New York Red Bulls v Portland Timbers

MLS Playoff Preview: New York Red Bulls at Houston Dynamo

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  • Kickoff from BBVA Compass Stadium in downtown Houston is set for 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC:
  • New York won all three meetings between these teams in 2013, including two in Houston
  • The Dynamo prevailed over Montreal (3-0) in midweek to get here
  • Dynamo manager Dominic Kinnear is suspended
  • The Red Bulls avoided that mid-week elimination match by finished atop the East, and claiming Supporters Shield (for the MLS team with the best regular season record)

The New York Red Bulls may have mastered Houston in the regular season this year, and curiously so. But Dominic Kinnear’s Dynamo are masters of the MLS playoffs – so both teams have reason to like their chances as this intriguing home-and-away series gets going.

Sunday’s first leg of the totals goals series plays out at two-year-old BBVA Compass Stadium in the shadow of downtown Houston.

What makes this meeting so interesting (beyond the old argument of extra rest vs. added momentum – which we’ll get to) is this clear and somewhat contrasting edge for each team.

From New York’s side, winning all three regular season meetings of 2013 certainly must make Thierry Henry and Co. feel good about things. Mike Petke’s team downed the Dynamo in New Jersey back in June, 2-0. And funny thing, that was the least impressive among a trio of showy results. Next came a 4-1 thumping in September at BBVA Compass Stadium. And then, just two weeks ago, New York put yet another three-goal beat down on Dominic Kinnear’s proud team, once against at BBVA Compass Stadium.

That match was a strange one, where the score didn’t accurately reflect the actual match. (Also strange because it featured the fastest goal in MLS history, Tim Cahill’s opener just seven seconds after the kickoff.)

Teams just don’t bear the Orange by three goals at home, right? Only, New York did it twice this year.

“I’m sure people are going to talk about how we beat them the two times we went to their place, but this is a playoff game,” Henry said this week. “It’s totally different. I’ve got a lot of respect for them because they know how to do it in the playoffs. We still don’t know how to do it in the playoffs.”

And there’s the rub. The Red Bulls and “playoff success” have generally been oil and water through the years. (If you’re into signs and such, the only time New York did reach deep into the MLS playoffs, its path sped through Houston; a shocking 3-0 New York victory at the Dynamo’s old home on the University of Houston campus propelled the Red Bulls into a 2008 MLS Cup appearance.)

But Houston knows how to get it done in the post-season. It’s been that way since the team moved from San Jose back in 2006 – and promptly won MLS Cup in its first two seasons in Texas.

Under Houston manager Dominic Kinnear, the club is 14-7-3 in the post-season since moving to Houston. (Two of those losses were to David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane in the last two MLS Cup finals, with both matches happening inside the LA Galaxy’s home ground.)

Red Bulls manager Mike Petke, by contrast, will stand on the sidelines as head coach for his first MLS playoff contest.

(MORE: ProSoccerTalk’s MLS playoffs picks and predictions)

Further, Houston is 9-1 in playoff games at home since moving to Texas. If Houston can keep that party going, they could seize quick control of this total goals series, sending it back to Red Bull Arena with all the pressure on a team with no history of playoff success.

That doesn’t mean New York’s players don’t have a bunch of useful big game experience. Thierry Henry (10 goals, 9 assists for RBNY this year) helped France win a World Cup and a European Championship, never mind all those huge matches at old Highbury with Arsenal. Tim Cahill (11 goals) has played in a World Cup, never mind a lot of critical matches at Goodison Park with Everton.

Big center back Jamison Olave started for Real Salt Lake back in 2009, helping his team upset Beckham and the Galaxy to claim the league crown.

Plus, New York is rested, having all week to train while Houston dealt with that mid-week elimination match. While Houston had a relatively easy time with Montreal (a team that was faded and broken and put up little resistance, if we’re honest), the Dynamo also saw its manager “eliminated” from this first leg.

(MORE: MLS suspends Kinnear from playoff match)

Major League Soccer suspended Kinnear for leaving his technical area during the match.

While Houston made easy work of Montreal, important midfielders Brad Davis and Ricardo Clark, both in their early 30s, went deep into the match. Davis came off after 83 minutes; Clark played all 90 minutes.

(MORE: Previewing Sporting KC at New England)

UEFA Champions League final preview — Madrid’s finest Real or Atleti?

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 27:  Diego Simeone head coach of Atletico Madrid looks on during an Atletico de Madrid training session on the eve of the UEFA Champions League Final against Real Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 27, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final isn’t quite the unstoppable force against the immovable object — Real’s defense is good and Atleti has plenty of attacking intent — but it’s fair if you’re expecting the Madrid Derby final to be Diego Simeone’s diligent defenders attempting to counter Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid’s potent attack.

[ MORE: Mourinho confirmed ]

Simeone’s built his name on tight teamwork, and La Liga teams broke Atleti down a mere 18 times in 38 matches this season. Before you crow about the weakness of Spain’s top flight from top to bottom, Real only managed a single goal against Atleti in a 1-1 draw that came at the Vicente Calderon. Atleti triumphed 1-0 at the Bernabeu to take four of six points from their derby mates.

