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.

Referee leaders want on-field official to see video replays

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LONDON (AP) Antoine Griezmann headed the ball into the net and was in full celebration mode with his France teammates when referee Felix Swayer pinned a finger into his left ear to block out the stadium noise.

[ VIDEO: VAR system used correctly

An assistant in front of a bank of monitors was assessing replays and had some bad news for Griezmann. Swayer was told through his earpiece that a player was offside in the buildup.

The goal was then ruled out, without Swayer seeing a replay. But that won’t necessarily be the case by the time video replays are fully approved to be rolled out across soccer.

For now, the experimental phase is still in full flow but if refereeing leaders get their way officials should always have access to the footage themselves around the field.

“The subjective decisions should be made by the on-field referee because they have got the feel for the game,” Mike Riley, general manager of English refereeing organization, told The Associated Press. “They can put it in the context of everything else. So as part of the process we have got to work out how we can do that as effectively as possible … without interrupting the flow of the game.”

The International Football Association Board, the game’s lawmaking body, is in its second year of trials with various versions of video assistant referees (VAR). Some games, like the France-Spain friendly, do not allow the referee to evaluate incidents and instead by rely on the VAR.

But VAR could end up only ruling on what Riley describes as “decisions of fact,” such as whether a ball was inside or outside the penalty area.

Ultimately, if you are appointing one of the top referees to preside over a major game, that person is seen as ideal for making the big calls, according to IFAB.

“Fundamentally we are told very much by players and coaches they want the referee to be making the most important decisions,” IFAB technical director David Elleray said, referencing England’s top referee. “They don’t know who is in a van out in the car park or 300 miles away in a match center.”

Soccer’s lawmakers only envisage video replays being used to correct game-changing decisions involving four situations: penalties being awarded, red cards, cases of mistaken identity and goals being scored.

That situation arose twice in the Stade de France on Tuesday as France lost 2-0 to Spain. After Griezmann’s goal was disallowed, video replays worked against France again but in Spain’s favor when an incorrect offside call against Gerard Deulofeu was overturned and his goal stood.

Swayer again relied on the information from a colleague benefiting from replays.

“Nicola Rizzoli was appointed to referee the last World Cup final because he is the best referee,” Elleray said. “But if actually the two most important decisions in the match are made by somebody watching a TV screen … the most important person is the man you put behind the TV screen not the man on the field.”

The challenges are how referees are able to view replays without lengthening the delay. For now the technology isn’t satisfactory for officials to use wearable devices and receive footage in real time. That means going to the side of the field to watch incidents with the eyes of thousands of fans in the stands on them. The screens are likely to be on the opposite side to the technical area to avoid coaches being able to surround and harangue the referee.

“Some of our stadiums don’t lend themselves to monitors by the side of the pitch because they are really tight,” said Riley, a former Premier League referee who is now in charge of appointments for games in the world’s richest soccer competition. “Is it right for referees to have to run 30 yards to go and look? Can you get the footage to the referee on the field somehow? All these things have to be explored through the experiment and come out with a solution that works for football.”

Live experiments are taking place in about 20 competitions this year, including the Confederations Cup in Russia in June and July that will serves as a World Cup test event.

Once IFAB adds video replays to the laws of the game, any competition meeting the requirements will be able to use them.

For Riley, permitting replays is “the most significant change in refereeing in the game for generations,” far more significant than the 2012 decision to allow technology that simply determines whether the ball crossed the goal line.

“If you are making such a significant change,” Riley said, “you need to really explore and understand all the potential implications.”

Rob Harris can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

Amid fanfare, Bastian Schweinsteiger arrives in Chicago

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Arriving at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, it is clear Bastian Schweinsteiger is kind of a big deal…

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Posing for photos with fans as he stepped off the flight with his wife, former Serbian tennis star Ana Ivanovic, the former Bayern Munich midfielder was mobbed by Chicago Fire fans who are delighted he has arrived in Major League Soccer as the newest Designated Player.

The German legend has completed his move from Manchester United to the Fire and will be officially unveiled to the media on Wednesday after signing a one-year deal.

[ MORE: Latest MLS news ]

Schweinsteiger, 32, has already had a training session in the books and the World Cup winner is expected to make his debut in Chicago’s home clash with the Montreal Impact on Saturday at Toyota Park.

Below is a video of Schweinsteiger’s arrival in Chicago, his first training session and a collection of photos he took with ecstatic Fire fans.


Liverpool’s Emre Can scores stunning goal in training

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Emre Can, take a bow.

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Alongside Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum, the German international stole the show as BT Sport rocked up for an episode of “Goals Recreated” at Melwood.

The premise is simple: can current day PL players recreate sensational goals of the past?

On this occasion each player had four attempts to mirror Papiss Cisse‘s stunning goal for Newcastle United against Chelsea, and although Mane came close Can was the man of the moment.

Click play on the video below to see the stunning effort.


Barcelona defends Messi over “unfair” suspension

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Lionel Messi’s four-match international suspension for insulting a linesman was “unfair and totally disproportionate.”

[ MORE: Messi handed ban by FIFA ]

Barcelona released a statement Wednesday expressing “its surprise and indignation” with FIFA’s decision to sideline the playmaker for so long following the incident in Argentina’s win over Chile in World Cup qualifying last week.

The punishment was announced before Argentina lost at Bolivia 2-0 Tuesday, a result that left the two-time champions at risk of not qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

Barcelona says it “wishes to reiterate its support for Leo Messi, an exemplary player in terms of conduct both on and off the field.”

Pending an appeal, Messi will only be available to play in Argentina’s final qualifier, on Oct. 10 against Ecuador.