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New York Red Bulls v DC United

Drilling down on: D.C. United 1, at Philadelphia 0

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Man of the Match: United desperately needs men to fill the Dwayne De Rosario gap. Chris Pontius keeps doing his part. Against the Union he played three positions, starting on the left in a 4-2-3-1, then playing as a second forward and finally moving to the right in a 4-4-2. He was United’s most dangerous man and did some of the heavy lifting on the contest’s only goal.

Packaged for take-away:

  • United went from sixth (out of the playoffs) to fourth (in the playoffs, with one spot to spare).
  • How big was Lionard Pajoy’s 67th minute goal? First goal in more than 300 minutes on the road for D.C. United. First win on the road  since June. Yeah, this was a huge three points for Ben Olsen’s team.
  • Pajoy had just one goal in six starts coming into PPL Park. His solid hold-up work Thursday finally turned into something more concrete with a goal that will go far in boosting United’s playoffs hope – not to mention the  wonders it will work for United’s confidence playing away from RFK.
  • ESPN voice Glenn Davis summed this one up nicely for the home side when he said the home team was “Playing for pride, playing for jobs, playing for futures.”
  • In that regard, the Union did not do enough. There’s something to be said for managing a match, obviously. But perhaps Philadelphia could play with just a little more abandon? There are times when John Hackworth’s men could add some pressure by slipping just a couple more men forward, seizing the initiative with a little more verve.
  • Most of the problem was Michael Farfan’s absence (due to yellow card suspension).  The Union just struggles to turn up many fresh ideas without their playmaker, so the attack looks labored and tentative. Too much possession without real purpose.
  • Of course, there is a creative type around PPL Park. His name is Freddy Adu. But he must be burrowing pretty good in Hackworth’s doghouse; Adu wasn’t introduced until the 77th minute. From there? Meh.
  • I wish I could boycott games refereed by Baldomero Toledo. Clearly cynical fouls that deserve yellow cards go unpunished. Sometimes awful and potentially injurious fouls, too. It drags down the quality and watchability of the contests.
  • D.C. United will continue to be under pressure through the remainder of the season. So, players will either rise to the moment or sink beneath the weight of it. After watching United’s Bill Hamid struggle with three fairly routine situations in the first 30 minutes of this one, you can ask some questions about which way the young goalkeeper might go. He can clearly make the big saves; Hamid rescued two points last time out with splendid stops in the final 10 minutes of a close win over New England. But he’s got to manage all the simple stuff, too.
  • Andy Najar, once again stationed at right back, certainly adds some push up D.C. United’s right side. But his one-on-one defending isn’t a strong point, and clubs will begin to take advantage. Danny Cruz, playing along the left — presumably so he could do just that — got around Najar too easily a couple of times. So they’ll need to tilt the defensive structure slightly in his direction, getting one of the holding midfielders over or the right-sided attacker back in assistance.
  • Then again, sometimes United’s center backs seem stretched as it is. So, maybe Najar will just need to be on his own out there.
  • When Branko Boskovic gets the ball in space, he’s dangerous, highly capable of making the pass that opens up defenses. But he wants it to be easy. He just doesn’t move enough to create that space. And he always seems to be in the wrong spot, too high up the field when he needs to drop and too far behind the play when United needs an extra attacker. So, his first half was pretty much a big bag of nothing.
  • Looking for more, Ben Olsen moved his team out of the 4-2-3-1 and into a 4-4-2, relocating Pontius from the left to a forward spot alongside Pajoy. Boskovic went out to the right.
  • And that last about 11 minutes. Boskovic was off in the 56th. Meanwhile, Maicon Santos’ energy helped change the game once he was in for Boskovic.
  • Brandon McDonald struggled early, but as Philadelphia pressed forward and became more aggressive about pushing balls into the penalty area, United’s center back was a beast in winning everything around him in the air.

City Council approves plans for new Los Angeles soccer venue

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LOS ANGELES (AP) The City Council has approved plans to build a $250 million stadium for Major League Soccer’s expansion Los Angeles Football Club.

[ MORE: Can MLS teams begin to create separation in Week 10? ]

The council voted 12-0 Friday to move forward with a 22,000-seat stadium on the site of the old Sports Arena next to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and USC.

The 15-acre complex is also slated to include a conference center, restaurants, 140,000 square feet of plazas and streetscapes, and a soccer museum.

At its center would be the home to the new MLS team when it makes its debut in 2018.

LAFC is owned by Malaysian billionaire Vincent Tan, American venture capitalist Henry Nguyen and a celebrity-studded list of investors including Magic Johnson, Tony Robbins, Mia Hamm and Nomar Garciaparra.

Barcelona reportedly seeking out Nice winger Hatem Ben Afra

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Lost in the 2015-16 campaign has been Nice attacker Hatem Ben Afra.

