San Jose Earthquakes v Portland Timbers

MLS Preview: San Jose Earthquakes at D.C. United

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  • D.C. United is winless in 13 consecutive matches, an all-time club low
  • San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski has five goals halfway through the season after hitting 27 last year
  • The Earthquakes are being directed by interim manager Mark Watson

These teams are connected in a strange and fairly unfortunate way.

They are mirror imaged as underachievers of their respective conferences, much closer to the bottom of their groups than almost anyone imagined.  And the coaching situations at both addresses are marked by high instability, one having already claimed a prominent victim and another sure to happen unless things improve.

When San Jose kicks off at RFK Stadium (7 p.m. ET Saturday; official league preview is here), Earthquakes interim manager Mark Watson will oversee his second match since taking over for the suddenly deposed Frank Yallop. Presumably, things won’t be quite as eventful along the touchlines as they were in Watson’s interim debut, a surprisingly combustible meeting with Colorado.

Two members of the Rapids organization were dinged with one-game suspensions while San Jose escaped unhurt from league sanction. The Earthquakes will, however, miss 2012 league MVP and leading scorer Chris Wondolowski due to a right foot contusion, according to the club.

Not that his loss  is a crusher this year, as “Wondo” and his relative struggles are among the reasons San Jose is ahead of only lowly Chivas USA in the West. Five goals in 16 matches isn’t exactly awful, but considering Wondolowski (pictured above) had 27 last year in twice the number of matches … well, yeah.

Speaking of struggling:

D.C. United is awful. Shockingly awful, dead last in the East and, with just seven goals in 15 matches, on pace to be the worst offense in 19 MLS seasons. The 13-game winless streak is a club record and No. 13 in the spiral of woe was particularly galling to fans of the Black and Red.

(Again, no offense to you fans of the Reds … ) Last week’s 2-1 loss to similarly bedraggled Toronto came with this extra kick in the teeth: United actually had a lead. At home! And yet … 2-1 happened, a story told well in this humorous Washington Post bit. Truly, the season has gone so far sideways around D.C. United – we should all have our paychecks docked for picking this group to be a Western conference favorite – that humor is all that’s left.

So if both teams are awful, why is this match even worthy of “Preview” status? United’s only chance of salvaging the season was a stretch of three straight home matches in June. Ben Olen’s team has already blown one, now a ridiculous 1-6-1 at home.

Dwayne De Rosario and Nick DeLeon (bookends on the age scale) were OK in last week’s loss. Otherwise, pretty much everyone stunk.

San Jose has a little momentum going after last week’s win in Colorado.

ADDITIONAL NOTES – Earthquakes notorious rabble-rouser Steven Lenhart will be suspended for a match if he picks up a yellow card Saturday. Anyone want some of that action? … Same for San Jose tough guy defender Victor Bernardez, who is making a habit of suspensions lately, in league play and internationally. …Center back Brandon McDonald was back in United’s starting lineup, although the results were hardly encouraging. Hard to say who’s up next in there. … This will be the second match of San Jose 2.0 without Frank Yallop in charge; before last week, he had been the team’s only head coach since the club was re-born in 2008.

Europa League qualifying roundup: West Ham falls in Slovenia

NYON, SWITZERLAND - AUGUST 08:  The UEFA Europa League trophy is displayed during the 2014/15 UEFA Europa League Play-off round draw at the UEFA headquarters, The House of European Football on August 8, 2014 in Nyon, Switzerland.  (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)
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In what is often described as more of a distraction than anything for English teams, the Europa League third qualification round is under way, and a Premier League club is in danger of crashing out of the competition prior to the group stage for the third straight season.

West Ham fell 2-1 at NK Domzale, the third-placed finishers in the Slovenian league last season. Mark Noble grabbed an 18th-minute penalty, the only takeaway from an otherwise depressing road result. On the other side, 24-year-old Matic Crnic scored twice to put Domzale through.

Last season, the Hammers also dropped out of the competition in the third qualification round, to Romanian club Astra Giurgiu, although they had wins in the first and second rounds after entering the competition via fair play. In addition, Southampton also crashed out of last year’s Europa League in the playoff round to Danish side FC Mitdjylland. Hull City dropped out of the tournament two seasons ago in the playoff round.

West Ham has the opportunity to turn things around at home in a week as they host Domzale at the Olympic Stadium on Thursday, August 4 in what will be West Ham’s first competitive in their new home.

Other notable scores from Europa League qualification include:

  • Lille 1-1 Gabala FC
  • Panathinaikos 1-0 AIK
  • Genk 1-0 Cork
  • Pandurii Targu Jiu 0-3 Maccabi Tel Aviv
  • Videoton 0-1 Midtjylland
  • Hertha BSC 1-0 Bronby
  • AZ Alkmaar 1-0 Giannina

Napoli chief calls Gonzalo Higuain a “traitor,” striker hits back

Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain shows the Juventus' jersey as he arrives in the team headquarters in Turin, Italy, Wednesday July 27, 2016. Italian champion Juventus said Tuesday it has signed  Higuain from Serie A rival Napoli for 90 million euros ($99 million). (Alessandro Di Marco/Ansa via Ap)
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Gonzalo Higuain’s summer move to Juventus has not come without bad blood.

