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Why Major League Soccer should not play this weekend

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There was a time when I partially defended MLS for playing through FIFA dates. Scheduling was just such a bugger for the league. Capping the gushers of financial losses was a priority, and prudent event scheduling was among the safeguards against larger losses still.

But we’re past that now. Or should be.

Major League Soccer has expanded the season window, which means they can and have provided some relief here and there during FIFA weekends, like the one coming up. The United States is one of many national teams in action this weekend and early next week.

So why is there a full schedule of MLS matches this weekend? The inertia on this matter is getting harder to accept.

The next matches for prominent leagues in Europe and Mexico? March 30. But eight Major League Soccer contests kick off Saturday or Sunday, smack between the pair of World Cup qualifier dates.

These MLS contests count! Some team will miss the playoffs in 2013 by a point or two, or miss out on higher seeding by a razor-thin margin. (If one of Houston’s draws at home last year had become a three-point victory, for example, MLS Cup 2012 would have been in Houston, not Los Angeles. And how different that match might have looked, eh?)

It’s just not right for MLS to position itself on one hand as a wanna-be top league around the world – but on the other hand plow stubbornly through competitive matches as clubs do without their valuable difference makers, the men away on international duty. Besides not being fair to ticket buyers and being a drag on quality (which ultimately affects everything), it just doesn’t feel right.

The problem, of course, is that going dark on more weekends means adding more of pesky mid-week matches. (Or expanding the playing window further still. But starting in March and ending in December looks like plenty to most of us, including Houston Dynamo GM Chris Canetti, who told me this weekend he thinks the nine-month window is stretched too far already.)

Too many MLS markets still have trouble selling mid-week matches. It’s changing. It gets a little better every year, and some markets manage pretty well now.

But MLS hasn’t reached the point just yet where enough fans in enough markets will fight through enough icky obstacles to make mid-week matches, or where enough hard-cores will make MLS matches a priority, whether it’s on Saturday night or some less-ideal time frame.

The other issues that once kept MLS from avoiding FIFA windows no longer apply. For instance, stadium availability was once a bugger, as so many teams shared a facility, almost always as second-fiddle or lower. Now all but four clubs exercise ultimate control over stadium dates, and even that foursome has favorable negotiating status.

Here’s where the pressure is building on this thing:

source: AP

As more high-quality talent migrates into MLS, more players will come up missing on these FIFA dates. So we’re not just talking about a few American stars.

L.A. plays Colorado this weekend, but will do so without its two best individuals, Irish international Robbie Keane (pictured) and U.S. center back Omar Gonzalez. Either one of them could have made a case for league MVP in 2012 – and yet the Galaxy is left without them. (OK, OK, I know there aren’t too many fans beyond Southern California crying for the two-time defending champs …)

And important Western Conference match will be fought between FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake. Only Dallas will be missing three internationals, including its starting goalkeeper and 2012 leading scorer; RSL will be without five international call-ups, including the team’s leading scorer, its goalkeeper and its heart and soul, Kyle Beckerman.

Suddenly, a pretty good match feels a little deflated. And that’s what MLS wants?

STREAM: Every 10am game; Premier League “Goal Rush”

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With four games coming your way on Saturday at 10 a.m. ET you have plenty of options as to how you watch them.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

First up, you can stream every game live online via the links below as Arsenal host Stoke City, Swansea and Sunderland clash in a relegation battle, Burnley welcome Bournemouth and Hull host Crystal Palace at 10 a.m. ET.

All the action will also be available via “Premier League Goal Rush” in a RedZone-like format which you can watch on the NBC Sports App, on NBCSports.com and on a dedicated Premier League Extratime channel as goals from all four matches in the 10 a.m. ET window will be shown simultaneously as live look-ins occur around all the grounds in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: “Goal Rush” here ]

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of being very similar to the NFL RedZone with action shown from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window.

The feature game this weekend on “Goal Rush” will be Arsenal vs. Stoke City and as goals and incidents occur around the league, you will be transported to the action as it happens.

More info is available here, plus the schedule for all four games at 10 a.m. ET is below. You can stream each game live by clicking on the links below or above.


