Andy Najar;   Eric Avila ; Ashtone Morgan

MLS playoff preview: New York Red Bulls at D.C. United

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As if this meeting of old rivals, swell and storied, needed yet another talking point – and a contentious one, at that …

The third-seeded Red Bulls were set to host second-seeded D.C. United tonight at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.

But Hurricane Sandy compromised the Red Bulls’ ability to properly host the home-and-home series opener, so league and club officials swapped dates. That did not sit well with some D.C. United fans, who felt their club had earned the little competitive edges that come with hosting that second leg.

As we said … as if this one needed more to gab about.

Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET, RFK Stadium, NBC Sports Network

(Official league preview is here)

On D.C. United

  • United president Kevin Payne on the switch: “These are extraordinary circumstances that we all face. Our club worked very hard to try to earn home-field advantage in the playoffs and we are very proud that we achieved that but there are times when circumstances override competitive concerns and this is clearly one of those times.”
  • For all the consternation created with the logistical swap, these things rarely require that 30-minute extra time (or into penalty kicks.) Among 36 home-and-away series since 2003, only seven needed more than 180 minutes to declare a survivor.
  • D.C. United’s midfield lately has included two screeners (Perry Kitchen and Marcelo Saragosa), with Branko Boskovic creating from wide areas and Chris Pontius or promising rookie Nick DeLeon working the flank opposite Boskovic.
  • Pontius will be on the field. Book it. If he’s not toiling usefully along the outside of midfield, he’ll be paired usefully with a striker at the top of United’s 4-4-2 (probably alongside Lionard Pajoy, who has been marginally productive in 12 games for United since the summer trade from Philadelphia.)
  • Best right back in the playoffs, from an attacking standpoint: D.C. United’s Andy Najar (pictured), a natural midfielder who made the switch to the back line late in the season and does add some additional offensive punch.
  • Speaking of more offensive punch: is a Dwayne De Rosario sighting near?

(MORE: De Rosario upgraded to questionable. Hmmmm.)

  • Young goalkeeper Bill Hamid has been study in good and bad, helping his team with big saves but scaring the bejeebers out of DCU fans with wobbles in bad places.
  • Simply put, United has New York’s number at RFK Stadium. Always has. United is 24-8-5 at their historic home against the club from New York (including playoffs and U.S. Open Cup). The Red Bulls have been a little better lately at RFK, going 2-1-1 since 2009, although this version of DCU is better than most of those.

On the New York Red Bulls:

  • I am on record as saying this is the most talented MLS team ever assembled on paper. But that’s the thing: the Red Bulls somehow seem to be less than the sum of their pricey and talented parts. Even star striker Thierry Henry says so.
  • The missing ingredient in simplest terms: urgency.
  • Henry (15 goals) and Kenny Cooper (18 goals) form the league’s second most productive scoring tandem. (San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski and Alan Gordon combine for 40.)
  • As so many of the players were without power at their homes – not to mention that the arena remains running only on generator power – the club left a day early, on Thursday, for Washington, D.C.
  • The injury to Tim Cahill must be concerning. He may not have shown up much in the score sheet since that out-of-nowhere late summer arrival into Red Bull Arena (1 goal, 3 assists in 12 games). But the Australian international’s work rate, his defensive ability on set pieces, his overall two-way ability and the attention Cahill demands from defenses has a sure value. Backe says Dax McCarty will move inside from the wide position he has played lately if Cahill is not available.

(MORE: Cahill’s calf injury is trouble for New York)

  • Also, without Cahill, look for Thierry Henry to revert back into the old habits of dropping too far into the midfield to help with possession in the central third. That does two things: it draws him further away from striker Kenny Cooper, who isn’t the best at holding up play as it is. And it reduces the Red Bulls ability to press high. The Red Bulls are considerably more effective when do apply pressure further up the field.
  • Red Bulls manager Hans Backe on United: “Without De Ro, they are more of a battling team, a really, really hard-working team.”
  • Speaking of Backe, his place seems highly unstable. A first-round elimination might just finish the job as new management looks for a way to reshape the club in its own image – whatever that is.
  • Rafa Marquez has settled in as a center back late this season (rather than in his previous midfield role.) Heath Pearce is  on the left, which is his natural position.

Bottom line:

Both teams are better with the ball than without it. That’s a kind way of saying there are defensive deficiencies’ on both sides. Don’t be shocked if this one finishes 2-2 or even 3-2.

Which way? Well, the season series landed about as even as it could at 1-1-1. So, file most predictions under “just guessing.”

What do other Premier League clubs think about Leicester’s title win?

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It is the most incredible title win in Premier League history.

Leicester City came out of nowhere to win the 2015-16 title in one of the greatest sporting upsets of all time.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ]

With that news still sinking in, how did managers and players of other clubs feel about the Foxes being the unexpected champs?

Overall, pretty much everyone is happy.

[ MORE: Ranieri the mastermind ]

Below is a look at what a leading figure from each club in the PL had to say about Leicester’s title win.