When the 28-year-old striker moved from Naples to Turin thanks to Juventus activating his release clause, it left Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis with a sour taste in his mouth. “There are those who say that talk of betrayal is an exaggeration, but I think the opposite,” De Laurentiis told Corierre dello Sport. “Because, in this decision, there is the full sense of betrayal, which also includes ingratitude.”

“We never seriously thought he would leave. Nor that he would have erased in a flash the memories of his three years in Naples.”

That didn’t sit well with Higuain, who fired back that it was de Laurentiis who drove him out of his former club.

“It was my decision to leave, but it was [De Laurentiis] who pushed me into making it,” Higuain told the media at his Juventus unveiling. “I’d like to thank the fans and my teammates, but not De Laurentiis. I no longer had a relationship with him; I couldn’t stand another minute with him.”

Higuain was more celebratory about his time at Stadio San Paulo. “These have been three amazing years,” Higuain said, “and I can only say thanks for all the love I was given, but this was a decision I took for my own reasons. I can understand that they are angry with me and I’ve seen the insults, but it is something I had to do and I’m happy about it.”

Napoli visits Turin in Serie A play on October 30, while Juventus will not travel to Naples for the return fixture until early April of 2017.

Pep Guardiola says he benched Samir Nasri because he’s “a little bit overweight”

BEIJING, CHINA - JULY 24:  Samir Nasri of Manchester City attends the pre-game training ahead of the 2016 International Champions Cup match between Manchester City and Manchester United at Olympic Sports Center Stadium on July 24, 2016 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
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Samir Nasri‘s soccer career has taken a nosedive since his seven-goal, nine-assist season in 2012/13, both internationally and domestically.

The 29-year-old winger has retired from the French national team after to being frozen out by Didier Deschamps, and has seen a decline in playing time for Manchester City two seasons in a row. Now with a new manager and a fresh start at the Etihad, things aren’t exactly off with flying colors out of the gates.

Nasri hasn’t featured thus far in Manchester City’s preseason, and manager Pep Guardiola said it’s because of his fitness. “Samir arrived a little bit overweight,” Guardiola said following the team’s win over Borrusia Dortmund in International Champions Cup play from China. “He’s much better now, but still there is a little bit of weight. Last season he was injured and we want to avoid that.”

City took down Dortmund on penalties following a 1-1 draw. The squad fell 1-0 to Bayern Munich last week in the team’s first pre-season match. Nasri did not appear in either, and defender Gael Clichy – without naming names – said that Guardiola has forced those with fitness issues to train on their own.

“We have a few players who are not training with the team yet,” Clichy, a former teammate of Nasri’s at Arsenal, said on Wednesday. “If your weight is too high, you’re not training with the team. You have to know that if your weight is 60 kilos and you are on 70 kilos, then you cannot play football.”

Guardiola backed up his policy on Wednesday following Clichy’s comments. “The weight is so important. When you are not fit, danger is coming. You’re not fast enough or quick enough in the head. That’s why you need to be fit.”

Leicester City inks Ben Chilwell to new contract, warding off Liverpool interest

Chilwell
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Liverpool wanted to get younger at the back, but they’ll have to look elsewhere.

Despite reportedly heavy interest from Anfield, 19-year-old defender Ben Chilwell has signed a new five-year deal with Leicester City, tying him down through the summer of 2021.

The Leicester City defense desperately needs Chilwell’s youth as it ages yet another year following their run to the Premier League title. Robert Huth is 31 years old, Wes Morgan – also on a new deal this summer – is 32, and backup Marcin Wasilewski is 36. On the left edge, where Chilwell is most proficient, first-choice left-back Christian Fuchs is 30, while Jeffrey Schlupp provides the only other true bit of youth at 23. On the right, Danny Simpson is 29 and Richie De Laet is 27.

The youngster was reportedly a high-priority target for Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, lodging a number of bids with the news that Brad Smith would move to Bournemouth. According to reports in England, the Reds made one last effort to bid for Chilwell prior to his extension, but it did not bear fruit.

“Ever since I arrived in Leicester, Ben has been a young player that has shown a lot of promise,” Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri told the club’s official website. “He has all the attributes you would want in a defender and shows a lot of maturity for a player of just 19. He has come back for pre-season in very good condition and is already showing that he is ready to push for a place in the team.”

Chilwell, a Leicester City academy product, has yet to make a Premier League appearance, but has featured for the England youth teams at multiple levels.