Three things we learned from Sporting KC’s 4-0 thrashing of FC Dallas

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Sporting Kansas City moved to six games unbeaten (three wins) with a 4-0 thrashing of FC Dallas on Friday night, pushing the Western Conference newcomers to third place in the wild West. Few expected Peter Vermes’ side to gel and take the league by storm this quickly, but they’ve been immensely impressive in doing so.

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Most importantly, Friday’s showing put the rest of the league on notice: the end of the 2014 season was more an aberration than a sign of things to come. Three things to be taken from the latest installment of Viernes de Futbol

Krisztian Nemeth was brought in to be a (the?) difference maker, but he’s turning into a star instead

The thought behind Sporting’s signing of the ex-Liverpool prodigy’s this winter was that he’d serve as a consistent second scoring threat, taking the focus of opposing defenses off last year’s 22-goalscorer, Dom Dwyer, while chipping in eight or 10 goals of his own.

Instead, Nemeth has hit the ground running in MLS (when healthy) and very much usurped Dwyer’s star power — at least for the time being — with a three-game stretch (three goals, two assists – six and two on the season) in which he’s constantly looked like the best player on the field, in games against New England, Seattle and FCD — three surefire playoff teams and MLS Cup contenders.

The way Nemeth dominated, and at times toyed with, FCD’s talented, veteran central defense on Friday night (just watch how he leaves Matt Hedges for dead HERE) should serve as notice to the rest of the league. He’s dangerous with clever runs into the left channel, he’s simultaneously shifty and strong in his hold-up play, and yet he somehow looks most comfortable when running straight at defenders with the ball at his feet.

Dear Jurgen Klinsmann, please write Benny Feilhaber’s name on your Gold Cup roster…in ink

source:
Benny Feilhaber, Sporting Kansas City

This is one has more to do with the last 18 months than Friday night’s shellacking at Sporting Park — though Feilhaber was pure quality yet again — but, to steal a now-famous line from Sacha Kljestan, are you even watching, Klinsmann?

Feilhaber has been, by miles and miles, the best midfielder in MLS since the start of the 2014 season (see HERE, HERE, HERE and most notably HERE…and especially HERE). Three months of total balling out wasn’t enough to earn a call-up to last summer’s World Cup? OK, fair enough, do it for an extended period of time. The second half of 2014 looked much the same as the first. Three three months of 2015, Feilhaber has four goals and seven assists to his name.

To say he’s been the best player on the field in 75 percent of Sporting’s games this season would be selling the man short. No longer just a one-way, luxury playmaker, Feilhaber covers more ground and recovers more balls inside his own half than most defensive midfielders. In short, he’s exactly the player the U.S. national team was praying Michael Bradley could be in a more advanced role last summer. No sour grapes here, though, just hoping against all odds and precedence that Klinsmann won’t make the same mistake two summers in a row.

FCD looked extraordinarily average without Fabian Castillo

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Fabian Castillo, FC Dallas — Photo credit: FC Dallas

FCD managed to get by to a certain extent (one win, one draw) in four games without Mauro Diaz earlier this season. While the Argentine No. 10 is the beating heart of everything FCD look to do on a given night, the level of fright Castillo puts into the hearts of opposing full backs — and the subsequent production built upon said fear — is simply irreplaceable and further cements his place as the most dangerous attacking player in the league.

Without Castillo in the 18 on Friday night, the Sporting midfield collapsed on Diaz early and often, giving nary a glimpse of time or space in which to operate. Without the threat of Castillo running behind the exploitable right side of Sporting’s defense, the backline pushed higher and higher, smothering possession after possession deep in the middle third of the field.

Keying in on and shutting down one star attacker isn’t all that difficult in MLS, but doing so against a duo as talented as Castillo and Diaz…that’s a whole other story.

Report: Spurs, Inter close to deal for Eriksen

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After months of posturing and working the back channels, it would appear that Christian Eriksen is close to getting his transfer away from Tottenham Hotspur.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

After months of posturing and holding firm, it would appear that Tottenham are close to getting their desired transfer fee for Eriksen despite his contract having only six months remaining.

After months of posturing and unsettling the 27-year-old star, it would appear that Inter Milan are close to getting their Danish international playmaker.

In the end, it would appear that everyone is going to get what they want, only no one truly gets what they want. Spurs spent the last year trying to sign Eriksen to a new contract; Eriksen wanted to leave in the summer and will feel like they wasted six months of his career; much like Inter would have been desperate to bolster their squad in the summer.

[ MORE: Mourinho in favor of PL’s winter break, but says timing all wrong ]

$22 million — the amount Spurs will reportedly receive from Inter — will hardly be enough to replace such an influential player, therefore Spurs come out of this long-running saga the worst of the bunch.

As for Eriksen and Inter, it’ll be a challenge for the player to immediately find his footing and shine ever so brightly in the midst of a title race, especially after the side has already slumped to back-to-back draws and fallen four points back of Juventus. Though, reportedly tripling his wages from Spurs to Inter leaves Eriksen the biggest winner in a mostly no-win situation.

Struggling Atleti in unfamiliar territory under Simeone

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MADRID — This is uncharted territory for many Atletico Madrid fans.

Few other times in recent years have they seen their team struggle so much under Diego Simeone.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

Few other times have they seen their coach fail so often while trying to put the team back on track.

