DC United v Portland Timbers

Week 5 Preview: Why Portland-Seattle’s must see TV (and the rest of MLS’s nine-match weekend)

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Week five of Major League Soccer’s season begins on Saturday at 3:00 p.m. Eastern in Portland, Ore., with the latest installment in Timbers and Seattle Sounders’ rivalry kicking off a nine-match slate that concludes Sunday with the Clásico Angelino. 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
#13 Portland Timbers vs. #7 Seattle Sounders (Saturday, 3:00 p.m. Eastern, NBCSN/NBC Live Extra)
Last week: Portland lost at FC Dallas, 2-1; Seattle lost to visiting Columbus, 2-1

Aw, yeah. This game’s supposed to be The Best Rivalry in Major League Soccer®, a label that some fans, particularly on the east coast, are tired of hearing. This Cascadia Rivalry stuff is being shoved down our throats … [insert ‘dog’, ‘bro’, or ‘man’ here]!

But it’s true. Portland and Seattle is the league’s best rivalry, and easily so. There’s a reason why media from beyond MLS regularly fly in for these games. Sure, with ever patronizing BBC piece there’s a hint of “oh, look at what those Americans are doing”, but the reality on the ground remains the same. Saturday’s match at Providence Park will provide an atmosphere unmatched in Major League Soccer:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IITKEKeE74c align=center width=500]

So sorry D.C. United versus New York. There is a reason why people fawn over this game. I know it’s annoying, and yeah, there’s a point where the navel-grazing gets a bit ridiculous, but there is a reason why these game are always on national television. Not only do the two teams play entertaining soccer and legitimately embrace the intensity of the rivalry, but the games themselves are the best products MLS can offer. Portland-Seattle gets forced down your throats for a reason.

As far the game itself is concerned, Portland’s winless in four, and while Caleb Porter is trying to maintain an even keel in the face of a disappointing start, that doesn’t make March any less disappointing. A loss at home to his team’s arch-rivals would put the Timbers’ slow start in an entirely different, slightly more apocalyptic context.

As for Seattle, they’ve lost three in a row to the Timbers, including twice in last year’s Western Conference semifinals. Though Clint Dempsey returns from suspension this week, he brings with him uncertainty as to which formation Seattle should play. With the U.S. captain out, Seattle went to a 4-3-3, something that produced their season’s game-and-a-half of soccer.


source: Getty ImagesTHE OTHER GAME YOU JUST CAN’T MISS
#2 Sporting Kansas City vs. #1 Real Salt Lake (Saturday, 8:30 p.m. Eastern)
Last week: RSL beat previous #1 Toronto, 3-0; Sporting won 3-2 at Colorado

A second straight one versus two matchup? Wow. It’s almost as if the nature of Power Rankings lends itself toward this, especially early in the season. You know, I’m starting to wonder if those Power Rankings really mean anything.

Something that’s slightly more meaningful: This year’s only meeting between December’s MLS Cup finalists. Real Salt Lake, having already knocked off Toronto FC and the LA Galaxy, continue a brutal opening schedule, while Sporting Kansas City gets its first big test since their CONCACAF Champions League commitments (and, squad rotation) ended.

Last time these teams met, it took 10 rounds of penalty kicks to crown Sporting the winner, but with a number of key players just returning from U.S. international duty, it will be interesting to see if fatigue plays a part. This early in the season, most people say players should be able to handle it, but will Graham Zusi or Matt Besler show any effects for Kansas City? And what about Kyle Beckerman and Tony Beltran for Real Salt Lake?

If these teams needed 10 penalty kicks to decide their last matchup, any microscopic edge might could send this game swinging one way or the other. There’ll be no Lovel Palmer to decide this one.

CANCEL YOUR LIFE: THERE’S A THIRD GAME YOU JUST CAN’T MISS
#3 Columbus Crew vs. #4 Toronto FC (Saturday, 6:00 p.m. Eastern)
Last week: Columbus won at Seattle, 2-1; TFC fell at Salt Lake, 3-0

Coming off a win at CenturyLink, the league’s last perfect team hosts the other club that’s won in Seattle, though whereas Columbus needed the Sounders to lose a man before it got on the board, Toronto picked apart Seattle in the first 30 minutes of its 2014 opener.

In that light, it would be unwise to look too deeply into last week’s loss in Salt Lake. Though Toronto looked terrible against the league’s best team, their performance against a common opponent hints they’ll be a good match for Columbus.

