MLS Preview: Chicago Fire at Montreal Impact

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Was Montreal’s surprising burst of March largesse just a mirage for the Impact, which has suddenly drifted toward a place where more of us expected to find them all along?

This is a toughie to sort out. Under new manager Marco Schallibaum, the Impact had MLS heads on a swivel a month ago, turning to get a closer look as the bunch from Quebec was perfect in its first four. A 1-0 win over New York back on March 23 served to extinguish any remaining doubts; the sophomore MLS side really did look like a player in the Eastern Conference race.

And then April happened.

Actually, the slide (if we’re calling it that) started in late March with a 2-0 loss in Kansas City. But everyone struggles in Kansas City, right?

A 1-1 draw at home against Columbus could also be written off as an odd duck of a result; the match was delayed 24 hours by massive snowfall. Besides, Columbus has proven to be a bugger on the road.

But then came Wednesday’s 2-0 loss at rival Toronto in the Amway Canadian Championship. So it leaves us all to wonder if the early Impact burst was smoke-and-mirrors stuff? Or was that close to the real Impact, with this recent splat of mediocrity sure to be a passing thing, just the inevitable dip over a long season?

Let’s talk after Saturday’s meeting with the Chicago Fire at cozy little Stade Saputo; kickoff on the NBC Sports Network is 4 p.m. ET.

Schallibaum has some lineup juggling to do; this is the club’s second match of a ridiculously busy stretch with six contests in 18 days.

Chicago’s Frank Klopas won’t have the same busy-busy issues, his club well rested and presumably enjoying an uptick of confidence after last week’s 1-0 win at home, venting some of the mounting pressure around the club’s suburban Bridgeview ground. Huge goal, Jeff Larentowicz!

Arne Friedrich, proving to be even more of a defensive giant for the Fire in his ongoing absence, remains injured and unavailable for Chicago. Jalil Anibaba was strong last week in Friedrich’s spot alongside 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year Austin Berry.

Klopas will have to adjust the back line, however, due to Wells Thompson suspension, so a new right back will find the Stade Saputo field.

Montreal will call on back line reinforcements, too, as Matteo Ferrari’s calf strain will keep the veteran defender out a few weeks.

Best matchup to watch in this one: Impact holding midfielder Patrice Bernier (pictured above) remains something of a well-kept MLS secret. He’ll find himself more or less directly matched with Fire attacking midfielder Chris Rolfe, who hasn’t quite had a big 2013. But then again, no one with the Fire really has.

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.

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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.