Desperate times for Spurs, Newcastle flying high – View from the Booth, with Arlo White

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When watching soccer on TV, have you ever sat there and wondered what the man behind the microphone really thinks?

Maybe this will go someway to helping with that.

In the latest edition of “View from the Booth” we chat with NBC Sports’ lead soccer announcer Arlo White about Andre Villas-Boas’ treacherous predicament at Tottenham as they welcome Manchester United to White Hart Lane. Newcastle could go into the top four if they beat West Brom and can the Saints shock Chelsea?

(VIEW FROM THE BOOTH ARCHIVE)

You can hear Arlo calling live games this weekend on NBC Sports Network and NBC, and watch every single game available live online via NBC Sports Live Extra,

So, let’s get to it.

Newcastle have quietly gone about their business this season and Alan Pardew’s men can potentially break into the top four if they beat West Brom on NBC at 12:30pm this Saturday. What’s the secret? Fit players? No Europa League? Boat loads of Frenchmen!?

I’m really looking forward to experiencing the atmosphere at St James’ Park again. The whole city of Newcastle is buzzing on a match day, and when the team are doing well, the Toon army take the excitement level up a notch.

Even the most optimistic Newcastle fan must have feared for their side after the Tyne-Wear derby. They’d been beaten again by their nemesis Sunderland and faced a home game against Chelsea next, before traveling to White Hart Lane to face Spurs. It didn’t look too clever.

source: Getty Images
Loic Remy is firing on all cylinders up at Newcastle.

All of a sudden, Alan Pardew’s side have sprung to life. Chelsea were beaten handily at home. Goalkeeper Tim Krul played out of his skin to preserve a narrow win at Spurs, and Norwich were beaten 2-1 at St James’ last time out. As if by magic, Pardew is now facing questions about his team’s chances of challenging for the Champions League spots. They start the weekend just two points outside the top four.

Loic Remy has been on fire, scoring 8 goals in his last 8 Premier League games, but as Pardew pointed out last week, Shola Ameobi was the “pick of the bunch.” It doesn’t seem 5 minutes since I interviewed a giant, young and softly spoken Ameobi in the bowels of the Nou Camp after he’d scored Newcastle’s lone goal in a 3-1 Champions League defeat against Barcelona. Sadly for both of us, it was actually 11 years ago. Ameobi is 32 now, I’m considerably older, but he led the line superbly against Norwich and is enjoying his run in the side.

Newcastle are playing well, and their often fatalistic fans will hope they don’t blow it against a team they feel they should beat.

As for West Brom, they’ve been ticking along quite nicely, albeit having drawn a few too many games. They are 8 points behind their electric pace at the same stage last season. Steve Clarke would surely leap in at this point and argue that his side should have won at Stamford Bridge the other week but for the award of THAT penalty, and he would have a valid point. I think it robbed West Brom of a bit of momentum. However, if Shane Long can reproduce his form from the Villa game last Monday night, the Baggies fans might ‘Boing, Boing-ing’ their hearts out at the top of the Leazes Stand come 7:20pm.

Spurs v Manchester United… this game is going to be incredibly tense as Tim Howard joins you for the call on Sunday, 7am ET on NBCSN. We spoke about Spurs’ lack of creativity last week… should Tottenham’s fans be worried?

This is a huge game for Spurs. Their capitulation at Manchester City was alarming, and it capped a body of work so far this season that has increased the scrutiny on AVB.

Before the Manchester mauling, Spurs had progressed steadily if unspectacularly, into the upper reaches of the Premier League. They weren’t scoring many goals, but the saving grace was that they weren’t conceding many either. It took 13 seconds, and then a woeful 90+ minutes to change that situation dramatically.

source: Getty Images
Roberto Soldado couldn’t hit a cows backside with a banjo if he tried at the moment…

Spurs still lead the league in clean sheets with seven, but Spurs fans are generally not pragmatists. They want to see free flowing, attacking Football. They don’t want to add “1-0 to the Tottenham” to their match day repertoire, even if 1-0 wins would be a dramatic improvement on not scoring for three entire games for the first time since 2009.

But where will the goals come from? Roberto Soldado has managed one goal from open play in 945 minutes of Premier League Football. Was anyone else surprised to see him play 90 minutes in the freezing conditions in Tromso on Thursday night? Maybe that was a prelude to a spot on the bench in the Premier League, but with the freshly rehabilitated Emmanuel Adebayor struggling with injury and Jermaine Defoe toying with a move away from the Lane, that might be unlikely.

