Sporting KC: MLS Cup 2013 Champs
Sporting KC: MLS Cup 2013 Champs
KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Most of the focus in the buildup to MLS Cup lingered on the apparent and substantive differences between the two teams.
It comes straight from the stock identities imposed for the ease of assessment and classification. Real Salt Lake cobbles together long sequences in possession with its vaunted 4-4-2 formation. Sporting Kansas City disrupts its opposition and wins the ball in good areas to spur the attack in its 4-3-3 setup.
Those observations are all well and good, but they fail to capture the nuances ahead in Saturday afternoon’s final. Both teams are complete, well-rounded outfits capable of operating at a high standard in several different ways. They have their strengths and their weaknesses like all outfits, but they perform proficiently in most departments.
By establishing an effective baseline in a variety of scenarios, RSL and Sporting navigated through the postseason and reached the final match of the campaign. They must now figure out how to dictate terms against an equally competent opponent and seize those rare moments when they can exploit the opposition to determine the outcome of a tense, tight affair.
1. Establishing the basic operating principles: The bitterly cold conditions, the potentially slippery surface and the significant stakes at hand require a return to fundamentals first and foremost. Both sides must avoid mistakes (particularly on set pieces, a strength and a worry on both ends) and maintain their composure for the duration of the affair. They must also grapple earnestly to ensure their potential advantages are not squandered for reasons solely within their dominion.
“It’ll definitely be a physical affair,” Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. “For Kansas City, all 11 players play really hard and tough. That’s what we’re going to have to try and match. I’m expecting a really physical game.”
2. Breaking Sporting’s relentless pressure: Sporting manifests its robust approach to the game in two particular ways: it fouls intelligently to break up coherent movements through midfield and it presses earnestly to close down space and gain possession in good spots.
RSL must find a way to cope with Sporting’s inevitable desire to interrupt its usual cadence in possession. No MLS team is better than Sporting at stopping the other team from playing through the center of the park. The visitors must move the ball quickly and tidily in order to relieve the pressure, settle into their preferred rhythm and string together the sequences required to create chances from the run of play.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis prepared his response to the inevitable question about his future ahead of time.
“I was going to ask you what you were talking about,” Kreis said to the inevitable laughter of the assembly during a press conference on Thursday. “That was a joke.”
This particular inquiry did not focus on the nuts and bolts of his impending choice between RSL and New York City FC. Kreis coaches one team and visited with the other earlier this year to discuss its vacancy. RSL wants to retain his services. NYCFC wants to acquire them. He addressed a SI.com report about leaning heavily toward NYCFC on Monday and categorically denied he had made his decision one way or the other.
Instead of surveying the well-trodden ground yet again, the query focused on the emotions surrounding the denouement to this campaign. In the wake of his glowing remarks about his players and the joy they have brought him with their success this season, he fielded a question about how he would approach and process this game given the possibility that it might conclude his nine-year association with RSL.
Kreis answered by recalling the final match of the regular season against Chivas USA. He subsequently highlighted the potential season-ending matches against LA Galaxy and Portland during the playoffs. He noted those affairs unfolded in similar circumstances because there were no guarantees he would receive another opportunity to lead his players out onto the field.
“And then we go into this match, and, yes, it might be the last match I get to coach with this group,” Kreis said. “I will soak it up for sure, every single moment of it. But that decision is yet to be made. It’s something that I think I’ve done a pretty decent job of putting on the back burner. I will continue to do so for another 48 hours.”
The future can wait. After all, he still has the present to relish for a couple of more days.
Will Saturday’s MLS Cup be Kreis’ last game with RSL? (Images: USA Today)
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – MLS executive vice president, player relations and competition Todd Durbin recalled when he first met Mike Magee 10 years ago. Magee joined the league as a promising U.S. youth international, a player brimming with promise and teeming with the skill to fulfill it. His presence on the stage to accept his first MLS MVP award ensured that point had finally arrived.
Magee traveled a long road to fulfill his potential and produce the sort of season (32 games, 21 goals, four assists) worth of this award. He functioned in the shadows behind brighter stars. He revealed his class in fits and starts without pulling everything together. He survived the doubts created by a knee injury seven years ago to commence his ascent toward the top of the league.
