About those Saturday “must-win” scenarios in Major League Soccer

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There are no must-wins four weeks into an eight-month season, but since that’s the language that gets thrown around, we’ll roll with it. Yes, anybody can recover from a winless month, but since nobody wants to go into April with a “0” in the win column, a sense of urgency is understandable.

One team is already guaranteed a winless month, with Chicago getting the weekend off after a 0-3-1 start. As a result, rumblings are beginning to sound around Frank Klopas, the man at the helm of a team expected to compete for the playoffs. If the Fire can’t get things turned around in April, Steve’s words may prove prescient: “Klopas cannot possibly survive much more of what we’ve seen around Toyota Park.”

It’s important to note Klopas’s potential peril is the result of expectations – goals which feed into the early angst. But not every team expected 2013 to be a winning one. Of the league’s four active winless sides, only two expected to be contenders this season, and while the situation in Portland is unique because of the hype around Caleb Porter, the Timbers’ Saturday opponents had few expectations of playoff soccer.

With that context, here’s how we rate the severity of today’s must-win scenarios, in terms of need:

1 – New York Red Bulls: Really need to break through

New York’s at home, against a team they should beat, and haven’t been that bad this season. Their two losses were on one-goal defeats at Montréal and San Jose, and you could argue the Red Bulls could have won their draws against Portland and D.C. United. Yes, their failure to get wins is more important than their proximity to them, but their underlying form matters when judging how the team’s actually played.

If they carry that form into today’s game in Harrison, New York shouldn’t have much of a problem against Philadelphia (3:30 p.m. Eastern on NBCSN). If they do, new management could start asking questions. Mike Petke’s unlikely to feel much heat, but some of the players – particularly the ones held over from the previous regime — could be put under the microscope.

2 – Portland Timbers: First doubts could surface

The Timbers have looked good this year. They played the perfect Montréal Impact as well as anybody. They got a point in Seattle, and they overcame Mikael Silvestre’s early hiccups to get a first kick point from New York.

But Saturday at Colorado is a no excuses scenario. If The Caleb Porter Project is worth the hype, Portland wins in Commerce City.

Portland has never done well at DSG (outscored 9-1 in three visits), and the team has only three road wins in franchise history, but if they can’t get three points at Colorado, it will be worth considering if they’ve made any progress under Porter.

3 – Seattle Sounders: Need a stronger performance

If Seattle loses at Real Salt Lake, the organization isn’t going to panic; however, if the team looks as bad as they did last week in San Jose, growing fan could star consolidating their growing worries about Sigi Schmid.

The most concerning part about Seattle isn’t their lack of wins. It’s their lack of quality. They have one goal this year, a score that was more Steve Zakuani’s individual effort (to set up Eddie Johnson against Portland) then anything systemic.

If Seattle goes four games without showing signs of attacking life, the team should be concerned. They have too much talent to be taking these kinds of steps backward.

Right now, it looks like something’s wrong. At some point, you have enough information to act.

4 – Colorado Rapids: The bar’s pretty low

Conor Casey, Jeff Larentowicz, and Omar Cummings were shipped out this winter. Edson Buddle’s injured, as is Matt Pickens. Martín Rivero has yet to play this season.

Of course Colorado’s going to be concerned if they lose at home to Portland. Any team would be, but there weren’t big expectations coming into the year. Colorado need to take a longer view of the season, one which precludes any must-win scenarios five rounds into the campaign.

Herrera: Ibrahimovic competitive drive insatiable in everything

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Ander Herrera is dishing the goods on his Manchester United teammates while on Spain duty this week, and was asked about Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The Swede is a fierce competitor on and off the pitch, which Herrera jokes is an ever-present challenge to personal patience.

[ MORE: Deulofeu laments early Messi talk ]

It almost seems like there’s a bit of envy that Ibrahimovic can charge into public comments the way Herrera goes into tackles.

From Marca:

“[Ibrahimovic] is a genius, he’s very intense because he wants to win everything, even football-tennis,” Herrera said to Radio MARCA.

“He assumes this role of doing or saying what he likes in front of the media because he does not care, he can say that he’ll score 30 goals or is the best because he can afford to.”

There’s certainly something to stature when it comes to saying what you feel (though on the other hand, being egotistical is rarely controversial. It’s not like Ibrahimovic is often railing on controversial soccer or social issues).

We’re sure there are plenty of players across all sports, casual and professional, who don’t understand hyper-competitive teammates, but we love a guy who doesn’t turn it down when it comes to on-the-field activities. Hopefully Ibrahimovic is the Jaromir Jagr of soccer.

