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

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D.C. United came out of its weekend draw with New York feeling like the better club and talking about missed an opportunity to whup a team that was there for the playoff whupping.

Nothing wrong with confidence, of course, except for this: they didn’t actually win the game and now the playoff waters are more choppy. Ben Olsen’s team will have to win at a place where not a lot of teams did in 2012.

Meanwhile, the weather looks quite uncooperative, with nasty stuff on the way for the team’s Eastern Conference semifinal series return leg.

(MORE: Which team benefits from impending nasty weather)

(MORE: Analysis of Saturday’s 1-1 draw)

Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET, Red Bull Arena, NBC Sports Network

The series is tied on total goals, 1-1

On the New York Red Bulls

  • Hans Backe’s team was 11-2-4 with a plus-16 goal difference at Red Bull Arena this year.
  • Hard to makes heads or tails of the Rafa Marquez situation. Was that alleged calf injury a real factor in his halftime removal, or just more cover for a player who doesn’t really deserve it? He was spotted arguing with manager Hans Backe going into the locker room at halftime Saturday, which seems suspect. Then again, Marquez is made of Teflon, isn’t he? Nothing sticks. No matter how many different ways he hurts the team through ill temper, flagging effort or thoughtless quotes, they just trot him back out there.
  • What Backe said about Marquez’s injury Monday: “Probably it has to be … a late decision, I would guess. I don’t think it’s a big (injury), but definitely we will have to wait until tomorrow to tell.”
  • A potential replacement plan looks fairly straight forward: Heath Pearce, recently relocated from center back to the left, will move back into the middle alongside Markus Holgersson. Roy Miller or Wilman Conde will play on the left.
  • Perhaps Kenny Cooper and his 18 goals, benched for Saturday’s contest, wouldn’t have helped create a couple more chances. But he could hardly have helped produced fewer than replacement Sebastien Le Toux, so that choice was a push at very best for Backe.
  • Thierry Henry was hardly at his 15-goal, 12-assist best Saturday. They need more from his Wednesday.
  • Goalkeeper Luis Robles sure didn’t look like a man making just his fifth start this year. Among his five saves were two real delights.

On D.C. United

  • If United’s road record this year (5-9-3) doesn’t look too promising, this might: Ben Olsen’s team, adding more defensive focus, went 2-0-2 away from RFK Stadium down the stretch, allowing just two goals over those four contests.
  • That said, Olsen must replace Andy Najar, whose attacking push up the right side will be sorely missed.
  • (MORE: Longer suspension ahead  for Najar?)
  • Important, second year holding midfielder Perry Kitchen: “There’s still 90 minutes to go. Our heads are up.”
  • The finishing simply has to improve – because New York might not kick one in for the visitors this time. And Bill Hamid cannot have another wobble. So, suffice to say the work in front of both goals needs a boost.
  • Underrated hero of Saturday’s match: unheralded left back Chris Korb. Along with Chris Pontius, they were United’s top men in Saturday’s draw. (Yes, Pontius needed something better from the penalty spot, but he was The Man on the United’s attack otherwise.)

Bottom line:

The predominant back story here is the Hurricane Sandy-related venue swap. Originally, this second leg was to be in New York, but conditions demanded a change.

If this one is tied after 90 minutes, an extra 30-minute period (and potentially penalty kicks) will determine the survivor – and that will not make United fans any more pleased over the whole unfortunate situation.

United could surely squeak out a 1-0 result … and if Backe’s Red Bulls can’t muster any more urgency than we saw in most matches down the stretch, the most talented team ever assembled on paper will fall way too quietly.

Mauricio Pochettino: “I am in love with Harry Kane”

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LONDON — It is easy to understand why Mauricio Pochettino is waxing lyrical about Harry Kane.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

On Saturday Kane scored twice in the first half to set Tottenham on their way to a 3-2 win at West Ham, as the English striker celebrated his inclusion into the FIFPro World 11 nominees (the only Englishman) earlier in the week.

Out of Europe’s top five leagues only Lionel Messi has scored more than Kane’s 25 goals in 2017.

Speaking to the media after the game Pochettino professed his love for Kane who has now scored six goals in his last four appearances for Tottenham in all competitions and eight in six if you include his two goals for England earlier in September.

“For me Harry Kane is one of the best strikers in the world. It is too hard to find the word to describe him. In the last three seasons I am telling you how he is. I am in love, like the fans are in love, like the teammates are in love, not only because he scores goals,” Pochettino explained. “He is professional, humble and he is very good example in football today that is a big business. He keeps all the values that managers like me appreciate a lot. That is why I say to you I am in love with him for many different reasons.”

Kane hit the post twice, created numerous chances for his teammates and led the line superbly against West Ham’s three central defenders.

Hammers boss Slaven Bilic believes Kane is among the top five to 10 strikers in the world and said his defenders couldn’t have done any more to stop Kane on Saturday.

Kane still scored twice and ultimately decided the outcome of the game.

“The best compliment I can give him, is that we played with three center backs. Fonte, Reid and Ogbonna had a really good game. My three center backs were against him and Dele Alli. They had a really good game and still he was using those situations and basically he decided the game and my center backs were good,” Bilic said, puffing out his cheeks.