“Coming back from that was a lot harder than I thought,” Magee said. “The rehab took a big toll mentally and physically. I had set such a high standard for myself. I tried playing for a long time, but I realized my body wasn’t allowing me to do what I wanted to do. There were some dark times. Waking up, I couldn’t think of anything else I’d rather do. I just stuck with it. Obviously, it’s paying off.”
Magee emerged as a key figure for LA Galaxy over the past few seasons and played a considerable role in the club’s titles in 2011 and 2012. He filled any gap in Bruce Arena’s lineup and provided the flexibility to tailor the team to fit the task on the day. His contributions often went overlooked in a team with David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, but they were essential to the Galaxy’s success.
His complementary role with the Galaxy transformed into a star turn when he returned to his native Chicago in a high-profile swap for the rights to Robbie Rogers back in May. It took less than a day to figure out how much his professional life had changed. He planned to ask Fire coach Frank Klopas about playing forward more regularly after featuring mostly in the wide areas with the Galaxy. Klopas didn’t give him the chance: the ex-Fire boss asked him where he wanted to play during his first training session with the team.
It proved a wise decision for both club and player. Magee continued to exploit the gaps he located with the Galaxy and polished off the service provided by Dilly Duka, Joel Lindpere and Patrick Nyarko. He grasped the opportunity with both hands on and off the field. And his exploits proved impressive enough to hold off former Galaxy teammate Keane and Montreal striker Marco Di Vaio for his first major honor.
“From the time I got there until now, it’s been absolutely amazing,” Magee said. “I think I’ve had a lot more seasons where there have been more ups and downs, but this year, it just seemed like it kept getting better from a soccer standpoint and a life standpoint.”
Magee hopes the progress will continue into next season. He cherishes the opportunity to play in front of his family and his friends. He harbors hopes of transitioning into the U.S. national team setup (Jurgen Klinsmann hasn’t made contact yet, he said). He wants to help the Fire return to the playoffs under new boss Frank Yallop.
There is plenty still left to do, but the discussions about his ability to meet his potential are done and dusted. The trophy now in his hands proves it.
(Images: US Presswire)
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Benny Feilhaber thrives when he discerns his role and finds his comfort level with it. It showed with the U.S. national team under Bob Bradley. It showed during his time in Denmark with Aarhus. And it shows now with Sporting Kansas City after a bumpy first season with the club.
Feilhaber said he spent the first half of the campaign trying to adjust to his surroundings and figure out how and where he fit into Peter Vermes’ plans. He allotted some time to make the transition from the more direct approach in New England during the second half of last season to the high-pressure, midfield-intensive system preferred in his new home. He did not bear the burden he carried with the Revs as a highly-touted, ill-fitting acquisition to strengthen the midfield, but he also did not possess the familiarity required to function consistently within his new surroundings, either.
“I definitely didn’t feel at ease at any time,” Feilhaber said before Sporting went through its paces on a frigid Thursday morning. “It was a lot about being as mentally prepared as I could because I didn’t fully get the system. It wasn’t second hand or second nature. There was a lot of thinking during games. I think it was noticeable. It was also something I expected, to take a little bit of time to get used to the system and get used to all of the players around here.”
It took until August for Feilhaber to entrench himself in the side again after rather intermittent usage during the middle third of the season. He started nine consecutive games before making way for the three of the final four fixtures and the first playoff game at New England. He returned to the lineup after Lawrence Olum picked up an injury and prompted Vermes to turn to Feilhaber for a more ambitious approach in central midfield to overturn the first-leg deficit.
The shift from a more conservative midfield three to a more balanced shape – Uri Rosell as the deep-lying conduit, Paulo Nagamura as the industrious, box-to-box plugger and Feilhaber as the technically gifted link with the front three – aligns with Feilhaber’s strengths and permits him to function as a valuable complementary piece. He isn’t expected the carry the load, with creative fulcrum Graham Zusi roving throughout the attacking half from his nominal berth on the right and the influential Nagamura around to reinforce the structure. He locates spaces and mines them efficiently without disrupting the cadence of his teammates. Every so often, he even tracks back into his own end to make a critical tackle or stick with a midfield runner.