Too bad they’ll be without captain Steven Caldwell, suspended for plowing through Ned Grabavoy last week. And again, Ryan Nelsen’s reluctance to change his team’s shape may be a problem. Whereas last week it was Real Salt Lake meticulously picking his 4-4-2 apart — building down its right to find Javier Morales behind TFC’s first line of four — this week Toronto risks being bent out of shape by the movement of Federico Higuain. Even if they don’t bite, there’s still the potential to be overwhelmed by Bernardo Añor and Hector Jimenez creating a four-man middle.


source: Getty ImagesTHIS SECTION IS ABOUT MORE DERBY ARCH RIVALRY NEMESIS-NESS … WEEK
#6 Houston Dynamo vs. #8 FC Dallas (Saturday, 8:00 p.m. Eastern)
Last week: Houston lost at Vancouver, 2-1; Dallas beat visiting Portland, 2-1

Given their ranking, I’m obviously not sold on FC Dallas (3-0-1). But guess what? They haven’t actually looked that amazing, yet. A one-goal home win over Montréal? Only one shot on target against a hamstrung Sporting KC? The 10-on-10 aberration against Portland? FC Dallas’s 3-1 win over Chivas USA was their most impressive performance, which kind of seems like something an obviously above average team would do. Hence, their obviously above average ranking.

If they win in Houston — heck, if they get a draw in Houston — they’ll climb. Houston may have lost last week, but there was a lot to like about how they played at BC Place. Unless this game plays out totally unexpectedly (which never happens in soccer, right?), this will be a litmus test for Dallas.

In truth, part of me thinks Dallas is ranked too low, but it was impossible to bump them up after a game played 10-on-10. If they perform well in Houston, I can stop feeling so conflicted about their No. 8-ness.

#15 Chivas USA vs. #9 LA Galaxy (Sunday, 3:00 p.m. Eastern)
Last week: The Goats drew last week in New York, 1-1; LA was not playing Real Salt Lake

It’s the L.A. Derby! Or the Derbi Angelino. Maybe it’s the Clásico Angelingo, or better yet: El Derbi con el Nombre Lamentable (author’s note: I  made the last one up). You may know it as the SuperClasico, but I’m going to use this platform to say something controversial: That may be the worst name for this rivalry. With next year’s rebrand, that recycled moniker might die out. May its passing be a celebrated one.

On the field, LA Galaxy continued their pattern of off week-on week with an actual game, one that, for this first time this season, doesn’t seem them matched up against Real Salt Lake. To LA’s credit, it was only -1 on goals (+3 in shots on goal) over 180 minutes against the league’s best team, but they should still be allowed to play the rest of the league. I don’t like the Galaxy’s Supporters’ Shield odds if they have to play RSL each week.

As for the Goats, they return to Carson for a home game that’s no home game at all. An LA team given two weeks to target its first win  will be Wilmer Cabrera’s biggest challenge yet.


BE AN MLS ULTZY AND EMBRACE
#10 Vancouver Whitecaps vs. #11 Colorado Rapids (Saturday, 6:30 p.m. Eastern)
Last week: Vancouver beat Houston, 2-1; Colorado fell at home to Sporting, 3-2

While all your friends are watching Michael Bradley in Columbus or getting ready for that MLS Cup rematch, turn to what’s destined to be a track meet in Vancouver. The Whitecaps are 2-0-0 and have scored six goals this season at home, in large part because the league’s deepest (and, probably most talented) attack has been blowing past Eastern Conference foes trying to adjust to B.C. Place. The wonders of LigaTurf are no mystery to Colorado, however. With DeShorn Brown and Gabi Torres, Colorado may actually score its first non-penalty kick goal.


source:  I’M THINKING ONE OF THESE IS YOUR FAVORITE TEAM
#16 Montréal Impact vs. #18 New York Red Bulls (Saturday, 4:00 p.m. Eastern)
Last week: Montréal got a draw at Philadelphia, 1-1; New York did the same against visiting Chivas USA

Marco Di Vaio will play, but in all likelihood, Tim Cahill and Thierry Henry are out for New York. Henry’s not going to step foot on Olympic Stadium’s turf (does he still get paid for the game?), while Cahill’s hamstring problem leaves the Australia international on the sideline.

So are you ready for that epic Di Vaio vs. Bradley Wright-Phillips shootout? It’s not what the crowd in Montréal was expecting, but it’s what they’re going to get. They may also get their team’s first win of the season.

#17 Chicago Fire vs. #5 Philadelphia Union (Saturday, 5:00 p.m. Eastern)
Last week: Chicago drew at D.C. United, 2-2; Philadelphia dropped points at home to Montréal, 1-1

Remember how I said I wasn’t comfortable with FC Dallas’s Power Ranking? (Just pretend you didn’t skip to your team’s section.) I’m not thrilled with Philadelphia’s, either. It seems too high for a team that was pulled back by a 10-man Montréal. At home. I was focused on the Union’s underlying play, I may be over-valuing their potential.