Arsenal – Manager, Arsene Wenger

“Congratulations to Ranieri and all the players. It’s a remarkable achievement and it has also been done in an unusual way which gives us food for thoug,” Wenger said. “Their success is based on team spirit. They had low possession and that is very unusual. But they were strong in what they did. They defended very well, they were very clinical and they were very efficient defensively. That was unexpected. Is that a trend in the coming season? I don’t know. If you look at their results they lost only three games and that’s remarkable looking at thequality of their competitors.”

Aston Villa – Former manager, Remi Garde

“When you see Leicester now, it’s crazy and unbelievable, nobody could have seen that 12 months ago,” Garde said. “We should be inspired by that.”

Bournemouth – Manager Eddie Howe

“I think there is only going to be one Leicester. Who knows what the future holds, but I think it would be difficult for anyone to do that again,” Howe said. “That’s why the odds were what they were at the start of the season. I know you have to dream and have that vision and hope, but I do think it was a one-off.”

Chelsea – Captain, John Terry

“Congratulations to Leicester because they have been superb this year. It still hurts us losing the league after winning it last year. It hurts us conceding it to Leicester but we’ll be back next year.”

Crystal Palace – Manager, Alan Pardew

“Leicester won the league after 36 games and for 10 games last season they were the best team in the league,” Pardew said. “So for the best part of 50 games they’ve been the best team in the country. All this about things falling their way is not quite correct. So they deserve all the plaudits they get. I’m glad they’ve done it early because they can enjoy it now. I think Leicester’s title win is already impacting on other managers,” said Pardew. “You can only name about five or six managers not under pressure in the Premier League. At the top clubs it’s had an impact definitely. Leicester have shattered the glass ceiling that I for one thought would probably be impossible to break. They’ve gone and done it and it’s amazing. We all know it’s unique. It puts more pressure on those of us lucky enough to be managing in the Premier League, so we’ll look forward to that. Football isn’t all logic. It’s almost like some stardust has fallen on Leicester.”

Everton – Manager, Roberto Martinez

“They have been a real inspiration in terms of a winning team, and not just in football, throughout sport. To have that intensity and that drive and, against all odds, it has been the real fairy tale of football and sport in general in the modern game.

Liverpool – Manager, Jurgen Klopp

“It is the best story ever.”

Manchester City – Captain, Vincent Kompany

Manchester United – Manager, Louis Van Gaal

“I have great respect for the champions Leicester City who deserved their league win,” Van Gaal said.” You cannot say that if we didn’t have our injuries then we would have been first. No, this would be disrespectful to the champions who totally deserve it in my eyes.”

Newcastle United – Winger, Andros Townsend

Norwich City – Midfielder, Gary O'Neil

Southampton – Manager, Ronald Koeman

“What you see in the Premier league now is that there is not a big difference… that gap is not so big and that gap is showed by Leicester, by West Ham and by Southampton last season and this season. The achievement of Leicester is great for football.”

Stoke City – Manager, Mark Hughes

“Whether or not it is unprecedented, are we going to see more so-called unfashionable clubs getting to the top of the pile, who knows? But it’s a great effort that Leicester have been able to do it with a couple of games to spare. They deserve great credit for that.”

Sunderland

Swansea City – Manager, Francesco Guidolin

“In the future the money in the Premier League goes to all teams, so a good squad, good manager and club can make a difference,” said Swansea head coach Guidolin. It is possible to have a project and play for important targets. But it is not easy in the Premier League, you can do it one time (like Leicester) after 20 years. I won’t call it a miracle because it is a true story for Leicester. A team can play for third, fourth or fifth, but to win it is very difficult.”

Tottenham Hotspur – Striker, Harry Kane

Watford – Midfielder, Adlene Guedioura

“I think this story will inspire not only footballers but everyone because it is something unbelievable they did. Knowing Riyad Mahrez and talking to him they were not thinking about being in the top three or top ten this season. When they finished at the top it was something unbelievable. It’s a great story but especially it’s a good example that everything is reachable if you have a lot of motivation, a good spirit in the team and a manager that brings people to the top.”

West Ham United – Manager, Slaven Bilic

“They give hope to not only every football but every sporting club in the world.”

West Bromwich Albion – Manager, Tony Pulis

“You have to give credit for Leicester for getting those players. Everybody is looking for those type of players but Leicester have gone and got them. The great thing about Leicester is they’ve played like a team and once they built up momentum everybody at that football club bought into it.”

Tottenham’s Dembele banned for six games

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 14: Mousa Dembele of Tottenham Hotspur clears with Sergio Aguero of Manchester City during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at Etihad Stadium on February 14, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Mousa Dembele has been handed a lengthy ban by the English Football Association.

Dembele, 28, was not seen by officials but was spotted by cameras gouging Diego Costa in the eye during Tottenham’s heated 2-2 draw at Chelsea on Monday which ended Spurs’ title hopes.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ] 

The Belgian international will now miss the remaining two games of the 2015-16 Premier League season as well as the opening four games of next season.

The maximum ban for his charge of violent conduct is seven games but Dembele has decided to contest the length of the ban.

