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

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If having a little hill to climb seems somehow discouraging for D.C. United faithful, consider this: it’s only a hill, and not the mountain of a deficit to overcome that we see in the day’s other conference final.

D.C. United fell in Houston, 3-1, and must now make up the two goals when the teams meet at historic RFK Stadium in Sunday’s Eastern Conference final second-leg.

It won’t be easy against a visiting Houston Dynamo side (and its wily manager) that knows, historically speaking better than any MLS side yet, how to piece together a playoff result on the road.

One team will emerge. Either Houston will claim the day and appear in its second consecutive MLS Cup final or D.C. United will overcome the two-goal deficit and host MLS Cup in two weeks.

MLS Eastern Conference finals

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

(Official league preview is here)

On D.C. United

  • United knows plenty about sitting behind that dreaded playoff 8 ball. They needed a mighty effort, minus their top player, just to make the 17th MLS post-season “tournament.”  Then they went into New York a week and a half back needing a victory at some point, whether in regulation play, extra time or penalty kicks. Rookie Nick DeLeon supplied the moment, claiming the game-winner in one of Major League Soccer’s most memorable playoffs to date.
  • It certainly looks like D.C. United’s top attacker, out since early August, will make an appearance at some point. Dwayne De Rosario, the 2011 league MVP, seems ready.
  • United is 12-1-5 at RFK this year, with a plus-20 goal difference. That’s a number that can inspire some confidence, for sure. The trick is that a close win won’t do. A two-goal victory will get the series into a 30-minute extra time.
  • Both teams had a full week to recover and get their legs back, which surely helped coach Ben Olsen’s side; his players looked absolutely spent in the final 30 minutes of last week’s loss to Houston. In fact, some of the mental errors that led to goals can probably be traced to a side that was as emotionally spent as physically taxed.
  • Still no Andy Najar, who is suspended. But the bigger loss would be left-sided attacker Chris Pontius, who struggled through a few minutes last week but may have ultimately done further damage to that groin injury.
  • Marcelo Saragosa (knee) is also a concern. Lately he has paired effectively with Perry Kitchen as dual holding midfielders. Spirited center back Brandon McDonald seems ready after some health concern on his part.
  • What Olsen says about his team’s state of mind: “We’re confident in the way we play at home. All year we have been aggressive and gone after teams and scored goals at home. So that part doesn’t necessarily need to change. We need to score goals, though, so there is a little bit of a different mind-set going into this game. It’s still a soccer game and we’re still confident in our ability to win games by two goals at home.”
  • Bill Hamid is back off suspension and available for presumed selection over Joe Willis in goal.
  • Time for long-time under-delivering Designated Player Branko Boskovic to stand and be counted. Period.

On the Houston Dynamo

  • Houston is suddenly limping along, almost as badly as D.C. United. Ricardo Clark missed last week’s match and Adam Moffat left early and looks doubtful for this one. If Clark cannot perform (he remains questionable), Houston is without its top pair of central midfielders.

(MORE: Houston’s central pair hoping for health)

  • Coach Dominic Kinnear’s team may also be without one of its starting center backs, Jermaine Taylor. Canadian international Andrew Hainault does not represent much drop-off, however, so that blow can be mitigated. Similarly, versatile attacker Calen Carr is beat up, but the Dynamo have depth at striker.
  • English veteran Giles Barnes is suddenly a great asset, given the sudden array of ailments in orange.
  • In terms of playing on the road, Houston was among the worst playoff teams, with a 3-9-5 record and a minus-12 goal difference. But … Kinnear’s team did go into Chicago and claim victory in an playoff elimination match. And the men in orange did go into Livestrong (carrying a two-goal margin) and survive. There are memories of last year’s playoff triumphs in Philadelphia and Kansas City to brace the belief.
  • For better or worse, this series will be defined in part by one massive moment and how it could have potentially changed the series. Read about the Hainault decision here and here.
  • Former U.S. national team striker Brian Ching has yet to play much of a role in the playoffs in what appears to be his final season. And speaking of “not playing much of a role,” although in a very different way, it’s time for winger Oscar Boniek Garcia to appear. On the bigger field at RFK (as opposed to the smaller one at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston) he should have room to stretch himself and take on defenders. They’ll need it.
  • Tally Hall, in goal, has been everything Houston has needed. He has allowed just five goals in eight post-season matches over two years.

(MORE: Three Good Questions for Tally Hall)

Bottom line:

Houston cannot afford to sit back the way it did two weeks ago in a second round closer against Sporting Kansas City; there’s no reason to believe the Black and Red will squander as many wonderful chances Sunday as Kansas City did in that conference semifinal.

They’ll need lots of help in midfield possession from Brad Davis; his free kick and corner kick specialty will be of little use if they cannot hold the ball enough to move into attacking positions.

On the other hand, can the home team generate enough offensive push minus a full-strength De Rosario and quite possibly without the inspirational Pontius, too? In fact, without those two (or, those two at full strength, at least) and Najar, United could be without its top three attackers.

Unfortunately, it might all come down to injuries. If Clark can play (and manage to be his usual rangy self) Houston might just win this so-called war of attrition. Or, if De Rosario can play a big enough role, or if Pontius can get on the field for a while, that might just be enough for United to manage the deficit.

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Watch Live: Tottenham vs. Liverpool (Lineups, Live Stream)

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 02: Jordan Henderson of Liverpool and Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield on April 2, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Tottenham Hotspur host Liverpool at White Hart Lane on Saturday  (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports) as two teams with title aspirations collide in north London.

Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp are two of the brightest minds in the game and both teams will press high to cause mistakes from the other. Expect a rambunctious and passionate encounter.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

Last season both games ended in draws — 0-0 at the Lane and 1-1 at Anfield — between these teams but heading into the international break, both will be going for broke to grab another three points.

In team news Tottenham bring back Dele Alli and drop Vincent Janssen to the bench.

Liverpool start with Matip in central defense and Milner at left back.

LINEUPS

Tottenham: Vorm; Walker, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose; Wanyama, Dier; Lamela, Alli, Eriksen; Kane. Subs: McGee, Son, Janssen, Onoma, Winks, Davies, Carter-Vickers

Liverpool: Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Matip, Milner; Henderson, Wijnaldum, Lallana; Mane, Firmino, Coutinho. Subs: Manninger, Sturridge, Grujic, Moreno, Leiva, Origi, Stewart

Netherlands coach Danny Blind leaves Depay off squad

AP Photo/Jon Super
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THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) Manchester United winger Memphis Depay was left out of the Netherlands squad on Friday for a friendly against Greece followed by its first World Cup qualifier against Sweden.

Veteran strikers Klaas-Jan Huntelaar of Schalke and Robin Van Persie of Fenerbahce were also omitted from coach Danny Blind’s 24-man squad, while a debut was given to 21-year-old PSV Eindhoven midfielder Jorrit Hendrix.

Blind appeared to be opting for youth over experience in the qualification campaign for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but that policy did not help 22-year-old Depay, who has struggled for form since moving from PSV Eindhoven to Old Trafford last year.

“It’s important for him to first focus fully on getting into the first team at Manchester United,” Blind said. “From there, he needs to play more and hopefully he will then put himself back in the picture.”

Tottenham’s new striker, Vincent Janssen, will look to continue his impressive international form – the former AZ Alkaar star has three goals in five matches since making his debut in March.

The Netherlands, which failed to qualify for the European Championship, takes on Greece on Thursday in Eindhoven, and plays its first Group A qualifier against Sweden in Solna on Sept. 6.

Netherlands:

Goalkeepers: Jasper Cillessen (Barcelona), Maarten Stekelenburg (Everton), Jeroen Zoet (PSV Eindhoven).

Defenders: Patrick Van Aanholt (Sunderland), Daley Blind (Manchester United), Jeffrey Bruma (Wolfsburg), Virgil Van Dijk (Southampton), Kenny Tete (Ajax), Joel Veltman (Ajax), Ron Vlaar (AZ Alkmaar), Jetro Willems (PSV).

Midfielders: Riechedly Bazoer (Ajax), Jorrit Hendrix (PSV), Davy Klaassen (Ajax), Davy Proepper (PSV), Wesley Sneijder (Galatasaray), Kevin Strootman (Roma), Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool).

Forwards: Steven Berghuis (Feyenoord), Bas Dost (Wolfsburg), Vincent Janssen (Tottenham Hotspur), Luuk De Jong (PSV), Luciano Narsingh(PSV), Quincy Promes (Spartak Moscow).

MLS Snapshot: Real Salt Lake 2-1 Colorado Rapids (video)

Movsisyan
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The game in 100 words (or less): If either team has proved anything this season it’s that they’re both extremely hard to beat at home. Real Salt Lake battled back to fend off the Rapids on Friday night at Rio Tinto Stadium, and in the process picked up a vital three points to get Jeff Cassar’s side back in the race for the top spot in the Western Conference. Both teams sit on 43 points, just two points behind FC Dallas. RSL had every chance to create further separation between the two sides, but two late penalty kick misses kept the scoreline locked at 2-1. Despite Tim Howard‘s best efforts to keep the visitors in the game, making four big stops on the night, the Rapids couldn’t end RSL’s 13-match home unbeaten streak.

[ MORE: Sounders, Timbers meet again in major conference clash ]

Three moments that mattered 

5′ — Gashi provides Rapids with early lead — Sometimes you’ve just got to be in the right place at the right time.

39′ — Rapids can’t clear it, Movsisyan makes them pay — It was a bit lucky to take the initial deflection but Movsisyan always seems to be in the right spot at the right time.

48′ — Movsisyan hands RSL the lead — Early candidate for Goal of the Week after the RSL striker turned away from two Rapids defenders and blasted his chance past Tim Howard.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Yura Movsisyan

Goalscorers: Shkelzen Gashi (5′), Yura Movsisyan (39′, 48′)

PSG loans goalkeeper Sirigu to Spanish side Sevilla

FLORENCE, ITALY - MAY 26:  Salvatore Sirigu of Italy speaks to the media during a press conference at the club's training ground at Coverciano on May 26, 2016 in Florence, Italy.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
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SEVILLA, Spain (AP) French champion Paris Saint-Germain has loaned goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu to Spanish club Sevilla until the end of the season.

PSG said in a statement on Friday that Europa League winner Sevilla has an option to buy Sirigu at the end of his loan spell.

Sirigu will compete with Sergio Rico for the starting job on a Sevilla side being rebuilt under new coach Jorge Sampaoli.

The 29-year-old Sirigu, who has played 17 times for Italy, was a mainstay in the PSG side until Kevin Trapp replaced him as No. 1 last season.

Sirigu made 190 appearances for PSG after joining in 2011, winning four league titles, two French Cups, and three League Cups.

But his chances looked even more limited this season, with PSG recalling `keeper Alphonse Areola from a loan spell in Spain with Villarreal.