Marco Di Vaio 2

MLS Playoff Focus: Notes on Montreal ahead of Thursday’s meeting with Houston

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Ahead of Thursday’s single elimination playoff between Houston and Montreal, here are the most-knows about the visiting Impact ahead of the 8:30 p.m. ET kickoff (NBCSN):

  • Marco Di Vaio’s special season

The Impact’s last time on the field turned into the hated double bummer; Les Bleus fell to Toronto while watching striker Marco Di Vaio fail to claim the Golden Boot, never mind his sparkling 20-goal season. The 37-year-old striker wandered into final weekend soccer level with Mike Magee for league leadership. Magee scored, Vancouver’s Camilo scored even more and, well … Di Vaio did not.

Still,, what a season. Remember, 20-goal campaigns remain rare in MLS, still a significant benchmark. There were just 10 previous instances through 17 MLS seasons.

  • Alessandro Nesta is out

You could probably make some case that Marco Schallibaum’s team is better without the veteran Italian – although it would be something of a stretch.

Nesta’s foot speed just isn’t what it was previously during all those years at Lazio, Milan and with the Italian national team. (Truly, the man was one of the defensive giants of a land that appreciates defenders like it appreciates carefully crafted pasta.) So, he tends to get exposed when caught one-on-one against younger, faster types.

But again, it’s a case that looks like small noodles to me. Because Nesta’s positioning and anticipation is so good that he’s an expert at avoiding those situations. Plus, neither Houston striker, Will Bruin nor Giles Barnes, is particularly fast.

Besides, a guy with 78 caps for Italy and a World Cup winner’s medal (2006) … yeah, you want him on the field. Nesta is out with a calf injury. Young backup Wandrille Lefevre or possibly outside back Hassoun Camara will be the likely replacement at center back.

  • Backing into the playoffs

Clearly, everyone around camp Les Bleus would feel better about things if the Impact had won last weekend at Toronto, claiming their spot with a winning authority rather than backing in because Chicago got clobbered at Red Bull Arena.

The Impact concluded their second MLS campaign with a 1-0 loss at Canadian rival Toronto.

“We were disappointed,” Hassoun Camara told MLSSoccer.com. “Everyone knows it was an important game for us and we wanted to show that we are a playoff team. It’s hard to deal with that.”

  • Last time in Houston? Not that bad

Yes, the Impact’s recent skid included a 1-0 loss earlier this month at Houston. But this was far from a run-away, and the Impact improved considerably and even pressed Houston at times once Andrew Wenger came in for the final half hour.

Where Montreal lost the game was in midfield, where orange-clad Boniek Garcia, Warren Creavalle and Ricardo Clark were simply better than the visitors’ men in the middle third. Then again, Montreal was missing its main man in the center, Patrice Bernier.

So while the Impact’s 4-9-4 record away from Stade Saputo isn’t anything to shout about, they don’t have the very worst of memories of walking down that ramp at BBVA.

  • Choices in the Impact midfield

There are lots of edges that point to Houston, so it seems important for Les Bleus manager Marco Schallibaum to get his lineup absolutely right. Health and fitness will probably dictate the back line choices, but the Swiss manager does have options in midfield.

Veterans Justin Mapp (who was having a great season prior to the club’s fall dip) and Davy Arnaud look set on the outside. Arnaud is from Texas (not far from Houston, in Nederland), so this contest is extra special to him.

The real choice will be at attacking midfielder, where the decision is pretty much down to Wenger or Felipe Martins. Martins is the more creative and skillful, but he hasn’t been great lately – one of the reasons Montreal was shut out in four of its last five matches. (Then again, no one in Impact blue has done well lately except perhaps for Di Vaio.)

Wenger is more physical, and while the current Dynamo version doesn’t pack the physical punch of past teams in orange, playoff games against Houston will always have a certain bump and grind about them.

(More on MLS playoffs: Previewing Montreal Impact at Houston Dynamo)

Wayne Rooney to retire from England after 2018 World Cup

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Wayne Rooney will not play again for England after the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

[ MORE: Wilshere to leave Arsenal? ]

Speaking ahead of England’s opening 2018 World Cup qualifier against Slovakia this Sunday, Rooney confirmed the next World Cup will be his last major tournament with England.

Rooney, 30, is the all-time leading goalscorer for England with 53 goals and he has once again been named captain of the English national team under new manager Sam Allardyce.

The Manchester United skipper spoke to reporters at England’s training HQ at St. George’s Park and confirmed his plans to retire from international duty in 2018.

“I know myself that Russia will be my last opportunity to do anything with England. I am going to try and enjoy these two years and then hopefully I can end my time playing for England on a high,” Rooney said. “I am not old. I am 30 years of age. Come Russia I feel like that will be the time for me to say goodbye to international football. My mind is made up. It’s down to Sam Allardyce again, in terms of the next two years, but that will be my last tournament if selected. I will have enjoyed some highs, some lows but I am an immensely proud man.”

Rooney first played for England as a 17-year-old in 2003 and over the last 13 years he has played six major tournaments for the Three Lions, captaining them since 2014 when Steven Gerrard retired from international duty.

