Osvaldo Alonso

MLS Preview: Vancouver Whitecaps at Seattle Sounders

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  • Seattle clinch 2013 Cascadia Cup with win.
  • Vancouver could be eliminated from post season with loss, Colorado result in San Jose.
  • Sounders missing Brad Evans, Eddie Johnson.

Seats are getting warmer in the Pacific Northwest. Vancouver’s undergoing their second straight late season dip, while Seattle is coming off another all-too-common, inexplicable thrashing. Because both of the teams expect better, you’re starting to hear rumblings:

Could Martin Rennie be in trouble? What about Sigi Schmid’s future in Seattle?

That’s the underlying tension behind tomorrow’s Cascadia Cup match at CenturyLink Field, with the Supporters Shield-contending Seattle Sounders hosting a Vancouver Whitecaps team desperately seeking a playoff lifeline (10:30 p.m. Eastern). Coming off a 5-1 shellacking in Colorado, Seattle sit one point behind Real Salk Lake in the West yet may still be favorites to claim the Supporters’ Shield (games in hand, yo).  Vancouver, on the other hand, are all but eliminated unless they claim full points in Seattle.

Lose to the Sounders, and the Whitecaps will be six points back of Colorado and Los Angeles with two games left. Los Angeles would win a tie-breaker thanks to their edge in wins (LA: 14; VWFC: 11), while Vancouver could edge the Rapids on goals scored (44-42, right now). That sounds nice, but Vancouver would still need to a.) win their last two games, b.) have Colorado lose their remaining three to bring the tie-breaking into play, and c.) have San Jose only claim one point (at most) in their season’s last two games after beating the Rapids on Wednesday. So … while it’s not mathematically certain, if Vancouver loses on Wednesday, they’re done.

That’s why things are heating up for Martin Rennie. Last season the first-year coach got his team into the playoffs and gave LA a scare in the four-five game, but a nose-dive after mid-season tinkering made the young Scot’s first year more learning experience than success. Unfortunately, whatever was learned hasn’t translated into better 2013 results. Again, Vancouver’s stumbled as the leaves have turned.

Camilo’s Sunday goal salvaged a draw and may have quieted the inevitable: Discussion of Rennie’s job. That’s not to say the talk hasn’t already begun. If Vancouver bows out of the playoff race with two games left, the thread through the coach’s two MLS seasons will be talented teams with promising starts undone by mid-season tinkering. Should Bob Lenarduzzi trust Rennie to get it right a third time around?

A similar discussion could explode in Seattle should the Sounders stumble home. As with Rennie, there are already whispers about whether Sigi Schmid’s the right man for the job, complaints that intensified after showing’s like Sunday’s. The 5-1 in loss commerce (tied for worst in the team’s MLS history) was reminiscent of their 4-0 defeat in Carson on May 26. Fans also remember the first leg of last year’s conference final in LA (3-0), the 6-1 loss in Torreon last March, and  the 3-0 loss in Sandy to open the 2011 playoffs. Though Seattle’s had more then their fair share of favorable scorelines during that time, people see one of the league’s most talented clubs and ask why they seem particularly prone to getting inexplicably blown out.

The situation around Schmid is much more complicated than Rennie’s, though. The former Galaxy, Crew boss is one of the most successful coaches in Major League Soccer history. Whether we know the secret to his success or not, there’s no way he’s a bad coach. He also enjoys a status that’s more akin to owner than a coach. Leaving a successful Columbus team to move to the northwest when Seattle joined MLS, Schmid became the face of the franchise. It would take an unexpectedly poor finish from the Sounders to bring his job into question, though given the high standards they set for themselves at the start of the season (and the huge amounts of money they’ve spent sense), another early playoff exit could meet that “unexpectedly poor” threshold.

Particularly with the acquisitions of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins, life is becoming an increasingly bottom line business in Seattle. That Schmid is perceived as being decisive in letting the Portugal-shredding Fredy Montero go also plays into this, too. The team’s had great U.S. Open Cup success, but with the Supporters’ Shield in their grasp and MLS Cup glory an expressed preseason goal, slipping in October and November may no longer be acceptable.

If Seattle drops points on Wednesday, they’ll still be in the thick of it for the Supporters’ Shield. And of course, they’re going to the playoffs. But where once it looked like the Shield was theirs to lose, a draw against a weakened New York and a thrashing by Colorado have brought the Red Bulls, Kansas City, Real Salt Lake, and maybe even Portland into the middle of the picture. Given the hunger in Seattle for some non-U.S. Open Cup hardware, dropping home points to Vancouver could calcify dissension at the season’s most inopportune moment.

So the Sounders will have to overcome the losses of Brad Evans, a crucial part of their midfield, and Eddie Johnson, their most valuable player this season. Both are with the U.S. men’s national team. They’ll have to overcome the uncertainties they brought back from Colorado and put themselves back on the road to the Supporters’ Shield.

And if they do, all but eliminating Vancouver from the postseason in the process, Seattle will take the heat on their coach and add it to pressure mounting on their rivals’.

Xavi backs Dybala, Verratti to succeed at Barcelona over Pogba

TURIN, ITALY - JANUARY 24:  Paulo Dybala (R) of Juventus FC celebrates after scoring the opening goal with team mate Paul Pogba during the Serie A match between Juventus FC and AS Roma at Juventus Arena on January 24, 2016 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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With Paul Pogba linked with a possible summer move to Barcelona worth more than $100 million, one legend at Camp Nou believes Pogba may not be the right signing.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines ]

After making more than 700 appearances for Barcelona, Xavi knows the club as well as anyone, and he prefers Pogba’s Juventus teammate Paulo Dybala for a move to the Catalan giants.

