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.

Griezmann sets pre-World Cup deadline for transfer future

Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images
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French striker Antoine Griezmann is no stranger to seeing his name in the transfer rumor mill, but that familiarity doesn’t make it any more enjoyable for the Atletico Madrid attacker (who celebrates his 27th birthday on Wednesday).

Long-tipped for a move to either Barcelona or Manchester United, Griezmann knows one thing: He wants his future sorted before the World Cup.

[ MORE: Key newcomers for USMNT friendly ]

“I want to travel to Russia without this concern,” he told L’Equipe. “It’s not about knowing where I’ll play, but about having the peace of mind if I’m still in one place or another.

“It may be boring, but I have told my sister that, whether I stay or not, this will have to be resolved beforehand. What bothers me the most is that everyone asks me about this issue.”

That’s both honest and reasonable, and we can imagine it’s not a blast to answer questions on your future every day. He also has a contract through 2021-22, which won’t make any transfer a simple one.

Griezmann has 23 goals and 13 assists in all competitions for Atleti this season, as La Liga’s second place side remains alive in the UEFA Europa League. He’s scored 106 goals for Atleti since arriving from Real Sociedad.

NYCFC signs second Homegrown Player in history

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Four years, two Homegrowns.

That’s the decent track record for New York City FC, which has spotted a second youngster from amongst its ranks in 15-year-old Joe Scally.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Scally joins United States youth international James Sands as Homegrown Players from NYCFC. Here’s USMNT legend and NYCFC technical director Claudio Reyna:

“Joe has been one of the top performers in the Academy for the past few seasons and represented US Soccer at U-15 and U-17 level.”

“He has all of the attributes we look for in a right-back: he’s strong in defense and can support in attack to help create chances from wide areas.”

Sands was signed last summer, and played 23 minutes for NYCFC against Colorado in his lone senior appearance.

Allow England defender Alfie Mawson to charm you

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Swansea City’s Alfie Mawson is at England national team camp, and the young man is conducting himself in downright adorable fashion.

It seems the 24-year-old London defender cannot quite believe Gareth Southgate called his name for the Three Lions.

[ MORE: Key newcomers for USMNT friendly ]

“A lot of people wouldn’t have even heard my name until this call up,” Mawson told the BBC. “You know it’s down to performing well at certain times, it’s down to doing the right things and sometimes it’s down to being a nice person.”

Mawson has played every minute for Swans this season, picking up two goals and an assist. More importantly, he’s won 3.3 aerial battles per game and 6.3 clearances.

While this won’t necessarily serve him well against the Netherlands and Italy in this week’s friendlies — they don’t put a lot of hopeful balls into aerial or clearing positions — it’s kept Mawson on the England radar for this summer’s World Cup.

Mawson is two seasons removed from playing in the Championship, and was loaned to lower league clubs like Maidenhead United and Welling United. At the time, he was going to “car boot sales with my girlfriend” which from my limited Googling seems the English equivalent of a yard sale and flea market combined.

“We are in a good position now where we don’t really have to do the car boots unless she wants a bit of excitement on a Sunday morning.”

Pretty good position, yeah.

FIFA urges Russia to hasten work on delayed World Cup arena

AP Photo/Oleksandr Stashevskyi
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SAMARA, Russia (AP) FIFA has urged Russia to speed up World Cup preparations at a stadium which needs “a huge amount of work” to be ready on time.

With less than three months to go until the World Cup, the 45,000-seat Samara Arena is the only one of 12 stadiums which doesn’t yet have a pitch installed.

The stadium in the Volga River city of Samara was already badly delayed due to a complex roof design, but now cold weather in the Russian spring is causing further problems. The pitch can’t be installed until the weather warms up.

“Obviously we would expect further progress than this,” FIFA’s chief competitions official Colin Smith said on a visit to the arena Wednesday. “We don’t yet have a pitch, and obviously we need to wait for some warmer weather conditions in order to get this pitch installed.”

As of Tuesday, instead of a field, there was an area covered with tarpaulins and snow. Temperatures are forecast to stay slightly below freezing for the rest of the week.

“There’s a huge amount of work still to be done,” Smith added. “From the information we’ve received there’s nothing stopping all these areas being completed on time. It just requires commitment and more manpower to get it done on time, and when we talk about on time, we’re talking about the commissioning date of the end of April.”

If that date passes, it could restrict FIFA’s ability to test the stadium with Russian league games and install World Cup equipment. Outside the arena, deep snowdrifts cover much of an area that is due to be landscaped for the tournament and will host some facilities for fans.

Alexander Fetisov, deputy governor of the Samara region, said the stadium will be ready.

“I’d like to avoid unnecessary dramatization of the situation,” he said. “Everything is being done so that the stadium is commissioned in the time required.”

Samara isn’t the only World Cup field which has drawn attention in recent weeks. The stadium in Kazan has been widely criticized by Russian fans after a brown, muddy surface was used for league games after the winter break.

Smith said FIFA was offering Russia help to get its fields ready, adding, “We’re doing everything possible and we’re convinced that we’re going to have a very, very high standard of pitches at this tournament.”