10 a.m. ET: Arsenal vs. Stoke City – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Sunderland – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Burnley vs. Bournemouth – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Hull City vs. Crystal Palace – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]

Watford 3-2 Everton: Hornets win pulsating clash

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  • Four-straight PL away defeats for Everton
  • First Watford win vs. Everton since March 1987
  • Okaka scores first two PL goals
  • Watford move on to 21 points

Watford fought back from 1-0 down to secure a well-deserved 3-2 win over Everton at Vicarage Road on Saturday, as Ronald Koeman continues to struggle with the Toffees winning just one of their last 10 Premier League games.

Romelu Lukaku put Everton ahead with a calm finish but Watford came roaring back and Stefano Okaka made it 1-1 at the break thanks to his fine back heel finish. In the second half Walter Mazzarri‘s side cranked up the pressure and made the most of some poor Everton defending from set pieces as Sebastian Prodl and then Okaka scored from headers to make it 3-1.

Lukaku headed home with five minutes to go to make it 3-2 and set up a nervy finish but the Hornets held on for a big win.

The victory moves Watford onto 21 points for the season and momentarily up to seventh, while Everton remain on 20 points and have now lost three of their last five games.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Early on Everton looked lively and they almost went ahead as a corner from the right was played short to Gerard Deulofeu and his dipping cross almost caught out Heurelho Gomes at the near post but the Watford goalkeeper hooked the ball off the line.

Watford began to come into the game with Etienne Capoue causing problems but soon Everton were ahead. A clipped ball over the top from Gareth Barry caught out Watford’s entire backline and Lukaku latched onto the loose ball and slotted home his first goal in five games and his eighth in the Premier League this season. 1-0 to the Toffees.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Soon after Troy Deeney was found in the box by Nordin Amrabat but a heavy touch saw the chance for him come and go. Watford huffed and puffed and eventually they were level through a wonderful finish from Okaka.

Amrabat’s cross from the right was met by the Italian striker at the near post and he sent in a beautiful back heel effort to score his first goal for Watford. 1-1. Before half time the Hornets had a great chance but Deeney didn’t anticipate Seamus Coleman missing the ball at the back post and the teams went in level.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

In the second half Everton started the better of the two teams and at the other end Prodl headed over from a good position inside the box but soon he would make up for that miss. Jose Holebas’ free kick from the left was nodded home by Prodl as he made it 2-1 and was completely unchallenged.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Watford were flying as Miguel Britos then forced Maarten Stekelenburg into a magnificent save as his header at the back post was tipped over and from the resulting corner the Hornets went further ahead.

Okaka sent a flicked header at the near post towards the back post and the ball crossed the line with Leighton Baines trying to clear it. 3-1.

Everton brought on Ross Barkley, Enner Valencia and Aaron Lennon with the latter crossing for Lukaku who headed home to make it 3-2 and then Gomes spilled a cross but no Everton player reacted with the clock ticking down.

The Hornets held on, and put back-to-back defeats behind them with an important three points.

Atletico Nacional to honor Chapecoense at Club World Cup

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 30: A detailed view of the Chapecoense badge during a minutes silence ahead of the EFL Cup quarter final match between Arsenal and Southampton at the Emirates Stadium on November 30, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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OSAKA, Japan (AP) Colombia’s Atletico Nacional arrived in Japan for the Club World Cup on Saturday still dealing with the trauma of the recent airplane crash that caused the cancellation of the Copa Sudamericana final.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars ]

Atletico was to play Brazilian club Chapecoense in the final but the plane carrying the Brazilian team to the game crashed, killing almost all on board.

Nacional qualified for the Club World Cup by winning the Copa Liberdatores in July and vowed to honor the memory of their rivals when they face either South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns or Japanese champions Kashima Antlers on Wednesday.

The directors of Atletico asked the governing body of South American football to award Chapecoense the Copa Sudamericana championship.

Atletico is hoping to advance to a final against Spanish giants Real Madrid on Dec. 18.

VIDEO: Stefano Okaka scores stunning flicked back heel goal

WATFORD, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 10:  Stefano Okaka of Watford (33) scores their first and equalising goal during the Premier League match between Watford and Everton at Vicarage Road on December 10, 2016 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
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Stefano Okaka has arrived in the Premier League.

The Watford striker, 27, scored his first goal for the club and in England with a majestic back heel flick to draw the Hornets level against Everton at Vicarage Road on Saturday.

[ STREAM: Every PL game on NBC Sports

Okaka started the play as he put the ball out wide to Nordin Amrabat and then got himself in the box as he converted the cross with a delightful back heel finish on the turn.

Watch the video below to see Okaka get off the mark in the Premier League.

Not a bad way to do it, Stefano…