MLS Preview: New York Red Bulls at Columbus Crew

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First of all, no jokes about scoreboards burning up and such.  K?

Yes, the Crew Stadium scoreboard caught on fire last week, and it was weird … and now we move on.

There’s plenty to talk about otherwise as New York visits the Crew in an Eastern Conference battle that highlights an unusually light Saturday. The game’s 4 p.m. ET kickoff is the first of just five matches through the evening; this one is on NBC Sports Network.

We can start with the relatively similar, mid-pack positioning of these two clubs, which is significant only due to the wildly disparate expectations entering Major League Soccer’s 2013 season.

New York hasn’t quite been all that, fumbling around a bit to launch Mike Petke’s first season in charge but finding its feet recently and now gaining some real confidence.  Last week’s 2-1 win at Toronto made it two in a row on the road and two in a row overall.

It really was an important three points for a team that has performed well most of the season – but hasn’t always turned fashionable performance into points. “The discipline and consistency has to be there,” said Tim Cahill, provider of both goals against TFC, “and that’s what we said before the game. I suppose a lot of people were looking at us to see whether we could pull off the result, because Toronto are a good team.”

Cahill will presumably play deeper in the midfield once again while midfielder Dax McCarty continues to mend a slight quad tear. Petke will have Brazilian midfielder Juninho available again; he returns after serving a two-game suspension.

They will face one of Major League Soccer’s best organized teams. Under manager Robert Warzych the Crew has managed to be one of the league’s toughest teams to face, even when the talent wasn’t always tip-top.

The Crew does now have talent, although it hasn’t always coalesced in 2012. Federico Higuain (pictured) was stirring up league MVP talk in preseason, but two goals and two assists in eight matches is nothing like last year’s stunning production.

Nor has Jairo Arrieta found his scoring shoes in 2013, although the Costa Rican international did contribute significantly on Dominic Oduro’s opening goal during last week’s 3-0 win over D.C. United.

That was Arrieta’s first start since March 23.

Speaking of “not coalescing:” Petke’s defense is giving up a goal and a half a match, hardly what Petke wants. Teams in championship form are going to be nearer a goal a game, tops.

Petke continues to look for the best back line foursome; Roy Miller is now back in at left back, having overcome some recent struggles. And speaking of struggles, goalkeeper Luis Robles gave up another bad goal in last week’s win over Toronto. The Red Bulls won’t be able to survive the howlers all year.

Then again, they shouldn’t need to. Ryan Meara and veteran Kevin Hartman should soon be fit and sharp, giving Petke’s further options.

Report: Minnesota United adds Hearts midfielder Sam Nicholson

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Minnesota United has had its shares of ups and down in its debut MLS season, but the Loons are on the verge making an exciting young signing.

[ MORE: Wesley Sneijder closing in on Los Angeles FC move ]

ESPN FC is reporting that Minnesota will sign Hearts winger Sam Nicholson from the Scottish Premier League on a deal that makes him a Loon until 2019.

The young attacker is expected to join the MLS side when the summer transfer window opens on July 10.

Nicholson, 22, has played with the Edinburgh side since his youth days, and made his senior debut with the club in 2013. During his time at Hearts, Nicholson scored 16 goals in all competitions for the team.

Last season, Nicholson missed 16 matches due to a significant knee injury.

According to the report, Scottish sides Rangers and Aberdeen were also among those interested in acquiring Nicholson, while English Championship clubs Bristol City and Barnsley also reached out about the attacker.

Premier League vet Scott Parker calls quits on playing career

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Scott Parker has announced his retirement from soccer after a stellar 20-plus year career in England.

[ MORE: Chile bests Portugal on PKs to reach Confed Cup final ]

The 36-year-old spent almost the entirety of his career in the Premier League, and played with seven teams during his time on the pitch.

“I believe now is the right time to move on to the next chapter in my life and career,” Parker said in a statement.

“I feel incredibly honoured and proud to have enjoyed the career that I have and I’ve loved every moment of it.”

Parker began playing with Charlton after coming up through the team’s youth academy, before completing a move to Chelsea in 2004.

