Major League Soccer team previews: D.C. UNITED

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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. 1 in the East is D.C. United:

Significant additions and subtractions: The great news for D.C. United: the weight of those big salaries for DP striker Hamdi Salihi and highly paid midfielder Brank Boskovic (once a DP and still on a big salary in 2012) has been lifted. Neither came close to justifying their big numbers, so this really does represent significant addition by subtraction around RFK Stadium.

On the other hand, a lost that actually will be felt is Andy Najar, the talented, home-grown Honduran international who had added even more value with his move to right back. He was sold to Anderlecht in the off-season.

The club prudently added veteran depth (without breaking the bank on it) in guys like John Thorrington and James Riley. Neither will threaten to bust into All-Star status this year, but both carry the hard-earned scars of years in MLS and won’t miss a trick in 2013. Thorrington could be an absolute steal if he can stay healthy.

Carlos Ruiz is back in MLS. Sigh. Some of us ask: is that a good thing or a bad thing? (In the linked piece, I put the over/under on his stay at “6 months” … and was promptly informed that I had set a soft line, with everyone rushing to take the imaginary “under.”)

Strengths: The roster has a strong balance of young, old and those key glue men, the 26-28 year olds right in the middle. It’s that talented bunch of “youth” that remains most impressive and intriguing, even with Najar’s loss. Perry Kitchen keeps maturing, now a solid, third-year MLS starter at holding midfield – and he’s just 20. Nick DeLeon, full of pace, pep and promise as an outside, attacking midfielder is 22. So is goalkeeper Bill Hamid, another third-year starter.

Pressure points: You can rightly ask whether United general manager Dave Kasper did enough to reinforce a back line that simply was not good enough in 2013. (Or, did they do enough overall.) United’s defense was far more solid over the last few weeks, but that was mostly about strategic shifts following Dwayne De Rosario’s late-season injury.

Frustratingly inconsistent Lionard Pajoy and just plain frustrating Ruiz as first-choice strikers? Hmmm. Sounds iffy, at very best. (Pontius and De Rosario can also play at forward, depending on manager Ben Olsen wants it configured.)

Throwing balls at referees? Dropping points by losing your cool? Veterans caught head-butting opponents? There’s a trend here – and it’s got to stop.

Finally, you cannot talk pressure points around D.C. United without mentioning the club’s wildly unsustainable stadium situation. Historic as it is (and as festive as it can be for Major League Soccer matches) it remains a colossal financial drain on the club. Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber has said for years that solving the organization’s woeful, harmful facility situation is a league priority.

source: Getty Images

Difference maker: It really is a darn pity De Rosario (pictured) cannot be around for this weekend’s opener, nor for next week’s home opener at RFK; DCU’s hearth, soul and chief creator is suspended for the first two matches. Past this early, avoidable silliness, all looks swell. “De Ro” will be 35 in May, but the guy is a fiend for taking care of himself. If he’s losing any zip, he’s hiding it awfully well. De Rosario’s raw numbers certainly are not reflecting a decline; 7 goals and 12 assists in 2012 represent healthy output, especially considering a long dry spell last spring.

Potential breakout player: There really are some wonderful, evocative options around RFK – more or less depending on your definition of “breakout.” Pontius, so strong over his time already at RFK, has the stuff of stardom and regular U.S. national team involvement. He just needs a little luck and some help in timing to break into the upper echelon of  MLS stars. Hamid, Kitchen and DeLeon are valued youngsters with potential to rise (in 2013 or later) into Best XI conversations.  

Bottom line: It would be easier to feel great about United, which came so confoundedly close to an MLS Cup appearance in 2012 in Olsen’s second year in charge, if only the rear guard was a wee bit stronger. The back four is OK, a little less so when backed by a young goalkeeper who still has the occasional yukky blunder in him. Other than that, there’s so much to like about a young team and a young coach that is still growing into its big boy pants – and just might be all the way into them this year.

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

Jose Mourinho responds to sending off, Man United win

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Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho saw his side battle to a 1-0 win away at Southampton on Saturday as they kept their unbeaten start to the Premier League season going.

Romelu Lukaku scored the only goal of the game after 20 minutes and although Saints had the better of the play in the second half, United’s defense held firm.

Towards the end of the game Mourinho was sent to the stands by referee Craig Pawson for encroachment as he stepped onto the pitch during the action.

