Sporting Kansas City punches ticket for MLS Cup; downs Houston in Eastern Conference final

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Sporting Kansas City is going to its third MLS Cup final – and hosting its first, as MLS Cup 2013 will be played at Sporting Park on Dec. 7.

Sporting KC got there on a frigid Saturday night with a 2-1 win over Houston in the second leg of the teams’ home-and-away aggregate goals Eastern Conference finals series. The team’s had played to a scoreless draw in the opening leg in Houston.

Benny Feilhaber, Kansas City’s former U.S. international midfield playmaker, had been rather quiet in that first contest. But he was huge in Saturday’s return leg, with an imprint on Kansas City’s first goal and a beautiful assist on Dom Dwyer’s 63rd-minute game-winner.

Fans inside the packed house at Sporting Park will certainly remember Saturday’s match for the tough conditions, the coldest temperatures ever recorded in MLS.

Temperature at kickoff was 22 degrees; the league began keeping records of weather conditions in 2003. MLS executive vice president of communications Dan Courtemanche said before the contest that he believed Saturday’s match was indeed the coldest ever (regular season or playoff) going all the way back to the league’s 1996 launch.

With Saturday’s loss, the Houston Dynamo missed a bid to play in a third consecutive MLS Cup and a fifth final in eight years. Rather, Sporting Kansas City will participate in its third MLS Cup match, but its first since losing to D.C. United in 2004. Kansas City won MLS Cup in its only other championship game appearance, in 2000 (playing then as the Kansas City Wizards).

(MORE: Sporting Kansas City Man of the Match, Dom Dwyer)

Houston was up against long odds in this one even before kickoff – and it had nothing to do with the record-setting weather. Former U.S. international midfielder Ricardo Clark, probably the most important Dynamo man other than U.S. international Brad Davis and possibly goalkeeper Tally Hall, was held out because of a knee injury collected in the opening leg. Although Clark had not trained during the two-week break, he had never officially been ruled out.

Houston was also without Will Bruin, its starting striker and a fringe U.S. national teamer.

As a result of Clark’s absence, Houston manager Dominic Kinnear pulled his team from its typical 4-4-2, re-aligning the side into a far less familiar 4-3-3 look.

(MORE: What we learned in Kansas City’s big win)

The danger of another 0-0 stalemate (like the first leg) disappeared almost immediately as Houston’s Honduran international attacker Boniek Garcia finished an early surge with a shot that deflected into Kansas City goal after just three minutes.

Houston’s early goal was classic counter attacking stuff, as Feilhaber tripped over the ball while entering Houston’s defensive third. Houston’s Davis immediately set the visitors’ counter-attack into motion, with Andrew Driver soon beating Kansas City right back Chance Myers.

Eleven minutes later C.J. Sapong pounced first and with ferocity as a ball popped loose just inside Houston’s penalty area. Collecting the ball off a Dynamo tackle as a surging Feilhaber was stripped of possession, Sapong beat Tally Hall to the far post in the 14th minute.

Missed chances on either side marked much of the match, with Dwyer and Sapong failing from inside the six-yard box for KC, and Cam Weaver going well high on an uncontested shot from eight yards for Houston.

Feilhaber was front-and-center in events once again just after the hour mark, taking a pass from a galloping Graham Zusi and chipping a wonderful pass into stride for Dwyer for the game-winner.

(MORE: Save the date — MLS Cup will be at Sporting Park on Dec. 7)

Reina faces hearing over links with trio connected to mafia

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ROME (AP) Outgoing Napoli goalkeeper Pepe Reina has been summoned to a hearing at the Italian football federation over his association with people with links to the mafia.

Reina, along with Paolo Cannavaro and Salvatore Aronica, is to face the FIGC’s disciplinary committee after an investigation by Naples’ anti-mafia department.

It is reportedly one of the reasons why Napoli decided not to renew Reina’s contract, with the former Liverpool goalkeeper set to move to AC Milan on a free transfer.