Below is a statement in full from the FA:

Mousa Dembélé will serve a six-match suspension with immediate effect after he committed an act of violent conduct which was not seen by the match officials but caught on video.

The Tottenham Hotspur midfielder accepted the charge but denied The FA’s claim that the standard punishment of three matches which would otherwise apply to this offence was clearly insufficient.

An Independent Regulatory Commission upheld The FA’s claim at a hearing today [Friday 6 May 2016] and ordered that an additional three-match suspension was appropriate.

The player was involved in an incident with Chelsea’s Diego Costa in or around the 45th minute of the fixture at Stamford Bridge on Monday [2 May 2016].

VIDEO: Previews of every Premier League game – Week 37

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The penultimate week of the 2015-16 Premier League season is here.

[ WATCH: Stream every PL game ]

Below you will find previews on all 10 games this weekend, as the relegation battle and hunt for European spots continues.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ] 

Here’s what you need to know in each encounter.


Tottenham vs. Southampton

Leicester City vs. Everton

Manchester City vs. Arsenal

Norwich City vs. Manchester United

Sunderland vs. Chelsea

Aston Villa vs. Newcastle United

West Ham vs. Swansea City

Liverpool vs. Watford

Bournemouth vs. West Brom

Crystal Palace vs. Stoke City

What if the Premier League trophy could talk?

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Hello, it’s me. Not, this is not an Adele song. You’ve probably seen me before, usually glittering in the sunshine around May time.

Yes, that’s right, I’m the Premier League trophy.

For years I’ve been held aloft by some of the biggest stars in the game. Now, though, I’m ready for a change.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ] 

Once again, just like last season, I’m all dressed up in blue ribbons. As we speak I’m on my way to my new home for the next year. I’ve never been here before and I never thought I’d be living here.

But hey, that’s the life I live. Gone are the days of hanging out at Old Trafford for nearly a decade… Now I live a much more uncertain life. Wait. What’s that? They are joking about me spending the next 12 months with actual Foxes, right?

Leicester is my new home and I can honestly say that the excitement surrounding my unexpected arrival surpasses any of my previous jubilant hoists into the air.

I’m ready for Wes Mogran to thrust me into the Leicestershire sky and see all the happy faces of the fans, players and staff as Leicester became just the sixth team to win me.

[ MORE: Ranieri’s subtle transformation

Bit of background on me: my other homes have been at Manchester United, Manchester City, Blackburn Rovers, Arsenal and Chelsea. I’m made of sterling sliver and silver gilt mostly, plus have a golden crown and a plinth made of malachite. I was created by the Royal Jewelers of Asprey in London (hence my very proper accent) and I usually don’t tell people this but I weigh 55 lbs and I’m 30 inches tall.

I do have a replica but they are very shy and only come out in extreme circumstances such as two teams both going into the final day of the season with a chance of winning me. Tottenham’s recent results have put an end to that for this season so you’re just stuck with me, the original. Hi!

I’ve spent 13 years of my life with United, two at Man City, four at Chelsea, three at Arsenal and a single year back from May 1995 in Blackburn.

Since my days at Ewood Park over two decades ago, I didn’t think I’d be passed on to one of the so-called smaller clubs in England anymore. The days of being held up at Anfield by Tim Sherwood and Alan Shearer seemed so long ago but now Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy and Mr. Claudio Ranieri will be holding me at the King Power this weekend.

Plus, the ways things are going in the league, I could have plenty of new homes in the coming years. This Leicester team has really shaken things up.

I used to be fond of bobbing up and down in front of the North Bank at Highbury, been worn on Didier Drogba‘s head at Stamford Bridge and Sir Alex Ferguson parading me around, once again, as the children of United’s players (Kasper Schmeichel, looking forward to catching up again!) celebrated on the Old Trafford pitch.

Now, though, this is a new era.

A league and a life full of uncertainties. West Ham? Stoke? Southampton? Crystal Palace? Will I end up here next… Nobody knows and for the first time in a long time I really won’t be making any long-term plans for my living arrangements.

The status quo has well and truly been disrupted but with Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola arriving next season, maybe I’ll see old friends in the cabinet at City and Chelsea this time next year?

For now, I’m all dressed in blue and ready for a day of celebrations. Before I’m handed over to Morgan there will be a sing-song from Andrea Bocelli on the pitch, free beer, pizza and crisps on behalf of Leicester and it will be a day filled with delight. Then I arrive to cap it all off. Oh, it’s a glamorous life being the jewel in the crown of the world’s most recognized and watched league.

To sum up the life of the trophy, as I mentioned,  it’s very glamorous these days. Gone are the days when I’ve been sat in a dusty trophy cabinet all season. Now, I appear on TV shows as a centerpiece, get toured around the world by past legends who’ve won me and I’m handled with care by schoolchildren who get to see me as party of the trophy tour. I’m very busy.

Before I forget, one important reminder for tomorrow: if Vardy’s party into the wee hours does get a little out of hand, can somebody remind them to put me down for a bit of a rest? It will be a long, and very exciting, day.

Leicester, can’t wait to call you home for the next 12 months. See you soon.

Much love, PLT (Premier League Trophy)