MLS playoffs: Notes on Sporting Kansas City ahead of Saturday’s second leg conference final against Houston

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Ahead of Saturday’s second leg of this Eastern Conference finals series, here are the must-knows about Peter Vermes’ Sporting KC. A trip to MLS Cup 2013 is on the line. (Saturday’s match kicks off at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, and can also been seen on NBC Sports Live Extra)

  • Seth Sinovic as KC’s key man?

Sporting Kansas City has so many talented types who gobble up most of the acclaim. There are U.S. internationals Graham Zusi and Matt Besler, All-Star center back Aurelien Collin, former MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Jimmy Nielsen and U.S. World Cup veteran man Benny Feilhaber. Even right back Chance Myers is a former No. 1 overall MLS draft choice.

But might left back Seth Sinovic (pictured) be the team’s key man on Saturday?

It will be on Sinovic to contain Boniek Garcia, Houston’s most dangerous attacking threat. (It will, that is, unless the potential injury absence of Ricardo Clark means some kind of a tactical shift for the Dynamo, one that brings Garcia to the inside.)

Sinovic rarely gets mentioned, but he’s a tough defender who also manages to add something to Sporting KC’s attack. Heck, he’s even become a mini-Mr. November, having struck his first career goal last year in the playoffs against … wait for it … Houston! And then just more than two weeks ago, Sinovic’s wonderful, powerfully struck shot against New England was a swell to watch as it was absolutely vital; his goal in the 79th minute from Zusi’s flicked-on header sent the team’s second-leg Eastern Conference semifinal into extra time.

(MORE: PST playoff preview — Houston at Kansas City)

Now, how much he’ll feel comfortable getting forward against Houston, knowing it’s on him to protect against Garcia’s ability on the counter-attack, we’ll have to see. Here is what Vermes says about Garcia: “I think he’s a great addition to our league. He’s definitely a dangerous player and somebody you have to keep your eye on that can turn the game on its head by one of his actions. Houston has a lot of players that we have to take account for during a game. He’s definitely one of the guys that is high on the list.”

  • Besler and Zusi are fresh

Sporting Kansas City fans, who would typically relish seeing their men on the international stage, exhaled deeply almost two weeks ago when U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann declined to call Graham Zusi and Matt Besler for a pair of friendlies in Europe.

Both men are in good places when it comes to those highly sought World Cup roster spots – pure gold in any soccer players’ career. If Klinsmann had called them for the exhibitions against Scotland and Austria, they would have been in a very awkward spot. So … no awkwardness needed.

Besler will be in his usual spot along the back line, as the stabilizer arm for the more volatile Aurelien Collin. And Zusi will be in the midfield or (more likely) in a slightly more advanced spot along the right in his team’s 4-3-3.

(MORE: ProSoccerTalk’s picks for MLS Defender of the Year

  • Kansas City and hiccups and home

The team has reason to be confident, having more or less done the business in Houston (navigating a 0-0 draw). But there is a legacy of, well, not getting the business done at home.

Other than the two post-season crash-out (both to Houston) at Sporting Park, the team fell to a lower-tier club at home this year in the U.S. Open Cup.

Overall in 2013, the picture at home doesn’t look much better: Kansas City’s record at home in the regular season this year (9-5-3) was 9th among 10 MLS playoff teams.

On the other hand, Kansas City has been nearly unbeatable on defense against Houston – pretty much wherever the clubs have met. Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen has posted four shutouts against Houston the last five times these teams have played. That includes three games in Texas this year (two in the regular season and the playoff contest two weeks ago.)

Report: Six Barcelona board members quit, recommend new election

Barcelona
Photo by Xavier Bonilla/NurPhoto via Getty Images
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Barcelona might be atop La Liga, but the behind the scenes atmosphere is ugly.

A day after reports that president Josep Maria Bartomeu asked four board members to leave the club, the quartet and two others have resigned and called for new leadership.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Marca translated the letter signed by Emili Rousaud, Enrique Tombas, Silvio Elias, Josep Pont, Maria Teixidor and Jordi Calsamiglia (Spanish report here). The first four were asked to leave, with Teixidor and Calsamiglia joining them.

That leaves the board at 13 members.

“We ask that once the results of the audit entrusted to PWC are presented, all responsible to be swept away with the eventual corresponding compensation.

“As a last service to our club, we recommend that as soon as circumstances allow it to call new elections to allow to direct the club, with all the ‘authority’ and in the best possible way in the face of the important challenges of the most immediate future.”

It’s been a terrible season for Barca off-the-field, and Bartomeu’s leadership simply must be questioned given the actions of him and some of the people under his watch. Former players and legends have spoken out against the club’s hierarchy, including Pep Guardiola.

The ouster of Ernesto Valverde was handled without much class, and director Eric Abidal threw the players under the bus for the managerial change. The club has also dealt with “Barcagate,” in which a contracted social media company was fired for posting Tweets against Barca’s players.

