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Major League Soccer Week in Review – Round 22

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All-Star break

Thing is, it’s not much of a “break,” per se. This is just what everyone calls it. Either way, no mid-week matches for as the best of the bunch gather in Kansas City for Wednesday’s contest against Roma.  United States midfield maestro Michael Bradley is a member of the Italian Serie A club.

Landon Donovan was just added to the MLS roster. It’s the summer of Donovan, don’t you know?

Mike Magee scores. Again.

An interesting and unlikely pair are trying to break from the peloton in the Golden Boot chase. Vancouver’s Camilo and Chicago’s Mike Magee have 13 goals each to lead the field. Magee’s latest was a easy far-post finish in a 1-1 draw at Houston. And that trade for Robbie Rogers’ right just looks better and better for the Fire … worse and worse for the Galaxy. (Watch Magee’s latest goal here.)

Best game: New York’s win over Real Salt Lake

If it wasn’t the best match of the weekend, it was darn sure the best 10 minutes of MLS Round 22.

The night at Red Bull Arena was physical but included plenty of skillful stuff, too. Alvaro Saborio, fresh off Gold Cup duty with Costa Rica, netted a hat trick, just the fourth in MLS this year.

New York had a 2-0 lead late after 23 minutes and still led by a goal in the 80th minute –then all heck broke loose.  Saborio scored twice within 10 minutes as the visitors, still missing about half its lineup due to injuries and international absences, climbed into a sudden 3-2 lead.

Fabian Espindola supplied New York’s 89th minute equalizer, and then Dax McCarty found a wonderful time for his first goal of 2013, a brave diving header and game-winner in the 94th minute. Final score: 4-3 New York.

Match highlights are here. (They are 10 minutes long, but what did you expect? There was a lot going on!)

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Dramatic wins in Canada, by the Canadian clubs

Montreal and Toronto had late goals to record dramatic wins before their home fans.

Montreal took advantage of a whopping seven minutes of stoppage time, as Blake Smith found space on the left and beat Kansas City goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen in the 96th minute. That gave the Impact a 1-0 win in the kind of physical, emotional contest you would expect in an exchange of these two clubs.

The drama rose to another level yet in Toronto, where Ryan Nelson’s club actually trailed Columbus going into the 87th minute. But Bobby Convey and  Jeremy Brockie helped arrange a goal for Jonathan Osorio.

As a driving rain poured down, TFC poured on the pressure, desperate for its first league victory at BMO Field in more than a year. Defender Stephen Caldwell headed one off the post, and then in the 94th minute Convey set up Andrew Wiedeman for the winner in a 2-1 result.

Bobby Convey? He’s still playing?

Mostly a forgotten man and a tale of talent squandered, Bobby Convey, on his third MLS team in three years, had two assists in Toronto’s win. The Reds are too far behind for a playoff run, but getting the former U.S. international back on track would surely assist in the ongoing (latest) rebuilding effort around BMO Field.

The champs are hurting

Quick checklist of the biggest LA Galaxy names: Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, Omar Gonzalez, Robbie Rogers.

Quick checklist of the LA Galaxy players absent from Saturday’s match in Colorado: Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, Omar Gonzalez and Robbie Rogers.

Throw in yet another underwhelming performance from goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini, and it’s not hard to see why the Galaxy

Not hard to see Donovan and Gonzalez struggled at DSG Park, looking pretty tame in a 2-0 loss. Donovan and Gonzalez are finished with Gold Cup duty and should be back in the lineup when Bruce Arena’s team resumes league play at FC Dallas on Aug. 11. Keane and Rogers should be recovered from injuries by then as well.

Rookies still getting it done in the Rockies

Central midfielder Dillon Powers had a goal and an assist in the latest match of his outstanding rookie season. He has four goals and four assists.

Fellow rookie Deshorn Brown was in for 77 minutes of the 2-0 win over Los Angeles. And  rookie goalkeeper Clint Irwin recorded his 8th shutout.

(By the way, Chris Klute, the  Rapids’ outstanding young left back, is not a rookie; I’ve seen several people make that mistake. He signed a professional contract previously with Atlanta of the NASL, and he even played one match last year with the Rapids.)

