What we learned in MLS Cup about Real Salt Lake

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The obvious lesson after 10 rounds of penalties: There isn’t much separating Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake, a message that comes across crystal clear in the final score (1-1). But for a team that barely missed out on a second Major League Soccer title, there are a few other, minor lessons to take from Saturday’s performance:

Experience mattered early

Sporting Kansas City earned the right to host MLS Cup, an advantage that nearly paid off early. When Tony Beltran was getting beat early by Graham Zusi and Seth Sinovic, that was Sporting taking advantage of a their home field before the visitors had time to adjust. The entire east flank of Sporting Park’s pitch was frozen solid.

Real Salt Lake knew what they were in for, though. They knew the elements would be a factor, the crowd would pile on the pressure, and Sporting would come with their characteristic intensity. Eventually RSL was able to adjust, leveraging the experience of a team whose core has been together for over five years.

Would a less-experienced team have been able to weather the storm? Possibly, but it’s not hard to explain RSL absorbing Kansas City’s energy in terms of a squad’s been there, done that past. Perhaps that past didn’t include a situation that mirrored Saturday’s challenges, but having adapted to a myriad challenges over the last five years, Real Salt Lake was able to adjust. They got to halftime even.

The Jason Kreis story was a non-factor

Again, this is where experience mattered, but all the controversy around Jason Kreis’s will he, won’t he decision? It didn’t matter. Asking players after the game, the story was clearly a non-issue. The players have long come to grips with the fact their head coach might move on. There was no added urgency, no sense that this would be an end of the road of sorts. Generally satisfied with their performance, the team was left to rue a series of near-misses, not anything that might happen this offseason.

Rimando’s penalty kick mastery didn’t shine through

source:  If the game went to kicks, conventional wisdom held, Real Salt Lake would have the advantage. Nick Rimando is the man you want between the pipes, the league’s most successful goalkeeper on penalty kicks having already won an MLS Cup shootout in 2009. If Kansas City was going to win on Saturday, they needed to do so before a shootout.

Not so. In fact, Rimando was out-shone in the shootout by Jimmy Nielsen, who guessed correctly on three of the last four tries. The only one he didn’t read correctly? Lovel Palmer’s blast off the crossbar.

Perhaps Rimando didn’t fail as much as he was beaten, but of eight penalty shots that went on frame, he only saved one. While nobody’s going to say he should have done better, he wasn’t nearly as unbeatable as the pre-shootout talk would have you believe. Rimando was second-best.

For RSL’s center halves, it was only a matter of time

Nat Borchers and Chris Schuler had another strong game, but on Kansas City’s only goal, Schuler was beaten. Aurélien Collin got above him and kept him on the ground for Sporting’s second half goal, heading home the corner that pulled back Álvaro Saborío’s opener.

Given how many set piece chances Real Salt Lake was allowing, it was only a matter of time. Between corner kicks conceded and the fouls committed deep in their own end, RSL was rolling the die too often against a team that has Graham Zusi providing service, Collin and C.J. Sapong attacking crosses.

Although Borchers and Schuler did a decent job throughout the match, the junior member of the pair was eventually beaten. It was only a matter of time.

No one remembers how you lose

Over the past four years, Real Salt Lake has been the beneficiary of our selective memories. Few people have dwell on how they won their first title, even if it was on kicks. All that matters is that they were champions in 2009. Nobody cares that they won by tiebreaker.

For 2013, those selective memories will work against them. Ten rounds of penalty kicks imply there was almost nothing between the two sides, but thanks to a crossbar, an MLS Cup sits between Sporting and Salt Lake.

“Almost champions”? It’s just not part of our lexicon. Real Salt Lake know it. It’s what makes this loss so hard.

Ronaldo explains his new chin hair at World Cup

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Now that Cristiano Ronaldo has taken to sporting a reasonable hairstyle atop his head, people are talking about the foliage on his face.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

Ronaldo, 33, drew speculation when he stroked his chin following a goal in his hat trick performance against Spain in the World Cup opener. Some said he was demonstrating defiance against Lionel Messi posing with a goat (Greatest Of All Time) in a recent photograph.

Ronaldo scored again on Wednesday, and there was seemingly little doubt his goatee was a wink to the speculators. But what did it mean, CR7? From ESPN:

“This goatee? It’s a joke I had with [Ricardo] Quaresma. “We were in the sauna [before Friday’s match against Spain] and I started to shave and I left the goatee. I said if I score tomorrow, I would leave it for the rest of the tournament. And it gave me luck.

“I scored in that game, I scored in this one, so it stays.”

Personally, I like to imagine Ronaldo starting to get as wild with his facial hair as he did his head hair.

Perhaps a beatnik style, or something like Serj Tankian from System of a Down. Get nuts, C-Ron.

Report: Southampton could sell Tadic to Ajax for $20m

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Could Southampton be selling one of its most creative forces?

Dusan Tadic, 29, is in the middle of a World Cup run with dark horse Serbia, but the Saints star is also being talked about as a purchase item for Ajax.

[ MORE: Serbia tops Costa Rica ]

The celebrated Eredivisie has traditionally been a selling club for the Premier League, but could be a $20 million buy for Ajax.

The report says director of players Marc Overmars and financial director Jeroen Slop have flown to Southampton to work out a deal.

Tadic starred for Dutch sides Groningen and Twente between 2010-14 before moving to St. Mary’s for a reported $12 million.

He’s scored 24 goals with 35 assists in 162 appearances for Saints, 21 and 30 of which came in the Premier League.

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE