Montenegro players Jovetic and Pavicevic train ahead of their 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer match against England, at Wembley Stadium in west London

England vs. Montenegro, preview: The pressure’s on the hosts

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This is it: the “big one” in Europe. With just two rounds to go in UEFA World Cup qualifying, Group H is about as tight as it’s possible to be. England are unbeaten and, by virtue of that fact, sit top, but Ukraine are just one point behind. So, too, are Montenegro, although their inferior goal difference leaves them in third, without even the possibility of a playoff match to take them into the World Cup.

(MORE: a group-by-group overview of UEFA World Cup qualifying)

But that all could change on Friday night at Wembley. England may have brought the world the beautiful game, but under coach Roy Hodgson, they’re not peddling a brand of soccer that could be described in such a manner. Sure, England triumphed brutally over San Marino (13-0 over two legs) and Moldova (9-0 over two legs) but haven’t managed more than dull draws against their other competitors:  1-1 and 0-0 against Ukraine, 1-1 against Poland, and 1-1 in the first leg against Montenegro. There’s no entertainment here, just a simple grinding out of results, in any manner possible.

Perhaps that’s how it should be. After all, the point is to reach the World Cup, not to put on a dazzling display of theatrical footwork and brilliant backheels while blazing a trail to Brazil. Points dug up through long balls and headed goals count just as much.

The problem is that England need more than a hard fought draw this time: Ukraine are too close behind, and Montenegro face Moldova in the last round. Fortunately for Hodgson, he’s got a healthy squad at his disposal this time around. This is not the cobbled together squad that drew against Ukraine last time; instead, it’s likely Wayne Rooney will be set to sit behind Daniel Sturridge as the two look to lead the Three Lions attack. Ashley Cole misses out through injury, but it’s unlikely anyone will be concerned by the thought of Leighton Baines taking his place at left back. In fact, the only real concern is the form of Joe Hart, who’s made a few marquee mistakes in goal for Manchester City recently. But high profile mistakes are the bane of goalkeepers’ existences, and it’s highly unlikely that the experienced Hart will make a major gaff against Montenegro.

It’s the visitors that should feel nervous. They’re missing injured Juventus striker Mirko Vucinic, who may have scored just two goals in qualifying thus far, but has a knack for getting into dangerous positions. Montenegro are also without centerback Marko Basa, while defender Miodrag Dzudovic’s status is questionable. That leaves them relying on Stevan Jovetic, who, thanks to injuries and a bit of bad luck, has barely seen the pitch for Manchester City this season. When Jovetic is in form, he’s a real terror, annoying defenders and looking to score from any angle.

Yet, despite being so close to qualifying for their first World Cup as an independent nation, there seem to be few nerves around the Montenegro camp. Jovetic himself said the pressure is on England, where the fans expect qualification and the media scrutinizes every move and every decision. Montenegrins, meanwhile, seem satisfied with their sides’ performance, and the media are producing heartwarming stories about how the national team loves to play in front of a big crowd. So Montenegro go to Wembley with little pressure, likely to simply play in their regular manner: defensively organized and with an eye toward the rare opportunity to get forward and find a goal.

Finally, both sides may find slight comfort in knowing that Ukraine face Poland this time around. The Poles are not yet eliminated from reaching Brazil, sitting just two points behind Ukraine and Montenegro. A win this time, and they could move into second. But if England and Montenegro play out a draw and Ukraine outplay Poland as they did in the first leg, it could be Ukraine that books a direct flight to Brazil — and with the hapless San Marino on deck for the final round, there will be no overcoming Ukraine’s advantage.

MLS Weekend Preview: New York City, Colorado rumble in the Bronx

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 13: David Villa #7 of New York City FC celebrates his first half goal with teamate Andrea Pirlo #21 againd the Toronto FC at Yankee Stadium on March 13, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images
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Two weeks ago, we delved into the absurd home field advantage that comes with hosting matches in Major League Soccer.

Since then, it’s gotten nuttier.

The home side was taking 1.85 points per game as of July 10 — full article here — and snaring a point or better in more than 82 percent of home fixtures this year.

[ MORE: Ten best transfers so far ]

Since then, road teams have won a total of two matches in 26 tries moving, making the home team record for the season 107W-67D-34L. That’s now 1.88 points per game and points in close to 84 percent of games.

So, of course, this week’s marquee match-up could defy the trend.

Game of the Week

instagram.com/jermainejunior/
instagram.com/jermainejunior/

With apologies to FC Dallas and its three point advantage on Colorado, each conference’s top team will face off Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.

The Rapids bring their MLS-best 1.9 points-per-game into the match, while NYC currently sits atop the East despite its second humbling at the hands of the Red Bulls.

Colorado has done a masterful job at finding points on the road, with two wins and five draws in nine tries. That should bode well for them despite the cross-country flight, especially when you toss in NYC’s meager 3W-3L-5T mark at home this season.

Elsewhere

Really, it’s a case of studs and duds. The first three matches of Sunday are living in high-five country, while the majority of the 6:30 p.m. ET kickoffs don’t inspire much outside of the Trillium Cup showdown in Toronto and a “Dominic Kinnear Derby” in Texas.

Full schedule
Colorado at NYCFC — 3 p.m. ET Saturday
Portland at Sporting KC — 2 p.m. ET Sunday
L.A. Galaxy at Seattle — 4 p.m. ET Sunday
Vancouver at FC Dallas — 6 p.m. ET Sunday
Montreal at DC United — 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday
New York Red Bulls at Chicago — 7 p.m. ET Sunday
Real Salt Lake at Philadelphia — 7 p.m. ET Sunday
Columbus at Toronto — 7:30 p.m. ET Sunday
New England at Orlando City — 7:30 p.m. ET Sunday
San Jose at Houston — 9 p.m. ET Sunday

Klopp frowns at Pogba fee: “I am trying to build a team, a real team”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MAY 13:  Jurgen Klopp the manager of Liverpool faces the media during the Liverpool UEFA Europa League Cup Final Media Day at Melwood Training Ground on May 13, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Jurgen Klopp isn’t pleased with the mega money transfer fees being used to “collect” players from around world football.

The Liverpool boss says he doesn’t know how much he’s allowed to spend on one player, as no move he’s made has really required that sort of question.

[ MORE: Ten best transfers so far ]

He sees club football as a means of assembling a team with critical pieces, not buying and then building around a player.

And Klopp said he would do it differently even if he had the green light to spend absurd amounts of dough.

From The Daily Mail:

“If you bring one player in for £100m and he gets injured, then it all goes through the chimney,’ he said.

“The day that this is football, I’m not in a job anymore, because the game is about playing together.”

“If I spend money, it is because I am trying to build a team, a real team. Barcelona did it. You can win championships, you can win titles, but there is a manner in which you want it.”

Klopp has spent a lot of money, but he’s spaced it out in picking up six players for around 2/3 of the Pogba fee this summer (Granted two were on free transfers).

That said, he didn’t exactly take over a club lacking star power that required loads and loads of buys. Klopp is at a different standard in answering to the media and public right now. While that’s pretty well-deserved, the way he’s getting credit for the price tags on assets he’s sold is kind of hilarious.

Either way, we are loving Klopp in the Premier League. Bring on the season.

Ten most noteworthy transfers of the summer (so far)

BORDEAUX, FRANCE - JULY 02:  Mats Hummels of Germany runs with the ball during the UEFA EURO 2016 quarter final match between Germany and Italy at Stade Matmut Atlantique on July 2, 2016 in Bordeaux, France.  (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
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As Paul Pogba’s return to Manchester United moves closer, where will it rank on the list of the most promising moves of the summer?

Putting cost aside given the giant budgets of world football, Pogba’s move will probably top the proverbial pops once completed.

[ MORE: Guzan finds new PL home ]

Yet this summer has been an incredible one for transfers, with so many Premier League teams leading the way in business, that names like Sadio Mane, Michy Batshuayi, Nico Gaitan, and Nolito miss out list (and they are just the tip of the iceberg).

Here’s our Top Ten so far

10. Mario Gotze, Bayern Munich –> Borussia Dortmund

Will a return “home” do the trick for the World Cup clinching attacker?

9. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Borussia Dortmund –> Manchester United

The Armenian attacker was somewhat unheralded. No more.

8. Andre Schurrle, Wolfsburg –> Borussia Dortmund

BVB reaps the rewards from a still questionable Chelsea decision.

7. Granit Xhaka, Borussia Monchengladbach –> Arsenal

The big money man is a perfect fit for how Arsene Wenger likes to play.

6. Gonzalo Higuain, Napoli –> Juventus

Whether his big season was an aberration or not, that’s a lot of dough.

(AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
(AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

5. Ilkay Gundogan, Borussia Dortmund –> Manchester City

His possession game should be a jewel in Pep Guardiola’s crown.

4. Miralem Pjanic, Roma –> Juventus

One of the best in the world could even be an improvement over Pogba.

3. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paris Saint-Germain –> Manchester United

Let’s hope he doesn’t read this and see he’s not No. 1 (and soon to be No. 4)

2. Mats Hummels, Borussia Dortmund –> Bayern Munich

Technically announced a while ago, but Bayern is almost unfair. Enjoy, Carlo.

  1. N'Golo Kante, Leicester City –> Chelsea

An absolute beast, and a player that will seamlessly slide into Antonio Conte’s plans as a center piece.

PHOTO: Drogba enjoyed scoring on Arsenal, Cech in MLS All Star Game

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 01:  Didier Drogba and Petr Cech of Chelsea pose with the trophy after the Capital One Cup Final match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium on March 1, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images
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Didier Drogba got to score against an old rival and a former teammate, and this pleases him greatly.

The Ivorian legend and Montreal Impact striker scored the lone MLS goal as the All Stars fell to Arsenal 2-1 on Thursday at Avaya Stadium in San Jose.

But that goal went behind former Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, who was Drogba’s goalkeeper from 2004-2012 and 2014-15 at Stamford Bridge.

[ MORE: Man City plays tennis on Great Wall ]

Both players joined Chelsea in July 2004, and Cech used Twitter to post this photo from a post-match meet-up.

Drogba looks happy.