Week 7 Preview: Fire look for first win vs. Revs; Dallas gets its crack at Toronto

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Week seven of Major League Soccer’s season begins on Saturday at 4:00 p.m. Eastern in Chicago and Philadelphia, with Saturday’s nine-match slate also featuring a battle of early season upstarts at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Tex. 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
#14 Chicago Fire vs. #11 New England Revolution (Saturday, 4:00 p.m. Eastern, NBCSN/NBC Live Extra)
Last week: Chicago drew in Montréal, 1-1; New England beat visiting Houston, 2-0

I don’t know if the Chicago Fire are better than last year, but through six weeks of the season (five of which have ended in draws), they’ve been more interesting to watch. Quincy Amarikwa’s brought some energy to the striker position, rookie Harry Shipp has added skill to the midfield, while a new central defense of Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (pictured) and Bakary Soumaré are good for some fun, random mistakes. They seem to be driving drive Frank Yallop nuts, but the miscues also make for some really competitive matches.

Against a struggling Teal Bunbury, the Fire defenders are less likely to get burned, and with 2013 Defender of the Year José Gonçalves potentially sidelined, the Revolution may have trouble keeping track of the hyperactive Amarikwa. Players like Diego Fagundez, Lee Nguyen, and Saer Sene would still test the Chicago defense, but the Fire are favorites. It’s just a matter of converting their underlying play into three points instead of one.


THE OTHER GAME YOU JUST CAN’T MISS
#7 FC Dallas vs. #3 Toronto FC (Saturday, 8:30 p.m. Eastern)
Last week: Dallas suffered its first loss of the season, 3-2 to Seattle; Toronto lost to Colorado, 1-0

I’ve been cautious about hopping on the Dallas bandwagon (hence that number seven ranking), but the idea of Steven Caldwell and Bradley Orr being turned, left to chase Je-Vaughn Watson and Fabian Castillo as they run onto Mauro Díaz through balls, should give Ryan Nelsen nightmares. Then again, he just looks at the team’s payroll, sees “BRADLEY – $6,500,000,” and says “That’s why we give Mikey that money.”

Bradley’s health still makes him iffy for Saturday’s game, but it seems like Nelsen’s being coy in describing him as a doubt. He also seems lest optimistic about Jermain Defoe, who’s missed two in a row.

Regardless, let’s get tactical: If the Reds have to ask Bradley to watch Díaz, are without Defoe up top, and have to get fullbacks Justin Morrow and Mark Bloom to be more conscious of helping with Dallas’s quick wingers? It could be “stay back and pray,” particularly with Dallas’s two defensive midfielders (Hendry Thomas; Michel) helping destroy Toronto’s counters.


TOO SOON FOR SEQUELS: THIS WEEKEND’S EARLY-SEASON REMATCHES
#10 Vancouver Whitecaps vs. #6 LA Galaxy (Saturday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern)
Last week: Vancouver lost in Los Angeles, 1-0, while LA defeated the visiting Whitecaps, 1-0.

For the second time this season, LA has a home-and-home, with the four-time champions having opened the season with two games against Real Salt Lake. Last week’s first leg broke their way, with Robbie Keane’s early second half opener holding up, but the Galaxy are unlikely to see such a conservative Vancouver. In Carson, Calif., the Whitecaps sat deep and compact, trying to beat LA on the counter. On the faster track at BC Place, the Whitecaps may try to outrun one of the league’s slower squads.

#4 Columbus Crew vs. #17 D.C. United (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Eastern)
Last week: Columbus drew in San Jose, 1-1; D.C. United defeated New York, 1-0

If Columbus doesn’t get cocky and read too much into its 3-0, opening day win at RFK, this will be the team’s easiest game since. D.C. United may be on a two-game winning streak, but they those games were at home against New England and New York. Columbus is on a whole different level. Unless we see a new D.C. United, this one should go the way of the Crew.


source: APBE AN MLS ULTZY, EMBRACE …
#8 Colorado Rapids vs. #13 San Jose Earthquakes (Saturday, 6:00 p.m. Eastern)
Last week: Colorado won in Toronto, 1-0; San Jose drew with the Crew, 1-1

Two decent teams — two teams that should compete at the edge of the Western Conference playoffs — have gotten off to divergent starts. Colorado rides a two-match win streak into their home return, while San Jose is one of the league’s four remaining winless teams.

