MLS Preview: Seattle Sounders FC vs. Real Salt Lake

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• Seattle Sounders FC is on a 12-game unbeaten streak at home, which is the longest in club history. However, Real Salt Lake has been the best road team in the league this season and the only club with a positive goal difference away from home.

• Seattle has a 7-0-2 record in games with attendances of 40,000 or larger — and a 5-0 tally in front of more than 55,000. As of Wednesday, 52,000 tickets had been distributed for the match, one of a small number in which all of CenturyLink Field is opened up.

• Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson, Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando could all play part in the game after international duty with the United States, while Alvaro Saborío is out with a calf strain suffered with Costa Rica. Brad Evans is still questionable with his calf injury.

It doesn’t get any better than a game in which the winner takes first place. That’s what Seattle Sounders FC and Real Salt Lake will play for on Friday (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Salt Lake has been near the top of the table all season, but Seattle has won seven of its last nine games and joined the Utah club at the forefront of both the Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield standings. RSL seems to have bounced back from its most difficult part of the season, winning the last two games after losing three of five.

At one point, the Sounders had four games in hand on RSL, but they were also in eighth place in the nine-team conference at the time. Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid commonly brushes away mentions of games in hand, saying that they’re not guarantees of anything because the team still needs to win them.

But it can only help if Seattle manages to take all three points against RSL — or even if it doesn’t. It should provide a fairly pressure-free atmosphere for the Sounders, knowing that first place is well within reach even if they lose or tie. Of course, that won’t make anything less than a win feel any better, but it should allow the players to play without fear.

What they’re saying

Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid on the occasion: “It’s a massive game next week from that standpoint — from the standpoint of the standings — and hopefully, we can do what we did against Portland and sell this place out again and fill it up because it’s a game you don’t want to miss.”

Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis on the expected crowd: “This is, I think, a little bit special, if there’s going to be 60 [thousand people] rather than the typical 35. Apart from all of that, it’s still first place versus second place in our conference, so it’s a huge match. Even if there was no crowd, I think our guys would be up for it.

Seattle goalkeeper Michael Gspurning on playing Real Salt Lake: “RSL [games] are always good games. We’ve built up a little rivalry, and it’s fun to play against these guys because it’s a very good team, too, and of course, they want to take the Supporters’ Shield, [and] we want to take the Supporters’ Shield.”

Prediction

If the crowd is as massive as expected, it will be difficult to keep the Sounders from winning their fifth game in a row and extending their home run to 13 undefeated. Regardless of how good RSL is on the road, CenturyLink Field is one of the most difficult atmospheres in the league, and its unique mixture of a raucous crowd and a turf surface that Salt Lake is unaccustomed to point to Seattle’s first regular-season win over RSL since May 28, 2011.

Report: Minnesota United adds Hearts midfielder Sam Nicholson

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Minnesota United has had its shares of ups and down in its debut MLS season, but the Loons are on the verge making an exciting young signing.

[ MORE: Wesley Sneijder closing in on Los Angeles FC move ]

ESPN FC is reporting that Minnesota will sign Hearts winger Sam Nicholson from the Scottish Premier League on a deal that makes him a Loon until 2019.

The young attacker is expected to join the MLS side when the summer transfer window opens on July 10.

Nicholson, 22, has played with the Edinburgh side since his youth days, and made his senior debut with the club in 2013. During his time at Hearts, Nicholson scored 16 goals in all competitions for the team.

Last season, Nicholson missed 16 matches due to a significant knee injury.

According to the report, Scottish sides Rangers and Aberdeen were also among those interested in acquiring Nicholson, while English Championship clubs Bristol City and Barnsley also reached out about the attacker.

Premier League vet Scott Parker calls quits on playing career

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Scott Parker has announced his retirement from soccer after a stellar 20-plus year career in England.

[ MORE: Chile bests Portugal on PKs to reach Confed Cup final ]

The 36-year-old spent almost the entirety of his career in the Premier League, and played with seven teams during his time on the pitch.

“I believe now is the right time to move on to the next chapter in my life and career,” Parker said in a statement.

“I feel incredibly honoured and proud to have enjoyed the career that I have and I’ve loved every moment of it.”