The FIGC says Reina “has had and continues to have inopportune association and friendship with Gabriele Esposito, Francesco Esposito and Giuseppe Esposito.” It adds that that includes holidays and “an exchange of favors.”

Cannavaro, who had two spells with Napoli, retired at Sassuolo last year. Aronica also spent several years at the southern club before joining Palermo in 2013.

Iran names initial squad for World Cup

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Jalal Hosseini and Vouria Ghaffouri have both been left off Iran’s provisional 24-man squad for the World Cup.

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz did not say why Hosseini, a Persepolis defender, and Ghaffouri were not included.

There was space for midfielders Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Hajsafi, however. Both played with Greek club Panionios against Maccabi Tel Aviv in August 2017. Iran does not recognize Israel and its supreme leader has threatened the country in the past. Both Shojaei and Hajsafi missed matches with the national team after the game.

Alireza Jahanbakhsh, a 24-year-old forward who plays in the Netherlands with AZ Alkmaar, is also in the squad, which was announced Sunday.

In the midfield, Queiroz chose Saeid Ezatolahi, although the Amkar Perm player will miss the team’s first World Cup match because he was given a red card in a game against South Korea in qualifying.

Nottingham Forest midfielder Ashkan Dejagah was also chosen.

Goalkeeper Amir Abedzadeh of Portuguese club Maritimo made the squad. His father, Ahmadreza Abedzadeh, was Iran captain and goalkeeper at the 1998 World Cup in France.

Iran will play in Group B at the World Cup with Portugal, Spain and Morocco. The team will play warm-up matches in Turkey and Greece before heading to Russia.

Goalkeepers: Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Rashid Mazaheri (Zob Ahan), Amir Abedzadeh (Maritimo)

Defenders: Ramin Rezaeian (KV Oostende), Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh (Padideh), Morteza Pouraliganji (Al Saad), Pejman Montazeri (Esteghlal), Seyed Majid Hosseini (Esteghlal), Milad Mohammadi (Akhmat Grozny), Roozbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal)

Midfielders: Saeid Ezatolahi (Amkar Perm), Masoud Shojaei (AEK Athens), Mehdi Torabi (Saipa), Ashkan Dejagah (Nottingham Forest), Omid Ebrahimi (Esteghlal), Ehsan Hajsafi (Olympiakos), Vahid Amiri (Persepolis), Saman Ghoddos (Ostersunds FK), Ali Gholizadeh (Saipa)

Forwards: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar), Karim Ansarifard (Olympiakos), Mahdi Taremi (Al-Gharafa Sports Club), Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan), Reza Ghoochannejhad (SC Heerenveen)

Six Premier Leaguers named to Argentina, but no Icardi

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Argentina’s World Cup roster features a number of the usual suspects, particularly up front, but Serie A’s top goalscorer has been surprisingly left off the list of 23.

[ MORE: Belgium goes to World Cup without Nainggolan ]

Manager Jorge Sampaoli’s squad was made official on Monday, which includes the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain.

The Albiceleste won’t be taking Inter Milan striker Mauro Icardi though, which has raised some questions about the decision.

Icardi led all scorers in Italy’s top flight this season, scoring 29 goals in 34 Serie A matches, while Paulo Dybala edged out the final striker spot in the Argentina squad.

Dybala is teammates with Higuain at Italian giants Juventus.

Meanwhile, six Premier League players were named into the South American nation’s squad, including goalkeepers Sergio Romero (Man United) and Willy Caballero (Chelsea), as well as Nicolas Otamendi (Man City), Marcos Rojo (Man United) and Manuel Lanzini (West Ham).

Men in Blazers POD: FA Cup recap, UCL final preview and more

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Rog and Davo recap a spite-fueled, snear-filled, peak Phil Jones FA Cup Final, preview this weekend’s Champions League tilt between Liverpool and Real Madrid and eulogize Big Sam… gone the opposite of too soon. Plus, World Cup rosters and MLS.

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