Colorado Rapids v New York Red Bulls

MLS Preview: Colorado Rapids vs. Real Salt Lake

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It has come to this for the Colorado Rapids and their increasingly desperate supporters: dreaming aloud of what might have been but for a litany of injuries that reduced the club in March to something nearly unrecognizable. To consider the reality is just too painful, apparently.

Here is what one Colorado Rapids blogger imagines could have been. And can’t you just hear the heavy, dreamy sighs of longing?

Credit to Rapids manager Oscar Pareja (pictured), who has steadfastly refused to lean on injuries as an excuse for the club’s 0-3-2 start to 2013. Never mind that he is missing the veteran core of his roster – and that is not mere hyperbole.

The Rapids will once again be fighting with a shorter stick tonight as the clubs meet at Dicks Sporting Goods Park outside Denver. At least five veteran starters will be out of the lineup due to injury or suspension.

Tonight’s kickoff on NBC Sports Network is set for 7:30 p.m. ET.

The absences to players like Martin Rivero, Jaime Castrillon, Pablo Mastroeni, Matt Pickens and Drew Moor have, at least, opened the door for promising youngsters. Did you see the absolute beauty of a goal that rookie Dillon Powers hit last week? And rookie striker Deshorn Brown has something, too.

They’ll be asked to perform above their heads again against the club’s chief rival; this is the second game in the annual Rocky Mountain Cup series. Pareja’s men managed a 1-1 draw in the first meeting this year, easily the Rapids best result this year.

The Rocky Mountain Cup has belonged to RSL since 2006, but Colorado is already well positioned to grab the trophy (thanks to the recent draw in Utah). Indeed, if the Rapids cannot turns things around quickly, seizing the Rocky Mountain Cup may be the top accomplishment of Pareja’s second year in charge in Commerce City.

And then there’s this: Wins for RSL have been awfully tough to find in Colorado; Kreis’ side is 0-3-3 since 2007. So it’s not like the Rapids and Pareja have no chance against his good friend and highly respected former FC Dallas teammate.

Real Salt Lake will have no trouble matching young talent, as management around Rio Tinto turned over its midfield and strike force in salary cap maneuvering, comfortable doing so due to its faith in players like Luis Gil, Sebastian Velasquez and Devon Sandoval. And they have been just this side of magnificent; all were important in last week’s 2-1 win over Seattle.

The Rapids do, at least, have veteran striker Edson Buddle back on the field. Buddle got on the field for 61 minutes last week, his first appearance of 2013.

“I felt like it was my first game back,” he said. “A little unfit, not as explosive, repetitive running as I’d like to do. I think the guys behind me did a great job of filling on the space for me, the ground I couldn’t cover.”

Nat Borchers has recently returned for RSL, giving Jason Kreis a veteran to pair with one of his talented, younger center backs. And Alvaro Saborio, who has missed RSL’s last two matches, seems set to return to the RSL lineup.

Klinsmann praises Nagbe: “He knows he has to push the envelope”

FRISCO, TX - MAY 25:  Pedro Larrea #15 of Ecuador reacts as Nagbe Darlington #10 of the United States celebrates with Christian Pulisic #17 of the United States after scoring against Ecuador during an International Friendly match at Toyota Stadium on May 25, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images
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Breaking into a Jurgen Klinsmann side isn’t easy, especially for an attacker.

With the United States men’s national team boss quite happy to trot out Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and — when healthy — Jozy Altidore, becoming a regular isn’t easy.

So making the most of your opportunity is key, and Darlington Nagbe has done that most times he’s hit the pitch for the USMNT.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

And scoring a 90th minute winner against Ecuador, even in a 1-0 friendly win, is going to help his odds of sticking in the coach’s mind. Klinsmann said Nagbe “knows he has to push the envelope”, and lauded him for doing so while cautioning that he’s never questioned the offensive acumen of Portland Timbers’ man.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“Now you also want to tell him ‘Listen, you’ve got to make an impression. You’ve got to learn to play both ways and grind it out defensively, go into 1v1s and win balls as well,’” Klinsmann said.

“And that’s just going forward. He has tremendous talent with the ball at his feet going forward. That’s what we enjoy in MLS every weekend. But the international side is both ways, and that’s what we’re working on. And he’s getting better and better at doing that.”

Nagbe was among a handful of U.S. players to shine during a dominant second half that saw the Timbers midfielder snare the decisive goal, and it’s not a stretch to say he was the brightest. Let’s hope to see him get a chance to start on Saturday against Bolivia.