Parker began playing with Charlton after coming up through the team’s youth academy, before completing a move to Chelsea in 2004.

Throughout his career, Parker also spent time at Newcastle, West Ham and Tottenham, before finishing up at Fulham this past season.

Three storylines when Mexico meets Germany in Confed Cup semis

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With a place in the final on the line tomorrow afternoon, it’s all or nothing for Mexico and Germany as they meet in the second semifinal at this summer’s FIFA Confederations Cup.

The two nations have had very similar paths in reaching the final four, after both accumulated seven points during the group stage and showed signs of improvement with every match.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s FIFA Confederations Cup action ]

Here are some of the key battles to watch on Thursday when Mexico and Germany square off for a place in the final.

How does Germany’s youth hold up vs. Mexico’s experience?

Even when Jurgen Low released his roster heading into the Confederations Cup, much was expected of the Germans. After a strong run of play during the group stage, Low’s men have lived up to the billing with an exciting young attack and an improving backline to match.

When Germany meets Mexico though, the defending World Cup champions will be taking on an El Tri side that has loads of international experience, and similar to that of Chile, the Europeans will surely receive all that they can handle.

At the tender age of 23, Julian Draxler captains the Germans and has been challenged with leading his nation throughout the tournament. The PSG attacker has been quality thus far, but he and his side will take on a whole different task on Thursday against a quick, feisty Mexican group.

Will Hirving Lozano be the difference in the attack?

Injuries and a key suspension will certain hinder Mexico in the semifinal round, but the bigger question is: how will Juan Carlos Osorio’s side cope with the losses?

El Tri know it will be without winger Andres Guardado due to yellow card accumulation, while striker Javier Hernandez is in question ahead of the Germany clash after reportedly training by himself on Monday.

Although Hernandez likely just needed rest after a busy season of matches in the Bundesliga, Mexico is still seeking a quality playmaker to replace Guardado on Thursday, one that they’re hoping with be Hirving Lozano.

The newly-signed PSV man has quickly become one of the top young faces in global soccer, and with three international goals for El Tri dating back to 2016, Lozano is the spark that Mexico needs.

El Tri must start fast

In all three of Mexico’s group stage matches Osorio’s side fell behind during the first half. While El Tri managed to come away unscathed to remain perfect in group play, it’s difficult to imagine that they will be able to pull off the same feat against a quality German side.

On the other hand, Mexico’s resilience has been impressive. In their opener against Portugal, El Tri pulled off a late winner against the reigning European champions, a result that likely set the tone for the team’s ensuing comebacks versus New Zealand and Russia, respectively.

Chile bests Portugal on penalty kicks to reach Confed Cup final

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Chile is on its way to the Confederations Cup final after a thrilling battle with Portugal on Wednesday afternoon.

The Chileans edged their European opposition, 0-0 (3-0 on penalty kicks), at Kazan Arena in Russia after goalkeeper Claudio Bravo made a trio of saves during the penalty shootout.

Arturo Vidal hit the post in the 119th minute from close range, before Martin Rodriguez’s rebound smashed off the crossbar and stayed out of goal to the dismay of the Chileans.

Chile had a legitimate claim for a penalty kick in the second half of extra time as Jose Fonte stepped on the foot of Francisco Silva inside the Portuguese area, but the referee opted to play on.

The South Americans thought they had picked out the lead just a few minutes into extra time when Alexis Sanchez’s header glanced just wide of goal.

Cristiano Ronaldo had several quality chances to break the deadlock during regulation, but none better than in the 72nd minute when the Real Madrid star had his deflected effort narrowly miss the top corner.

Chile began to find more of a rhythm during the second stanza, and Eduardo Vargas nearly gave his side the lead in the 59th minute when he acrobatically shot on goal, forcing a reaction save out of Rui Patricio.

Vargas had the first big chance for the South Americans in the sixth minute when he found himself in on goal against Patricio, but the Portuguese goalkeeper stood tall and made the save.

Meanwhile, Claudio Bravo found himself in a similar situation on the other end just a minute later, when the Manchester City keeper kept Portugal off the scoreboard.

Chile will meet the winner of Thursday’s contest between Mexico and Germany, while the Portuguese will await the loser of the match to decide third place.