Five-a-side: Questions I want answered in MLS today

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1. Can the Galaxy right the ship?

I think it’s fair to say today’s biggie (Galaxy vs. New York Red Bulls) is more “biggie” for the home side, the Galaxy.

Hans Backe’s men will get their suspended star (Rafa Marquez) and their injured star (Thierry Henry) back in the rotation soon enough. So it’s really just about holding serve for now. Even if the Jersey Boys can’t do that, there’s no psychological scarring afoot; If they do take an L.A. beat down at the Home Depot Center, well, that’s what everyone more or less expects, right?

But what if L.A. loses? What if all that controversial rest for Robbie Keane and David Beckham (who remained at home while the rest of the side went up to Seattle for a mid-week match) fails to pay dividends? If Dax McCarty bombs around the midfield as he did for New York last week, if goalkeeper Ryan Meara keeps surprising us with un-rookie-like work, if Markus Holgersson’s good day at center back last week gets to be more of a habit, then a point (or three) for the Red Bulls is hardly out of the question (especially given the continued distressed state of the Galaxy defense).

2. Is Eddie Johnson about to go on a run?

The NBC crew is in Seattle for this one, Seattle’s second game in four days. Johnson has found goal in two consecutive matches. Fredy Montero also struck an absolute stunner in Wednesday’s win over L.A.

But we expect Montero to score. Some of us thought he might score in bunches this year. But one missing piece around CenturyLink has always been a reliable second threat. Can if be Johnson, who hit 15 with Kansas City in 2007 in his last pass through MLS? If so, catching San Jose for Western leadership won’t seem nearly such a tall order.

Don’t forget, Peter Nowak is in the stands for this one.

3. Can Portland crack the code?

The Timbers were stale as quick-sale bread on the road last year, gaining just 12 of a possible 51 points. But the expansion side remained stubbornly in the playoff chase most of the way thanks to a reasonable home record. Things aren’t falling their way so far at Jeld-Wen in 2012, with a concerning 2-2 mark. Today’s contest against Columbus, a club near the bottom in the East, is a jim dandy spot for Timber Joey to fire up that crazy chain saw a few more times.

Of course, Kris Boyd could assist the chain saw celebratory cause; three goals in eight matches isn’t awful, but it’s not scoring-table leadership stuff. In general, the Timbers need a leader or two to rise – of this thing could tailspin before anyone knows it.

4. Did Vancouver’s Martin Rennie stumble onto something special?

You remember all the talk about No. 1 draft pick Omar Salgado being a project as a target striker? Well, strike that. All of it.

He’s not a project any more, perhaps. Nor is he a target man. Not for now, at least.

Salgado has played out wide left for manager Rennie lately, and the man is really looking in the mood. Of course, that means leaving someone significant on the bench today against West-leading San Jose. Eric Hassli scored in the midweek Canadian Championship match, so he seems unlikely to take a seat. So is it Camilo? Or Sebastien Le Toux? We’ll see.

5. Will Sporting Kansas City show any rust?

I’ve already expressed some fear for Montreal in their visit to well-rested SKC. But is there another way to look at tonight’s match at Livestrong? Is it possible that Peter Vermes men might be rusty, having last played 14 days previously?

Could be that the time off a momentum buster. Again, we’ll see. By the way, the expansion Impact is 0-5-1 so far on the road while allowing 13 goals.

Southgate praises rising star, possible no. 1 Pickford

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With fewer than three months to the start of the 2018 World Cup, the majority of Gareth Southgate‘s England squad has largely sorted itself over the course of the current Premier League season.

[ MORE: New USMNT kits for 2018 World Cup ]

With everyone healthy and available — a big ask, granted — the likes of Kyle Walker, John Stones, Danny Rose, Jordan Henderson, Eric Dier, Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane practically pick themselves for the starting 11, with Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford and Jamie Vardy having secured significant roles off the bench.

One position, however, which remains far from set in stone is the man in goal. Joe Hart has long since fallen from his former place as the cemented no. 1, meanwhile Jack Butland and Fraser Forster failed to make the most of their sporadic chances over the course of the last couple years.

[ MORE: France blow a lead, lose to Colombia; England top Holland ]

Enter: Jordan Pickford, who started and played all 90 minutes — and massively impressed Southgate — in the Three Lions’ 1-0 victory over Holland. Southgate singled out the 24-year-old Everton goalkeeper for praise following the game, remarking that Pickford’s ability to start the process of playing the ball out of the back “allows [England] to play in a different way” — quotes from BT Sport:

“He transferred what we know he can do into an important game, a game away from home, so that was good for him.

“I think (it was) not the test that we faced in November (friendlies against Germany and Brazil) in terms of the pressure on our defense and the experience of the players.

“But, nevertheless, I think that’s 11 clean sheets from our 16 games and that gives us a good base to build from.”

“I think it allows you to play in a different way. There are moments where the goalkeeper or a defender can come and put the ball into the stand or play it forward hopefully.

