MLS preview: Philadelphia Union at D.C. United

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D.C. United needs Mack McInerney. Or someone very much like him, at least.

McInerney is the young Philadelphia Union striker who has four goals in the young season, placing him among Major League Soccer’s top goal scorers. He still has much to learn about the game, not a bit surprising since young “Jack Mac” is just 20 years old.

But he already has a Costco-sized supply of “strikers instinct,” a level of awareness that plenty of professionals will never know. And his goals aren’t just stat-padders; they tend to be important ones, like the game-winners this year against Colorado and New England or the late, late equalizer last week against Toronto.

Yes, D.C. United could use a guy like that.

McInerney (pictured) isn’t going anywhere, of course. He is part of coach John Hackworth’s up-and-coming bunch in Philadelphia, where one of the league’s youngest assemblies of talent is hanging tough in the middle of the Eastern Conference pack, even if the Union games don’t tend to be the most beautiful.

Then there’s D.C. United, one of the presumed Eastern Conference contenders. Instead, Ben Olsen’s team languishes at rock bottom in the standings, last among 10 teams at the moment with just four points off six matches.

Consecutive losses at home to Columbus and New York have added pressure upon pressure around RFK Stadium. So today’s late afternoon kickoff (5 p.m. ET on ESPN2) looms mightily important for the Black and Red. (And if the weight of it all wasn’t enough, security in the nation’s capital is extra high for this one.)

United’s woes are mostly about the lack of scoring.

The ongoing inability to get Dwayne De Rosario going (attached to injuries and suspensions that have limited him to just two starts and one appearance off the bench in 2013), Chris Pontius’ ongoing struggles and Nick DeLeon’s injury have all contributed as United has turned up just two goals.

Pontius has played every minute so far, with just one assist (and no goals) to show for it. That is not going to get him the U.S. national team call-up that United fans so desperately desire.

So much of the goal-scoring malaise falls on Lionard Pajoy – or on the deciders around RFK for continuing to believe that he will break out and score goals in bunches, never mind the growing sample of data suggesting that the Colombian striker just doesn’t have it in him. He gets into positions reliably enough and certainly works hard enough, but just misses that little something near goal, that confidence or that alarm bell that rings loudly at just the right moment to shoot.

Backup striker Carlos Ruiz looks like a shell of the goal-scoring menace that once infuriated MLS defenders. All that leaves Olsen … searching for answers.

Casey Townsend, who scored twice last weekend while on loan at third-division Richmond, has even remained with the club for Sunday’s contest.  

As for the visiting Union, Hackworth tends to mix and match in the midfield quite a bit, with Keon Daniel or Michael Farfan pulling the offensive strings. Sebastien Le Toux could find himself in there, or further up the field if the McInerney-Conor Casey strike combo is adjusted. Danny Cruz could face his old team. (He was in the middle of big preseason donnybrook.) Or will this finally be the time to give new Brazilian midfielder Kleberson his first Philly Union start? The 2002 World Cup winner has played just 11 minutes since his arrival four weeks ago.

Center back Amobi Okugo is another promising Union man to watch. The 22-year-old American was added as midfield talent but has been outstanding in central defensive duty.

Seven regular season games between the Eastern Conference rivals have produced 22 yellow cards and four red cards. And these teams were involved in a preseason melee that saw De Rosario suspended for the first two MLS regular season matches. So, yes, things are likely to be physical and feisty, especially considering the stakes for D.C. United.

MLS Snapshot: TFC lose late in NE; Shield celebration delayed

AP Photo/Stephan Savoia
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The game in 100 words (or less): All Toronto FC had to do to clinch the 2017 Supporters’ Shield on Saturday was beat the New England Revolution, a side that had suffered back-to-back defeats by a combined score of 10-1 and fired head coach Jay Heaps on Tuesday. Instead, because this is MLS we’re talking about, the Revolution were galvanized and full of fighting spirit backed their way into a 2-1 victory over TFC in a game that saw all three goals scored during a five-minute period beginning in the 82nd. The Shield celebration will have to wait at least another week, with TFC hosting the New York Red Bulls next Saturday. The chance to clinch and celebrate at home will almost have been worth it. Still, the gap between TFC (62 points) and second-place New York City FC remains 10 points with just three games to go (NYCFC have a game in hand). The Revs, meanwhile, are four points out of the Eastern Conference’s sixth and final playoff place, and have played two more games than the sixth-place Red Bulls.

[ MORE: MLS weekend preview — ATL host MTL; RSL desperate vs. SEA ]

Three moments that mattered

82′ — Nguyen wrong-foots Irwin with a lucky deflection — It’s been a long, turbulent season for the Revs, so they were probably owed this bit of good fortune (and quite a few more).

84′ — Hasler gets on the end of Bradley’s ball for 1-1 — It’s been a long, turbulent season for the Revs, and they’ve grown used to unfortunate breaks like this.

87′ — Kamara rises up, heads home the winner — It’s been a long, turbulent season for the Revs, one without nearly enough alley-oops to Kamara.

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

Man of the match: Lee Nguyen

Goalscorers: Nguyen (82′), Hasler (84′), Kamara (87′)

MLS Snapshot: NYCFC, HOU play to 1-1 draw… in Connecticut

Photo credit: New York City FC / @NYCFC
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The game in 100 words (or less more): New York City FC entered the weekend having dropped just 12 points (two losses, three draws) at home all season. That, of course, is their record within the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium, the third-year MLS club’s temporary home for the foreseeable future. In truth, it was a minor miracle NYCFC hadn’t been forced from their home in the Bronx before Saturday’s clash with the Houston Dynamo, which ended a 1-1 draw at Rentschler Field in Hartford, Conn. Attendance suffered, rightfully so. With the Yankees scheduled to play a make-up game Monday night, NYCFC were made to work out alternative stadium arrangements due to the amount of time required to convert Yankee Stadium into a baseball field once again. Anyway, Maxi Moralez and Mauro Manotas scored the goals, each inside the game’s opening 16 minutes. The point does very little for NYCFC (52 points), who remain 10 points off the pace of Eastern Conference- and Supporters’ Shield-leading Toronto FC, and just four points clear of third-place Chicago Fire; Houston (39) are buoyed a bit more, as they move ahead of Real Salt Lake for the Western Conference’s sixth and final playoff place (for the time being).

