Nathan Sturgis

Sporting KC’s Espinoza to miss 10 weeks after red card tackle vs Houston

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Sporting KC’s red-hot summer has taken a big hit from a ruthless tackle.

Roger Espinoza, 28, is going to miss around 10 weeks with a broken left foot after a red card tackle from Houston’s Nathan Sturgis last week. The sliding cleat to the ankle caused plenty of damage, not only to Espinoza but to Sporting’s Supporters Shield hopes.

[ MORE: USMNT rises in FIFA’s August poll ]

Benny Feilhaber’s about to get the stiffest test of his MVP-caliber — well, maybe in any other year — season. How will Sporting KC’s midfield fare without their Honduran havoc maker?

From MLSSoccer.com:

“It’s obviously disappointing news, but I’m going to continue to work with our athletic training staff to come back healthy for the club’s playoff run,” Espinoza said in a statement released by the team. “All I can do now is focus on my rehab and be the best teammate that I can be.”

Espinoza returned to Sporting Kansas City this offseason after spending two years with Wigan Athletic in England. He’s made 17 league appearances – all starts – in 2015, scoring one goal and adding four assists for Peter Vermes’ side.

What We Learned from Seattle’s first round win over Colorado

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Seattle eliminated Colorado on Wednesday night, advancing in the MLS playoffs with a 2-0 win at CenturyLink Field. Here’s what we learned:

  • Either Oscar Pareja got it wrong, or his team didn’t execute

Actually, both. Pareja seemed to want to get German Mera into the team without sacrificing Shane O’Neill, which means sense. Shane O’Neill is a very good player.

Moving him to right back may have been about matching up with Eddie Johnson, but given Mera’s actually slightly shorter than O’Neill, there are a couple more likely explanations. Maybe Pareja just didn’t want to go with a 20-year-old, first year starter in central defense in the playoffs. Also, the Colorado boss may have seen something in Sunday’s against the Whitecaps that compelled him to made the call. In the process, however, he shook up two positions along the back, a disruption that showed during the match’s first half-hour.

That wasn’t Colorado’s only problem. Against Seattle’s narrow formation, they neglected their width, even though they should have had a huge advantage down their left. Chris Klute, however, was a none factor, with the Rapids trying to build through the middle to Gabriel Torres. Against a three-man middle that got help in the defensive phase from Clint Dempsey, Colorado was at a loss. All the speed Pareja had injected into his starting lineup went to waste.

Once we hear from the Colorado boss, we can start to lay blame. But something clearly went wrong. Either the Rapids failed to execute the plan, or the plan was destined to fail.

[MORE: Evans blast, Johnson insurance sees Seattle past Colorado, into the Western Conference semifinals]

  • Seattle’s midfield dictated the first hour

Colorado only generated three meaningful chances in the first hour, and I’m using “chances” pretty liberally. Martin Rivero got behind the defense in the first half before electing to blast a speculative shot toward the Emerald City Supporters. Near halftime, the Argentine attacker nailed a ball from 20 yards  right at Michael Gspurning. Near the hour, Deshorn Brown tried his low percentage luck from 19 yards out.

The rest of the time, Colorado couldn’t connect with Rivero. Seattle’s three true midfielders kept the Rapids from having success through the middle, while longer play was snuffed out by Djimi Traoré.

Colorado needed to go wide, and they did so occasionally. But they almost always went right, where their natural central defender was left trying to create something going forward. Meanwhile, on the other side, the league’s best left back was forgotten.

[MORE: How it happened: More details on Seattle’s big win over Colorado]

  • Colorado’s midfield disappeared

Clint Dempsey had his best night with Seattle, a huge indictment of Hendry Thomas and Nathan Sturgis. Those two should have won their battle. Instead, Dempsey was allowed to serve as a focal point for the Sounders’ attack.

Perhaps the 24th minute yellow card Silviu Petrescu showed Thomas slowed down the rugged Honduran. Or perhaps he just had a bad night. If so, he picked a terrible time to do it. Not only were the stakes higher than he’s ever seen in MLS, but his holding partner was set to go quiet, too. Thomas and Sturgis was non-factors in their two-on-one matchup.

