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.

VIDEO: Pedro scores stunning goal for Chelsea

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Not a bad way to start the Premier League weekend…

12 minutes into the first game of Matchweek 9, Chelsea’s Pedro curled home a stunning effort into the far corner and off the far post after a corner was played short to him.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

A simply stunning goal from the Spaniard which you can watch in the video above.

Watch Live: Chelsea v. Watford in top five clash

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Chelsea host Watford at Stamford Bridge on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as fifth and fourth clash.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Antonio Conte‘s Chelsea are without a win in three games in all competitions and some pressure is starting to build on the Blues as they’ve fallen further behind the two Manchester clubs atop the PL table.

As for Watford, Marco Silva‘s men are in fourth place and aiming to keep up their impressive away form in the PL this season with three of their four wins coming on the road.

In team news Chelsea’s injuries are piling up with Victor Moses and N'Golo Kante missing but Alvaro Morata does start after recovering from his hamstring injury, while Watford start Troy Deeney up top after his impressive cameo against Arsenal last week.

LINEUPS

Chelsea: Courtois; Rudiger, David Luiz, Cahill; Azpilicueta, Bakayoko, Fabregas, Alonso; Pedro, Morata, Hazard. Subs: Caballero, Christensen, Ampadu, Zappacosta, Musonda, Willian, Batshuayi

Watford: Gomes; Mariappa, Kabasele, Britos; Femenia, Cleverley, Doucoure, Holebas; Pereyra, Deeney, Richarlison. Subs:

Sky Blue’s Sam Kerr named NWSL league MVP for 2017

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CHICAGO (AP) Sky Blue FC forward Sam Kerr has been named the National Women’s Soccer League’s Most Valuable Player for this season.

Kerr, a standout on the Australian national team, had a league-record 17 goals and became the league’s fifth Golden Boot winner to also be named MVP.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

She became the first NWSL player to score four goals in a game on Aug. 19 against the Seattle Reign. Kerr rallied Sky Blue from a 3-goal deficit to beat the Reign 5-4.

Kerr’s award was announced Friday. The league had earlier announced the season’s other award winners: North Carolina’s Abby Dahlkemper was named Defender of the Year, teammate Ashley Hatch was named Rookie of the Year, Portland’s Adrianna Franch was named Goalkeeper of the Year and the Thorns’ Mark Parsons was named Coach of the Year.

The Mendy Effect: Pep praises injured back

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Full back Benjamin Mendy cost Pep Guardiola and Manchester City $68 million, but perhaps he’ll be just as valuable as a very expensive sports psychologist.

The “Shark Team” member was amusing on social media even before his ACL injury sent him to the sidelines until at least April, but he’s become a must-follow Twitter fixture with his in-game messages (See some of his work below).

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

City faces Burnley at 10 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

It’s fairly clear his act has translated in private, too, as apparently Mendy is just as good in group messages (Let us in, Pep. We won’t tell anyone). From ManCity.com:

“Usually, players who are out for a long time with injury are sad. They sometimes train apart and feel isolated.

“Mendy decided to be present. He is communicating on social media, WhatsApp and he calls his teammates and messages me. He is going to be so important outside the pitch because people like him make the atmosphere much better.”

It’s not surprising for anyone who’s been following the former Le Havre, Marseille and Monaco man.

Keep in mind, these Tweets below are from the last few days alone!