[ MORE: Leicester can provide more magic at home vs. Everton ]

While Paris Saint-Germain has stolen the spotlight in France for much of this season, the former Newcastle midfielder has been nothing short of special for Les Aiglons.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s PL picks are in for Week 37 ]

That has left La Liga giant Barcelona contacting the 29-year old Frenchman over his services, according to Nice president Jean Pierre Rivere.

Rivere told France 3 he wouldn’t mind Ben Afra exiting the club:

“I would be very happy for him and for Nice if this move comes off,” Rivère said. “You do not reject Barcelona, but it is up to him to decide. If I was a player and Barcelona was offered to me I would not ask questions, I would go! But it is not yet done according to what I am told.”

In 32 appearances this season for Nice, Ben Afra has notched 17 goals and added five assists. He ranks third in goals, only behind PSG’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alexandre Lacazette of Lyon.

Barcelona could very well be the frontrunners to acquire the talented attacker, but several European sides have also expressed interest in Ben Afra. Premier League clubs Chelsea and Liverpool, as well as AC Milan have also been named as potential suitors.

[ MORE: What do other PL teams have to say about Leicester? ]

Ben Afra’s age may be a bit of a concern for the Blaugrana though, in addition to the fact that this current season is the only time in his career that he has tallied double-digit goals. The Lyon academy product could provide solid depth to Barcelona’s attack should a deal get finalized.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

Premier League Preview: Leicester City vs. Everton

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  • Leicester simply playing for home pride
  • Everton seek top-10 finish

Leicester City host Everton on Saturday from the King Power Stadium (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra) in hopes of providing its fans with a season-capping victory, after winning the Premier League title on Monday.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE VIA LIVE EXTRA

By now everyone has seen Christian Fuchs‘ video of the Leicester players in celebration mode, but there are still two games left to play. The match against Everton may be more about pride than anything else, but it can still represent an important feat for the club and serve as a true celebration in front of their home supporters.

Jamie Vardy‘s return will provide the fans with yet another moment to applaud and you’d expect the Leicester forward to want to add to his 22 PL goals.

[ MORE: Norwich in desperate need of three points vs. Manchester United ]

The Foxes will be met by an Everton side that don’t really have anything to play for either. Toffees manager Roberto Martinez will surely be looking for a win with his job on the line, however, it’s left to be seen whether or not he can actually maintain his position. Everton has finished in the PL top 10 each of the last eight seasons, and a finish outside of that mark would be a huge setback for the club.

What they’re saying…

Ranieri on his team competing: “Inside me there are two people. One is a very aggressive, I want to win, I won the Premier League but now I want to win on Saturday.”

Martinez on Leicester not letting up: “I’m sure any sort of celebration could affect you in the long term if you had to face a difficult month. In a 90-minute game where the stadium is going to be an historic environment, I’m sure that can only be positive for the home team.”

Prediction

The title is already theirs but why wouldn’t Leicester win this match? The KP Stadium will be rocking into the night and the Foxes will come away with a convincing 3-0 win against Everton.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

Premier League Preview: Norwich City vs. Manchester United

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  • Norwich sit two points out of 17th place
  • United in battle with West Ham for Europe
  • Canaries are losers of three straight

Norwich City host Manchester United from Carrow Road on Saturday (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) as the Canaries seek Premier League safety with two weeks remaining.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE VIA LIVE EXTRA

With their season on the line, Norwich is facing desperation as they meet Manchester United. The Canaries posted just one win in four matches in April, leaving them 19th in the PL. While neither Newcastle nor Sunderland were able to create separation between themselves and Norwich, a win against United is a necessity with three games left to play.

Goals have come at a minimum this season for the Canaries, leaving Nathan Redmond and Dieumerci Mbokani in need of a big game. Each player has notched five goals this season for the side.

[ MORE: Ranieri’s on-field changes as manager have propelled Leicester ]

Disappointment has surrounded United for much of the 2015-16 season, however, the Red Devils still have important matches to play down the stretch. That starts with Norwich. Sitting four points behind fourth place Manchester City and holding a game in hand, Louis Van Gaal‘s club can close the gap on the Citizens with a strong performance on Saturday.

What they’re saying…

Neil on match’s importance: “Everybody knows the situation, so I don’t think it is going to have massive difference in terms of how we would approach the game or they (relegation rivals) would approach the game. What it does do is apply pressure to their game, but there will be pressure on that anyway. They will recognise and we recognise that all the teams need to win games to stay in the division.”

Van Gaal on injury struggles: “I always talk about facts, not about hypothetical circumstance and activities. I can only say that in the end of November we had first position, after that we had a big decline.”

Prediction

Despite playing in front of a feisty home crowd at Carrow Road and picking up a 2-1 victory early this season against United, the Canaries chances aren’t too optimistic. Norwich hasn’t scored in three straight matches, all of which were losses. With United still playing for something I don’t expect the Red Devils to drop this match. Give United the points on the road, 3-1, leaving Norwich to rely on Aston Villa and Chelsea to pick up wins.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

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