  • Eddie Johnson is a really, really tough matchup

When he’s staying between the center backs, Johnson’s bad enough, but when he drifts into the wide areas as often as he did tonight, he forces the opposition into a lot of decisions. Unfortunately, Colorado made few correct ones tonight.

So often we saw Johnson played the ball even with or wider than Colorado’s fullbacks. Unless you want release those fullbacks to mark and pressure him (problematic in its own right), it becomes very difficult to deny him that ball. Once he has it, though, it’s probably better to deny the ball back to the midfield and show him wide, forcing a goal-scorer away from goal, forcing him to provide service for his teammates. Encourage the nature striker to go continue to drift away from where he’s most dangerous.

With that in mind, here are Johnson’s Wednesday passes and heatmap:

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Notice how many of them are from wide positions? Particularly along Seattle’s right, it doesn’t appear as if Colorado had much of a plan for how to deal with Johnson. While most of his passes go back to the middle, he’s still able to provide a wide outlet for his midfield, one that Colorado didn’t subsequently shut down (another issue with the Rapids’ holders).

Not every forward can be effective doing this. That’s the virtue of Eddie Johnson. In a more traditional role, he has the size, strength and speed to beat you straight up. Going wide, he has the skill and versatility to play as he did tonight. Colorado didn’t adjust.

[MORE: PST Man of the Match: Eddie Johnson edges Brad Evans]

  • The Sounders will need to generate more chances in later rounds

The Sounders were the better team. They controlled the game, dictating how it was played, and player-for-player had the better performances. This was a really encouraging performance.

They also generated four shots on target. Of their two goals, one doesn’t come if Colorado’s not desperately chasing the game. The other was a great finish, but it’s also a shot we often see put out of play. That time, however, Evans came good.

Seattle took a big step forward tonight, and within that step you can see the type of team that can compete for an MLS Cup. But even though they controlled Colorado, they still have to play better. They still need to improve.

Bonus what we learned: We’ve probably seen the last of Michael Gspurning for 2013.

Evans blast, Johnson insurance see Seattle past Colorado, into the Western Conference semifinals

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The seven-match winless streak’s no more, and while the game may have had only one goal between the sides for most of the match, the Sounders finally looked like a team that could do damage commensurate with their talent. Discarding the form that saw the one-time Supporters’ Shield contenders plummet into the West’s first round game, Seattle posted a convincing 2-0 win at CenturyLink Field, eliminating the Colorado Rapids from the 2013 Major League Soccer playoffs.

The game’s opening goal — a 17-yard, 28th minute Brad Evans blast from the right of the penalty area — prove the game-winner for Seattle, who came into the match winless in seven games. That streak included a 5-1 loss on October 5 in Colorado, the Rapids having kicked off the Sounders’ slide from first in the West to the conference’s fourth seed. On Wednesday, Colorado failed to summon any of their form from Commerce, rarely challenging Seattle.

In the 85th minute, however, Seattle goalkeeper Michael Gspurning gave Colorado a potential opening, inexplicably leaving his area to catch a long ball sent to the edge of his penalty area. Silviu Petrescu’s red card was obligatory, leaving the Sounders to play out the match’s final minutes with 10 men. Marcus Hahnemann, unthreatened on the ensuing restart, saw out the remainder of Seattle’s clean sheet.

Three minutes into stoppage time, with the Rapids pushing for an equalizer, Eddie Johnson broke in on Clint Irwin and finished inside the Colorado keeper’s left post from eight yards out, eliminating any doubt Gspurning’s mistake would come back to haunt Seattle.

[MORE: How it happened: More details on Seattle’s big win over Colorado]

[MORE: PST Man of the Match: Eddie Johnson edges Brad Evans]

The win puts Seattle back in the West’s semifinals, where they’ll be matched up against the conference’s top finishers: the Portland Timbers. The two-legged Cascadia derby starts on Saturday at CenturyLink – the rivals’ first ever meeting in the postseason.

Until then, the Sounders can enjoy the levity of shedding crisis’s weight from their shoulders. On Wednesday, Seattle not only moved beyond their seven-game slide. They may have provided a glimpse of a team that will challenge deeper into this tournament.

