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.

Pique finds solidarity with criticized NBA players

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There have been a number f outstanding pieces in The Players’ Tribune since its launch, but few as colorful and entertaining as Thursday’s entry from Gerard Pique.

The Barcelona star center back spilled the beans on any number of funny stories in his post, from Roy Keane’s cell phone anger and Sir Alex Ferguson‘s guiding hand to Lionel Messi’s greatness and more.

[ MORE: Zlatan in MLS an auto success ]

But perhaps most interesting was his take on the grief he’s received for supporting the vote for Catalan independence. Pique points out that he’s been proud to represent the Spanish national team, but won’t veer from his democratic beliefs.

And guess what? Even in Spain, athletes rightly bristle at the “Stick to Sports” crowd.

It’s funny, I noticed some people in America have started telling the NBA players to “just shut up and dribble” when they express their opinions on real problems in society.

It’s ridiculous, no?

It’s the same here in Spain. They say, “Just shut up and play football. It’s all you know.”

Sorry, but I will not just shut up and play. It’s not all I know. There’s a lot more depth to footballers than most people realize, and I think it’s important that we express ourselves and our views.

Given relative health, Zlatan’s success MLS is close to automatic

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The only question is his knee at his age.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is coming to Major League Soccer. Having confirmed his departure from Manchester United, the announcement that the living Swedish legend is joining the LA Galaxy is expecting next week.

[ MORE: MLS Weekend Preview ]

Some have asked whether he’ll cut muster in the league, to which we point to the lead: Few players have arrived to MLS with as dominant a career as Ibrahimovic, and the Swede would need his knee to fall apart in order to fail in California.

The man’s game isn’t based on speed, but it does require his abnormal power and grace. He scored just once for United in very limited time this season, but don’t forget how dangerous he was against Premier League and Europa League defenses last season.

He scored 28 goals with 10 assists last season, with 17 and 5 coming in league play. He was suspended for three matches and injured for seven, meaning this is a 20-goal Premier League scorer arriving in MLS within a calendar year of doing so.

Try putting his resume in perspective: Didier Drogba was extremely good for Montreal but a half-decade removed from his last double-digit goal PL season (Don’t forget that Drogba bagged 11 in 11 to start life on our shores). Robbie Keane was about the same time removed from his run of 10-plus goal seasons in the Premier League. He was good for LA.

The only risk here is that Ibrahimovic never gets healthy and LA takes a bit of a loss on his salary (one which is at least partially negated by the sheer number of Ibrahimovic Galaxy jerseys sold).

Entering this season, Ibrahimovic had failed to score 15 goals once since 2006. He’a also had a fairly religious assist output (10+ most years). With names like Alessandrini, Kamara, and dos Dos Santos, this should be a stand-up double if not a homer for LA and for MLS.

Plus the vicious looks after teammates miss him badly with a pass, let alone the press conferences and paparazzi hits: This should be a lot of fun.

MLS Weekend Preview: Friedel’s Revs get NYCFC test

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It’s an international break, and Major League Soccer is only sorta observing it.

More than half of the league’s clubs will participate on Saturday match days, with several shorthanded by national team duty.

[ MORE: Southgate on racism in football]

Columbus won’t have Zack Steffen and Wil Trapp for a visit from DC United — who is missing Zoltan Steiber, Bruno Miranda, and Oniel Fisher — while the Red Bulls will be without Tyler Adams, Kemar Lawrence, and Michael Murillo for Minnesota United’s visit.

NYCFC won’t have Alexander Ring, Ronald Matarrita, and Rodney Wallace, Portland’s without David Guzman and Andy Polo, and Sporting KC loses Daniel Salloi.

The Whitecaps won’t have center back Kendall Waston, while opponents LA Galaxt are without Ola Kamara.

New England Revolution vs. New York City FC — 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday

Brad Friedel‘s New England revolution, purposely lower case, is making believers out of its players. It would take a giant step if it could slow the NYCFC juggernaut. The visitors have allowed just one goal in their 3-0 start.

As for the hosts, Friedel has made his mark in a way that mostly makes you wonder what in the world Jay Heaps was doing:.

(Bunbury) pointed to a fine system in the locker room, increased accountability, how Friedel posts the starting XI on game day, and occasional two-a-day training sessions, which never occurred in the forward’s four years under Heaps.

“I think it unifies the team,” Bunbury said. “The broad sense of professionalism, it’s about having respect for each other and making sure you are held accountable in every part of this club.”

Never occurred under Heaps? Woof.

FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers — 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday

FCD had an uninspiring ending to their CONCACAF Champions League dreams, but that’s little compared to the Timbers’ 0-2 start under Gio Savarese. A trip down South isn’t a surefire way to right the ship.

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. LA Galaxy — 10 p.m. ET Saturday

A long trip up North is only made worse by a laundry list of injuries for Sigi Schmid’s Galaxy. We’re only listing it amongst our Top Three because an LA win would be wildly impressive given the ‘Caps strong start.


Columbus Crew vs. DC United — 6 p.m. ET Saturday
New York Red Bulls vs. Minnesota United — 7 p.m. ET Saturday
Colorado Rapids vs. Sporting KC — 9 p.m. ET Saturday

Mourinho: “People with brains” understand Man Utd in transition

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Jose Mourinho’s been having a little fun on his international break, “managing” a team of superstars including Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt in a charity match.

[ MORE: Southgate talks racism in football ]

Speaking CNN as part of a publicity run, Mourinho was asked about Manchester United’s second place campaign and disappointment after dropping out of the UEFA Champions League.

Mourinho reiterated his position that United is a team in transition, and that the season is going along at an acceptable clip.

“I understand the frustration, I understand the sadness of being knocked out in the Champions League, but I don’t understand anything more than that,” Mourinho said to CNN’s Amanda Davies.

United has scored the third-most goals in the Premier League, and allowed the fourth-fewest. It’s drastically reduced its propensity to draw matches, which hurt its table position last season, and has already surpassed last season’s goal total.

Two more wins, 10 goals better differential, and the list goes on but unfortunately also includes crosstown rivals running away with the league and still alive in the UCL.

“Of course in the future we want to have 19 clubs behind us but this is the reality,” said Mourinho. “And the reality is for people with brain, with sense, with common sense, with knowledge of what sports is, we are in a moment of transition. Being in a moment of transition and still manage to do what he did last season and win trophies and to do what we are trying to do this season, which is still trying to win a trophy, and try to be second, because in this moment it’s the only top position that is possible for us to get. I think we are in a good position.”