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”:

Wild day in American soccer: Crew relocation, NASL LOIs, USL reserves

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The top three soccer leagues in the United States of America are dealing with varying bits of turmoil this Tuesday in October.

It began late Monday with reports that Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt aims to take the MLS founding member to Texas, seemingly only paying lip service to the idea of investment keeping the team in Ohio.

[ MORE: Leicester sacks Shakespeare ]

Some have said Precourt’s goals have always been to find a way out of Ohio, and the Crew owner was asked what has changed in the four years he’s owned the club (From ColumbusCrewSC.com):

Q:When we read your story about your purchase of the team, this was back in 2013, part of that was that it was very important to the Hunt family that the Crew remained in Columbus and you said at the time that you were committed to that. So what’s changed?

AP: I was committed to that and I believe that I demonstrated my commitment through significant investment in infrastructure, in personnel, in the quality of our product on the field. What has changed? Our League has grown leaps and bounds, it’s been unprecedented the improvement we’ve seen year over year and new markets that have come in the League have shown dramatic attendance. Let’s look at Atlanta with over 70,000 fans over their last few games, with Orlando building a new facility and averaging over 30,000 fans a game, with New York City FC. The list goes on and on. Our peers get stronger and stronger, year in and year out and I have to get back to our ambition as a club. This is key: our ambition as a club is to be a standard bearer in Major League Soccer, to be respected on and off the field in terms of our soccer operations and our business operations and to operate world-class, soccer-specific infrastructure. We’re going through growing pains now. It’s time for us to explore building a world-class, soccer-specific stadium so that we can be celebrated and successful and sustainable.

So, yes, barring a king’s ransom — word use intended — from the Ohio business community, it’s not being cynical to read Precourt’s intention to leave Ohio as very strong. The idea is very sad for the league, and makes every pro/rel honk’s argument against the closed model.

Then there’s the NASL, where it’s almost head-spinning to keep abreast of the future of the league. New York Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso has taken the wheel in an attempt to not only see the NASL rise, but remove Sunil Gulati from power at the United States Soccer Federation in the hopes of a complete overhaul. In what should not be read as a footnote, the NASL is currently suing the USSF.

There are reports that the league could have as many as 17 teams next season in a bid to regain sanctioning from the Unites States Soccer Federation, including a series of teams from the fourth-tier National Premier Soccer League.

According to SocTakes.com, the NASL has letters of intent from NPSL clubs in Boca Raton, Boston, Detroit, Arizona, New Orleans, and Virginia Beach. Additionally, there’s interest in Hartford and it may not be the NPSL club.

Then came this Tweet:

Now here’s a league, the USL, whose only issues have been perception-related. Growing well and instituting a D-3 companion, the biggest concern has been the mentioned MLS Reserve sides creating a minor league feel for the league.

All of this is manageable, and you could argue that the disappearance or at least rebranding of most of these reserve sides would be a boon for the league.

Taken in a vacuum, any of these stories has the potential to carry a day’s news. Together, and in the wake of the United States men’s national team’s failure to qualify for the World Cup, they give Tuesday one of those Soccer-USApocalyptic feelings.

UEFA Champions League Weds. preview: Chelsea, Man Utd look to break out

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Only one of 16 teams was held off the score sheet on Tuesday. Could the same level of entertainment reach the UEFA Champions League a day later?

Two more Premier League teams take the pitch on Wednesday, with Manchester United facing its stiffest test of the group stage and Chelsea with a tricky visit from AS Roma.

[ MORE: Champions League Tues. wrap ]

Manchester United has a significant challenge in Benfica, and may need a man familiar with the Estadio da Luz to help them out. Center back Eric Bailly remains out for United, which could bring Victor Lindelof into the fold to help stop Haris Seferovic, Gabriel Barbosa, Raul Jimenez, and especially Jonas.

Coming off a sleepy weekend draw versus Liverpool in an underwhelming derby, United will take on a desperate Benfica team which is traditionally strong but lost at home to CSKA Moscow and was crushed in Switzerland by Basel.

(AP Photo/Armando Franca)

Speaking of the need to rebound, Chelsea’s loss to Crystal Palace still has many scratching their heads. Fortunately, Roma is also in a mini-funk after a weekend loss to Napoli that ended a five-match winning streak.

There’s a reunion for Antonio Rudiger inside Stamford Bridge with Roma in town. I Lupi has been pretty one-dimensional in terms of offense, with ex-Man City man and reigning Serie A capocannoniere winner Edin Dzeko. He’s scored eight times in nine matches for Roma this season.

