MLS Cup: Notes from Sporting Kansas City press conference

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KANSAS CITY – Most of the media members pulling into town arrived Wednesday or Thursday, so the MLS Cup event schedule more or less began today.

First up was a press conference with members of both teams. Real Salt Lake was delayed out of Utah (weather and all), but Sporting Kansas City was in place and right on time. A few notes out of SKC’s session:

  • No frost on the field this time

The temperature at Sporting Park will set an MLS Cup record for cold, and easily so. But the field should be fine … and we’ll see none of the frost that made the field a bit treacherous toward the end of Sporting KC’s (similarly frigid) Eastern Conference final series clincher over Houston. Or so says Vermes.

Vermes explained that was all about a facility crew miscommunication. SOP on MLS grounds is to water the field, to increase ball speed. But the message somehow got lost that watering the field wasn’t a good idea with sub-freezing temperatures.

“There was a little bit of a frost toward the end of the game that started to come onto the field,” Vermes said. “That’s not going to happen this time around.”

He reminded the room (jam-packed with media) that Sporting Park is equipped with an underground heating system, so a frozen ground should not be an issue.

As for the cold temps and how it might affect the players? Nielsen talked about how cold he was during the win over Houston. And he’s from Denmark!

But Zusi just kind of shrugged: “Cold is cold,” he said. “When you’re moving around, it’s no big deal.”

  • Claudio Bieler will appear in the SKC 18

It’s a little weird that Vermes would need to be asked about Claudio Bieler’s role Saturday – seeing as he is a Designated Player and all. But it’s a very legit question considering how the Argentine striker’s playing time has virtually disappeared over the last two months. (And considering that he didn’t even travel for SKC’s first playoff match.)

Vermes said Bieler would be in the 18-man game roster. Past that … ? The manager said he hasn’t decided on a starting 11.

Vermes went on to say nice things about how Bieler has adapted to the league and has scored important goals, and about how his late-summer injury coincided with some other strikers getting healthy, etc. But, clearly, something has gone wrong here. Otherwise, we’re not talking or asking about this.

  • Nielsen on a championship, and what it means

SKC players clearly respect their veteran captain, goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen (pictured above). So perhaps they will heed his words.

Nielsen told a quick story about winning a championship in Denmark when he was quite young – and about being quite sure more would regularly tumble in. Since then, he’s one just a U.S. Open Cup, which he cited proudly, but which he clearly places below a league crown on the achievement scale.

“Fifteen years later, I’m still standing on one real championship,” Nielsen said. “I’m sure that Saturday I would appreciate a championship a lot more than I did 15 years ago. Now I know how hard it is to win a championship.”

  • Teams training Friday

Both teams will train Friday at approximately the same time as kickoff on Saturday (3 p.m. locally). Real Salt Lake (which trained in Utah prior to chartering in Thursday evening) will practice at at Sporting Park. SKC will train at its usual facility at Swope Park, on the south side of the city.

MORE ProSoccerTalk MLS CUP COVERAGE

  • Real Salt Lake

Report says Jason Kreis on sure track to take NYCFC job; the RSL manager just frowns

Looking back on RSL’s top moment as a club, the 2009 MLS Cup

Real Salt Lake in 2013: the “not-so-rebuilding” year

  • Sporting Kansas City

What we learned as SKC dispatched Houston in the Eastern finals

Sporting KC’s new way; the team is far more versatile today

MLS Cup 2000 flashback: Meola, Molnar and the SKC heroes

The Benny Feilhaber conundrum; has Peter Vermes finally cracked the code?

  • MLS Cup general

MLS Cup will close banner 2013 season for Sporting Park

MLS Cup first: manager who are both former players in the league

Debunking the myth of Sporting KC, Real Salt Lake as bitter rivals

MLS Cup history: the three best finals yet

Looking at how the playoff format worked in 2013

Matic: Man Utd needs more experience in its squad

AP Photo/Tim Ireland
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Nemanja Matic would like to see a bit more veteran bravery in his Manchester United side.

The title-winning 29-year-old midfielder finished second in the Premier League this season, his first with the Red Devils after a strong run with Chelsea.

[ MORE: Man Utd youngster gets USMNT call-up ]

The Blues beat United in Saturday’s FA Cup Final, and Matic says the answer to winning hardware isn’t in talent as much as it is wisdom.

