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.

Irregular heartbeat the cause of Carrick’s recent absence

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Manchester United captain Michael Carrick hasn’t played for his club since Sept. 20, a confounding period of more than two months now, and the reason for the 36-year-old midfielder’s absence has finally come to light: an irregular heartbeat.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams critics (again), gives injury updates ]

The condition, which Carrick announced himself on Friday, was first detected after Man United’s League Cup victory over Burton Albion. He has since undergone a cardiac ablation, a procedure to scar or destroy tissue in your heart that’s allowing incorrect electrical signals to cause an abnormal heart rhythm, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Carrick was named the new United captain this summer following the departure of Wayne Rooney. As told in the above statement, he is working toward full fitness and once again being available for selection in Jose Mourinho’s side.

Hooray for modern technology and medicine, which allow otherwise baffling medical conditions to be diagnosed, treated and recovered from in a matter of weeks or months.

Moyes: West Ham “low in confidence,” encouraged by crowd

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David Moyes is just trying to buy himself a bit of time with the West Ham United fans, who were roundly unhappy at his appointment — and the board which hired him, of course — an undertaking toward which he made a small step on Friday.

[ RECAP: West Ham come back to earn a point vs. Leicester ]

Following the Hammers’ 1-1 draw with Leicester, Moyes joined the Sky Sports broadcast crew field-side at the London Stadium. While acknowledging it’s still early days in his tenure, Moyes knows he’s got very little time to build momentum after being appointed manager of a bottom-three side mid-season.

“I thought [the players] worked great in the second half, I think that’s why the crowd reacted so well. I think they are low in confidence. The results haven’t gone [well] and they’ve lost a manager. When it’s like that, it’s difficult. You need some things to go for you now and again.”

As for the Hammers’ most mercurial player, Marko Arnautovic, Moyes has taken a rather hardline approach with the Austrian attacker, and he believes it’s already paying dividends:

“I thought he played really well for us on Sunday, without getting an awful lot of praise for it. Everybody’s said that he hasn’t run, so I said to him, ‘If you don’t run, I won’t play you.’ So, he’s running [now.]

“I don’t think you want to play against Arnautovic if you’re a fullback, because he’s got power, he’s got pace. He probably prefers to play on the left-hand side, but at the moment we’ve got people who want to do that role, so we’re happy to play him on the opposite side. We want him to be a big player, [the club] spent big money on him. We need him to score goals, make goals. He helped us tonight.”

West Ham 1-1 Leicester: Hammers marginally improved

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  • Albrighton opens scoring in 8′
  • Kouyate brings Hammers back in 45′
  • Moyes’ first point as West Ham boss

The tangible takeaway was small — a single point — but the overall sentiment appeared my larger for West Ham United, as David Moyes‘ side came from behind to secure a 1-1 draw with Leicester City at the London Stadium on Friday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

It didn’t take long for the Hammers’ boo birds to re-emerge and for the spotlight to return squarely — and blisteringly hotly — onto the club’s (already, after two games) beleaguered manager. Jamie Vardy broke down the left side of the penalty area, cut a left-footed cross back toward the penalty spot, and Marc Albrighton arrived at the right time to redirect the ball through traffic with an outstretched right foot.

Kasper Schmichael was forced to make one spectacular save during the first half, in the 25th minute. Manuel Lanzini‘s free kick floated to Angelo Ogbonna at the back post, where the Italian headed downward and inside the post. Schmichael quickly scrambled across the face of goal and pushed the ball away with two hands.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Then, the strangest event occurred: for just the sixth time in 25 games since relocation in the summer of 2016, West Ham scored a first-half goal — with only seconds to spare. Again, it was a set piece from which the Hammers posed their greatest threat. Lanzini lofted another beautiful ball to the top of Schmichael’s six-yard box, this time from a corner kick, where Cheikhou Kouyate rose above the rest and headed the ball off the back of Danny Simpson and into the back of the net.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

With the two sides seemingly pleased to split the points, the second half featured very little notable action — in terms of scoring chances, that is.

Riyad Mahrez, who spent all summer trying to engineer a move away from Leicester, was subbed out by manager Claude Puel in the 70th minute. The Algerian international and 2015-16 Player of the Year appeared to be far from pleased, as he and Puel made no eye contact nor gave any acknowledgement of one another when Mahrez walked past Puel and made his way to the bench. Rekindled rumors are right around the corner.

The draw leaves West Ham (10 points), who are now six games without a win, 18th in the league table, now level on points with West Bromwich Albion who currently sit just outside the relegation zone. Leicester (14 points), meanwhile, leapfrogged Newcastle United for 11th.

Zenit face racism charge after banner honors war criminal

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NYON, Switzerland (AP) Russian club Zenit St. Petersburg is facing a UEFA racism charge after its fans displayed a large banner honoring convicted war criminal Ratko Mladic.

Two Serbian clubs, Red Star Belgrade and Partizan Belgrade, were also charged for similar offenses of supporting Mladic at Europa League games on Thursday.

UEFA said Friday that all three clubs faced charges of “racist behavior.” No dates were set for disciplinary hearings.

Zenit fans unfurled the banner, about 10 yards in length, during Thursday’s 2-1 Europa League group-stage win over Macedonian club Vardar Skopje.

The game took place the day after former Bosnian Serb military chief Mladic was convicted by a United Nations tribunal of genocide and other crimes in the wars following the collapse of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.

Mladic and other Serb leaders have broad support from Russian nationalist groups, which often see them as allies.

Red Star fans drew 0-0 at BATE Borisov in Belarus, while Partizan beat Swiss club Young Boys in their Europa League games.

Partizan also faces a range of charges for incidents in Belgrade including “field invasions” and “improper conduct” by fans.