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Major League Soccer team previews: FC DALLAS

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Each day from now until the beginning of Major League Soccer’s 18th season, we will preview one Eastern Conference team and one from the West. First kick is March 2.

No. 7 in the West is FC Dallas:

Significant additions and subtractions: The team immediately put the proceeds to use from Brek Shea’s $4 million sell to Stoke City. That started with Kenny Cooper, who packed up his 18 goals from last year in arriving from New York in one of the league’s most newsy offseason exchanges. It fell within days of Dallas acquiring Eric Hassli, who was the centerpiece of Vancouver’s attack at this time last year.

Elsewhere, is Peter Luccin the holding midfielder that Julian de Guzman couldn’t quite be last year? (The Canadian international de Guzman is gone, by the way, now back in Europe in the 2.Bundesliga). We may be waiting to find out; Luccin has been out injured through most of the preseason. A late February trade with Houston brought Jamaican international Je-Vaughn Watson to help reinforce central midfield.

Daniel Hernandez, the team’s previous midfielder strong man, has retired.

Peruvian international goalkeeper Raul Fernandez has huge shoes to fill in replacing Kevin Hartman, whose high salary was deemed surplus by FCD management. It was a bold move considering how many times Hartman as turned no points into one, or one point into three over the past three seasons at FC Dallas Stadium.

CEO Doug Quinn is out; he’s part of the team’s “competition committee,” which makes player personnel decisions, but that should not affect the actual team on the field.

Strengths: A team that hasn’t had two top-level strikers in years now suddenly has three of them, with Cooper and Hassli joining Panamanian star Blas Perez.

How the team shape looks remains to be seen as manager Schellas Hyndman continues to experiment with various looks in preseason. They won’t need to make any hard decisions yet on which two strikers to deploy ( … or how to deploy all three?) as Hassli continues to nurse his way back to full health.

George John and promising sophomore Matt Hedges form a solid central defensive pairing.

Pressure points: Hartman was creeping up toward $200,000 in salary, which is heaping helping for a goalkeeper in MLS. On the other hand, Hartman was generally worth it.

Shea’s departure leaves FCD perilously thin on the flanks, with Fabian Castillo and Jackson set to start (and that’s not bad) but curiously little behind them. (Check out the depth chart and you’ll see.) Aren’t there still some nickels, dimes or dollars left over from the Shea profits?

Left back Jair Benitez isn’t the attacking force he was before, and his risky, combative defenders tends to put FCD in holes. And still no word on Ugo Ihemelu, who has been out since mid-year 2012 with concussion-related issues. Darn shame, too.

Difference maker: If playmaker David Ferreira can’t be large and in charge, this team isn’t going anywhere. And if we’re honest, he simply wasn’t the same influence upon return from injury in 2012. Perhaps asking him to be the 2010 Ferreira once again is asking too much, but that’s where it is for FC Dallas right now. They need their Colombian creator to be massive.

source: Getty Images

Potential breakout player: By mid-season 2012, Castillo was starting to figure it out. The decision making remains frequently dubious, but he’s so fast and talented that defenses are forced to pay attention. Just 20 years old, Castillo (pictured right) can deliver so much more than last year’s sum of 6 goals and 3 assists if Hyndman and Co. can get him pointed in the right direction.

Bottom line: Injuries crunched the team in 2012, but a lack of depth along the flanks threatens to be the team’s undoing this year. There’s ample offense; this team’s playoffs hopes will live and die on whether FC Dallas management has stockpiled enough defense.

(MORE: the entire roster of ProSoccerTalk’s Major League Soccer previews and predictions)

Premier League Preview: Sunderland vs. Manchester United

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  • United 6 points outside the top four
  • Sunderland winless in four
  • MUFC has one loss in 27 vs. SAFC (W20, D6, L1)

Manchester United’s uphill battle for a top-four finish continues on Saturday when the Red Devils travel to the Stadium of Light to face Sunderland (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

United won this fixture in September 3-0 behind goals from Memphis, Wayne Rooney, and Juan Mata.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Sunderland sit 19th on the table four points from safety as the time has come for Sam Allardyce‘s side to start getting results. Without a win in their last four matches, the Black Cats must turn things around if they want to stay up in the Premier League. Jermain Defoe scored last time out in a draw at Liverpool, and he’ll once again be tasked with finding the back of the net if Sunderland are to win.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League Picks for Week 26 ]

For Manchester United, the pressure is still on Louis Van Gaal as rumors and reports circle linking Jose Mourinho to the job. Fifth on the table and six points behind Manchester City, a top-four finish is slipping away from United if they don’t rattle off a few wins. A late goal at Chelsea last weekend cost the Red Devils all three points, but they’ll look at this matchup against Sunderland as a good opportunity to get a positive result.

