Conference semifinal pairings set for MLS Playoffs, who’s your favorite now?

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Following Houston’s 3-0 shellacking of Montreal in the Eastern conference play-in game on Thursday night, the field for the the 2013 MLS Cup Conference semifinals is complete.

These four series are going to be spectacular.

With postseason specialists Houston making it in and the indomitable force of Seattle dispatching Colorado, the heavyweights of MLS will now slug it out as the elite eight must be whittled down to four.

(WATCH: Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers & Houston Dynamo vs. New York Red Bulls on NBC Sports Live Extra)

Let’s see who’s left, and who they’re up against, as the conference semifinal action begins this Saturday with the first legs, and the second legs take place a week later.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

New York Red Bulls vs. Houston Dynamo

Mike Petke has worked wonders with the Red Bulls in his first season in charge. RBNY have leaned on star duo Theirry Henry and Tim Cahill, who wouldn’t. But they also looked great at the back and can score goals from all over the pitch. They faced Houston three times this season and won all three, with 2-0, 4-1 and 3-0 victories. But after being runners up for the last two years, you just can’t rule out the Dynamo in the postseason, can you?

Sporting Kansas City vs. New England Revolution

On paper SKC wins the series hands down, but Jay Heaps’ plucky Revs side have other ideas. It’s about time Sporting made it to MLS Cup after flattering to deceive in the past few seasons after losing to arch nemesis Houston, Peter Vermes will be revealed his side are not facing the Dynamo. New England could cause a shock here, but I highly doubt it.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders

So, this is happening. The Timbers and Sounders have never meet in the MLS playoffs, but they’ve met plenty of times in the NASL, A-league and USL versions. And the Sounders have won three out of the five games, and two of the three series’ they’ve battled out. Ominous? Seattle looked unconvincing down the stretch and for times against Colorado, but will a Cascadia clash against fierce rials and much favored Portland catapult them into action…

Real Salt Lake vs. LA Galaxy

When RSL won the cup in 2009, they beat LA on penalties. Ever since a burgeoning rivalry between the two franchises has seen spats between Jason Kreis and David Beckham and plenty of other unpleasantness between the two sides. Expect things to boil over, as RSL’s youngsters come up against LA’s old heads and two great coaches in Kreis and Bruce Arena clash out West.

Errors down, penalty kicks up after introduction of VAR in Italy

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The implementation of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in Italy has been controversial, but according to a look at the statistics, it has for the most part done its job to fix clear and obvious errors.

Italian sports paper Gazzetta Dello Sport compiled all the times VAR has been used through 346 matches, 330 in Serie A and 16 in the Coppa Italia. There were 1,736 checks (916 goals, 464 penalties and 356 red cards) with 105 corrections and just 17 errors where the referee and assistant made the wrong decision. Eight of those errors did affect the result, which is an issue that will surely be addressed by the Italian officiating organization.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

But overall, Gazzetta found that in the VAR era, referee errors only amounted to 0.98 percent during a match, as opposed to 6.03 percent in the past. In addition, fouls are down 8.8 percent, red cards are down 6.4 percent, and yellow cards are down 14.7 percent. On the flip side, penalty kicks are called 4.3 more percent of the time.

The Premier League voted recently not to add VAR to its league matches next season, while top leagues in Germany, Italy and in Major League Soccer and the United Soccer League continue to use it.

Report: New Arsenal manager will have small budget to re-shape squad

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Whoever takes the helm as Arsenal’s next manager will have to do some math gymnastics this summer to stretch every penny available.

According to a report from The Telegraph, Arsenal is giving Arsene Wenger‘s successor a little less than $70 million to work with in this summer’s transfer market, citing back-to-back transfer windows with club-record signings (Alexandre Lacazette last summer and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in January) and three raises given to players. Arsenal paid around $78 million alone to sign Aubameyang and around $65 million for Lacazette.

[READ: UCL Preview: Liverpool vs. Roma]

That means whoever comes in next to lead Arsenal will likely have to sell one or two players this summer to raise additional money for world-class signings.

For the last decade, Arsenal has been crying out for a new pair of centerbacks and a holding midfielder in the mould of Patrick Vieira. In addition, with Petr Cech getting older, the prospect of needing a new goalkeeper is also on the horizon.

Luckily for Arsenal, they seem to be just fine up front. From Aubameyang and Lacazette to Mesut Ozil, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Aaron Ramsey, the club has the talent to challenge for a title next season in that department.

A dozen different names have been bandied about as to who will be Arsenal’s next manager, with out-of-contract and former Barcelona manager Luis Enrique reportedly on the shortlist. Vieira, former Arsenal midfielder Mikel Arteta, Germany National Team coach Joachim Low, Juventus boss Max Allegri and Hoffenheim’s Julian Nagelsman have all also been linked with the job.

Tunisian player who collapsed in Spain regains consciousness

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MADRID (AP) Spanish third-division club Toledo says a Tunisian player who collapsed from heart failure during practice 10 days ago has regained consciousness.

The club says doctors removed sedative medication and Lassad Nouioui was responding well to treatment on Monday.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

They will consider removing the 32-year-old Nouioui from the intensive care unit if his condition keeps improving. Nouioui has played for a number of clubs during his 14-year professional career, notably a four-year stay at Deportivo La Coruna and a one-year spell with Celtic.

Nouioui collapsed on April 14.

The game against Real Madrid B the following day was postponed because of the problem with Nouioui.

FIFA force pace on $25B Club World Cup, global league plan

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GENEVA (AP) FIFA is forcing the pace on talks over a $25 billion offer to revamp the Club World Cup and create a global national team competition.

FIFA says President Gianni Infantino hosted a meeting last Friday with invited officials from some top European clubs.

[ MORE: Everton gets past Newcastle behind Walcott strike ]

The European Club Association has strongly opposed FIFA’s hope for a four-yearly club tournament starting in 2021, which could rival the UEFA-organized Champions League.

UEFA has also proposed a Global Nations League. A similar project is tied to the FIFA-controlled $25 billion, 12-year offer from a consortium including investors from Saudi Arabia and China.

FIFA says it’s holding “informal ongoing discussions with different stakeholders on the topic of the future Club World Cups.”

Infantino is set to meet confederation presidents and general secretaries “in the near future,” FIFA says.