Despite those records, this should be a relatively even matchup, though the Rapids’ Saturday win gives us a hint as to how things could go down. Toronto and San Jose set up nearly identically, though the styles of the teams’ forward tandems are different. If Shane O’Neill (if he gets another start in the middle) and Drew Moor can handle Alan Gordon and Chris Wondolowski, the Earthquakes will likely remain winless.


THE MAURO ROSALES CUP …
#15 Chivas USA vs. #5 Seattle Sounders (Saturday, 10:30 p.m. Eastern)
Last week: Chivas USA drew at Portland, 1-1; Seattle won in Dallas, 3-2

Rosales’s three-year run in the Emerald City made him a huge fan favorite, but as Seattle reconfigured its team in the wake of last fall’s disappointment, the Argentine winger was forced to move on. He’s quickly found a home in Carson, where his leadership and constant effort have instilled a belief in the previously wayward squad. The Goats aren’t setting MLS on fire, but as last week’s result at Providence Park showed, they’re far more capable this year under Wilmer Cabrera.

Seattle’s attack, however, threatens to make this one a lopsided result. While teams like Portland and Dallas could keep up, it’s unclear how Chivas USA can do so. Where the Goats have relied on Erick Torres opportunism during their 1-2-3 start, they may need their only scorer to explode if they’re to keep up with Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins. A defense where only Carlos Bocanegra is playing his natural position will have trouble with Martins’ movement.

… THE “LAST GAME DIDN’T HAPPEN” BOWL …
#9 Philadelphia Union vs. #12 Houston Dynamo (Saturday, 4:00 p.m. Eastern)
Last week: Philadelphia drew with RSL, 2-2 (but lost at New York on Wednesday); Houston lost at New England, 2-0

Ricardo Clark versus Maurice Edu in the middle? I’m in. Two strong, experienced, potentially destructive players, both of whom can cover acres in midfield? First one to five tackles wins (though Edu, at 3.3 per game, is averaging nearly double Clark’s surprisingly low 1.6).

The better issue, though, is whether either team can bounce back from its last result. Houston failed to put a shot on target in its 2-0 loss in Foxborough, while Philadelphia couldn’t match the Red Bulls’ persistence mid-week in Harrison. Houston is 0-2-0 on the road this season.

… AND TWO GAMES THAT DON’T SEEM FAIR
#1 Sporting Kansas City vs. #18 Montréal Impact (Saturday, 8:30 p.m. Eastern)
Last week: Sporting had the week off; Montréal drew with visiting Chicago, 1-1

Ike Opara is out (for the year) and Oriol Rosell is suspended, but as long as Dom Dwyer, Graham Zusi, and Sal Zizzo are pressing up against that Montréal defense, this one’s going to be tough for the Impact. Maybe Frank Klopas will drop Jack McInerney, rely on Marco Di Vaio alone up top, and add a third midfielder, hoping his team can actually hold the ball a while before punting it. Even then, this looks like reach for the Montréal.

#2 Real Salt Lake vs. #16 Portland Timbers (Saturday, 9:30 p.m. Eastern)
Last week: Salt Lake drew in Philadelphia, 2-2; Portland were held by Chivas USA, 1-1

  • Portland’s all-time record against Real Salt Lake, having joined Major League Soccer in 2011: 1-7-3.
  • Games without a Timbers win vs. RSL: 10.
  • Caleb Porter’s career record against Salt Lake: 0-4-2.
  • Number of videos RSL has posted flaunting its success against Portland: Unknown, but I found this one, advertised as “So intense it will make you to tears”:

5th-place San Jose parts ways with Kinnear after 2.5 seasons

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Dominic Kinnear is out after two and a half seasons as head coach of the San Jose Earthquakes, despite leading the club to a hugely improved standing 17 games into the 2017 season.

