One lesson from opening MLS weekend: Newly built defenses need time together

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Nothing gets most fans in a frothy lather like new stars. Or even the established stars, the “difference makers,” as I like to tag them.

But the hard business of wins and losses frequently comes down to more mundane matters. Front and center in these matters of the mundane, these boots-on-the-ground essentials that just aren’t as exciting to talk about over burgers and shakes: cohesiveness along the back line.

One of the big lessons from Major League Soccer’s opening weekend was just that: even when defenses are stacked with talented types, the back lines that has not played together is a problem waiting to happen.

In Portland, Mikael Silvestre (pictured) brought all those years at Manchester United and elsewhere in Europe. Ryan Miller, so determined to get forward in the new Caleb Porter way, looks like a find along the right side. Michael Harrington along the left has long been one of the league’s stronger one-on-one defenders (although his passing choices were always a sticky wicket.)

(MORE: analysis of Portland and New York from Richard Farley)

Still, the Jeld-Wen defense forces were dragged under by the same old bugaboos and boo-boos that helped take down the former coaching regime. A big reason was communication between four guys along the back and a goalkeeper who have never played together.

Same with New York, where Jamison Olave was large and in charge on a newly assembled back line – and yet there were mistakes here and there. Again, that was the first time together for this foursome.

Jeff Parke and Amobi Okugo as a central pairing in Philly? Both are quality players individually, but as a first-time center back pairing? Well, they’ll get better than what we saw in giving up three at home to Sporting KC.

Chivas is probably an outlier here because everything around the Goats new way is spanking new. So allowing three at home (to Columbus) was certainly a partial product of a new back line, but it would be a big over-simplification to pin all the blame there.

Meanwhile, a team like FC Dallas survived despite playing anywhere near conference contender form. A big reason: the back four starters were the very same as in the second half of 2012. Matt Hedges and George John were ball-clearing beasts as Dallas overcame a game Colorado effort in a 1-0 win.

(MORE: SKC goes on the road to down Philadelphia)

(MORE: Observations from the Chivas USA experiment, Match 1)

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Watford

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  • Chelsea are without N'Golo Kante, Victor Moses (both hamstring) and Danny Drinkwater (calf) is still absent.
  • Watford remain without Younes Kaboul and Sebastian Prodl (both thigh), plus long-term absentees Craig Cathcart, Nathaniel Chalobah and Isaac Success (all knee).
  • Watford have not won against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge since 1986, but the Hornets have won 10 points of a possible 12 on the road. 
  • Chelsea have lost three of their first eight matches this season. No team has ever lost this many of their opening eight matches and still won the Premier League title.

Watford heads south for another London derby with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Saturday at 7:30 a.m. (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The Hornets have had an amazing start to the season and currently occupy fourth place on 15 points, two points ahead of fifth-place Chelsea, which has lost two-straight Premier League games. The Blues have struggled without N’Golo Kante and Alvaro Morata and there have been reports of grumbles from the squad about dissatisfaction with Antonio Conte‘s training methods, but the Chelsea coach has brushed those rumors off.

Meanwhile Watford is coming off a confidence-boosting win last weekend against fellow Londoners Arsenal, and the club is looking to take down another big club for a second-straight week.

What they’re saying

Watford manager Marco Silva on his team’s start“I want everybody to be really calm. We did really in the first eight matches but it’s too early. We want to continue to work hard every day. Everything changes fast and you need to keep going and treat the next game as the most important. But of course I feel proud.”

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte on being under pressure: “‘Do I feel the pressure? Every manager feels pressure, but I try to give all of myself into my job, so I’m happy when I go home because I know in every moment I give all of myself for the fans, the players and the club. In football you know anything can happen, but the most important thing is to work.”

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Prediction

Chelsea has its back against the wall but the team’s overall quality should be enough to see them through with all three points against Watford. The Hornets luck runs out in Stamford Bridge as Chelsea hold on for a late win. Chelsea 2-1 Watford

Leicester City record massive earnings from UEFA Champions League

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Leicester City’s UEFA Champions League campaign may have ended without a trophy, but the Premier League side pipped the European champions in the bank account.

UEFA announced on Friday that Leicester City earned $96,167,125 during the Champions League run that ended in the quarterfinals, the farthest of any Premier League club. Real Madrid, the back-to-back champions, earned a slightly less $95,385,679. Much of the difference comes from TV rights deals in England, which pays out more to teams compared to the TV rights deal in Spain.

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Juventus, the Italian giant, earned the most of any club in last year’s Champions League, making a whopping $129,965,357, mostly thanks to the TV rights again.

Mourinho: Ibrahimovic could return in December

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Dare to Zlatan? It could be only a couple of months away.

That’s according to Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, who said the veteran striker could return from his torn ACL before the end of the calendar year.

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“Zlatan is here, he’s working here and under our control,” Mourinho told reporters. “He’s working as you would expect so, so, so hard. But he’s not to be back in the next week or next couple of weeks. Do I believe he’ll be back in 2017? Yes, I do. But it’s just a feeling.”

The big Swede scored 28 goals for Man United last year in all competitions, proving that he’s still got it at the age of 36, but it’s going to be tough for him to find his old form coming off an ACL injury at such an old age. After suffering the injury last April, it’s been a long road to recovery for Ibrahimovic.

However, with the play of Romelu Lukaku up top, Ibrahimovic would only play from time to time, which could help in his recovery both from the knee injury and just the general recovery between games.

Manchester City quartet called up by Brazil for friendlies

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Brazilian National Team coach Tite has decided on calling up a full-strength squad for November’s upcoming friendly matches in Europe, including four Manchester City players in his 25-man squad.

Gabriel Jesus, Fernandinho, Danilo and Ederson all made the squad as Tite looks to develop more chemistry among his side ahead of the 2018 World Cup, which Brazil breezed into after Tite took over in 2016.

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Luckily for Manchester City and the other European-based players in the squad, Brazil’s friendly matches will be played in Western Europe. The Selecao first faces Japan in Lille, France on November 10 before taking on England at Wembley Stadium on November 14.

The call-ups may be a tough pill for Guardiola to swallow though. As of Friday, Manchester City has 17 games remaining in the calendar year, and surely he would prefer for some of his starters to get a two-week break in November to preserve some energy instead of play in friendly matches.