Real Salt Lake v Chivas USA

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.

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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