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.

#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.

#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.

#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.

#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.

#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.

#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.

#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”:

Pique finds solidarity with criticized NBA players

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There have been a number f outstanding pieces in The Players’ Tribune since its launch, but few as colorful and entertaining as Thursday’s entry from Gerard Pique.

The Barcelona star center back spilled the beans on any number of funny stories in his post, from Roy Keane’s cell phone anger and Sir Alex Ferguson‘s guiding hand to Lionel Messi’s greatness and more.

[ MORE: Zlatan in MLS an auto success ]

But perhaps most interesting was his take on the grief he’s received for supporting the vote for Catalan independence. Pique points out that he’s been proud to represent the Spanish national team, but won’t veer from his democratic beliefs.

And guess what? Even in Spain, athletes rightly bristle at the “Stick to Sports” crowd.

It’s funny, I noticed some people in America have started telling the NBA players to “just shut up and dribble” when they express their opinions on real problems in society.

It’s ridiculous, no?

It’s the same here in Spain. They say, “Just shut up and play football. It’s all you know.”

Sorry, but I will not just shut up and play. It’s not all I know. There’s a lot more depth to footballers than most people realize, and I think it’s important that we express ourselves and our views.

Given relative health, Zlatan’s success MLS is close to automatic

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The only question is his knee at his age.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is coming to Major League Soccer. Having confirmed his departure from Manchester United, the announcement that the living Swedish legend is joining the LA Galaxy is expecting next week.

[ MORE: MLS Weekend Preview ]

Some have asked whether he’ll cut muster in the league, to which we point to the lead: Few players have arrived to MLS with as dominant a career as Ibrahimovic, and the Swede would need his knee to fall apart in order to fail in California.

The man’s game isn’t based on speed, but it does require his abnormal power and grace. He scored just once for United in very limited time this season, but don’t forget how dangerous he was against Premier League and Europa League defenses last season.

He scored 28 goals with 10 assists last season, with 17 and 5 coming in league play. He was suspended for three matches and injured for seven, meaning this is a 20-goal Premier League scorer arriving in MLS within a calendar year of doing so.

Try putting his resume in perspective: Didier Drogba was extremely good for Montreal but a half-decade removed from his last double-digit goal PL season (Don’t forget that Drogba bagged 11 in 11 to start life on our shores). Robbie Keane was about the same time removed from his run of 10-plus goal seasons in the Premier League. He was good for LA.

The only risk here is that Ibrahimovic never gets healthy and LA takes a bit of a loss on his salary (one which is at least partially negated by the sheer number of Ibrahimovic Galaxy jerseys sold).

Entering this season, Ibrahimovic had failed to score 15 goals once since 2006. He’a also had a fairly religious assist output (10+ most years). With names like Alessandrini, Kamara, and dos Dos Santos, this should be a stand-up double if not a homer for LA and for MLS.

Plus the vicious looks after teammates miss him badly with a pass, let alone the press conferences and paparazzi hits: This should be a lot of fun.

MLS Weekend Preview: Friedel’s Revs get NYCFC test

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It’s an international break, and Major League Soccer is only sorta observing it.

More than half of the league’s clubs will participate on Saturday match days, with several shorthanded by national team duty.

[ MORE: Southgate on racism in football]

Columbus won’t have Zack Steffen and Wil Trapp for a visit from DC United — who is missing Zoltan Steiber, Bruno Miranda, and Oniel Fisher — while the Red Bulls will be without Tyler Adams, Kemar Lawrence, and Michael Murillo for Minnesota United’s visit.

NYCFC won’t have Alexander Ring, Ronald Matarrita, and Rodney Wallace, Portland’s without David Guzman and Andy Polo, and Sporting KC loses Daniel Salloi.

The Whitecaps won’t have center back Kendall Waston, while opponents LA Galaxt are without Ola Kamara.

New England Revolution vs. New York City FC — 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday

Brad Friedel‘s New England revolution, purposely lower case, is making believers out of its players. It would take a giant step if it could slow the NYCFC juggernaut. The visitors have allowed just one goal in their 3-0 start.

As for the hosts, Friedel has made his mark in a way that mostly makes you wonder what in the world Jay Heaps was doing:.

(Bunbury) pointed to a fine system in the locker room, increased accountability, how Friedel posts the starting XI on game day, and occasional two-a-day training sessions, which never occurred in the forward’s four years under Heaps.

“I think it unifies the team,” Bunbury said. “The broad sense of professionalism, it’s about having respect for each other and making sure you are held accountable in every part of this club.”

Never occurred under Heaps? Woof.

FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers — 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday

FCD had an uninspiring ending to their CONCACAF Champions League dreams, but that’s little compared to the Timbers’ 0-2 start under Gio Savarese. A trip down South isn’t a surefire way to right the ship.

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. LA Galaxy — 10 p.m. ET Saturday

A long trip up North is only made worse by a laundry list of injuries for Sigi Schmid’s Galaxy. We’re only listing it amongst our Top Three because an LA win would be wildly impressive given the ‘Caps strong start.


Columbus Crew vs. DC United — 6 p.m. ET Saturday
New York Red Bulls vs. Minnesota United — 7 p.m. ET Saturday
Colorado Rapids vs. Sporting KC — 9 p.m. ET Saturday

Mourinho: “People with brains” understand Man Utd in transition

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Jose Mourinho’s been having a little fun on his international break, “managing” a team of superstars including Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt in a charity match.

[ MORE: Southgate talks racism in football ]

Speaking CNN as part of a publicity run, Mourinho was asked about Manchester United’s second place campaign and disappointment after dropping out of the UEFA Champions League.

Mourinho reiterated his position that United is a team in transition, and that the season is going along at an acceptable clip.

“I understand the frustration, I understand the sadness of being knocked out in the Champions League, but I don’t understand anything more than that,” Mourinho said to CNN’s Amanda Davies.

United has scored the third-most goals in the Premier League, and allowed the fourth-fewest. It’s drastically reduced its propensity to draw matches, which hurt its table position last season, and has already surpassed last season’s goal total.

Two more wins, 10 goals better differential, and the list goes on but unfortunately also includes crosstown rivals running away with the league and still alive in the UCL.

“Of course in the future we want to have 19 clubs behind us but this is the reality,” said Mourinho. “And the reality is for people with brain, with sense, with common sense, with knowledge of what sports is, we are in a moment of transition. Being in a moment of transition and still manage to do what he did last season and win trophies and to do what we are trying to do this season, which is still trying to win a trophy, and try to be second, because in this moment it’s the only top position that is possible for us to get. I think we are in a good position.”