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.

Ranking the top 20 players at Rio 2016 Olympics

Brazil's Neymar celebrates his goal on a penalty kick against the United States during the second half of a friendly soccer match Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
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It is just one week until the Olympic soccer tournament kicks off at Rio 2016.

Pumped? Yeah, I thought so.

[ STREAM: Watch Olympic soccer here ]

With the likes of Neymar, Hirving Lozano and Manuel Lanzini in the men’s tournament, plus Carli Lloyd, Marta and Alex Morgan on the women’s tournament, the battle for Gold is always intense and we often see plenty of rising stars come of age at the Olympics.

Below is a list of the top 20 players in both the men’s and women’s competitions in Rio.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments section below.


Men’s

  1. Neymar (Brazil)
  2. Gabriel Barbosa (Brazil)
  3. Julian Brandt (Germany)
  4. Marquinhos (Brazil)
  5. David Selke (Germany)
  6. Max Meyer (Germany)
  7. Hirving Lozano (Mexico)
  8. Lars Bender (Germany)
  9. Felipe Anderson (Brazil)
  10. Manuel Lanzini (Argentina)
  11. Thiago Maia (Brazil)
  12. Teo Gutierrez (Colombia)
  13. Ali Adnan (Iraq)
  14. Oribe Peralta  (Mexico)
  15. Son Heung-min (Korea Republic)
  16. Gabriel Jesus (Brazil)
  17. Angel Correa (Argentina)
  18. Giovanni Simeone (Argentina)
  19. Matthias Ginter (Germany)
  20. Jonathan Calleri (Argentina)

Women’s

  1. Carli Lloyd (USA)
  2. Marta (Brazil)
  3. Alex Morgan (USA)
  4. Christine Sinclair (Canada)
  5. Eugenie Le Sommer (France)
  6. Amandine Henry (France)
  7. Dzsenifer Marozsan (Germany)
  8. Camille Abily (France)
  9. Anja Mittag (Germany)
  10. Alexandra Popp (Germany)
  11. Becky Sauerbrunn (USA)
  12. Forminga (Brazil)
  13. Hope Solo (USA)
  14. Lotta Schelin (Sweden)
  15. Caroline Seger (Sweden)
  16. Saskia Bartusiak (Germany)
  17. Megan Rapinoe (USA)
  18. Kosovare Asllani (Sweden)
  19. Julie Johnston (USA)
  20. Tobin Heath (USA)

Zlatan to MLS? David Beckham wants him in Miami

PARIS, FRANCE - MAY 18: Zlatan Ibrahimovic of PSG celebrates with team mate David Beckham after scoring to make it 3-0 during the Ligue 1 match between Paris Saint-Germain FC and Stade Brestois 29 at Parc des Princes on May 18, 2013 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Zlatan Ibrahimovich is keen on Major League Soccer.

The Manchester United striker, 34, just linked up with his new team for the first time on their return to Europe and is ready to get going in preseason ahead of his first-ever season in the Premier League. .

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However, in an interview with Goal.com he has revealed that former teammate at Paris Saint-Germain, David Beckham, wants him to join his MLS expansion side in Miami.

Here’s what Zlatan had to say about a potential link-up with Becks once again:

“David is a good friend of mine, and he has asked me to play for his [Miami] team,” Ibrahimovic said. “For now, I want to achieve big things with Manchester United, but I have a lot of respect for the MLS, and anything is possible. I am not ruling out the MLS. Once I had decided to leave PSG there were many offers, but with Zlatan that is normal.

“I know that teams from the MLS were interested, but the opportunity to play for Manchester United, and of course to work with my good friend Jose Mourinho again, was impossible to turn down. I would never rule out the MLS in the future. I have a contract with Manchester United, but I feel in great shape. I feel as though I could play until I am 40. It is impossible to predict the future.”

So, there you go. The enigmatic Swedish striker is certainly keen on a move to MLS and who wouldn’t be if this Miami franchise ever gets off the ground?

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Although a stadium site is almost sorted in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood, Beckham and his ownership group still have plenty of hurdles to overcome to make his team a reality.

