MLS Week 4 Preview: Toronto’s test at Real Salt Lake highlights nine-match weekend

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The fourth week of Major League Soccer’s 2014 season begins at on Saturday at 4:00 p.m. Eastern in Washington, D.C., with the week’s NBCSN game kicking off a nine-match slate that concludes Sunday in New York. Previewing a round headlined by feature battles in Utah and Seattle, here is our quick look at the coming weekend of MLS action.

Note: All rankings reflect PST’s weekly MLS Power Rankings.

NBCSN’s GAME OF THE WEEK
#19 D.C. United vs. #15 Chicago Fire (Saturday, 4:00 p.m. Eastern, NBCSN/NBC Live Extra)
Last week: D.C. lost at Toronto, 1-0; Chicago drew with New York, 1-1

Oh, D.C. United – where even the steps forward are relative ones. Ben Olsen’s team made strides between weeks one and three, but last week at BMO Field, they still looked a little too much like last year’s unfortunate record setter. But Chicago at home? It’s one of those “if we can’t win this one, we’re in real trouble” games.

While the Fire has a defense pairing (Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Bakary Soumaré) that can handle U.S. international striker Eddie Johnson, is doesn’t have a midfield that’s going to blow through D.C.’s like Toronto’s Michael Bradley-Jonathan Orosio pair did last week. And until 2013 MVP Mike Magee rounds into form, Chicago’s relying on pure opportunism for goals.

In theory, the Fire can be had. Whether D.C. can do it will tell us a lot about their offseason makeover.


THE OTHER GAME YOU JUST CAN’T MISS
#2 Real Salt Lake vs. #1 Toronto FC (Saturday, 9:30 p.m. Eastern)
Last week: RSL drew with LA, 1-1; Toronto beat D.C. United, 1-0

With apologies to Seattle, here’s Ryan Nelsen’s first big test of the season. We saw the adjustments LA Galaxy coach Bruce Arena made going into Rio Tinto, shifting from a flat 4-4-2 to a diamond midfield to go like-for-like against the Western Conference champions. We also know Ryan Nelsen is unlikely to change out his flat 4-4-2, given he used it against D.C.’s diamond last week.

Perhaps is won’t matter. Reds are comfortable playing without the ball and, thanks of Jermain Defoe, incredibly dangerous when breaking on opponents – an approach that could replicate the goal LA used to get a draw on Saturday. But is this team really good enough, drilled enough, to match up with RSL? Given Real Salt Lake will be missing Joao Plata, that may not be as tall a task as it was last week, but where LA’s familiarity was so important to their result in Sandy, Toronto will be making their first trip to Utah under Nelsen.

OKAY, SO THERE ARE THREE YOU CAN’T MISS
#7 Seattle Sounders vs. #3 Columbus Crew (Saturday, 10:00 p.m. Eastern)
Last week: Seattle won in Montréal, 2-0; Columbus beat visiting Philadelphia, 2-1

This new look Columbus team on CenturyLink’s turf? This could be fun, but it could also be a problem for Gregg Berhalter if Seattle sticks with their 4-3-3, one which often saw wide attackers Lamar Neagle and Kenny Cooper play relatively narrow. If Seattle persists with that approach on Saturday, they should be able to press the back three the Crew use in possession; at least, they should be able to do so more effectively than the Union.

Seattle’s three-man midfield will also be able to devote somebody like Andy Rose (or, a healthy Brad Evans) to marking Columbus focal point Federico Higuaín as he roams around the middle. If the Sounders can use that and some pressure to can generate transition chances, they may be able to take advantage of a Crew central defense that had an up-and-down day against the Union.


BE AN MLS ULTZY AND EMBRACE
#16 New York Red Bulls vs. #14 Chivas USA (Sunday, 3:00 p.m. Eastern, UniMas)
Last week: New York drew at Chicago, 1-1; Chivas USA lost at Dallas, 3-1

New York hasn’t looked good in its first three games yet gets a golden chance to get their first win against the visiting Goats. While Chivas USA showed promise over their first two games, last week’s match in Dallas was a minor wake up call. Though its played better than New York over the season’s first three weeks, Chivas’s cross-country trip to a reigning Supporters’ Shield-winner that needs a victory sounds like a recipe for Red Bull success.


GAMES THAT SHOULD BE TELLING
#11 Colorado Rapids vs. #4 Sporting Kansas City (Saturday, 6:00 p.m. Eastern)
Last week: Colorado beat Portland, 2-0; Sporting down San Jose, 1-0

Two teams that have performed below their 2013 selves meet at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, with neither Colorado nor Sporting having scored from open play this season. The defending champions’ tallies have come from a corner and a penalty conversion, while the Rapids’ three goals have all come from the spot. Whichever team finds last season’s attack first will have the edge in Commerce City.

#12 Vancouver Whitecaps vs. #4 Houston Dynamo (Saturday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern)
Last week: Vancouver drew at New England, 0-0; Houston had the week off to enjoy its 2-0-0 start

Houston’s slow central defense will be tasked with containing Darron Mattocks, Russell Teibert and (later) Kekuta Manneh. Playing two in the middle, they’ll also need to match up against a trio of Nigel Reo-Coker, Matías Laba, and Pedro Morales. On the strangest surface in the league, one the Dynamo only visit once every two seasons, this looks like another potential home win for the Whitecaps. Houston’s main saving grace: They’ve had two weeks to prepare for this challenge.

