MLS: D.C. United at Houston Dynamo

MLS Playoff Preview: Montreal Impact at Houston Dynamo

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  • Kickoff on Thursday is 8:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN
  • This is the Eastern Conference’s 4th-place finisher (Houston) hosting 5th-place in a single-elimination contest
  • Houston’s Dominic Kinnear, something of an MLS playoff king, is 13-7-3 in the post-season with Houston
  • Montreal finished the season on a 1-6-1 skid

Neither team enters Thursday’s playoff elimination match riding particularly tall in the saddle – although Houston has quite a few more reasons than Montreal to like its chances when the teams open Major League’s Soccer’s Eastern Conference playoffs at BBVA Compass Stadium.

Start with Dynamo manager Dominic Kinnear, who, plain and simple, has the MLS playoff thing figured out. That doesn’t mean Houston will definitely win when the teams kick off at 8:30 p.m. (NBCSN). But it does mean that every man in Dynamo colors will stride confidently into that very orange, two-year old ground field backed by sufficient stores of “been there, done that” from the coach’s office. And that looks like a swell place to start.

Kinnear’s 13-7-3 record with Houston in the playoffs looks even better if you take away the two MLS Cup finals (the last two), both played inside the LA Galaxy’s ground. He has guided the Dynamo to four of the last seven MLS Cup championship contests overall – and you can mark that under “flat out, getting it done.”

There is also the fact that Houston is at home. BBVA wasn’t quite the fortress it was last year, when the Dynamo went an entire season of home matches without a loss. In fact, the team’s 31 points at home this year ranks just 8th among the 10 playoff clubs.

Still, home field means a lot here. Montreal was just 4-9-4 on the road this year, compared to the Dynamo’s 9-4-4 mark at home.

Finally, we can circle the teams’ recent form as a reason to think Marco Schallibaum’s club has its work cut out Thursday in South Texas. The Impact has been on the skids since beating New England back in early September, just 1-6-1 since then. The club’s only victory came at home over Philadelphia, which didn’t make the playoffs. In fact, that was also the only game in Montreal’s last five where they actually found goal. Yes, Schallibaum’s club was blanked in four of its last five matches.

Last week, needing a win to officially clinch a playoff spot (or even a draw to improve positioning), Les Bleus found themselves on the wrong end of a 1-0 result at Toronto.

Houston’s form has been something of a mixed bag, a 4-3-3 record over the last two months. But Kinnear’s men did win last week in what was essentially playoff contest, downing bedraggled D.C. United at RFK when only a win would put the Orange into the post-season. The “must-win” scenario seems to bring out the club’s best.

“Everybody knows we’ve been in the situation many times and we can only use that to our benefit,” midfielder Ricardo Clark told HoustonDynamo.com. “I think it’s always an advantage to play at home, you don’t have to deal with the travel and things like that, it’s a little more comfortable so we’re hoping that’ll help us out. Everybody knows what time it is, it’s a different vibe going into the playoffs.”

source: AP
Marco Di Vaio (on the right) just completed a rather rare 20-goal season in MLS.

But if we’re tallying up edges, Montreal does have a couple leaning its direction. First, the Impact can call upon some success this year versus Houston, especially a relatively recent 5-0 thumping at Stade Saputo north of the U.S. border. That was Kinnear’s worst loss ever.

Montreal also won, 2-0, over Houston in Montreal this year. And they were quite competitive recently in a 1-0 loss at BBVA Compass.

Plus, home field has been far less than an automatic “W” in this one-game knockout bit. Since MLS introduced the format for 2011 – where the playoffs begin with the fourth-place team hosting the conference’s fifth-place finisher in a one-game knockout match – the home teams are just 2-2. In fact, Houston is responsible for one of the visitor wins, launching last year’s playoff drive with a win at Chicago.

And we certainly can’t fail to mention the Marco Di Vaio factor. While Houston’s forwards have struggled to finish chances this year (or to create them) Di Vaio just had a sensational, 20-goal campaign. In fact, the veteran Italian forward, one of the league’s purest, most clinical finishers was third in final MLS goal scoring.

Both teams will miss an important defender: Jermaine Taylor is missing for Houston and Alessandro Nesta is out for Montreal.

Reports: Rafael Benitez to remain in charge at Newcastle United

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - MAY 15:  Rafael Benitez, manager of Newcastle United gives the thumbs up during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur at St James' Park on May 15, 2016 in Newcastle, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
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Multiple reports in the UK claim that Rafael Benitez has agreed to stay in charge at Newcastle United.

Benitez, 53, took charge of the Magpies in March but camp up just short of keeping them in the Premier League in 2015-16 as they were relegated to the English Championship.

[ MORE: Mourinho in talks with United ]     

However, a report in The Guardian says he has agree to stay on and has a three-year deal at the club and the Daily Telegraph echoes those sentiments, adding that Benitez will be given full control of the transfer committee and decide who comes in and out of the club.

The reports suggest that Moussa Sissoko, Georginio Wijnaldum, Daryl Janmaat and Andros Townsend will all be sold this summer to help raise around $60 million which will fuel a spending spree to push them back to the top-flight at the first-time of asking.

[ MORE: Arsenal sign $45 million Xhaka ]

Benitez took charge of Newcastle’s final 10 games of the season and lost just three times, getting the fans on his side and the season ended with a 5-1 thumping of Tottenham Hotspur even though they’d already been relegated. Newcastle’s fans believe Benitez is the right man to lead them and gave him an outpouring of messages asking him to so.

It was believed Benitez was not going to stay if they were relegated but such has been the warmth of the fans and the lack of other options in the PL, Benitez seems to have made a massive U-turn after assurances were reportedly made to him by owner Mike Ashley about transfer budgets, a new scouting system and many other facets of the club.

