MLS Picks: Could be a big weekend for goal-lovers in the United States

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Major League Soccer’s second weekend features the debut of three team’s seasons, including the much-publicized contest between Toronto FC and the Sounders in Seattle. Let’s take a look at what else is cooking and who could come out on top.

By the way, Los Angeles gets the weekend off after its CONCACAF Champions League match but San Jose and Sporting KC have to play on? Couldn’t MLS have at least pitted the two sides against each other? The CCL schedule wasn’t a mystery, was it?

New York vs. Colorado, 4p.m. ET Saturday
Despite a 4-1 loss in Vancouver to open the season, Mike Petke got a ray of sunshine this week when his new contract was formally announced. And now he can suit up his full lineup with Thierry Henry and Jamison Olave, away from British Columbia’s turf. Colorado has plenty to look forward to with new boss Pablo Mastroeni, new captain Drew Moor and Marvell Wynne moving back to center back, but it may not have much fun this week, testing its season legs out against a bitter NYRB. The pick: New York 2, Colorado 0.

Philadelphia vs. New England, 4p.m. ET Saturday
New England was on the wrong end of a 4-0 scoreline on opening weekend, while Philadelphia gave away a chance at full points against a strong Portland team. Maurice Edu is talking about making PPL Park a scary place, and the Union can get off to a good start Saturday. Jack McInerney kicked off his season with a goal en route to what could be another hot start for the 21-year-old. How many would he need by mid-April to raise a Klinsmann-brow? It’s early in the season but feels like a win here would be gigantic for new-look Philadelphia, especially after the Timbers tie. New England still looking for its form. Close one? The pick: Philadelphia 2, New England 1.

Seattle vs. Toronto, 4:30p.m. ET Saturday (WATCH LIVE ON NBCSN)
It’s the big one (though one gets the feeling many TFC matches will be treated as such this season, at least early). Reds captain Steven Caldwell told our own Joe Prince-Wright that the “sky’s the limit” for Toronto this year, and I tend to agree, even if boss Ryan Nelsen isn’t feeling the Seattle turf. And while it may take some time for TFC to find its form as a unit, they have the talent to stick it out in nearly any match. Subplots a-plenty here, and I expect Sounders keeper Stefan Frei to have his say in this one. The pick: Seattle 1, Toronto 1.

Sporting KC vs. Dallas, 8:30p.m. ET Saturday
KC held back some regulars in its CCL win over Cruz Azul this week, and that could pay dividends as they face a Dallas squad that barely held off visiting Montreal last weekend. I think it’ll take time for Oscar Pareja’s system to take hold in Texas and, while ultimately it should work out for Dallas, that won’t help against the reigning champs in a home opener, stung by a last-second loss in Seattle last week. Zusi time. The pick: Sporting KC 2, Dallas 0.

Houston vs. Montreal, 8:30 p.m. ET Saturday
The last time these two teams met, things got extremely ugly. We’re talking throat-grabbing, kicking-out ugly. That match also sent Montreal home for the year, and none of the players involved in the fracas will feature this week, either for suspensions or injuries. It’s another week in Texas for the Impact, who will hope to be on the winning end after dropping a 3-2 decision to Dallas last week. Houston looked dominant against New England, and I suspect that’ll be the case again on Saturday. The pick: Houston 3, Montreal 1.

San Jose vs. Real Salt Lake, 10:30 p.m. ET Saturday
If I’m anyone associated with the Quakes, I’m crazy ticked off with MLS for giving my club a huge early season match just days after a pretty big CONCACAF Champions League tie. Come on, right? Now Real Salt Lake walks into Buck Shaw Stadium with a red-hot keeper and the No.1 slot in PST’s Power Rankings. This is a tough spot for San Jose, even at home. The pick: Real Salt Lake 2, San Jose 1.

Portland v. Chicago, 3p.m. ET Sunday
Chicago didn’t exactly impress in an opening loss to Chivas USA, but it was a cross-country trip to face an inspired squad. Portland’s a different animal altogether, especially in the confines of Providence Park. The Timbers opened the season with a tie against Philadelphia, and they’ll find more than a goal as they find the win column for the first time this season. The pick: Portland 2, Chicago 0.

