First half goals, lack of second half chances leave Real Salt Lake, LA Galaxy drawn at Rio Tinto (video)

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Two Western Conference contenders looking decided out of sync were left on even footing after 90 minutes at Rio Tinto, with two first half mistakes splitting the day’s goals between Real Salt Lake and the visiting LA Galaxy. A breakdown on an early set piece allowed Álvaro Saborío to score his first goal of the season, while a counter attack 15 minutes later saw Robbie Keane earn a 1-1 result for the Galaxy, giving Bruce Arena’s team its first point of the season.

Saborío opened the scoring in the 19th minute when Joao Plata found him unmarked at the far post for the day’s opening goal. In the 34th minute, Chris Schuler’s inability to deal with Keane in transition allowed the Republic of Ireland international to beat Nick Rimando from just inside the 18-yard box. After a second half that saw both teams struggle to create quality chances, the Galaxy had a small measure of redemption for the teams’ result two weeks ago, one that saw RSL take full points out of StubHub Center.

For Real Salt Lake, the result leaves Jeff Cassar’s team undefeated (1-0-2), but after an opening day win in Los Angeles followed by last week’s draw in San Jose, the performance was also the team’s least convincing of the season. Though LA’s late counter attacks failed to replicate Keane’s first half danger, the Galaxy still had multiple chances to exploit RSL late. Unable to convert those threats into shots, LA was forced to settle for a the draw.

While those counters left the host’s defense tested last, it was LA’s back line that was in the spotlight early. In the game’s opening minutes, an error in possession by Omar Gonzalez allowed Plata to go in alone on goal. Los Angeles were lucky to see the Ecuadorian push his shot wide of Brian Perk’s left post, missing out on his third goal of the season.

In the 19th minute, Plata made up for his miss, severing a perfect ball to Saborío after he was left unmarked short on a restart. Saborío was equally unmarked 12 yards from goal, even with the far post. After taking a touch and drawing Park off his line, the Costa Rican international fished into the far side of goal to make it 1-0, RSL.

With few opportunities over the next quarter-hour, the Galaxy appeared on track to their second loss of the season to RSL. Two weeks ago in Carson, Calif., a Plata goal helped Real Salt Lake open the season with a 1-0 win at Home Depot Center. Just after the half-hour mark, however, a trademark Galaxy counter ensured Saturday’s result would be different.

After winning a ball along the right flank, LA burst into a counterattack led by Keane. The Galaxy captain never saw Schuler, playing his first game of the season, stop his advances. After subtly steering Schuler to the middle of the park, Keane quickly moved back onto his right foot and finished inside Rimando’s left post, giving the U.S. international no chance to stop the equalizer.

Though Nick Grabavoy would go close in the second half, forcing Perk into a diving save to defend his right post, the game’s final 45 minutes were defined by a lack of chances. With Plata having left in the first half with an apparent leg injury, RSL was missing an important, linking piece. And while the Galaxy improved on the performance they gave in Tijuana on Tuesday, Bruce Arena’s team continued to look flawed at the back, something their periodic success going forward could not overshadow.

Through two games, LA remains winless, though the away result gave the team their first point of the season. For Real Salt Lake, it’s a second straight game were the team couldn’t defend an early lead. While Chris Schuler’s return from ankle surgery should allow the team to start addressing that concern, the slips have allowed the team’s last two opponents to come back and claim points that could have been preserved.

Premier League preview: Man United vs. Newcastle United

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  • Red Devils unbeaten in 31 of last 32 home fixtures vs. Newcastle
  • Newcastle winless in its last six PL matches
  • Lukaku hasn’t scored in United’s last seven games

Manchester United hosts Newcastle United on Saturday from Old Trafford (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com) as the Red Devils could potentially welcome back several of it biggest stars for the match.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and Marcos Rojo could return for Jose Mourinho’s side this weekend, as Man United looks to bounce back from its 1-0 defeat to Chelsea on Nov. 5.

The ex-Sweden international Ibrahimovic hasn’t appeared in a match since April 2017, after being United’s top goalscorer a season ago.

The Red Devils will have to deal with the absence of Phil Jones at the back, though, as the England international misses out on the match with a thigh injury.

Newcastle will be without Christian Atsu and Jamaal Lascelles, which certainly hurts the squad’s attack, while Mikel Merino and Paul Dummett remain sidelined with respective injuries.

What they’re saying

Jose Mourinho, on Paul Pogba’s status:  “I can say now because he’s back – I don’t like to speak while he’s injured – you can clearly see there is a Manchester United this season before Paul’s injury and after Paul’s injury. There are qualities in our football, qualities that influence our approach in matches, with Pogba and without Pogba. Simple as that.”

Rafa Benitez, on growing pains of being a young side“We are a newly-promoted club that has to settle down in the Premier League. We have a young squad, so it’s a learning process for everyone and losing some games is part of the process. Hopefully we can stop that this weekend, but we know it has to be like this. We have to think that the target is to stay in the Premier League, then after try to go as high as we can in the table.”

