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.)

Key issues ahead of Premier League restart

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The 2019-20 Premier League season will restart on June 17, the league confirmed Thursday, but there are still plenty of issues to sort out ahead of the resumption.

‘Project Restart’ still has a little way to go, but we now have a date.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

The Premier League held in-depth meetings with all 20 clubs and, among other matters, June 17 emerged as the date games will return. Due to the coronavirus pandemic the Premier League season was suspended on March 13 with 92 games remaining.

As per the agreement, the two games in hand, Man City v. Arsenal and Aston Villa v. Sheffield United, will be played on June 17 so all teams are on 29 games played when then the rest of the games resume on June 19-21.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters confirmed the restart date of June 17, as long as everything goes as planned with a return to contact training and COVID-19 tests among Premier League staff and players.

There is still plenty to sort out though, so here’s a look at the key questions and issues which remain between now and the Premier League restart on June 17.


Will teams play games at home stadiums?

Some reports state that Liverpool will play home games at a neutral venue due to concerns from police about fans congregating outside Anfield considering their impending title victory. Other high-profile games such as Tottenham against Arsenal may not be played at home stadiums either as reports state that neutral stadiums such as Wembley may be used to host some of the higher profile matches. Simply put, the only thing we know about stadiums is that they will be empty for all of the remaining 92 games of the season.


What happens if there is a second wave of COVID-19 in the UK or within Premier League clubs?

The key part of Richard Masters’ statement was the first few sentences: “Today we have provisionally agreed to resume the Premier League on Wednesday 17 June. But this date cannot be confirmed until we have met all the safety requirements needed, as the health and welfare of all participants and supporters is our priority.” The Premier League have to first and foremost make sure there is no rise in the number of COVID-19 positive tests among its players and staff.

Staff and players are all tested twice per week and 60 tests will be available to each club. So far, out of 2,752 tests from three batches, there have been 12 positive COVID-19 tests. If those numbers stay that way, or fall, the Premier League will be in good shape to return, as planned, on June 17. If they rise, the date will have to be pushed back. There can be no room for complacency from clubs and players over safety protocols during the next three weeks and beyond. That said, the situation in the UK has been the worst in Europe in terms of the death toll and if a second spike arrives in England, the plan for the Premier League restart would be put in jeopardy.


If the season is delayed further and the games cannot be finished, then what?

It has been reported, but not confirmed, that clubs agreed that an unweighted points-per-game model will be used to decide the final table if the season is curtailed. That means that the average number of points teams have won during their games played so far will be calculated in accordance with their remaining games to play. The Premier League have admitted they will have to come to a curtailment plan just in case the situation worsens in the UK or within their clubs.


Using five substitutes per game?

This is something the Premier League can do as the IFAB rules allow it and have been modified during the pandemic. Clubs will be able to use five substitutes per game, up from three, but subs can only be used in specified windows such as half time so the flow of the game isn’t disrupted. This has worked well in the Bundesliga and it is expected it will also work well in the Premier League, especially with so many games being played in a six-week period.


What about players out of contract?

This is something the Premier League clubs have already agreed on. With most player contracts running until June 30, we now know that the 2019-20 season will run beyond that date. Up until June 23, clubs and players can agree to extend the contracts until the end of the 2019-20 season as a short-term measure. However, players and club do not have to do this so some players may be out of contract and free to move on from July 1.

Spadafora: Coppa Italia, Serie A can return June 13

Serie A return
Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images
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Italian football can return June 13 with the second legs of the Coppa Italia semifinals and perhaps the final, followed by Serie A the next weekend.

Italian sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora made the announcement Thursday, bringing calcio back to a country that’s been ravaged by the coronavirus.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

In addition to stringent testing protocols and quarantine for club members who test positive, Serie A has plans in place for another wave of the coronavirus should it rear its ugly head. From Football-Italia.com:

“The FIGC also assured me that the Plan B (play-offs and play-outs) and Plan C (using the existing table) can be adopted in case of suspension. It is not up to me as Minister to decide, as that will be done by the FIGC. In the light of all those events, we can today say that the season can resume from June 20.”

Spadafora said he was hopeful the entire Coppa Italia could be completed before June 20, which would be a heavy burden on two of the following semifinalists: AC Milan, Inter Milan, Juventus, and Napoli.

The winners could face three matches inside of eight or nine days.

Napoli leads Inter after one leg in Milan, while Milan and Juve drew 1-1 at the San Siro.

Juve had its four Coppa run broken by Lazio last season. The Old Lady leads Lazio by one point in the race for a ninth-consecutive scudetto.

MLS announces return voluntary small group training

MLS return
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Major League Soccer’s long road to returning from the coronavirus pause has hit another mile marker with the return of voluntary outdoor small group training.

The full team training moratorium remains in place through at least June 1.

MLS made the announcement Thursday and there are several stipulations given the size of our country and the variables in how it’s governed at the state and local level.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The voluntary sessions will be held “in compliance with detailed health and safety protocols that were created in consultation with medical and infectious disease experts.”

Perhaps most notably:

The sessions must not conflict with local public health official or government policies and provide the ability for players to step up their training while maintaining physical distancing protocols.

The league has been under a mandatory training moratorium since the league suspended its season on March 12.

MLS is also making sure to cover every base imaginable, healthwise and legal, by making public and transparent its demands of its clubs.

It’s been a busy break for MLS, which has canceled three major events but also taken hold of the boys youth soccer landscape.

Premier League schedule, how to watch

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The 2019-20 Premier League season will restart on June 17, the league confirmed on Thursday, and here is how you can watch every single game live on TV and online in the USA.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

‘Project Restart’ is all systems go.

The Premier League held in-depth meetings with all 20 clubs and, among other matters, June 17 emerged as the date games will return. Due to the coronavirus pandemic the Premier League season was suspended on March 13 with 92 games remaining.

[ MORE: Reaction to return ]

As per the agreement, the two games in hand, Man City v. Arsenal and Aston Villa v. Sheffield United, will be played on June 17 so all teams are on 29 games played when then the rest of the games resume on June 19-21.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

It is believed that the clubs want the Premier League season to be finished by August 1, so clubs can then focus on the FA Cup and European action in the Europa League and Champions League, while the 2020-21 season can then resume in early September.

Below is how the new weekend and midweek schedule for the Premier League games in June and July will look, with specific games.

Click on the link above to watch every single Premier League game live in the USA across our platforms here at NBC Sports.

Weekend match schedule
Friday: 3 p.m. ET
Saturday: 7:30 a.m., ET, 10 a.m. ET, 12:30 p.m. ET, 3 p.m. ET
Sunday: 7 a.m. ET, 9 a.m. ET, 11:30 a.m. ET, 2 p.m. ET
Monday: 3 p.m. ET

Midweek match schedule
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday 1 p.m. ET and 3 p.m. ET