MLS playoff preview: D.C. United at Houston Dynamo

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Both teams are coming off massive achievement, as fifth-seeded Houston upset top-seeded Sporting Kansas City in the Eastern Conference semifinals while United gutted out that memorable 1-0 win at New York to secure the other conference semifinal.

Houston is not a place where D.C. United has done well, and two matches this year year were dropped by a combined 5-0.

Then again, Ben Olsen’s club has that little feel of “destiny” around them, and they sure haven’t done much losing lately.

The clubs meet Sunday downtown in Houston to kick off the home-and-away, total  goals series.

Eastern Conference finals: first of two legs

(Official league preview is here)

Sunday’s Kickoff: 4 p.m. ET, BBVA Compass Stadium, NBC Sports Network

On D.C. United

  • Talk about getting things right at the exact, right time: United is 6-0-3 since early September. They’ve forgotten what it feels like to lose!
  • This will be United’s third trip into BBVA Compass Stadium – and the downtown ground of abundant orange paint hasn’t been kind to Olsen’s boys. They were Houston’s first victims in the brand new ground back in May. And a meeting in South Texas in July went wrong in all kinds of ways for D.C., who finished on the wrong end of a 4-0 whuppin.
  • Overall, United is 0-8-1 in Houston. Hard to feel good about something like that.
  • United will be without Andy Najar, who received an additional two-game suspension following his unwise actions in the opening leg of his team’s series win over New York. That means Robbie Russell at right back again. He’s probably a better defender, but Russell doesn’t pose anything close to the threat Najar does going forward.

(MORE: Thinking our way around Najar’s suspension)

  • Last time these teams met in Houston, Bill Hamid charged out wildly to take down Mac Kandji, leaving his team a man down and facing a penalty kick. He won’t be around to do so this time; against New York on Thursday, Hamid charged out wildly to take down Kenny Cooper, leaving his team a man down and facing a penalty kick.
  • Here’s a recap of the 4-0 loss.
  • Backup goalkeeper Joe Willis, based on his solid work earlier this year in Hamid’s absence, is not a huge dropoff in quality.
  • If Chris Korb is healthy enough, he will start Sunday at left back, where he did so well as United opened the playoffs. If not, it’s probably Lewis Neal’s job again.
  • Every day that goes by, we inch a little closer to a possible Dwayne De Rosario sighting in the playoffs.
  • United has one day rest fewer than the home team; that’s courtesy of the second big storm to batter the East Coast over two weeks, this one a big snow dumper that forced a 24-hour postponement of the teams’ match, which was scheduled for Wednesday in New Jersey.

On Houston

  • What to say at this point about Houston, a team that simply knows how to grind out playoff results? The Orange went to Chicago and found a way to get by the Fire. They hustled and bustled their way to two goals and a sizeable mental edge in a mess of a match against Kansas City down in Houston, then held on for dear, sweet life in the return leg at Livestrong Sporting Park.
  • Houston still has not lost a competitive match inside BBVA Compass Stadium.
  • Center back Jermaine Taylor is back at training but remains questionable. Andrew Hainault, who played well in Wednesday’s series second leg in Kansas City will fill in again if Taylor, a Jamaican international, cannot make it.
  • Starting forward Calen Carr, who left Wednesday’s match with a hamstring injury, looks in serious doubt.
  • One man well rested for the Dynamo: veteran striker Brian Ching, who played just nine minutes over two legs against Sporting Kansas City. Given the injury to Carr, could we see a start from the veteran, former U.S. international? Either way, this will surely be Ching’s last match in Houston, as he seems set to retire at year’s end. (Houston is the one playoff team remaining that has no chance of  hosting MLS Cup 2012.)
  • Dominic Kinnear and his Dynamo are 180 minutes from appearing their second consecutive MLS Cup final. (They fell to L.A. last year at the Home Depot Center.)
  • Houston has allowed 12 goals in 18 regular season and playoff games at BBVA. That’s just ridiculous.
  • The Dynamo has arrived into a conference final for the fifth time in seven seasons.
  • Just watch Sunday and see how much ground Ricardo Clark covers from his central midfield position.
  • Goalkeeper Tally Hall has allowed four goals in six playoff matches. That’s heady stuff, especially considering Hall is just a second-year starter, having apprenticed under Pat Onstad. (Onstad, by the way, is now a D.C. United assistant.)

