Real Salt Lake v DC United

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.

Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Manchester United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02:  Paul Pogba of Manchester United (L) shoots while Erik Pieters of Stoke City (R) attempts to block the shot during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Stoke City at Old Trafford on October 2, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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  • Man Utd leads all-time 43W-34D-28L
  • Clubs even in last six (2-2-2)
  • Red Devils unbeaten in 16
  • Stoke winners of two-straight

After wins over Sunderland and Watford, Stoke City gets a higher class of opponent on Saturday at the Britannia Stadium (Watch live at 10 a.m. EDT on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Fortunately for Stoke, it’s had some success against Manchester United in recent years.

Stoke and United drew 1-1 at Old Trafford on Oct. 2, though Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils are flying now. United is hard to break down, and arguably deserved better than the 1-1 draw it earned versus Liverpool last weekend.

Stoke is now 11 points clear of the drop zone, and a win could raise its status to closer to the Top Five than Bottom Three. United, meanwhile, wants three points that would move it to precipice of the Top Four.

 

What they’re saying

Stoke City’s Glenn Whelan on facing United“There has been a wind of change there and the supporters seem a lot happier now and you get the sense that they are together as a group now. You only have to look at the players within the squad, and even the ones who are leaving, to see how much strength in depth they have there.”

Jose Mourinho praises newly-extended Antonio Valencia“I don’t think it is a reward, I don’t see it in this perspective. I just think he is the best right-back you can have. There is no better right-back in football. It is just for us to keep the best. I don’t think it is a reward. It is a privilege for us to have such a good player and such a good man.”

Prediction

United gets it done, only barely. Stoke will put up a brave battle for boss Mark Hughes, but there are too many weapons to suppress. United, 1-0.

AFCON wrap: Results keep Group C undecided

Ivory Coast's Wilfried Bony controls the ball on his head during their training session at the Stade Akoakam, Oyem, Gabon, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, ahead of their African Cup of Nations Group C soccer match against Congo. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
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Like Group A, Group C in the Africa Cup of Nations has very little decided ahead of the final group stage match.

[ MORE: Guardiola “said goodbye to title” ]

Ivory Coast 2-2 DR Congo

A thrilling first half had DR Congo leading 1-0 and 2-1, with only Wilfried Bony netting for the Ivory Coast. Les Elephants grabbed a draw through Serey Die’s 67th minute goal.

DR Congo now leads the group and is primed to advance with a result against Togo or a Morocco loss or draw against Ivory Coast.

Morocco 3-1 Togo

Mathieu Dossevi gave Togo a surprise fifth minute lead lead, but Aziz Bouhaddouz kickstarted the Moroccan attack to plug the victors into Group C’s second spot ahead of a Jan. 24 showdown with Ivory Coast.

Saturday’s matches

Ghana vs. Mali — 11 a.m. ET
Egypt vs. Uganda — 2 p.m. ET

Premier League Preview: Liverpool vs. Swansea City

SWANSEA, WALES - MAY 01:  Jefferson Montero of Swansea City is challenged by Nathaniel Clyne of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Liverpool at The Liberty Stadium on May 1, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images
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  • Liverpool leads all-time 22W-8D-10L
  • Swans lost five-straight at Anfield
  • Reds unbeaten in 7 PL matches

One of the Premier League’s top attacks hosts the division’s leakiest defense, as Liverpool may be licking its chops ahead of a visit from struggling Swansea City on Saturday (Watch live at 7:30 a.m. EDT on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Liverpool has drawn at Sunderland and Manchester United in its last two Premier League outings, and sits seven points back of leaders Chelsea.

Swansea City has allowed multiple goals in five of six PL matches since beating Sunderland 3-0 on Dec. 10. It’s no surprise that they’ve lost those five (the sixth being a 2-1 win at struggling Crystal Palace).

What they’re saying

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp on the match“We’re really looking forward to this game. I don’t know when it happened but in England every game now is like a final. Swansea are trying to survive. I don’t know when the title run-in will start, maybe now and we’re in the race. I hope for a special atmosphere tomorrow.”

Swansea City back Federico Fernandez on Liverpool“They are a team that is very strong going forward and that is shown by the number of goals they have scored. If you lose a little bit of focus against these teams then they have the players that will punish you every time. But it’s not only defending strongly when they are attacking, it is also how we keep hold of the ball and how we use it when in possession.”

Prediction

Swansea boss Paul Clement has his hands full, and is grabbing reinforcements in the transfer window (Luciano Narsingh, Martin Olsson, Tom Carroll). That won’t be enough to handle what Liverpool will dish out Saturday, as the Reds break free with a 3-0 win.

Saints’ Fonte moves to West Ham for $10 million

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West Ham has been linked with big name strikers since the summer, but the Irons’ big January transfer to date is a center back.

EURO champion and Southampton mainstay Jose Fonte is moving to London.

[ MORE: West Brom finally sells Berahino ]

Fonte, 33, makes an approximately $10 million move from the South Coast, where the Portuguese back will better Slaven Bilic‘s back line while forcing Southampton to find an answer alongside Virgil Van Dijk.

It’s been a strange trip to London for Fonte and Southampton, detailed by our own Joe Prince-Wright here. Fonte joined Saints during the 2009-10 season, and became a cult hero at St. Mary’s in helping the club move from League One to the Europa League in just over a half-decade.

Something won’t feel right about seeing Fonte in claret and blue, and Saints host West Ham on Feb. 4. Should be quite interesting.