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.

Wenger gives update on Ozil, Wilshere situation

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Arsene Wenger has given some intriguing updates on Jack Wilshere and Mesut Ozil, who are both out of contract at Arsenal on July 1, 2018.

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Speaking ahead of Arsenal’s clash against Newcastle United on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com), Wenger confirmed that there has been no interest from Manchester United in Ozil and contract talks will begin with Wilshere soon.

“We have never been approached by Man United in any way, so I don’t see why that came up and who found that, that’s always something that’s been created,” Wenger said of Ozil, before adding that the German playmaker will definitely stay until the end of the season.

Reports had been rife that Ozil would be the subject of a transfer bid from Manchester United in January, with Jose Mourinho eager to link up with Ozil once again after they worked together at Real Madrid. Ozil seems happy enough at Arsenal but the 29-year-old still hasn’t signed a new deal and time is ticking.

As for Wilshere (who started his first Premier League game for Arsenal in 577 days at West Ham on Wednesday) and his future at Arsenal, Wenger stated that contract talks will begin soon with the academy product who has suffered mightily with injuries over the past few years.

“I will talk to him. I said [I would] at the end of December,” Wenger said. “We are at the beginning of December so it’s true that it’s not far, but I wanted to see, as well, how much he can contribute and how he will last physically. It is, of course, for him to be happy to be here as well, that is important. I consider him as an Arsenal man and, for him, it’s important as well to feel happy here.”

Wenger added that Wilshere has done his chances of getting a new deal no harm at all and the Arsenal academy product has certainly impressed with his performances in the Europa League this season, and in flashes when he’s played in the PL.

Whether or not Wilshere, Ozil and, of course, Alexis Sanchez, will sign new deals in January and forfeit the chance to grab a huge signing-on fee in July when they’re free agents remains to be seen. It is unlikely Ozil and Sanchez will pass on that opportunity to test the open market.

However, Wilshere signing a new deal seems the most likely and it seems increasingly likely that Ozil and Sanchez will stay at Arsenal until the end of the season unless monster transfer offers arrive in January.

Rio prosecutors launch probe into soccer final violence

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro launched an investigation Thursday into the fan violence surrounding the Copa Sudamericana final between local club Flamengo and Argentine team Independiente.

[ SOURCE: LAFC close to signing third DP, Geraldes of Sporting CP ]

Clashes broke out on the night before Wednesday’s match at Maracana Stadium, and continued throughout the day. There was vandalism inside the stadium during the match and violence afterward, with more than 50 Flamengo supporters being detained over the two days.

The Rio prosecutor’s office said in a statement it would be questioning officials at Brazil’s football confederation, South American soccer’s ruling body, CONMEBOL, and local police about the incidents.

The statement added that “a profound investigation of the facts is needed so we can identify and punish the criminals that disguised as fans to spread chaos, fear and disorder in society.”

Major Silvio Luiz, head of policing for the final, criticized Flamengo’s handling of ticket sales.

Flamengo drew the second-leg match 1-1, and lost the final 3-2 on aggregate. The Copa is the second most prestigious club competition in South American soccer.

Ligue 1 set to use VAR starting in 2018/19 season

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With video replay technology becoming more and more prevalent in soccer across the globe, another major European league has revealed it too will join those ranks.

[ SOURCE: LAFC set to sign third DP with Sporting CP’s Geraldes ]

Ligue 1 has announced that the French top flight will begin to utilize video replay and have a video assistant referee (VAR) starting in the 2018/19 season.

Major League Soccer and the German Bundesliga are just two of the major global leagues to implement the system thus far. In MLS, the technology can be used in four instances; when goals are scored, during penalty situations, when a straight red card is given and during cases of mistaken identity.

French outlet L’Equipe wrote on Thursday that Ligue 1 would also follow a similar structure in what decisions VAR officials will be reviewable.

Spain has also announced that it will introduce VAR in 2018, ahead of the next La Liga season.

Top Premier League storylines: Week 18

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The title is looking more and more like it’s heading to Manchester, so will Tottenham be able to slow the Premier League leaders on Saturday?

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

Here are the four biggest storylines ahead of this weekend’s action.

Can anyone stop the Cityzens?

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

Nobody has found a way to halt Pep Guardiola‘s side yet this season in PL play, so why would that change this weekend? City remain unbeaten through 17 matches, and while Spurs enter the weekend unbeaten in its last four, Mauricio Pochettino and Co. have their work cut out. The City attack, which has scored 52 goals this season, has shown no signs slowing down during the first four-and-a-half months of play, giving Tottenham a big test defensively. Harry Kane and his 12 goals will surely have a say in the get together, but Spurs has been lacking thus far in another go-to finisher.

Will the Toffees keep rolling under Big Sam?

Everton vs. Swansea City — 3 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

It’s been quite the turnaround recently at Goodison Park, and Everton has the chance to extend its unbeaten streak to six games on Monday. Sam Allardyce has brought life to the Toffees as of late, with Everton scoring 11 goals over the last five matches.

Foxes aim to climb higher, while Palace shoots for safety

Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Foxes have found their footing this season, and dare I say there are some glimpses of the team that won the title two years ago? Since Leicester’s 2-0 defeat to Man City, the Foxes have looked the part of a top-tier PL side, winning four of five matches, including victories over Tottenham and Burnley. Meanwhile, Palace has made the relegation battle a very intriguing one, as Roy Hodgson and Co. sit just a point inside the bottom three. Amazingly, Palace is unbeaten in seven of its last eight matches, but the club remains in 18th place.

Clarets aim for third consecutive victory

Brighton vs. Burnley — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBC Sports Gold (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Clarets don’t boast a bonafide goalscorer, but Burnley looks like a well-oiled machine as Sean Dyche‘s side sits on the edge of the top four. Although the side likely won’t be pulling off a Leicester-sided feat in 2017/18, what the Clarets are accomplishing is quite amazing given the squad currently in place. Brighton has gone through its share of struggles recently, going winless in its last six matches, and scoring just three goals in that span. They’ll likely have a hard time breaking past Burnley’s tough backline.