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Picks and previews: Looking ahead to the weekend in MLS

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Do you feel like you’re starting to get a feel for the 2014 edition of your favorite MLS team? Good for you, because frankly I’m having a whale of a time figuring out who might be for real, let alone who’s going to make a run at things.

There are several teams I’m very comfortable saying will be making playoff appearances provided World Cup rosters don’t sap their strength: Toronto and Real Salt Lake. Then there’s a muddled middle of teams that have looked great and defied expectations (Dallas and Columbus) or left us scratching our heads at their slow starts (Portland and New York).

So where are we? Besides Tiesville, where winners and losers are ostracized. Seriously, there have been 3-4 deadlocks in every weekend excepting opening weekend.

As for the picks, I’m not allowing myself to pick ties. If they tie, I tie.

All records W-L-T

Real Salt Lake (2-0-3) at Philadelphia Union (1-1-3), 4pm ET Saturday
Series: RSL, 2-0-4
Record at Philadelphia: 0-0-3
Outlook: Tough matchup for a Union team trying to learn their game without Philly mainstay Jack McInerney. Long trip out East, but RSL is up for it. RSL, 2-1.

Colorado (2-1-1) at Toronto FC (3-1-0), 4pm ET Saturday
Series: Toronto, 7-4-1
Record at Toronto: Toronto, 6-0-0
Outlook: For a club that hasn’t been a power, how about that unblemished mark against the Rapids in Toronto? Colorado has won an MLS Cup in the building, though. I like the Reds to build off the Columbus win and move to 4-1 with a 2-0 win.

Chicago (0-1-4) at Montreal (0-3-2), 4pm ET Saturday
Series: Chicago, 2-2-1
Record at Montreal: Montreal, 1-0-1
Outlook: Since we’re not picking ties, someone’s gotta get their first win this weekend. I like the McInerney/Di Vaio combination to find some instant chemistry, but can the Impact defend? Quincy Amarikwa has been a revelation for Chicago, but will he — or a jacked-up new-contracted Mike Magee — be enough for a W? Montreal, 3-2.

Houston (2-2-0) at New England (1-3-1), 5pm ET Saturday
Series: New England, 7-4-6
Record at NE: New England, 2-2-5
Outlook: Forecast calls for a chance of rain and 68 in New England, and it’ll take inclement weather and bad travel for Houston to be slowed by the Revs. Both teams are coming off bad losses against longtime rivals. I like Houston’s chances to rebound on the road, 2-0, on Will Bruin’s boots.

New York Red Bulls (0-1-4) at DC United (1-2-1), 7pm ET Saturday
Series: DC, 31-22-9
Record at DC: DC, 18-10-4
Outlook: Surely this rivalry match is where New York gets off the mat after a miserable, miserable start, correct? The only thing that could work for DC United is some more good vibes from Chris Rolfe and NY’s impending Wednesday date with the Union. NYRB, 3-1.

Seattle (2-2-1) at Dallas (4-0-1), 8:30pm ET Saturday
Series: Seattle, 6-2-4
Record at Dallas: Seattle, 2-1-3
Outlook: Which Sounders team will we get? That inconsistency alone is enough to pick a Dallas squad that is humming under Oscar Pareja, who has picked up big wins over Houston and Portland in recent weeks. Can it continue? I think so, though here’s where I’d call a 2-2 tie if allowed (that’s called “hedging”). Dallas, 2-1.

Chivas USA (1-2-2) at Portland (0-2-3), 10:30pm ET Saturday
Series: Chivas USA, 4-3-1
Record at Portland: 2-2
Outlook: I felt like the Timbers were a little over-appreciated coming into the season, but this is a spot that screams Portland. Wilmer Cabrera was frustrated by his club’s attitude in a 3-0 loss to L.A. last week, and I’m not sure they build up quick enough to perform well here. Portland, 4-1.

Vancouver (2-1-2) at Los Angeles (1-1-1), 10:30pm ET Saturday
Series: Galaxy, 5-2-1
Record at LA: Galaxy, 4-0
Outlook: Carl Robinson brings the Caps on the road to try and do something they’ve done at LA… win. The Galaxy looked dangerous against Chivas USA last week for nearly 90 minutes and form says… L.A. 2-1.

Columbus (3-1-0) at San Jose (0-2-1), 3pm ET Sunday
Series leader: Crew, 18-13-7
Record at SJ: Quakes, 10-6-3
Outlook: Is it an upset special given Columbus is coming off a loss, wasn’t expected to be a stronger team than San Jose and the Quakes are weeks free from CONCACAF Champions League schedule congestion? Chris Wondolowski keeps his US form rolling. SJ, 2-1.

Lampard urges Chelsea to sign Terry; If not, would buy his plane ticket to MLS

during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on January 31, 2015 in London, England.
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John Terry is the last of the old guard at Chelsea, and club legend Frank Lampard thinks he deserves to stay at Stamford Bridge.

Speaking with the web site ShortList.com, Lampard also said he’d welcome the defender to Major League Soccer with open arms, and checkbook.

[ MORE: Premier League’s Top Five story lines for Week 26 ]

Saying he’d “I’ll get his plane ticket and get him over here,” the New York City FC midfielder called Terry “quite comfortably” the best defender he’d ever played with during his career.