After suffering a slow start to the season once again Kane is in fine form in September, ripping up Premier League defenses in his sleep as he linked up with Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen fluidly in the final third.

Still only 24 years of age, it is scary to think about what Kane can become.

Three things learned from Tottenham’s win at West Ham

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LONDON — Tottenham Hotspur beat West Ham United on Saturday in a thrilling London derby at the London Stadium.

[ MORE: Pochettino “in love” with Kane ]

Spurs thought they had sewed up a routine victory after they went 3-0 up after an hour but Serge Aurier’s red card set up a nervy finish as Javier Hernandez and Cheikhou Kouyate scored headers for the Hammers.

Here’s what we learned from the London Stadium.


COMPLETE KANE

In 2017 Harry Kane has scored 25 goals. In Europe’s top five leagues only Lionel Messi has scored more (34).

Earlier this week Kane was the only Englishman to be named among the 55 nominees for the FIFPro World 11 for 2016-17. It’s easy to see why.

His first goal was a diving header, instinctively glanced into the far corner. His second was about being in the right place at the right time to slot home. He hit the post twice in the second half and could have easily had a hat trick.

Aside from his finishing and his hot streak (six goals in his last four games for Spurs and eight in his last six if you include his goals for England earlier this month) his vision and ability to drop deep, bring others into play and link up the game set him apart.

Kane is not a true predator like Sergio Aguero. He is not a forward who always scores spectacular goals like Alexis Sanchez or one who usually does his damage just in the box like Romelu Lukaku. He has it all.

Harry Kane is the complete forward and at the age of 24 it is hard to spot a weakness in his game.


AURIER AN ISSUE

Serge Aurier arrived at Tottenham with plenty of baggage off the pitch but on it he’s proving a real Jekyll and Hyde character.

The Ivory Coast right back made one superb covering tackle in the first half to deny Marko Arnautovic in the box but then also wandered out of position on multiple occasions and didn’t exactly bust a gut to get back into position.

His two silly challenges in the space of six minutes in the second half summed up his play. A rash tackle on Mark Noble was followed up by a wild lunge on Andy Carroll and Aurier was off.

That sending off rattled Spurs who could’ve easily coughed up a three-goal lead and let two points go.

Mauricio Pochettino knew he had plenty on his plate when he signed Aurier from Paris Saint-Germain on transfer deadline day. This performance showed he is perhaps not worth the risk and either Kieran Trippier or Kyle Walker-Peters deserve a chance at right back.


HAMMERS HUMBLED

The 3-2 scoreline doesn’t tell the story of this game.

Sure, West Ham scored twice in the final 25 minutes and rallied to try and grab an improbably point, but that papered over the cracks.

Slaven Bilic‘s future is still not decided and that uncertainty is ripping the team apart.

Not knowing if Bilic will be in charge beyond the next few months, let alone the end of this season when his current deal runs out, it feels like West Ham are at a real crossroads.

With the owners so far unwilling to give Bilic a new deal, performances like the one his side dished up from minutes 20-65 on Saturday won’t help his cause. The Hammers started well but fell apart when Michail Antonio went off injured and was replaced by Andy Carroll.

Bilic was backed with a team full of experienced international as Marko Arnautovic, Hernandez, Pablo Zabaleta and Joe Hart arrived in the summer but there doesn’t seem to be a real long-term plan at West Ham. That showed in their performance on Saturday as they battled back from 3-0 down which put a brave face on yet another jumbled display.


Kane after another brace: “I just want to score against every team”

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Harry Kane has three braces in September following his goal-free August, and Spurs continue to climb the Premier League table following a 3-2 win against West Ham United on Saturday at the London Stadium.

Spurs built a 3-0 lead through two from Kane and another from Christian Eriksen, but West Ham pulled one back before a Serge Aurier red card set the stage for a wild ending.

[ RECAP: West Ham 2-3 Spurs ]

The North Londoners held on for the win, boosting its standing to third on 11 points before the rest of the big boys play their weekend fixtures.

Here’s Kane, via the BBC:

“When you are 3-0 up and end up going 3-1 or 3-2 it is always nerve-wracking, especially with 10 men. But it is a great result.

“I see stuff go round on social media (about his goalscoring) but I don’t think about it. I just want to score against every team. I am delighted to get a couple and help the team win.

“We know we have to improve our home form and we will be right up there. To get nine points from three away games is really good.”

Kane now has September braces against Everton, West Ham, and Borussia Dortmund — not bad — and visits APOEL Nicosia and Huddersfield Town this week. Might he add another to his record?

Watch Live: Six Premier League games at 10am ET

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Six Premier League games are coming your way at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday and you can watch them all live online.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

Man City host Crystal Palace in a top v. bottom clash, Chelsea head to Stoke, Manchester United travel to Southampton, Swansea host Watford, Everton host Bournemouth and Huddersfield head to Burnley.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

You can access additional games by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold which also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: “Goal Rush” here ]

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of being similar to the NFL RedZone with action shown from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window. More info is available here.

The schedule for all six games at 10 a.m. ET is below and you can stream each game live by clicking on the links.


10 a.m. ET: Manchester City vs. Crystal Palace – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Stoke City vs. Chelsea – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Everton vs. Bournemouth – NBC Sports Gold  [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Burnley vs. Huddersfield – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Southampton vs. Manchester United – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Watford – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]