What they’re saying

Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce: “Providing chances for Jermain Defoe is critical for us. But our first major problem is that we haven’t kept a clean sheet in nine matches. We need to start putting a zero against us in games and if we start doing that we’ll win more matches. If we win more matches, we’ll get out of trouble.”

United manager Louis van Gaal: “We had lost four matches in a row in December and you see us now. You can only say that we are mentally very strong and that we can cope with the pressure. That is not enough as we have to improve our results and consistency to win a lot of matches in a row. We have to minimize the gap to our competitors.”

Prediction

Sunderland need all the points they can get to try and stay up, but United always seem to cause the Black Cats problems. Jermain Defoe is kept off the board as Louis van Gaal takes the win. Sunderland 0-2 Manchester United.

Costa breaks nose, will be fit to play for “Zorro team” vs. Newcastle

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 07:  Diego Costa of Chelsea reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on February 7, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Chelsea striker Diego Costa broke his nose in training after a clash of heads, but should be fit to play in Saturday’s match against Newcastle (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

Costa has six goals in his past seven Premier League games as Chelsea are unbeaten in their last 11 in all competitions.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines ]

Manager Guus Hiddink spoke about the injury in his press conference on Friday, saying Costa collided with an Academy player in training. Hiddink said he believes Costa will be ready to play this weekend for his “Zorro team” as Costa joins Gary Cahill, Nemanja Matic, and Cesar Azpilicueta as Chelsea players to wear a mask this season.

It was not a tough duel but he put his nose on the back of the head of one of the youngsters from the Academy that we like to participate in our training games. He was very unlucky.

They are putting a mask on Diego as well, we are the team with a lot of masks, a Zorro team, and he will come back do some light training this afternoon as he must experience how he is dealing with the form and the fitting of the mask.

Costa scored a stoppage-time equalizer against Manchester United last weekend as Chelsea continue to get results under Guus Hiddink. The Blues are up to 13th on the table, just three points outside the top half.

[ RELATED: Frank Lampard urges Chelsea to sign John Terry ]

Chelsea will look to extend their unbeaten run to 12 matches on Saturday against a Newcastle side that is just one point above the drop and in need of a result.

Messi named La Liga Player of the Month for first time in career

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 06:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Copa del Rey Round of 16 first leg match between FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol at Camp Nou on January 6, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Lionel Messi has won every individual award imaginable, but now he can add another trophy to his shelf.

For the first time in his career, Messi was named La Liga’s Player of the Month for January.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings, Vol. VIII ]

It’s hard to believe, but somehow the Barcelona superstar had never won this honor before. Despite winning a record five Ballon D’or trophies as the best player in the world, this trophy had eluded Messi since its inception in 2013.

Messi scored six goals in six January matches as Barcelona sit atop the La Liga table, currently holding a three-point lead over Atletico Madrid.

Despite their dominance in La Liga, this is only the second time a Barcelona player has won this monthly award, as Neymar took home the honor in November of 2015.

USWNT-Mexico preview: Energized Yanks look to keep rolling toward Rio

FRISCO, TX - FEBRUARY 10:  Team USA poses for a photo before play against Costa Rica during 2016 CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying at Toyota Stadium on February 10, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The United States women’s national team looks to keep rolling through CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying with a match with Mexico on Saturday.

Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, is again the scene after the Yanks battered Costa Rica 5-0 on Wednesday.

[ MUST WATCH: Christen Press’ dazzling first touch, spin, goal ]

A win over Mexico would move the USWNT into the all-important semifinal, where a win would gain them entry into this Summer’s Olympic Games.

Mexico staged a blowout of its own on Wednesday, cruising past Puerto Rico 6-0 thanks in large part to a hat trick from Maribel Dominguez.

[ VIDEO: Alex Morgan caps off a 12-second, six-pass goal ]

Mexico has only beaten the USWNT twice in history, and only the 2010 Gold Cup semifinal is considered official.

In recent history, the USWNT beat up Mexico 5-1 last year, and thrice in 2014 by a combined score of 15-0. Expect very little to change with an energized, impressive U.S. side on Saturday.

[ SATURDAY: Watch USWNT vs Mexico live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]