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.

FIFA seeking sponsors for video replays at World Cup

Photo by Sergey Mihailicenko/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
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LONDON (AP) Video replays will be used at the World Cup for the first time and talks are underway with potential sponsor branding to appear when the technology is used, a FIFA executive said on Monday.

Soccer’s rule-making panel met Monday to assess recent trials ahead of video assistant referees (VAR) being officially approved by FIFA later this season for use in Russia in June and July.

“Definitely VAR will happen,” FIFA chief commercial officer Philippe Le Floc’h told The Associated Press. “It’s great to have technology in football because this is also a fair(ness) thing.”

Referees were assisted for the first time by high-tech aids at a World Cup in 2014 when goal-line technology was used. That system sees a message instantly flash on referees’ watches saying only whether the ball crossed the line.

Video review is used when there is a “clear and obvious error” involving goals, penalty awards, red cards, and mistaken identity.

Replays could lead to delays in games in Russia as different angles are reviewed, presenting an opportunity for FIFA to brand up the segment on the global broadcast feed.

“We are talking to various technological companies who are very interested with what we are doing on the technology side of things,” Floc’h said on board the World Cup trophy tour plane during a stop at London Stansted Airport.

The final decision on allowing replays to become part of the rules of the game falls to the International Football Association Board on March 3 when its annual meeting is held at FIFA.

Video review has been expected at the World Cup because FIFA controls half the votes in IFAB’s decision. The other voters are the four British soccer federations.

Monday’s meeting brought together IFAB technical experts, FIFA refereeing officials, and researchers from the University of Leuven in Belgium, who have studied use of video review in 804 games across more than 20 competitions.

“The discussions we had today do not indicate that further experiments need to be conducted,” said Johannes Holzmueller, FIFA’s lead official for technological innovation.

Watch Live: Swansea City vs. Liverpool

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Swansea City’s bid to slow down steamrolling Liverpool begins at 3 p.m. ET Monday at the Liberty Stadium (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

The rampaging Reds are coming off a 4-3 win that ended Manchester City’s unbeaten Premier League season, and will hope to avoid a let down against desperate Swans.

The Welsh hosts are six points adrift in the race for Premier League safety, and look set for a 5-4-1 with Jordan Ayew the only forward. Wilfried Bony and Oliver McBurnie are on the bench along with attack-minded Luciano Narsingh.

LINEUPS

Swansea City: Fabianski, Naughton, Van der Hoorn, Fernandez, Mawson, Olsson, Ki, Fer, Clucas, Dyer, Ayew. Subs: Nordfeldt, Bartley, Roque Mesa, Carroll, Narsingh, McBurnie, Bony.

Liverpool: Karius, Gomez, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson, Can, Wijnaldum, Salah, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mane, Firmino. Subs: Mignolet, Milner, Klavan, Lallana, Ings, Solanke, Alexander-Arnold.

Kevin De Bruyne commits to Man City through 2022-23

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Kevin De Bruyne is one of the best players in the world, and he’s committing his prime to the club which has taken him to the next level.

[ MORE: How will Arsenal, Man Utd line up? ]

Manchester City announced a new deal for the Belgian wizard, keeping him at the Etihad Stadium through 2023.

De Bruyne, 26, has posted 31 goals and 38 assists for Pep Guardiola‘s men since returning to England from the Bundesliga, and appreciates being given a lot more money. From ManCity.com:

“As I’ve said previously, my intention has always been to stay here at City, where I’ve felt at home from day one. Not only are we winning – we are playing great football. It’s a pleasure to be a part of and I’m really excited about what we can achieve in the coming years.”

De Bruyne is in the discussion for a Ballon d’Or finalist spot this year, along with Lionel Messi, Neymar, Gareth Bale, Harry Kane, and others (Hot take: This does seem to be year Ronaldo possibly knocked off, barring a remarkable run in the Champions League or World Cup).

After the swap: Alexis, Mkhi-infused XIs for Man Utd, Arsenal

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The deal is done: Henrikh Mkhitaryan has moved to Arsenal with Alexis Sanchez going the other way in a monumental January move.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

How will it look for each side once the shape’s settled?

Arsenal

When Henrikh Mkhitaryan was at his very best — for Borussia Dortmund in 2014-15 — he was deployed as a left or right wing. He contributed 23 goals and 32 assists in 52 matches during his final season at the Westfalenstadion, and predictably saw those numbers drop as Jose Mourinho consistently moved him toward an attacking center midfield role.

He’ll get the chance to go out wide again at the Emirates Stadium, though perhaps not always to the extreme flanks. Expect Alexandre Lacazette‘s numbers to explode with this move.

Arsene Wenger used a 4-3-3 to batter Crystal Palace 4-1 at the weekend, with Ozil on the right wing and Alex Iwobi on the left. The club still needs better at center defensive mid while Aaron Ramsey is out, so that will likely keep the lineup similar until he returns (at a minimum):

Cech

Bellerin — Mustafi — Koscielny — Montreal

Elneny (Ramsey, eventually)

Xhaka — Wilshere

Ozil — Lacazette — Mkhitaryan

By the way, a lot of Arsenal supporters aren’t feeling great about this (understatement alert):

Manchester United

Alexis Sanchez prefers left wing, too, and Mourinho has a trio of in-form players who like that side of the field. Anthony Martial is red hot but plays wider than Jesse Lingard, and it seems one of them will take the slot of Juan Mata to the right of Paul Pogba in a 4-1-4-1. Marcus Rashford could also see the far right positioning.

But against top competition — continued apologies to Burnley — it’s usually a 4-2-3-1 for Mourinho with Pogba dropping next to Nemanja Matic a little deeper in the formation. Lingard has been getting the run as CAM here, usually to the detriment of Juan Mata. With Alexis as the clear-cut left wing in this formation, it causes real combat for the two other slots between Mata, Lingard, Rashford, and Martial.

So while it’s likely we’d see something like this in a big game for Manchester United…

De Gea

Young — Jones — Smalling — Valencia

Matic — Pogba

Martial — Lingard —  Sanchez

Lukaku

… We’d love to see something more like this:

De Gea

Young — Jones — Smalling — Valencia

Matic — Herrera

Pogba

Martial — Lukaku — Sanchez

How do you think Wenger and Mou will run ’em out?