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The move comes 17 hours after San Jose put to bed a three-game winless skid with a 2-1 win over Real Salt Lake on Saturday, a result which propelled them into fifth place in the Western Conference, just two points off second place. After seventh- and ninth-place finishes in Kinnear’s first two seasons back in Northern California (he managed the club in 2004 and 2005 before the club was relocated to Houston, where he would remain for nine seasons, through the 2014 season), this year’s team seemed to be moving in a positive direction quicker than most had previously expected.

[ MORE: Accam scores a backheel (video) | Opara scores a CB bicycle ]

The club has named Chris Leitch head coach and Alex Covelo as assistant coach. Current assistant coach Steve Ralston and goalkeeper coach Tim Hanley will remain in their current roles.

“First and foremost, we would like to thank Dominic for his hard work, professionalism and contributions to this club over the years,” Earthquakes general manager Jesse Fioranelli said in a release. “He worked hard this year and was a first-class person all the way. This decision was made after a lot of thought and evaluation. We decided that we wanted to go in a different direction as we continue to build the identity of this club.”

Kinnear is the second MLS coach to be relieved of his duties this season, suffering the same fate as RSL’s Jeff Cassar, who lasted just three games before being fired in March.

FIFA’s video-review system under scrutiny again in Russia

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OCHI, Russia (AP) FIFA’s new video review system is bringing turmoil to the Confederations Cup, with technology designed to deliver quick, clear decisions agitating players and leaving coaches and fans confused.

Perhaps even worse for FIFA, the latest controversy on Sunday – exactly one week after four goal reviews in that day’s two matches – made one of the world’s highest-rated referees look hesitant and wrong.

Wilmar Roldan sent off a Cameroon defender more than three minutes after a high tackle on a German opponent and only after his own case of mistaken identity.

The Colombian official arrived at what was arguably the correct decision following two visits to the touchline to consult video replays and first showing only a yellow card, then a red card, to the wrong Cameroon player.

“I think everyone is confused, including me,” Cameroon coach Hugo Broos said of referee Roldan after a 3-1 loss in Sochi that eliminated his team. “He and he alone can explain what happened there in that moment.”

Cameroon was also involved in two video decisions last Sunday, when possible Chile goals were reviewed for offside rulings. The first goal was disallowed, the second counted in Chile’s 2-0 victory.

Portugal had most to complain about one week ago when a potential opening goal in a 2-2 draw with Mexico was ruled out by an offside judged in an earlier phase of play.

FIFA stressed last week that all decisions proved ultimately correct, and the controversies were simply inevitable overreactions as world football gets used to a new system being put to its highest-profile tests.

Indeed, FIFA President Gianni Infantino felt confident to proclaim video review was “the future of football” and still on track to be approved by the guardians of the game’s laws before the 2018 World Cup.

Human error by Roldan seemed the biggest problem Sunday though it added to the perception that video review is capable of causing as much controversy as it solves.

FIFA has certainly pulled back from its prediction last year that game-changing decisions – goals scored, penalty kicks awarded, red cards, mistaken identity – could be reviewed and resolved in as few as six seconds.

Accuracy is more important than speed, has become the mantra in Russia.

Neither were in evidence Sunday in Sochi as Cameroon defender Ernest Mabouka eventually left the field around three minutes after his boot connected with Emre Can of Germany.

Mabouka’s teammate Sebastien Siani had sarcastically applauded the referee when he was wrongly sent from the field. Eventually Siani’s slate was wiped clean and he completed the match.

Still, the image of a top referee being openly disrespected will not please FIFA.

Roldan arrived at the Confederations Cup trying to rebuild a reputation that was damaged at the 2014 World Cup. There, he was chosen for the second game of the tournament, and incorrectly ruled out two Mexico goals. FIFA did not pick him for another refereeing duty in Brazil.

To further damage Roldan’s standing, Germany coach Joachim Loew said neither he nor Can believed the tackle merited even a yellow card.

“I didn’t have the impression that it was a mean foul with the intent to hurt the opponent. It was not intentional,” Loew said through a translator at the post-match news conference.

Loew, whose Germany team will defend its World Cup title next year, still thinks video review can benefit the game – with one condition.

“I think it can be fine-tuned over time so that decisions can be made more quickly,” the German coach said. “That would be great.”

Mario Balotelli signs new Nice contract

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Italian striker Mario Balotelli has found himself the owner of a new contract after a successful season in Ligue 1 with French club OGC Nice.