What happened?

“I don’t know, you have to ask the referee,” Mourinho said.

He then wasted more time by shaking the hands of every member of Southampton’s coaching staff before he briefly went into the stands before the final whistle was blown.

It remains to be seen if he will face a touchline ban or fine for his actions but speaking to Sky Sports, Mourinho focused on the performance of his team.

“It is not always possible to operate at high quality but fought hard. We did what many teams in the Premier League do for 90 minutes, which was play with five defenders at the back. Credit to Southampton, they tried to play. Pellegrino changed the team and sent on another striker to play more direct.

“It was a hard game but I am really happy. Romelu Lukaku’s work is so important for us. He scored his goal and worked hard like everybody else. Nobody feels the pressure to play always attacking football because so many teams play always defensively. I felt some of the boys were not sharp. I didn’t feel like we could score three or four goals like we sometimes do so the option was to make sure we got the points.”

Burnley 0-0 Huddersfield Town: Not much cooking at Turf Moor

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  • Twenty-two fouls
  • Five total shots on target
  • Clarets unbeaten in four

Nothing was beautiful, and everything hurt.

Burnley and Huddersfield Town played a near chance-free match on Saturday at Turf Moor, staying level on nine points with the seventh-place visitors ahead of the hosts on goal differential.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Stephen Ward nearly found Chris Wood for Burnley’s opener, but unsung Town hero Christopher Schindler continued his fine start to life in the Premier League with a big intervention.

The second half provided a first bit of danger for either goalkeeper as Nick Pope had to stop Laurent Depoitre‘s bid at a goal scoring streak when Tom Ince set the table.

Aaron Mooy found Ince for a chance of his own, but the shot zipped wide of goal.

Rajiv Van la Parra tried to claim a penalty for Huddersfield Town, but instead went into the book for diving.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Swansea City 1-2 Watford: Hornets win away again

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  • Richarlison scores late winner
  • Gray gave Watford the lead
  • Watford have three-straight away wins 

Watford beat Swansea City in the final minute at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday with Richarlison netting a late winner for Marco Silva‘s men.

Andre Gray gave Watford the lead but Swansea equalized through Tammy Abraham and then Richarlison snatched all three points late on as the Hornets won 2-1 in South Wales.

With the victory Marco Silva’s men move on to 11 points for the season after winning all three of their away games, while Swansea stay on four points and haven’t won at home this season.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]  

The Hornets took the lead through Gray, his first goal for Watford, as the former Burnley striker made the most of a bad mistake from Wilfried Bony.

A poor back pass was picked up by Gray who played it wide to Andre Carrillo and his cross was half cleared but the ball fell to Gray who swept home to make it 1-0.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Swansea struggled throughout the first half with plenty of misplaced passes and Alfie Mawson gave the ball away cheaply in a poor area but Gray couldn’t grab his and Watford’s second of the game.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

After making two half time subs with Roque Mesa and Abraham coming on, Swansea rallied at the start of the second half and they equalized through Abraham.

Bony’s effort was saved by Heurelho Gomes but half time sub Abraham poked the ball home to make it 1-1.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ] 

Swansea improved dramatically after the equalizer with Mesa going close as the Welsh side pushed hard for the winner late on.

However Watford won it in the 89th minute as Richarlison made the most of mistakes from Mesa and Mawson and sent a shot over Lukasz Fabianski and in.

WATCH LIVE: Leicester City vs. Liverpool

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Liverpool hopes a better lineup at the same venue will make the difference when it visits Leicester City at King Power Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Leicester beat Liverpool 2-0 midweek in the League Cup, but the Reds didn’t have their top center back duo in Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip. They’ll start Saturday.

The Foxes have red-hot Shinji Okazaki playing with Jamie Vardy up top.

LINEUPS

Leicester City: Schmeichel, Simpson, Morgan (c), Maguire, Chilwell, Ndidi, King, Albrighton, Mahrez, Okazaki, Vardy. Subs: Hamer, Fuchs, Amarety, Iborra, Gray, Iheanacaho, Slimani.

Liverpool: Mignolet, Gomez, Lovren, Matip, Moreno, Can, Henderson, Wijnaldum, Coutinho, Salah, Firmino. Subs: Karius, Milner, Sturridge, Solanke, Klavan, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexander-Arnold.