It would certainly help if Zlatan was around though — both on and off the pitch — and the towering striker has only signed a one-year deal with Manchester United so unless he rips it up in the Premier League this season, expect the Zlatan-to-MLS talk to fire up around January 2017.

Chelsea’s Antonio Conte questions sustainability of big spending

VELDEN, AUSTRIA - JULY 20:  Head coach Antonio Conte of Chelsea looks on prior the friendly match between WAC RZ Pellets and Chelsea F.C. at Worthersee Stadion on July 20, 2016 in Velden, Austria. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)
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Chelsea boss Antonio Conte is amazed by the “crazy” transfers occurring this summer.

The new Chelsea manager has spent over $85 million himself on just two players — Michy Batshuayi and N'Golo Kante — but he believes the huge transfer fees being seen across European soccer cannot continue.

[ MORE: Guardiola bans pizza

Speaking in the U.S. ahead of Chelsea’s opening 2016 International Champions Cup game against Liverpool at the Pasadena Rose Bowl on Wednesday, Conte laughed as he tried to get his head around fees such as Paul Pogba set to leave Juventus for over $130 million and Gonzalo Higuain joining Juve for $98.7 million.

“We are seeing a crazy market, no? It is incredible. When you want a player it is very difficult because you must pay a lot of money. A lot of money,” Conte said. “I don’t know if this situation can continue. We are starting to speak about 100 million, 120 million or 95 million, these prices are incredible, no? They are incredible.

“We must keep and maintain the patience for this sport. I think this is the most important thing. The money is important but not all. It is important for the club to reach the right target and not only to spend because we want to spend money. No. It is not right for me. It is right to take the player and adapt in our idea of football.”

Conte’s belief is admirable but how realistic is it?

With Chelsea the fourth-highest spenders in European soccer this summer — only Juventus, Barcelona and Liverpool has spent more — he can’t exactly say his club isn’t part of the big money transfers he seemingly isn’t a fan of.

[ MORE: Real Madrid in for Pogba?

The Blues may need at least one or two new players before the season begins and if things aren’t going well for Conte then in January you’d expect him to be given even more cash from Roman Abramovich.

What the former Italian national team manager is trying to say is that he aims to mold the players into his style rather than making wholesale changes. Chelsea has plenty of quality for Conte to work with in their squad but can the Blues really afford to get left behind in the great arms race for star players currently happening?

FA Cup to trial using a fourth substitute this season

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 21:  Manchester United players celebrate victory with the trophy after The Emirates FA Cup Final match between Manchester United and Crystal Palace at Wembley Stadium on May 21, 2016 in London, England. Man Utd won 2-1 after extra time.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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A fourth substitute will be made available for FA Cup games which go into extra time in the quarterfinals, semifinals or final during the 2016-17 season.

The English FA announced the change on Wednesday with the new method used for the first time to try and see if it helps teams combat fatigue during extra time periods.

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Another change to the 2016-17 FA Cup is that there will be no replays in the quarterfinal stage, meaning the games will finish on the day with extra time and penalties to take place if required.

In a statement on the FA’s website the governing body of English soccer revealed the proposal is subject to IFAB approval but will be used to test the effectiveness of one extra sub.

[ MORE: EFL Trophy includes 10 PL teams ]

The format was used in the Copa America Centenario this summer and FA chief executive Martin Glenn is intrigued to see how it works.

“With The Cup now adopting a straight knockout format from the quarter finals onwards, the introduction of a fourth substitute in extra time will bring extra intrigue and interest. Also, from a technical point of view, it will be interesting to see how managers use the chance to make an additional substitution in such high-profile games and the impact it has on the final result.

“Player welfare and being mindful of the number of games people play at the elite level has also been a consideration.”

This may spice plenty of extra time periods which usually peter out and become a warm of attrition with both teams unwilling to take risks and clinging on for penalty kicks.

Having an extra sub may help spark added energy to proceedings but with both teams having a sub, they may just cancel each other out.

Anyways, kudos to the FA for trying something new.