Atletico hit a new low under Simeone on Thursday when it was eliminated by third-division club Cultural Leonesa in the round of 32 of the Copa del Rey. The 2-1 loss in extra time was the team’s worst result in the cup competition since losing to third-tier club Albacete at the same stage in 2011-12.

Two days after that loss in 2011, Atletico hired the then-mostly unknown Simeone to replace Gregorio Manzano, a move that kick-started one of the club’s most successful eras and led to a Spanish league title, two Europa League trophies and two Champions League final appearances.

Atletico did go through difficult moments under Simeone, including when the team failed to advance past the group stage of the Champions League a couple of seasons ago.

“There were always complicated moments in past seasons, maybe after we didn’t make it in the Champions League, or when we lost in the Champions League finals,” Simeone said. “After being at the club for so long, things like this can happen, although they shouldn’t happen.”

There is a greater sense of urgency about the team’s struggles this time.

In addition to Wednesday’s embarrassing Copa del Rey elimination, Atletico lost the Spanish Super Cup final to Real Madrid on Jan. 12, and already is eight points off the Spanish league lead after 20 matches.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

Before, there used to be a notion that Simeone would quickly turn things around and put the team back on track, but this time there aren’t many signs things will improve again soon.

Atletico has yet to impress since undergoing its biggest squad revamp under Simeone at the end of last season, when it lost Antoine Griezmann and other veteran players such as Filipe Luis and Diego Godin. Young Portugal forward Joao Felix, who arrived to replace Griezmann after a transfer from Benfica worth more than 120 million euros ($133 million), has yet to meet expectations.

More concerning, Atletico is not being nearly as effective as it used to be, when it always seemed to find a way to win matches despite not playing well.

The team remains solid defensively — it has the second-best defense in the Spanish league with 14 goals conceded — but it hasn’t been able to do much in attack recently.

“Everything is harder when you can’t score,” Simeone said.

Only seven teams have scored fewer goals than Atletico’s 22 in the 20-team standings.

Diego Costa has been mostly out injured, and Victor “Vitolo” Machin and Alvaro Morata haven’t done much in attack. Morata is the team’s leading scorer with 10 goals in all competitions, and no one else has more than five.

“We have to be humble enough to be self-critical,” Simeone said. “We need to keep working to try to be ready for the challenges that we have ahead of us. We have a very good squad and I’m sure that the results that we want will start arriving soon.”

Atletico biggest chance to rebound will come next month against European champion Liverpool in the last 16 of the Champions League. The first leg will be on Feb. 18 in Spain.

Mourinho in favor of PL’s winter break, but says timing all wrong

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Jose Mourinho seems to be quite happy that the Premier League will implement its first-ever winter break next month, allowing players a bit of rest and recovery time during a marathon campaign, but says its timing makes the break almost worthless for clubs competing in European competitions.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

The next four weeks will play out as follows for Tottenham Hotspur: FA Cup against Southampton this weekend; PL fixture against Manchester City next weekend; the following weekend off which results in two weeks without a game; PL fixture against Aston Villa the following weekend; Champions League first leg against RB Leipzig three days later.

In Mourinho’s perfect world, that first round of PL fixtures following the break would be held a week earlier, leaving the seven English clubs competing in the Champions League and Europa League with a week and a half between games before setting out once again to chase European glory. Instead, Tottenham, Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea will all have a quick turnaround from PL action to UCL competition — quotes from the Guardian:

“It is what it is. I’m not happy that the break comes in the wrong moment. The break should be before the Champions League and, in the end, before the Champions League we don’t have the break. We have to play Aston Villa on the Sunday, playing [RB Leipzig three] days later. So we don’t really care about the break, honestly.”

Mourinho’s point is a solid one: if the winter break is going to exist — and it should — then why shouldn’t its benefits be maximized? Non-European sides — typically those with smaller squads — would still have the full two weeks between games, while those in Europe are able to better leverage their slightly larger squads with only 10 or 11 days between games — still a lengthy break relative to the rest of the season.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

It’s only the first year of the winter break in the PL, so perhaps hopefully they’ll receive Mourinho’s criticism — and that of any other managers — constructively.

Serie A: AC Milan extends unbeaten run since Zlatan’s arrival

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BRESCIA, Italy (AP) Ante Rebic scored his third goal in two matches, goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was superb and AC Milan won 1-0 at relegation-threatened Brescia on Friday to climb into the Europa League places in Serie A.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

Rebic, who scored twice in a win over Udinese last weekend, pounced on a loose ball directly in front of the goal following a cross from Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 71st minute.

Since Ibrahimovic’s return to Milan over the holiday break, Milan is unbeaten with four wins and a draw across all competitions.

Donnarumma produced several difficult saves to deny Dimitri Bisoli and Ernesto Torregrossa.

Also, Milan fullback Theo Hernandez hit the crossbar in the closing minutes.

The Rossoneri moved up to sixth place, four points behind fifth-place Atalanta.

[ MORE: Solskjaer’s transfer update; positive on rebuild ]

“Our goal is to qualify for Europe,” Donnarumma said. “We’ve got to continue like this and not rest for a moment. There’s another big Italian Cup match coming up with Torino midweek and we want to reach the semifinals.

“We’ll take it one game at a time and try to keep this momentum going.”

Brescia was without Mario Balotelli, who was suspended for two matches after protesting a booking last weekend that ended up with the striker being sent off.

Brescia remained one point above last-place Genoa.