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.

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.