#8 FC Dallas vs. #13 Portland Timbers (Saturday, 8:30 p.m. Eastern)
Last week: Dallas posted a 3-1 win over visiting Chivas USA; Portland lost in Colorado, 2-0

Óscar Pareja saw Adam Moffat and Andrew Jacobson leave last week’s win with injuries, a midfield problem compounded by Hendry Thomas’s stoppage time red card. Against one of the most possession-sensitive teams in the league, FCD may be hamstrung in the middle, making it all the more important Mauro Díaz finds a way to deal with the foul machine that is Diego Chara. Portland will be without Donovan Ricketts, suspended for two games after last week’s red card. Fabian Castillo’s stomach will be thankful for that.


GAMES THAT WILL ALSO HAPPEN
#5 Philadelphia vs. #18 Montréal (Saturday, 4:00 p.m. Eastern)
Last week: Philadelphia lost in Columbus, 2-1; Montréal fell at home to Seattle, 2-0

Nothing we’ve seen over the first three weeks says Montréal will mount much of a challenge. Then again, we didn’t see the suspended Marco Di Vaio over the first three weeks. Against defenders Amobi Okugo and Aaron Wheeler, Di Vaio’s presence will put pressure on the Union’s midfield to cut off access from Montréal’s Hernan Bernardello and Patrice Bernier. If they don’t limit that supply, the Impact could snare its first points of the season.

#10 San Jose vs. #17 New England Revolution (Saturday, 10:30 p.m. Eastern)
Last week: San Jose lost at Sporting, 1-0; New England drew at home with Vancouver, 0-0

A team that hasn’t scored all season flying cross-country to try to beat Víctor Bernárdez and Clarence Goodson? Good luck with that. Sure, it could happen, but given what we’ve seen from San Jose through four tough games — matches against RSL, Toluca (twice), and Sporting in which the team has emerged with only a -1 goal difference — a No. 10 ranking seems low. San Jose, probably better than that evaluation hints, should win this one.

Europa League, LIVE: Arsenal, Everton in action

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Crunch time is arriving in the UEFA Europa League group stage.

[ LIVE: Follow Europa League games ]

Two Premier League teams are in action on Thursday as Everton host Lyon at Goodison Park and Arsenal face a tough trip to Red Star Belgrade.

Everton have yet to win in the Europa League, while the Gunners are sitting top of their group with two wins from two.

Below is a look at the full schedule for Thursday’s games, while you can click on the link above to stay updated on all the action across Europe with the likes of AC Milan, Athletic Bilbao and Lazio all in action.

Thursday’s Europa League schedule

11:00 a.m. ET: Astana vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv
1 p.m. ET: BATE vs. Cologne
1 p.m. ET: Hapoel Beer Sheva vs. Steaua
1 p.m. ET: Konyaspor vs. Red Bull Salzburg
1 p.m. ET: Lugano vs. Viktoria
1 p.m. ET: Marseille  vs. Guimaraes
1 p.m. ET: Nice vs. Lazio
1 p.m. ET: Ostersunds FK vs. Athletic Bilbao
1 p.m. ET: Red Star Belgrade vs. Arsenal
1 p.m. ET: Vardar vs. Real Sociedad
1 p.m. ET: Zenit vs. Rosenborg
1 p.m. ET: Zorya vs. Hertha Berlin
1 p.m. ET: Zulte-Waregem vs. Vitesse
3:05 p.m. ET: AC Milan vs. AEK Athens
3:05 p.m. ET: Atalanta vs. Apollon Limassol
3:05 p.m. ET: Austria Vienna vs. Rijeka
3:05 p.m. ET: Dynamo Kyiv vs. Young Boys
3:05 p.m. ET: Everton vs. Lyon
3:05 p.m. ET: Fastav Zlin vs. Copenhagen
3:05 p.m. ET: SC Braga vs. Ludogorets
3:05 p.m. ET: Sheriff vs. Lokomotiv Moscow
3:05 p.m. ET: Skenderbeu vs. Partizan
3:05 p.m. ET: TSG Hoffenheim vs. Istanbul Basaksehir
3:05 p.m. ET: vs. Villarreal Slavia Prague

Premier League releases new schedule for December games

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Start planning for the festive period.

[ LIVE: Stream every Premier League game

The Premier League have announced their updated game schedule for the month of December, with several games moved to set up marathon windows of action across the festive period.

PL action galore and eggnog. Sign me up.

Premier League Executive Chairman Richard Scudamore revealed that the festive fixtures were particularly challenging to schedule this season was particularly

“We appreciate this is the peak time for supporters attending and watching the Premier League. With matches scheduled on Christmas weekend for the first time in 11 years, the process of selecting games for live broadcast has been a more complex one than usual and I would like to thank our broadcast partners and clubs for their co-operation and flexibility,” Scudamore said. “We can now announce we have a fantastic selection of 24 live televised matches for supporters to enjoy in December whether in the stadiums or at home.”

