MLS Preview: Colorado Rapids at San Jose Earthquakes

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  • Teams are fifth, sixth in the Western Conference.
  • San Jose has lost one home game all season.
  • Earthquakes without Chavez; Rapids without Brown, Torres.

‘Six-pointer’ is one of the worst expressions in soccer. All matches are six-pointers! They each carry a potential six-point swing in the standings.- the difference between Team A winning and Team B claiming full points. Whether you’re talking about a game in round one or the last match of the season, they’re all six-pointers.

But typically that monicker’s been reserved for games between teams competing for (or, trying to avoid) the same threshold. That’s why a match between teams trying to avoid the drop is a relegation six-pointer (almost exclusively how the term’s used).

Wednesday’s Major League Soccer schedule presents us with a six-pointer of a different kind. A late season surge sees the San Jose Earthquakes, last year’s Supporters’ Shield winners, in sixth place in the West – just outside a playoff position. Right on the other side of that line? The upstart Colorado Rapids, whose young core has been slowly augmented by veterans to give Oscar Pareja’s team an unexpected staying power.

Coming off a 5-1 win over Seattle, the Rapids may have shed that upstart label. After thrashing a recognized MLS Cup-contender, it no longer seems right to add any mitigating adjectives. Young Rapids, that’s fine? Athletic, dynamic, talented? Sure. Upstart has come to carry a slightly negative connotation, when we use it in sports. It’s almost as if we don’t believe it’s real.

Last year’s San Jose and this year’s Montréal weren’t/aren’t classified as upstarts (particularly because of the veteran makeup of their rosters). Instead, we discuss their potential impact on the postseason. Particularly after this weekend’s showing, don’t we owe Colorado the same respect?

First things first, Colorado need to get into the playoffs, which brings us back to the six-pointer concept. If Colorado loses at Buck Shaw (which nine out of 15 visitors have), they bring San Jose within one. But if they win? The pull seven points clear and could clinch, provided Vancouver drops points in Seattle.

If that happens, not only will Colorado become only the second team to claim full points from Santa Clara this season, they will send San Jose to the brink of elimination. One more Galaxy win, and the Earthquakes would be out.

It highlights the tightrope Matt Watson’s team is walking, though the fact that they haven’t already fallen to earth is a testament to both the new boss and his resilient squad. When Frank Yallop left the team early this season, it forced the players to internalize their poor start.

Though they’re unlikely to make the playoffs, the fact that San Jose is still in contention in October speaks to the professionalism of the group. Instead of playing for next year, the team decided to earn the paychecks they’re getting now.

And let’s not completely dismiss the possibility of them getting into the playoffs. If they win out, they get to 53 points, and they’re likely in. If they go 2-0-1, they hit 51 points and can get in if Vancouver takes some points from Colorado in those teams’ season-ending home-and-home. Watson’s already achieved something by keeping San Jose alive, but their chances to achieve greater things shouldn’t be so readily dismissed.

But if there’s a narrative to grab onto here, it’s Colorado’s. The team made an early commitment to their young core without any expectation of making this year’s playoffs. Set to allow the likes of Shane O’Neill, Deshorn Brown, and Dillon Powers room to grow beneath what looked like a jammed Western Conference playoff race, the Rapids were happy to rebuild, jettisoning Conor Casey and Jeff Larentowicz to do so. But with Clint Irwin’s emergence in goal and the ascension of Chris Klute to becoming the season’s best left back, the Rapids became as much about the present as the future.

That rise brings expectations. Coming off a 5-1 win over Seattle, a trip to San Jose suddenly looks winnable. With Marvin Chavez off with Honduras, Klute will have more cause to get forward down Colorado’s left. In the absence of Gaby Torres and Deshorn Brown, a Colorado attack featuring Edson Buddle, Vicente Sanchez, and Powers should find holes in a defense that’s missing Victor Bernardez and relying on a hobbled Clarence Goodson. Chris Wondolowski and Alan Gordon are available for San Jose, but Steven Lenhart is not, giving O’Neil and Drew Moor one less nuisance to worry about. If Colorado is a playoff-caliber team, they should find a way to get something from this match.

As much as the actual standings, that’s what Wednesday’s six-pointer is about: Identifying which of these two teams is truly playoff-worthy. Getting results under tough circumstances, taking advantage of the opportunities you’re presented, ending your opponents’ dreams – these are all tasks you endure in the postseason. San Jose and Colorado get a taste of it Wednesday night.

