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.

Mourinho: Van Gaal left good team, but I brought belief

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Jose Mourinho and Manchester United are bringing happiness to the Liberty Stadium on Sunday, or at least more of it.

The United boss says the club’s turnaround is emotionally-based, and that the cupboard certainly wasn’t bare when he took over the Red Devils last summer.

[ MORE: Fellaini red  had “a bit of acting” ]

United finished fifth in the Premier League last season, tied for fourth with Man City and 15 points back of Arsenal. Mourinho’s men sit in the same spot this year, but are in the semifinals of the Europa League, have won the League Cup, and have the door open to the Top Four.

So what’s different? Here’s the boss, from the BBC:

“I think Mr. Van Gaal left a good group of boys with very good relations between them.

“[But] I think they missed happiness, they missed trust, belief, this extra bit that brings resilience, brings fight and they have it [now].”

It’s been a bit of a roller coaster with the Bastian Schweinsteiger and Luke Shaw drama, but — like any new manager — Mourinho did have to sort the club. Now we wonder whether he’ll keep it happy or hit a traditional rut by Year Three (assuming he gets there, and United should be very good next season).

Spurs confirm Wembley as 2017-18 home

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May 14 will indeed be the last time Tottenham Hotspur takes the field at White Hart Lane.

Club chairman Daniel Levy has announced that Spurs will play all of its 2017-18 home matches at Wembley Stadium, and that WHL will be demolished in the offseason.

Spurs have a new venue under construction next door to WHL, calling the venue “the heart” of regeneration plans in the region. From TottenhamHotspur.com:

“This marks a momentous day in our Club’s history as it is the day we formally agreed the demolition of our beloved White Hart Lane.

“The Lane means a huge amount to each and every one of us and we needed to gain greater certainty on the delivery of the new stadium before we made the final decision to commence with the decommissioning of our iconic, historic home for some 118 years.

‘We shall ensure that we give the Lane a fitting farewell when we play our last match here on May 14.”

West Ham’s final match at Upton Park was a memorable one last season, thanks not just to the off-field but the on-field as well. The Irons came back to beat Manchester United 3-2 on a Winston Reid goal.

With Manchester United coincidentally (?) serving as the visitor on May 14, with Top Four if not title implications likely still in play, sign us up for a comfortable seat in front of TV.

Pochettino: Derby matters, but this is about title not “Totteringham”

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Mauricio Pochettino is a focused boss, one many of us wouldn’t mind as our manager.

The longtime Espyanol man knows a thing or two about being relegated to second fiddle in town, with Catalan rivals Barcelona enveloping the spotlight 99 times out of 100.

That’s why he’s not even bothering with treating Arsenal and “St. Totteringham’s Day” — the Gunners’ annual celebration of clinching a spot above Spurs in the standings — like anything than a derby date.

“I really don’t think about which position Arsenal are in. My view and focus is to try to win every game and try to win the Premier League.

“For me (finishing above Arsenal) is not a motivation. The motivation for me is to win because it’s a derby and I know what it means to win a derby. My motivation is to try to win some titles with Tottenham, and my players improve every day and show we are better than the opposition.”

Spurs as a club is growing in big ways, and aiming to sit atop the Premier League standings every year. Yes Premier League derbies are important, but aiming to finish above a rival versus above all rivals is short-sighted. Pochettino’s got it right.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks – Week 35

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The Premier League games continue to come thick and fast with 10 matches on the slate this weekend.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out.

[ STREAM: Premier League “Goal Rush”

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

West Brom 2-0 Leicester City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Man United 2-0 Swansea City – (Sunday, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Middlesbrough 1-3 Man City – (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM

Crystal Palace 3-1 Burnley – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM

DON’T TOUCH THIS… 

Stoke City 2-2 West Ham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Tottenham 2-1 Arsenal – (Sunday, 11:30 am. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Sunderland 1-2 Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, CNBC) – [STREAM

Southampton 2-1 Hull City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Watford 2-1 Liverpool – (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Everton 2-1 Chelsea – (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM