MLS Preview: Philadelphia Union at Montreal Impact

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No question that two of the league’s most interesting teams will be at Stade Saputo on Saturday, when the surprising Montreal Impact meets the young and surprising Philadelphia Union.

Montreal has been highly organized and far more adept at collecting points than anyone might have expected under Marco Schallibaum, an MLS newbie who is proving that foreign managers with no experience in the league can sometimes quickly find their feet. (He’s bucking a general trend that says otherwise, one now playing out more typically at Chivas USA.)

Don’t let Montreal’s fourth-place standing in the Eastern Conference fool you; in terms of points per game (2.0), only one other club has done so well. The fact that Montreal is fourth is reflective of Major League Soccer’s unstable scheduling practices; while the Impact has played just 10 matches, some clubs have played as many as 14.

And consider that Montreal keeps getting healthier. Captain Davy Arnaud (pictured, on the right) should return from the concussion issues that has kept him out recently. Midfield teammate Felipe and underrated outside back Jeb Brovsky (who will be wearing a mask) could be in for a return to the lineup.

And now it looks like veteran Italian center back Alessandro Nesta is healthy enough to get back on the field.

A busy May around Stade Saputo means that some Impact regulars can surely use a break. Then again, Justin Mapp is having the kind of season that has eluded the once-promising midfielder in recent years, so you hate to see any mounting momentum slip away. And second-year man Andrew Wenger is benefitting from regular playing time.

Philadelphia never earns many style points, but Hackworth’s young team is grinding out points at a surprising rate, currently fifth in the East. So many of the close wins are about MLS scoring leader Jack McInerney and those great instincts near goal, used to wonderful effect in accumulating a league-leading five game-winners.

But grinders or no, Hackworth’s team is chalk full of interesting parts.

Brazilian playmaker Kleberson needed time to get fit, but he has helped stabilize the Union’s midfield possession.

Conor Casey, now healthy again, has linked with McInerney to form a solid forward pairing.

McInerney played a more withdrawn role last week, proving that he can be more than a pure goal scorer.

In the back, young goalkeeper Zac MacMath hasn’t always been perfect, but the mistakes are coming at a slower rate than years past.

In center backs Amobi Okugo and Jeff Parke and in outside backs Sheanon Williams and Ray Gaddis, the defense has solid parts to build around, even if the cohesion has not always been there.

Few would have picked these teams as playoff favorites as the season begin in March, but they both have the look of one now, especially in Montreal’s case.

Kickoff is 7 p.m.; the official match preview from MLSSoccer.com is here.

Andorra’s 11-year, 58-game losing streak is over

Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Rarely has a scoreless stalemate in front of the home fans tasted so sweet.

But 11 years of nothing but losing will do that to a team.

Andorra’s 0-0 draw with fellow minnow Faroe Islands in World Cup qualifying on Saturday ended its run of 58 competitive defeats.

It was the first point in qualifying for the Pyrenees mountain principality, population 80,000, since a scoreless draw with Finland in 2005.

Faroe Islands finished with 10 men after Joan Edmundsson was booked a second time with 15 minutes to play.

World Cup qualifiers: Dutch disaster persists; Greece hold Belgium

AP Photo/Armando Franca
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A roundup of all of Saturday’s World Cup qualifying fixtures, as Groups A, B and H hit the halfway point in Europe…

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Bulgaria 2-0 Netherlands

Spas Delev scored both Bulgarian goals (5th and 20th minutes) to secure all three points and send Danny Blind’s Netherlands side (7 points) into fourth place in Group A, six points back of leaders France and three back of second-place (qualifying playoffs) Sweden.

17-year-old Matthijs de Ligt was handed his international debut for the Dutch; he was ultimately at fault for both of Delev’s goals; he was subbed off at halftime (as was Georginio Wijnaldum).

Luxembourg 1-3 France

Olivier Giroud scored twice (28th and 77th minutes) for France, and Antoine Griezmann added the other (37th minute – penalty kick), as Les Bleus maintained their three-point lead in Group A. Kylian Mbappe, Monaco’s 18-year-old rising star, made his international debut in the 78th minute, when he replaced Dimitri Payet.

Portugal 3-0 Hungary

Cristiano Ronaldo bagged the 69th and 70th goals of his international career (36th and 65th minutes), as Portugal (12 points) kept pace with an unbeaten Switzerland side (15 points) which managed a 1-0 victory over Latvia to keep their 100-percent record intact. Andre Silva scored the opener (32nd minute) for Portugal, the 21-year-old Porto striker’s fifth goal in six international appearances.

Belgium 1-1 Greece

Romelu Lukaku‘s 89th-minute rescued a point for Group H leaders Belgium (13 points), but it did little to mask an otherwise uninspiring performance from Roberto Martinez’s side. Kostas Mitroglu put Greece ahead in the first minute of the second half, but Panagiotis Tachtsidis saw his second yellow of the game in the 65th minute, and that was the start of Greece’s unraveling. The draw was just enough to keep Greece (11 points) in second, ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose 5-0 thrashing of Gibraltar moved them to 10 points with a superior goal differential.

Elsewhere in UEFA’s World Cup qualifying

Group A

Sweden 4-0 Belarus

Group B

Switzerland 1-0 Latvia
Andorra 0-0 Faroe Islands

Group H

Bosnia-Herzegovina 5-0 Gibraltar
Cyprus 0-0 Estonia

MLS (afternoon) roundup: Historically awful MNUFC spanked again

Photo credit: New England Revolution / Twitter: @NERevolution
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The fourth (partial — playing during international breaks should be banned) MLS Saturday of 2017 is two-thirds of the way complete. A quick roundup of the day’s early games…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

New England Revolution 5-2 Minnesota United

What else needs to be said about Minnesota at this point? What else can be said? The number of goals they’ve conceded in their first four MLS games: 5, 6, 2, and 5. While (we think) a bit of luck will eventually go their way, and they’ll curtail the goals they’re conceding (we can’t be sure anymore), Adrian Heath’s side is on pace to conceded 153 goals this season.

Anyway, New England picked up their first win of the season. The quality (and ease) of goals scored will tell you everything you need to know about Minnesota’s defending.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

New York Red Bulls 0-0 Real Salt Lake

Five days after firing head coach Jeff Cassar, RSL returned to their inept, toothless ways in a scoreless draw away to New York. Through four games, the Claret and Cobalt have scored all of one goal, and genuinely look the league’s most lifeless side; Minnesota have at least shown signs of quality in the attacking half.

On Saturday, New York created the majority of the game’s best chances — a pair of shots from distance, masterfully saved by deputy goalkeeper Matt VanOekel — but the chance that will live in the memories of RSL fans for a lifetime came and went in agonizing fashion.

Albanian federation denounces “extremist acts” of their fans in Italy

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s soccer federation has strongly denounced the incident that halted the World Cup Group G qualifier with Italy for nearly nine minutes on Friday.

During the match, which was won by Italy, 2-0, a group calling itself Illyrian Elite threw flares onto the pitch.

“Such totally extremist actions from the grouping Illyrian Elite have nothing to do with the excellent Albanian fans” who were distinguished in the EURO 2016 finals in France for their friendship and camaraderie in their festivities, the statement added.

The federation said an coach Gianni De Biasi also was “upset by the flares,” adding that during five years he has been in charge “I’ve seen something that’s never happened before.”