U.S. Open Cup preview: Real Salt Lake and D.C. United compete for domestic soccer’s oldest crown

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  • This is the first of domestic soccer’s three significant, annual crowns
  • RSL attackers Alvaro Saborio and Javier Morales have 18 goals and 12 assists between them this year. D.C. United has just 20 goals total this year in league play.
  • Real Salt Lake is 50-14-14 in all competitions at Rio Tinto over the last four years

Tuesday’s contest at the base of the Wasatch Mountains sets up as such an awful mismatch that it hardly seems worth writing about in some ways.

Real Salt Lake and all its ongoing quality hosts a D.C. United team whose season has gone shockingly sideways. Well, well past its glory days (for now, at least) United’s 2013 season stands to be historically bad.

But seeming competitive imbalances aside, this is, after all, domestic soccer’s first of three big crowns (along with Major League Soccer’s Supporters Shield and the MLS Cup).  And this version of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is extra special, the 100th edition.

Plus, this is a cup competition, where upsets are sometimes they way. And that may be the point, that no matter how horribly things have gone for Ben Olsen’s team, this is United’s one and only chance to put a big blue ribbon around a worthless season otherwise. The teams kick off Tuesday at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, just after 9 p.m. ET, live on GolTV.

(MORE: What an Open Cup title would mean to RSL, D.C. United)

Both teams rested their starters for MLS matches over the weekend. While that was a 100 percent no-brainer for D.C. United, which tumbled out of the MLS playoff picture weeks ago and tied all of its 2014 fortunes to this competition sometime during the interminable summer, it wasn’t so cut and dried for Real Salt Lake. RSL needed the points in MLS play, but manager Jason Kreis rolled the dice and fielded his reserves for a contest at Vancouver, a clear indication of how seriously the organization takes this competition.

“This is just a tournament that I’ve been pretty clear about with the players and I think I’ve been pretty clear with everybody,” Kreis said. “I want to win this tournament and I want to win it in the worst way.”

It would be Real Salt Lake’s second major trophy following the 2009 MLS Cup (pictured above). Not only is RSL playing at home, the talent edge is tilted heavily its way.

U.S. internationals Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando remain at the top of their games. Beckerman even manned the middle for Jurgen Klinsmann’s national team as the Americans clinched their World Cup 2014 spot three weeks ago in a 2-0 win over Mexico.

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D.C. United forward Dwayne De Rosario has 3 goals and 2 assists in league play this year, his worst output since joining Major League Soccer in 2001.

Costa Rican international striker Alvaro Saborio should return to the field following his recent injury struggles; he has 50 goals in 94 league matches with RSL, a prodigious rate in almost any league. Javier Morales (8 goals and 10 assists) may have wandered over to the wrong side of 30 (he is 33 now), but the Argentine playmaker has looked like his younger self lately.

Consider that Saborio and Morales have combined for 18 goals in league play; United has 20 goals total in league play, still flirting with historic lows in goals over an entire season (not to mention fewest wins over an entire season.)

Speaking of his younger self, midfielder Ned Grabavoy, now in his 10th MLS season, has been nothing short of a revelation for Kreis and Co. this year. His experience – Grabavoy won a U.S. Open Cup title with Los Angeles in 2005 – is a great balance for all the terrific young talent around Rio Tinto, the likes of Luis Gil and Olmes Garcia, just to mention two.

United isn’t completely without talent, starting with holding midfielder Perry Kitchen and U.S. under-23 goalkeeper Bill Hamid, both of whom will need massive matches.

And then there is 35-year-old former MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario, who has slowed dramatically this year. His inability to get going in 2013 is a major reason why United is last in the East (a 3-21-6 record) with what it easily the league’s worst offense. United has just 20 goals in 30 MLS matches.

History is on United’s side, at least; the team from RFK Stadium has two Open Cup crowns (1996 and 2008) and been runner-up two other times.

But any edge in history hoodoo is probably mitigated by Real Salt Lake’s well-established authority at home. Kreis’ team is 50-14-14 at Rio Tinto in all competitions over the last four years.

(MORE: A domestic soccer “Treble” could loom, but this is the first box to check)

(MORE: Where would a United win rank among Open Cup upsets?)

Jose Mourinho wants Diego Costa to process game situations “faster”

during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Chelsea at Britannia Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Stoke on Trent, England.
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Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho isn’t worried about Diego Costa‘s lack of goals this season, but he does know the problem.

Costa scored the winner against Norwich last time out, but has just three goals on the year and has looked frustrated often in recent matches. And the boss believes there’s still work to be done with Costa, particularly off the ball.

“Everything is OK, no problem, no problem,” Mourinho said in his pre-match press conference before Chelsea visits Spurs on Sunday. “But he’s not reading the game properly in these actions. That was my opinion. As a striker he must read. You have to play not only when you have the ball but when others have the ball. You have to anticipate things and read the game faster. Everything is an accumulation [of confidence]. You’re not on fire again just because you’ve scored a winning goal against Norwich. It’s all a process.”

Mourinho exploded at Costa in the waning moments of Chelsea’s 4-0 win over Maccabi Tel Aviv, with the manager focused on improving the Spaniard’s effort level.

“In the game I told him, from a distance, that I was not happy with the movement he did,” Mourinho said. “He told me a few nice words from where he was. And nothing happened.”

Despite the manager’s frustrations, Costa could be the only option on Sunday. Radamel Falcao is injured and Loic Remy’s wife is scheduled to give birth soon, leaving Chelsea’s main man as maybe the only man.

The match against Spurs is a huge one for the Blues. Chelsea seems to have recovered slightly from its early-season tumble down the table, but their only two wins since the 2-0 victory over Arsenal in mid-September have been against Aston Villa and Norwich, and a marquee win would see them firmly announce an intention to return to last season’s form. The competition will be stiff, as Spurs’ high press could frustrate Costa, potentially sending him into another mood. But it could also give him opportunities should the hosts slip on Sunday.

Premier League preview: Manchester City vs. Southampton

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 21: Manuel Pellegrini, manager of Manchester City looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Liverpool at Etihad Stadium on November 21, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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  • Manchester City has lost both its home matches against top-10 sides this season
  • Southampton is six matches away unbeaten – club record is seven
  • Southampton has lost five straight at the Etihad across all competitions

Depending on results, Manchester City could be on top of the league come the end of the weekend if they can pick up three points when they welcome Southampton to the Etihad on Saturday (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

Unfortunately, they’ll face the Saints very banged up, something which has caused the home side plenty of issues recently. Goalkeeper Joe Hart suffered a hamstring injury midweek and will miss out, as will defenders Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta and Eliaquim Mangala.

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

Manuel Pellegrini‘s squad struggled mightily at times without Sergio Aguero up front during his four-match injury absence. Aguero is back and scored last week in the 4-1 loss to Liverpool, but now the back line is giving the Chilean boss headaches. They broke again midweek, a 1-0 loss to Juventus in Champions League play leaving City fans scratching their heads.

Southampton saw its six-match unbeaten run come to a surprising end against Stoke City last weekend, and that puts them in an awkward spot, stuck in a clogged portion of the Premier League table where the gap between sixth and 11th is just two points. With a difficult London list of Spurs, Arsenal, and West Ham on the docket surrounding the December holidays, stolen points here at the Etihad would go a long way later on.

The Saints are also shorthanded, with Graziano Pelle suspended for yellow card accumulation after picking up his fifth of the season against Stoke. With Jay Rodriguez still sidelined, that leaves Shane Long to lead the Southampton attack.

What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini on injury problems: “All the clubs have the same problems here in England and in other European leagues, because the players have to play so many games in the year and they have to go to their national squads with long flights.”

Southampton midfielder Steven Davis on Manchester City: “The demand from their fans is to win every game and they’re coming off the back of a couple of bad results. They will be looking to put it right. It should be an entertaining game but we’ll need to be at our best to get something. I’m confident we can go there and do that.”


Because of Manchester City’s defensive issues, summer signing Nicolas Otamendi will be forced back into the starting lineup after finding himself on the bench for the Liverpool loss. Since Otamendi looked off the pace in his first two Premier League matches (both of which City lost), he has acclimated quite well – the club has conceded just three goals in the Argentinian’s five matches following those two defeats.

With the striker issues for Southampton, City will use the return of David Silva to run Southampton down. Silva is known for playing his part in early goals, and the first 15 minutes will be key in this match. Manchester City will get one early, and they will return to their winning ways on a 2-0 victory.

Words fly as Mathieu Valbuena opens up about blackmail scandal

LISBON, PORTUGAL - SEPTEMBER 04: France's midfielder Matthieu Valbuena celebrating France goal during the Friendly match between Portugal and France on September 04, 2015 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images)
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Lyon midfielder Mathieu Valbuena has spoken out for the first time about the sex tape scandal that has rocked the French national team.

If what he says proves to be true, Karim Benzema could be in a whole heap of trouble.

Valbuena told his story to French newspaper Le Monde, where he explained how things began in May of 2015 with a phone call from Djibril Cisse that suggested someone had a tape of the 31-year-old Valbuena. A few days later a blocked number called Valbuena asking to meet in Dubai about the video. The Frenchman got the police involved, and then Benzema approached him during national team training.

“He [Benzema] spoke to me about a video. Immediately, I thought back to what the police chief had told me on Sunday [that someone would approach him about the video].  Then he asked me to meet a friend that he presented to be very reliable, very serious, someone that he had complete confidence in, to arrange all of that. So, anyway, I am not an idiot!

I was sceptical to say the least. Even if, it was true, at the start I said to him: “Thank you for warning me”, I was doubtful that if he wants me to meet someone, it is not for nothing. The way in which he conveyed things, it was certainly to provoke me to see someone, indirectly, it means to pay this person to destroy the video.”

Valbuena said Benzema never actually asked him to pay for the video to be destroyed, but that it was heavily implied. “I played his game, I told him, me I would like very much to pay for my freedom, but we all know that if you pay, it is endless, there will always be copies etc. He told me: ‘Don’t worry, I have total confidence in my friend, there will be no more duplicates, they will be destroyed.’ He insisted a lot for me to meet his friend.”

The Frenchman later would implicate Samir Nasri as someone who, according to Valbuena, had offered to approach him instead of Benzema. “[Nasri] is someone who is no longer part of the French national team. My relationship has always been difficult with Nasri. Now, nothing surprises me.”

Both have responded. Benzema’s lawyer gave an interview to French radio station RMC saying that there was contact between the two about the tape, but that the conversation saw Benzema encourage Valbuena not to pay for anything. Nasri also spoke to RMC, completely denying any involvement in the case by saying, “It is not my problem, not my situation.”

Benzema has been charged with conspiracy to blackmail for his role as an intermediary, but the investigation is still in the preliminary stages.

Premier League preview: Leicester City vs. Manchester United

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 07:  Jamie Vardy of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Watford at The King Power Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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  • Leicester sits atop the Premier League table with 28 points
  •  Manchester United has conceded just once in their last 7 league games
  • Leicester’s Premier League games have produced 48 goals, the most in the league

Yes, this is #1 vs #2. No, your eyes are not deceiving you.

And yet somehow, that magnificent lede has been buried thanks to one Jamie Vardy.

The 28-year-old can break Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s Premier League record of 10 straight games with a goal as Leicester City hosts Van Nistelrooy’s former team Manchester United at King Power Stadium (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

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

The Foxes are firmly atop the Premier League table, but many question whether they can hang onto that, and even others remain skeptical whether they can truly challenge for a top four spot this season. Saturday’s game will be a true test of their ability to remain in the hunt for the long haul, as the Red Devils are just a point off the top and, while it hasn’t been pretty at times this year, van Gaal’s men have done enough to pick up results in key situations.

On the other end, Manchester United has conceded just one goal in its last five league matches, and has not allowed a goal from open play since the Arsenal drubbing in early October. Can Vardy find space in the tight Red Devils’ back line?

Both teams are relatively healthy coming into this matchup. Leicester is only missing long-term absentee Matty Jones, while Manchester United is a little more banged up with Ander Herrera, Phil Jones, and Michael Carrick likely out alongside Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia.

What they’re saying

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal on Leicester City’s chances at title“Normally these kind of clubs can compete for long time, then at the end it becomes more difficult. But in England because of the quality of the teams, because every team has the money to buy players – and they have bought players – the difference in the Premier League between the clubs is not so high.”

Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri on the Foxes’ aim“The league is very strange and open but our goal is 40 points. Our goal at the moment is this but let me see the next two months and then maybe I change the goal. Like everybody else I am also curious in these days to watch my team, and to see how we respond in these big matches.”


Manchester United’s results have been there, and they’ve created a ton of chances. On the flip side, Leicester’s improved defensive organization is solid enough to hold off the Red Devils. This one ends 1-1, and there is no change at the top. Vardy gets the Foxes’ goal, because who doesn’t like fun things?