MLS preview: New York Red Bulls at Philadelphia Union

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Saturday’s proceedings at the beautiful ground along the Delaware River means a lot for one team, at least.

Philadelphia has been done since June – and that is no exaggeration. This season went sideways pretty quickly, with manager Peter Nowak gone by June and ugly lawsuits dropping soon thereafter. So they’ve been playing for roster spots for months now at PPL Park.

Quite the contrary situation for New York; Saturday’s contest could significantly swing playoff positioning and, therefore, playoff fate.

Kickoff: 1:30 p.m. Saturday, PPL Park, NBC

(Official league preview is here)

On Philadelphia:

  • The team has so much young talent, so it’s still worth watching. Start with Jack McInerney, who recently turned 20. The future looks splendid for John Hackworth’s young striker, who has eight goals and is finishing strong in his third professional season. (Yes, third; he has 17 when he made his first Union appearance in 2010.) McInerney had scored in four consecutive matches before being blanked (but did nail the post) last week by Eastern Conference champion Kansas City.
  • Unfortunately, two of Hackworth’s most promising young men are doubtful: outside back Sheanon Williams has ankle and Achilles issues and defender Gabriel Farfan has an ankle problem as well. Gabriel’s brother, Micheal Farfan is available. He’s been steady enough as a creative influence this year that Freddy Adu (remember him?) has had trouble getting minutes. Super-sub rookie Antoine Hoppenot has four goals, all off the bench.
  • Adu, by the way, wasn’t in the 18-man game-day roster for the team’s mid-week loss to Sporting Kansas City. That cannot be a good sign for one of U.S. Soccer’s most mercurial figures.

On New York:

  • Leave it to the Red Bulls, a club that looks alternately cursed or mismanaged, depending on the day of the week, to throw a monkey in the wrench when success seems tantalizingly close. Just as the team was steaming into the home stretch, the Red Bull European hierarchy decided the time was right to change out general managers. Sure, why not? Then came curious statements that left coach Hans Backe on unstable footing. Again, why wouldn’t you? I mean, he’s the first coach to guide the team into the playoffs three consecutive years. So, that guy’s gotta go, right?

(MORE: Dax McCarty addresses timing and tumult)

  • The game is critical for playoff positioning. If the Red Bulls lose or tie, they’ll have an extra playoff match to content with – which means one extra chance for the league’s most visible franchise to lose. And it would mean playing Wednesday and then again quickly thereafter. Oh, if they lose or draw and Houston wins New York will travel for that elimination match. The standings are here. The key is avoiding 4th and 5th place; the first three teams dodge that first-round elimination match.
  • Chris Wondolowski is going to win Major League Soccer’s MVP award. But if someone has a competing case, it is surely Thierry Henry (pictured), who has 14 goals and 12 assists. Those numbers are better than Dwayne De Rosario’s from last year (13 and 7), and “De Ro” won league MVP honors. Oh, and some of Henry’s goals this year have been, uh, what’s the word … oh, yes! “Awesome.”
  • With Wilman Conde out for personal reasons and Brandon Barklage injured, looks like Connor Lade, Markus Holgersson, Rafa Marquez and Heath Pearce will be the Red Bull’s back four (right to left). Somewhere in front of them will sit midfielder McCarty, one of the underrated men of MLS this year.

Bottom line:

New York stinks on the road this year (4-7-5, minus-8 goal difference). Don’t be shocked if Philadelphia, decent over the last month as a spoiler, manages a draw or even a win.

Breaking: Chelsea sells Diego Costa to Atleti, will re-join club in January

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We all suspected this would happen, and it finally occurred on Thursday.

[ MORE: Tammy Abraham expected to call Nigeria his national team ]

Chelsea has announced the transfer of Diego Costa to Atletico Madrid for roughly $68 million after spending  seasons with the Premier League side.

The 28-year-old will re-join Atleti in January during the winter transfer window. Atletico was banned from making transfers over the summer, which kept the move on hold.

Costa played for the La Liga side on two separate stints, first from 2007-2009 and then 2010-2014 after a brief move to Real Valladolid in between.

In his time with the Blues, the Spanish international scored 59 goals in all competitions for the Londoners, and helped the club to two Premier League titles.

The sale of Costa isn’t unexpected after the striker’s falling out with Chelsea manager Antonio Conte towards the latter half of the 2016/17 PL season.

The Italian boss revealed to Costa via text at the conclusion of the team’s PL-winning campaign that the goalscorer would no longer be needed at Stamford Bridge, prior to Chelsea acquiring striker Alvaro Morata over the summer.