But this is the big one, and a rematch of the late thriller we saw in the 2014 final. That’s when Diego Godin’s 36th minute goal came within seconds of being the difference, only for Sergio Ramos to net in stoppage time and Real to score three goals in extra time for a 4-1 win.

[ MORE: Torres ready for “game of my life” ]

Ronaldo will be fine to go, which is obviously bad news for Atleti. While his goal at the end of the 2014 final was just chiseled-ab window dressing, he has scored in both of his UCL finals (He scored for Manchester United in the 26th minute of their 2008 defeat of Chelsea).

(Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

The beauty of Atleti’s defense is how well it springs into the attack, with Godin and Filipe Luis both capable of providing offense.

But really, with respect to Gabi and Antoine Griezmann… that defense! Atleti allowed three goals in the group stage, and just seven across its 12 UCL matches.

How will Simeone aim to stop Real this time around? Will it be banks of four or five, with Torres and Griezmann waiting to strike on a fleet-footed counter? That could serve their disciplined unit well, but something tells me Simeone has something special cooked up for this much-anticipated rematch, and manager is a distinct edge for Atleti against a still-learning Zinedine Zidane.

As an aside, Griezmann has been fantastic, scoring 32 times this year with seven coming in the UCL. Torres is second in scoring, with 12.

Championship playoff preview: Sheffield Wednesday vs. Hull City

DERBY, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 14:  Eldin Jakupovic of Hull City celebrates as Andrew Robertson of Hull City scores their third goal during the Sky Bet Championship Play Off semi final first leg match between Derby County and Hull City at the iPro Stadium on May 14, 2016 in Derby, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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One is hoping to rejoin the Premier League at the first time of asking, while the other to see its first top flight action since 2000 with a win in Saturday’s promotion playoff final at Wembley Stadium.

Hull City did not make the top flight from its inception in 1904 until winning the playoffs in 2008. Since, the Tigers have spent a pair of 2-season stints in the Premier League.

Sheffield Wednesday, for its part, spent nine seasons in the top tier from 1991-2000, but fell as low as League One in the 21st century before a run to the playoffs this season.

[ MORE: Three battles that could determine UCL final ]

Hull’s stingy defense allowed 35 goals this season, tied for the second-best mark in the league, while scoring the fourth-most goals (69). The Tigers finished in fourth place to Wednesday’s sixth, and the sides drew 0-0 at Hull and 1-1 in the reverse fixture.

Uruguayan striker Abel Hernandez was far and away Hull’s most deadly scorer, notching 21 goals in the Championship this season, while Sam Clucas paced the club with 8 assists.

Wednesday’s scoring was paced by former Watford attacker Fernando Forestieri’s 15 goals. Veteran Gary Hooper added 13 for the Owls, who got a team-best eight assists from Ross Wallace.

It’s the “richest game in sports”, and kicks off at Noon ET Saturday.

Sturridge injured again, Rashford set for England debut

England v Norway - International Friendly
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GATESHEAD, England (AP) England striker Daniel Sturridge has picked up another injury, potentially affecting his chances of being selected for the European Championship.

England manager Roy Hodgson says Sturridge has a calf injury that has prevented him from training and is a doubt to play in the warmup match against Australia on Friday. Hodgson has until Tuesday to finalize his 23-man squad for the tournament in France.

[ MORE: Mourinho confirmed | Speaks more ]

Sturridge has been beset by injury problems in recent years.

His latest injury increases the possibility of 18-year-old Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford‘s fairytale season being extended to include Euro 2016.

Hodgson said Thursday that Rashford will make his debut against Australia in Sunderland – as a starter if Sturridge isn’t fit. Rashford only made his United debut in February.

Ex-Leicester boss Pearson hired by Derby County

Nigel Pearson, Leicester City FC
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Nigel Pearson lives.

The combustible former manager of Southampton, Hull City and Leicester City will now lead Derby County in the hopes of Premier League promotion.

Derby has been on the edge of promotion to the Premier League for several seasons, but neither Steve McClaren and Darren Wassall could do the trick.

[ MORE: Mourinho confirmed | Speaks more ]

Enter Pearson, 52, who has been hired on a three-year deal. It’s his first stop since a roller coaster ride saw him guide Leicester into the Premier League, only to be fired in the aftermath of some players being involved in a racist sex tape incident on a tour of Thailand.

This was after a bizarre season that saw him put his hands on an opposing player’s throat, call a journalist an ostrich, and ultimately save Leicester from the drop.

From Derby County’s site:

“I am honoured to be named as the Manager of Derby County, which is one of the biggest clubs in the country, a club in excellent shape and one with strong ambitions. It is firmly focused on achieving Premier League football.

“I will give absolutely everything I have to this role and do all I can to bring exciting, entertaining and winning football which our supporters can be proud of.”

At the very least, the Rams will be interesting to watch next season.