Gerard Deulofeu calls early Messi comparisons “detrimental”

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Players often like to brush off speculation or criticism in the moment by claiming they don’t read stories written about themselves, but we all know better.

Former Everton winger Gerard Deulofeu confirmed that sentiment by citing specific comparisons he remembers as a youth with Barcelona, citing stories that compared him to Lionel Messi. Now 23 years old, Deulofeu reflects on those early comparisons and wishes the media wasn’t so quick to jump to conclusions about his career.

“In the end, [the comparisons] were more detrimental than beneficial,” he told weekly magazine Forza Milan. “Normally I don’t read newspapers, but that headline I remember well. It created too much expectation among Barcelona fans. There’s only one Messi.”

With expectations high, Deulofeu made just six senior team appearances without a goal or assist before loan spells at Sevilla and Everton saw him out of the club permanently. His time at Goodison Park was up and down as well, with his ability to dazzle a crowd punctuated by long spells of invisibility, failing to earn himself a consistent starting role.

Deulofeu is now on loan from Everton at AC Milan, looking to revitalize his career. He has started every league game since arriving, and has picked up a goal and three assists in 11 matches. There is speculation he could end up in Milan on a permanent basis this summer, but he’s not focused on that right now.

“My future? It’ll be seen to,” Deulofeu said. “My sights are in the present, from experience I know it’s best to leave the past behind and focus on the present. We’ll see what happens in the future. For now, I just want to enjoy the good time that I‘m having at Milan.”

Barcelona plan Cruyff tribute at club’s training center

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) One year after his death, Barcelona says it will name the future stadium at its training center after Dutch great Johan Cruyff.

The new stadium at Barcelona’s training center just outside the Catalan city will be called “Johan Cruyff Stadium” in honor of the club’s former player and coach.

Barcelona says in a statement that “the most emblematic building in the facility where future Barca players are coached is to be named after somebody who played such a central role in fostering youth talent at the club.”

Barcelona also says it will commission a “commemorative sculpture” of Cruyff, who died of lung cancer on March 24 last year at age 68. The statue will be placed at Barcelona’s main Camp Nou stadium.

Cruyff is largely credited with launching Barcelona’s era of trophy success, both as a player and a coach.

As a player, Cruyff joined Barcelona midseason in 1973 and led the middle-of-the-table team to its first national title in a decade.

He later returned as a coach and guided Barcelona to four consecutive Spanish leagues from 1991-94 and the club’s first European Cup in 1992.

“I think the tributes are very warming,” said Cruyff’s son, Jordi Cruyff. “It sort of changes the sadness that we might feel as family to lose a father, a husband and a grandfather. It changes to a certain kind of pride to understand that he left something behind.”

MLS Snapshot: Defense optional — Crew SC outlast Timbers, 3-2

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The game in 100 words (or less): As far as teams who get out in the open field and score the lion’s share of their goals on the counter-attacking, there aren’t many MLS teams better than Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers. The two sides met Saturday night at MAPFRE Stadium, site of their MLS Cup 2015 clash, and lived up to their reputations. Of the five goals scored, two were notched on flat-out counters and two more came to pass through quick transitional movements. Portland (9 points) dropped their first points of the season, falling 3-2 to goals scored by Justin Meram, Ola Kamara and Niko Hansen, while Crew SC have back-to-back wins and find themselves level on points (7) with the New York Red Bulls with each side having played four games.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS (afternoon) roundup ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

4′ — Asprilla opens the scoring early on — 2017 Crew SC defending, same as 2016 Crew SC defending.

11′ — Meram fires home the rebound for 1-1 — One of Portland’s biggest weaknesses last season was their set-piece defending. Looks like not much has changed.

19′ — Higuain feeds Kamara for a 2-1 lead — The question mark that Portland will eventually have to answer is this: How much, if at all, have they improved defensively in the open field? Based on this Crew SC counter-attack, the answer might be “not much.”

45+3′ — Adi recovers to make it 2-2 — Everything Adi does these days (even the bad things, like this first touch) ends up being good.

84′ — Hansen cleans up at the back post for 3-2 — Jake Gleeson made a spectacular reaction save to deny Kamara his second goal of the game, but the rookie, making his MLS debut, was in the right place at the right time.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Wil Trapp

Goalscorers: Asprilla (4′), Meram (11′), Kamara (19′), Adi (45+3′), Hansen (84′)