Brad Davis 2

MLS playoff preview: Houston Dynamo at Chicago Fire

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There are reasons to feel good and bad about both of these teams, who launch Major League Soccer’s 17th playoff season tonight.

Kickoff: 9 p.m. ET Wednesday, Toyota Park, ESPN2

(Official league match preview is here)

(MORE: MLS playoff primer and schedule)

On Chicago:

  • It’s tough to feel great about a (slightly slumping?) team with just one win it its last five matches going into the playoffs. That one victory was a dandy, a very professionally managed 2-0 win over the Red Bulls outside New York. Veteran Dutch target striker Sherjill MacDonald had both goals for the Fire, who were at their counter-attacking best in that one.
  • Who runs that counter attack for Frank Klopas’ team? That’s Chris Rolfe, and as he goes, so goes the Fire. Just like in his first go-round at Toyota Park a few years back, Rolfe is the very definition of a streaky attacker. When he was so confident and on top of things back in September, the Fire was 4-1 (its only loss coming to Eastern Conference champion Sporting Kansas City).
  • Past Rolfe, Klopas’ team is full of good roll payers, but a little short on difference-makers in the attack. Guys like MacDonald, Patrick Nyarko, Dominic Oduro, Alex and others have their moments, but they aren’t reliable game-changers.
  • So the boys in the back will be needed to lock it down, and perhaps just a little better than they did throughout all of 2012. Rookie of the Year favorite Austin Berry is, well, a rookie, and he gets nipped on positioning here and there. Outside back Jalil Anibaba is another good, young defender – but this is just his second season. And goalkeeper Sean Johnson can turn a game either way, usually with big stops but occasionally with the real howler.
  • Chicago certainly has this on its side: no one on the field Wednesday has been in more big games that German veteran center back Arne Friedrich.

(MORE: Austin Berry is PST’s pick for Rookie of the Year)

(MORE: Talking tactics and Chris Rolfe)

On Houston:

  • Dominic Kinnear’s team has been just a little better than dreadful away from home this year, tied with Vancouver for the fewest road wins (3) and a fairly hideous -12 goal difference.
  • After an impressive early summer success the Dynamo is just 3-3-4 down the stretch. And this teetering between formations (4-4-2 and 4-3-3) shows the Dynamo still hasn’t exactly found itself. Clearly, this is not the best time to be “finding yourself.”
  • On the other hand, Houston knows how to get it done on the road in the playoffs. Last year, they fought their way into MLS Cup 2011 largely on the strength of wins at Philadelphia and Kansas City. From there, they had to meet Los Angeles at the Galaxy’s Home Depot Center, and nearly pulled out another upset. Houston lost that one, 1-0, without top man Brad Davis (pictured).
  • Houston fans won’t soon forget another important playoff match in Los Angeles, back in November of 2010. Kinnear’s team had Los Angeles absolutely on the ropes before a power failure – of all things, right? – served as a sort of re-set for Los Angeles, which went on to win in overtime.
  • The Dynamo attack is all about Oscar Boniek Garcia on the right and Davis on the left. Will Bruin and Brian Ching, the veteran warrior who has taken on a second-half sub role this year, depend on service from the wings. And Davis, of course, is one of the league’s premier dead ball strikers.
  • The Dynamo will understand that preventing Rolfe from getting the ball in good spots is critical to stopping Chicago’s attack before it gets started. That will be up to defensive midfield screener Adam Moffat or Ricardo Clark (or both, depending upon how Kinnear shapes his team for this one.)
  • If there’s a gap in the back, it’s at right back, where rookie Kofi Sarkodie has shown his talent at times, but also some immaturity in some moments. Watch for Nyarko’s attempts to exploit that.

(MORE: Considering Houston’s playoff experience)

Bottom line:

Don’t look for a lot of goals.