From Shortlist.com:

“What John offers is a link with the fans and an appreciation of the young players who he would want to help come through. He’s Mr Chelsea. Those are the sorts of players you need at the club. Without telling the club what to do, I think Chelsea are looking to change the old nucleus we had, what with myself, Ashley [Cole], Didier [Drogba] and Petr [Cech] gone, John’s almost the last one standing. But I don’t think he’s going to be an issue with that – he’ll even help the transition with helping the younger players.”

Even given Terry’s dicey at times off-field reputation, there’s merit to that story (After all, you can’t be okay with Ryan Giggs guiding the youth of Manchester and opposed to Terry leading at the Bridge).

As for MLS, plenty of England’s old guard is here already. From the 2010 World Cup roster alone, Ashley Cole and Steven Gerrard are in L.A., Lampard’s in New York City, and Shaun Wright-Phillips is with RBNY. That’s already half the number of U.S. players in MLS who played in the 2010 tournament.

Former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke hit with 12-year ban

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 24:  FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke listens to questions during the Post-meeting of Organising Committee for the FIFA World Cup press conference ahead of the preliminary draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at Konstantin Palace on July 24, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Another member of FIFA’s embattled corps has learned his punishment for egregious ethics violations.

Jerome Valcke, the longtime secretary general of football’s governing body, is going to be away from the game for 12 years, banned from the sport by FIFA’s independent ethics committee.

[ MORE: Hiddink comments on USMNT’s Miazga, center back crisis ]

The 12 years are less than a lifetime but more than the recommended nine years. Valcke was dismissed from his post in January.

From the BBC:

The decision has been made by Fifa’s independent ethics committee following allegations of potential misconduct related to sales of World Cup tickets.

During the investigations, several other acts of potential misconduct arose, including travel expenses policies and regulations.

Valcke’s ban is four years longer than the ones issued to Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini.

Allardyce on using USMNT’s inexperienced Yedlin at RB: “It’s a massive ask”

during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Sunderland at Anfield on February 6, 2016 in Liverpool, England.
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Sam Allardyce knows a relegation battle when he sees one, and even an injury crisis has him nervous about using inexperienced USMNT right back DeAndre Yedlin.

The speedy American wingback is on loan from Tottenham Hotspur, and Sunderland’s table position has its manager wondering if he can afford to use the 22-year-old.

[ MORE: Hiddink comments on USMNT’s Miazga, center back crisis ]

Billy Jones is injured, and the Black Cats did not firm up their right back depth in the transfer window. Ex-Celtic back Adam Matthews is among the other options, and played 150 times for the Bhoys.

And Yedlin had just 56 professional appearances and was less than three years removed from two years at Akron when he moved to London.

From the Sunderland Echo:

“We’ve got Billy who has a lot of experience, and obviously we’ve got DeAndre, who has very little experience at this level.

“DeAndre has a lot of qualities, but without that experience, it’s a massive ask to perform at the consistent level that you need to at this stage of the season, particularly with the pressure we’re all under.”

You have to love that following his train of thought would continue with, “but we don’t have any better options, so let’s see what happens!” It’s not quite Guus Hiddink saying of Chelsea youth like Matt Miazga, “We have no fear of bringing youngsters in“, but Allardyce is right in saying the relegation plight is a different pressure than Chelsea’s much safer spot.

This is a big chance — and a big ask — for Yedlin, who replaced Jones in last week’s comeback draw with Liverpool and has only seen Spurs improve since he went on loan. How has Yedlin fared this season? In terms of overall stats, he hasn’t been very good at all, though advanced stats site Squawka says he is slightly better than Jones.

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But in terms of straight-up defending, the USMNT man has done the job a lot better.

Sunderland Yedlin

It would be classic Big Sam to improve his lot in the Premier League safety race because injury forced him to remove Jones.

Go get ’em, kid.

Hiddink on Zouma absence: “We have no fear of bringing youngsters in”

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Chelsea hosts Newcastle United this weekend, its first game since the season-ending injury to young defender Kurt Zouma.

The 21-year-old Frenchman has arguably been Chelsea’s best center back when it comes to marking and defending this season, and manager Guus Hiddink has to find an alternative for the big man.

[ MORE: Klopp updates Sturridge, Coutinho fitness; Backs owners ]

While Gary Cahill and John Terry have the familiar names of the bunch, Hiddink won’t limit himself to veteran replacements. Certainly he could slide Cesar Azpilicueta inside, though that would sacrifice about a half-foot, and Newcastle likes to use big striker Aleksandar Mitrovic.

He also has 20-year-old USMNT back Matt Miazga — who’s been given squad No. 20 — and said the following in Friday’s pre-match press conference:

“We have no fear of bringing youngsters in.”

Could we see Miazga in the fold on Saturday? Hiddink’s comments sure sound like he’d rather not, but all it takes is an injury or an inkling.

Miazga gave an interview to Chelsea’s web site last weekend where he described his play.

From ChelseaFC.com:

“I really like it, it is a higher level, the ball moves much faster but yeah, it is good. All the guys are very welcoming and I am really enjoying it.

“My game is definitely built on winning aerial challenges and tackles. As a centre-back you have to have an aerial presence and win a lot of headers, and my job is to win duels and not let opponents score, so every time I try to get a good tackle in and make my opponent know that I am there and it is not going to be an easy time trying to go by me.”

The ball moves much faster, and we’re hoping to see Miazga move with it sooner rather than later. Will it be this weekend.