MLS Preview: San Jose Earthquakes at Real Salt Lake

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It’s so difficult to define “too late” in the Major League Soccer season. The post-season structure remains so ridiculously forgiving that clubs out of playoff positioning can wander into July or even August and still have plenty of time to finish Top Five in conference.

So we look quickly at the San Jose Earthquakes, the Supporters Shield holders, a bunch that looks intriguing in 2013 for very different reasons than it was intriguing in 2012.

Some early injuries notwithstanding, this is primarily the same team that did claim the Supporters Shield a year ago. But as the halfway mark begins creeping closer for the current campaign – this weekend is Round 14 of 34 – it seems safe to go with this: If the Earthquakes of 2013 desire any chance to retain that trophy for the league’s best regular season record, they had better start winning soon.

That winning won’t come easy this weekend as Frank Yallop’s team travels into Utah to face Real Salt Lake. Oh, and they won’t even have their best defender, one of the tops in MLS, in fact; Victor Bernardez has been suspended two matches for a dangerous challenge last weekend in Dallas.

But that’s where things are for the ‘Quakes, who are in this position because they are winless on the road (0-4-2) so far, and because they aren’t making up the points at home. Matches that San Jose won dramatically at the end in 2012, they are drawing dramatically in the closing minute this year.

Consider that Yallop’s men needed to work hard to collect seven of a possible 15 points in matches at Buck Shaw Stadium through April and May. While it remains way too early to discuss playoff positioning, it cannot sit well for ‘Quakes fans to see the team four points out of playoff position, especially having played a more games than most of the teams ahead in the standings.

Adding another dent in this season of surprising mediocrity, the Earthquakes went out Wednesday in their initial go at U.S. Open Cup action, falling to lower-tier Charleston.

Real Salt Lake, meanwhile, advanced in the Open Cup to retain a little May momentum; Jason Kreis’ team went 4-1-1 in all competitions during the month. Old hands like Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando and a revitalized Ned Grabavoy are shepherding all the promising youngsters, and have RSL reasonably well positioned heading closer to the season’s mid-pole.

San Jose was the victim as Real Salt Lake began its semi-rebuild this year with a 2-0 win at Buck Shaw on two goals from Alvaro Saborio in both teams’ season opener back in early March. Saborio is out for this one with a groin strain.

But those young reserves (Devon Sandoval, Luis Gil, Sebastian Velazquez, Olmes Garcia and Carlos Salcedo, primarily) have mostly come through this year, understandably inconsistent but delivering regularly enough to have everyone around Rio Tinto encouraged.

All things considered, Kreis’ team can like its chances in this one.

Then again, the team is young … so you never know. Kickoff at Rio Tinto in suburban Sandy, Utah, is 9:30 ET.

MLS Snapshot: Houston Dynamo 1-1 FC Dallas (video)

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The game in 100 words (or less): It ended scoreless when the two sides met for the first time this season, and although there were goals in this one, it finished with the same outcome. The Dynamo and Dallas remain equal on points following the draw, with each team boasting 25 at the midway point through the MLS campaign. Goals from Erick “Cubo’ Torres and Maxi Urruti cancelled one another out at BBVA Compass Stadium, but it was the Dallas that had more of the chances in the match. The Dynamo remain one of the top sides in MLS at home, boasting a record of 7-0-2 in their opening nine matches in Houston.

Three two moments that mattered

19′ — Torres makes it 11 on the year! — Give Erick Torres an inch this season… Well, you know the rest of the saying…

59′ — Urruti makes Dynamo pay for missed chance on other end — The Dynamo were so close to making it 2-0 just a minute sooner, but Maxi Urruti had other plans for the visitors.

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Man of the match: Maxi Urruti

Goalscorers: Erick Torres (19′), Maxi Urruti (59′)

MLS Snapshot: Toronto FC 2-0 New England Revolution (video)

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The game in 100 words (or less): Toronto FC was without some of its regulars on Friday night, but that didn’t matter much as Greg Vanney’s side avenged their loss to the Revolution from two weeks ago. Coming off of just two days’ rest, TFC continued its push towards an Eastern Conference title at BMO Field behind Drew Moor’s first goal of the season. Sebastian Giovinco was held in check most of the evening, but the Italian scorer did what he does best in the final minute of stoppage time to seal it for the home side with his seventh goal of the year. The Revs pushed and pushed during the second half for an equalizer but TFC’s resilience defensively proved superior as they kept the visitors off the scoreboard for their eighth shutout of 2017.

