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MLS Preview: Union look to put late collapses behind against struggling Houston

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The Philadelphia Union have let four points slip away in the dying embers of their previous two matches, causing coach John Hackworth to tell the media how much hair it’s causing him to lose.

Hint: it’s a lot. With those four points, they’d be top of the Eastern Conference.

Instead, they sit in third and remain embroiled in the smorgasbord that is the East.  Saturday they have an opportunity to distance themselves further from the Houston Dynamo, who remain just four points back despite having just picked up two points in their last seven fixtures.

The fact Houston remain in a playoff spot despite that awful record is a testament to the parity in the East.  Houston are winless since May 8 and goalless in their last 329 league minutes – 419 overall including their tumble out of the U.S. Open Cup.  You have to travel all the way back to April 28 to find their last home goal.

(MORE: Houston Dynamo – brace for impact)

And yet, they’ve created chances. Somehow, they just can’t finish.  Against New York on Sunday, the Dynamo produced 11 shots with 25 crosses.  Unfortunately, the quality was missing.  Just three of those 11 shots were on target.  That’s not exactly much of a test for the opposing goalkeeper.

That could possibly change Saturday.  Honduran playmaker Oscar Boniek Garcia is questionable, missing since the last round of World Cup qualifiers with a hamstring injury.  If able to play, the midfielder would add a fair bit of quality back to the squad. His arrivial last season turned things around in time to win an MLS Cup; could his addition do it again?

Even if the Honduran does return to the Houston lineup, don’t expect goals to fly out of this match.  With each team missing their young frontmen to Gold Cup duty, replacements will be needed.  Jack McInerney and Will Bruin are hoping to get their first shot at real international action, leaving their clubs that much thinner.

Also on duty with the USMNT are Houston’s Corey Ashe and Philadelphia’s Keon Daniel.  Although playing different positions, the two are cornerstones of their respective clubs, with their absences requiring a temporary fix.

For Houston, absences are becoming a normality.  Missing for the Dynamo in addition to Bruin, Hall, and Ashe will be right-back Kofie Sarkodie, leaving yet another hole in the back line.  Finally, Brad Davis is a “long shot” according to head coach Dominic Kinnear.  Look for defenders Warren Creavalle and Eric Brunner to continue their fill-in duties, with Mike Chabala possibly getting a shot as well.

With Philadelphia sitting much lower than they should after last-minute points let free, and Houston tabled higher than expected with a seven-match winless streak in play, it’s a match with much intrigue, and about as much table ramifications as you can get this early in the season.

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.