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Week 8 Preview: Playoff rematches in Seattle, New England; new tests for D.C., New York

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Week eight of Major League Soccer’s season begins on Saturday at 4:00 p.m. Eastern in Seattle and Montréal, with weekend’s eight-match slate also featuring two rematches from the 2013 postseason. Here is our quick look at the coming weekend of MLS action.

Note: All rankings reflect PST’s weekly MLS Power Rankings.

THE GAME YOU JUST CAN’T MISS
#3 Seattle Sounders vs. #8 Colorado Rapids, Saturday, 4:00 p.m. Eastern
Last week: Seattle won at Chivas USA, 2-1; Colorado and visiting San Jose played out a 0-0 draw.

Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins have become Major League Soccer’s closest thing to must-watch television. At least, come the last 10 minutes of the game they are. In each of the league three weeks, the Sounders’ forward tandem has produced at least one goal in the last 10 minutes, helping Seattle to seven points over its three-game road trip. They’re not necessarily unstoppable (they seem to be picking their spots), but since the calendar turned to April, nobody’s been able to keep the Sounders’ high-price tandem from taking over the game’s final moments.

Now it’s your turn, Drew Moor. And Shane O’Neill (assuming you start over Marvell Wynne). Same goes for José Mari or Jared Watts, as well as Dillon Powers and Nick LaBrocca. The team you faced in last year’s Western Conference 4-5 game? They’re much, much better now. Here’s your chance to step up.

As Matt Hedges found out two weeks ago, and Bobby Burling learned last week, tracking two forwards who can be as dangerous in front of a defense as running through it stresses but your decision-making. It also provides a huge challenge the defense’s organization. Come the 80th minute, we’ll find out if Colorado’s up to the challenge.


IF WE WIN THIS ONE, WE’VE REALLY GOT SOMETHING

#16 D.C. United vs. #5 FC Dallas, Saturday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern
Last week: D.C. drew in Columbus, 1-1; FC Dallas won at home, 2-1 over Toronto

#7 Columbus Crew vs. #17 New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m. Eastern
Last week: Columbus was held at home against D.C. United, 1-1; New York was off but beat Houston midweek, 4-0

D.C. United’s enjoying a four-game unbeaten run, but with its two wins coming at home against New England and New York, there are some strength of competition concerns. With FC Dallas visiting RFK Stadium, however, those concerns disappear. Perhaps a flat Dallas will leave us questioning if their hot start has fizzled out, but if Óscar Pareja’s team plays like it has over the season’s first seven weeks, United will face its stiffest challenge since week one.

For New York, two convincing wins in a row have quelled concerns the team’s slow start was more than an unexpected trough, but as is the case with D.C., there are questions about the competition. Philadelphia and Houston wavered between impotent and inept. Columbus, who D.C. (to its credit) took a draw from last week, will present a stiffer challenge.


source: Getty ImagesWELCOME TO THE GUN SHOW
#2 Real Salt Lake vs. #9 Vancouver Whitecaps, Saturday, 9:30 p.m. Eastern
Last week: Real Salt Lake beat visiting Portland, 1-0; Vancouver came back to draw LA Galaxy, 2-2

One team will have Álvaro Saborío, Javi Morales, João Plata, Olmes Garcia, and Devon Sandoval. It’s a diverse arsenal of complementary pieces, one that’s capable of being deployed a variety of ways – whatever way annoys the opposition most.

The other team will have Darren Mattocks. And Kenny Miller. As well as Kekuta Manneh, Sebastián Fernández, Russell Teibert, and Erik Hurtado. If his back allows it, former Chilean international Pablo Morales will be there, too. It’s the deepest, fastest, and possibly the most athletic attack in the league. They’re also highly skilled, too. While the … septet? … doesn’t form the same well-tuned machine we see from RSL, Carl Robinson’s crew has the potential to exceed that standard in the long-run.

Unfortunately, the Whitecaps are unlikely to let those talents loose at Rio Tinto. On the road, we’ve seen Robinson employ somewhat conservative approaches. Against the last undefeated team in the league, the Whitecaps may elect for wait for their opportunities instead of pursuing them.


BE AN MLS ULTZY, EMBRACE
#11 Houston Dynamo vs. #15 Portland Timbers, Sunday, 3:00 p.m. Eastern
Last week: Houston drew in Philadelphia, 0-0, but also lost 4-0 to New York midweek; Portland lost at RSL, 1-0

Want to impress all your friends and followers? Who doesn’t? Reinforce your growing MLS ultzy reputation by noting: This is a clash of philosophies. It’s the unwavering pragmatism of Dom Kinnear against the dreamer’s idealism of Caleb Porter.

