MLS Preview: Houston Dynamo at D.C. United

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If D.C. United were playing better, this would be billed as a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference finals. And technically, Wednesday’s visit from Houston still is, though if you’re picking from storylines to promote tonight’s game at RFK, 2012 nostalgia would be pretty far down the list. Coming off a huge win in Los Angeles, the Dynamo are justifying preseason hype that slotted them at the top of the Eastern Conference. Ben Olsen’s team, however, is in free fall.

[MORE: PST’s Power Rankings capture D.C.’s slide]

The explanation for D.C.’s slide: Nothing’s working. Along with New England, they’ve got the league’s worst attack (four goals in eight games), but unlike the Revolution, they’re having trouble preventing goals. Only three teams have allowed more than United’s 13. With that combination of inept offense and poor defense, it’s no surprise United have the league’s worst record.

Two months ago, though, that would have been a hard one to call. D.C. was coming off a second place finish in the East and looked set to push on. With young players like Nick DeLeon, Perry Kitchen, Chris Korb and Bill Hamid, there was reason to believe they would improve, especially with another year under Olsen’s belt. Instead, D.C. United’s experiencing a power outage. Partly due to health reasons, Olsen’s yet to get a goal from DeLeon, Dwayne De Rosario, or Chris Pontius, while imported strikers Rafael, Carlos Ruiz, and Lionard Pajoy (acquired late last year) have only three. Right now, there’s just nothing there, which only magnifies the problems of a defense threatening to revert to 2011 form.

The Houston Dynamo are near the other end of the spectrum, their points-per-game rate ranking second in the Eastern Conference. And coming off a road win over the Galaxy, there’s reason to think Dom Kinnear’s team is transcending their current standing. Where road performance has been a problem with Houston in recent years, the Dynamo got a convincing victory at a venue where they’re lost the last two MLS Cup finals. That their captain and best player, Brad Davis, was suspended for the game made the victory all the more impressive.

This is exactly what we expected from Houston: a team which, bringing back almost its entire squad, would be able to get even better with a little more time and talent. On the talent end, that means the additions of Andrew Driver, Eric Brunner, and (the seldom used) Omar Cummings providing the depth Kinnear needs to improve on last year’s fifth place finish. And with time, Ricardo Clark’s a bigger part of the team, Corey Ashe and Kofie Sarkodie have continued to improve, while Gilles Barnes has asserted himself playing behind Will Bruin.

Tonight’s matchup at RFK pits a complete team against one without answers, and unfortunately for United, they need the result more. But with Houston coming off a big road win, D.C. can’t count on the Dynamo’s old road woes tilting this one in their favor.

STREAM: CONCACAF tripleheader concludes with USMNT

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CONCACAF’s bottom three sides in the Hex standings look to make the table incredibly tight as World Cup qualifying finds three-straight matches on the docket beginning at 5 p.m. EDT.

Honduras vs. Costa Rica

Los Catrachos were creamed 6-0 by the U.S. on Friday, and return home hoping a wounded Costa Rica remains vulnerable. Honduras is dead last on goal differential, but three points would be huge and put them level with Los Ticos. Costa Rica won its first two matches before falling to Mexico on Friday.

Trinidad and Tobago vs. Mexico

El Tri has two wins and a draw from their first three Hex matches, and will be without Rafa Marquez on Tuesday. A win guarantees Mexico the top spot heading into the next round of matches in June. The Soca Warriors surprised some with their 1-0 win over visiting Panama on Tuesday. Mexico is a different class.

Panama vs. USMNT

Despite its miserable start, the U.S. can find itself as high as second with a win and help from Honduras. The injuries remain plenty for the Yanks, who are without Fabian Johnson, Bobby Wood, Sebastian Lletget, and John Brooks. Panama has allowed just a single goal through three Hex matches, but also has only managed one.

AFC and Oceania wrap: Iran, New Zealand take next steps

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With CONMEBOL and CONCACAF serving as the main course later Tuesday, the morning and afternoon saw big World Cup qualifiers on the other side of the world.

[ MORE: Three keys for USA v Panama ] 

Asian qualifying

Iran is on the verge of qualification for Russia 2018 after Persepolis star Mehdi Taremi bagged his ninth international goal in a 1-0 home win over China.

