MLS Preview: Philadelphia Union at Real Salt Lake

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  • RSL is without four important pieces, including captain Kyle Beckerman
  • Philly young scoring ace Jack McInerney is missing, too
  • Real Salt Lake has won fourth in a row, one short a club record

Real Salt Lake never sought to rid itself of pieces that were so critical to the team’s success in recent years, including the 2009 MLS Cup title. Will Johnson, Jamison Olave and Fabian Espindola were valued figures – but figures whose salaries no longer made financial sense in a league of such tight financial structure, especially with such talented young men waiting for their minutes.

Players like Luis Gil (pictured), Devon Sandoval, Sebastian Velasquez, Joao Plata and Olmes Garcia, none older than 22, have given the team some highly productive minutes. So have defenders Kwame Watson-Siriboe and Chris Schuler, just a little further along in age. All of which is among the reasons RSL sits today atop the West with a league-leading 33 points.

Halfway through a season that management expected to be OK, but dented periodically with young-player inconsistency, fans around Rio Tinto can realistically begin wondering if this talented young assembly could make a Supporters Shield run.

Well, two things about any such visions:

First, the young guys absolutely have to bring it over the next few weeks, and they won’t have the “big brother” types around to guide them. Captain Kyle Beckerman, among the steadiest midfielders in MLS, goalkeeper Nick Rimando, right back Tony Beltran and forward Alvaro Saborio. All area away from international duty in the upcoming Gold Cup; Rimando, Beckerman and Beltran are U.S. internationals, while Saborio will compete for Costa Rica.

“Our belief in our depth continues to grow,” RSL manager Jason Kreis said. “I think everybody’s heading in the right direction. I’ve always said that’s what gets you results in this league, and I continue to think so.”

Still, it’s bad timing for Real Salt Lake, who just won their fourth consecutive league match, which is just one W short a club record. RSL won five in a row in 2010 and again in 2011. The latest was a 1-0 win last weekend at Toronto.

When the teams kick off tonight at Rio Tinto (10 p.m. ET; the official league preview is here), Philadelphia will also be dealing with a couple of player absences. The biggie is Jack McInerney, whose 10 goals continues to share the league lead. But the 20-year-old scoring ace has misplaced his striking touch lately, so perhaps some time in Jurgen Klinsmann’s U.S. camp will help “Jack Mac” put things right.

It’s his debut appearance in a full U.S. camp, so the opportunity is big. Besides, Conor Casey remains around to make up the difference, and his arrival into PPL Park, belated this year while he completed injury recovery, is one of the reasons John Hackworth’s young team has also been surprisingly successful.

OTHER NOTES: Union right back Sheanon Williams had two assists in last weekend’s 2-2 draw at home with Dallas. … The Union is coming off three games at home, having taken seven of a possible nine points. … Philadelphia is 0-2 in games at Rio Tinto. … Real Salt Lake, in fact, has never lost to Philadelphia; the side from Utah is 2-0-3 overall in the series.

Heynckes squashes Lewandowski rumors after Premier League rumors

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The English media – mainly the tabloids – has had a field day over the last 24 hours with rumors of a Robert Lewandowski move to the Premier League claiming, but the Bayern Munich manager is having none of it.

Jupp Heynckes told the German press during his pre-match press conference on Friday ahead of the club’s Saturday match against Hertha Berlin, “I can’t imagine there is a chance [the club executives] will sell Lewandowski.”

“Bayern is not a selling club,” Heynckes went on to proclaim. “They want to, and always will want to, keep their top players.”

The reports stated that Lewandowski was “flirting” with a move to the Premier League, and that while Manchester City and Chelsea were the more logical destination, Liverpool was actually the preferred landing spot as the Polish international was open to a reunification with former boss Jurgen Klopp, whom he worked with at Borussia Dortmund before his switch to Allianz Arena. Lewandowski’s contract at Bayern Munich currently runs through 2021, leaving the player with little say over his future.

While the rumors seem like a long shot, what does make sense is that, at 29 years old, Lewandowski doesn’t a ton of time left to convince a Premier League club he’s worth a heavy investment for the next couple of years. Many top teams – most notably Arsenal – are hesitant to sign players over 30 years old, and would be even less inclined to pay a hefty transfer fee for a player without a long future ahead of them. Manchester United just paid a cut-rate price for Alexis Sanchez, and while that was largely due to Arsenal’s position of weakness regarding the expiry of Sanchez’s contract, Sanchez’s age also partially contributed to that knocked down transfer rate.

