Three things we learned from Sporting KC’s 1-1 draw with New York Red Bulls

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Following Sporting Kansas City’s 1-1 draw with the New York Red Bulls (full highlights above), it’s safe to say both sides are far from finished products as Week 1 of the 2015 Major League Soccer season draws to a close.

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Sunday night taught us a lot about both Sporting KC, as head coach Peter Vermes attempts to re-boot an already-accomplished side and return it to MLS Cup glory, and the New York Red Bulls, as Jesse Marsch looks to assemble his new team in a mold of his own.

THE FEILHABER-ESPINOZA DOUBLE PIVOT IS A WORK IN PROGRESS

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Those are Feilhaber and Espinoza’s passing diagrams. That’s a whole lot of red (65 percent completed) for two midfielders of their caliber, and with such a high defensive line behind them, it’s going to have to be much better going forward. In mid-season form, Felipe and/or Dax McCarty feed Bradley Wright-Phillips a better ball in behind the backline, and he’s finishing the one-on-one chance.

[ READ: All of PST’s 2015 team-by-team MLS previews ]

They also struggled positionally in defense, particularly in transition. The tendency for both players is to get forward, press high and always remain active. They did just that in the build-up to Lloyd Sam’s equalizing goal, and it cost them two points.

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That’s with the ball en route from Felipe to Sam. Notice where Krisztian Nemeth, the third central midfielder, is. Because he leaves such a gap in the center of the field, Feilhaber (right) and Espinoza (left) push forward to fill the void. Let’s have a look at what that leaves Sporting with defensively once Lloyd receives the pass.

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The answer: acres of space. Matt Besler rightly steps up to challenge Sam, but already on a yellow card, he can’t blow the play up with a firm tackle. Instead, Sam skates by Besler, turns him at the top of the penalty area and applies the perfect finish. Basically, soccer is dominoes, and one of Feilhaber or Espinoza has to be content to sit deep when the other presses forward, no matter the situation. They’ll get it because they’re both elite MLS players, but it’ll take a bit of gelling first.

All that said, Feilhaber was still the best player on the field. The above criticisms say a lot about how good he’s been for 18 months now, that I expect him to be near perfect every time out.

LIFE IS GOING TO BE A LITTLE TOUGHER FOR BWP IN 2015

Life was pretty good for Wright-Phillips when he had Thierry Henry feeding him five, 10, 15 or 20 golden goalscoring chances each game. So great, in fact, he managed to score 27 goals in 2014. Now, that’s not to say Henry was the lone maker of BWP’s historic goalscoring run, but it’s going to take all sorts of different contributions from BWP this year if the Red Bulls are to make the playoffs.

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Tha’s Felipe’s passing diagram. It’s actually pretty good (80 percent completed), but notice all of one pass completed into the final third. If that’s Henry hitting balls forward for BWP, at least half are complete and probably a couple in the back of the net, given Sporting’s high line.

I fear the Red Bull attack is going to struggle this season, unless/until BWP finds a way to be a bigger part of the build-up. Chances are going to be few and far between otherwise, and he’ll have to strike near perfect all year to put up his numbers.

MATT BESLER HASN’T LOOKED HIMSELF FOR NEARLY A YEAR

Look, I don’t know if it’s time to start asking, What’s wrong with Matt Besler (I don’t think it is), but he’s not been great since before the World Cup last year. And it’s not the “mistake” that led to the goal, or even the two yellow cards that got him sent off. It’s the little things at which Besler used to excel — practically to perfection — that haven’t been…right…for a while.

[ MORE: Kaka, Diskerud score as Orlando City, NYCFC draw in dual-debut ]

No doubt the absence of a true defensive midfielder shielding the back four has hurt the entire defense since Uri Rosell was sold in May 2014 — and Besler has often taken upon himself the responsibility to step forward and fill the void — he’s just not looked the same confident, never-puts-a-foot-wrong defensive commander I watched week in and week out from 2011 to early-2014.

We’ll leave it at that for now and see what the next few weeks look like before we go sounding any imaginary alarm.

Fernandez scores twice as Portland wins thriller in Seattle (video)

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
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The game in 200 words (or less): Brian Fernandez has made the most of his first two-plus months in MLS, undoubtedly capped off by a star’s performance in his Timbers-Sounders rivalry debut on Sunday. The Argentine scored both of Portland’s goals in a 2-1 victory at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, all while managing to annoy anyone and everyone in Rave Green with his pest-like antics.

Fernandez’s first came after just 20 minutes. His second came barely 20 seconds after Raul Ruidiaz drew Seattle level in the second half. With the result, Portland climbs to within two points of the Western Conference’s seventh and final playoff place. Seattle, meanwhile, misses out on a chance to leapfrog LA Galaxy for second.

[ MORE: Pity proves his point as Atlanta tops DCU late (video) ]

Three moments that mattered

20′ — Fernandez slams home after Moreira smashes the crossbar — Jorge Moreira’s initial blast deserved to hit the back of the net, but he’ll surely settle for Fernandez cleaning up the mess and bagging the opener.

50′ — Ruidiaz passes into an empty net for 1-1 — Steve Clark was trying to… hmm, you know what? Not really sure.

