Major League Soccer playoff re-set for Week 32

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The facts

Weeks remaining: 4

Playoff spots open: 10

Number of teams that have clinched: 0

Who can qualify this weekend:

The New York Red Bulls, Real Salt Lake and Seattle Sounders FC all can clinch playoff berths with wins. The Red Bulls (because they play earlier on Saturday) have the opportunity to become the first club to officially clinch a 2013 post-season berth. There is also a chance that the same trio could qualify Saturday even with a loss – but that gets complicated, depending on other results etc. So we’ll leave it here for now.

Who can be eliminated this weekend:

No teams are in position to join Chivas USA, Toronto FC and D.C. United on the list of “officially eliminated.” On the other hand, Dallas and Vancouver are in the most vulnerable spots, facing all-but-certain elimination in the West with a weekend loss, combined with wins by Colorado and Los Angeles.

The weekend’s most meaningful games:

Chicago at D.C. United: The Fire sits in eighth place, but could vault all the way into fifth (Past the “red line!”) with a win, depending on other Eastern Conference results. The opportunity is there against D.C. United, with absolutely nothing to play for and still coming down off the U.S. Open Cup high. (The match is previewed here.)

source: Getty Images

Montreal at Houston: The Supporters Shield has slipped from reach over the last three weeks for Montreal, so it’s now all about remaining in front of Houston and others for that third place. (Fourth- and fifth-place must navigate an additional playoff round.) Friday’s match brings a huge opportunity for the Dynamo, where in-form striker Will Bruin (pictured at right) has helped revive signs of life in the attack, to leapfrog the Impact into third place.

New England at New York: The Red Bulls can clinch a playoff spot, as noted above. Oh, Mike Petke’s team still has a shot at Supporters Shield, although Seattle has two games in hand (and therefore a huge leg up.)

Toronto at Philadelphia: This is a huge opportunity for John Hackworth’s Union; the team that cannot collect all three points at this time, at home, against already eliminated TFC probably does not deserve a post-season berth. So, there’s a ton on the line at PPL Park.

Sporting Kansas City at Columbus: The Crew has won three in a row, including two on the road, in this improbable late-season reach. Heroic as the September surge has been under interim manager Brian Bliss, post-season chances will take a massive blow if the men in yellow cannot get all three points at Crew Stadium on Saturday.

FC Dallas at Real Salt Lake: The Red Stripes’ last strands of playoff ambition depend on taking advantage of an RSL team potentially tired and / or dispirited from Tuesday’s huge U.S. Open Cup bummer. It’s a tall order, winning at Rio Tinto. Then again, D.C. United just did it.

Seattle at Colorado: The Rapids’ young bunch of over achievers probably needs six points from its remaining four matches to get in – unless they lose next week at San Jose. Then they might need nine points, which makes Saturday’s contest at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park particularly important.

Chivas USA at L.A. Galaxy: The two-time defending champs were thinking possible Supporters Shield two or three weeks ago. Now, they are one loss from potentially slipping out of the playoff picture. With several stars potentially missing next week’s match (due  to World Cup qualifiers), Bruce Arena’s team needs three points in this L.A. derby.

Portland at Vancouver: One more win probably gets the Timbers in, while Vancouver probably needs to win three of four just for a chance.

The standings going into Week 32

source:

Wenger, Kroenke meet; Arsenal board will be told decision Tues.

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Wenger watch is entering its final hours.

The BBC is reporting that Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke met with longtime manager Arsene Wenger on Monday to discuss the Frenchman’s future, and that the decision was going to be made together.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

It seems almost certain that Wenger is going to come back to the Emirates Stadium. From the BBC:

The outcome is unclear but the decision rests solely with Wenger and Kroenke and will be relayed to directors at a Tuesday board meeting.

Fresh terms were agreed in principle some months ago, but nothing is signed.

There have been questions about whether Wenger would accept a sporting director being placed above him, and if Kroenke believes the repercussions of keeping the boss would negatively impact the business.

Barcelona to keep goalkeeper Ter Stegen until 2022

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has reached a deal to extend the contract of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen until June 2022.

The club said the new agreement, which has a buyout clause of 180 million euros ($201 million), will be signed on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

Ter Stegen has been with the club since 2014, helping it win nine titles in three seasons.