Contrast the record of one of the league’s most accomplished head coaches against that of one of the profession’s newest stars. Note how much each team’s has struggled this season, use a cool clichés (“something’s got to give” or “rock and a hard place”), and see those shares and retweets grow. You are the master of your ultzy domain.


source: APREMATCH! REMATCH! ANOTHER PLAYOFF REMATCH!
#10 New England Revolution vs. #1 Sporting Kansas City, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Eastern
Last week: New England drew at Chicago, 1-1; Sporting slaughtered Montréal, 4-0

The last time Sporting was in Massachusetts, they saw Andy Dorman and Kelyn Rowe give the Revolution a 2-1 lead after leg one of the teams’ Eastern Conference semifinal. But Rowe, hobbled with a hamstring problem, isn’t expected to play. Nor is Jose Gonçalves. Juan Agudelo is gone, and although he’s been replaced by former Sporting forward Teal Bunbury, the Revolution don’t have the same punch. Jay Heaps’ team is still building toward last year’s level.

Sporting Kansas City, however, looks like its title-winning self. Coming off a 4-0 win on Saturday, Peter Vermes side has hit an early stride, one that’s allowed it to pull away from March’s Champions League disappointment. And in contrast to New England, Sporting returns almost all the pieces that produced last year’s title.

Jimmy Nielsen may no longer be around, but Sporting’s still the best team in Major League Soccer. For now.


HEADDESK

#18 Montréal Impact vs. #12 Philadelphia Union, Saturday, 4:00 p.m. Eastern
Last Week: Montréal was routed in Kansas City, 4-0; Philadelphia drew at home with Houston, 0-0

#13 San Jose Earthquakes vs. #18 Chivas USA, Saturday, 10:30 p.m. Eastern
Last Week: San Jose drew in Colorado, 0-0; Chivas USA lost to visiting Seattle, 2-1

Let’s try to make the best of these two, shall we …

The good news about the game in Montréal: You have options. Seattle and Colorado kick off at the some time. Though this game has the potential to be interesting if Philadelphia’s midfield is clicking, the teams’ first meeting doesn’t offer much hope. This match’s equivalent of Dempsey and Martins is either Andrew Wenger and Conor Casey or Marco Di Vaio and Jack McInerney. Wait for the highlights before you commit the full 90.

As for San Jose-Chivas, I’ve spent a good chunk of time defending San Jose this week, explaining why I see them as better than their 0-2-3 record. That doesn’t mean I don’t agree with the conventional wisdom about the Earthquakes’ entertainment value. Unless you’re a huge fan of good defensive tandems and want to zero in on Víctor Bernárdez and Clarence Goodson, this game may not offer much.

If Saturday comes and you find yourself watching this one, hit me up on Twitter. We’ll be each others’ sponsor.

Loss to Sevilla quickly puts Real Madrid’s Zidane on the defensive

SEVILLE, SPAIN - JANUARY 15:  Head Coach of Real Madrid CF Zinedine Zidane looks on prior to  the match against Real Madrid CF during the La Liga match between Sevilla FC and Real Madrid CF at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on January 15, 2017 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)
Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images
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MADRID (AP) Real Madrid’s first loss after a 40-game unbeaten streak was enough to put coach Zinedine Zidane on the defensive.

Two days after Madrid’s unbeaten record was halted by a 2-1 defeat at Sevilla in the Spanish league, Zidane was forced to defend some of his players against criticism from fans and local media.

[ MORE: Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over absurd Matip situation ]

Most comments were aimed at goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who failed to stop Sevilla’s injury-time winner on Sunday. Navas got to Stevan Jovetic‘s long-range shot but was unable to keep the ball from going in.

“He’s having a really good season,” Zidane said on Tuesday. “You can always ask for more, but if up until now we had gone 40 games without losing, it’s for a reason, and he has been there all the way.”

There have been calls for Zidane to give reserve goalkeeper Kiko Casilla a chance, but the coach said there was “no need to go over this again.”

Zidane also dismissed talk about signing a new goalkeeper.

“These are rumors,” he said. “We are focused on what we are doing this year. Whatever happens next I’m not interested and it’s not the time to talk about it. The three goalkeepers we have are important, they’re doing well and I’m very happy with them. I don’t want to change anything we’re doing.”

[ MORE: How Sevilla hope to break up the Madrid-Barca duopoly ]

Zidane defended forward Karim Benzema, who lost possession near midfield in a mistake that led to host Sevilla’s winner on Sunday.

“Everyone can say and write what they want,” Zidane said. “On a field, playing 90 minutes, you can’t do everything right. There is talk of lack of concentration, but we only had five bad minutes and that happens in football.”