Red Bulls must rally quickly, turn attention back to MLS playoff race

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For any Red Bulls supporter, Wednesday night’s U.S. Open Cup final was a grim reminder of how devastating any cup final can be for a team.

[ MORE: Sporting KC claims its fourth U.S. Open Cup title ]

The New York Red Bulls fell short against Sporting KC — who captured its fourth Open Cup victory in its club’s history — but Jesse Marsch’s side cannot dwell on the result because there is another big task at hand over the final weeks of the MLS regular season.

While that may be easier said than done, especially after the “heartbreaking” nature of Wednesday’s loss, Marsch believes that his side exhibits the qualities you’d want in any good team.

“The outcome is obviously heartbreaking, but the performance is what I think we’ll carry with us. In the moment, there’s no consolation prize,” Marsch said when asked about if there would be any hang over from the loss. “But the confidence that this group has, they way that they played and the way that they played for each other, this will continue to make us good.”

The biggest concern for the Red Bulls though isn’t necessarily even their current form, but instead the form of other clubs around them in the Eastern Conference. With six matches remaining, Marsch and Co. sit just three points above the Montreal Impact for the sixth and final playoff spot in the East.

Meanwhile, Atlanta United has surged up the table and still holds at least a game in hand over most of the field, making them quite the danger in addition leaders Toronto FC and second-place New York City FC.

The Red Bulls haven’t won a match since their 3-2 Open Cup semifinal victory against FC Cincinnati, which came over a month ago.

Marsch and his side do have the benefit of facing bottom-dwellers D.C. United twice over the last five weeks of the regular season, but also packed into into the Red Bulls schedule are matches against four current playoff teams, including Toronto and Atlanta.

Goalkeeper Ryan Meara stressed the importance of his side maintaining its focus, particularly after the Impact and Atlanta each picked up three points on Wednesday night.

“Yeah, that’s the thing, (our upcoming games) will make us move on from this,” Meara said. “We’ve got a big game in Columbus, we know the teams around us have been winning, Montreal won tonight and Atlanta won tonight, so I guess feel sorry for ourselves tonight, get up and dust ourselves off tomorrow and start looking forward to Saturday and Wednesday with D.C. United at home. The games are coming thick and fast and we’ve got to be ready for it.”

Tammy Abraham expected to make international switch to Nigeria

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Tammy Abraham has a bright future in the Premier League, but the on-loan Chelsea striker appears that he won’t be playing his international soccer for the country in which he currently plays.

[ MORE: Spurs land Hammers in League Cup draw; Chelsea faces Everton ]

The 19-year-old is expected to announce that he’ll play for Nigeria — the country of his father’s birth — after having represented England at various youth levels since 2014.

Nigerian Football Federation president Amaju Pinnick has made it clear that he believes Abraham will represent the Super Eagles at next summer’s World Cup in Russia, assuming Nigeria qualifies for the competition.

“I had a very honest and productive discussion with Tammy and his father last week,” said Pinnick.

“It’s been a long process but I can tell you authoritatively that he has agreed to play for Nigeria and not England. He and his parents have started the necessary documents to effect the switch.

“Clearly he understands he stands a better chance playing for the Super Eagles. With his talent he has the ability to fight for a place in the Nigeria squad, by God’s grace we make it to Russia, then he would contest for a chance to represent his fatherland.”

Nigeria currently leads its CAF World Cup qualifying group in the final round of African qualification, and a victory over Zambia on October 7 would ensure the country’s place in Russia next summer.

[ MORE: Pulisic stars, scores a goal in BVB’s latest Bundesliga win ]

The Super Eagles have a number of players Abraham is familiar with, given their connection to Chelsea, including Nigeria captain John Obi Mikel, youngster Ola Aina and current Blues wing back Victor Moses.

Weekend soccer games called off after Mexico earthquake

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MEXICO CITY (AP) Mexico’s soccer federation has canceled all first-division games this weekend as stadiums are being used as relief centers after the country’s magnitude 7.1 earthquake.

[ MORE: Sporting KC claims its fourth U.S. Open Cup crown ]

The federation announced Wednesday that there would be no games in the 10th round of the Apertura tournament or any other professional competition, including the women’s league.

“All the clubs are doing their bit,” Mexican league president Enrique Bonilla said in an interview on Fox Sports before the decision to cancel all matches was announced. “We would like to bring people a moment of joy, but it is a more complex decision, and we need to have all the information from authorities.”

The postponed league games will be played in mid-October, including the derby between Chivas and America.