As for this game, Jeff Larentowicz has some heavy lifting to do. Partnered with Alex in midfield, if Chicago destroyer will be expected to stop Maurice Edu, Brian Carroll, and Vincent Nogueira. If that sounds like a mismatch to you, that’s because it is.

#19 D.C. United vs. #12 New England Revolution (Saturday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern)
Last week: D.C. United drew with Chicago, 2-2; New England won at San Jose, 2-1

Both teams got off to disastrous starts, going a combined 0-2-0 and -7 (goal difference) in week one. Since then, both sides have experienced week-on-week improvement, and while that leaves New England slightly ahead of United (having played an extra game), it also means something has to give.

There’s no result that sees United go from mediocre to decent that also allows the Revolution to improve on their win in Santa Clara. One of Ben Olsen and Jay Heaps will leave RFK disappointed on Saturday, and for the first time in 15 games, it might not be Ben Olsen.

Might.

UEL: Saint-Etienne hope Beric comes to the rescue vs. Man United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16:  Paul Pogba of Manchester United and Kevin Monnet-Paquet of Saint-Etienne in action during the UEFA Europa  League Round of 32 first leg match between Manchester United and AS Saint-Etienne at Old Trafford on February 16, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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PARIS (AP) While Zlatan Ibrahimovic was scoring a hat trick in Manchester United’s win over Saint-Etienne in the Europa League last week, Robert Beric’s 11-minute substitute appearance at Old Trafford was barely noticed.

Still reeling from a hamstring injury, Beric’s cameo had little impact as Ibrahimovic ended Saint-Etienne’s 10-game unbeaten run in Europe by 3-0.

[ MORE: Man City win in epic comeback vs. Monaco | Atleti blitz Bayer ]

Beric’s condition has improved since the heavy loss, and he featured in a French league game in Montpellier last weekend. The 1976 European Cup runner-up is hoping that’s enough for Beric to help it overturn their deficit against United on Wednesday in the last-32 return leg.

Beric, a versatile center-forward capable of playing with his back to goal and creating, joined Saint-Etienne last season. He’d scored 27 goals in 34 matches in his final season with Rapid Vienna, but was unable to replicate the feat in the French league because his progression was abruptly stopped by a serious right knee injury.

He is expected to start at Geoffroy Guichard Stadium after his teammates managed to force United goalkeeper Sergio Romero into only a single save from 14 shots last week.

“Beric is so skillful and astute in front of goal that we all want to give him a starting nod,” former Saint-Etienne striker Herve Revelli, now a club ambassador, told L’Equipe.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

United was carved open at times, but the French club was made to pay for its blatant lack of efficiency. Revelli insisted Beric can make a difference.

“He is likely to put our chances into the back of the net,” Revelli said.

With an estimated budget of close to 70 million euros, Saint-Etienne simply can’t afford the services of a world-class striker. When he joined the 10-time French champion for a reported six million euros, Beric became the third most expensive player signed by the club.

A humble player and a man of few words, Beric is somewhat the opposite of the self-infatuated Ibrahimovic.

Unlike Ibrahimovic, who once said he will be “God of Manchester,” Beric rarely speaks about himself and his rare comments on social networks are limited to praise of his teammates and Saint-Etienne fans.

Beric, who scored the last of his three league goals this season back in September, is not yet fully fit and should not be able to last the whole match. But Revelli is counting on his instinct for goals.

[ MORE: Guardiola “so happy” to see Man City “achieve another step” ]

“With him in a finisher role, I firmly believe in our chances,” said Revelli, Saint-Etienne’s all-time best scorer.

Saint-Etienne needs to find a way to stop Ibrahimovic, but history does not favor the home side.

During his time in France with Paris Saint-Gernain, Ibrahimovic was the scourge of Saint-Etienne, scoring 14 goals in 13 games in all competitions. He now has 17, including three hat tricks.

“It’s difficult to neutralize him. There is a possibility that we will set up an anti-Ibra plan,” Saint-Etienne coach Chirstophe Galtier said. “I don’t know what’s inside Zlatan, but for sure he likes to play against us. It’s not easy to score a hat trick in a European Cup game.”