Either way, it’s clear that Rapids manager Oscar Pareja has an outstanding eye for young talent, and knows a little about how to manage it.

Tight in the East … just six points separate top from no playoffs

Brad Davis returns … but not quite enough for the Dynamo

The Houston Dynamo’s versatile U.S. international midfielder got back into a league match for the first time in a month. He had an impact, too, providing the assist (Brad Davis, assists … they go together like coffee and cream, eh?) on Cam Weaver’s goal in a 1-1 draw with Chicago. That was the first goal for a Houston forward since early May. Seriously.

David couldn’t do enough, however, as Houston would surely have loved all three points at home. As of today, the MLS runner-ups in 2011 and 2012 are not in the playoffs. (Houston is tied with New England, behind on tiebreakers, but does have a game in hand on the fifth-place Revs.)

Set pieces. It’s always set pieces

As the playoffs draw closer, every goal takes on added significance. And that means every restart is a potential post-season spot waiting to happen. Or something like that.

Restarts were big as Colorado upended the Galaxy. Hendry Thomas’ 41st minute strike was off a corner kick. Both of San Jose’s goals in a 2-1 win over visiting Portland were off restarts, a penalty kick from Victor Bernardez and Steven Lenhart’s game-winner off a clever free kick execution.

Kevin Alston returns to the field

New England defender Kevin Alson created the happy news of the weekend when he came on in the 84th minute of New England’s 2-1 win at D.C. United. This is the first time Alston, a former MLS All-Star has stepped onto the field since his diagnoses and treatment for a rare form of leukemia in April.

The East is a beast

Check out those Eastern Conference standings. The top team (Kansas City) has 36 points. The sixth place team (Houston) has 30. So, a mere six points separates the conference winner from a team not going to the post-season as things stand.

Overall, seven teams have a real shot at the playoffs. Eight if you count Columbus, although Saturday’s 2-1 loss (when Robert Warzycha’s team had a lead, as mentioned earlier, in the 87th minute) may be hard to rally past. The Crew has lost five of its last six.

Xavi backs Dybala, Verratti to succeed at Barcelona over Pogba

TURIN, ITALY - JANUARY 24:  Paulo Dybala (R) of Juventus FC celebrates after scoring the opening goal with team mate Paul Pogba during the Serie A match between Juventus FC and AS Roma at Juventus Arena on January 24, 2016 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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With Paul Pogba linked with a possible summer move to Barcelona worth more than $100 million, one legend at Camp Nou believes Pogba may not be the right signing.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines ]

After making more than 700 appearances for Barcelona, Xavi knows the club as well as anyone, and he prefers Pogba’s Juventus teammate Paulo Dybala for a move to the Catalan giants.

Xavi also praised the play of Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti, saying that while Pogba is a star player, Dybala and Verratti have “Barca DNA.”

There’s two players I really like, both of whom I think have Barca’s DNA. They are Marco Verratti and Paulo Dybala.

They are amazing and, thanks to their quality and style of play, would easily integrate into the [Barca] machine. I see them as future stars at the club.

[Pogba] is a great player. He’ll be a star for France as he is for Juve, but I see him with a different game to ours.

Both Pogba and Dybala are 22-years-old, while Verratti is 23. All three players have been among the elite young talents in the world, with Pogba earning the most praise of the group and always linked with a big-money move to Europe’s top clubs.

[ RELATED: Messi named La Liga Player of the Month for first time in career ]

Dybala is enjoying a breakout season at Juventus, currently with 13 goals and eight assists in Serie A play. In Paris, Verratti is part of a PSG side that hasn’t lost in 25 matches and holds a 24-point lead at the top of the table.

Vincent Kompany set to make Manchester City return this weekend

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal at Etihad Stadium on January 18, 2015 in Manchester, England.
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Vincent Kompany is set to make his first appearance for Manchester City since Boxing Day as the defender has returned from injury.

City’s captain and center-back missed more than six weeks with a calf injury before Christmas, and then reaggravated the injury just minutes into his return at the end of December.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

However, Kompany has been back in training and manager Manuel Pellegrini said he is fit to play this weekend when City host Tottenham in a huge top-four matchup.

