Five-a-side: the questions I want answered today in Major League Soccer

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1. Can Kansas City pass its stiffest test yet?

Peter Vermes’ team is perfect in seven so far. But the “so far” in this case has been seven nicely spaced matches. Wednesday saw SKC take care of business in its first mid-week contest of 2012, a 3-1 win on the spongy turf of Vancouver’s BC Place. So Saturday’s quick turn could require a couple of lineup adjustments, possibly moving away from its core 11 for the first time this year to mitigate fatigue.

Portland has issues this year, having already lost twice at Jeld-Wen Field, although the place figures to be no less intimidating.

Sporting Kansas City stands a stout 19-4-11 over its last 34 matches. We’ll see if the first bout with fixture congestion (and the passionate song of the Timbers Army) can dent that impressive mark just a little.

2. Can Torsten Frings inspire something better from Toronto?

The German veteran quickly established himself as the heart of soul at BMO upon his late 2011 arrival. So Frings’ early March injury was terrible timing as Toronto attempted to build momentum from its Champions League triumph.

Now, rather than stretching any momentum, everyone around Toronto FC would be delirious just to notch a win. They sure won’t be picky about what an initial victory looks like. Winless in its first five, Aron Winter’s club is off to one of the worst starts in MLS history. So Frings’ return for Saturday’s contest against Chicago (3 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network) can’t come a moment too soon. Winter could insert his most important man into midfield (possibly replacing Designated Player Julian de Guzman, who was benched last week) of in defense (possibly replacing pretty much anybody, since the entire back line is an utter disaster.)

3. What do we make of German international Arne Friedrich?

Signed by Chicago last month, he was fit and healthy enough to make an MLS debut last week. Only, it was a disheveled mess of a match, interrupted twice by nasty weather and finally halted entirely after 65 minutes.

There’s no doubt Friedrich is a heady center back (pictured). But what does he still have after a series of injuries hastened his Bundesliga departure? And what about communication issues like the one everyone saw last week that cost a goal against Houston? One center back stepped forward while one remained in a holding stance; Houston pounced and had enough for a 1-1 draw in Illinois. The Fire remains an intriguing team, more so from this week’s Chris Rolfe acquisition. Contributions from Friedrich make things at Toyota Park worth watching even further.

4. Galaxy revival, or just a one-off stop?

Bruce Arena’s back line certainly looked better last week from the introduction of newcomer David Junior Lopes. But nobody would put one-win Portland in the “toughest of tests” category.  So tonight’s contest at Dicks Sporting Goods Park outside Denver should be telling.

Oscar Pareja’s team is coming off two losses, although both were on the road. Back home now, they continue dealing with two significant injuries:  Captain Pablo Mastroeni remained sidelined with post-concussion symptoms while Conor Casey nears a return from his Achilles tear of almost a year ago.

Even without those two, Colorado at home is a better test for the Lopes-led back line that what Portland offered last week. (A full match preview is here.)

5. Can Houston keep building on a good start?

The Dynamo’s bright start is flying below radar. A 2-1-1 record off four road matches is fairly strong stuff – it just doesn’t look so spiffy until you stop and think about how elusive road success can be in MLS. Remember, Sporting Kansas City claimed victory just once last year during that killer 10-game stretch to open the season.

Houston is getting some of its midfield blocks back as Adam Moffat comes off suspension for today’s game against struggling Columbus. On the other hand, Colin Clark remains suspended and valuable man Brad Davis remained in Houston, making progress but at least a week from his return. So, baby steps for the Orang midfield, but everything else looks strong for Dominic Kinnear’s road warriors.

What’s next for Julian Green, and what’s gone wrong?

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Julian Green will have a new team again soon, in all likelihood.

A Stuttgart publication says Green is on the transfer market this month, just eight months after moving from Bayern Munich to the then-2.Bundesliga side for less than $500,000.

Now 22, Green is three and a half years removed from Jurgen Klinsmann’s long campaign to get him into a USMNT shirt. It’s been a little less time since he scored in extra time against Belgium in the World Cup, but also less than a year since he scored goals in consecutive USMNT matches. That shouldn’t be overlooked.

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Green scored one goal in 10 appearances for Stuttgart, who was promoted to the Bundesliga at the end of last season. He fell out of favor there, but was far from poor. Green completed 87 percent of his passes and averaged 1.3 dribbles per game (only four teammates had more, though 10 matches is a smaller sample size).

Before that, he spent parts of three seasons with Bayern Munich and made just four appearances, taking a loan to Hamburg in 2014-15 that saw him banished to Hamburg II after just five appearances.

What gives? Whether attitude or skill, Green has a lot of work to do to get back to a level where he’s a reasonable USMNT call-up (Green has a respectable three goals in eight call-ups, netting against Cuba and New Zealand in Oct. 2016). Still, it’s far from over for Green at 22.