League Cup semifinal preview: Arsenal vs. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea has won 4-of-7 League Cup matches vs. Arsenal
  • Arsenal leads all-time series 74W-58D-62L
  • Clubs have drawn four times this season

Hardware hopes are on the line when Chelsea hits the Emirates Stadium for a League Cup semifinal second leg with Arsenal on Wednesday.

The sides drew 0-0 at Stamford Bridge, giving Chelsea the advantage of knowing a scoring draw would do the trick and set up a date with Manchester City at Wembley on Feb. 25, though Arsenal has home field advantage in pursuit of a win.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

Henrikh Mkhitaryan may debut for Arsenal, though the club released an interesting note on Tuesday: He’ll wear No. 7 in most competitions, but will have to use a different number in the Europa League because Alexis Sanchez wore it to start the tournament.

Chelsea’s Antonio Conte won’t have Alvaro Morata (back) and Cesc Fabregas for the match, though Andreas Christensen will be available for selection.

The clubs are no strangers to each other in big non-PL spots, squaring off in this season’s Community Shield (Arsenal won in penalty kicks) and last season’s FA Cup Final (Arsenal won).

Nothing has separated the sides on the field aside from those penalty kicks at Wembley Stadium, as Arsenal and Chelsea have drawn 1-1, 0-0, 2-2, and 0-0 since August.

What they’re saying

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger on Henrikh Mkhitaryan“He can play in different positions, but personally I see him first in a wide position, but I’m thinking about him a possibility to play through the middle. You are certain in our job of nothing, that’s absolutely sure. But you believe and I believe he has the qualities to do well, is a team player and our game is based on team attitude and movement and I think he can absorb the quantity of movement in our team.”

Chelsea’s Conte on the lineup: “Every game is different, you change the quality of your opponent and you must be intelligent enough to understand if you should continue with the same players or make some changes.”

Javier Mascherano leaving Barcelona after 8 seasons

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says defender Javier Mascherano is leaving the club after eight seasons.

Barcelona says there will be a farewell ceremony on Wednesday with Mascherano, club president Josep Bartomeu and the rest of the squad.

[ MORE: Man City to buy $86m CB ]

The 33-year-old Argentina international will say goodbye to the fans before Thursday’s game against Espanyol at Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey. He is reportedly going to play in China.

Mascherano, who also played as a defensive midfielder, arrived in Barcelona in 2010 from Liverpool and helped the Catalan club win 18 titles. He has made 334 appearances with Barcelona, but recently hadn’t been playing much.

The club earlier this month signed Colombia international Yerry Mina to boost its defense.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

Man City reportedly agrees $86m price for Laporte

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Sky Sports reporter Guillem Balague is reporting that Manchester City is set to seal an $86 million purchase of center back Aymeric Laporte from Athletic Bilbao, and all that’s left is for City to agree to contract terms with the player.

[ MORE: MCFC into League Cup Final ]

The 23-year-old has been with the Basque outfit since 2012, making more than 200 appearances for Athletic. Balague issued a Tweet saying Man City opted for Laporte over $34 million Jonny Evans of West Brom.

Laporte is a smooth and technical passer at center back who shouldn’t have a problem with the physical nature of the Premier League either. He’s yet to break into the French national team, and is only the second French player to play for Bilbao.

Rumors have circulated for some time, though a Tuesday report was dismissed because Laporte was in advanced discussions with Man City during a previous transfer window when he changed his mind.

It’s more big money from City, a boon for Athletic Bilbao, and terrific competition for John Stones and any Man City center back not named Nicolas Otamendi (and Vincent Kompany when healthy).

Rapids hire Patel as director; Highest ranking female exec in MLS

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The Colorado Rapids have hired Ena Patel as their new director of player personnel. She becomes Major League Soccer highest ranking female executive, according to the Denver Post.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s MLS coverage ]

According to the Rapids, she’ll report to club GM Padraig Smith and “oversee player contracts, salary budget, regulatory compliance, and soccer operations protocols.”

The move comes about a month-and-a-half after Sporting KC hired Megan Cameron as an assistant director of player personnel, the first woman hired to an MLS team’s technical staff.

Patel’s resume is outlandishly strong, though this is her first foray into the sports world. Here are some words from Smith, from ColoradoRapids.com:

“Ena’s hiring is the final piece of the puzzle for us on the front office side,” Smith, the Rapids executive vice president and general manager, said in a statement released by the club. “Bringing in a sharp, legal mind who can oversee our contractual processes and complex league mechanisms is a really important part of ensuring that we’re fielding the best possible team. We can’t wait for her to get started.”