Lukaku will listen to Everton but “I have my own ideas in mind

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - MAY 11: Romelu Lukaku of Everton arrives for the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Everton at the Stadium of Light on May 11, 2016 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
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Romelu Lukaku‘s future looks to be away from Goodison Park.

The big Belgian striker authored 25 goals across all competitions this season, including 18 in the Premier League.

[ MORE: Zlatan has “taken a decision” ]

But as he prepares for the Euro 2016 tournament, Lukaku’s comments make it seem likely that even new investments from up high aren’t going to keep him on Merseyside.

From Sky Sports:

“We have a new investor at Everton and out of courtesy I will listen to what he has to say. But I have my own ideas in mind. I want to win titles.

“I have had a very good season, but it is time for me to write myself a CV. That is why I play football. I got that trophy-winning mindset from Chelsea.”

Lukaku would be a big ticket item on the transfer market, and should go for more than the $41 million price tag Everton paid to get him from Chelsea.

Ibrahimovic says he has received offers from England, Italy

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 11:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Paris Saint-Germain walks out for a training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg match against Manchester City at Etihad Stadium on April 11, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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STOCKHOLM (AP) Still looking for a team for next season, Zlatan Ibrahimovic says he has “concrete offers” from England, Italy and other countries.

The 34-year-old Sweden striker, who has said he is leaving Paris Saint-Germain, has yet to announce where he is headed after the European Championship.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

Ibrahimovic says “I have taken my decision,” but he didn’t elaborate.

At Euro 2016, Sweden will play in Group E with Belgium, Italy and Ireland.

Benitez stay is huge, but Newcastle cannot be content with players

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 30:  Rafael Benitez (R) manager of Newcastle United congratulates Andros Townsend (L) after their 1-0 win in the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Crystal Palace at St James' Park on April 30, 2016 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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As posted yesterday, Rafa Benitez met with the media after Newcastle United confirmed that the trophy-winning manager has decided to stay with the club despite relegation, and said this is his ship now.

This is huge news for the Magpies.

The 56-year-old Spaniard couldn’t rescue the sinking ship he inherited from Steve McClaren, and is tasked with lifting Newcastle back to the Premier League at the first time of asking.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

For years, Newcastle’s managers have been subject to the approval of chief scouts, managing directors and owner Mike Ashley. What Benitez has now is assurances that no player is being sold without his permission, and none being bought without his approval. Which means no midseason sales of Yohan Cabaye because the iron is hot, or unrequested purchases like Xisco.

Of course that could mean we’re headed for a huge August or January bust-up when Ashley or Lee Charnley pulls the rug out from some big acquisition that could firm up Newcastle’s standing in the top flight, but we’ll stay on the sunny side for now and assume Benitez’s people made that part of his contact air tight.

It means Newcastle could line up, basically, the same as last season. There are plusses and minuses to that, of course, as the club was relegated thanks to woeful form and players who were perhaps rightfully accused of only showing up for primetime matches.

Consider:

— Newcastle took as many points from Manchester United (2) as Aston Villa.

— The Magpies went 2-0 against Tottenham Hotspur, grabbed four points from Liverpool, beat West Ham and drew both Manchester City and Chelsea.

— They also lost to relegation rivals Norwich, drew Sunderland twice and were swept by Watford.

So while Benitez holds sway to keep Moussa Sissoko, Georginio Wijnaldum and Daryl Janmaat despite the big money they could command on the open market, he has to be 100 percent sure they won’t mail it in.

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Kevin Nolan of Newcastle United celebrates scoring the opening goal with team mate Andy Carroll (L) during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Liverpool at St James' Park on December 11, 2010 in Newcastle, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Carroll and Nolan (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

There’s no certainty there, and one of the main things that helped Newcastle bounce right back up to the PL in 2009-10 was a crew that got its footing in the Championship by Week 13 and never looked back: the Magpies lost just once in the league from Oct. 24 onward thanks in large part to heart-and-soul players who stuck around after the drop (Kevin Nolan, Jonas Gutierrez, Fabricio Coloccini, Andy Carroll and others).

Among those who fit the bill for understanding the task at hand are Andros Townsend, Jonjo Shelvey, Jack Colback, Chancel Mbemba and Coloccini. Others, like Sissoko and Siem De Jong, risk poisoning the well. That’s not to say they shouldn’t be kept around, but Benitez will need to know transfer rumor and agent hijinks aren’t in the offing.

Make no mistake about it, Benitez in control is better than anything the Magpies have had in ages and Newcastle is far more likely to replicate the instant promotions of West Ham and itself than the divisional drops of Leeds United and Portsmouth.