Even at home, Chicago doesn’t always commit tremendous numbers forward. Anibaba on the right is a little young and will likely lean toward caution in this one, generally choosing to “stay home.” Gonzalo Segares on the left is 30 now and not quite the spry presence we used to know around Bridgeview.

On the other side, Jermaine Taylor and Bobby Boswell haven’t gotten much press this year, but they remain a solid central defensive duo. Houston likes to move the ball out of the back quickly and safely, minimizing chances for back-line booboos.

So one mistake will probably decide it in a 1-0 or 2-0 contest.

FYI: It will be cool to cold and probably a little windy – about what you would expect for an Illinois night in late October.

Pochettino “very happy” to stay; Spurs “ready to compete” in transfer market

Mauricio Pochettino, Tottenham Hotspur FC
AP Photo/Tim Ireland
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Mauricio Pochettino isn’t going anywhere (for one more season, at least) and will remain Tottenham Hotspur manager upon verbally agreeing a two-year contract extension, the 44-year-old Argentine announced earlier this week.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

According to Pochettino, the extension, which will keep him at White Hart Lane (and the club’s new stadium, set to open at the start of the 2018-19 season), is to serve as a proclamation of intent by the north London club. No longer (for a season, at least) will Spurs be forced to sell their best players, because UEFA Champions League football is coming back to the Lane next season.

Furthermore, Pochettino believes his successes and reputation as a world-class developer of young talent will see the club compete in the upper echelons of the transfer market this summer, if he can find an area to improve — quotes from Ham & High:

“I think it is important for the players and the potential players that will come that they don’t hear rumors about whether Pochettino will be here or not.

“We are ready to compete in the market and to try to add the players that can help us in the future — not that we need much because we have a good squad already.

“Of course we are responsible to show we believe in the club, and then we show we want to keep all the big, important players. They are important to our future.”

Asked what assurances he sought from Levy before agreeing his new contract, Pochettino said: “I don’t need assurances, I didn’t ask for anything.

“In the moment that the president wanted to extend my contract he showed his ambition. The players are very happy here. I want to be involved in the future of the club.

“I had a big respect for this club when Tottenham offered me the job, when I came from Southampton, and I feel the responsibility to stay here and try to help the club in this period – a very important period. To arrive to the new stadium with a very good team but to be competitive is a very good challenge in the next few seasons.

The attraction of Champions League football, coupled with Pochettino’s magnificent development of Spurs’ young English contingent — Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Danny Rose and Kyle Walker, to name a few — will have plenty of current and future stars lining up to sign for Spurs this summer. Now that the club have their main man locked up, they’ll now begin to have their choice in the transfer market.

Klinsmann names USMNT preliminary roster for 2016 Copa America

United States Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann instructs his team against Guatemala during the first half of a World Cup qualifying soccer match Tuesday, March 29, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio. The United States beat Guatemala 4-0. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
AP Photo/Jay LaPrete
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Youth is well served as Jurgen Klinsmann has named the U.S. national team’s 40-man preliminary roster ahead of next month’s 2016 Copa America Centenario.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

Youngsters Christian Pulisic, Darlington Nagbe, Matt Miazga and Jordan Morris, along with 36 others, will take part in the USMNT’s pre-tournament training camp, beginning May 16 in Miami, Fla., as Klinsmann makes his final decisions in order to trim the squad from 40 to 23 before the May 20 roster deadline.

Along with the aforementioned newcomers (relative so) is most of the regular cast of characters from Klinsmann’s nearly six years in charge — Jermaine Jones, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Fabian Johnson, Kyle Beckerman and Mix Diskerud, among others.

[ MORE: Dortmund’s Pulisic scores in second consecutive Bundesliga game ]

The USMNT will play three warm-up games ahead of their group-stage opener (June 3, vs. Colombia in Santa Clara, Calif.): at Puerto Rico (May 22), vs. Ecuador (May 25 in Frisco, Tex.) and vs. Bolivia (May 28 in Kansas City, Kan.).

