Kofi Sarkodie,Andres Romero

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.

Klinsmann praises Nagbe: “He knows he has to push the envelope”

FRISCO, TX - MAY 25:  Pedro Larrea #15 of Ecuador reacts as Nagbe Darlington #10 of the United States celebrates with Christian Pulisic #17 of the United States after scoring against Ecuador during an International Friendly match at Toyota Stadium on May 25, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images
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Breaking into a Jurgen Klinsmann side isn’t easy, especially for an attacker.

With the United States men’s national team boss quite happy to trot out Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and — when healthy — Jozy Altidore, becoming a regular isn’t easy.

So making the most of your opportunity is key, and Darlington Nagbe has done that most times he’s hit the pitch for the USMNT.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

And scoring a 90th minute winner against Ecuador, even in a 1-0 friendly win, is going to help his odds of sticking in the coach’s mind. Klinsmann said Nagbe “knows he has to push the envelope”, and lauded him for doing so while cautioning that he’s never questioned the offensive acumen of Portland Timbers’ man.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“Now you also want to tell him ‘Listen, you’ve got to make an impression. You’ve got to learn to play both ways and grind it out defensively, go into 1v1s and win balls as well,’” Klinsmann said.

“And that’s just going forward. He has tremendous talent with the ball at his feet going forward. That’s what we enjoy in MLS every weekend. But the international side is both ways, and that’s what we’re working on. And he’s getting better and better at doing that.”

Nagbe was among a handful of U.S. players to shine during a dominant second half that saw the Timbers midfielder snare the decisive goal, and it’s not a stretch to say he was the brightest. Let’s hope to see him get a chance to start on Saturday against Bolivia.

Lukaku will listen to Everton but “I have my own ideas in mind

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - MAY 11: Romelu Lukaku of Everton arrives for the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Everton at the Stadium of Light on May 11, 2016 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
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Romelu Lukaku‘s future looks to be away from Goodison Park.

The big Belgian striker authored 25 goals across all competitions this season, including 18 in the Premier League.

[ MORE: Zlatan has “taken a decision” ]

But as he prepares for the Euro 2016 tournament, Lukaku’s comments make it seem likely that even new investments from up high aren’t going to keep him on Merseyside.

From Sky Sports:

“We have a new investor at Everton and out of courtesy I will listen to what he has to say. But I have my own ideas in mind. I want to win titles.

“I have had a very good season, but it is time for me to write myself a CV. That is why I play football. I got that trophy-winning mindset from Chelsea.”

Lukaku would be a big ticket item on the transfer market, and should go for more than the $41 million price tag Everton paid to get him from Chelsea.

Ibrahimovic says he has received offers from England, Italy

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 11:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Paris Saint-Germain walks out for a training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg match against Manchester City at Etihad Stadium on April 11, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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STOCKHOLM (AP) Still looking for a team for next season, Zlatan Ibrahimovic says he has “concrete offers” from England, Italy and other countries.

The 34-year-old Sweden striker, who has said he is leaving Paris Saint-Germain, has yet to announce where he is headed after the European Championship.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

Ibrahimovic says “I have taken my decision,” but he didn’t elaborate.

At Euro 2016, Sweden will play in Group E with Belgium, Italy and Ireland.

Benitez stay is huge, but Newcastle cannot be content with players

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 30:  Rafael Benitez (R) manager of Newcastle United congratulates Andros Townsend (L) after their 1-0 win in the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Crystal Palace at St James' Park on April 30, 2016 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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As posted yesterday, Rafa Benitez met with the media after Newcastle United confirmed that the trophy-winning manager has decided to stay with the club despite relegation, and said this is his ship now.

This is huge news for the Magpies.

The 56-year-old Spaniard couldn’t rescue the sinking ship he inherited from Steve McClaren, and is tasked with lifting Newcastle back to the Premier League at the first time of asking.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

For years, Newcastle’s managers have been subject to the approval of chief scouts, managing directors and owner Mike Ashley. What Benitez has now is assurances that no player is being sold without his permission, and none being bought without his approval. Which means no midseason sales of Yohan Cabaye because the iron is hot, or unrequested purchases like Xisco.

Of course that could mean we’re headed for a huge August or January bust-up when Ashley or Lee Charnley pulls the rug out from some big acquisition that could firm up Newcastle’s standing in the top flight, but we’ll stay on the sunny side for now and assume Benitez’s people made that part of his contact air tight.

It means Newcastle could line up, basically, the same as last season. There are plusses and minuses to that, of course, as the club was relegated thanks to woeful form and players who were perhaps rightfully accused of only showing up for primetime matches.

Consider:

— Newcastle took as many points from Manchester United (2) as Aston Villa.

— The Magpies went 2-0 against Tottenham Hotspur, grabbed four points from Liverpool, beat West Ham and drew both Manchester City and Chelsea.

— They also lost to relegation rivals Norwich, drew Sunderland twice and were swept by Watford.

So while Benitez holds sway to keep Moussa Sissoko, Georginio Wijnaldum and Daryl Janmaat despite the big money they could command on the open market, he has to be 100 percent sure they won’t mail it in.

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Kevin Nolan of Newcastle United celebrates scoring the opening goal with team mate Andy Carroll (L) during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Liverpool at St James' Park on December 11, 2010 in Newcastle, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Carroll and Nolan (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

There’s no certainty there, and one of the main things that helped Newcastle bounce right back up to the PL in 2009-10 was a crew that got its footing in the Championship by Week 13 and never looked back: the Magpies lost just once in the league from Oct. 24 onward thanks in large part to heart-and-soul players who stuck around after the drop (Kevin Nolan, Jonas Gutierrez, Fabricio Coloccini, Andy Carroll and others).

Among those who fit the bill for understanding the task at hand are Andros Townsend, Jonjo Shelvey, Jack Colback, Chancel Mbemba and Coloccini. Others, like Sissoko and Siem De Jong, risk poisoning the well. That’s not to say they shouldn’t be kept around, but Benitez will need to know transfer rumor and agent hijinks aren’t in the offing.

Make no mistake about it, Benitez in control is better than anything the Magpies have had in ages and Newcastle is far more likely to replicate the instant promotions of West Ham and itself than the divisional drops of Leeds United and Portsmouth.