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.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Watford

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  • Chelsea are without N'Golo Kante, Victor Moses (both hamstring) and Danny Drinkwater (calf) is still absent.
  • Watford remain without Younes Kaboul and Sebastian Prodl (both thigh), plus long-term absentees Craig Cathcart, Nathaniel Chalobah and Isaac Success (all knee).
  • Watford have not won against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge since 1986, but the Hornets have won 10 points of a possible 12 on the road. 
  • Chelsea have lost three of their first eight matches this season. No team has ever lost this many of their opening eight matches and still won the Premier League title.

Watford heads south for another London derby with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Saturday at 7:30 a.m. (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

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The Hornets have had an amazing start to the season and currently occupy fourth place on 15 points, two points ahead of fifth-place Chelsea, which has lost two-straight Premier League games. The Blues have struggled without N’Golo Kante and Alvaro Morata and there have been reports of grumbles from the squad about dissatisfaction with Antonio Conte‘s training methods, but the Chelsea coach has brushed those rumors off.

Meanwhile Watford is coming off a confidence-boosting win last weekend against fellow Londoners Arsenal, and the club is looking to take down another big club for a second-straight week.

What they’re saying

Watford manager Marco Silva on his team’s start“I want everybody to be really calm. We did really in the first eight matches but it’s too early. We want to continue to work hard every day. Everything changes fast and you need to keep going and treat the next game as the most important. But of course I feel proud.”

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte on being under pressure: “‘Do I feel the pressure? Every manager feels pressure, but I try to give all of myself into my job, so I’m happy when I go home because I know in every moment I give all of myself for the fans, the players and the club. In football you know anything can happen, but the most important thing is to work.”

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Prediction

Chelsea has its back against the wall but the team’s overall quality should be enough to see them through with all three points against Watford. The Hornets luck runs out in Stamford Bridge as Chelsea hold on for a late win. Chelsea 2-1 Watford

Leicester City record massive earnings from UEFA Champions League

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Leicester City’s UEFA Champions League campaign may have ended without a trophy, but the Premier League side pipped the European champions in the bank account.

UEFA announced on Friday that Leicester City earned $96,167,125 during the Champions League run that ended in the quarterfinals, the farthest of any Premier League club. Real Madrid, the back-to-back champions, earned a slightly less $95,385,679. Much of the difference comes from TV rights deals in England, which pays out more to teams compared to the TV rights deal in Spain.

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Juventus, the Italian giant, earned the most of any club in last year’s Champions League, making a whopping $129,965,357, mostly thanks to the TV rights again.

Mourinho: Ibrahimovic could return in December

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Dare to Zlatan? It could be only a couple of months away.

That’s according to Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, who said the veteran striker could return from his torn ACL before the end of the calendar year.

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“Zlatan is here, he’s working here and under our control,” Mourinho told reporters. “He’s working as you would expect so, so, so hard. But he’s not to be back in the next week or next couple of weeks. Do I believe he’ll be back in 2017? Yes, I do. But it’s just a feeling.”

The big Swede scored 28 goals for Man United last year in all competitions, proving that he’s still got it at the age of 36, but it’s going to be tough for him to find his old form coming off an ACL injury at such an old age. After suffering the injury last April, it’s been a long road to recovery for Ibrahimovic.

However, with the play of Romelu Lukaku up top, Ibrahimovic would only play from time to time, which could help in his recovery both from the knee injury and just the general recovery between games.

Manchester City quartet called up by Brazil for friendlies

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Brazilian National Team coach Tite has decided on calling up a full-strength squad for November’s upcoming friendly matches in Europe, including four Manchester City players in his 25-man squad.

Gabriel Jesus, Fernandinho, Danilo and Ederson all made the squad as Tite looks to develop more chemistry among his side ahead of the 2018 World Cup, which Brazil breezed into after Tite took over in 2016.

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Luckily for Manchester City and the other European-based players in the squad, Brazil’s friendly matches will be played in Western Europe. The Selecao first faces Japan in Lille, France on November 10 before taking on England at Wembley Stadium on November 14.

The call-ups may be a tough pill for Guardiola to swallow though. As of Friday, Manchester City has 17 games remaining in the calendar year, and surely he would prefer for some of his starters to get a two-week break in November to preserve some energy instead of play in friendly matches.