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MLS weekend: The five top matches to view and review

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The five matches most worthy of checking out this weekend:

Real Salt Lake at D.C. United (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET): Real Salt Lake has been around long enough now, since 2005. Jason Kreis’ men need to go into RFK and get a win already! It will not be easy for the club has never won at D.C.; this version of United is better than most from the last few years. Along with an 0-4-3 mark there, RSL lost in the 2010 U.S. Open Cup, too.

The home club will be missing top man Dwayne De Rosario, still suspended for naughtiness. But they’ll also be quite happy to be back at RFK after the season opening loss at Houston.

RSL has some travel momentum going, having ambushed San Jose last week in the Bay, 2-0. Most pundits and preview makers (I raise my hand here) have D.C. United and RSL to compete for top spots in their conference in 2013.

New England at Chicago (7:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network): The Revs had an extra week of preseason prep, so that’s good or bad, depending on your point of view. Jay Heaps (pictured) is in his second year in charge, says it’s playoffs or bust this year.

“On Day 1 last year, we wanted to create a culture where we out-work, we out-think, we out-prepare, and that will lead us to out-play,” Heaps told the Boston Herald. Of course, what really counts is the level of talent attached to all that idealism and want-to. In that regard, the team definitely looks fortified. The attack belongs to Lee Nguyen and Juan Toja now. Oh, and watch for rookie Andrew Ferrell. Or have I said too much about that young man already?

From Chicago’s side, they left a serious stinker in L.A. last week, falling 4-0 to the champs. Chris Rolfe needs to be better. Of course, a lot of Chicago Fire men can say the same after that one.

Vancouver at Columbus (7:30 p.m. ET): The Whitecaps will be without their captain and emotional fulcrum, Jay DeMerit, who has likely been lost for the season. That is truly a devastating blow, so we’ll see how Martin Rennie’s team responds.

Kenny Miller, by the way, seems set to take the captain’s armband.

Columbus still looks to me like an intriguing team. But we couldn’t tell much from last week’s road win over Chivas USA; that looks like so much low-hanging fruit at the moment. On the other hand, Federico Higuain’s goal was “real deal” stuff. Watch it here.

Montreal at Portland (10:30 p.m. ET): The visitors from Montreal sure got Marco Schallibaum’s coaching days in MLS off to a splendid start, upsetting Seattle last week in the Pacific Northwest. If you haven’t seen Davy Arnuad’s game-winner, well, what are you waiting for?

The Impact players and coaches remained out west this week, dodging some travel during a dodgy time to travel and aiming to take advantage of better training weather.

So they should be nice and acclimated as they try to pull off the PacNW double, wouldn’t it?

It’s probably best to catch Portland now, before the players get even more settled into new ways under manager Caleb Porter. Diego Valeri was particularly peppy and effective in last week’s 3-3 draw with New York. Will Johnson was all over the freakin’ place. And presumably, center back Mikael Silvestre will be a little less bungle-prone. If not, Portland has a big issue to deal with straight away.

New York Red Bulls at San Jose (10 p.m. Sunday, ESPN): Thierry Henry and Co. make their second cross-country trip of the young season. A good first half and a very wobbly second half left the Red Bulls with about what you’d expect on the road, a draw at Portland. All things considered – especially as San Jose lost at home a week back and will be seeking some redemption Sunday – a couple of points from two road matches to open the season, not to mention Mike Petke’s pro coaching career, wouldn’t look so bad for the boys from Harrison.

Of course, there is this little matter of Henry having a go at his own teammates. It was just a wee little one. They’re from New York! They can take it, right?

The full schedule of weekend matches in MLS Round 2 is here:

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Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Manchester United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02:  Paul Pogba of Manchester United (L) shoots while Erik Pieters of Stoke City (R) attempts to block the shot during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Stoke City at Old Trafford on October 2, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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  • Man Utd leads all-time 43W-34D-28L
  • Clubs even in last six (2-2-2)
  • Red Devils unbeaten in 16
  • Stoke winners of two-straight

After wins over Sunderland and Watford, Stoke City gets a higher class of opponent on Saturday at the Britannia Stadium (Watch live at 10 a.m. EDT on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Fortunately for Stoke, it’s had some success against Manchester United in recent years.

Stoke and United drew 1-1 at Old Trafford on Oct. 2, though Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils are flying now. United is hard to break down, and arguably deserved better than the 1-1 draw it earned versus Liverpool last weekend.

Stoke is now 11 points clear of the drop zone, and a win could raise its status to closer to the Top Five than Bottom Three. United, meanwhile, wants three points that would move it to precipice of the Top Four.

