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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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Update on Hull’s Ryan Mason after he suffered a fractured skull

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22: Ryan Mason of Hull City lies injured after the collision with Gary Cahill of Chelsea during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Hull City at Stamford Bridge on January 22, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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Hull City have released an update as to the status of midfielder Ryan Mason.

[ MORE: Pulisic signs new deal ]

The 25-year-old was injured in an aerial collision with Gary Cahill during Hull City’s 2-0 defeat at Chelsea on Sunday and it has been revealed that he fractured his skull.

Mason is currently at St Mary’s hospital in central London receiving treatment and he and his family have been visited by John Terry, Cahill and assistant manager Steve Holland of Chelsea.

Here’s what Hull had to say early on Monday about Mason’s current condition as he recovers from surgery.

The Club can confirm that Ryan has been visited this morning at St Mary’s Hospital by Club Captain Michael Dawson, Club Doctor Mark Waller, Head of Medical Rob Price and Club Secretary Matt Wild. Ryan has been speaking of the incident yesterday and will continue to be monitored at the hospital over the coming days where the Club will remain in close contact with Ryan, his family and the staff at St Mary’s.

Ryan and his family have also been extremely touched by the overwhelming support they have received  and would very much like to thank all of those who have posted such positive comments both on social media and in the press over the last 24 hours.

Tributes have poured in for Mason from across the soccer world following the horror injury after what looked like an innocuous aerial challenge with Cahill.

USMNT’s Christian Pulisic extends deal at Dortmund

Dortmund's Mario Goetze, left, celebrates with Christian Pulisic after scoring the first goal of his team during the Champions League Group F soccer match between Legia Warsaw and Dortmund at Stadion Wojska Polskiego in Warsaw, Poland, Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)
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U.S. national team star Christian Pulisic has signed a new deal at Borussia Dortmund.

Pulisic, 18, has extended his stay at the Westfalenstadion until 2020 and his new contract will end speculation surrounding his future at the Bundesliga giants.

In the past two transfer windows Pulisic has been linked with a move to the Premier League with Liverpool reportedly interested in his services but the young playmaker will remain with Thomas Tuchel’s side for the foreseeable future.

This season he has made 19 appearances for Dortmund in all competitions, scoring twice, and has become a regular started in the UEFA Champions League.

The Hershey, Pennsylvania native continues to be one of the most coveted young stars on the planet and after rising rapidly through the youth ranks at Dortmund he will continue to develop in a team which is renowned for not only giving talented youngsters a chance to shine but also nurturing them.

Pulisic has scored three goals in 11 appearances for the USMNT and will be a key part of Bruce Arena’s team in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers in March.


Wayne Rooney wants to remain at Man United, for now

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LONDON — Wayne Rooney became Manchester United’s all-time leading goalscorer on Saturday but his 250th goal for the Red Devils has inevitably thrown up plenty of questions about his future at Old Trafford.

[ VIDEO: Rooney’s best goals for United ]

Rooney, 31, was honored by the Football Writers’ Association at a tribute dinner in London on Sunday at the Savoy Hotel and spoke at length about his future with reports continuing to link him with a big-money move to China in the coming months and his manager Jose Mourinho saying the club won’t stand in his way if he wants to move on.

[ MORE: World reacts to Rooney’s record ]

Speaking with Sky Sports before the event Rooney revealed that although he isn’t happy at only playing a bit-part role at United this season under Mourinho, he is happy to stay at the club.

“I’m committed,” Rooney said. “I have been at the club for a long time. Football is a strange game. Anything can happen and things change very quickly but I am happy at Manchester United. Of course, as I have said before, I want to play more games. I am in a happy place, a good moment personally, so I think I have a year, with an option year to go. We will see what happens and what happens after that.”

Before going on stage to accept his award at the glitzy event, former England manager Roy Hodgson and current West Bromwich Albion captain (and Rooney’s long-time United teammate) Darren Fletcher spoke about the striker glowingly.

Rooney, now the all-time leading goalscorer for both England and United, posed for photos and signed autographs all night long.

He seemed overwhelmed with the award and it capped off a crazy 24 hours which saw him break Sir Bobby Charlton’s record to become United’s all-time leading scorer, celebrate the first birthday of his youngest child and then head to London for the tribute dinner alongside his wife Coleen.

Speaking to the FWA members (which included yours truly) and guests, Rooney also called for the media and players to come closer together in the future to help out the English national team.

“The media is a massive part of football and I’ve seen firsthand since I’ve become captain of Manchester United and England,” Rooney said. “I’ve recognized it has had a huge influence on the game and the players and especially the young English players because they are the ones who have to go out and perform. It’s tough. I also feel like it is sometimes a bit unfair. The one thing I think, for me, that should happen is we need to realize and the media need to realize that at this moment in time there is a huge gap between the media and the players. I think the quicker the media and players can come together and meet in the middle, then the better it is for English football.”

Much has been said about Rooney throughout his career but you cannot deny his quality and supreme goalscoring ability which will see him go down as a legendary figure for both England and Manchester United.

If he doesn’t end up in China in the not so distant future, he will have offers flooding in from the rest of the world.

MLS: Le Toux to join D.C., Timbers set to acquire Myers and more

Sebastien Le Toux, Tony Beltran
AP Photo/Rich Schultz
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Two teams are set to bring in experienced players ahead of the new season, while another veteran has said his goodbye to his former club.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

D.C. United has reportedly signed veteran forward Sebastian Le Toux after spending last season with the Philadelphia Union and the Colorado Rapids.

According to SB Nation’s Black and Red United, Le Toux has inked a one-year deal with D.C. United. Le Toux has scored 57 goals in his time in MLS, with 50 of those goals coming with the Union.

Le Toux has also previously played for the New York Red Bulls, Vancouver Whitecaps and Seattle Sounders.


Meanwhile, the Portland Timbers are reportedly set to sign long-time Sporting KC defender Chance Myers, who spent the last nine seasons with the Western Conference side.

The 29-year-old had made 147 appearances for Sporting KC since joining MLS, while adding two goals over that span.


Dax McCarty posted a heartfelt message to New York Red Bulls fans, players and staff following the veteran’s move to the Chicago Fire.

The midfielder was recently traded to the Eastern Conference side after the spending the last five-and-half years with the Red Bulls, where McCarty served as the team’s captain.