Chivas USA vs. Vancouver, 7p.m. ET Sunday
This one could be a blast in an “under the radar” sort of way. Chivas was entertaining moving forward and, sadly for them, in defense against Chicago last weekend but picked up a huge win for head coach Wilmer Cabrera and company. On the other side, Kenny Miller and the Whitecaps played a smart match against New York that propelled them to a 4-1 win despite not having a ton of possession. This match has endless possibilities and I’m looking forward to one of those “Coaches’ fright, fans’ delight” matches. The pick: Vancouver 3, Chivas USA 2.

With no World Cup for USMNT, Altidore shifts focus

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For Jozy Altidore, this was supposed to be the time when the United States was preparing for this summer’s World Cup. That changed early in October when the Americans got bounced from the tournament.

[ MORE: Kamara to La Liga? ]

The stunning failure shifted Altidore’s focus.

He spent the beginning of 2018 in Grand Cayman, where his foundation is bringing soccer to kids in a region hit by hurricanes last fall. Soon, he’ll start the new season with defending MLS Cup champion Toronto FC.

As for this summer? Altidore will watch a few of the matches in Russia on television. The 28-year-old forward isn’t stewing in the loss, he’s looking with hope to the future.

“Of course I’ll obviously be disappointed not to be there, but at the end of the day, man, we’re blessed to do what we do,” he said.

Apart from the national team loss, Altidore is coming off one of the better years of his career. He scored 18 goals with the Reds and another four with the U.S. national team. Toronto FC won the Supporters’ Shield for the best regular-season record before sweeping through the playoffs and defeating Seattle 2-0 for the league title. Altidore scored in the final and earned MLS Cup MVP honors.

The victory was a bit of revenge for a loss to the Sounders for the MLS Cup the previous season, but Altidore said Toronto’s motivation was part of a season-long journey he took with his teammates and coach Greg Vanney.

“I think more than anything we understood how close we were and how it hurt that we had come up short that season,” he said. “The focus for us was to do what we did that last year and if we got to the last game, obviously make sure we got the W and make the most of our chances.”

Altidore celebrates his goal against the Seattle Sounders during the MLS Cup Final (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP)

Toronto teammate and fellow national team player, Michael Bradley, echoed the sentiment after the title match.

“When push comes to shove, you want to step into the biggest moments with people that you would do anything for, that you love, that you believe in, that you trust, that you know have your back,” Bradley said.

But it wasn’t all smooth. Altidore got into a confrontation with New York Red Bulls captain Sacha Kljestan in a tunnel at BMO Field during the conference semifinals. Altidore and Kljestan were handed red cards in the aftermath.

Altidore sat out Toronto’s next game, while Kljestan was suspended an additional game and won’t be able to play the first two games of the upcoming season. Kljestan, who was also fined, was traded in the offseason from the Red Bulls to Orlando.

Altidore and Bradley were also jeered – sometimes with profane and personal attacks – by opposing fans over the U.S. team’s qualifying performance.

“Look, all that stuff I think would have been magnified had we not achieved our objective,” Altidore said. “But we did, and we did it in such a convincing manner.”

Following the 2-1 U.S. loss in Couva, Trinidad, that cost the national team a spot in the World Cup, coach Bruce Arena stepped down and U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati said he would not run for another term.

Interim U.S. coach Dave Sarachan called 30 players into January training camp in advance of an exhibition game against Bosnia and Herzegovina on Jan. 28 in Carson, California. Altidore and many of the team’s veterans were not invited.

The camp roster includes 15 players who have never played in a match for the senior national team. The most experienced was LA Galaxy midfielder Gyasi Zardes, who is 26. Twenty-one of the players are 24 and younger.