Iran leads Group A by four points, but second-place South Korea and third-place Uzbekistan kept pace with 1-0 home wins of their own. Hong Jeong-ho scored in South Korea’s win over Syria, while Odil Ahmendov’s 65th minute free kick was enough to push Uzbekistan past Qatar.

The goalkeeping was… less than ideal.

Over in Group B, shutouts were the name of the game for high-powered hosts as well.

Japan stayed atop the group with a 4-0 win over Thailand, as a trio of players with Premier League experience — Maya Yoshida, Shinji Kagawa, and Shinji Okazaki — joined Gent’s Yuya Kubo on the scoreboard.

Saudi Arabia is level with Japan on points thanks to Yahya Al-Shehri’s post-halftime goal in a 1-0 win over Iraq, while Australia saw off United Arab Emirates thanks to goals from Burton Albion’s Jackson Irvine and Ingolstadt’s Mathew Leckie.

That leaves Australia three points behind Saudi Arabia and Japan in the race for two of three automatic spots. The Socceroos hosts the Green Falcons in June before an August trip to Saitama in a pair of matches which will decide who goes directly to Russia and who has to win a pair of playoffs: One against the Group A’s third-place team and another against CONCACAF’s fourth place side.

Oceania qualifying

New Zealand took the next step in collecting Oceania’s berth in the intercontinental playoff with a 2-0 win over Fiji in Wellington. PEC Zwolle winger Ryan Thomas bagged a brace for the All Whites.

New Zealand will next face either Tahiti, Solomon Islands, or Papua New Guinea over two legs in late August and early September for the right to battle the fifth place CONMEBOL team for a World Cup berth. That could be Ecuador, Chile, Paraguay, or even Colombia.

Tahiti hosts Papua New Guinea at 1 a.m. EDT Wednesday, and will be the odds-on favorite to face New Zealand with a win.

After further tests, Lletget to miss 4-6 months

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So much for initial reports.

Less than 24 hours after the LA Galaxy announced that Sebastian Lletget had come through his injury on USMNT duty with no structural damage, a specialist found something worse.

Lletget has a Lisfranc injury and requires surgery, meaning the Galaxy and the U.S. will be without the midfielder for four to six months.

[ MORE: Spurs eager for U.S. return ]

Lletget, 24, spent a half-decade with West Ham but couldn’t break into the squad before returning to the U.S. last summer. He became a mainstay for the Galaxy, earning a call-up to the national team.

He scored his first USMNT goal on Friday to open the World Cup qualifier against Honduras, but was injured after a hard sliding tackle from Ever Alvarado.

Galaxy has depth beyond Lletget and Jermaine Jones, with Rafael Garcia, Joao Pedro, and Baggio Husidic able to fill a similar role, but this one stings for the Galaxy. Get well, Sebastian.

Scouting report: Everton target Orlando’s Cyle Larin

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Reports have been suggesting the Orlando City’s star striker Cyle Larin is attracting some serious interest from Premier League side Everton.

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Larin, 21, has started the MLS season off in red-hot form and the report suggests the Toffees have bid $4 million for his talents. They’ll likely have to up that offer for the Canadian national team star.

What is Larin all about?

With Romelu Lukaku seeming to be heading towards the exit door this summer as his contract saga rumbles on, it’s not outlandish to state that Larin has a very similar style to the prolific Belgian international. Of course, he has yet to test himself in the PL and Lukaku’s boots would be a big pair to fill if Larin did arrive at Goodison Park as some kind of replacement in the coming months, yet when you watch Larin play there are so many similarities between the pair.

Ronald Koeman is always eager to give youth a chance and with Tom Davies, Ademola Lookman and Dominic Calvert-Lewin all getting regular minutes this season, so Larin would get chances to impress if he ended up on Merseyside.

Here are some key stats Toffees fans will want to know too:

  • 17 – Number of goals Larin scored in his debut MLS season, the most-ever by a Rookie
  • Larin has scored all three of Orlando’s goals so far in the 2017 MLS season
  • He has scored 39 goals in 68 appearances for Orlando since arriving in 2015
  • For Canada, he has five goals in 19 appearances after making his debut as a teenager
  • Larin became the first-ever Canadian to be selected as the first overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft when he joined Orlando in 2015

Click play on the video above to see Larin’s best moments so far in MLS, as he continues his impressive development.