Some of the highlights include three games on December 23, a Manchester derby on Dec. 10 and

Below is a look at the new dates/times for games which have been moved.


Saturday 2 December
7:30 a.m ET: Chelsea v Newcastle
12:30 p.m. ET: Arsenal v Man Utd

Sunday 3 December
8:30 a.m. ET: AFC Bournemouth v Southampton
11 a.m. ET: Man City v West Ham

Saturday 9 December
7:30 a.m. ET: West Ham v Chelsea
12:30 p.m. ET: Newcastle v Leicester

Sunday 10 December
7 a.m ET: Southampton v Arsenal
9:15 a.m. ET: Liverpool v Everton
11:30 a.m. ET: Man Utd v Man City

Tuesday 12 December
3 p.m. ET: Huddersfield Town v Chelsea

Wednesday 13 December
2:45 p.m. ET: Swansea City v Man City
3 p.m. ET: Man Utd v AFC Bournemouth
Both further to Manchester derby moving to 10 December
3 p.m. ET: West Ham v Arsenal

Saturday 16 December
7:30 Leicester City v Crystal Palace
Subject to change dependent on EFL Cup 5th round participation
12:30 p.m. ET: Man City v Spurs

Sunday 17 December
9:15 a.m. ET: West Brom v Man Utd
Subject to change dependent on Everton and/or Swansea reaching EFL Cup 5th round
11:30 a.m. ET: AFC Bournemouth v Liverpool

Monday 18 December
3 p.m. ET: Everton v Swansea
Subject to change dependent on Everton and/or Swansea reaching EFL Cup 5th round

Friday 22 December
2:45 p.m. ET: Arsenal v Liverpool

Saturday 23 December
7:30 a.m. ET: Everton v Chelsea
12:30 p.m. ET: Burnley v Spurs
2:45 p.m. ET: Leicester City v Man Utd

Tuesday 26 December
7:30 a.m. ET: Spurs v Southampton
12:30 p.m. ET: Liverpool v Swansea

Wednesday 27 December
2:45 p.m. ET: Newcastle United v Man City

Thursday 28 December
3 p.m. ET: Crystal Palace v Arsenal
Because of their selection on 28 December, neither Arsenal nor Crystal Palace will play on 30 December.

Northern Ireland manager O’Neill banned for DUI

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EDINBURGH, Scotland (AP) Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill has pleaded guilty to drunk driving and been banned from the road for 16 months.

O’Neill was caught by police on the outskirts of Edinburgh at about 1 a.m. on Sept. 10 and was found to be around three times the legal drink-drive limit.

O’Neill appeared on Thursday at Edinburgh Sheriff Court where he received the driving ban and fine of 1,300 pounds ($1,700).

O’Neill’s solicitor, James Mulgrew, told the court “this was simply a bad error of judgment.”

Northern Ireland is still in contention for its first World Cup trip since 1986. The team plays Switzerland in a two-leg playoff next month to qualify for the World Cup in Russia next year.

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Newcastle takeover bid moves closer

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Newcastle United fans are getting very, very excited.

PCP Capital Partners, led by Amanda Staveley, have signed a confidentiality agreement with the club’s owners after Mike Ashley put the club up for sale earlier this week

Ashley is said to value Newcastle at over $520 million, while Staveley is said to believe the club is worth close to $395 million, so there is plenty of negotiating still to happen but things are heading in the right direction.

In a statement on Monday Ashley said he would allow any potential buyer to pay the overall transaction fee in installments, while he also wants a buy to be completed by the end of December.

Who is Staveley?

She was seen at a Newcastle vs. Liverpool game at St James’ Park earlier this month as speculation was rife that a new owner was being lined up to buy Newcastle. That is indeed the case and Staveley, 44, is now able to look over the finances of the club exclusively.

Staveley oversaw the purchase of Manchester City by Abu Dhabi United and also lined up a deal for Liverpool to be bought by Dubai International Captial which fell through in the past.

Her close links to the Middle East has seen her become one of the most prominent British businesswomen in recent years and she currently manages over $34 billion of wealth globally. Staveley and her investors are said to be interested in buying several Premier League clubs.

Ashley’s lawyer, Andrew Henderson, released a statement on Thursday stating several other parties have inquired about buying the club since the announcement came that they were up for sale.

“Since Monday, a number of additional parties have come forward which we believe to be credible. We are also continuing to engage with a number of parties with whom we had entered into negotiations prior to Monday’s announcement.”

Things are moving very quickly for Newcastle’s fans as they thought they’d never get rid of much-maligned owner Ashley who is a lifelong fan of the club and bought them in 2007.

After two relegations from the Premier League (followed by instant returns to the PL on both occasions) Ashley has been accused of failing to spend money on the playing squad and realize Newcastle’s full potential as they challenged for the Premier League title on numerous occasions during the 1990s.

With Rafael Benitez getting the most of his squad and the Magpies sitting in the top 10 of the PL as things stand, the future is looking bright for Newcastle with plenty of investment expected if this sale does go through to Staveley or those she is closely connected with.