AVB said that he’d toyed with a new 4-4-2 formation before the City game, I wonder if Sunday might be the time to throw a bit of caution to a stiffening wind, in an attempt to give his season a timely jolt.

I also wonder if we might see Ryan Giggs start the first game of his 5th decade on Sunday. He was sublime in Leverkusen on Wednesday night in the Champions League. In the absence of Michael Carrick, Giggs provides David Moyes with experience and poise in the middle of the park, with a fine range of passing. He displays a composure which Fellaini and Cleverley sorely lacked at Cardiff last Sunday.  But can Giggs start two games in five days? Or will be be kept back for the home match against Everton on Wednesday? We shall see.

United are running into form, and aside from a Clint Dempsey-assisted win at Old Trafford last season, Spurs have suffered an horrific run of form against them in the Premier League era. AVB and Spurs need that run to change.

Finally, what else are you looking forward to?

The 10am Eastern games on Saturday are full of intrigue and six pointers. West Ham are desperate to halt their poor recent run of home form, against a vulnerable Fulham. But if the Hammers let another home game slip by without taking the points, they could lurch into the bottom three.

source: Getty Images
Can Tony Pulis save Crystal Palace?

Tony Pulis takes charge of Crystal Palace for the first time, at Norwich. The Eagles could inflict a hugely damaging defeat on the Canaries, and if they do so, they’ll climb to within one point of them. Worrying times in East Anglia.

The Sunderland revival under Gus Poyet must gain some momentum soon before they are cut truly adrift in the bottom three. Can they overcome the recent trauma of a 6-1 defeat at Villa Park last season to gain three priceless away points at Villa Park?

Can Southampton get something at Stamford Bridge, or will their testing two game road trip at Arsenal and Chelsea yield nothing? Cardiff v Arsenal is a fascinating one as well. The Welshmen buoyed by their late equalizer against Manchester United, but now pit their energy and combativeness against arguably the silkiest side in the Premier League in Arsenal.

All in all, it’s another cracking Premier League weekend in prospect. Hope you all enjoy it on NBC Sports.

If the 2018 World Cup started today…

Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images
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Another international break has passed, with fortunes rising and falling in most of FIFA’s confederations (Africa took a break during the break, having staged AFCON in January).

[ MORE: All World Cup qualifying news ]

Brazil joined hosts Russia as nations to have qualified for the 2018 World Cup, and 30 spots remain. Let’s take the opportunity to project the field for Russia.

In October, we took the projected qualifiers and simulated all the way down to the World Cup final. Germany beat Brazil. Let’s go again. Who will “win” it this time?


QUALIFICATION

We’ll again use actual qualification, as flawed and early as it is in some confederations, to be predict our combatants.

Asia (7 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia
PLAYOFF: Uzbekistan vs. Australia

PROJECTION: While Uzbekistan has been better in terms of overall form, Australia’s experience boosts it into a match-up with the USMNT.

Africa (2 of 6 qualifiers played)
IN: DR Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Egypt

CONCACAF (4 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama
PLAYOFF: United States

(AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

South America (14 of 18 qualifiers played)
IN: Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay, Chile
PLAYOFF: Argentina

Oceania (4 of 6 qualifiers played)
PLAYOFF: New Zealand vs. Tahiti

UEFA (5 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: France, Switzerland, Germany, Serbia, Poland, England, Spain, Belgium, Croatia
UEFA PLAYOFFS: Sweden, Portugal, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Slovakia, Italy, Greece, Iceland

SIMULATED PLAYOFFS (random draw):
Sweden vs. Iceland — Sweden wins
Portugal vs. Republic of Ireland — Portugal wins
Northern Ireland vs. Slovakia — Slovakia wins
Italy vs. Greece — Italy wins

Intercontinental playoffs:

Australia vs. United States — USMNT wins
Argentina vs. New Zealand — Argentina wins


FIELD (FIFA Rankings)

  1. Russia (hosts, 60)
  2. Argentina (1)
  3. Brazil (2)
  4. Germany (3)
  5. Chile (4)
  6. Belgium (5)
  7. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

    France (6)

  8. Colombia (7)
  9. Portugal (8)
  10. Uruguay (9)
  11. Spain (10)
  12. Switzerland (11)
  13. Poland (12)
  14. England (13)
  15. Italy (15)
  16. Croatia (16)
  17. Mexico (17)
  18. Costa Rica (19)
  19. Egypt (20)
  20. Slovakia (25)
  21. USA (30)
  22. Iran (33)
  23. Burkina Faso (36)
  24.  (Photo by Richard Huggard/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

    DR Congo (38)

  25. South Korea (40)
  26. Nigeria (41)
  27. Sweden (45)
  28. Ivory Coast (47)
  29. Japan (51)
  30. Serbia (52)
  31. Panama (53)
  32. Saudi Arabia (57)

THE POTS

The 10 European qualifiers mean two will have to join Pot 2. Our random selections were… Croatia and Spain.

