Top five MLS picks on a stacked and packed schedule

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There’s a full schedule of nine MLS matches tonight, and there’s not a barking dog among them.

Eight of the nine come wrapped in intrigue, involving teams that will make the playoffs or still have a legitimate chance of punching their way in. (That is, we’re talking about something beyond the ol’ “mathematical” chance.)

Even the one match involving two sides realistically out of the playoff chase (Toronto at Philadelphia) has some intrigue; Philadelphia remains an interesting team (not to mention a well-supported one) for its young roster. Manager John Hackworth is using the lingering matches of 2012 to further evaluate the wealth of young talent at PPL.

Unless you’ve got all day and all night to watch MLS, you can’t see them all. Here are my top five picks for the afternoon:

1. Portland-Seattle: The Timbers’ season has been reduced to looking for those slivers of silver. “Lining” that is. Little ports of shelter from the storm of a season gone awry for the organization and its passionate supporters. In terms of slivers, a win over rival Seattle and the ability to lay hands on that Cascadia Cup would be a golden one.

Besides, Saturday’s contest from rockin’ and resplendent Jeld-Wen Field is on NBC, so pretty much everyone can see this one.

(MORE: Arlo White preview’s Saturday’s contest at Jeld-Wen)

2. New York-Columbus: Is Federico Higuain the new Thierry Henry? Perhaps the Colombian attacker will never displace “Mr. Arsenal” in terms of marketing appeal; Henry not only has that fabulous club resume, he’s got a World Cup and European Championship attached to his name, as well.

Still, no player was a bigger offensive force in August and into September than Higuain was in Columbus. Along with Jairo Arrieta, another shrewd Crew summer signing, they have propelled the men in yellow right back into the playoff race. This one from Red Bull Arena should be a September dandy.

3. Dallas-Vancouver: Dallas has been reborn during the time of DF. Soon as playmaker David Ferreira got back on the field, a formerly deflated Dallas side began to making a late playoff push. It may still be a bridge too far; we’ll see.

This much seems 100 percent certain: getting into the playoffs almost surely means catching Vancouver, the only team that appears realistically still within reach. And catching those struggling Whitecaps means winning tonight at a sold out FC Dallas Stadium. When it’s all said and done, we may know this one as the match that decided the Western Conference’s fifth and final playoff spot.

(MORE: Noah Davis tells you more about this one)

4. D.C. United-New England: United’s playoff chances took a major blow with Dwayne De Rosario’s season-ending knee injury. But hope persists around RFK, abetted by a fairly soft schedule. To wit: in comes New England tonight, and the hapless Revs are already looking to 2013. (Or, they should be if they aren’t.) If United can stay in the playoff hunt, three points tonight against Jay Heaps’ Revolution is an absolute must.

(Oh, new Revs midfielder Juan Toja might get into this one, so mark that down as another reason to check it out.)

(MORE: Who can step forward in De Ro’s absence?)

5. Chicago-Montreal:  Chicago just keeps quietly climbing the Eastern Conference table, now in second place. Chris Rolfe up front and Arne Friedrich in the back have (also quietly) established themselves as two of the really stable forces around MLS. Meanwhile, expansion Montreal, having a great summer, still has an outside shot at squeezing into post-season matches. The Fire needs a win to apply pressure on Kansas City for the Eastern Conference crown. Montreal needs a win to keep its head above playoff water.

Here is the complete schedule of matches tonight. Enjoy:

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source:

Sir Alex’s son in trouble for saying he’d “shoot” refs

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LONDON (AP) It clearly runs in the family.

Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson was known for having an explosive temper during his nearly 27 years at Old Trafford, and it seems he has passed it down to his son.

Darren Ferguson, who is the manager of third-tier English team Doncaster, is in trouble for saying he would “shoot” referees because of what he perceived as their poor standards.

Ferguson was charged by the English Football Association on Wednesday for remarks that “were improper and/or brought the game into disrepute.”

The 45-year-old coach has already apologized, saying it was a “tongue-in-cheek comment” and that “I do not advocate violence against officials.”

Ferguson was unhappy his team was denied a penalty in a 1-1 draw with Plymouth on Saturday.

“The referees are part-time and the standard is appalling, their fitness levels are a disgrace, I’ve had enough of it,” Ferguson said after the match.

“What can I do? Shoot them, it would be a good idea.”

Follow Live: Chelsea, Swans, Cherries in FA Cup replays

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Chelsea, Swansea City, and Bournemouth look to avoid upsets in replays of their third round FA Cup matches.

[ LIVE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

All three matches kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET

The Blues tangle with former Premier League peers Norwich City, this time at Stamford Bridge, in a bid to host a fourth round match with Newcastle United.

Antonio Conte‘s not messing around (too much) with the XI.

Swansea City and Wolves, meanwhile, are arguably battling for a bid in the fourth round, as a trip to Notts County is on the docket for the winner of Wednesday’s replay at the Liberty Stadium.

Bournemouth is at Wigan Athletic for a replay with the third-tier Latics, with the victor hosting West Ham United on Jan. 27.

Benevento captain Lucioni banned one year for doping

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ROME (AP) Benevento captain Fabio Lucioni has been banned one year for doping.

[ MORE: Plenty to prove for Big Sam ]

Italy’s national anti-doping organization made the decision Tuesday after the steroid clostebol was found in a sample taken after Benevento’s 1-0 loss to Torino in September.

Benevento team physician Walter Giorgione was banned for four years for administering the steroid to Lucioni in a spray.

Both Lucioni and Giorgione plan to appeal.

The 30-year-old Lucioni joined Benevento in 2014 and the defender helped the team move from the third division up into Serie A this season for the first time.

Benevento is last in Serie A with only two wins in 20 matches.

The ban is back-dated to October, meaning Lucioni can return early next season.

Everton completes move for Walcott: “I’m dead excited” (video)

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Everton continues to supply its managers with top-end talent, adding Theo Walcott to its expensive season of boys which includes Gylfi Sigurdsson, Wayne Rooney, Cenk Tosun, Jordan Pickford, and Michael Keane.

[ MORE: Plenty to prove for Big Sam ]

The deal is reported to be near $28 million for Walcott, who’s made only a half-dozen Premier League appearances this season but did nab three goals in five Europa League matches.

Walcott, 28, scored 108 goals in 397 appearances for the Gunners. His 19-goal campaign last season was his second-best — he scored 21 in 2012-13 — but Walcott dipped down Arsene Wenger‘s depth charge and is leaving to pursue regular football.

And his comments will be lapped up by the #WengerOut brigade at his now former club:

“The Club has won trophies but I want them to win trophies now. The manager is very hungry and it’s just what I need. I’ve had a couple of chats with him and straightaway I felt that hunger and that desire that he wanted from me. I need that and I wanted that

The move is another exciting one for Everton, which has underachieved under Ronald Koeman and now Sam Allardyce. And it’s another sale from Arsenal which gives pause: Are the underperforming Gunners going to regret the move?

In the 2005-06 season, Walcott made his Southampton debut in the Football League Championship at the age of 16, and moved to Arsenal the next season.

Walcott has eight goals in 47 caps for England, and won two FA Cups at Arsenal.

[ MORE: Montreal nabs Algerian DP ]

Here is a useful quote from Sam Allardyce:“His physical output is excellent, he would be one of our top players in that area as well, which will hopefully bring us a lot more excitement and more ability to get forward quicker and create.

And here is an utterly useless one: ““If you analyse his goal record, then we are looking at a player who contributes goals on a regular basis.”

You don’t say. To paraphrase: If you look at all his goals, he regularly scores goals. Here’s more from the player on his move.