Who will score Vancouver’s goals tonight vs. L.A.?

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Something special needs to happen tonight at the Home Depot Center in order for Vancouver to find a way past Los Angeles.

It might be in a herculean effort along the back line (Jay DeMerit, we are looking at you). Or it could be in some crazy-special goal. Or two of them. Which begs the question, who could score such a massive goal?

To explore that, we have to walk back a bit and start with another question: “Which underwhelming choice does Vancouver coach Martin Rennie deploy at striker?” And that’s a loaded question.

These two teams positioned themselves at fairly opposite ends of the quality soccer continuum over the late summer and fall. (L.A.’s Galaxy to the good, the ‘Caps to the not-so-much.)

About the time the Whitecaps were tearing down a pretty good second-year MLS side – Vancouver was an MLS expansion outfit just last year, and was en route to have a surprisingly storng sophomore campaign – the Galaxy was getting its reigning champion act together.

So while Bruce Arena’s side was re-discovering its hunger and competitive drive, the Whitecaps were trading away good MLS men and hitching their wagon to a couple of high-priced Scottish headlines.

One is Kenny Miller. Now, we’ve been warned about the Scottish strikers who come adorned with such splashy numbers. They pad the stats with Celtics or Rangers in one of the least equitable leagues in the world, so the product tends to be something quite different once it flies out of Scottish airspace. But Vancouver didn’t get the notes, apparently.

None of this means Miller is a poor player, it just means that he was never Designated Player material. Or, if he was, he needs to get moving in showing us so.

So there’s one choice. The other is rookie Darren Mattocks, who seems to have tremendous upside – in addition to tremendous “ups,” as we saw in the gravity-defying goal earlier this year against Toronto, an effort best defined by this word: “Whoa!”

But, rookies being rookies, he’s about as consistent as a cell service in an elevator.

Personally I’d go with Mattocks. As I said, it will take something special tonight to manufacture the upset that would turn the playoffs on its head. The young Jamaican is far more likely to deliver. He had a couple of matches this year (although perhaps only a couple) that could be fairly stamped “You have to see this freakin’ guy!”

But since this is serious stuff, not something to be decided by hunches or tarot cards or whatever, we have good solid analysis like the kind provided by here by Benjamin Massey at the Eighty Six Forever blog.

Of course, if you are a Whitecaps fan, or if you are interested in seeing the Galaxy de-coupled from these MLS playoffs, the news is fairly unlovely.

Massey concludes that neither one is “all that.” Through smart statistical analysis of shots on target per game, he assesses that Mattocks owns the better numbers, but not by any significant margin.

But then comes the real gut punch, where he demonstrates some compelling evidence that the best options may have been traded away in the reach for Miller and fellow Scotsman Barry Robson.

By comparison, Eric Hassli averaged 0.70 shots on target per 90 until he was traded for ineffectiveness, offensive disappointment Sebastien Le Toux managed 0.66, and Camilo leads the team with 1.23. Chris Wondolowski, one of MLS’s premier shooters, has 1.75 shots on target per 90 minutes this season, and Thierry Henry has 1.61. Even merely decent forwards, players like Edson Buddle (0.81), David Estrada (0.88), and Andrew Wenger (1.01), leave Mattocks and Miller in the shade.

Europa League Preview: Everton, Milan look to make group stage

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Everton look to make it back into the Europa League group stage for the first time since the 2014-2015 season and it has a two-goal advantage heading into the second leg of its tie.

Ronald Koeman and co. travel to Croatia to face Hadjuk Split Thursday having won the first leg at Goodison Park, 2-0. Everton is coming off a hard-fought draw on Monday with Manchester City and will be on short rest heading into the match.

Elsewhere in Europa League action, AC Milan take its 6-0 aggregate lead to Skopje, Macedonia as the legendary club looks to return to the group stage of a European competition for the first time since 2013-2014.

Here’s a look at all of Thursday’s Europa League matches, with the current aggregate scores:

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EFL Cup Rewind: Southampton, Newcastle knocked out by Championship sides

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Last season, Southampton made it to the EFL Cup final. This year, it’s a different story.

The Saints were bounced by Wolverhampton Wanderers, 2-0 at home on Wednesday in the second round of the cup. Joining Southampton of Premier League sides going home early was Newcastle, which lost 3-2 after extra time at home against Nottingham Forest.

Four other Premier League sides did advance to the third round, as Stoke City, Huddersfield Town, West Ham United and Burnley all won their fixtures.

Here’s a look at the rest of Wednesday’s EFL Cup action:

Blackburn 0-2 Burnley

Cheltenham 0-2 West Ham

Huddersfield 2-1 Rotherham

Newcastle 2-3 Nottingham Forest

Southampton 0-2 Wolverhampton

Stoke City 4-0 Rochdale

Breaking down who each Premier League team could face in the UCL Group Stage

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The UEFA Champions League group stage lineup is complete, with five Premier League clubs making the list.

On Wednesday, Liverpool joined Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City and Manchester United in the group stage after beating Hoffenheim, 6-3 on aggregate in the playoff qualification round.

Thursday’s Champions League draw (2 p.m. ET) will place clubs into groups of four, where they’ll play three matches at home and away.

Here’s a look at the four coefficient pots and who each Premier League club could face:

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Follow Live – Texas Derby, Cascadia Cup headline busy night of MLS action

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Welcome to MLS Rivalry Week.

The surging Houston Dynamo could move to first place in the Western Conference with a win over rivals FC Dallas while the current first-place side, the Seattle Sounders travel north and across the border to face Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

The Dynamo have made an impressive turnaround under coach Wilmer Cabrera and he’ll have the trio of Ricardo Clark, Alberth Elis and star forward Erick Torres available to face Dallas after missing the Dynamo’s match at Vancouver last weekend, which ended 2-1 in favor of the Whitecaps.

FC Dallas are in its worst form of the season, winless in its last four games, but the team will be extra motivated to beat its rivals.

El Capitan is on the line after draws between FC Dallas and the Dynamo in two matches earlier this season.

Meanwhile up in Vancouver, the Whitecaps host a Sounders squad that pulled out a last-gasp victory last weekend over Minnesota United. While the team is in great form on the road recently (two wins and two draws), the top story heading into the game is the unexpected absence of Joevin Jones, who left the Sounders for his home in Trinidad and Tobago ahead of the upcoming international break.

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On the other side, Fredy Montero faces his former club and carries an interesting record into Wednesday’s match. Of his 35 MLS goals, 11 have been scored against Cascadia Cup competition.

Here’s a look at Wednesday’s action:

Full schedule

Columbus Crew vs. LA Galaxy – 7:30 p.m. ET

D.C. United vs. Atlanta United – 7:30 p.m.ET

FC Dallas vs. Houston Dynamo – 8 p.m. ET

Toronto FC vs. Philadelphia Union – 8 p.m. ET

Real Salt Lake vs. San Jose Earthquakes – 10 p.m. ET

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Seattle Sounders – 10 p.m. ET

Portland Timbers vs. Colorado Rapids – 10:30 p.m. ET