Full Wednesday UCL schedule
All kickoffs at 2:45 p.m. ET except where indicated

Qarabag vs. Atletico Madrid — Noon ET
Anderlecht vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Benfica vs. Manchester United
Juventus vs. Sporting Lisbon
Barcelona vs. Olympiacos
Chelsea vs. Roma
Bayern Munich vs. Celtic
CSKA Moscow vs. Basel

U-17 World Cup wrap: England advances to meet USA

AP Photo/Bikas Das
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The United States now knows it’ll have to take down England’s best to get to the semifinals of the U-17 World Cup in India.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

England, don’t laugh, won in penalty kicks after a scoreless match with Japan, advancing to meet the Baby Yanks.


England 0-0 (5-3, PKs) Japan

There wasn’t a single miss amongst the England shooters, as Rhian Brewster (Liverpool), Callum Hudson-Odoi (Chelsea), Phil Foden (Man City), Nya Kirby (Crystal Palace), and Curtis Anderson (Man City) converted from the spot to set up a date against the U.S.

Mali 5-1 Iraq

Lassana Ndiaye scored twice to join France’s Amine Gouiri atop the goal scoring list for the tournament as Mali advances to face the winner of Ghana vs. Niger.

France 1-2 Spain

Barcelona prospects Juan Miranda and Abel Ruiz get the better of France to set up a date with high-flying Iran.

 

Iran 2-1 Mexico

Iran conceded for just the second time in the tournament, but not before Mohammad Sharifi and Allahyar Sayyad (both of Iranian club Saifa) made it 2-0 by the 11th minute.

UEFA Champions League wrap: Tables turned on wild day

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One clean sheet in eight Tuesday matches certainly helped the entertainment value of the UEFA Champions League, and the group ramifications follow suit.

Borussia Dortmund whiffed on a chance to take advantage of Real Madrid’s home draw versus Spurs, while Sevilla was waxed in Russia, and Besiktas continues to strut in UCL play.

Real Madrid 1-1 Tottenham HotspurRECAP, VIDEO

Raphael Varane’s plans to mark Harry Kane were subverted by the French defender’s unwitting legs, but Serge Aurier chopped down Toni Kroos in the 42nd minute for a yellow card and penalty that Cristiano Ronaldo sent beyond the reach of Spurs backstop Hugo Lloris.

It was Lloris’ outstanding day, along with a couple timely Keylor Navas saves, that kept the score line 1-1 after 90 minutes. The backstops will likely match wits again come Nov. 1 at Wembley Stadium.

Manchester City 2-1 NapoliRECAP

Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus scored in the ninth and 13th minutes as City has been an unwelcoming host for the Neapolitan side. Ederson stopped a Dries Mertens penalty, adding insult to Napoli’s twin concessions, but Napoli would get a second penalty kick and pulled back a goal courtesy of Amadou Diawara.

Monaco 1-2 Besiktas

Reported Newcastle United and Crystal Palace target Cenk Tosun scored a pair of goals as group-leading Besiktas came back to beat Monaco after Radamel Falcao made it 1-0 to the hosts.

Feyenoord 1-2 Shakhtar Donetsk

Similar story in the Netherlands, where Ex-Watford man Steven Berghuis gave the Eredivisie hosts a lead only to see a Bernard brace lead Shakhtar at De Kuip.

Spartak Moscow 5-1 Sevilla

Liverpool’s score line was a bit surprising, but this one raised eyebrows even given Sevilla’s long road (or flight path) to Russia. Quincy Promes scored twice to make Sevilla consider its Europa roots (though plenty of time remains in the group stage).

Spartak’s Luiz Adriano scores past Sevilla’s Sergio Rico (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

Maribor 0-7 LiverpoolRECAP

Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds are sent their finishing demons off a cliff. It was 3-0 after 20 minutes, 4-0 at half, and when all was said and done there were braces for Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah to go with single markers from Philippe Coutinho, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Trent Alexander-Arnold.

APOEL Nicosia 1-1 Borussia Dortmund

A significant step backward for BVB, who would’ve done well to take advantage of Real and Spurs drawing at the Bernabeu. The Germans even trailed for five second-half minutes before Sokratis Papastathopoulos provided the equalizing goal.

RB Leipzig 3-2 Porto

Five first half goals felt like the start of something special, but the upstart Germans held on through a scoreless second half to claim their first UCL win.