The full preliminary roster is as follows…

Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Ethan Horvath (Molde) Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Ventura Alvarado (Club America), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Edgar Castillo (Monterrey), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest), Matt Miazga (Chelsea), Michael Orozco (Tijuana), Tim Ream (Fulham), DeAndre Yedlin (Sunderland)

Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Mix Diskerud (New York City FC), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach), Jermaine Jones (Colorado Rapids), Perry Kitchen (Hearts), Alfredo Morales (Ingolstadt), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution), Danny Williams (Reading), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Ethan Finlay (Columbus Crew SC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund),Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (Union Berlin), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)

MLS Snapshot: Portland Timbers 2-1 Toronto FC (video)

Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri (8), celebrates his equalizer goal in extra time against Los Angeles Galaxy, Sunday May 11, 2014, at Providence Park in Portland, Oregon.  (AP Photo/The Oregonian, Thomas Boyd)  MAGS OUT; TV OUT; LOCAL TV OUT; LOCAL INTERNET OUT; THE MERCURY OUT; WILLAMETTE WEEK OUT; PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP OUT
AP Photo/The Oregonian, Thomas Boyd
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The game in 100 words (or less): The defending champion Portland Timbers are slowly but surely hitting their stride after a less-than-ideal start to the season saw Caleb Porter’s side start their 2015 MLS Cup title defense with just one win in their first six games. With Sunday’s 2-1 victory over Toronto FC, the Timbers are now three games unbeaten (two wins), and quickly ascending the Western Conference standings (started the day in 9th, finished the day in 7th). Just a heads up: Diego Valeri is still the best (24 goals, 38 assists in 94 MLS appearances). Also, backup goalkeeper Jake Gleeson turned in one of the best goalkeeping performances in recent memory, with no fewer than three jaw-dropping saves in the second half alone. As for TFC, their eight-game road trip to start the season is, mercifully, finished. They’ll head back to BMO Field for next Saturday’s home opener with 11 points in the bag and a claim on the no. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference.

[ MORE: Monday’s MLS Rewind column  ]

Three moments that mattered

17′ — Adi takes the feed from Valeri, makes it 1-0 — Diego Valeri to Fanendo Adi [insert any Timbers forward here] has been a thoroughly productive formula for the Timbers since his arrival in the Rose City four years ago. Big props to Darren Mattocks with the ball to put Valeri into all that space.

40′ — Johnson keeps it low, makes it 1-1 — Sebastian Giovinco attracted the attention of four Timbers defenders, none of which were quick to pounce on the loose ball after the Italian went down under a crunching challenge. Will Johnson was quickest to the ball, and equalized against his former club.

74′ — Valeri’s stunning free kick is a worthy winner — Enjoy!

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Diego Valeri

Goalscorers: Adi (17′), Johnson (40′), Valeri (71′)

Ronaldo back in training ahead of Champions League decider vs. Man City

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo watches the math at the bench during the Champions League semifinal soccer match between Manchester City and Real Madrid, at the City of Manchester stadium in Manchester, England, Tuesday, April 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
AP Photo/Jon Super
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Cristiano Ronaldo is in a race against time in order to be fit for Real Madrid’s UEFA Champions League semifinal decider against Manchester City on Wednesday.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

With just 72 hours to kickoff of the two sides’ return leg (0-0 draw at the Etihad Stadium last week), Madrid’s superstar attacker is back in training with an eye toward taking the field on Wednesday after missing the last three games with a hamstring injury. Ronaldo has been unavailable for selection since last featuring on April 2.

He has since downplayed the severity of the injury, saying of last week’s first-leg clash, “If it were a final, I’d play.”

[ MORE: Man City, Real Madrid draw | Atleti top Bayern at home ]

Also on the mend for Madrid is Karim Benzema, who was forced off at halftime (hamstring injury) in the first leg. The Frenchman missed Saturday’s La Liga triumph over Real Sociedad, and his availability seems much more in doubt than that of Ronaldo.