MLS Preview: Montreal Impact at New York Red Bulls

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Ahead of tonight’s game at Red Bull Arena, New York has climbed to joint-top of the Eastern Conference (on points), but that statement requires a couple of caveats. The Red Bulls have played more games than Houston, Kansas City, and Montreal – the three teams also tied atop the East – and with recent wins over Philadelphia, Chicago, and New England, the team’s surge has been fueled by a fortunate stretch in the schedule.

Tonight, however, Mike Petke’s team can sweep aside those asterisks if they can beat the Impact at Red Bull Arena, a team they’ve already lost to once this season. But that 1-0 March loss in Montreal came during New York’s slow start, one that left them near the bottom of the East through the league’s opening weeks. If they can get a result against Montreal, the contrast between March and May will serve as clear evidence New York have turned things around.

Montreal’s only lost once this season, with Kansas City knocking them off last month at Sporting Park. Their points-per-game rate is better than any other team in the East, and only the Galaxy have allowed fewer than their seven goals. While some may yet harbor concerns Montreal’s is just a fast start, five points in three games since their KC wakeup call hint Marco Schallibaum’s team may yet stick around.

That’s bad news for the rest of the East, but against a Red Bull team that lacks any significant wide threats, it’s particularly troublesome news. The key to Montreal’s success has been a tight defense which, playing Patrice Bernier behind Davy Arnaud and Felipe Martins in midfield, locks down the middle of the part. Go wide, go around them, you might be able to do some damage, put try to go through the middle, and you’re unlikely to generate many chances. Attacks lead to turnovers lead to counters – Montreal’s plan’s not difficult to figure out. What’s harder is trying to comeback if you give up the first goal.

As it concerns breaking down the Impact. Thierry Henry and Fabian Espindola venturing left could prove crucial. Players like Jonny Steele and Eric Alexander are going to have to more wingers than midfielders. Brandon Barklage and Roy Miller need to contribute going forward, and when they establish possession in the attacking third, Juninho’s rotations wide could setup crucial service, particularly from the right side.

This is where the limitations of this Red Bull team come into play. When you look at their squad, you see a lot of talent but not a lot of complementary parts, which leads to a lack of options for Mike Petke. Ultimately this team is dependent on its stars to step up, something that has worked in recent weeks. With Tim Cahill finally finding goals, New York has gone on a run.

With Cahill, Henry, and Juninho, New York has ways to get around Montreal’s advantages. Just like against any other opponent, if the Red Bulls put their stars in situations to succeed, they can derail the Impact. Whether they will or not might tell whether they truly deserve to be atop the East.

Prosecutors question Beckenbauer in World Cup fraud case

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BERN, Switzerland (AP) Swiss authorities say prosecutors have questioned Germany soccer great Franz Beckenbauer in their ongoing World Cup fraud case.

[ MORE: Shorthanded USMNT looks to build momentum vs. Honduras ]

Criminal proceedings against Beckenbauer and three other German members of the 2006 World Cup organizing committee were opened in 2015. The four are suspected of fraud, money laundering, criminal mismanagement, and misappropriation relating to a payment of 6.7 million euros ($7 million) to FIFA in 2005.

[ MORE: Five questions for USMNT ahead of Honduras WCQ ]

The Swiss attorney general’s office said in a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday that federal prosecutors questioned Beckenbauer earlier in the day in Bern, adding that “Beckenbauer was cooperative.”

Beckenbauer’s home in Austria was raided last year for evidence on behalf of Swiss federal prosecutors investigating corruption linked to FIFA.

Report: Man City launching massive bid for AC Milan’s Donnarumma

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Gianluigi Donnarumma has quickly established himself as the best young goalkeeper in European soccer, and AC Milan won’t be letting the 18-year-old go without a pretty penny in return.

[ MORE: Schedule, preview for UEFA World Cup qualifying ]

According to Sky Sport Italia, Manchester City is preparing a massive bid in the range of $130 to $160 million to acquire the AC Milan shot-stopper as the English side’s goalkeeping situation is still unsettled.

