Jay DeMerit

ProSoccerTalk’s weekly MLS rankings

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19. D.C. United – A 2-2 draw at home against Los Angeles qualifies as a good result for Ben Olsen’s team this year. Chris Pontius scored his second goal of 2013.

18. Toronto FC – The Reds gave New York a real tussle before a late goal put the game out of reach at Red Bull Arena.

17. Columbus – Federico Higuain and Dominic Oduro hooked up for a wonderful, late goal in a win at Montreal. There is still a mighty hill to climb, but three big points on the road (and what a really big upset, it was) means the team can keep dreaming about post-season soccer a while longer.

16. Chivas USA – Late-season scoring sensation Erick “Cubo” Torres had a penalty appeal denied in a 1-1 draw with Portland. If the Goats get that call (it was pretty iffy, truth be told), who knows where the result might have fallen?

15. Vancouver Whitecaps – Great to see Jay DeMerit (pictured) back on the field; MLS is a better place with more consummate professionals like him around. Unfortunately, his Whitecaps could do no better than a scoreless draw at San Jose and remain in seventh place, two spots out of the playoffs.

14. FC Dallas – But for some sloppy finishing, Schellas Hyndman’s team could have picked up three huge points on the road against Colorado. French midfielder Peter Luccin, injured in preseason, has been activated and could help add bounce to the team’s fading playoff aspirations.

13. Chicago Fire – A road draw at Toronto and a late win at home against New England keeps Chicago’s clock ticking in the playoff race. Mike Magee struck No. 16 for the year, but remains two goals behind Montreal’s Marco Di Vaio for league leadership.

12. New England Revolution – The Revs were hard done when a 50th minute goal from Saer Sene that was ruled offside. It would have given visiting New England a 3-1 lead over Chicago; instead, the home team came back to win over the Revolution, 3-2. Kelyn Rowe has seven goals and seven assists in an increasingly outstanding second professional season.

11. Philadelphia Union – John Hackworth’s team has forgotten how to score, now with just one goal in five games. They have fallen from second place a few weeks ago to sixth in the East, one spot out of the playoffs.

(MORE: MLS Round 29 week in review)

10. Houston Dynamo – After last week’s awful, three-goal loss at home, a 1-0 victory on the road (in a real grind of a game from both sides) was exactly what Dominic Kinnear’s team needed to jump start its playoff bid.

9. San Jose Earthquakes – The ‘Quakes took 22 shots against visiting Vancouver but did no better than a scoreless draw – one that seriously damages San Jose’s dimming playoff hopes. It was the first time San Jose has failed to win at home since May, although the team remains unbeaten at home in its last 14 contests.

8. Portland Timbers – What Timbers manager Caleb Porter told MLSSoccer.com after his team’s 1-1 draw at last place Chivas USA: “We didn’t show up with enough hunger, urgency, had a bit of casualness in our play with a few individuals, and that can’t happen.” They had better locate that lost urgency soon; they are only two points from dropping out of a playoff spot.

7. Montreal Impact – Giving up soft goals will be this team’s undoing in the playoffs if they can’t get the back line sorted out. Saturday’s loss at home to Columbus does serious damage to the teams hopes of finishing atop the East. Marco Di Vaio, now with 18 goals, retained his league leadership.

source:  6. New York Red Bulls – Fabian Espindola (pictured left) scored off the bench in a less-than-convincing win over Toronto. That’s a pretty handy card to play for manager Mike Petke going forward, especially as “Espy” just wasn’t working previously as a starter. Oh, and Thierry Henry’s “Waiting for the bus” celebration was pretty cool.

5. Colorado Rapids –  A big performance from recently signed Uruguayan midfielder Vicente Sanchez guided an important 2-1 Western Conference win over Dallas. Afterward, Sanchez had some nice words about hoping to bring a little joy to a region troubled by significant flooding.

4. LA Galaxy – The Galaxy gave up two bad goals to D.C. United in a 2-2 draw. A.J. DeLaGarza’s elbow injury may keep him out for a while, but Landon Donovan’s ankle injury does not appear serious. That’s good news as L.A. heads into a busy week, with Metapán up in midweek in CONCACAF Champions League play and league-leading Seattle inbound for the StubHub Center over the weekend.

3. Real Salt Lake – RSL just didn’t match Seattle’s intensity as the team from Utah lost 2-0 before more than 55,000. If not for Nick Rimando, coming back off national team duty to have a big match, the score could have been worse.

2. Seattle Sounders – The Sounders had been ticking off the points lately, although not in the most impressive, dominating ways. Well, that changed with a commanding 2-0 win Friday over visiting Real Salt Lake. With it, Seattle now looks like the Supporters Shield favorites. Obafemi Martins (one goal, one assist Friday) reminded everyone that Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey aren’t the only scorers worth watching around CenturyLink.

1. Sporting Kansas City – The club should be well rested after a weekend off and can take a big step toward CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals with a win Tuesday over Real Esteli. After that comes a trip into Toronto.

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

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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]