Both drew the ire of Lionel Messi, who can exercise a clause to leave the club this summer (though that seems unlikely). Messi also admitted he “sees weird things happening” after Bartomeu spoke to the players after “Barcagate.”

Messi also refuted Thursday rumors of a move to Inter Milan in a since-deleted IG post.

Bartomeu has been Barca’s president since January 2014, and the club has won the 2014/15 Champions League and four of five La Liga crowns during his full seasons in charge. There have, however, been a lot of misses in the transfer market.

It might get uglier before it gets better, but there isn’t too much room for worse.

Premier League March Madness: Handicapping the Final

Premier League March Madness
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There was a thriller when Wolves and Everton met at Goodison Park on Sept. 1, and we’re hoping for the online poll equivalent when our Premier League March Madness concludes on Friday.

Wolves already gave us one on Thursday, blowing a lead they held for most of the day to see a 50-50-to-the-vote deadlock before a sizeable win in extra time (30 minutes of added voting).

Everton had an interesting win of its own, destroying Merseyside Derby rivals Liverpool with more than 80 percent of the vote.

[ LIVE: March Madness PL hub ] 

Before we go any further, if you’re unfamiliar: To make sure you’re not missing out on either March Madness or the business end of the PL season, we’ve gone ahead and merged the two competitions. The March Madness Final Four and Championship game were due to take place this weekend in Atlanta but now you will be voting on Tottenham v. Arsenal instead of Duke v. Kansas.

Teams are seeded from 1-16 based on their current spot in the table, with Aston Villa winning the relegation playoffs on Monday to remain in the Premier League.

Road to the Final

Monday: Relegation semifinals, final – Aston Villa prevailed, Norwich, Bournemouth, Watford relegated
TuesdaySweet 16 results
WednesdayElite Eight
Thursday: Final Four
Friday: Championship game

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

The Toffees are the favorites here, having knocked off Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool.

But this will be the first time in the tournament where Everton won’t have the benefit of a club many other teams hate as the opposition.

Wolves’ extra time win over Sheffield United was a first real scare of the tournament, and the Molineux set will hope its extra time performance was a showing of what it will do when faced with elimination.

It’s difficult to choose against Everton here, even if the Anfield faithful will move to the side of the Wolves. We’ll call it 54-46 to the blue side of Liverpool.

RESULTS: Premier League March Madness Final Four

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Everton has its first Merseyside Derby since 2010 thanks to the voters of ProSoccerTalk.

The Toffees’ 21-match run without a win over Liverpool “ended” Thursday in Premier League March Madness, the fusion of two of our favorite sporting competitions.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

We hinted at this win on Wednesday given the exits of all the Premier League giants besides Liverpool, as supporters of Manchester United, Man City, Arsenal, Spurs, and Chelsea might leap at the chance to take the Reds off any throne.

But to say we saw this margin? The Toffees didn’t just beat their rivals; Carlo Ancelotti’s men stomped the Reds into online oblivion.

So who will Everton meet in the final after knocking off Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool?

The winner of Sheffield United and Wolves came in nail-biting fashion, the two sides nearly as evenly-matched as their 1-1 draw at the Molineux on Dec 1.

Wolves led for much of the day but saw their lead slip to 50.4-49.6 with minutes left in voting.

At 6:30 p.m. ET, it was dead-even. 50-50.

So we extended voting to extra time, and Nuno Espirito Santo must’ve deployed a ridiculous substitute because Wolves ran away with the thing to the tune of 59.6-40.4. #Swing.

[ LIVE: March Madness PL hub ]

If you want to see the full game schedule, seedings and bracket, here is the post you need as the tournament will run all week long:

Monday: Relegation semifinals, final – Aston Villa prevailed, Norwich, Bournemouth, Watford relegated
TuesdaySweet 16 results
WednesdayElite Eight
Thursday: Final Four
Friday: Championship game

Much-chased Havertz reportedly prefers Bayern move

Kai Havertz
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The latest transfer gossip regarding rumor mill regular Kai Havertz pours a lot of cold water on the hopes of several Premier League giants.

Havertz, 20, has been linked with Liverpool, Manchester United, and Manchester City this season with his odds of leaving Bayer Leverkusen at an all-time high. He’s also been connected to Arsenal, Chelsea, and Tottenham to cover most of the Top Six bases.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

But Sky Sports says the German playmaker is keen to stay in his home country and make a move to Bayern Munich, who has been linked with Havertz, Leroy Sane, and Timo Werner in a bid to revolutionize its UEFA Champions League credentials.

Havertz has 10 goals and eight assists in 34 matches this season after exploding for 20 and seven in 42 last year. He doesn’t turn 21 until June.

The youngster provides little defensively but averages 2.3 key passes and 2.3 dribbles per match in Bundesliga play while passing at a tidy 87 percent despite living in the danger areas.

Whoever gets Havertz has a gem on its hands, but perhaps the Premier League will amp up their interest and recruiting efforts after these reports (if they haven’t already).