Altidore, who has 41 goals in 110 appearances with the national team, understands that developing young talent is important heading into the next World Cup quadrennial. “We have to do a better job of identifying new talent, for sure,” he said, suggesting that missing out on the past two Olympics – where under-23 teams compete – has hurt development efforts.

For now, Altidore is pouring his energy into charitable endeavors.

Altidore, whose parents are from Haiti, launched his foundation in 2011 following the devastating earthquake that hit the country the year before. The foundation built a well to provide water to a town of more than 400 in Haiti, along with other rebuilding efforts. In 2016, he paid to bring the Copa America matches to television in the country.

The latest effort in the Cayman Islands focuses on getting youth involved in soccer.

“I think the whole region, the Caribbean has a lot of talent and has a lot of kids who want to become players. And I think it helps to see and identify with players who have played in different leagues from around the world,” he said. “If I’m able to be one of those guys that can start that whole thing, it’s a great opportunity and honor for me.”

Report: Ola Kamara wanted by mid-table La Liga outfit

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Columbus Crew star Ola Kamara is ready to leave the side, but he may not be moving inside of Major League Soccer.

[ MORE: FA Cup replay roundup ]

Metro.Us reporter Kristian Dyer says the Norwegian star is subject to a bid from a mid-table La Liga club. He’d been linked with a trade to Colorado as well.

Kamara, 28, came to MLS from Austria Wien and has since scored 34 goals in two seasons, a year after bagging 21 goals on loan for Molde in Norway.

Seventh place and 15th are separated by just four points in Spain’s top flight. Leganes and Espanyol are having the hardest time scoring goals, in terms of mildly educated speculation.

Transfer rumor roundup: Fred to Man City; Aubameyang wanted

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Could this January transfer window rival last season’s in terms of activity?

[ MORE: FA Cup replay roundup ]

Last season saw Crystal Palace save its season and Hull City nearly do the same, Morgan Schneiderlin head to Everton, Leicester find a decent N'Golo Kante replacement, and much, much more.

This season has been less active, though Ross Barkley has headed to Chelsea while former club Everton nabbed Cenk Tosun and Liverpool added Virgil Van Dijk.

The BBC has news involving Napoli which could affect two Premier League clubs. The Neapolitans apparently want Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, who wants to be an every week starter, to be a prime part of their push to end Juventus’ Serie A stranglehold.

That would unseat Pepe Reina, who’s been long linked with a reunion with former boss Pepe Reina at Newcastle United. Napoli currently has Luigi Sepe as a No. 2 to Reina, though UEFA Europa League fixtures mean it’s no guarantee Mignolet’s arrival would allow Reina to leave town.

Sky Sports says Manchester City would like to see Fred as a long-term replacement for Fernandinho. Fred went 90 minutes for Shakhtar Donetsk in a pair of UEFA Champions League contests against City, including the 2-1 home win over the Premier League leaders’ B-squad on Dec. 6. The 24-year-old has two goals and two assists in league play, and could cost more than $25 million.

Don Balon proffers news that could unsettle Arsenal fans, as Real Madrid is apparently entering the bidding for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Florentino Perez would like an upgrade to Karim Benzema for his struggling La Liga super powers, and goodness knows Real will tempt Borussia Dortmund’s bank account.

One liners:

— The BBC also says Besiktas want Islam Slimani to join the club from Leicester City.

— Ola Kamara’s move from Columbus to another MLS team may be hijacked by La Liga.

Mourinho reportedly close to Man Utd contract extension

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Jose Mourinho is scheduling an extended stay at Manchester United.

[ MORE: Donovan unveiled by Leon ]

The 54-year-old has a contract through the end of next season, the dreaded third at a club for Mourinho, but reports say United is keen to keep him around through 2021.

Mourinho has not tasted a fourth season with a club despite winning league titles at Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan, and Real Madrid.

The 2019-20 season at Old Trafford would be Mourinho’s fourth. According to the BBC:

Talks have progressed well and it is now just a matter of time before Mourinho commits to remain at Old Trafford beyond the expiry of his present deal in 2019.

Somehow, this feels it should be deemed another loss for Antonio Conte.