Pot 1 (seeds): Russia, Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Chile, Belgium, France, Colombia, Brazil

Pot 2 (CAF, CONMEBOL, UEFA): DR Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Uruguay, Croatia, Spain

Pot 3 (AFC & CONCACAF): Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, USMNT

Pot 4: (UEFA): Sweden, Slovakia, Italy, Switzerland, Serbia, Poland, England, Portugal


THE DRAW

Group A: Russia, DR Congo, Saudi Arabia, Sweden
Group B: Chile, Croatia, Mexico, Portugal
Group C: Brazil, Nigeria, Panama, Switzerland
Group D: Germany, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Poland
Group E: Argentina, Spain, Japan, Slovakia
Group F: France, Ivory Coast, South Korea, Italy
Group G: Belgium, Uruguay, USMNT, England
Group H: Colombia, Egypt, Iran, Serbia

So… should we play it out? We’ll try to throw in some upsets and not just go with the chalk.

Round of 16
Mexico (B2) def. Russia (A1)
Brazil (C1) def. Poland (D2)
Spain (E1) def. Italy (F2)
Belgium (G1) def. Egypt (H2)
Portugal (B1) def. DR Congo (A2)
Germany (D1) def. Nigeria (C2)
France (F1) def. Argentina (G2)
Colombia (H1) def. England (G2)

Quarterfinals
Brazil def. Mexico
Spain def. Belgium
Germany def. Portugal
France def. Colombia

Semifinals
Brazil def. Spain
France def. Germany

Final
Brazil def. France

Dempsey leads way for MLS players during Cup qualifying

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The latest round of World Cup qualifying saw a major increase in the number of players from MLS called in for their national teams.

A number of those decisions paid off for their countries, perhaps no one more than Clint Dempsey.

A few months ago, Dempsey wasn’t even in consideration for the U.S. after missing the latter half of last season because of a heart issue. But the Seattle Sounders forward scored four times in two matches as the U.S. gathered four critical points in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

[ WATCH: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago can win World Cup ]

Dempsey was part of an influx of MLS players contributing during the latest round of qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

In all, MLS had 55 players called in for qualifying in CONCACAF, CONEMBOL (South America) and UEFA (Europe) competitions. Last September, the league saw 58 players called in to their national teams, but there were more countries still alive in qualification at that time. The 55 players selected this time was an increase of 16 from the last round of qualifying matches in November, and 40 of the 55 saw action during the two days of competition in the past week representing 12 countries.

In the three CONCACAF games last Friday, 29 of the 84 players to see the field were from MLS. That outpaced LigaMX, which had 17 players among the 84 used in the three matches.

Dempsey wasn’t the only MLS player coming up big for his country. Minnesota midfielder Kevin Molino had the only goal for Trinidad and Tobago in its 1-0 win over Panama. The Vancouver duo of Christian Bolanos and Kendall Waston teamed for the only goal in Costa Rica’s 1-1 draw with Honduras.

But not all went well for MLS players during qualifying.

Young Atlanta star Josef Martinez injured his left leg during the second half of Venezuela’s 2-2 draw with Peru in CONEMBOL qualifying. Martinez returned to Atlanta and an MRI revealed a left quadriceps injury that will keep the MLS leader in goals scored out for four to six weeks. Martinez had five goals in Atlanta’s first three games.

U.S. midfielder Sebastian Lletget was forced off early in the match against Honduras but not before scoring the opening goal for the Americans. Los Angeles announced Tuesday that Lletget suffered a Lisfranc injury that will require surgery and he will be sidelined for four to six months.

[ MORE: BWP a DP; Nephew called up to England U16 ]

MATCH OF THE WEEK: The club that set the bar for expansion debuts faces the newcomer looking to topple that standard.

