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MLS Playoff Preview: Sporting Kansas City meets Houston in first leg of MLS conference final

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  • Houston has eliminated Sporting KC from the last two MLS playoffs
  • Kansas City pulled four of a possible six points from two matches at Houston’s BBVA Compass Stadium this year
  • Both teams are playing on very short rest, having claimed their Eastern semifinal series victories on Wednesday
  • Game time Saturday is 2:30 ET on NBC
  • It can also be seen on NBC Sports Live Extra

In terms of creating a psychological edge, this one is hard to sort out.

The remaining Eastern Conference survivors are quite familiar, especially when it comes to playoff smash-ups. Sporting Kansas City meets the Houston Dynamo on Saturday in the first leg of this home-and-away series. Houston has eliminated Houston both of the last two years en route to MLS Cup appearances (both of which the Dynamo lost to Los Angeles.)

So it’s clearly advantage Houston, right? The Dynamo, looking once again like a team of destiny in general, has this team’s number and all that, right?

Not so fast. Sporting Kansas City has a reason to be confident – or at very least has enough reason not to fear another trip into South Texas. That’s because Houston took four of a possible six points out of BBVA this year, a win and a tie in the teams’ two meetings at the orange-washed downtown ground.

In fact, Sporting Kansas City had the “honor” of being the very first team to beat Houston at BBVA. Back in May, SKC defender Aurelien Collin supplied the 73rd-minute game-winner as his team cut down Houston’s record home unbeaten streak at 36 games in all competitions. Sporting was the first team to win in Houston in almost two years, in fact, going back to June of 2011 (the last year Houston played at Robertson Stadium on the University of Houston campus).

(MORE: Sporting Kansas City notes)

“It’s obviously great from a perspective of the regular season, we’re trying to get points and chase Supporters Shield.” Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes said Friday.

“But at the same time, it really doesn’t mean anything at this point of the season. It’s a new series. … As much as those were good results, they really don’t do anything for us at the moment other than give us, at least, some idea that teams can come here and get results.”

But that seems like an awful lot, that belief that good things certainly can happen against Dominic Kinnear’s playoff masters, especially at BBVA Compass Stadium. Houston was 9-4-4 there in 2013.

One of the Dynamo draws was also to Peter Vermes’ club, a scoreless result in October at BBVA.

The teams started a conference semifinal series there last year. Kinnear’s team won, 2-0, and that second goal was absolutely massive. Sporting KC absolutely dominated the return leg – but could not quite overturn the two-goal margin and had to watch Houston celebrate advancement in its building for the second consecutive year.

Both teams will have to work against fatigue Saturday. Houston has it worse, about to play its sixth match in 17 days.

SKC, driven by U.S. international Graham Zusi and backed by the league’s top defense, arrives into Houston having eliminated New England in the conference semifinals.

Vermes’ team required an additional 30-minute period to get past the Revolution. Kinnear’s men in orange, consummate playoff grinders, also needed 30 extra minutes in upsetting the heavily favored New York Red Bulls.

Sturridge, Rashford in England’s Euro squad; Drinkwater, Townsend out

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MARCH 10:  Daniel Sturridge of Liverpool takes on Guillermo Varela (30) and Marcus Rashford of Manchester United (39) during the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 first leg match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield on March 10, 2016 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Andros Townsend and Danny Drinkwater are not going to France as part of the England national team for Euro 2016.

That means both Daniel Sturridge and Marcus Rashford have been included in Roy Hodgson’s squad, putting five strikers in the mix.

[ MORE: Reus left out of Germany squad ]

Rashford, 18, is the youngest player on the roster, with Tottenham’s Dele Alli second (20).

Jack Wilshere and Jordan Henderson have overcome fitness concerns to get into the squad.

Full roster

Goalkeepers: Joe Hart (Manchester City), Fraser Forster (Southampton), Tom Heaton (Burnley).

Defenders: Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Chris Smalling (Manchester United), John Stones (Everton), Kyle Walker (Tottenham Hotspur), Ryan Bertrand (Southampton), Danny Rose (Tottenham Hotspur), Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool).

