MLS Snapshot: Sporting Kansas City 4-1 Toronto FC

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RTdzR-Unhp0]

One game, 100 words (or less): What began as an opportunity for Toronto to join the race at the top of the Eastern Conference turned into a reminder: The Reds are not on Sporting Kansas City’s level. In the first half, that reminder was obscured by two penalty calls that went Sporting’s way, allowing the defending champions to take a 2-1 lead into halftime. Over the final 45 minutes, the control that’s become characteristic of Peter Vermes’s team wore down the Reds, allowing the home side to claim a 4-1 result.

Goals:

Sporting KC: Dom Dwyer (18′ p.k., 33′ p.k.), Soony Saad (64′), C.J. Sapong (77′)

Toronto: Gilberto (45′)

Three moments that mattered:

33′ –  Drawing the call – Go to ground in the penalty area, and you’re taking a chance, if you’re a defender. You’re giving the referee an out, something a savvy attacker can exploit.

That’s exactly what happened in the 33rd minute. With Toronto having already giving up a goal from the spot, Doniel Henry went down in front of Dom Dwyer, and while the initial move didn’t draw contact, the Sporting attacker made sure Drew Fischer was left with a difficult call.

Moments later, Sporting was up, 2-0.

45′ – Reason for hope – Benny Feilhaber is one of the best middle-of-the-park distributors in Major League Soccer, but just before halftime, the former U.S. international looked like one of us. Scuffing a pass inside his own half, Feilhaber allowed Collen Warner to put Dominic Oduro behind the defense. Moments later, Gilberto’s near post run allowed the Reds to cut their deficit in half moments before intermission.

66′ – The inevitable – The early moments of the second half reminded us why Sporting is one of the league’s best teams with a lead. Between their quality in defense and ability to control the ball, Kansas City is more capable than most of seeing out a one-goal game.

Mid-way through the second half, that ability went from defining to irrelevant. After a Graham Zusi corner was cleared to the edge of the penalty area, Soony Saad put his second goal of the season into the right side netting, quelling any hope a second KC mistake could pull Toronto back even.

Lineups

Sporting KC: Jon Kempin; Igor Julião, Aurèlien Collin, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic; Lawrence Olum, Benny Feilhaber (Jorge Claros 73′), Graham Zusi; Soony Saad, Dom Dwyer (Claudio Bieler 80;), Sal Zizzo (C.J. Sapong 64′)

Toronto: Joe Bendik; Jackson, Nick Hagglund, Doniel Henry, Justin Morrow; Dominic Oduro (Daniel Lovitz 74′), Michael Bradley (Kyle Bekker 84′), Collen Warner, Jonathan Osario; Gilberto, Luke Moore (Bright Dike 78′)

Three lessons going forward:

1. Toronto wasn’t, isn’t this bad – Sporting was the better team, no doubt, but don’t look too deep into this final score. There was a certain momentum to the second half, one that belied the competitive nature of the first half hour. In the face of two penalties, Toronto may have thought the game was taken from them (players are never that rational about penalties). From that perspective, tonight’s result was a bit aberrational.

2. Best job in MLS: Goalkeeper for SKC – Jon Kempin’s first Major League Soccer start was ultimately a successful one, but just as we saw when Andy Greunebaum, Eric Kronberg, and Jimmy Neilsen have been in goal, being Sporting’s number one has its perks. Between the team’s possession and the play of Collin and Besler, Sporting keeps those shots on target low. Tonight, Kempin only faced three.

3. Wanted: Right backs – Toronto pressed Jackson into service at fullback tonight, a decision that backfired when the Brazilian midfielder conceded the game’s first penalty. Mark Bloom is approaching a return, but in its first choice’s absence, Toronto has had trouble finding reliable solutions at right back.

Where this leaves them:

  • The win moves Kansas City to the top of the Supporters’ Shield case, with tiebreakers giving them the edge on Real Salt Lake, who also has 42 points.
  • Toronto stays third in the East, now only two points up on the victorious Crew.

Maradona: Argentina drawing Iceland is “a disgrace”

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It’s been a pretty trying and criticism-filled 36 hours for Lionel Messi and Argentina, and that was already true before the World Cup hero that is Diego Maradona weighed in.

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No longer are La Albiceleste simply known as the side that drew tiny Iceland — the smallest nation to ever qualify for the World Cup — but now their efforts on Saturday have been dubbed “a disgrace” by Maradona.

It’s not so much the players whom Maradona, manager of the national team for the 2010 World Cup (quarterfinals appearance, beaten 4-0 by Germany), has gone after, but current boss Jorge Sampaoli for his lack of a proper gameplan befitting the opponent. As for Messi, who failed to convert a critical penalty kick, Maradona has absolved the Barcelona superstar of much of the blame — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s a disgrace. Not having prepared for the match knowing that Iceland are all [6-foot-3] tall.”

“I get the feeling there’s an anger at the heart of the team.”

“I don’t blame the players. I could blame the lack of work rate. But I can’t blame the players, much less Messi, who gave it all he had,” said Maradona.

“I missed five penalties on the spin and I was still Diego Armando Maradona. I don’t think that they dropped two points because Messi missed a penalty.”

England squad reconnects with fans with image makeover

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VOLGOGRAD, England (AP) — Whatever happens to England at the World Cup, at least the reception facing the squad should be less brutal than it was in 2014 after its exit following the group stage.’

