MLS Preview: Columbus Crew vs. Sporting KC

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Three straight wins haven’t been enough to propel the Columbus Crew into the playoff scenario – yet.

But at just a point away, this weekend provides them with a chance to collect another three points and, maybe more importantly, make a statement to the rest of Major League Soccer that Columbus will be a forced to be reckoned with in the playoffs.

Sparking the mini revolution in Columbus is Federico Higuain, whose returned from suspension/injury three matches ago has exactly coincided with their winning streak.

The Argentinian has picked up two goals and three assists during that span, directly contributing to five of their eight goals in the timeframe.

This fixture a month ago – at Sporting Park – ironically saw Kansas City throttle Columbus 3-0, and saw them sink deeper into the muck of the East’s bottom.

Then something happened.

Higuain returned, and interm manager Brian Bliss has pushed all the right buttons since that low moment.

But they’re not there yet. “The ball’s in our court a little bit” said Bliss. “We’re putting some pressure on the teams ahead of us. Our guys feel good about our game, they feel good about each other, they feel good about themselves individually. We’ve just got to carry this momentum and keep going.”

For Kansas City, they’re in no real danger, but this season they’ve been known to drop points in odd spots, such as last week at home against Philadelphia.

Clinching shouldn’t be an issue, but with upcoming matches against teams who are motivated by the playoff race (Houston, Philadelphia again, and here with Columbus), they need to bear down and get the job done.

With the home stretch in full swing, it’s now or never for clubs like Columbus – make a statement in front of your home fans, or pray for help.

LAFC selects Urena, 4 others in MLS Expansion Draft

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Los Angeles FC selected five players in the MLS Expansion Draft, including Costa Rican national team star Marco Urena.

Whether they’ll make their way to the City of Angels is another story.

The first pick from general manager John Thorrington was goalkeeper Tyler Miller from Seattle Sounders.

[ MORE: Benitez on NUFC struggles ]

Going next was Latif Blessing from Sporting KC, an electric attacker who netted thrice with an assist last season.

Next was Urena from San Jose and the Costa Rican national team, a huge addition, and then Columbus left back Jukka Raitala before closing up the draft with Raheem Edwards from Toronto FC.

LAFC has already announced the signings or acquisitions of Carlos Vela, Walker Zimmerman, Carlos Alvarez, Monday Etim, and Guillermo Vizcarra.

The club will also loan Omar Gaber from Basel and Rodrigo Pacheco from Lanus.

WATCH LIVE: Three Premier League matches

AP Photo/Matt Dunham
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Chelsea visits the John Smith’s Stadium to face Huddersfield Town in one of three Premier League fixtures this chilly Tuesday in December (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Blues are now 14 points back of Manchester City, and three points clear of fifth place.

Meanwhile there are a pair of matches on NBC Sports Gold: Burnley looks to keep pace with its Top Four ambitions when it hosts struggling Stoke City, while in-form Crystal Palace seeks a home win that would move it out of the drop zone. In its way? Dangerous, attack-minded Watford.

Burnley vs. Stoke City — 2:45 p.m. ET [ STREAM ]

Huddersfield Town vs. Chelsea — 3 p.m. ET [ STREAM ]

Crystal Palace vs. Watford — 3 p.m. ET [ STREAM ]

FIFA bans Colombia midfielder Cardona 5 games for gesture

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has banned Colombia midfielder Edwin Cardona for five matches for making a discriminatory gesture with his eyes toward a South Korean opponent.

FIFA will allow Cardona to serve the ban in friendly games, so he should be available for Colombia’s World Cup opener against Japan on June 19.

[ MORE: Pep on post-derby celebrations ]

Cardona has also been fined 20,000 Swiss francs ($20,150) because of the incident last month in a friendly in Seoul.

Cardona apologized at the time, saying he “didn’t mean to disrespect anyone, a country or a race, but if anyone felt offended, or interpreted it in that way, I am sorry.”

Spurs’ Alderweireld won’t return until February

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Spurs finally got a bit of good news this weekend with a blowout of Stoke City.

That was a followed by a tough draw against Juventus in the UEFA Champions League, and bad news on an old injury.

[ MORE: Benitez on NUFC struggles ]

Center back Toby Alderweireld is going to be gone into February, extending his time on the sidelines with a hamstring injury suffered Nov. 1 against Real Madrid.

Spurs were 6-2-2 in league when Alderweireld went down, and are just 2-2-2 since the injury. The Belgian has missed losses at Arsenal and Leicester, draws against Watford and West Brom, and wins over Crystal Palace and Stoke.

Tottenham did win both of its UCL matches since the injury.