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.

MLS roundup: ATL roll past Galaxy; RSL survive 10-man Rapids

Photo credit: Real Salt Lake / @RealSaltLake
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A roundup of, plus a few quick thoughts about, all of Saturday’s action from around MLS…

[ MORE: Other MLS Things — The Archive ]

LA Galaxy 0-2 Atlanta UnitedFULL HIGHLIGHTS

Two teams with fantastic attacking talent but very little in terms of a strong, controlling midfield presence — you’d expect a game like that to be wide open with plenty of chances at both ends of the field, and you’d have been right about Atlanta’s 2-0 victory over LA (at least for the opening 45 minutes. The stark difference between the two sides on Saturday? Atlanta’s ability to turn shooting chances into scoring chances, and LA’s inability to do so.

In truth, the chance resulting in the Five Stripes’ opening goal, which also turned out to be the winner, was the scrappiest once of the bunch.

Miguel Almiron was sensational on the night — constantly on the ball in dangerous areas, constantly gliding past one and two white shirts, constantly winning free kicks (and a penalty) in those dangerous areas. Since suffering a 4-0 defeat on opening day, Tata Martino’s side is unbeaten in their last six games (five wins) and moved to within a point of Eastern Conference- and Supporters’ Shield-leading New York City FC.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic was rendered completely ineffective and he — dare I say it — was little more than a passenger for the vast majority of Saturday’s game. Jonathan dos Santos picked up an injury during warmups, forcing Baggio Husidic into the starting lineup, and that did LA no favors when it came time to slow Atlanta’s momentum through the center of the field (which was the entire game).

Columbus Crew SC 2-2 New England RevolutionFULL HIGHLIGHTS

If you had New England sitting above Columbus in the standings at any point this season, let alone after eight weeks, please proceed to the cash-out window immediately. Brad Friedel‘s bunch has played some pretty passable, if unexciting, soccer thus far and have picked up points in five of their seven games played. They’ve even won four points from their first three games away from home, which is two-thirds of the way to matching last season’s paltry haul of six.

Saturday’s 2-2 draw in Columbus saw the Revs come from behind twice to secure a well-earned and deserved point. Cristian Penilla has flown under the radar with regard to impact signings of the offseason — the Ecuadorian has two goals, including the stoppage-time equalizer on Saturday, and four assists in his first seven MLS games — and Diego Fagundez appears to have finally been handed the keys to the Revs’ attack with Lee Nguyen banished to the periphery (but still not traded away).

Real Salt Lake 3-0 Colorado RapidsFULL HIGHLIGHTS

Tim Howard was sent off after 20 minutes for handling the ball outside his penalty area — how great is that multi-million-dollar contract looking now? — yet Colorado so nearly held on for an away point against their Rocky Mountain Cup rivals. Alas, RSL scored three times in the final eight minutes of regular and stoppage time, helping the final score to match the lopsided nature of the preceding 60 minutes:

29 shots (10 on target), compared to just 12 (o on target) for Colorado; nearly 71 percent of possession; 571 passes, to just 228. The lopsidedness goes on and on.

Albert Rusnak scored a stunning free kick to complete the scoring, but was still upstaged by Damir Kreilach’s first MLS goal which came just three minutes earlier.

RSL have alternated wins and losses in each of their last six times out, which spells bad news for a suddenly important Friday night trip to Vancouver to face a Whitecaps side that 1) they beat at home earlier this month, and 2) has lost three straight, by a combined score of 10-1.

Elsewhere in MLS

Sporting KC 6-0 Vancouver Whitecaps — FULL RECAP
Montreal Impact 3-5 Los Angeles FC — FULL RECAP
Houston Dynamo 5-1 Toronto FC
Orlando City SC 3-2 San Jose Earthquakes
FC Dallas 2-0 Philadelphia Union

Bundesliga wrap: Relegation playoff race stays tight

Christian Charisius/dpa via AP
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With three matches remaining for all 18 Bundesliga clubs, there’s clarity at the very top and bottom but plenty to sort in the races to qualify for Europe and avoid the relegation playoff.

[ RECAP: Man City 5-0 Swans ]

We focus on the latter here, with all three teams on 30 points losing away from home this weekend, including one to the 17th place side in Germany.

Hamburg 1-0 Freiburg

Lewis Holtby scored a 54th minute goal to keep the hosts’ slim survival hopes alive, and USMNT forward Bobby Wood got into the match for the final 23 minutes as Hamburg scooped up a rare win.

Augsburg 2-0 Mainz

The visitors had more of the ball but couldn’t rebound from a 29th minute Michael Gregoritsch goal, allowing Alfred Finnbogason to seal the result in stoppage time.

Borussia Monchengladbach 3-0 Wolfsburg

Wolfsburg has a hefty edge on Mainz and Freiburg in terms of goal differential, but won’t be feeling too confident after watching Lars Stindl, Raffael, and Christoph Kramer all score before halftime.