The Seattle Sounders will host Atlanta United on Friday night. It’s the only regular-season matchup between the two sides, but there’s more than just the competition on the field.

Seattle’s expansion season of 2009 was regarded throughout the sports industry as arguably the best franchise launch ever, not just in MLS. Between ticket sales and fan engagement, Seattle’s start could not have gone better.

Atlanta might be setting a new standard. Atlanta drew more than 55,000 for its first match and more than 45,000 for its second home game, a win over Chicago. Atlanta seems to be following significant parts of Seattle’s blueprint, down to having an influential NFL owner highly involved from the start.

As for the on-field product, the validity of Atlanta’s promising start will be tested over the next month with four straight road matches.

“It’s definitely still an expansion team,” Atlanta defender Michael Parkhurst said. “We’ve got our bumps and bruises along the way. Off the field, everyone’s still trying to get sorted and situated to the new city.”

BEST OF THE REST: Toronto finally gets to come home after opening the season with three straight road games. The Reds will host Sporting KC on Friday night. The trade-off for opening the season on the road is that Toronto gets five of its next six league matches at home and was able to get five points out of those three road contests to start.

Also of note will be what kind of lineup Vancouver rolls out on Saturday night against Los Angeles. The Whitecaps play in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals four days later.

BACK ON THE BENCH: Real Salt Lake introduced Mike Petke as its new head coach Wednesday, less than two weeks after firing Jeff Cassar. Petke was the head coach of the New York Red Bulls for two seasons, including the 2013 season when they won the Supporters’ Shield. After two years out of coaching, Petke signed on to be the head coach of the Real Monarchs, the minor-league club associated with RSL.

OFF TARGET: The other expansion debut this season by Minnesota United is on pace to set records, but not any they want to be associated with. Simply put, Minnesota can’t play defense.

Minnesota allowed at least five goals for the third time in four matches in last week’s 5-2 loss at New England. Minnesota allowed five goals to Portland and six to Atlanta and is on pace to allow more than 150 goals this season.

LAST WORD: “I’ve been very encouraged by what I’ve seen over the last 10 days. It’s going to take some time to piece that team together.” U.S. coach Bruce Arena after the latest round of World Cup qualifying.

Messi explains actions that warranted 4-match ban

AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano
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Lionel Messi is set to miss four Argentina matches for something we arguably see every week on TV.

That doesn’t make it okay, but is anyone else scratching their head at the suspension handed down to the world’s best player for verbal abuse of an official?

[ MORE: Barca defends Messi ]

Messi, 29, shouted an obscenity at the linesman in Thursday’s 1-0 win over Chile, and was both banned and served the first match of his ban on Tuesday, as Argentina was beaten 2-0 in Bolivia.

Messi explained his actions Wednesday with the following:

“My expressions were never directed to the referee, they were said to the air,” Messi told La Nacion.

That’s pretty ridiculous, yeah? But I can’t help but feel the four matches are a bit harsh. Hardly a high-level match goes by without seeing a player clearly being derisive toward an offical, and usually lipreading proves it wasn’t G-rated.

Again, I have no problem for setting a standard, as abuse of officials is unnecessary (and even those of us who are serially offenders know it).

But if confederations and leagues want to get serious about cutting it out, this can’t be a one-off suspension; End the group upbraiding of referees during games, the wild gesticulations, so on and so forth.

Bradley Wright-Phillips gets new deal; Nephew called up to England U-16

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It’s been a big 24 hours for the Wright-Phillips family.

Bradley Wright-Phillips signed a new Designated Player deal with the New York Red Bulls, while his nephew has been called up the England U-16 national team.

D’Margio Wright-Phillips is the son of Shawn Wright-Phillips, the former RBNY player currently plying his trade with Phoenix Rising of the USL.

[ WATCH: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago can win World Cup ]

Of course that will only serve to grow the pride of Arsenal legend Ian Wright, who adopted Bradley and Shaun.

The details:

BWP has signed a new multi-year deal with the Red Bulls which brings the 70-goal man into Designated Player status.

“I’d like to thank Denis, Jesse, and everyone at the club for the opportunity to continue wearing this shirt and playing in front of the best fans in MLS,” said Wright-Phillips. “I am very proud of what has been accomplished in my time here, but my sole focus is on trying to win MLS Cup.”

As for D’Margio, he’s in Manchester City’s academy and obviously taking the right steps toward making it three generations in the Premier League. Both Shaun and Bradley spent time in City’s academy.