The German goalkeeper has played 93 matches with Barcelona, conceding 90 goals in 71 wins, 10 draws and 12 losses.

Barcelona has already renewed the contracts of Javier Mascherano, Luis Suarez, Neymar, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic. It is still working on new deals for Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.

Report: Wenger ready to pay Ozil, Sanchez club record deals

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Arsenal knows its departure from the UEFA Champions League has to be a short one, and that keeping its two best attackers around is imperative.

That’s why Arsene Wenger is preparing to make Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez the top paid players in Arsenal history, according to a report from The Telegraph’s Jeremy Wilson.

The contract status of both players has been a touchy one this season, and Sanchez especially has been linked with some of the biggest clubs in Europe (including London neighbors Chelsea).

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

But perhaps the Gunners’ FA Cup triumph over Chelsea has Ozil and Sanchez feeling good vibes about the Emirates Stadium set, and Arsenal is ready to pounce. According to the report:

Wenger has told the board that he thinks he can win the Premier League if this group stays together and is supplemented by no more than two or three key additions. Ozil is understood already to have been offered more than £250,000 a week and the club are ready to go to around £280,000 for both him and Sanchez.

The Gunners need both players healthy and happy heading into next season, and appropriate additions as well (A top striker is a must. Again). Wage structure is important, but Arsenal will have a blessing in disguise if another player can make a legit case he deserves to be paid like Ozil and Sanchez any time soon.

West Ham, Everton, and the superstar striker’s need for the Champions League

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Come up with a list of active elite level strikers, and it’s likely to be a short one filled with names from UEFA Champions League clubs.

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Costa, Luis Suarez, Robert Lewandowski, Edinson Cavani, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Harry Kane, even Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Rarely do names like these move to a non-UCL club while in their prime, and it’s just as uncommon to see them stay at clubs which have failed to qualify for the UCL.

The money, the prestige, the endorsements; All are amplified by the world stage. Given the massive import of their domestic stage and spotlight, Premier League sides have bucked this trend on occasion — see Romelu Lukaku — but it’s the exception to the rule.

That’s what puts an ambitious club like West Ham United between a rock and a hard place. The Irons have been vocal about their desires to bring in a top-end striker, and it’s likely they’d be happy to spend what it takes to attract Alexandre Lacazette, Aubameyang, or Cavani to town.

Lyon reportedly rejected a $45 million bid for Lacazette last season, admitting that ultimately the player’s desires would determine his future. Higuain, too, was linked to chairman David Gold’s wallet before moving to Juventus. Carlos Bacca also saw his future connected to the Irons.

Instead, Gold landed Andre Ayew from Swansea, and had to hope Andy Carroll could stay healthy or Enner Valencia would deliver. Not a striker, Dimitri Payet apparently decided to skip town soon after West Ham’s Europa League exit at the hands of Astra Giurgiu.

Now it’s Kelechi Iheanacho being linked to the London Stadium, another hopeful swing from the Irons that points a strong finger at the problem: West Ham can be as ambitious as it likes, but it’s going to need a miracle to pull an elite striker to London without European football.

And it shouldn’t happen, but what if Everton is bumped from the UEL in the third qualifying round or playoff next year? Will Lukaku follow Payet’s lead and sink another team from joining the discussion? Though an argument can be made it’s better for Everton to lose those summer games, the Toffees very much need to succeed in the UEL qualifying and also show signs of strength in the early PL docket. That’s the unforgiving life of sitting on the outskirts of the powerful tier.

Every team at every level is searching for the next elite striker. Some, like West Ham, will need to luck into a young buck on the rise or a flawed striker finding his potential. And how do they hold onto that player, one who will have alerted the big boys to his arrival, without qualifying for Europe? It’s improbable.

The ability of teams like Chelsea and Liverpool to compete for a European slot in the PL standings thanks to missing out on the UCL the year before signals hope for clubs like Everton and West Ham. And five Premier League sides competing in the UCL this year could extend an invitation to stay longer in the Top Seven discussion for sides like Southampton and Leicester City, too.

So this summer’s striker captures are huge for Slaven Bilic and David Gold. This is a window the league’s “next group” won’t have open annually, and West Ham’s hopes of barging into the discussion again hinge on who shows up by August.