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

For once, the players can’t be accused of hiding away, retreating behind their headphones. The hallmark of England’s preparations for Russia has been shedding the past reticence to engage with the public, a calculated move by the team leadership to reconnect with a public disaffected by years of failure at tournaments and uninspiring performances.

“They appear more relaxed. They appear more normal,” supporter Gavin Hughes said, overlooking the Volgograd Arena where England opens its World Cup campaign against Tunisia on Monday. “They appear human. They are just lads playing football at the end of the day. That’s been the problem in the past. There’s more of a togetherness.”

A defining clip of the 2010 World Cup was Wayne Rooney bellowing down the barrel of a camera after a 0-0 draw with Algeria: “Nice to see your home fans booing you, that’s what loyal support is.”

That disconnect with the public has been bridged by the 23-man squad facing the media in a 45-minute, Super Bowl-style session before leaving for Russia. The English Football Association’s approach is in a marked contrast to club duty where they are largely closeted away, save for appearances with paying broadcasters or often in controlled appearances.

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

“We’ve done a lot for the fans on social media so they can see what we are up to, which has not always been the case,” captain Harry Kane said Sunday. “It’s important while we have free time is to try to let the fans know what we are up to.”

The public is seeing a new side of the players. Not only are they more relatable but painted in a more sympathetic light, beyond the caricatures of millionaire mercenaries just chasing more money.

“That connection with the supporters is really important,” coach Gareth Southgate said. “There have been perceptions about our players for a long time … so it’s been really good for our public to see how much it means to the players to play, to see a different side of their personality.”

In a move unthinkable in years gone by, when a since-departed FA official blocked Rooney talking about his Christianity, defender Danny Rose recently opened up on his problems dealing with depression. Publicly praised by Prince William for raising awareness of health issues, Rose realizes how players can use their new platform to show their human side and inspire others.

“A lot of people messaged me to say thank you, that they know someone who is going through this or has been through that and that I’ve helped them and given them the confidence to express themselves,” Rose said. “We have a lot of down time and I’m going to think of something to help others when I get back. I’ve got time to think while I’m here and when I get back from the World Cup about how I can go forward and help people.”

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It’s not just about the players feeding a voracious traveling media pack with material. Kieran Trippier, who is also Rose’s club teammate at Tottenham, told the left back he appeared no longer burdened by a private plight in England’s last World Cup warm-up game.

“I was playing with a bit of freedom,” Rose said of the victory against Costa Rica. “I think he’s got a point.”

Southgate is credited with encouraging the warmer environment, far removed from the controlling regimes under Fabio Capello and Gary Neville, who was Roy Hodgson’s assistant for the dismal 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championship last-16 humbling to Iceland. A bemusing, running theme in the British papers at Euro 2016 in France was the players’ refusal to divulge any details of a darts tournament. The squad has been overhauled by Southgate and it has even been playing darts with the media at the World Cup base near St. Petersburg.

Southgate has been playing his part, going to fan forums in the buildup to the tournament to recognize the commitment and cost involved watching England abroad.

“Sometimes those really good people who follow us are overlooked at the expense of some who have caused problems in the past,” Southgate said.

Ultimately, results dictate the public mood and England hasn’t won a knockout game at any tournament since 2006.

“It’s about how we perform,” Southgate said, “but there’s a bigger picture.”

WATCH: World Cup, Day 5 — England, Belgium enter the fray

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The weekend might be all but over, but that doesn’t mean that 2018 World Cup action is slowing down anytime soon.

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Monday, in fact, will be quite the opposite, as Group G giants — and a pair of popular dark horse picks — Belgium and England make their debut in Russia, taking on Panama and Tunisia, respectively.

Following Germany’s 1-0 loss to Mexico on Sunday, Group F is currently turned upside down on its head. Sweden and South Korea, who’ll face off in the day’s opener, are even more hopeful now than prior to the start of the tournament.

Below is Monday’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 – Monday, June 18

Group F
Sweden vs. South Korea: Nizhny Novgorod, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group G
Belgium vs. Panama: Sochi, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Tunisia vs. England: Volgograd, 2 p.m. ET –LIVE COVERAGE

Petkovic: Time to “take Switzerland seriously” after Brazil draw

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While much of the talk about Sunday’s 1-1 draw between Brazil and Switzerland will focus on the former, the Swiss would like their share of credit for frustrating — and matching — one of a handful of favorites to win the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

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Switzerland manager Vladimir Petkovic is chief among those who believe it’s time those on the outside “start taking notice of us and taking us seriously.” As for the insinuations that his side roughed up Neymar, who suffered 10 of the 19 fouls committed by Switzerland, most of them were “very clean” — quotes from the BBC:

“Sometimes if there is a lack of recognition that is a pity because we have played very well. We showed and demonstrated that this team always believes in itself and can achieve results.

“Most of the duels (with Neymar) were won in a very clean way. It was one of the key ingredients to neutralize Neymar.”

“I’m very proud and pleased with the discipline with the way we played. We worked collectively and cohesively.”

“When we are able to play forward and press higher up we were able to do it well and it is an excellent starting position for the rest of our group matches.

“We had real difficulties in the first 40 minutes, I said ‘let’s remain calm, focused and believe in ourselves, push up higher up the pitch and create opportunities to score.'”

Having secured a point in far and away their toughest group game, Switzerland now have eminently winnable games against Serbia (Friday) and Costa Rica (Wednesday, June 27) remaining. Four points from those two games would just about guarantee progression to the knockout rounds.