 

What they’re saying

Stoke City’s Glenn Whelan on facing United“There has been a wind of change there and the supporters seem a lot happier now and you get the sense that they are together as a group now. You only have to look at the players within the squad, and even the ones who are leaving, to see how much strength in depth they have there.”

Jose Mourinho praises newly-extended Antonio Valencia“I don’t think it is a reward, I don’t see it in this perspective. I just think he is the best right-back you can have. There is no better right-back in football. It is just for us to keep the best. I don’t think it is a reward. It is a privilege for us to have such a good player and such a good man.”

Prediction

United gets it done, only barely. Stoke will put up a brave battle for boss Mark Hughes, but there are too many weapons to suppress. United, 1-0.

AFCON wrap: Results keep Group C undecided

Ivory Coast's Wilfried Bony controls the ball on his head during their training session at the Stade Akoakam, Oyem, Gabon, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, ahead of their African Cup of Nations Group C soccer match against Congo. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
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Like Group A, Group C in the Africa Cup of Nations has very little decided ahead of the final group stage match.

[ MORE: Guardiola “said goodbye to title” ]

Ivory Coast 2-2 DR Congo

A thrilling first half had DR Congo leading 1-0 and 2-1, with only Wilfried Bony netting for the Ivory Coast. Les Elephants grabbed a draw through Serey Die’s 67th minute goal.

DR Congo now leads the group and is primed to advance with a result against Togo or a Morocco loss or draw against Ivory Coast.

Morocco 3-1 Togo

Mathieu Dossevi gave Togo a surprise fifth minute lead lead, but Aziz Bouhaddouz kickstarted the Moroccan attack to plug the victors into Group C’s second spot ahead of a Jan. 24 showdown with Ivory Coast.

Saturday’s matches

Ghana vs. Mali — 11 a.m. ET
Egypt vs. Uganda — 2 p.m. ET

Premier League Preview: Liverpool vs. Swansea City

SWANSEA, WALES - MAY 01:  Jefferson Montero of Swansea City is challenged by Nathaniel Clyne of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Liverpool at The Liberty Stadium on May 1, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
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  • Liverpool leads all-time 22W-8D-10L
  • Swans lost five-straight at Anfield
  • Reds unbeaten in 7 PL matches

One of the Premier League’s top attacks hosts the division’s leakiest defense, as Liverpool may be licking its chops ahead of a visit from struggling Swansea City on Saturday (Watch live at 7:30 a.m. EDT on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Liverpool has drawn at Sunderland and Manchester United in its last two Premier League outings, and sits seven points back of leaders Chelsea.

Swansea City has allowed multiple goals in five of six PL matches since beating Sunderland 3-0 on Dec. 10. It’s no surprise that they’ve lost those five (the sixth being a 2-1 win at struggling Crystal Palace).

What they’re saying

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp on the match“We’re really looking forward to this game. I don’t know when it happened but in England every game now is like a final. Swansea are trying to survive. I don’t know when the title run-in will start, maybe now and we’re in the race. I hope for a special atmosphere tomorrow.”

Swansea City back Federico Fernandez on Liverpool“They are a team that is very strong going forward and that is shown by the number of goals they have scored. If you lose a little bit of focus against these teams then they have the players that will punish you every time. But it’s not only defending strongly when they are attacking, it is also how we keep hold of the ball and how we use it when in possession.”

Prediction

Swansea boss Paul Clement has his hands full, and is grabbing reinforcements in the transfer window (Luciano Narsingh, Martin Olsson, Tom Carroll). That won’t be enough to handle what Liverpool will dish out Saturday, as the Reds break free with a 3-0 win.

Saints’ Fonte moves to West Ham for $10 million

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West Ham has been linked with big name strikers since the summer, but the Irons’ big January transfer to date is a center back.

EURO champion and Southampton mainstay Jose Fonte is moving to London.

[ MORE: West Brom finally sells Berahino ]

Fonte, 33, makes an approximately $10 million move from the South Coast, where the Portuguese back will better Slaven Bilic‘s back line while forcing Southampton to find an answer alongside Virgil Van Dijk.

It’s been a strange trip to London for Fonte and Southampton, detailed by our own Joe Prince-Wright here. Fonte joined Saints during the 2009-10 season, and became a cult hero at St. Mary’s in helping the club move from League One to the Europa League in just over a half-decade.

Something won’t feel right about seeing Fonte in claret and blue, and Saints host West Ham on Feb. 4. Should be quite interesting.