“We’ve gone back to the middle ground,” Feilhaber said. “I’ve found my feet a little bit more. Now that I understand the system, it makes all the difference.”
Feilhaber’s contributions during the Eastern Conference championship against Houston – including two match-winning assists and one lung-busting run to snuff out a Dynamo counter – underscore his value. He embraces and understands the demands placed upon him. Now he just needs to meet them once again in order to help his side defeat Real Salt Lake and win MLS Cup on Saturday.
“I’ve settled in,” Feilhaber said. “Peter has given me a few more opportunities. I just have to do as well as I can with the opportunity. Going into the final, it’s the same thing.”
(Images courtesy: US Presswire)
NEW YORK – MLS commissioner Don Garber hears the repeated calls for his league to move its schedule in line with the rest of the world. He just isn’t ready to heed them yet.
The prospect of moving to a so-called winter schedule remains a topic for debate in executive circles around the league. It is a complex transition poised to alter how the league functions and where it generates the revenue required to bolster its bottom line. The corresponding financial considerations play a large role in the process as MLS plots its future and wonders whether it can increase its standing by altering its calendar.
“As a league, we have in the past looked – and we will continue to look – at a potential calendar shift,” Garber said during his State of the League speech on Tuesday. “We went through a fairly comprehensive process this year to see whether we could manage a schedule change.”
Garber subsequently sketched out the working concept as it stands now. The season would start in mid-to-late February and run through the end of May before taking a break in June in accordance with the end of the European season. The second portion of the schedule would start in mid-to-late July and run through mid-December.
Don Garber gives his “State of the League” address to media members (Image: Kyle McCarthy/FOXSoccer.com)
NEW YORK – Orlando created a long-awaited outpost in the Southeast when it join MLS last month. If MLS commissioner Don Garber has his way, then Atlanta and Miami will soon emerge as certainties for two of the remaining three expansion slots over the next few years and redress the vacancy in that part of the country for good.
Those deals aren’t done yet, though. Both hopefuls must still overcome considerable hurdles in order to seal their places as the 22nd and 23rd teams in the league at some point in the short- or medium-term, according to Garber.
“I don’t want to handicap them, per se,” Garber said during his annual State of the League address on Tuesday. We’re making progress in both of those markets. I wouldn’t say we’re close in either of those markets. … You think you’re at the finish line, the finish line moves and it takes a year to get something done. It’s generally facility-related.”
Most of the attentional naturally falls on the David Beckham-led project in Miami. Beckham holds an option to invest in a MLS side for a reported $25 million (one perhaps set to expire by the end of the year unless a mutually agreeable accord is reached), but his proposal for a side in South Florida must pass through the Board of Governors before he can exercise it.
Is the heat on? David Beckham is looking to bring an MLS team to Miami, possibly with help from LeBron James. (Image: Reuters)
Garber confirmed that juncture isn’t here quite yet after making several visits to the area recently. Beckham and business partner Simon Fuller continue to search for potential stadium sites (the port of Miami is mooted, while SunLife Stadium could offer a temporary solution until a stadium closer to downtown is constructed) and vet potential financial backers (including Bolivian billionaire Marcelo Claure) to satisfy the conditions set forth by the league.
“In Miami, we can’t do anything until we finalize a stadium plan,” Garber said. “We have a great guy in David (Beckham) – he is a very bright guy, he is very focused and he is a great businessperson. He has a great business partner in Simon Fuller, the founder of American Idol and Dancing with the Stars. If we can put them together with a great facility plan and another economic partner, I think we can have a formula for success. We’re not there yet, but we hope to get there soon.”
Similar sentiments apply to the possibilities in Atlanta, but the stadium situation is at least a bit clearer. Prospective investor/operator Arthur Blank and the Atlanta Falcons are working with the City of Atlanta on a proposed $1 billion, retractable roof stadium to replace the Georgia Dome by 2017. Those plans also include the prospect of fielding a MLS side in the new venue with some inventive measures required to reduce the anticipated 65,000 capacity to a more suitable size.
