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.

Watch Live: Swansea host Manchester United

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Swansea City welcome Manchester United to the Liberty Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with Jose Mourinho’s side aiming to stay top of the Premier League table.

[ STREAM: Swansea v. Man United ]

Yes, it’s early days, but the Red Devils were imperious in their thumping 4-0 win against West Ham United to open their season. Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic dominated and Mourinho’s men are now a powerful, well-oiled machine.

As for Swansea, they struggled at Southampton but came away with a draw, however the main storyline surrounding the South Wales side this week has been losing Gylfi Sigurdsson to Everton for over $60 million. Paul Clement will have to act fast to spend that cash wisely, but there is no doubt the Swans will miss their Icelandic playmaker.

In team news Swansea bring in Kyle Bartley and Roque Mesa as they line up in a 3-5-2 formation with Jordan Ayew and Tammy Abraham up top.

Man United are, unsurprisingly, unchanged.

LINEUPS

Swansea City: Fabianski; Fernandez, Bartley, Mawson; Naughton, Mesa, Fer, Carroll, Olsson; Ayew, Abraham. Subs: Nordfeldt, Rangel, van der Hoorn, Fulton, Narsingh, Routledge, McBurnie.

Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Jones, Blind; Matic, Pogba; Mkhitaryan, Mata, Rashford; Lukaku. Subs: Romero, Lindelof, Smalling, Fellaini, Herrera, Lingard, Martial

Arsenal sends Gabriel Paulista to Valencia

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Arsenal has a thin defense, but that hasn’t stopped Arsene Wenger from thinning the squad even further.

Gabriel Paulista is headed back to the Spanish top flight after the completion of his transfer to Valencia. The Brazilian was sold for a reported $12.8 million, just below the $14 million price tag Arsenal coughed up to Villareal back in January, 2015. He will partner with Manchester City loanee Eliaquim Mangala at Valencia.

The 26-year-old made 64 appearances for the Gunners across all competitions, including 46 in the Premier League. His only goal for the club was Arsenal’s first of a 2-0 win over Bournemouth in December, 2015. His high-water mark with the club was a 120-minute performance against Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals where Arsenal came back to win 2-1 on an Alexis Sanchez goal in extra time.

“We would like to thank Gabriel for his contribution to the club and to wish him well for his return to La Liga with Valencia,” Arsenal said in its confirmation of the deal.

Paulista was utilized more than expected last season thanks to an injury crisis at the back, and still the Arsenal squad doesn’t seem fat enough to offload defenders, but Gabriel’s over-aggressive nature and tackling inaccuracy led him to an early exit.

With Arsene Wenger now deploying a back-three, the only natural central defenders currently on the roster are Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi, and Rob Holding. Koscielny is suspended from a red card at the end of last season, and Mertesacker is battling a head injury. Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal, and Calum Chambers have played CB for the Gunners in the recent past, but it is not their natural position.

Fabian Johnson misses Gladbach training with injury

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With John Brooks already out long-term due to a thigh injury, the United States may have another key injury to work around.

According to Borussia Monchengladbach manager Dieter Hecking, full-back/winger Fabian Johnson missed training on Friday due to an unspecified injury, and is now a question mark for Gladbach’s home match on Sunday against FC Koln. It could be nothing, but even the scare is cause for concern among U.S. fans.

Johnson has battled a few injuries the past couple of seasons, including a hamstring problem last spring that kept him out for nearly two months, including a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Johnson’s absence would leave a hole at right-back for the United States. The 29-year-old has been deployed some at right wing for the USMNT, but he has been relatively poor at that position in the national setup, looking better when pushed further back where he is given more defensive duties, roaming forward with less frequency but more intent.

In place of Johnson, another converted winger in Graham Zusi has been seeing more time at right-back, but he offers less in the attack and lacks Johnson’s recovery speed, meaning mistakes by the Sporting KC veteran are punished more often.

Falcao scores again to extend red hot start

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Monaco is hoping to ride out the final two weeks of the transfer window with 18-year-old wonderkid Kylian Mbappe still in tow.

While they wait, they aren’t missing a beat.

With Mbappe out of the squad, Radamel Falcao has begun the 2017/18 Ligue 1 season as Europe’s hottest goalscorer. He bagged a hat-trick last weekend with Mbappe on the bench to give him four goals in the first two league matches. Then, with Mbappe out of the squad entirely, Falcao netted the winner in a 1-0 road win over FC Metz.

Falcao has scored five goals so far this year, and his club has a +5 goal differential. In a way, Falcao has already been worth six points thus far.

Thanks in part to Ligue 1’s early start, Falcao’s five league goals are by far more than anyone else in the major European leagues. Four players have scored a pair of Premier League goals, nobody in La Liga or the Bundesliga have scored more than one, and the Serie A season has yet to start.

The Colombian did the same thing last season. After eventually coming off the shelf from to hamstring and concussion problems to start the season, Falcao scored 10 goals in 10 Ligue 1 matches leading up to the new calendar year.

At 31 years old, Falcao isn’t a long-term solution and the club will clearly look to retain Mbappe despite Falcao’s hot start, but should they lose the young Frenchman, the club will be in good hands while they search for a replacement over the next year.