Nonetheless, Bayern’s sale history is minimal, having only offloaded surplus players, such as defender Medhi Benatia this past summer, Mario Gotze back to Borussia Dortmund the summer before, and Xherdan Shaqiri to Stoke City in 2015.

Recently retired Ryan Mason receives standing ovation at Hull match

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Midfielder Ryan Mason, who was forced to retire after suffering a fractured skull over a year ago, received a warm ovation at KCOM Stadium before Hull City’s match on Friday against Sheffield United.

Mason, just 26 years old, announced his retirement last week on the advice of medical professionals after over a year of rehabilitation from his injury in an attempt to return to playing. The Tottenham youth product was injured in an aerial clash with Chelsea defender Gary Cahill in January of 2017, and did not return to action.

“Ryan has sought the guidance of numerous world-renowned neurologists and neuro surgeons who have all advised that a return to competitive football is not advised,” Hull City said in a release after Mason’s retirement was announced. “Ryan would like to put on record his thanks to all at the club who have aided his recovery to this point and he his is indebted to them for their support and compassion over the past 12 months.”

Before Hull City’s match against Sheffield, an important one with Hull battling relegation, Mason was brought out on the pitch and received a warm reception from the patchy crowd.

As the club did after his injury, they put a message on the screen with the Twitter hashtag #OneRyanMason.

Mason picked up his first job since retirement over the weekend, commentating on Sky Sports in studio for a Championship match between Aston Villa and Preston North End, which ended in a 1-1 draw. “It’s been a bit of a whirlwind – it’s been crazy. I’ve had a lot of messages and it’s been a lot to take in,” Mason said on the broadcast. “I’ve been quite positive throughout and I’m looking to the next chapter now.”It’s difficult [to accept]. For the last year I’ve been working as hard as I can to get back on a football pitch. But when you’re long-term health comes into it then it’s a lot easier. There is more to life than football.

Wigan boss defends fans after pitch-storming

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Wigan Athletic boss Paul Cook is defending his supporters following a memorable upset of Manchester City in the FA Cup.

[ MORE: Europa League draw ]

Latics fans stormed the pitch at the DW Stadium, a celebratory but dangerous scene which included “disturbances” between supporters of both clubs and a confronration between fans and Sergio Aguero.

But it takes just a look at the above photo to see both sides of the issues, as the photographer at right catches fans and players celebrating together… while Aguero rages behind him.

From Sky Sports:

“You’ve got to remember the pure emotions of the night for Wigan fans,” he said.

“They didn’t really turn up to see us win – that’s the truth of it. I’ve got a picture of my son in the directors’ box – he’s only 12 – with his head in his hands looking at the floor because he couldn’t watch.

“We certainly don’t want to see fans engaging with players. The players’ protection is absolutely paramount. But also the supporters enjoying that moment is a good thing for me.”

There is, also, this photo to show the other side of the scenario. Ultimately in our era, this type should sadly be prevented to defy the potential for the latter. That’s sad, but it’s a litigious world.

Dan Burn of Wigan Athletic celebrates. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Premier League Preview: Watford vs. Everton

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  • Watford has two wins in last 14 PL matches
  • Toffees won 3-2 at Goodison on Nov. 5
  • Watford leads all-time 19W-3D-3L

Two top half hopefuls meet at Vicarage Road in a reprise of an early season thriller when Watford hosts Everton on Saturday (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

Everton is in a battle for seventh with Burnley and Leicester City, and could finish the weekend there with a win and help.

Watford has to chance to finish in the top half. It’d be there already had it not coughed up a 2-0 lead to then-caretaker manager David Unsworth‘s Everton in a 3-2 loss on Nov. 5.

What they’re saying

Watford’s Jose Holebas on the match“We have to do something in this game. When we played there, we were 2-0 up and gave the game away in that way – it is unacceptable for me. I was a little bit emotional because I know that this season we have lost some points [from winning positions].”

Everton’s Sam Allardyce on his style critics“The type of football we’ve produced isn’t rubbish, we’ve produced proper football in terms of what we’ve tried to achieve. The past reputation is not the reality if you ask the players, so you look at the football we’ve played since I’ve been here.”

Prediction