Balotelli’s one-year deal was set to expire at the end of June, but he found a career revival in what many believed would be his last chance in major European soccer. The club officially announced his new contract on Sunday, and while they did not release the length of the deal, they confirmed that Balotelli turned down deals from other clubs to stay in France.

The 26-year-old scored 15 goals in 23 league appearances last year, helping Nice to a fabulous third-place finish in Ligue 1, earning them a Champions League playoff spot.

For a player who saw trouble follow him wherever he went, the only trouble he faced last season at Nice was an erratic bout with injury issues including calf and adductor problems. However, the spells on the sidelines didn’t douse Balotelli’s form. The Italian had an incredible start and finish to the season, scoring six goals in his first five appearances of the season and bagging six goals in the last eight games of the year.

The official release by Nice said that Balotelli made “considerable financial sacrifices and chose the sporting aspect with his heart” in re-signing with the French club.

Morris, Acosta, Roldan highlight USA 23-man Gold Cup roster

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Bruce Arena has released his 23-man roster for the group stage of the 2017 Gold Cup, and it appears heavily experimental as expected, with 16 players MLS based.

The experience comes in spurts, with Brad Guzan paired with the less experienced Sean Johnson and Bill Hamid among the goalkeepers. Along the back line, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, and Jorge Villafana all make their way from the World Cup qualifiers to the Gold Cup, joined by Chelsea youngster Matt Miazga and Toronto FC’s Justin Morrow.

In midfield, Kellyn Acosta gets additional international time after positive showings in the most recent World Cup qualifiers. Dax McCarty returns to the national team along with Alejandro Bedoya, while bright 22-year-old Seattle Sounders playmaker Cristian Roldan also makes the squad. In addition, New England Revolution winger Kelyn Rowe and left-sided Kenny Saief could be set for national team debuts. Saief has appeared twice for Israel but has yet to be cap-tied by playing in a competitive match for any country and recently had his one-time switch approved.

Jordan Morris leads the way along the front line, along with 24-year-old Juan Agudelo who has not played a competitive minute for the United States since the 2011 Gold Cup. Dom Dwyer also appears, with the 26-year-old striker also hoping for an international debut. Gyasi Zardes shows up as a midfielder, but provides the United States with another versatile attacker who could play up front.

The United States will take on Panama, Martinique, and Nicaragua in the group stage of the Gold Cup, and once that is complete, Bruce Arena will be able to make changes to the roster should the United States advance as expected. At that time, Arena can swap in up to six players who appeared on the initial 40-man roster, including more experienced players like Michael Bradley, Tim Howard, Darlington Nagbe, Jozy Altidore, and Clint Dempsey.

Another name who could see time in the Gold Cup knockout round would be goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez, who does not appear on the initial 25-man roster as his one-time switch paperwork has yet to be cleared by FIFA according to a number of reports. If that happens in time, he can play for the United States. The 22-year-old FC Dallas goalkeeper has played for the Mexico youth setup but has not been cap-tied by either country. After making the 40-man roster, Gonzalez confirmed he would play for the United States should he be called up. However, should he complete the one-time switch, Gonzalez wouldn’t need to be cap-tied, as completing the paperwork is enough to leave him no choice but to play for the United States.

Finally, Christian Pulisic does not appear on the 25-man roster as expected, after Bruce Arena admitted the Borussia Dortmund youngster was unlikely to play for the United States in the Gold Cup. Arena admitted getting rest and then meeting up with his club for preseason was more important for the 18-year-old than playing in the summer international tournament.

Players are set to report to training in Nashville today, with a warm-up match against Ghana scheduled for Saturday in Connecticut before Gold Cup play starts on July 8.

ROSTER

GKs: Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, Bill Hamid.

DEFs: Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Hedges, Eric Lichaj, Matt Miazga, Justin Morrow, Jorge Villafaña, Graham Zusi.

MFs: Kellyn Acosta, Paul Arriola, Alejandro Bedoya, Joe Corona, Dax McCarty, Cristian Roldan, Kelyn Rowe, Kenny Saief, Gyasi Zardes.

FWDs: Jordan Morris, Juan Agudelo, Dom Dwyer.