“But if you can play with composure and play through and out of pressure then it (eases) off the opposition in terms of their pressure and eventually they stop running and you have more time in different areas of the field. The profile of all of that defense and goalkeeper allowed us to do that.”

Don’t look now, but this appears to be the most settled and established England side heading into a major tournament… well, probably in my lifetime. What if England are good — or, worse — really good?

Like clockwork, top goalkeepers criticize new World Cup ball

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It’s a tradition as old as time — the union of top goalkeepers from all over the world, no matter the continent from which they hail, complaining about the new ball to be used at the upcoming World Cup.

[ MORE: New USMNT kits for 2018 World Cup ]

By the end of this summer’s tournament in Russia, you’ll reflexively twitch every time you hear the words “Telstar 18.” Goalkeepers will tell you that it’s designed to deceive them, to boost goalscoring numbers during major tournaments.

Below you’ll find the critical, but restrained so as not to offend, assessments of goalkeepers David De Gea (Spain’s no. 1), Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Germany’s no. 1b) and Pepe Reina (De Gea’s wily backup) — quotes from FourFourTwo:

“It’s really strange. It could have been made a lot better.”

“The ball could be better; it moves a lot. But I think we’re just going to have to get used to working with it — and try to get to grips with it as quickly as possible before the World Cup starts. We’ve got no other option.”

“They should change it. There’s still time.”

[ MORE: France blow a lead, lose to Colombia; England top Holland ]

Unsurprisingly, top attacking stars — those who presumably stand to benefit from a ball that unpredictably moves on goalkeepers — have given their seal of approval for Telstar 18.

MLS (afternoon) roundup: NYCFC come back vs. NE; FCD, POR stalemate

Photo credit: NYCFC / Twitter: @NYCFC
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Ismael Tajouri scored two goals and Sean Johnson had five saves to help New York City FC play the New England Revolution to a 2-2 draw Saturday.

The 23-year-old Tajouri, who has appeared in four MLS games, has three goals in the last two matches while filling in for the injured David Villa.

Yangel Herrera threaded a pass between two defenders to Tajouri, who turned and blasted a rising left-footer into the net to cap the scoring in the 76th minute.

Diego Fagundez bent a shot from well outside the box off the post to give New England (1-1-1) a 1-0 lead in the 11th. Tajouri tied it early in the second half, first-timing a cross from Saad Abdul-Salaam past a diving Matt Turner from near the penalty spot and Juan Agudelo’s header in the 63rd put the Revolution back in front. Cristian Penilla played a perfect cross from the left side to Agudelo who finished from the top of the 6-yard box.

NYCFC (4-0-0) is off to its best start in history and has won a franchise-record five in a row, dating to the 2017 playoffs.

FRISCO, Texas (AP) Roland Lamah scored his third goal in two games and Jimmy Maurer had a career-high five saves in FC Dallas’ 1-1 tie with the Portland Timbers on Saturday.

Lamah, who had two goals and an assists in FC Dallas’ 3-0 win over Seattle on Sunday, opened the scoring in the 36th minute. Jacori Hayes evaded two defenders and then tapped it to Lamah, who rolled a left-footer past a diving Jake Gleeson into the net from the top of the penalty arc.

Sebastian Blanco side-netted a left-footer from the top of the box to tie it in the 47th.

FC Dallas (1-0-2) is unbeaten in its last nine home matches.

Lawrence Olum, who was shown a yellow card for unsporting behavior in the 44th minute, drew a red for a hand ball in the 75th for Portland (0-2-1).

Report: PSG pressing Conte to leave Chelsea this summer

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First, Paris Saint-Germain (reportedly) wanted Mauricio Pochettino; then it was (reportedly) Diego Simeone; now it’s Antonio Conte who’s (you guessed it — reportedly) been targeted for, and pitched, an exit from Chelsea this summer.

[ MORE: Conte, Pirlo could spearhead Italy managerial team ]

According to a report from the Guardian, PSG executives have held talks with Conte’s agent in recent days and/or weeks, as the winners of four of the last five Ligue 1 titles prepare to move on from current manager Unai Emery this summer.

The belief in the French capital is that Conte, who’s made no bones about his frustrations at Chelsea dating back to last summer, would be a far more realistic target for that reason. According to the report, PSG are willing to offer Conte an annual salary in the neighborhood of $14 million. The Italian is currently paid nearly $13.5 million per year at Chelsea.

Conte has been at odds with the Chelsea hierarchy, largely, over the lack of funds made available to him to rebuild the squad in the transfer market.

“I have great ambition but I don’t have money for Chelsea. The club knows very well what is my idea, what is my ambition. That is very clear. When you decide to work with this type of coach, you must understand that you take a coach with great ambition. Not a loser but a winner. And that ambition must always be shared.”

[ MORE: Man City, Man United reportedly chasing Neymar ]

Talks are said to have been “positive” between Conte’s representative and PSG.

PSG’s motivation to fire Emery stems from the Spaniard’s failure to impress in European competition — two round-of-16 exits from the Champions League, one either side of the massive spending spree of last summer which resulted in Neymar and Kylian Mbappe moving to the Parc des Princes.