reportedly has a contract through 2019.

Here’s some more transfer rumors from around the Premier League and Europe.

(more…)

VIDEO: Mertens scores wonderstrike for Belgium

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After a frustrating 45 minutes, it took only two minutes for Belgium to finally get on the board, even if it was a goal sprinkled with magic dust.

Off a partially cleared ball on the right side of the box, Belgium attacker Dries Mertens whalloped a shot that arced over Panama (and former LA Galaxy) goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, giving Belgium a 1-0 lead.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]