Bottom line:

Who could blame either team for not finding their best level in this one? Given the physical demands on both teams in matches that stretched their limits in intensity and stamina, there’s every reason to expect cautious approaches and probably some sluggish legs Sunday.

Temperatures in the 80s with typical Houston mugginess won’t help, and it could be a particular hindrance to United, a side coming from a match where kickoff weather was about 40 degrees cooler.

Dynamo playoff matches don’t tend to deliver many goals, so this one has 1-0 written all over it. Considering history and the additional day of rest, this one certainly leans toward the Dynamo.

Bonus: the way EA Sports sees it playing out

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Premier League player Power Rankings – Week 1

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It is time to take stock of the Premier League’s opening weekend and select the top 20 players who dazzled to open up the 2017-18 campaign.

[ MORE: Power Rankings archive ]

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League.

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections of the top 20 players in the PL right now.


  1. Romelu Lukaku (Man United)
  2. Steve Mounie (Huddersfield)
  3. Nemanja Matic (Man United)
  4. David Silva (Man City)
  5. Alexandre Laczette (Arsenal)
  6. Jamie Vardy (Leicester City)
  7. Dele Alli (Tottenham)
  8. Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
  9. Wayne Rooney (Everton)
  10. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
  11. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City)
  12. Christian Eriksen (Tottenham)
  13. Alvaro Morata (Chelsea)
  14. Kyle Walker (Man City)
  15. Stefano Okaka (Watford)
  16. Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield)
  17. Sam Vokes (Burnley)
  18. Jay Rodriguez (West Brom)
  19. Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea)
  20. Ryan Bertrand (Southampton)

Everton confirm Gylfi Sigurdsson medical ahead of move

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Everton’s $57.8 million club-record move for Swansea City’s Gylfi Sigurdsson is almost complete.

[ MORE: Danny Rose to Chelsea?

Toffees boss Ronald Koeman was speaking to the media ahead of the first leg of their UEFA Europa League playoff against Hajduk Split on Thursday, and he confirmed Sigurdsson has undergone a medical at their Finch Farm training ground without any hiccups.

He also stated that Sigurdsson, 27, could make his Everton debut away at Manchester City on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) if everything goes to plan.

“I have seen the doctor and there is no problem,” Koeman said. “Still he needs to sign, but I saw him in the Blue! Normally we will do the business today.”

This news will be a relief for everyone concerned. Everton. Sigurdsson. Swansea. Koeman. Absolutely everyone. This has taken over six weeks to sort out but the end game is near and Swansea will at least get a huge profit as they bought Sigurdsson for Spurs in 2014 for $11.5 million, but did send Ben Davies and Michel Vorm in the opposite direction. Spurs also have a 10 percent sell-on clause in this deal.

The Icelandic playmaker scored nine goals and added 13 assists in the Premier League last season as he kept Swansea in the Premier League but the former Reading, Hoffenheim and Tottenham Hotspur midfielder will now link up with Koeman at Goodison Park.

Sigurdsson, Wayne Rooney, Sandro Ramirez and Davy Klaassen will all be tasked with chipping in with double figures in terms of goals this season to counteract the departure of Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United for $96.5 million earlier this summer.

In his prime and ready to be a key piece of Everton’s attacking unit for the foreseeable future, it appears that Sigurdsson has landed in the right place. This is a massive blow for Swansea but for Everton it’s magnificent news.

Sigurdsson will have a large transfer fee hanging over his head and some suggest he prefers being a bigger fish in a smaller pond a la Swansea compared to his time at Tottenham.

We are about to find out if he can handle the pressure of leading a top four charge for the Toffees. Given his incredible assist record last season (only Kevin De Bruyne and Christian Eriksen provided more in the PL) he should slot in just fine at Everton.

Report: Danny Rose to Chelsea for $64.3 million

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Just a week after Danny Rose gave an explosive newspaper interview, for which he later apologized, suggesting he will get paid what he’s worth be it at Tottenham Hotspur or elsewhere, it appears interest is rife in the England left back.

Who would have thought that would happen…

[ MORE: Wenger gives update on Sanchez ]

The Sun newspaper claim Rose will be the subject of a $64.3 million from Chelsea on Sunday following heir clash with Tottenham at Wembley (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) in a massive London derby.