Champions League Wednesday: Leicester’s last stand; Porto-Juve

SEVILLE, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 21:  Claudio Ranieri, manager of Leicester City looks on during a press conference ahead of the UEFA Champions League round-of-16 first leg against Sevilla FC at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on February 21, 2017 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
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Previewing Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League round-of-16 action…

[ MORE: Man City win in epic comeback vs. Monaco | Atleti blitz Bayer ]

Leicester City vs. Sevilla

There’s no two ways about it: Leicester’s season — and perhaps their status as a Premier League club — is quickly spiraling out of control. The Foxes, just nine months after winning the PL title, sit 17th in the league table, one point clear of relegation, with 13 games still to play. Chances are, they won’t be back in the Champions League anytime soon, making Wednesday’s round-of-16 first-leg clash away to Sevilla all the more a monumental moment in the club’s history.

Where has hasn’t it gone wrong for Claudio Ranieri‘s side this season? If you’re of the mind that one player — N'Golo Kante in Leicester’s case — doesn’t make a team himself, then we’ll have to go one step further in diagnosing the stunning regression seen at the King Power Stadium this season: Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, who combined to score 41 goals in the PL last season, have managed all of eight together in 2016-17. It’s the loss of Kante, though, that has left the defense forever exposed (43 goals conceded in 25 PL games, after conceding 36 in 38 all of last season), and the goal-getters forever feeding on scraps (24 goals scored, compared to 68 last season).

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]


Porto vs. Juventusfrom the AP

Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci will be left in the stands for Wednesday’s Champions League match against Porto as punishment for his outburst aimed at coach Massimiliano Allegri.

Allegri announced the move on Tuesday at the pre-match news conference, saying he had agreed it with club officials as “a fair decision, out of respect for the squad, the fans and the club.”

Bonucci became embroiled in a heated argument over substitutions with Allegri after a 4-1 win over Palermo on Friday.

Allegri also will punish himself for his angry reaction to Bonucci, announcing a donation to charity.

U.S. U-20s awaken in 2nd half vs. Haiti, keep WCQ hopes alive

USMNT U-20 team (Photo credit: U.S. Soccer)
Photo credit: U.S. Soccer
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With many thanks to the hat trick scored by Brooks Lennon (Real Salt Lake, on loan from Liverpool), the U.S. U-20 national team’s hopes of qualifying for the 2017 U-20 World Cup remain intact.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

After dropping all three points in their opening group-stage game against Panama on Saturday, Tab Ramos’ young Yanks faced elimination from CONCACAF’s U-20 Championship in Costa Rica with a defeat to Haiti on Tuesday. After 15 minutes, the Americans found themselves a goal down, the prospect of winning zero points from their first two games a terrifying possibility.

Then, Lennon struck from the penalty spot. A draw wouldn’t be enough, realistically, though, as they’d still trail Haiti by three points ahead of the final group game, against Saint Kitts and Nevis, with the top two sides from each team advancing to the classification stage.

The score remained 1-1 until halftime, after which point the Yanks roared to life with three goals in a seven-minute span. Luca de la Torre (Fulham) scored the first of the bunch, an empty-net finish after a failed punch by the goalkeeper. Lennon quickly followed suit with two more to make it 4-1.

With three points from two games and a goal differential that now sits at +2, the Yanks are second in Group B, just ahead of Haiti on goal differential (+1). Panama sit atop the group with six points and a +5 goal differential. A U.S. victory over Saint Kitts and Nevis, to go with a Haitian upset of Panama, would see the Americans finish top of the group go into Group E in the classification stage, which would see them accompanied by a pair of second-place sides. The first-place side in each classification group qualifies for May’s tournament in South Korea.

Guradiola “so happy” to see Man City “achieve another step” as a club

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Josep Guardiola manager of Manchester City reacts as Leonardo Jardim head coach of AS Monaco looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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In the past, when faced with adversity in the UEFA Champions League, Manchester City could do little more than wilt and crumble as their European dreams when up in smoke year after year, typically in embarrassing and/or heartbreaking fashion.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

On Tuesday, when faced with 2-1 and 3-2 deficits late into the second half of their round-of-16 first leg against Monaco, deja vu was quickly setting in for anyone who’s followed Man City’s rise from middling afterthought to mega-rich conglomerate with aspirations of world domination. Then, something strange (based on years of recent history) happened: Sergio Aguero fired City back to level at 2-2 in the 58th minute. Sure, more shocking defending saw the deficit restored three minutes later, but again, Aguero dissented.

For this reason, and perhaps this reason alone considering the putrid defensively display over the course of 90 minutes, first-year City manager Pep Guardiola should be heartened by Tuesday’s events at the Etihad Stadium. In his mind, it was a massive step forward in the club’s psyche — quotes from the BBC:

“I am so happy for the result, we are still alive. These kind of things help this club to achieve another step. We attacked in small spaces. That’s why they wanted me to come here. Everybody has to be congratulated.

“We are going to fly to Monaco to score as many goals as possible. If we don’t score in Monaco we will be eliminated.”