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.

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.