There are legit questions here, as the list of not high-profile players Bayern Munich has used in its senior team at a young age and blossomed elsewhere isn’t necessarily impressive (at least relatively speaking). Nils Petersen, Thomas Kraft, and Sandro Wagner are exceptions to the rule. Better put: Bayern has a really good idea what it’s doing when it lets young players walk, and it begs discussion on the best path for Green.

It seems likely he could get a move to another 2.Bundesliga club, and there’s an outside shot he could get a look in the top flight. It would be interesting to know where the interest lies abroad. Would it be hard to acquire a work permit for France or Spain (England seems a hard sell)? Could a move to a free-flowing Eredivisie club work?

Obviously Major League Soccer clubs would welcome his talent and it’s difficult to imagine he wouldn’t be a useful piece in the United States’ top tier, even if on a short-term move as he looks to regain confidence. Would Green see it as below him?

Arsenal’s Wilshere sent-off after brawling in U-23 match vs. Man City

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Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere isn’t standing around waiting for his next team, he’s fighting.

Period.

Wilshere got into with several members of Manchester City’s U-23 side in a match on Monday, with the English midfielder taking exception to a hockey-style hip check from City’s Matthew Smith.

[ MORE: Man City 1-1 Everton | 3 things ]

Shoving the 17-year-old Smith, Wilshere saw the City man take a tumble and stay prone. Still riled up, Wilshere tangled with City’s Tyreke Wilson.

Wilshere and Wilson were sent off.

Given his injury history, we’re not surprised Wilshere took exception to a hard and needless foul in a U-23 match.

The Arsenal man has been linked with moves to Newcastle, West Ham, AC Milan, and Sampdoria, but Arsene Wenger wants to keep Wilshere at the Emirates Stadium.

Report: PSG to dodge FFP by signing Mbappe on loan, sending Moura to Monaco

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Paris Saint-Germain’s fight to win a UEFA Champions League will receive a major boost from its main Ligue 1 rivals.

Reigning champions AS Monaco have been frustrated by phenomenal and combative forward Kylian Mbappe seeking a move to join Neymar at PSG. Mbappe was reportedly kicked out of Monaco training this week.

That move is very difficult for PSG to pull off thanks to Financial Fair Play; Les Parisiens spent more than $260 million to sign Neymar from Barcelona.

[ MORE: Man City 1-1 Everton | 3 things ]

The way around it? Sky Sports says Monaco will reportedly loan Mbappe to PSG with an agreement to sell the 18-year-old striker permanently after this season. PSG midfielder Lucas Moura would go the other way for this season.

If that rings a bit hollow to those who’d like to see FFP work against massive clubs stockpiling talent, it should; This is hardly any different from spending all the money in one window when considering that Mbappe would join Neymar and Edinson Cavani effective this season.

Incredibly, Sky also has the notion that PSG will bring Fabinho to the Parc des Princes (Yes, from Monaco).

If Mbappe ends up in Paris — forget Fabinho for a second — PSG would be favored to get past its UCL quarterfinals blockade (Les Parisiens were eliminated in the Round of 16 last season by Barcelona after four-straight quarterfinal ousters).

UEFA Champions League playoffs: Differing levels of comfort

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Only one of 20 playoff-contending clubs has a strong foot in the UEFA Champions League group stage with 10 second legs set for this week.

That’s Scottish champions Celtic, who took a 5-0 lead for manager Brendan Rodgers last week at Celtic Park and heads to the capital of Kazakhstan for a Tuesday date with Astana.

[ MORE: Man City 1-1 Everton | 3 things ]

As for the rest, there are varying levels of comfort. Napoli leads Nice 2-0 and didn’t concede an away goal to the French side, so the Serie A side has to feel pretty good. Liverpool edged Hoffenheim 2-1 in Germany and brings two goals home to Anfield. That, too, is confident footing.

Steaua Bucharest and Sporting CP are the only sides level, scoreless after a match in Portugal.

But Olympiacos is in Croatia and a goal away from being on the wrong foot after a 2-1 win at home to Rijeka, and Hapoel Be’er Sheva has the same situation in Slovenia against Maribor.

At risk? Three high-profile away trips and the same number of group stage home paydays. The losers drop into the Europa League group stage.

Tuesday
All matches at 2:45 p.m. ET unless noted

Astana vs. Celtic (Celtic leads 5-0) — 11:30 a.m. ET
Rijeka vs. Olympiacos (Olympiacos leads 2-1)
Nice vs. Napoli (Napoli leads 2-0)
Sevilla vs. Istanbul Basaksehir (Sevilla leads 2-1)
Maribor vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva (Hapoel leads 2-1)

Wednesday
All matches at 2:45 p.m. ET

Copenhagen vs. Qarabag (Qarabag leads 1-0)
CSKA Moscow vs. Young Boys (CSKA leads 1-0)
Slavia Prague vs. Apoel Nicosia (Apoel leads 2-0)
Liverpool vs. Hoffenheim (Liverpool leads 2-1)
Steaua Bucharest vs. Sporting CP (First leg 0-0)