We’ll see what the starting XI is tomorrow – we’re not just thinking about one player and one game, we’re involved in a lot of competitions. Maybe we have a lot of criticism when we don’t play well but I’m happy with the squad over the whole season.

Every player must play a game when they’re 100%. Vincent has worked for three weeks with no problems. He played 45 minutes in a friendly game against the under-21s and I think he’s ready to play.

Kompany’s presence in the City back-line has been pivotal this season. In the eight Premier League games Kompany has started, City have kept seven clean sheets. In the 18 matches without the big Belgian in the starting lineup, City have kept just five.

[ RELATED: Diego Costa suffers broken nose in Chelsea training ]

With City just a point behind Tottenham, Kompany returns from injury just in time for one of the biggest matches of the season. Tasked with slowing down Harry Kane and Spurs’ high-flying attack, Kompany’s play could prove crucial to the Citizens getting a result.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Newcastle United

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  • CFC unbeaten under Hiddink (W5, D6)
  • Newcastle have just 6 away goals all season
  • Diego Costa: 6 goals in his last 7 PL matches

Chelsea look to extend their unbeaten streak under Guus Hiddink to 12 matches on Saturday when the Blues host relegation-threatened Newcastle (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

The Blues’ last loss came under Jose Mourinho in December.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Chelsea are up to 13th on the table, currently riding a run of 11 matches unbeaten in all competitions. Guus Hiddink is yet to suffer a loss after taking over for his second stint at Stamford Bridge in December, although draws have kept Chelsea from climbing further up the table. Diego Costa has had the hot-hand with six goals in his last seven appearances, but the Spanish striker will be forced to play with a mask after suffering a broken nose in training.

[ MORE: Hiddink has “no fear” of playing youngsters in Zouma’s absence ]

For Newcastle, the Magpies sit 17th on the table just one point above the drop. Their away form has hurt the club all season, as Steve McClaren‘s men have scored a league-low six goals on the road this year. The Magpies are coming off of a win over West Brom, and supporters will be hoping the club’s new January signings continue to produce. Seydou Doumbia could make his Premier League debut on Saturday, which would be a massive boost to the attack.

What they’re saying

Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink: “The status of being unbeaten sounds good but realistically we would have wished to have more victories, especially at home. And we have an opportunity to do so against Newcastle. They improved their squad with substance, some good signings, and they are more competitive now.”

Newcastle boss Steve McClaren: “In our home games we are starting to get a consistency in our performance and the way we play. We need to start transferring that to our away games and picking up points away from home – we owe it to the fans.”

Prediction

Newcastle have just two wins in their last 18 league matches away from home, and I don’t see that trend changing this weekend. Chelsea have looked a new team with Guus Hiddink in charge, and they stay unbeaten under the Dutchman. Chelsea 2-1 Newcastle United.

Pochettino enjoying best spell of career ahead of massive clash at Man City

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 23:  Mauricio Pochettino (R) Manager of Tottenham Hotspur is seen on arrival at the stadium prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur at Selhurst Park on January 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Mauricio Pochettino is getting ready for one of his biggest matches in charge at Tottenham, but he’s not letting the pressure get to him.

The Spurs’ boss talked down the importance of Sunday’s match against Manchester City (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra), and went on to say he is currently having the most enjoyable time of his career.

[ WATCH: Full PL match replays ]

Pochettino has Tottenham sitting second on the table, and they travel to the Etihad this weekend for a clash against fourth-placed Manchester City, who sit one point behind Spurs.

When asked if this weekend’s match could be a decisive result in the title race, Pochettino was unwilling to admit it was anything more than three points in a long campaign. However, when asked about the season as a whole, the Argentinian manager said he was having great fun at White Hart Lane, responding “Is it my most enjoyable time of career? Yes, maybe yes if I’m honest.”

[ MORE: Who are the Premier League title favorites? ]

Pochettino’s work at Tottenham has made him one of the most well-respected managers in the Premier League, with some reports tabbing him as the potential future boss of Manchester United.

Spurs have won six on the spin in all competitions, and will be confident facing a City side they smashed 4-1 earlier this season. With leaders Leicester facing Arsenal on Sunday, Tottenham could see themselves just two points off the pace if results go their way.