So often criticized, especially in recent months after being dropped into a deeper midfield role by Hodgson for England and Louis Van Gaal at his club, Rooney is still the talisman for England. He will become the all-time leading appearance holder for an outfield player when he next plays for England, surpassing David Beckham’s record of 115 caps. The former Everton striker is only 11 appearances away from equaling legendary goalkeeper Peter Shilton’s record of 125 appearances.

When all is said and done, despite disappointments at major tournaments (the kick at Ronaldo at the 2006 World Cup and the rant at England’s fans at the 2010 World Cup stick out) Rooney will go down as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, players to ever play for England.

His legacy will remain intact no matter what happens between now and the end of the road in the summer of 2018.

Report: Jack Wilshere available on loan; Juventus, Roma interested

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 15:  Jack Wilshere of Arsenal looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Aston Villa at the Emirates Stadium on May 15, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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Multiple reports are claiming that Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere has met with Arsene Wenger and wants to go out on loan to play regularly.

[ TRANSFERS: Who needs what? ]

Wilshere, 24, hasn’t started any of Arsenal’s opening three games of the season and after the arrival of Granit Xhaka this summer, it seems as though the England international is down to fifth or sixth place in the pecking order with Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey, Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny around.

It is widely claimed that Serie A sides Juventus and AS Roma are interested in taking Wilshere on loan, while West Ham United has also been mentioned by the London Evening Standard but it seems as though Slaven Bilic is looking elsewhere and is focusing on getting a new striker in.

Either Italian side would be a good fit, but particularly Juve as Wilshere could play in the UEFA Champions League and challenge for titles. Whether or not he’d be a regular in Massimilliano Allegri’s team is another matter, and at this point that’s all he needs.

Wilshere was left out of Sam Allardyce‘s first squad as England manager and after missing pretty much the whole of last season he was taken to EURO 2016 by Roy Hodgson and featured in three games for the Three Lions.

Injuries have hit the Arsenal academy product hard over the past five years with persistent ankle, lower league and foot issues leading to him playing just 17 PL games since the start of the 2014-15 campaign.

With the reports suggesting Wilshere is openly available on loan, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a host of Premier League teams trying to grab the combative midfielder on loan.

There’s no doubting Wilshere’s talent on the ball as his passing, dribbling and ability to link midfield with attack is incredibly good. This injury record is hanging over him though and if he isn’t going to be a regular at Arsenal this season, which seems to be the case, then Wilshere must go out on loan to prove he can still do it for a whole season.

This isn’t quite a last-chance saloon for Wilshere, but it’s not far off it.

Kasper Schmeichel wants to play for Denmark 6 days after hernia surgery

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27: Kasper Schmeichel of Leicester City in action during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Swansea City at The King Power Stadium on August 27, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Former Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel was tough, but his son might be tougher.

Leicester City shot-stopper Kasper Schmeichel had hernia surgery earlier Monday, and while that seems like it would sideline him for some time, apparently not.

The 29-year-old tweeted from the hospital bed that he is aiming for a return on Sunday – just six days removed from surgery – when his native Denmark takes on Armenia in World Cup qualification.

That’s…ambitious. Not surprising though, given the ambition Leicester City showed last season stunning everyone to win the title.

Schmeichel was injured against Swansea on Saturday in Premier League play when he made a clearance and came up notably uncomfortable. He was replaced in the 57th minute by new Foxes signing Ron-Robert Zieler. According to manager Claudio Ranieri, the club had already planned surgery for this problem even before Saturday’s flare-up due to the recurring nature of the problem.

Sadly, the Wednesday’s friendly against Liechtenstein comes a little too soon for Schmeichel. It will be the first international match he will miss since March of 2015. We’ll give him a pass, considering most of us would still be in post-op then.

Report: Zardes injury is serious, broken foot could end his season

SEATTLE, WA - JUNE 16:  Gyasi Zardes #9 of the United States dribbles against Jefferson Montero #7 of Ecuador during the 2016 Quarterfinal - Copa America Centenario match at CenturyLink Field on June 16, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. The United States beat Ecuador 2-1.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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According to Goal.com’s Ives Galarcep, the injury that forced Gyasi Zardes to withdraw from USMNT consideration for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers is serious and could have much larger consequences.

Zardes reportedly suffered a broken right foot, and could not just miss the rest of the 2016 MLS season, but the rest of the calendar year, ruling him out of not just the two upcoming matches, but also the beginning of the Hexagonal in November should the U.S. advance to the next round.

The 24-year-old was injured just after halftime in an MLS match against Vancouver on Saturday, when he was brought down by Kendall Watson. It’s hard to see in full-speed what happens, but upon closer inspection, it appears that Watson’s follow-through catches the inside of Zardes’s right foot. He continued to play but looked less than healthy when he was finally substituted off in the 87th minute.

Zardes has been a rare youthful yet important cog in the USMNT machine the past few years. He played every minute of the Copa America run to the 3rd place match, and he has missed just two matches since making his debut in January of 2015, giving him 31 caps already despite a debut just 19 months ago.

The injury is also a serious blow for the LA Galaxy. Zardes had come onto the field in the 31st minute to replace an injured Steven Gerrard, and in-form defender Jelle van Damme had also departed the match with a knee ligament injury which will see him miss 2-3 weeks.