Prediction

Newcastle has had its share of struggles this season, and running into a Man United side that is gaining full fitness is a dangerous task. The Red Devils are a tough squad to beat at home, so Rafa Benitez and Co. have their hands full. Man United 2-0 Newcastle

Luiz back in Chelsea squad after being dropped by Conte

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David Luiz‘s pair of stints at Chelsea have been nothing short of a roller-coaster ride of emotions — joyous highs and painful lows.

[ MORE: Pogba, Zlatan back form injuries; available this weekend ]

After returning to the club for a second time in the summer of 2016, Luiz instantly slotted into Antonio Conte‘s three-man backline and was a pivotal part of the Blues’ title-winning team last season.

Much like the second half of his first four seasons at Chelsea, Luiz’s second season (the second time around) has started so hotly. After playing eight of the first 10 games during Chelsea’s ongoing title defense, Luiz was unexpectedly dropped from the squad for the victory over Manchester United.

Now, two weeks later, Conte has announced that Luiz has rejoined the squad and is available for selection when his side visits West Brom on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold) — quotes from the Guardian:

“David Luiz is in the squad, yes. [His exclusion] was a technical decision. When it’s a technical decision every player has to react well and accept my decision. It’s normal, this.

“I like to speak about the team and the next game that we have to pay attention to. This is the most important thing, not speaking about a single player. I repeat: I don’t like to speak about a single player.”

Pogba, Zlatan, Rojo return from injuries for Man Utd-Newcastle

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The only saving grace when it comes to injuries is that, eventually (usually), players recover from them and return to the team.

[ MORE: 2018 World Cup Power Rankings — who comes out on top? ]

It’s been a long seven months for the soccer world to be without Zlatan Ibrahimovic (torn ACL on April 20), just as it’s been a painfully long 10 weeks for Manchester United fans following Paul Pogba‘s hamstring injury on Sept. 12. Man United have dropped eight points during the latter’s absence and now coincidentally sit eight points behind Manchester City in the Premier League title race.

A bit of good news on this Friday: United manager Jose Mourinho announced today that the dynamic duo, along with defender Marcos Rojo (knee ligament damage on April 20) have returned to full fitness and will be available for selection during Saturday’s home clash with Newcastle United (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com) — quotes from ManUtd.com:

“The players that stayed here and [were] recovering from injuries, even the ones that are recovering from big injuries, they are ready to play — Pogba, Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo.”

“[Ibrahimovic] made a full recovery. Now you cannot expect him to be ready to play 90 minutes or to be ready to play consecutive matches like he did all his career.

“Now he needs time to be back to his level, his fitness, his confidence, his sharpness, his everything. But, from the clinical point of view, to be good and ready is fantastic.”

2018 World Cup Power Rankings — 7 months B.W.C.

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209 days — that’s how long the world is still being made to wait for the opening game of the 2018 World Cup. It’s close, in that all 32 berths have been secured, but still so far, in that the draw is still two weeks away.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s 2018 World Cup coverage | USMNT | Premier League ]

Perhaps then, and only then, will it begin to feel really real.

According to our esteemed panelists — Joe Prince-Wright, Nicholas Mendola, Kyle Bonn, Matt Reed, Dan Karell and yours truly — four clear-cut favorites for the semifinals have separated themselves from the rest of the pack, followed by another six or eight sides with one half of their squad firing on all cylinders but some serious kinks to work out elsewhere.

[ MORE: Round 1 of the WC power rankings | Round 2 ]

Finally, the latest edition of PST’s 2018 World Cup Power Rankings, now featuring all 32 teams qualified for Russia…

Team Points Best Worst
1 (1) Germany 189 1 2
2 (2) Brazil 188 1 3
3 (4) Spain 177 3 5
4 (3) France 176 3 5
5 (8) Argentina 158 4 10
6 (5) Belgium 156 4 10
7 (7) Portugal 153 6 10
8 (11) England 150 5 12
9 (6) Uruguay 141 6 14
10 (9) Colombia 140 7 12
11 (10) Mexico 129 8 14
12 (12) Poland 125 10 14
13 (20) Croatia 118 7 20
14 (17) Switzerland 115 12 16
15 (NR) Sweden 92 16 19
16 (NR) Denmark 86 13 23
17 (NR) Serbia 83 9 28
18 (NR) Peru 80 15 25
19 (15) Iceland 79 15 24
20 (16) Japan 71 16 27
21 (NR) Egypt 66 18 27
22 (NR) South Korea 64 13 32
23 (NR) Senegal 63 17 26
24 (18) Nigeria 58 15 27
25 (19) Costa Rica 57 14 29
26 (NR) Morocco 48 18 29
27 (NR) Australia 45 22 30
28 (NR) Russia 36 20 32
29 (NR) Iran 34 22 31
30 (NR) Tunisia 30 23 31
31 (NR) Panama 19 28 32
32 (NR) Saudi Arabia 9 31 32