Elsewhere
RB Leipzig 2-5 Hoffenheim
Eintracht Frankfurt 0-3 Hertha Berlin
Stuttgart 2-0 Werder Bremen
Hannover 96 0-3 Bayern Munich
Borussia Dortmund 4-0 Bayer Leverkusen
Koln 2-2 Schalke — USMNT’s McKennie goes 90

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 31 25 3 3 84 22 62 13-2-0 12-1-3 78
 FC Schalke 04 31 16 8 7 49 35 14 9-4-2 7-4-5 56
 Borussia Dortmund 31 15 9 7 61 41 20 9-4-3 6-5-4 54
 Bayer Leverkusen 31 14 9 8 55 41 14 7-5-3 7-4-5 51
 1899 Hoffenheim 31 13 10 8 60 44 16 9-4-2 4-6-6 49
 RB Leipzig 31 13 8 10 47 47 0 8-4-4 5-4-6 47
 Eintracht Frankfurt 31 13 7 11 41 40 1 7-4-5 6-3-6 46
 Mönchengladbach 31 12 7 12 42 48 -6 8-4-4 4-3-8 43
 Hertha BSC Berlin 31 10 12 9 38 35 3 5-6-4 5-6-5 42
 VfB Stuttgart 31 12 6 13 29 35 -6 9-4-3 3-2-10 42
 FC Augsburg 31 10 10 11 40 40 0 6-4-6 4-6-5 40
 Werder Bremen 31 9 10 12 34 38 -4 6-5-4 3-5-8 37
 Hannover 96 31 9 9 13 38 47 -9 7-3-6 2-6-7 36
 VfL Wolfsburg 31 5 15 11 30 40 -10 2-8-5 3-7-6 30
 FSV Mainz 05 31 7 9 15 32 49 -17 6-3-6 1-6-9 30
 SC Freiburg 31 6 12 13 26 51 -25 5-6-4 1-6-9 30
 Hamburger SV 31 6 7 18 24 48 -24 5-4-7 1-3-11 25
 1. FC Köln 31 5 7 19 31 60 -29 3-5-8 2-2-11 22

Pep celebrates another historic Man City performance

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Pep Guardiola was thrilled with his club’s response to sealing the Premier League title: More dominance.

[ RECAP: Man City 5-0 Swans ]

Man City battered Swansea City 5-0 at the Etihad Stadium on the strength of goals from five different players.

“From the first minute to the last one, we played what we have shown in the season,” Guardiola said on NBCSN after the match. “(We scored) a lot of goals and we didn’t concede. We play to keep improving our game here and for the next season.”

Guardiola could hardly differentiate between the club’s stylish Sunday goals, saying, “The first one, the second one, of course the third one. … The Yaya pass was amazing. All the goals were so good.”

And he was also pleased with the support from the Etihad Stadium crowd, though he admits he was grateful to escape before the City faithful stormed the pitch.

Guardiola said he thinks the supporters are still behind their team despite the decisive UEFA Champions League loss to Liverpool because of how hard City plays week-in and week-out.

“That’s happened because they know that we are not liars in the way we want to play,” he said. “They know that we tried our best from the beginning to the end. We knew from the beginning how happy they were.”

Conte relishing renewal of Mourinho rivalry

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LONDON —  Antonio Conte versus Jose Mourinho. Chelsea versus Manchester United.

The FA Cup final on May 19 will be some showdown between two Premier League giants as Chelsea breezed past Southampton 2-0 in their semifinal at Wembley on Sunday.

Conte against Mourinho is a battle which has become increasingly feisty over the past two seasons as they’ve had public spats and insulted one another.

Speaking after the game, Conte was asked about his relationship with Mourinho and potential fireworks on the sidelines, as well as on the pitch, during the final.

“With Jose [Mourinho], we have clarified the situation and that is the most important thing. There is not a problem between him and I,” Conte said. “I think this is a final between two great teams. In my mind I can tell you last season we arrived as favorites against Arsenal. I think in this season season we are not arriving as favorites but as you know very well, last season we lost the cup.”

Conte then revealed he respects Mourinho despite the words the two had earlier this season.

The Italian coach responded to Mourinho’s comments about him, and other PL managers, acting like “clowns” on the sidelines by saying Mourinho was a “fake, little man” as United’s manager also hit out and made a remark about Conte’s involvement in a previous match-fixing investigation.

“We are talking about two managers with a strong character and about two winners and when your mind, your heart, your blood and there is the will to win, for sure we want to try to win this trophy,” Conte said. “The same way Manchester United wants to achieve this. I have great respect for United’s story, for Mourinho’s story. I think they have the same respect for Chelsea’s story and my story.”

Let’s see if that respect is on show during what should be a fantastic final next month as it could well be Conte’s final game in charge of Chelsea.