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Where to look on MLS All-Star Game roster for possible replacements

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Major League Soccer announced the All-Star Game’s squad today, but nobody’s going to chisel that in stone. There are always a couple of injuries that rear their head before the exhibition’s kickoff, and with the Gold Cup final the weekend before the league’s party in Kansas City, there are bound to be a few more cancelled plane tickets before Peter Vermes has to pick an XI for AS Roma.

For people morose that their favorites weren’t named to the initial squad, that should be a point of solace, but whether your guy slots in isn’t merely about whether somebody drops out. As Vermes’ selections showed, many of the decisions are defined by positional need, with the All-Star Game coach needing to have cover at as many positions as possible.

So as we go through the potential drop-outs, the need to have a like-for-like backup becomes important when considering who else might come in.

(Also worth considering: The quicker we approach July 31, the more likely the replacement will be the first guy to say “Yes” to “Can you be in Kansas City by tomorrow night?” That’s why a Sporting player is listed as a possibility at almost every spot.)

Nick Rimando, G, Real Salt Lake
Reason: Gold Cup duty
Likelihood for ASG: Good
Details: Rimando may not need any rest to go from 90-plus minutes in Chicago to playing against Roma.
Conjectured possibilities: SKC’er Jimmy Nielsen would be an obvious replacement.

Corey Ashe, LB, Houston Dynamo
Reason: 
Gold Cup duty
Likelihood for ASG: 
Unknown
Details: 
If Ashe’s fitness allows him to start taking part in the Gold Cup, his availability could depend on how much action he gets in the tournaments’ final matches. If he plays significant minutes or fitness keeps him from playing at all, Vermes will have to call up a left back, as he has no other natural players for the position on the roster.
Conjectured possibilities: Todd Dunivant, local option Seth Sinovic, or former SKC’er Michael Harrington? Again, availability will be key.

Tony Beltran, RB, Real Salt Lake
Reason: 
Gold Cup duty
Likelihood for ASG: 
Below average
Details: 
Beltran bested Michael Parkhurst in their early Gold Cup auditions, so the RSL right back may be more likely to see time throughout the rest of the tournament. If that plays out, he’ll either slide into a sub’s role in Kansas City or be replaced. With DeAndre Yedlin on the roster, Vermes could opt for a right or left back as a replacement. He’s going to be short at one of the two positions.
Conjectured possibilities: Chance Myers drives in, Zach Loyd flies up from Dallas, or you hope Y.P. Lee isn’t flying home for the week? Regardless, Sheanon Williams deserves a place in the discussion.

Kyle Beckerman, M, Real Salt Lake
Reason: 
Gold Cup duty
Likelihood for ASG: 
Bad
Details: 
Beckerman’s a great bet to rack up big minutes at the Gold Cup and be replaced. Patrice Bernier is already in the team, as is Will Johnson, so Vermes doesn’t necessarily have to name a like-for-like replacement. But since Johnson’s not a true holder, a deeper midfielder might be called on as Beckerman’s replacement.
Conjectured possibilities: Nigel Reo-Coker may be back in England, and many will instinctively want Dax McCarty to have this spot, but Osvaldo Alonso is difficult to overlook, even with his prolonged absence. Does Vermes pick to win or reward?

Brad Davis, LM, Houston Dynamo
Reason: 
Fitness
Likelihood for ASG: 
Who knows?
Details: 
Davis hasn’t played for Houston since June 22, missing the last three games. If he’s needs to be replaced, who comes in may depend on what setup Vermes chooses. If MLS plays Sporting KC’s 4-3-3, Davis could be replaced by anybody. The team doesn’t need a true left-sider.
Conjectured possibilities: If Davis is out, it does seem logical to at least bolster the midfield, and in that respect, there’s no shortage of directions Vermes could go. Few would argue if Javier Morales was called, Seba La Toux has numbers (though he should thank Conor Casey for those), but again, if you’re choosing to win, you might want to consider Davis teammate Boniek Garcia.

Robbie Keane, F, LA Galaxy
Reason: 
Fitness
Likelihood for ASG: 
Seems iffy
Details: 
Keane did not look good when he came off against Portland. He seemed discouraged after the game. We won’t know until later this week what the diagnosis is; however, I wouldn’t be surprised if LA looks at the schedule and sees this as a good time to get him rested.
Conjectured possibilities: Jack McInerney. The fans seem to want him. The goal totals certainly supports the selection. However, Vermes would be justified selecting his own guy, Claudio Bieler, while I continue to think there has got room in this game for Federico Higuaín.

Watford “Behind The Badge” airs third installment; Catch up on Episode 2 here

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Catch up on Watford’s look “Behind The Badge” ahead of Sunday’s third episode of the four-part glimpse into one of the Premier League’s promoted sides.

The Hornets sit 11th, currently 7 points clear of relegation danger, and are giving fans a better idea of what’s been going on at Vicarage Road.

[ MORE: Behind the Badge archive

In an exclusive series, NBC Sports followed around the Hornets in a very similar fashion to HBO’s Hard Knocks which joins the preseason camp of one NFL team each summer.

Below is the schedule for the three remaining episodes on Watford, which you can watch on NBCSN and live online via NBCSports.com in the coming weeks, plus a link to watch episode one in full from last week.