Goals

Seattle: 28′ Evans, 93′ Johnson

Lineups

SEATTLE: Michael Gspurning; DeAndre Yedlin (45′ Marc Burch), Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Djimi Traoré, Leo González; Brad Evans, Osvaldo Alonso, Adam Moffat; Clint Dempsey; Lamar Neagle (88′ Marcus Hanhemann), Eddie Johnson

Subs: Zach Scott, Shalrie Joseph, Andy Rose, Mauro Rosales, David Estrada

COLORADO: Clint Irwin; Shane O’Neill, Drew Moor, German Mera, Chris Klute; Nathan Sturgis (85′ Marvell Wynne), Hendry Thomas; Atiba Harris, Martín Rivero (61′ Vicente Sanchez), Deshorn Brown (73′ Edson Buddle); Gabriel Torres

Subs: Matt Pickens, Anthony Wallace, Nick Labrocca, Dillon Serna

MLS Playoff Focus: Notes on Colorado ahead of Wednesday’s meeting with Seattle

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Ahead of Wednesday’s first round playoff between Seattle and Colorado, here are the most knows about the Rapids ahead of the 10:30 p.m. ET kickoff (NBCSN):

  • The kids are alright …

Given the slowly diminishing significance of MLS’s Draft, it’s remarkable Colorado found two starters in the 2013 crop, even if one is iffy for tomorrow’s game in Seattle. Deshorn Brown, the 22-year-old  out of Central Florida, will likely be in Oscar Pareja’s attack, though Dillon Powers, a Notre Dame alum who’s been so crucial to the Rapid’s midfield, is still coming back from concussion symptoms. He missed Sunday’s game in Vancouver.

Add in goalkeeper Clint Irwin, defenders Chris Klute and Shane O’Neill, and Panamanian attacker Gaby Torres, and over half of Pareja’s starting XI could be 24-or-younger. Contrast that with the Sounders who’ll only start one player (DeAndre Yedlin, 20) younger than 26.

For Colorado, their youngest starter may be their most important. At least, facing a potential matchup with U.S. international Eddie Johnson, the 20-year-old O’Neill will have to be at his best. In his first year as a starter, the Ireland-born U.S. U-level regular has show all the tools necessary to be one of the league’s best central defenders, but like the rest of his teammates, the question is whether he can apply them in the playoffs.

  • Though they’ll get help from some key veterans, additions.

Gaby Torres’s mid-season acquisition was the big one, the Panamanian international becoming the club’s first Designated Player, but there have been a number of other key additions that have rounded out the Rapid’s youth movement. Acquired from Los Angeles this offseason, Edson Buddle has given Colorado a consistent presence up top, even if that presence is sometimes short on production. Midfielders Nick Labrocca and Nathan Sturgis provide valuable depth, particularly if Powers can’t go.

Vicente Sanchez may have been the team’s most influential addition, however, though the 33-year-old Uruguayan is also a fitness doubt for Wednesday’s game. When healthy, his presence on the left of midfield combines with Klute to form one of the most dangerous wide attacks in Major League Soccer.

  • But will inexperience be their undoing?

It’s not so much the kids can’t perform. Some youngsters don’t perform in the postseason, but veterans aren’t immune a post season dip, either. You either raise your game in response to a more competitive environment or you don’t. Mentality and talent are more important than age.

Where youth could come into play is in realizing the stakes. If Colorado’s lack of playoff experience sees players default to a “just another game” mentality, they’ll be sorely mistaken. A playoff game in Seattle is not just another game, and while you have to remain focused on your team’s plan and your responsibilities, you also need to match the energy of the occasion.

Young players are fully capable of doing that, but that youth often comes with an a lack of experience. While that can be overcome, it also could lead to a naiveté that will undermine Colorado’s hopes.

  • Chris Klute’s going to be a handful

Chris Klute just finished his first full year in MLS, but he’s already the league’s best left back, combining a threat going forward with strength and athleticism that allows him to maintain a presence at the back. For years we’ve been waiting for this type of fullback to become more prevalent in Major League Soccer, and that day may have finally arrived. Leading all defenders in assists (seven), he deserves to be in this year’s Best XI.