Midfielders: Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur), Ross Barkley (Everton), Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Adam Lallana (Liverpool), James Milner (Liverpool), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal).

Strikers: Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur), Jamie Vardy (Leicester City), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United).

Klinsmann, USMNT will “go for it” in Copa America opener vs Colombia

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 14:  Jermaine Jones of the USA avoids Carlos Bacca of Colombia during the International Friendly between the USA and Colombia at Craven Cottage on November 14, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
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Comparing it to the 2014 World Cup opener against Ghana, USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann called Friday’s Copa America Centenario opener against Colombia “starting a tournament with a final”.

While Costa Rica and Paraguay are far from slouches, Colombia is the best team in the United States’ group.

[ COPA AMERICA PREVIEWS: Group A | BC | D ]

A win would set the tone for the group stage and, historically speaking, winning the first game gives teams a tremendous chance to advance to the knockout rounds.

In a Facebook live chat on Sunday, Klinsmann implied that his Yanks wouldn’t play for a draw against Colombia.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“We are going to go for it. We are going to do that and we are going to try and make it happen on Friday night because it would give us a big, big boost towards the game against Costa Rica and then finishing off the group with Paraguay. Similar to the World Cup, we need a good result in the first game.”

There’s no denying a win would be massive, putting Colombia up against the wall for both of its remaining games. Los Cafeteros have not kept a clean sheet in three matches, but all of those were wins. Their only losses since mid-June 2015 came against Uruguay and Argentina.

Game on.

Marcelo giving away Champions League winners’ medal… via Facebook

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 28: Marcelo of Real Madrid  celebrates after scoring his penalty during the penalty shoot out at the UEFA Champions League Final match between Real Madrid and Club Atletico de Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 28, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
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Real Madrid left back Marcelo is one of the finest at his position, and has a pair of UEFA Champions League winners’ medals.

He’s giving one of the latter away as part of a competition on his Facebook page.

[ MORE: Juanfran’s apology after missed PK ]

No, really.

We’ve seen winners’ medals given to fans, parents and charity, but here’s a pretty unique opportunity to claim one for yourself. What you’d do with it is another story.

He does hashtag Undecima, so perhaps it’s the medal from Saturday’s win over Atletico Madrid but we’re curious as to whether there’s a hitch here.

Reus out of the mix as Germany releases Euro roster

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 14:  Nathaniel Clyne of Liverpool challenges Marco Reus of Borussia Dortmund during the UEFA Europa League quarter final second leg match between Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund at Anfield on April 14, 2016 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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Injury concerns have kept Joachim Loew from tabbing Marco Reus for this summer’s Euro tournament in France.

[ MORE: Payet scores France stunner ]

Reus, the electric Borussia Dortmund attacker, turns 27 today. He will not be a part of Germany’s attack, as Julian Draxler, Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil and Andre Schurrle among those making the cut.

Here’s Loew, from the BBC:

“He has massive injury problems and the medical staff was very sceptical about his ability to last through the coming weeks and such a gruelling tournament.

“It is a bitter decision and bitter for Marco.”

Here’s Germany’s roster as they look to follow up the World Cup with a Euro title, as Spain did in winning the 2010 World Cup and both of the preceding and following Euros.

Goalkeepers: Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich), Bernd Leno (Bayer Leverkusen), Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Barcelona)

Defenders: Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich), Emre Can (Liverpool), Jonas Hector (Cologne), Benedikt Hoewedes (Schalke 04), Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund), Shkodran Mustafi (Valencia), Antonio Ruediger (Roma)

Midfielders: Julian Draxler (VfL Wolfsburg), Sami Khedira (Juventus), Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich), Toni Kroos (Real Madrid), Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich), Mesut Ozil (Arsenal), Lukas Podolski (Galatasaray), Andre Schurrle (VfL Wolfsburg), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Manchester United), Julian Weigl (Borussia Dortmund).

Forwards: Mario Gomez (Besiktas), Mario Goetze (Bayern Munich), Leroy Sane (Schalke 04)