Xavi also praised the play of Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti, saying that while Pogba is a star player, Dybala and Verratti have “Barca DNA.”

There’s two players I really like, both of whom I think have Barca’s DNA. They are Marco Verratti and Paulo Dybala.

They are amazing and, thanks to their quality and style of play, would easily integrate into the [Barca] machine. I see them as future stars at the club.

[Pogba] is a great player. He’ll be a star for France as he is for Juve, but I see him with a different game to ours.

Both Pogba and Dybala are 22-years-old, while Verratti is 23. All three players have been among the elite young talents in the world, with Pogba earning the most praise of the group and always linked with a big-money move to Europe’s top clubs.

[ RELATED: Messi named La Liga Player of the Month for first time in career ]

Dybala is enjoying a breakout season at Juventus, currently with 13 goals and eight assists in Serie A play. In Paris, Verratti is part of a PSG side that hasn’t lost in 25 matches and holds a 24-point lead at the top of the table.

Vincent Kompany set to make Manchester City return this weekend

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal at Etihad Stadium on January 18, 2015 in Manchester, England.
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Vincent Kompany is set to make his first appearance for Manchester City since Boxing Day as the defender has returned from injury.

City’s captain and center-back missed more than six weeks with a calf injury before Christmas, and then reaggravated the injury just minutes into his return at the end of December.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

However, Kompany has been back in training and manager Manuel Pellegrini said he is fit to play this weekend when City host Tottenham in a huge top-four matchup.

We’ll see what the starting XI is tomorrow – we’re not just thinking about one player and one game, we’re involved in a lot of competitions. Maybe we have a lot of criticism when we don’t play well but I’m happy with the squad over the whole season.

Every player must play a game when they’re 100%. Vincent has worked for three weeks with no problems. He played 45 minutes in a friendly game against the under-21s and I think he’s ready to play.

Kompany’s presence in the City back-line has been pivotal this season. In the eight Premier League games Kompany has started, City have kept seven clean sheets. In the 18 matches without the big Belgian in the starting lineup, City have kept just five.

[ RELATED: Diego Costa suffers broken nose in Chelsea training ]

With City just a point behind Tottenham, Kompany returns from injury just in time for one of the biggest matches of the season. Tasked with slowing down Harry Kane and Spurs’ high-flying attack, Kompany’s play could prove crucial to the Citizens getting a result.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Newcastle United

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  • CFC unbeaten under Hiddink (W5, D6)
  • Newcastle have just 6 away goals all season
  • Diego Costa: 6 goals in his last 7 PL matches

Chelsea look to extend their unbeaten streak under Guus Hiddink to 12 matches on Saturday when the Blues host relegation-threatened Newcastle (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

The Blues’ last loss came under Jose Mourinho in December.

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

Chelsea are up to 13th on the table, currently riding a run of 11 matches unbeaten in all competitions. Guus Hiddink is yet to suffer a loss after taking over for his second stint at Stamford Bridge in December, although draws have kept Chelsea from climbing further up the table. Diego Costa has had the hot-hand with six goals in his last seven appearances, but the Spanish striker will be forced to play with a mask after suffering a broken nose in training.

[ MORE: Hiddink has “no fear” of playing youngsters in Zouma’s absence ]

For Newcastle, the Magpies sit 17th on the table just one point above the drop. Their away form has hurt the club all season, as Steve McClaren‘s men have scored a league-low six goals on the road this year. The Magpies are coming off of a win over West Brom, and supporters will be hoping the club’s new January signings continue to produce. Seydou Doumbia could make his Premier League debut on Saturday, which would be a massive boost to the attack.

What they’re saying

Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink: “The status of being unbeaten sounds good but realistically we would have wished to have more victories, especially at home. And we have an opportunity to do so against Newcastle. They improved their squad with substance, some good signings, and they are more competitive now.”

Newcastle boss Steve McClaren: “In our home games we are starting to get a consistency in our performance and the way we play. We need to start transferring that to our away games and picking up points away from home – we owe it to the fans.”

Prediction

Newcastle have just two wins in their last 18 league matches away from home, and I don’t see that trend changing this weekend. Chelsea have looked a new team with Guus Hiddink in charge, and they stay unbeaten under the Dutchman. Chelsea 2-1 Newcastle United.

Pochettino enjoying best spell of career ahead of massive clash at Man City

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 23:  Mauricio Pochettino (R) Manager of Tottenham Hotspur is seen on arrival at the stadium prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur at Selhurst Park on January 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Mauricio Pochettino is getting ready for one of his biggest matches in charge at Tottenham, but he’s not letting the pressure get to him.

The Spurs’ boss talked down the importance of Sunday’s match against Manchester City (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra), and went on to say he is currently having the most enjoyable time of his career.

[ WATCH: Full PL match replays ]

Pochettino has Tottenham sitting second on the table, and they travel to the Etihad this weekend for a clash against fourth-placed Manchester City, who sit one point behind Spurs.

When asked if this weekend’s match could be a decisive result in the title race, Pochettino was unwilling to admit it was anything more than three points in a long campaign. However, when asked about the season as a whole, the Argentinian manager said he was having great fun at White Hart Lane, responding “Is it my most enjoyable time of career? Yes, maybe yes if I’m honest.”

[ MORE: Who are the Premier League title favorites? ]

Pochettino’s work at Tottenham has made him one of the most well-respected managers in the Premier League, with some reports tabbing him as the potential future boss of Manchester United.

Spurs have won six on the spin in all competitions, and will be confident facing a City side they smashed 4-1 earlier this season. With leaders Leicester facing Arsenal on Sunday, Tottenham could see themselves just two points off the pace if results go their way.