The Spanish coach excelled in the final weeks of the season with Newcastle winning three of their final six games and going unbeaten in that stretch but it wasn’t enough to keep their sinking ship afloat after Steve McClaren‘s disastrous spell in charge of the club was cut short after just eight months in charge.

Benitez simple had too little time to save Newcastle but he did appear to get the best out of the players at his disposal in the short time he was in charge. With his initial contract said to have a break clause he could activate should the Magpies get relegated, the former Valencia, Liverpool, Inter Milan, Napoli and Real Madrid manager has been spending some time away to think about his future.

It seems like he has decided to stay and lead Newcastle’s charge back to the Premier League. If that notion comes to fruition it will be music to the ears of fans of the Magpies.

Arsenal complete $45 million signing of Granit Xhaka

TURIN, ITALY - OCTOBER 21:  Granit Xhaka captain of VfL Borussia Monchengladbach wearing a 'No To Racism' arm band during the UEFA Champions League group stage match between Juventus and VfL Borussia Moenchengladbach at Juventus Arena on October 21, 2015 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)
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Arsenal has completed the third biggest transfer in their history as Granit Xhaka has joined from Borussia Monchengladbach for a fee believed to be around $45 million.

[ MORE: Mourinho in talks with United ]    

Xhaka, 23, is a Swiss international midfielder and Arsene Wenger has been tracking the powerful box-to-box player for many years.

He will officially be an Arsenal player from July 1 and has signed a long-term deal at the club.

[ MORE: PL money table 2015-16

Speaking to the club website, Xhaka is delighted to have arrived at the Emirates Stadium and explained to Arsenal’s fans a little of what he’s about.

“I am very happy to be here. For me it is a dream come true,” Xhaka said. “I am a player who likes to play football and I am an aggressive player, maybe a leader. I’m only 23 but I was in Germany and captain of a good team.”

Wenger also revealed the extend of Arsenal’s scouting of the former Basel midfielder.

“Granit Xhaka is an exciting young player, already with good Champions League and Bundesliga experience,” Wenger said. “We have been watching him for a long time now and he is a player who will add quality to our squad. We wish Granit a good Euro 2016 with Switzerland and look forward to welcoming him to Arsenal ahead of next season.”

Xhaka will slot straight into Arsenal’s central midfield area which now has considerable competition.

With Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny due to be his main competitor for playing time, the fact that Arsenal has shelled out nearly $50  million to land Xhaka tells you that he will likely be a starter. Then, the likes of Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla will all have to fight to get a spot alongside him in central midfield.

After Arsenal finished second in the 2015-16 PL table, something which disappointing fans with Leicester City winning the title by 10 points, Wenger has started his business early and has sealed the deal for Xhaka before he heads to the 2016 European Championships in France as a key member of Switzerland’s team.

Gunners fans will be licking their lips as Wenger has been backed in the transfer market and has added power and substance to central midfield. That’s something they’ve been crying out for now for many years.

Is Xhaka the missing piece in the jigsaw as Arsenal search for their first PL trophy in 13 years? Perhaps another striker and center back will persuade many that they will be the favorites to win the PL in 2016-17 but Xhaka’s arrival is a huge sign of their intent to kick on next season.

Manchester United said to be offering $12 million bonus to Zlatan Ibrahimovic

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 12:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Paris Saint-Germain beats Eliaquim Mangala (20) and Joe Hart of Manchester City to score, but his goal is disallowed during the UEFA Champions League quarter final second leg match between Manchester City FC and Paris Saint-Germain at the Etihad Stadium on April 12, 2016 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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The Premier League sometimes seems to deal in funny money, and it might take just that to bring Zlatan Ibrahimovic across the English Channel.

The Swedish superstar, 34, is leaving Paris Saint-Germain this summer and is reportedly being targeted by several Premier League clubs.

[ MORE: LVG issues statement ]

With his old pal Jose Mourinho expected to take over at Manchester United, there’s been a natural batch of gossip linking the pair. Goal.com has claims of extraordinary dollar signs for the trophy-collecting Ibrahimovic.

Goal’s French site claims that Ibrahimovic would get close to a $12 million signing bonus to go with a huge weekly salary of approximately $363,000. Add that up, and you’re talking more than $560,000 a week.

The report spreads rumors of a $400,000-per-week offer from Major League Soccer for Zlatan, and that acquisition would certainly quell the minor storm caused by China’s acquisition of many big names.

We’ve always thought Ibrahimovic was more an Arsenal-style player, but imagine Mourinho running the Swede with Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford? Bonkers.

Ajax hires Peter Bosz as new coach to replace Frank de Boer

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 30:  Peter Bosz manager of Vitesse looks on ahead of the UEFA Europa League Third Qualifying Round 1st Leg match between Southampton and Vitesse at St Mary's Stadium on July 30, 2015 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
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AMSTERDAM (AP) Ajax has signed Peter Bosz as its new coach, replacing Frank de Boer who announced earlier this month he was leaving the club after nearly six years in which he won four Dutch league titles.

Bosz, a former player and technical director at Ajax’s arch rival Feyenoord, is leaving Maccabi Tel Aviv to join the Amsterdam club on a three-year contract.

[ MORE: USMNT-Ecuador preview | Klinsmann eyes semis ]

In a statement late Tuesday, Bosz says it is an honor to join Ajax. He says, “I am very ambitious and so is Ajax.”

Ajax director Edwin van der Sar says that in Bosz, Ajax has hired a coach “who can make our talented squad even better.”

Ajax finished second behind PSV Eindhoven in the top flight Eredivisie season that has just ended.