51′ — Fernandez answers right back and it’s 2-1 — It was the deftest of touches, but it’s all that was required seconds after Portland conceded down the other end of the field.

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Man of the match: Brian Fernandez

Goalscorers: Fernandez (20′, 51′), Ruidiaz (50′)

Red Bulls escape Orlando with three points (video)

AP Photo/John Raoux
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The game in 200 words (or less): The New York Red Bulls needed a little help from the woodwork to escape Orlando with a victory on Sunday, and they got it — not once, not twice, but three times in the second half. After scoring the game’s only goal just past the half-hour mark, Luis Robles and Co., held on for dear life as Orlando City SC attacked with wave after wave of pressure. Robles made four saves, while the posts and crossbar made three more for him. Brian White scored the goal, assisted by Kaku, his seventh of the season. The victory sees the Red Bulls climb past New York City FC for fourth place in the Eastern Conference, now just a point back of D.C. United in third and two back of Atlanta United in second.

[ MORE: Pity proves his point as Atlanta tops DCU late (video) ]

Three moments that mattered

32′ — White finishes Kaku’s curling ball — Brian Rowe is unlucky not to make the save, but it would have been a grave crime against brilliance for this ball from Kaku not to result in a goal.

60′ — Ascues hits the crossbar — Woodwork.

77′ — Kljestan smashes the post — Woodwork again. The follow-up accidentally hits Robles as he’s lying on the ground.

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Man of the match: Luis Robles/posts and crossbar

Goalscorers: White (32′)

Sevilla score late winner to beat Liverpool in Fenway friendly

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BOSTON (AP) Alejandro Pozo scored in the 90th minute on an assist from Munir El Haddadi to give hard-fighting Sevilla a victory over crowd favorite Liverpool at Fenway Park on Sunday in a game that was friendly in name only.

The Spanish side finished with 10 players after Gnagnon Joris violently kicked the legs out from under Liverpool midfielder Yasser Larouci in the 76th minute; he crashed to the turf, remained down for several minutes and was taken off on a stretcher.

Despite temperatures in the mid-90s, nearly the entire 37,000-seat ballpark was full for the friendly, with most of them dressed in red to support Liverpool. The Champions League winners and the Boston Red Sox, who make their home at Fenway, are both owned by groups led by financier John Henry.

The field was laid out from the third-base side to right field, with the home team bullpen removed to make room. The teams had their benches in front of the iconic Green Monster, the 37-foot wall in left field. Much of the baseball diamond itself was covered with sod; the pitcher’s mound was sawed apart and shoveled off after the Red Sox finished their homestand on Sunday.

After the U.S. national anthem, the fans serenaded the Reds with the traditional “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

To deal with the heat, the game was stopped once each half to give the players a chance to hydrate; the Fenway grounds crew also came out with hoses to wet down the infield, and sprinklers took care of the outfield.

The fans didn’t get to see many of their favorites, with Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino all resting from international tournaments, along with goalkeeper Alisson. With Liverpool’s top four goalkeepers unavailable, Andy Longergan, who spent the last season at Middlesbrough, got the start in goal.

Liverpool dominated early, but it was Sevilla that scored first when a ball deflected in the penalty area to Nolito, who made it 1-0 in the 37th minute. Divock Origi tied it in the 44th minute when a header deflected to him at the post and he buried it.

The players on the field – at least those in Sevilla’s white kits – didn’t seem to be persuaded that the game was only an exhibition. A tough tackle in the 12th minute resulted in a foul on Ever Banega, and it was upgraded to a yellow card when he slammed the ball into the ground in protest.

Liverpool midfielder Harry Wilson left just before the half after apparently getting poked in the eye. But that was nothing compared to the straight red card given to Joris. He seemed to be the only person in the stadium who disagreed with the call, arguing with the referee while Larouci was attended to.

The teams substituted liberally at halftime, with every Liverpool player except Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain replaced by a substitute. Four Sevilla players stayed in to start the second half.

Red-hot Revs beat FC Cincy, make it 10 games unbeaten (video)

AP Photo/Steven Senne
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The game in 200 words (or less): Statistically speaking, no other team even comes close to rivaling the New England Revolution as the hottest team in MLS. With a 2-0 road victory over expansion side FC Cincinnati on Sunday, Bruce Arena’s side hasn’t lost in 10 games (nine of which have been played since he was named head coach) and now sits above the playoff cut line in the Eastern Conference. At present, two points separate them and fourth-place New York City FC. Carles Gil has been a revelation as a new signing last winter, and Arena has gotten so much more out of the rest of the remaining roster than Brad Friedel did during his 15 months in charge. Gil scored what turned out to be the early winner on Sunday, followed by an insurance goal (set up by Gil) from Antonio Delamea early in the second half. It was as routine as a road victory can be in MLS, which is as much of an indictment of Cincinnati as it is a compliment to the Revs.

[ MORE: Pity proves his point as Atlanta tops DCU late (video) ]

Two moments that mattered

9′ — Gil cleans up a mess and makes it 1-0 — Sometimes, if not most of the time, Cincinnati defends exactly how you would expect an expansion team to defend.

55′ — Delamea heads home for 2-0 — Headed goals don’t come much easier, or less contested, than this one.

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Man of the match: Carles Gil

Goalscorers: Gil (9′), Delamea (55′)