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.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Week 1 MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

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.

Brazilian player Taison banned in Ukraine for response to racism

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) Brazilian player Taison has been banned for one game for his reaction to racist abuse in a Ukrainian league game.

The Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder showed his middle finger to Dynamo Kyiv fans who had abused him with monkey chants and kicked the ball into the stands during a game Nov. 10. Taison was shown a red card.

[ MORE: Mou says Spurs can win the PL next season ]

The Ukrainian Football Association ordered Taison to serve a one-game ban plus a suspended two-game ban.

Dynamo has been fined 500,000 hryvnyas ($20,000) and ordered to play one game behind closed doors. Another one-game sanction is suspended.

World players’ union FIFPro says “sanctioning a victim of racial abuse is beyond comprehension and it plays into the hands of those who promote this kind of disgraceful behavior.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Top Premier League storylines: Week 13

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Yes, Jose Mourinho is back in the Premier League and, sure, both Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manuel Pellegrini are in managerial hot seats, but is there any match more intriguing than Man City and Chelsea squaring off with the knowledge that a bad outcome could see them double digits out of first?

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ] 

Below we take a look at the key storylines to keep an eye on across the PL this weekend.


The Jose Mourinho Era begins against a familiar foe

  • West Ham v. Tottenham Hotspur — Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN

Manuel Pellegrini and Jose Mourinho have matched wits many times, which could help the former in his bid to get ready for a rankled Spurs side to kickstart the Premier League weekend.

Mourinho has only matched up with six managers more than Pellegrini in his career, and boasts a 7W-3D-4L record. Can he quickly get Spurs put together for a visit to a desperate Irons side.


Chelsea, Man City put slim title hopes on the line

  • Manchester City v. Chelsea — Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC

Both Pep Guardiola‘s City and Frank Lampard‘s Chelsea have lost to Liverpool, meaning their chances to directly affect the Reds’ title hopes are limited. Matches like this one are the ones that get the Reds salivating, in fact, knowing that only one team can snare three points.

City enters the day nine points back of first and a point behind Chelsea and Leicester City. The Top Four race sure looks clear cut right now — the chasing pack is eight points behind fourth — but failure to win on Saturday will likely leave either side double-digit points back of first.


Knock off the Red Devils? Wilder things have happened

  • Sheffield United v. Manchester United — Sunday, 11:30 p.m. ET, on NBCSN

Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder has the newly-promoted side in fifth place on the table, one point better than his celebrated visitors. The Blades will sit no worse than five points back of the Top Four if they can beat Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s Red Devils, adding another big name to a season of results which already includes a defeat of Arsenal and draws against Chelsea and Spurs. United is still without Paul Pogba and now will also miss Scott McTominay. Another upset brewing?


Reds hope to get back to business as usual in title fight

  • Crystal Palace v. Liverpool — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

A week removed from a glitzy show against Man City, Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds now visit a Palace side who is probably getting sick of facing the Premier League’s best. Roy Hodgson‘s table rise has been stunted by a four-match winless run that includes 2-0 losses to Man City, Leicester City, and Chelsea to go with a 2-2 draw against Arsenal.

A Liverpool win will boost it clearer of Man City and/or Chelsea, as the Reds seek a double-digit lead on the field (Second-place Leicester City is away to Brighton and Hove Albion).


Arsenal looks to right wobbly league ship versus slumping Saints

  • Arsenal v. Southampton — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSN

Unai Emery‘s Gunners may be doing fine in the Europa League, but they’ve taken just two points from 12 since an Oct. 6 defeat of Bourrnemouth at the Emirates Stadium. Saints only win since mid-September in any competition is a 4-0 demolition of rivals Portsmouth. If Arsenal cannot get right here, well…

The 2 Robbies break down Tottenham’s big switch from Poch to Mou

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Maybe you saw the firing of Mauricio Pochettino coming, and maybe you even though Jose Mourinho could be in the running to take his place, but the whole thing happening in rapid fire fashion calls for something different.

Call it an emergency podcast for The 2 Robbies.

[ MORE: Ederson back in training ]

Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle respond to the shocking and divisive news coming from North London earlier this week.

Tottenham Hotspur sacked Pochettino and quickly replaced him with The Special One. This episode also includes some of Jose’s first words as the new Spurs Head Coach.

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Pochettino leaves emotional whiteboard message to Spurs

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Mauricio Pochettino and his backroom staff have left Tottenham Hotspur, but not without fond words for the North London set.

Pochettino’s backroom staff was also dismissed, with assistant Jesus Perez and coaches Miguel D’Agostino and Antoni Jimenez leaving to make room for Jose Mourinho’s crew.

[ MORE: Mou says Spurs can win the PL next season ]

And Perez wanted to make sure that the world knew the final words Pochettino left for his players, something that has Tottenham supporters even more emotional.

It also surely plays as a political piece which will increase the villain status of Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, who’s been under fire for not helping Pochettino by selling players who did not want to be in North London.

Even Mourinho heaped praise on his predecessor.

“Mauricio, for the work he did, this club will be always his home,” Mourinho said. “He can come when he wants. When he misses the players, when he misses the people he work with. The door is always open for him. He will find happiness again. He will find a great club again. He will have a great future.”

Get your tissues, Spurs fans.