Seattle has their own talented attacking fullback, though on Wednesday, DeAndre Yedlin’s defensive acumen may prove more important than his ability going forward. If Sanchez plays, he’ll have to deal with a tandem that’s capable of deciding the game. If the former Schalke midfielder’s out, Yedlin will likely see Deshorn Brown combine with Klute.

Compounding Yedlin’s concerns is a formation tweak that could expose the 20-year-old defender. If the Sounders do go with a diamond midfield, there won’t be a player dedicated to the right flank, potentially freeing up space for Klute to come into the attack.

  • Hendry Thomas is capable of containing Clint Dempsey

The success of Seattle’s diamond (if Schmid even deploys one) will rest on Clint Dempsey’s ability to create for Eddie Johnson and Lamar Neagle, but with a formation that uses two defensive midfielders, Colorado should be well-equipped to contain the U.S. international.

But even if Nathan Sturgis wasn’t helping in front of the line, Hendry Thomas would be a handful for the U.S. international. The Honduran is one of the roughest destroyers in the league, his single-minded, unrelenting approach straddling that line between disruptive and dirty. Thomas’s willingness to get stuck in can be intimidating, and while a player of Dempsey’s experience is unlikely to wilt, he may have to adjust his game to deal with the Rapids’ midfielder.

Unfortunately for Seattle, notorious whistle-swallower Silviu Petrescu will be officiating tomorrow’s game, and while you could argue that also benefits Sounders’ destroyer Osvaldo Alonso, “Ossie” is not dealing with a Dempsey-like game changer. Petrescu’s presence could give Thomas an extra edge.

Jeff Larentowicz on his way to Chicago

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We should have known the day before the MLS SuperDraft would be busy on the player movement front. Teams are making their last second moves ahead of tomorrow’s festivities, with one of those movies landing one of the league’s best destroyers in a new home.

Jeff Larentowicz is the type of player every coach wants. He’s an intelligent, reliable veteran who reads the game as well as anybody playing at the base of midfield. He may be limited in what he provides going forward, but even there you can count on him to be sensible. In a league where experience with different styles, surroundings, and game conditions matters, Larentowicz’s experience can ground a team.

For his coaches, the 29-year-old is a set it and forget it player. You know what you’ve got. You just write his name in. He takes care of the rest.

As of Wednesday, Chicago’s Frank Klopas has got that player. According to reports, the Fire sent the 11th pick in Thursday’s SuperDraft and allocation money to Colorado for the four-time U.S. international.

(UPDATE: Colorado is also sending the 30th overall pick to Chicago while the Rapids receive and international slot. If this deal had the future rights to a designated home grown player, it would be the most MLS trade ever.)

The move creates a small logjam at the base of Klopas’s midfield, but given the price for a borderline all-star, you make the deal and ask questions later. At least, if you think Larentowicz is worth the $200,000 cap hit he brings (and these things are always debatable), you pull the trigger.

Will Larentowicz fit in with Pavel Pardo and Logan Pause? We’ll find out, but questions about how that trio will divide playing time shouldn’t derail this kind of deal. Add recently acquired Joel Lindpere to the mix and Klopas is suddenly overloaded with players who can man the middle.

On the other end of this deal, you can’t help but think Colorado’s hitting the reset button. Larentowicz, Conor Casey, and Omar Cummings — all major parts of the team’s 2010 MLS Cup winner — have been moved this offseason. With Edson Buddle, Atiba Harris, and Hendry Thomas (who joined at the end of last season) brought in, the Rapids appear to be shuffling the deck.

On the surface, it looks like change for change’s sake. The new trio cost about $100,000 less in base salary (using 2012 numbers), but would you take them over the three who left? Consider the Rapids weren’t going anywhere with their 2012 squad, this might be the devil you don’t know.

That’s not to say the three veterans should be painted with the same brush. Whereas Casey was expensive and injured and Cummings seemed to have lost his way, Larentowicz was still a valuable contributor. You can shake things up, ditch some of the old parts, but still keep what works, particularly with Pablo Mastroeni coming off an injury-filled campaign.

Maybe Colorado sees Nathan Sturgis as the cover they need. Or perhaps there’s some can’t miss prospect at 11 they don’t want to miss. We should at least acknowledge that as a possibility.

Whatever the reason, Colorado decided to move on. And Chicago is better off for it.