Throughout his career, Parker also spent time at Newcastle, West Ham and Tottenham, before finishing up at Fulham this past season.

Three storylines when Mexico meets Germany in Confed Cup semis

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With a place in the final on the line tomorrow afternoon, it’s all or nothing for Mexico and Germany as they meet in the second semifinal at this summer’s FIFA Confederations Cup.

The two nations have had very similar paths in reaching the final four, after both accumulated seven points during the group stage and showed signs of improvement with every match.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s FIFA Confederations Cup action ]

Here are some of the key battles to watch on Thursday when Mexico and Germany square off for a place in the final.

How does Germany’s youth hold up vs. Mexico’s experience?

Even when Jurgen Low released his roster heading into the Confederations Cup, much was expected of the Germans. After a strong run of play during the group stage, Low’s men have lived up to the billing with an exciting young attack and an improving backline to match.

When Germany meets Mexico though, the defending World Cup champions will be taking on an El Tri side that has loads of international experience, and similar to that of Chile, the Europeans will surely receive all that they can handle.

At the tender age of 23, Julian Draxler captains the Germans and has been challenged with leading his nation throughout the tournament. The PSG attacker has been quality thus far, but he and his side will take on a whole different task on Thursday against a quick, feisty Mexican group.

Will Hirving Lozano be the difference in the attack?

Injuries and a key suspension will certain hinder Mexico in the semifinal round, but the bigger question is: how will Juan Carlos Osorio’s side cope with the losses?

El Tri know it will be without winger Andres Guardado due to yellow card accumulation, while striker Javier Hernandez is in question ahead of the Germany clash after reportedly training by himself on Monday.

Although Hernandez likely just needed rest after a busy season of matches in the Bundesliga, Mexico is still seeking a quality playmaker to replace Guardado on Thursday, one that they’re hoping with be Hirving Lozano.

The newly-signed PSV man has quickly become one of the top young faces in global soccer, and with three international goals for El Tri dating back to 2016, Lozano is the spark that Mexico needs.

El Tri must start fast

In all three of Mexico’s group stage matches Osorio’s side fell behind during the first half. While El Tri managed to come away unscathed to remain perfect in group play, it’s difficult to imagine that they will be able to pull off the same feat against a quality German side.

On the other hand, Mexico’s resilience has been impressive. In their opener against Portugal, El Tri pulled off a late winner against the reigning European champions, a result that likely set the tone for the team’s ensuing comebacks versus New Zealand and Russia, respectively.

Chile bests Portugal on penalty kicks to reach Confed Cup final

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Chile is on its way to the Confederations Cup final after a thrilling battle with Portugal on Wednesday afternoon.

The Chileans edged their European opposition, 0-0 (3-0 on penalty kicks), at Kazan Arena in Russia after goalkeeper Claudio Bravo made a trio of saves during the penalty shootout.

Arturo Vidal hit the post in the 119th minute from close range, before Martin Rodriguez’s rebound smashed off the crossbar and stayed out of goal to the dismay of the Chileans.

Chile had a legitimate claim for a penalty kick in the second half of extra time as Jose Fonte stepped on the foot of Francisco Silva inside the Portuguese area, but the referee opted to play on.

The South Americans thought they had picked out the lead just a few minutes into extra time when Alexis Sanchez’s header glanced just wide of goal.

Cristiano Ronaldo had several quality chances to break the deadlock during regulation, but none better than in the 72nd minute when the Real Madrid star had his deflected effort narrowly miss the top corner.

Chile began to find more of a rhythm during the second stanza, and Eduardo Vargas nearly gave his side the lead in the 59th minute when he acrobatically shot on goal, forcing a reaction save out of Rui Patricio.

Vargas had the first big chance for the South Americans in the sixth minute when he found himself in on goal against Patricio, but the Portuguese goalkeeper stood tall and made the save.

Meanwhile, Claudio Bravo found himself in a similar situation on the other end just a minute later, when the Manchester City keeper kept Portugal off the scoreboard.

Chile will meet the winner of Thursday’s contest between Mexico and Germany, while the Portuguese will await the loser of the match to decide third place.