From the BBC:

“The only team who is better than us this year is Man City,” said Matic. “Obviously, they play amazing football. But we are second and we are in the Champions League next year, which is the most important thing. I think we need some players with some experience to bring some more qualities to our team.”

United loses one veteran cog in Michael Carrick, and both Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney have skipped town in the last year.

Who could fit the bill in terms of old hats in current United positions of weakness? Well, a full offseason for Alexis Sanchez will help, and perhaps the rumors of Toby Alderweireld make the most sense of any we’ve seen in recent weeks.

MLS Things: Shuttleworth, Quintero somehow get Loons a point vs. SKC

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Entering the day, no one was arguing that hosts Minnesota United were a better side than Sporting KC.

The Loons were 11 points and 19 goals worth of differential behind Western Conference-leading KC.

[ MORE: Other MLS Things — The Archive ]

They still are, despite a 1-1 Sunday match which carried a fitting disparity on the pitch but nothing to separate the two on the scoreboard.

Khiry gets his just desserts

Oregon State product Khiry Shelton has been wonderful for Sporting KC this season, but the striker just hasn’t found the back of the goal.

That finally changed Sunday, when his downbound header got the better of Bobby Shuttleworth — more on him later — and allowed him a richly-deserved first SKC goal which could well break down the dam.

The eighth minute saw Shelton score his goal on one of just six Loons shot attempts.

Shuttleworth back in business

It’s not always sexy to go to the veteran backstop, but it looks like Adrian Heath should’ve called Bobby Shuttleworth’s name a long time ago.

Entering the day, Shuttleworth had the second-best WhoScored.com rating of any goalkeeper to appear in more than five matches (Evan Bush).

While certainly part of that has to do with the defensive actions foisted upon him, Shuttleworth was the main reason SKC’s 24-6 advantage in attempts failed to turn into anything other than a point.

Darwin

Darwin Quintero has had more good matches than bad ones since joining the Loons, and added his third goal in seven matches with this rebound finish on Sunday.

Quintero had two goals and four assists in 17 Liga MX matches, but has been perfectly revitalized by the Minnesota air.

VIDEO: Coutinho scores brilliant curler; Iniesta walks off

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It’s often funny to read the A. in front of Andres Iniesta’s surname on his match jersey, as if there’s any other.

On Sunday, the 34-year-old midfielder walked off the field for the last time (video at bottom) as a Barcelona player, handing the captain’s arm band to Lionel Messi and beginning a new era for both the club and player.

[ MORE: Bayern salutes Heynckes (again) ]

Barcelona beat Real Sociedad 1-0 on Sunday in the final La Liga match of the season.

While the match will be remembered as Iniesta’s last with Blaugranas, Philippe Coutinho gave a glimpse of the future with his eighth goal of the season and sixth in his last five games.

Barca finishes a 1-loss season with 99 goals and a 14-point lead over La Liga runners-up Atletico Madrid.

Bayern Munich fans pay tribute to Jupp Heynckes, again

AP Photo/Matthias Schrader
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MUNICH (AP) Bayern Munich fans turned up in their thousands to bid farewell to Jupp Heynckes for a second time on Sunday.

The veteran coach is going back into retirement after leading Bayern to another league title. The side was five points adrift when he returned in October, but rebounded to wrap up the title with five rounds to spare.

[ MORE: Pellegrini to WHU inches closer ]

It might have been more for Heynckes, but Eintracht Frankfurt stunned the side to win the German Cup final on Saturday and Real Madrid emerged triumphant from the sides’ Champions League semifinal.

Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge paid tribute to the 73-year-old Heynckes for bringing “old values” such as “humanity and empathy” back to the side.

“The little downside for us is that we would have liked to give our Jupp, our coach, the nearly perfect finish, but it didn’t quite work out,” Rummenigge said of the shock defeat to Frankfurt.

Heynckes led Bayern to the Champions League, Bundesliga and German Cup titles in his previous stint in 2013, before he retired for the first time.

Bayern’s players were clearly still disappointed over Saturday’s cup defeat as they celebrated the league win on the Munich town hall balcony.

“It feels really bad, how the season ended,” said Thomas Mueller, who added that the team would try to “put a brave face on it.”