MLS preview: New York Red Bulls at D.C. United

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Neither of these MLS heavies are where they want to be seven weeks into the season. Yes, there is still much soccer ahead. But there’s a lot of deflated return on high expectations so far in 2013 – and the pressure builds for something more with each passing week.

D.C. United cannot score.

One of the team’s prized young midfielders, Nick DeLeon, is hurt. The other, Chris Pontius, just isn’t delivering as expected. Dwayne De Rosario sat out United’s first pair of matches for some preseason foolishness, and now he’s hurt. Throw in Lionard Pajoy’s continued inability to find goal and get a five-game opening series with a lousy two goals.

That puts United 9th in the 10-team Eastern Conference, which is hardly the place anyone expected to find Ben Olsen’s team, one that missed a trip to the MLS Cup final by just a single goal last year.

Mike Petke’s Red Bulls are just a little better at 7th in the East. They are doing OK scoring goals – no surprise considering a roster filled with the likes to Thierry Henry, EPL veteran Tim Cahill and MLS A-lister Fabian Espindola. The Red Bulls’ obvious weakness is preventing them.

They might be a little higher today in the standings but for last week’s late, defensive collapse at Toyota Park. About to cruise Chicago with a 1-1 draw, the Red Bulls allowed two late goals to drop a 3-1 result, which was Chicago’s initial win this year.

As this preview piece points out, New York is therefore responsible for 75 percent of the goals that offensively challenged Chicago has put away in 2013. Not good.

This is one of Major League Soccer’s heavyweight rivalries. In fact, it’s their second meeting this year after an early (and rather peculiar) 0-0 draw back in Week 3. The Red Bulls did pretty much anything they wanted that day to the Olsen’s team, except for score. Petke’s group outshot United 24-5 that day at Red Bull Arena.

United goalkeeper Bill Hamid was quite The Man in that one.

(MORE: MLS rivalry backstories – New York and D.C. United)

Otherwise, Perry Kitchen has been big in United’s midfield. And center back Dejan Jakovic and Brandon McDonald have been solid.

Dax McCarty has continued to impress in the Red Bulls’ midfield. Henry is still a game-changer, although he’s been limited with injuries again this year. He should have a big role today, apparently likely to start for the first time since these teams’ last meeting, back on March 16.

The full, fact-stacked match preview from MLSSoccer.com is here.

Henry, Aguero discuss playing up top under Pep

Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images
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One great striker got another one to open up on an up-and-down year at Manchester City.

Thierry Henry — one of the greatest of all-time, it must be said — sat down with Sergio Aguero ahead of Thursday’s Manchester Derby at the Etihad Stadium, and asked the Argentine about Pep Guardiola, Gabriel Jesus, and more.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

At times, it’s a fascinating discussion on playing lone striker. Even apart from the obligatory questions regarding Jesus’ arrival at City, Henry and Aguero speak their craft in a manner you don’t see too often.

That’s helped by the fact that Henry played for Guardiola at Barcelona, and can relate to the positional demands of Man City’s boss. Consider this exchange, from Sky Sports:

HENRY: When I was at Arsenal, I played up front and if I wanted to drift out to the left, I could. But when I got to Barca, I had to stay out wide and press. Sometimes doing that can be hard.

AGUERO: The thing I’ve found the hardest has been getting into my head the fact that I have to press the centre-back and the goalkeeper in matches. That’s what Pep asks me to do. It may not be a big deal, but in terms of processing it, the two of us speak a lot. He knows what I’m like.

I’ve been gradually learning and adapting to that style of pressing over the last few months. The first thing he taught me was how to press and how to do it well. Obviously there are times when I might drift out of position or I might press in an area where I’m not supposed to be, which might make it hard for the wingers or midfielders.

In the game itself, I may not realise because I’m so immersed and you can’t stop yourself. I’ve learnt a lot from him in terms of zones. He asks me to play as a No 9 and to stay in that position. I often drift out wide during matches and he looks at me and says, “If there’s a player out wide who wants to cross it in, who’s in there? Nobody.”

HENRY: I know all about that, believe you me.

I love this, because it shows how difficult it is for an elite striker to adapt his mentality. Both Henry and Aguero found world-celebrated success by playing in a certain fashion, and Guardiola understood that and still demanded a change. Earlier this season, the manager somewhat famously spoke of improving Aguero.

Aguero has been linked with Real Madrid given the tumult at City.

PHOTO: Liverpool unveils 125th anniversary kit for next season

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Liverpool rolled out its 125th anniversary kit, featuring a special crest to celebrate the occasion.

The Liver bird has 1892 on one side and 2017 on the other, with “125 YEARS” spelled out underneath the club’s emblem.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

The red shirt with a gold crest has a white V-neck and white at the ends of the sleeves. The goalkeeper kit is green.

The jersey will be available on May 19, and was announced last month.

liverpoolfc.com

Jara’s goal lifts Pachuca to CONCACAF Champions League crown

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Hirving Lozano’s dipping shot rebounded into the path of Franco Jara, who scored the goal that won Pachuca its fifth CONCACAF Championship early Thursday morning.

The Argentine’s goal was the only one of the win over UANL Tigres, and gave Pachuca its first continental title since 2009-10. USMNT veteran Omar Gonzalez played for the winners, while Jose Torres started for Tigres.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

Major League Soccer teams were eliminated in the semifinals, with FC Dallas falling to Pachuca and Vancouver Whitecaps losing to Tigres.

Beginning with the 2017-18 tournament, qualified MLS and Liga MX teams will not enter the tournament until the Round of 16. The entire tournament will be held in the same calendar year.

USMNT: Brooks out with hip strain; World Cup qualifiers loom

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John Brooks is out of Hertha Berlin’s lineup “for the time being” after scans revealed a hip strain suffered in this weekend’s win over Wolfsburg.

That’s all Hertha has said, and that makes it hard to imagine whether American fans should be a little concerned or very concerned ahead of the USMNT’s World Cup qualifiers against Mexico, and Trinidad and Tobago in early June.

Brooks was unavailable for two weeks with an adductor strain in September, missing a month before returning to the starting lineup.

The U.S. center back pool isn’t teeming after Brooks and Geoff Cameron. Matt Besler, Tim Ream, Omar Gonzalez, and Walker Zimmerman were called up for the last World Cup qualifiers, and Gonzalez struggled but is a Bruce Arena favorite from their time in L.A.