The Citizens have failed to hunker down at the goalkeeper position this season despite spending big to bring in Barcelona’s Claudio Bravo, who has underperformed. Willy Caballero has also been shaky at times for the English giants, while on-loan keeper Joe Hart will almost certainly move on from the club over the summer.

Donnarumma is currently second in Serie A in saves (110), trailing only Crotone’s Alex Cordaz, who has stopped two more shots.

Since turning professional in 2015, Donnarumma has quickly enjoyed his rise through Italian football for both AC Milan and with the national team. After previously featuring for the Under-15, U-17 and U-21 sides, Donnarumma has established himself as the surefire replacement for Gianluigi Buffon once he retires from the international game.

Honduran federation suggests U.S. Soccer gamesmanship ahead of WCQ

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Three critical points are on the line for the U.S. Men’s National Team and Honduras on Friday night when CONCACAF World Cup qualifying returns to action, but the Central American side may have some added motivation.

[ MORE: Shorthanded USMNT looks to build momentum vs. Honduras ]

In the lead up to their Hexagonal meeting in San Jose, California, Honduran federation president Jorge Salomon has suggested that his national team has had difficulty finding training facilities because of U.S. Soccer’s gamesmanship.

[ MORE: Five USMNT questions ahead of WCQs ]

Salomon told Honduran outlet Diez that Los Catrachos were forced to train in Fort Myers, Florida ahead of the match because of U.S. Soccer’s attempt to sabotage Honduras’ comfortability ahead of Friday.

“That’s why we went to (Fort Myers),” Salomon told Diez. “We found two (fields) but they weren’t up to the standard for a national team.

“They have blocked us from some fields to train, but that is part of the sporting psychological battle you face when you are the visiting team,” Salomon added. “It’s no problem, we have done a good job.”

Meanwhile, Goal USA is reporting that U.S. Soccer claims to have provided Honduras with the same resources that it does for every visiting opponent and that it was Honduras’ choice to train in Florida as “a cost-saving measure.”

Rapinoe named to USWNT roster ahead of April friendlies

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The U.S. Women’s National Team wasn’t at its best the last time they stepped out for the SheBelieves Cup, but Jill Ellis’ group will have a chance to find their feet again next month as they prepare to face Russia in a pair of friendlies.

[ MORE: Five questions for USMNT ahead of Honduras WCQ ]

Ellis announced her 24-player roster on Thursday, which was headlined by the inclusion of Seattle Reign midfielder Megan Rapinoe.

“This is our last chance to get together before the NWSL starts and we’ll take full advantage of the training time as well as the two matches against a team in preparation for the European championships,” said Ellis. “Following these matches, my staff and I will begin a heavy investment in attending and evaluating the NWSL games as well as tracking our players overseas before we get back together for our European trip in the summer. I’m very much looking forward to our domestic league starting.”

Back-to-back losses to England and France in the SheBelieves Cup gave the USWNT an unwanted start to 2017, however, the Russians will give the U.S. another strong test in April.

The USWNT will play the first of the two friendlies on April 6 in Dallas at Toyota Stadium before meeting the Russians three days later in Houston at BBVA Compass Stadium.

Here’s the entire 24-player roster for the USWNT ahead of their Russia friendlies.

Goalkeepers (3): Jane Campbell (Houston Dash), Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)

Defenders (6): Meghan Klingenberg (Portland Thorns FC), Ali Krieger (Orlando Pride), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Megan Oyster (Boston Breakers), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), Casey Short (Chicago Red Stars)

Midfielders (8): Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Rose Lavelle (Boston Breakers), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash/Manchester City), Allie Long (Portland Thorns FC), Samantha Mewis (NC Courage), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign)

Forwards (7): Crystal Dunn (Chelsea FC), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride/Olympique Lyonnais, FRA), Kealia Ohai (Houston Dash), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Mallory Pugh (UCLA), Amy Rodriguez (FC Kansas City), Lynn Williams (NC Courage)