Rose, 27, is still recovering from a knee injury and won’t be available until after the next international break in early September, but the man who has been named as the best left back in the Premier League over the past two seasons will have obviously upset the hierarchy at Spurs with his comments, even if many believe he was only airing the thoughts of most of Tottenham’s players.

He certainly opened up a can of worms with his comments (more on that here) as Spurs’ star names continue to be paid less than stars at Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and even Arsenal, and with Kyle Walker moving on to Man City earlier this summer and instantly doubling his salary, many can see where Rose is coming from. However, nobody told this Spurs players to sign new long-term deals. They all agreed to them.

Man United are also said to be interested in Rose who revealed in his self-proclaimed “ill-advised” comments that one day he would like a move back to the north of England to be closer to family.

Moving back to Chelsea’s pursuit of Rose, does it make sense?

Strengthening on the right-hand side of defense should probably take priority for the reigning champs with Marcos Alonso having a fine first season at Stamford Bridge and also adding an attacking threat down the left in the 3-4-3 system. Adding Rose could see Alonso pushed further forward but having two players for each position is crucial for Antonio Conte especially with UEFA Champions League action coming up, so looking for another left-wing back make sense. Rose’s pace and power make him the perfect fit for that position.

With Tottenham said to closing in a move for Ajax’s 21-year-old Colombian center back Davinson Sanchez, it appears Spurs are pushing ahead with exactly what Rose asked for last week: more big-name signings he didn’t have to Google to find out who they were.

It would be extremely tough to see Spurs willing to sell on another full back after letting Walker leave for Man City for $64.3 million earlier this summer, but if Chelsea wanted to pay that for Rose and with Ben Davies stepping in and developing into a solid, dependable left back over the past 12 months, should they take the cash and invest in other talented youngsters from across Europe?

Wenger gives update on Sanchez, Chamberlain, Wilshere

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Arsene Wenger has a lot to sort out in the coming months. And that’s just off the pitch.

Wenger, 67, has nine first-team players who are in the final years of their contracts at Arsenal and although Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez have had much of the spotlight when it comes to their respective futures, there is plenty more to sort out.

But, for the sake of order, let’s start with Wenger’s comments on Sanchez’s future as the 28-year-old remains sideline with an abdominal injury and is in the final 12 months of his deal.

Wenger revealed that Sanchez won’t make the game at Stoke this weekend, but that he’ll likely return against Liverpool on Aug. 27.

Speaking to the media ahead of Arsenal’s trip to Stoke on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) the Frenchman revealed there has been no progress in talks over Sanchez staying at the Emirates Stadium.

“He is a player who goes into the final year of his contract. We have not progressed on that front,” Wenger said. “Let’s not be wrong, it’s not an ideal situation on the financial side and it demands some sacrifice. But first of all, it doesn’t mean the players who are in the final year of their contract will not extend their contract. You have still that possibility and we work on that as well.

“That (possibly allowing Sanchez to leave for free) is a consequence of what I say, yes, unfortunately. But we have to make a choice between efficiency on the field and financial interest and most of the time if you can find a good compromise, it’s better. But in this case, I think I prioritize the fact that he will be useful on the sporting side.”

So, that’s Sanchez. It appears Wenger is still willing to let Sanchez leave for nothing at the end of this season with the Chilean superstar, who scored 24 goals and added 10 assists in the Premier League for Arsenal last season, free to negotiate a free transfer with clubs outside of England from January onwards.

As for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere, Wenger seems eager to keep both players but interest around the England internationals continue to swirl with both Chelsea and Manchester City said to be interested in the Ox and clubs such as West Ham, Newcastle and Sampdoria trying to sign Wilshere.

“We always wanted to keep Sanchez and we always hope, even now, that we can extend the contracts of Sanchez, Chamberlain, Ozil,” Wenger told beIN Sports. 

He expanded on those thoughts with the press on Wednesday, stating his appreciation for Chamberlain in particular.

“I rate him  highly,” Wenger said. “I want him to stay here for a long time and I’m convinced he will be the English player in the next two or three years that everybody will look at.”

Wenger’s comments earlier in the summer about Arsenal being in a strong position with several first-team stars in the final year of their respective contracts seemed like a bizarre one. With these situations rumbling on and no end in sight to the speculation and uncertainty, his comments now seems even more peculiar.