“We have finalized our stadium situation there,” Garber said. “We’ve been working on a downsizing technology that we think will be unique and will be the only one of its kind anywhere in the world. We have to continue to work hard with Atlanta to see if this whole project makes sense for them. But I’m encouraged by the discussions (that are ongoing).”
As Garber sagely noted, these discussions often unfold over a protracted period of time. Other cities such as Minneapolis, San Antonio and St. Louis – all mentioned as potential expansion cities on a corresponding map – will monitor these talks carefully as they assess the landscape. The path to a place in MLS remains fixed even as those discussions continue, according to Garber.
“It starts with the ownership group and it moves from there to a downtown stadium,” Garber said.
Jermain Defoe’s protracted move to Toronto seems to be the continuation of a new trend in soccer transfers - with players being linked to moves between the Premier League and MLS almost constantly.
LA Galaxy stars Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane have recently been linked to loan moves to the so-called ‘biggest league in the world’, as has Seattle Sounders midfielder Clint Dempsey.
This next rumor is a biggy, though. According to one of the Sunday newspapers over in the UK, Champions League winner and England and Chelsea star Ashley Cole is being eyed up by two MLS sides for a summer switch.
Find out who and take a look at the rest of the day’s rumors in today’s Paper Chase.
The wheels are turning ever faster towards Jermain Defoe’s proposed move to MLS. The Tottenham striker has apparently snubbed overtures from QPR and West Ham in favor of a New Year switch to ambitious Toronto in January. Exciting times indeed for Ryan Nelsen’s men. We’ve also got the latest on a couple of Manchester United targets now that Ander Herrera has decided against moving to the Premier League. Click here for these stories and more.
Kansas City earned home field for MLS Cup 2013 (Image: USA Today)
Nineteen teams clubs started the season with a dream of lifting MLS Cup. Only two teams can fulfill that objective when the final takes place on Dec. 7.
Both of them earned their spots in that one-off encounter with their displays this season and their performances this weekend. Sporting Kansas City earned the right to host the league’s showpiece fixture by dispatching its playoff demons against Houston on Saturday. Real Salt Lake secured its trip to Sporting Park on Sunday with a professional victory at Portland.
The holiday-enforced interlude provides plenty of time for both sides to recover from their exertions at the weekend and start their preparations for the task ahead. The end is in sight after a long campaign. Now it is just a matter of determining which side can write the perfect conclusion.
Sporting Kansas City 2 – Houston 1 (Sporting wins series 2-1 on aggregate)
Midfield balance shifted in Sporting’s favor: Houston entered the second leg at Sporting Park without the injured Ricardo Clark (left knee sprain) to cover his usual ground in central midfield. Clark’s absence forced Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear to alter his usual shape to inject an extra man into central midfield. The adjustment could not stop Sporting from exploiting the spaces usually covered by Clark, though. Benny Feilhaber and Graham Zusi carved out openings with their incessant movement and eventually found a way to use that space profitably. Feilhaber’s work on the winner – including a free run through midfield and a neat clip through the line for Dom Dwyer – highlighted the Dynamo’s limitations on the night and sent Sporting through to MLS Cup on home soil.
Portland 0 – Real Salt Lake 1 (RSL wins series 5-2 on aggregate)
Real Salt Lake dictates terms, quells Timbers: RSL submitted a ruthlessly professional performance by forcing the home side into difficult areas and funneling the play into areas where it could thrive. Portland sent cross after cross – the high, hanging kind, not the low, tempting sort usually preferred – for Nat Borchers and Chris Schuler to clear dutifully because it could not suss out room for its usual combination play in and through the line. It found itself exposed at the back by RSL’s willingness to employ the width of the field on the break to avoid the Timbers’ usually influential midfield three. The emphasis on stretching the play horizontally (plus a poor turnover) created the game’s only goal. RSL saw out the game and the tie from there by adhering to its strengths and showing Portland how to march through a playoff match on home soil.
RSL are headed to their second-ever MLS Cup after winning in 2009.