[ MORE: MLS weekend preview — ATL host MTL; RSL desperate vs. SEA ]

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Moralez rises up, heads NYCFC ahead — Chances are, when the shortest player on the field scores from a header, somebody missed their marking assignment.

16′ — Manotas beats Johnson off the quick FK — Chances are, when the opponent scores from a quick free kick, somebody fell asleep and wasn’t paying attention.

89′ — Deric protects the upper-90 to preserve a point — Jack Harrison probably thought he’d beaten Tyler Deric into the upper-90, but the Dynamo goalkeeper kept his side level with a stunning Save of the Week nominee.

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

Man of the match: Tyler Deric

Goalscorers: Moralez (6′), Manotas (16′)

PL Sunday preview: Newcastle shoot for top-4 place at Brighton

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures offers up a meeting of two newly promoted sides in the only game of the day.

[ PL ROUNDUP: Goals galore on a wild Saturday ]

Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Newcastle United — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Newcastle’s return to the PL had all the makings of another spectacular flame-out and an immediate return to the Championship — owner Mike Ashley promised manager Rafa Benitez a busy summer of signings, but that never materialized; Benitez’s discontent was widely reported, some going so far as to say he had considered stepping down; the Magpies lost their first two games of the season, failing to score in either — until Jamaal Lascelles decided he was having no more of it.

Lascelles, Newcastle’s 23-year-old captain and star center back, has helped Benitez’s boys to three straight victories, in which they’ve conceded just one goal (in last week’s 2-1 victory over Stoke City), has united a group of players which seemed headed for self-destruction just four short weeks ago. The key, according to Lascelles, is accountability evenly shared by every player in the dressing room.

[ MORE: Pochettino — “I am in love with Harry Kane” ]

“A couple of seasons back, we’d go a goal down or concede a goal and heads would drop,” Lascelles said. “We’d be looking at each other like, ‘who’s going to step up?’ But everyone steps up, the 11 of us. This group of boys are excellent, we just keep going.”

Three points on Sunday would see Newcastle leapfrog Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, two sides level on 11 points and presently fighting over fourth place, to finish the weekend in the PL’s final Champions League place (after six of 38 games, of course).

[ MORE: Mourinho bewildered by sending-off; Man United beat Southampton ]

As for Brighton, returning home to Falmer Stadium is a welcome development after losing twice at Bournemouth (first in the PL, then in the League Cup) in the span of four days. In charge of Brighton is another former Newcastle manager, Chris Hughton, who guided his new club to promotion from the Championship last season (just as he did for Newcastle in 2010). Brighton held the league lead heading into the season’s final days before the Seagulls faltered and Newcastle pounced, but Hughton says there isn’t any ill will onto which to be held.

“There shouldn’t be, because they deserved it,” Hughton said. “We had opportunities in the last three games to clinch the title and we weren’t good enough at that particular moment to do that. All credit goes to Newcastle for doing it and certainly there’s no revenge. We are up against a good team that’s in good form at the moment.”

INJURIES: Brighton — OUT: Steve Sidwell (back), Sam Baldock (calf), Beram Kayal (leg); QUESTIONABLE: Izzy Brown (hamstring) | Newcastle — OUT: Aleksandar Mitrovic (suspended), Paul Dummett (hamstring), Florian Lejeune (ankle), Karl Darlow (ankle)

Klopp, Henderson: Coutinho shows he’s “highest quality player”

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As it turns out, it was with good reason that Liverpool refused to lose superstar midfielder Philippe Coutinho this summer, despite big-money advances from Barcelona, and the player’s admission that he himself wanted to make the move.

[ PL roundup: Goals galore on a wild Saturday ]

On Saturday, the 25-year-old Brazilian made his second straight in Premier League play, and reminded everyone just why a club like Barcelona would pursue him with unrelenting vigor. He started with an assist to Mohamed Salah for the game’s opening goal, and chipped in a score of his own, a stunning free kick (WATCH HERE), to double the lead a few minutes later. The Reds would hang (just barely) for a 3-2 win away to Leicester City.

Following the game, Liverpool manager was full of praise for Coutinho, calling him “the highest quality player,” which is something he believes was never in doubt — quotes from the BBC:

“Nobody was in doubt about this. It is clear he is the highest quality player. We are happy to have him around.”

As for the performance overall, Klopp was largely pleased, even if being so required him to completely ignore the (continued) defensive frailties of his side:

“It is not a time to be completely cool but overall I was happy with our performance. The boys deserved the three points. The free kick for the first goal was not a free-kick and it was a foul on Simon [for the second goal].

“At the start of the second half we played the same football like Leicester — kind of hectic. Simon saved the penalty and then I think we really deserved the win.

“I really thought in a moment like this so many things are positive. The three points are the proof for the public that we are still here, everything is good. Let’s make the next step together.”

Captain Jordan Henderson joined Klopp in his praise for Coutinho, echoing similar sentiments about the best player employed at Anfield since the departure of Luis Suarez:

“Coutinho is a fantastic player. He produces magical things at crucial times of the game. This will give us good confidence going forward.”