First episode: Watch full episode, here
Second episode: Embedded above
Third episode: Sunday, Dec. 11, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Fourth episode: Sunday, Dec. 18, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN

Follow @NicholasMendola

MLS Cup Final preview: Seattle, Toronto battle subzero temps for first Cup

Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley walks off the field after a training session, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016, in Toronto, for the MLS Cup soccer championship. Toronto hosts the Seattle Sounders on Saturday. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP
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  • First MLS Cup Final for both
  • Sounders all-time 7W-2L-2T
  • TFC joined in 2007, Seattle 2009

It’ll be in the high twenties (-1 Celsius) when Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders kick off the MLS Cup Final on Saturday night in Ontario (Kickoff is Saturday at 8 p.m. EDT).

Combine the visible breath and slight chance of snow with a BMO Field which has been relentlessly loud throughut TFC’s playoff run, and we have the makings of an all-timer.

[ MORE: PST’s MLS Cup roundtable ]

Toronto and Seattle met up at the same venue on July 2, the 1-1 draw perhaps a bit deflated by the absence of Clint Dempsey for Seattle and TFC’s American duo of Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore.

Seattle superstar Nicolas Lodeiro wasn’t there, either, still weeks away from arriving from Boca Juniors.

This is the second MLS Cup Final at BMO Field, after Colorado defeated FC Dallas in 2010. TFC men Drew Moor and Clint Irwin were part of the championship-winning Rapids in that one.

Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris greets fans who gathered to send off the team after MLS soccer training, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, in Tukwila, Wash. The Sounders were scheduled to travel to Toronto later Wednesday to prepare to face Toronto FC in the MLS Cup Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Seattle’s Jordan Morris (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

[ MORE: PST’s Michael Bradley interview ]

Toronto will bring star power to go with a challenging formation; While accolades rightly go to Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, and Sebastian Giovinco, the Reds’ 3-5-2 under Greg Vanney features versatile wide men in Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow.

Seattle is powered through Nicolas Lodeiro, the ex-Boca Juniors playmaker who has been nearly as effective as Giovinco (albeit with a smaller MLS sample size). Goalkeeper Stefan Frei, the ex-TFC man, has been very good at the back, but can the Sounders’ back line handle Altidore and Giovinco?

The metronomes could be the difference. Bradley’s been good for TFC, but Osvaldo Alonso gave an MLS MVP caliber performance this season.

[ MORE: PST talks with Ozzie Alonso ]

What they’re saying

Toronto FC keeper Irwin on the weather: “It’s probably the most difficult part. As a field player, you can move around. You’re warmer, more active. At this point, there’s not much we can do other than bundle up, and I’ll stay moving back there.”

Seattle forward Jordan Morris on Lodeiro“The first thing Lodeiro said to me is, ‘When I get the ball, you just run.’ I think of him like a quarterback.”

Prediction

Look to the engine rooms here. Alonso is a handful and a magnificent passer of the ball. On his day, Bradley is even better. Will it be? Neither player will shirk from pressure. We’re thinking extra time after a 1-1 match. And Toronto’s depth and home field will propel it to a 2-1 win.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Premier League Preview: Leicester City vs. Manchester City

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 29:  Bacary Sagna of Manchester City clears the ball from Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester City at The King Power Stadium on December 29, 2015 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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  • Man City leads all-time 53W-29D-28L
  • Leicester took 4 of 6 pts last season
  • MCFC won previous four

To cure what ails, Leicester City has to knock off one of the top contenders to its Premier League throne: Manchester City (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. EDT Saturday on NBC and NBCSports.com).

There are some advantages for Leicester, though, as Fernandinho and Sergio Aguero are suspended for their red cards picked up the loss to Chelsea. Pep Guardiola used Pablo Zabaleta next to Fernando in the UCL draw with Celtic, and looks set for the same come Saturday.

Leicester rested the majority of its starters in a 5-0 loss at Porto this week, following up a 2-1 setback at Sunderland that left the champs just two points ahead of the 18th and 19th placed clubs in the PL.

What they’re saying

Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri on the task at hand: “I was waiting for a period like this. Now it’s important to react with a big effort together from the team. That is my focus now. We have to be focused on these matches until Christmas Day. We have to get points. We need points and we have to fight. This part of the season is our key moment. I think every match gives us an opportunity. We have to fight. I repeat, we have to fight.”

Man City’s Pep Guardiola on Zabaleta’s positional change“But I think Pablo Zabaleta can play in the middle – he is very experienced and he can play there as he did very well against Celtic. I think in the last years of his career he’ll play more in the middle and it gives us another option.”

Prediction

As much as the injuries hurt Man City, there’s certain harm in the wounded unit that fell 3-1 to Chelsea. We believe the Foxes will strike, but Kelechi Iheanacho has proven more than a suitable fill-in for Aguero. Man City 2-1.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks – Week 15

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Week 15 of the Premier League is here.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Click play on the videos below to hear my score prediction and preview of each game.

[ VIDEO: Previews of every PL game – Week 15 ]

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Chelsea 3-0 West Brom – (Sunday, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Liverpool 4-1 West Ham – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Leicester City 1-3 Man City – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

Arsenal 2-0 Stoke City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

DON’T TOUCH THIS… 

Swansea City 2-3 Sunderland – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, CNBC) – [STREAM]

Watford 0-1 Everton – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Burnley 1-2 Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Southampton 1-1 Middlesbrough – (Sunday, 9:15 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Man United 1-2 Tottenham – (Sunday, 9:15 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Hull City 2-1 Crystal Palace – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]