Three moments that mattered

11′ — Moor taps in for early Toronto advantage — Even on two days’ rest Toronto looks like this…

57′ — Cheeky Nguyen keeps Revs in match — Lee Nguyen is typically known for his creativity in the offensive half but it was this clever play defensively that kept the Revolution down just one goal.

83′ — Kamara comes so close! — It’s just not meant to be on the night for the Revs.

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Man of the match: Alex Bono

Goalscorers: Drew Moor (11′), Sebastian Giovinco (90+6′)

Video: Orlando City product scores crazy bicycle kick

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Goals like this one below never grow old.

Orlando City academy product Alejandro Pereira scored a brilliant bicycle kick for his Under-17/18 side in their 2-0 win on Thursday night during the U.S. Soccer Development Academy playoffs.

Orlando will continue its path in the Academy Playoffs on Saturday when they face off against Players Development Academy (PDA) U-17/18, before meeting Indiana Fire U-17/18 on Monday.

Brazilian league filled with possible transfer targets

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SAO PAULO (AP) While soccer takes a rest in Europe and the Brazilian league gets going again, many local players have already caught the eyes of foreign clubs.

[ MORE: Confed Cup scenarios before final group stage matches ]

A few of them are already in Brazil coach Tite’s plans for next year’s World Cup in Russia, and signing them now instead of next season could be a real bargain.

Here are some names to know:

LUAN

A 24-year-old striker at title-favorite Gremio, Luan has yet to play abroad and his coach has already said it will be hard to keep him in Brazil until the end of the season. After eight matches, Luan has scored four goals. Gremio executives have said they won’t take less than 24 million euros ($27 million) for him. Luan was part of Brazil’s gold-medal winning team at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. He began the tournament on the bench, but eventually took a place in the starting lineup alongside Neymar and Gabriel Jesus. Ronaldinho said Luan deserves to be at Barcelona. “Luan would fit in perfectly there, he is very creative,” Ronaldinho said.

GUILHERME ARANA

More than 20 percent of the goals scored by Corinthians this year have come from the left foot of 20-year-old defender Guilherme Arana. An excellent Brazilian-style dribbler, Arana had several assists in the derbies against the team’s three Sao Paulo city rivals. Arana has yet to make his international debut, but he believes his short time with Tite at the club could help him get to Russia next year. Many in Brazilian media have dubbed him “the new Marcelo.”

LUCAS LIMA

A close friend of Neymar, 26-year-old midfielder Lucas Lima has been frequently linked with a transfer to Barcelona. In the first 100 days of 2017 he had 10 assists – the same number he produced all of last season. He is in top physical shape, something that has earned him praise from coaches and a series of callups from Tite to play with Brazil. Lima has rejected a series of offers from Chinese clubs because he wants to play in Europe.

GUSTAVO SCARPA

Fluminense midfielder Gustavo Scarpa is classy and cerebral, traits he tries to mirror from his hero Andres Iniesta. But the 23-year-old Brazilian can also provide some stunning shots from long distance, like the goal he scored from his own half in February in a Brazilian Cup match against Globo. Scarpa likes to play as a left winger, but he can also be used in a central midfield position and as a left back. Tite called on him for a friendly against Colombia in February. In the 2016 Brazilian league, he scored eight goals and had 10 assists. He has just finished recovering from a right foot injury.

DUDU

A fan-favorite at defending champion Palmeiras last season, 25-year-old striker Dudu has yet to score in this year’s competition. Still recovering from injury, Dudu is fast and often runs right at goal. He played at Dynamo Kyiv without much success from 2011-14, and he admits he was not very mature when that transfer happened. In March, he was part of the Brazil team for World Cup qualifying matches against Uruguay and Paraguay, as a replacement of injured Douglas Costa.

RODRIGO CAIO

A 23-year-old Sao Paulo defender who has frequently been called up by Tite, Rodrigo Caio has played more than 200 matches for his club. Caio wants to go to Europe after a first attempt at Valencia fell through — he failed a medical check because of a now-healed knee injury. Also a gold medalist at the 2016 Olympics, the defender can play as a defensive midfielder. Although he looks a lot like Kaka, his style is more like Dunga’s: great tackles, accurate passing and leadership.