MLS Preview: Colorado Rapids at Columbus Crew

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Just when you think the Columbus Crew or the Colorado Rapids have sorted themselves out and are ready to push up the standings, they falter.

Inconsistency has been the buzz word for both camps during the 2013 campaign.

The Crew’s 12-game unbeaten run at home came to an end last weekend, after New York handed them a 1-0 defeat. While the Rapids recorded their third 1-0 win of the season against Toronto thanks to a late Edson Buddle goal.

However the visiting Rapids have also lost three contests by the familiar 1-0 scoreline. Oscar Pareja’s second year as an MLS head coach is going smoothly. Though his Rapids side are certainly not as dynamic or explosive going forward as they were for vast swathes of last season.

But that is probably for the better. Rookie goalkeeper Clint Irwin has been a sensation. I have had the great pleasure of knowing Clint while he was with the Charlotte Eagles in the USL and he is a player that has truly grabbed his chance with both hands. Yet another clean sheet last week proved his great shot-stopping ability. He is sure to be there or there abouts in the Rookie of the season awards if he keeps this form up. And another promising youngster, Shane O’Niell, is quietly turning into a top notch defender. The future looks bright for the Rapids and they should see a trip to Columbus as a chance to return home with at least a draw.

As for Columbus, they have struggled to reignite the rampant offense that almost propelled them to a playoff spot during the second half of last season. Federico Higuain has been isolated in attack this season and Jairo Arrieta hasn’t got going. But if those two can get anywhere close to the form they displayed in 2012, Columbus can push themselves up the Eastern conference. One bright spot for Columbus has been Dominic Oduro. The former Chicago Fire striker has scored four times from eight shots on goal this season, a solid off-season pickup.

These two clubs are MLS originals and have been playoff foes in recent years. Colorado won on both occasions, so Columbus are out for some revenge against the Rocky Mountain outfit. All-time there have been 36 meetings between the two sides, with the Crew winning 11, Colorado taking 17 and eight draws. Columbus have won eight of the 18 matches at Crew Stadium, with Colorado taking six.

All that points to a lively encounter between two old adversaries. The Crew are desperate to get back to winning ways after last weeks defeat, as Higuain’s PK miss left a bad taste in the mouth. While Colorado’s solid back line is littered with youngsters and experienced heads and will be buoyed after another shutout. The combination has worked nicely so far but something tells me the Rapids will come unstuck in Ohio on Saturday, a blowout win for Columbus is on the cards.

FOLLOW LIVE: Chelsea kicks off Champions League day

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There’s a Premier League side in action to kick off another day of UEFA Champions League action.

Chelsea is in Baku for a Noon ET match-up with Azerbaijan side Qarabag. A win boosts the Blues into the knockout rounds. CSKA Moscow and Benfica kickoff in Russia at the same time.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Champions League scores ]

Here’s Antonio Conte‘s Starting XI: Courtois; Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Rudiger; Zappacosta, Kante, Fabregas, Alonso; Willian, Hazard, Pedro.

Manchester United is in Basel as one of six 2:45 p.m. ET kickoffs

Full schedule
Qarabag vs. Chelsea — Noon ET
CSKA Moscow vs. Benfica — Noon ET
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Celtic — 2:45 p.m. ET
Juventus vs. Barcelona — 2:45 p.m. ET
Atletico Madrid vs. Roma — 2:45 p.m. ET
Sporting Lisbon vs. Olympiacos — 2:45 p.m. ET
Anderlecht vs. Bayern Munich — 2:45 p.m. ET
Basel vs. Manchester United — 2:45 p.m. ET

PST Survey results: Most exciting USMNT prospect

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The results of PST’s Big American Soccer Survey are in, and our staff will be walking through the results of thousands of votes in a series of posts this week.

We didn’t realize you could acronymize it to BASS, or else we would’ve done it sooner. Today’s question: Excluding Christian Pulisic, who’s no longer a prospect despite being just 19, who is the most exciting USMNT prospect.

[ MORE: All Big American Soccer Survey posts ]

Exciting performances in the U-20 and U-17 World Cups have given United States men’s national team fans plenty of hope for the future.

The most-mentioned write-in, collecting across all attempting spellings, was injured Arsenal playmaker Gedion Zelalem.

As for the serious contenders, Jonathan Gonzalez, Andrew Carleton Tyler Adams, and Lynden Gooch lagged behind this pack of four:

Cameron Carter-Vickers — 14 percent — He had a howling back pass in Sheffield United’s 5-4 loss to Fulham on Wednesday, but the on-loan Spurs 19-year-old center back is playing every minute for a club very much in the mix for Premier League promotion.

Weston McKennie — 18 percent — Another 19-year-old, McKennie was one of the Men of the Match as Schalke went second in the Bundesliga this weekend. He’s been a regular starter when healthy, and played advanced, central, and set back in Schalke’s midfield. Next up: a Revierderby meeting with Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund.

Josh Sargent — 21 percent — Off to Werder Bremen when he turns 18 in late February, Sargent has four goals in five matches for the U.S. U-20s, and 14 in 29 for the U-17s. That includes four goals and two assists in his last three outings, against Paraguay, England, and Hungary.

Tim Weah — 24 percent — The son of African legend George Weah, Tim turns 18 two days after Sargent. Unlike his countryman, Weah has been in Europe for some time. The Paris Saint-Germain prospect is slated to get his First Team bow some time soon, having scored four goals and added an assist for PSG in the UEFA Youth League.

Yannick Bolasie finally returns to Everton training (video)

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Among my most quoted coaching lines comes from former University at Buffalo and current Canisius College men’s basketball coach Reggie Witherspoon (and pretty sure it didn’t originate with him).

“It’s more about Jims and Joes than x’s and o’s.”

[ MLS: Seattle wins | Stalemate in Ohio ]

So if Everton rebounds from its rough start to the season to reach its preseason potential, there’s a good chance we’ll credit the return of one of the most electric attackers in the game and not necessarily their new boss.

Yannick Bolasie returned to training on Wednesday, and not a moment too soon following a near one-year layoff due to an ACL tear.

There’s no guarantee the 28-year-old Bolasie will have the same burst, of course, but he has the potential to be a season-changer.

Everton was 5-4-4 when Bolasie went down with his injury last season, and improved on the mark the rest of the way, but are a moribund 3-3-6 this season.

Player faces unsporting conduct charges for shoving ball boy

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ADELAIDE, Australia (AP) Adelaide United defender Michael Marrone has been cited for unsporting conduct for shoving a ball boy during the late stages of his team’s 2-1 loss to Sydney FC in the FFA Cup final.

Football Federation Australia on Wednesday issued a disciplinary notice to Marrone for “engaging in serious unsporting conduct,” with a hearing date to be set.

[ MORE: Liverpool fan trouble in Sevilla ]

Marrone knocked over the ball boy, reported by local media to be aged 10, while trying to get the ball to take a throw-in during extra time in the Tuesday night match.

The ball boy and his father were later allowed to take part in the trophy presentation ceremony.

“Just thankful that nobody was hurt,” FFA chief executive David Gallop said at a news conference Wednesday. “Perhaps some lessons for a few people in that one. Glad that it didn’t detract too much from what was a really exciting finish to the game and glad that the boy and his father got to share in the celebration at the end.”

While there are no precedents in Australia for such charges, Chelsea midfielder Eden Hazard was banned for three games for violent conduct after kicking out at a ball boy in 2013.

In other countries, clubs have been fined if their ball boys have been found to be deliberately slowing play.