Benzema also missed a chance to score from close range in the game, but a few days earlier it was the French striker who netted in stoppage time in a Copa del Rey match against Sevilla to help Madrid set the Spanish unbeaten record.

Zidane downplayed the end of Madrid’s unbeaten streak. The club hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat at Wolfsburg in the Champions League in April.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

“These things happen,” he said. “Nothing is going to change in what I’m going to do. Those who are not Real Madrid fans will want us to lose, but we must be ready and think that what we’re doing is fine. We lost a game, something that happens, and now we have to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Madrid hosts Celta Vigo on Wednesday in a first-leg match in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey.

Celta has won all four matches this year.

“I am not surprised by Celta’s record because they’re a very good team, they fight and play very good football,” Zidane said. “It’ll be another complicated match for us.”

FA fines Man City’s Sagna over “10 against 12” Instagram message

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 02: Scott Arfield of Burnley (L) tackles Bacary Sagna of Manchester City (R) during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Burnley at Etihad Stadium on January 2, 2017 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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LONDON (AP) The English Football Association has fined Manchester City defender Bacary Sagna 40,000 pounds (around $50,000) for an Instagram post about a referee.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Sagna posted a photo with the caption “10 against 12.. but still fighting and winning as a team” on the social network site following City’s 2-1 win against Burnley on Jan. 2.

Sagna later amended the post to read “still fighting and winning as a team” after a match that saw referee Lee Mason send off midfielder Fernandinho.

[ MORE: Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over absurd Matip situation ]

The FA also warned Sagna about his future conduct.

Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over in-limbo Matip

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Joel Matip of Liverpool and Andre Ayew of West Ham United compete for the ball during the Premier League match between Liverpool and West Ham United at Anfield on December 11, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
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Few footballing sagas will ever reach heights of absurdity comparable to that of the Joel Matip/Liverpool versus Cameroon/FIFA battle currently raging, as the Reds defender finds himself “ineligible” to play for his club due to an international call-up 18 months after announcing his international retirement.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

PST’s Joe Prince-Wright summed up the situation quite well, in full, right here. An excerpt:

Matip, 25, was called up by the Cameroon national team for the 2017 African Cup of Nations which is currently taking place in Gabon. However, the former Schalke defender has previously stated that he did not want to play for them and he had retired from international duty.

Cameroon called him into their initial 35-man squad for the competition anyway but did not include him in their final 23-man squad once it became clear Matip, along with six other players, had no interest in playing for them at AFCON.

FIFA has confirmed that Liverpool has been in touch regarding Matip’s status and it now appears that he will not be able to play in any other competition while Cameroon is still in AFCON action under Article 5 of FIFA’s rules.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Fast forward a few days, and Jurgen Klopp and Co. have no further clarity regarding the situation. It’s so unclear, in fact, that Klopp said on Tuesday he may select the 25-year-old during one of two remaining games this week, and hope for the best — quotes from the Guardian:

“As you can imagine, we are in a lot of talks. We’ve done transfers quicker than this. It’s already long term but now it’s getting really tense on our side. We’ve tried everything but at the end I have to make the decision. Of course I have to ask [Liverpool’s lawyers] but the decision is for me to make. I could put him in the lineup. I don’t think the referee is going to say: ‘Stop, stop, you cannot go on the pitch.’ But I will do it when it’s OK from our point of view. Of course I need advice — I’m not a lawyer.”

“Most of the time in life you know if you do this, then you get this. But it’s not 100 percent clear what happens [if Matip plays]. We try everything to win football games. If this can happen — out of the tournament or whatever — then we have to decide about the risk. He’s ready to play for us and that makes it difficult.”

What an utter disaster of a situation Cameroon have intentionally created here.

VIDEO: Jeison Murillo’s incredible bicycle from a corner kick

MILAN, ITALY - JANUARY 17:  (R-L) Jeison Murillo of FC Internazionale celebrates his first goal with Geoffrey Kondogbia during the TIM Cup match between FC Internazionale and Bologna FC at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on January 17, 2017 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Look away now, Andy Carroll. Take a bow, Jeison Murillo.

[ VIDEOS: All in a week’s work — Messi free kick no. 1 | Messi free kick no. 2 ]

Just three days after Carroll scored the bicycle-kick goal of the year (so we thought), here comes Murillo, Inter Milan’s 24-year-old Colombian striker, to steal his thunder (below video). The fact he did it directly from a corner kick, with the ball traveling roughly 40 yards before flinging his body into the air and striking the ball so cleanly, (somehow) trumps Carroll’s accomplishment from Saturday.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings — Tight at the top… and bottom ]

Sensational goals come in twos now, apparently, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Olivier Giroud scored stunning scorpion-kick goals (WATCH HERE and HERE) just days apart earlier in the season.