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.

La Liga: Real Madrid win wild one, now just 17 points behind Barca

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona ties club-record 31-game unbeaten run ]

Real Betis 3-5 Real Madrid

So long as they manage to hold off Sevilla for fourth place (Champions League qualification), Real Madrid will quickly move on from their disastrous 2017-18 season, spend a half-billion dollars in the summer and pretend like the 12 preceding months never even happened.

For a brief period on Saturday — nearly 30 minutes including the halftime intermission — that plan appeared fatally flawed and at risk. After going 1-0 up away to Real Betis courtesy of Marco Asensio’s 11th-minute opener, Los Blancos found themselves in big trouble after Aissa Mandi leveled things up in the 33rd minute, followed by a Nacho own goal four minutes later.

Five minutes into the second half, Sergio Ramos drew the visitors level, followed by another from Asensio in the 59th minute. Cristiano Ronaldo made it 4-2 six minutes later, at which point Madrid appeared home free.

Sergio Leon pulled Betis to within one in the 85th minute, but Karim Benzema restored the two-goal lead in the 91st, less than two minutes after replacing Ronaldo.

Atletico Madrid 2-0 Athletic Bilbao

With Barcelona still unbeaten on the La Liga season, the title is all but decided with more than three months still to play. That hasn’t stopped Atleti, though, as Diego Simeone’s side, which has lost just once in the league, continues to pursue Lionel Messi and Co. Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao moved Los Rojiblancos back to within seven points of Barca with a dozen games, and one head-to-head matchup, still to play.

Kevin Gameiro scored what turned out to be the winner in the 67th minute, followed not long after by Diego Costa‘s second league goal of the season (fourth in all competitions) to make it 2-0.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Real Sociedad 3-0 Levante
Espanyol 1-1 Villarreal

VAR provider apologizes for wrong image of offside Man Utd goal

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Whether or not you’re in favor of the use of video-assistant refereeing the world over — and, more specifically, English soccer — one thing on which we can all agree has become abundantly clear: VAR’s maiden voyage has been a chaotic, poorly conducted mess.

[ MORE: Jose Mourinho demands VAR calls be “perfect” ]

Any change to the game’s century-old rules and practices — especially of VAR’s monumental proportions — must be implemented and executed without a hitch. Any issues that had arisen prior to this weekend were minor in significance and import, but that all changed on Saturday, when Manchester United’s Juan Mata had a goal wiped away by VAR (WATCH HERE).

Mata appeared to have timed his run perfectly and been onside before slotting home to put Man United 2-0 ahead of Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup fifth round. After consulting the off-site video assistant, the goal was taken off the board. While the slightest bit of Mata’s knee appeared to have been in an offside position, the issue lies in the fact that the images provided to television broadcasters, by VAR provider Hawkeye, displayed a clearly crooked line of demarcation.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

Hawkeye issued a statement on Sunday, acknowledging and apologizing for the faulty image provided to broadcasters, but insisted that a correct version of the image was seen by the refereed:

“A technical error led to an incorrect graphic being provided by Hawkeye to BT Sport on Saturday. To confirm, the VAR saw the correct image with the correct lines to make the decision. This was a case of the wrong image being provided to the broadcaster and we apologize.”

In the end, by the most stringent interpretation of the law, VAR got the call correct. But that won’t matter one iota in the court of public opinion, as one mistake as simple as a crooked line gives the impression that the entire operation is haphazard and not fit for practice.

Juventus suffers blow with apparent Higuain injury

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The back-and-forth battle at the top of Serie A continued on Sunday as Juventus topped Torino at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino, however, the visitors suffered a big injury scare in the process.

[ MORE: Man United draws Brighton, Chelsea gets Leicester in FA Cup ]

Alex Sandro‘s winner came in the 33rd minute, but the focus of the match will leave all eyes on Gonzalo Higuain — who exited after just a quarter of an hour.

The Argentine international was looking to latch onto a through ball from Miralem Pjanic in the fifth minute, before jumping over an oncoming Salvatore Sirigu — goalkeeper for Torino.

Higuain appeared to land awkwardly on his ankle, though, and while he attempted to continue on in the match he was substituted off for Federico Bernardeschi 10 minutes later.

The extent of Higuain’s injury is unknown to this point, however, it comes at a very bad time for Juventus.

The Italian giants are heavily involved in the Serie A title race, holding a two-point lead over Napoli at the top of the table.

Additionally, Juve has important fixtures coming up in both the Coppa Italia and Champions League against Atalanta and Tottenham, respectively. Higuain and Co. are level at 2-2 with Spurs heading into their UCL second leg in early March, and Juve will surely need the striker’s presence to have a shot at advancing to the quarterfinals.

Rochdale 2-2 Tottenham: Davies stuns Spurs late

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A valiant effort from a League One side has rewarded the minnows with a replay set to be played at Wembley Stadium.

Tottenham Hotspur looked on its way towards the FA Cup sixth round on Sunday, but a late finish by Steven Davies gave Rochdale a 2-2 draw with the Premier League club at the Spotland Stadium.

[ MORE: Willian stars as Chelsea routs Hull in FA Cup ]

Harry Kane — who scored his 34th goal on the season in all competitions — converted from the penalty spot in the 88th minute, however, Davies had the final say deep into stoppage time to send the two sides towards a replay.

Ian Henderson’s finish in the 45th minute gave Rochdale a gift at the conclusion of the first stanza, after the hosts capitalized on a Spurs giveaway near midfield.

Meanwhile, Tottenham managed to level the match at 1-1 on the hour mark when Lucas Moura calmly slotted his close-range shot past goalkeeper Josh Lillis after a timely through ball from Moussa Sissoko picked out the former PSG man.

The visitors began pressing on in the second half, with Mauricio Pochettino‘s side having trailed at the halftime break.

The two sides will now meet on either Feb. 27 or 28 in the reverse fixture to decide which team advances. The winner will either meet Sheffield Wednesday or Swansea City in the quarterfinals.