MLS Preview: Portland Timbers at D.C. United

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Both teams set to perform Saturday at RFK Stadium are on upswings of success – even if success here is defined in such radically different ways.

Success for the home club, Ben Olsen’s heavily wilted D.C. United, looks like this: “One in a row!”

Olsen’s team snapped its club record seven game losing streak with a 1-1 draw last week – a controversial result, at that, as Sporting Kansas City’s potentially game-winning goal was incorrectly ruled offside. Either way, Olsen and Co. chalked up the afternoon at RFK as progress.

What other way to see it for a club that sits 10th in the 10-team Eastern Conference, with just 5 of a possible 33 points. United’s nine-game winless streak remains intact, however, one game short of an 11-year old club record. United players and coaches seemed a little too content with a draw at home, but Olsen tried to explain:

“There’s a lot to work on,” he said. “I’m not sugar-coating this tie, but it beats losing.

“I think there’s a little bit of an exhale [in the locker room], if I’m completely honest with you. It’s not easy to lose this many games and not have doubt. I think this gives them a chance to exhale and maybe smile for a day or two and understand that here’s an opportunity to really change things next weekend against Portland.”

Portland, meanwhile, is rising in ways not even thought about over its previous two seasons in Major League Soccer. Caleb Porter’s team is unbeaten in 10 consecutive matches, having extended their club record undefeated streak dramatically last week in Vancouver. Down to 10 men on the road, the Timbers still managed to dig up the late equalizer.

Other than what it means for the collective confidence, the Timbers ability to gather up points on the road has been a big part of 2013 success. A club that was a dismal 3-21-10 on the road over its first two seasons is unbeaten away from Jeld-Wen Field this year (1-0-5).

Mikael Silvestre’s season-ending injury continues to cause problems, as Saturday’s contest will see yet another change along the Timbers’ back line. Center back Futty Danso will sit out following last week’s ejection. He had partnered successfully with Andrew Jean-Baptiste over the last three Portland matches.

Then again, Portland may only need to hold serve on defense against a team with just six goals in 11 matches, last in the league.

Kickoff is 7 p.m. ET; the official league preview is here:

Other quick talking points for this one:

  • D.C. United’s Nick DeLeon played centrally last week, and Olsen indicated he’s not averse to playing the exciting your attacker, normally a flank midfielder, on the interior again.
  • This will be the teams’ only meeting of 2013 (unless they meet in MLS Cup)
  • Chris Pontius (pictured), whose 2013 struggles are certainly among the problems around RFK this year, made his first appearance since late April in the draw with Kansas City. Admittedly nowhere near match-fit, Pontius did help set up United’s goal during his 45 minutes.
  • Former United man Rodney Wallace has moved up the field, from defender to left winger, and is having a fantastic season there.
  • Dwayne De Rosario, a former MLS MVP, has just one goal and one assist in eight matches this year.

New York Red Bulls ink goalkeeper Luis Robles to new deal

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The “Iron Man” will keep up his amazing journey with the New York Red Bulls, after signing a new deal with the club on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Wesley Sneijder on verge of joining Los Angeles FC ]

Goalkeeper Luis Robles has extended his contract with the reigning Eastern Conference champions, as the American continues to raise his consecutive starts streak, which stands at 157.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed in the club’s release.

Robles joined the Red Bulls back in 2012 after playing in Germany, and the shot-stopper hasn’t missed a start ever since.

Report: Minnesota United adds Hearts midfielder Sam Nicholson

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Minnesota United has had its shares of ups and down in its debut MLS season, but the Loons are on the verge making an exciting young signing.

[ MORE: Wesley Sneijder closing in on Los Angeles FC move ]

ESPN FC is reporting that Minnesota will sign Hearts winger Sam Nicholson from the Scottish Premier League on a deal that makes him a Loon until 2019.

The young attacker is expected to join the MLS side when the summer transfer window opens on July 10.

Nicholson, 22, has played with the Edinburgh side since his youth days, and made his senior debut with the club in 2013. During his time at Hearts, Nicholson scored 16 goals in all competitions for the team.

Last season, Nicholson missed 16 matches due to a significant knee injury.

According to the report, Scottish sides Rangers and Aberdeen were also among those interested in acquiring Nicholson, while English Championship clubs Bristol City and Barnsley also reached out about the attacker.

Premier League vet Scott Parker calls quits on playing career

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Scott Parker has announced his retirement from soccer after a stellar 20-plus year career in England.

[ MORE: Chile bests Portugal on PKs to reach Confed Cup final ]

The 36-year-old spent almost the entirety of his career in the Premier League, and played with seven teams during his time on the pitch.

“I believe now is the right time to move on to the next chapter in my life and career,” Parker said in a statement.

“I feel incredibly honoured and proud to have enjoyed the career that I have and I’ve loved every moment of it.”

Parker began playing with Charlton after coming up through the team’s youth academy, before completing a move to Chelsea in 2004.

Throughout his career, Parker also spent time at Newcastle, West Ham and Tottenham, before finishing up at Fulham this past season.

Three storylines when Mexico meets Germany in Confed Cup semis

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With a place in the final on the line tomorrow afternoon, it’s all or nothing for Mexico and Germany as they meet in the second semifinal at this summer’s FIFA Confederations Cup.

The two nations have had very similar paths in reaching the final four, after both accumulated seven points during the group stage and showed signs of improvement with every match.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s FIFA Confederations Cup action ]

Here are some of the key battles to watch on Thursday when Mexico and Germany square off for a place in the final.

How does Germany’s youth hold up vs. Mexico’s experience?

Even when Jurgen Low released his roster heading into the Confederations Cup, much was expected of the Germans. After a strong run of play during the group stage, Low’s men have lived up to the billing with an exciting young attack and an improving backline to match.

When Germany meets Mexico though, the defending World Cup champions will be taking on an El Tri side that has loads of international experience, and similar to that of Chile, the Europeans will surely receive all that they can handle.

At the tender age of 23, Julian Draxler captains the Germans and has been challenged with leading his nation throughout the tournament. The PSG attacker has been quality thus far, but he and his side will take on a whole different task on Thursday against a quick, feisty Mexican group.

Will Hirving Lozano be the difference in the attack?

Injuries and a key suspension will certain hinder Mexico in the semifinal round, but the bigger question is: how will Juan Carlos Osorio’s side cope with the losses?

El Tri know it will be without winger Andres Guardado due to yellow card accumulation, while striker Javier Hernandez is in question ahead of the Germany clash after reportedly training by himself on Monday.

Although Hernandez likely just needed rest after a busy season of matches in the Bundesliga, Mexico is still seeking a quality playmaker to replace Guardado on Thursday, one that they’re hoping with be Hirving Lozano.

The newly-signed PSV man has quickly become one of the top young faces in global soccer, and with three international goals for El Tri dating back to 2016, Lozano is the spark that Mexico needs.

El Tri must start fast

In all three of Mexico’s group stage matches Osorio’s side fell behind during the first half. While El Tri managed to come away unscathed to remain perfect in group play, it’s difficult to imagine that they will be able to pull off the same feat against a quality German side.

On the other hand, Mexico’s resilience has been impressive. In their opener against Portugal, El Tri pulled off a late winner against the reigning European champions, a result that likely set the tone for the team’s ensuing comebacks versus New Zealand and Russia, respectively.