San Jose, Colorado play to their second scoreless draw of the season

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When San Jose visited Colorado two-and-a-half weeks ago, the teams left the field at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park having combined for as many red cards (one) as shots on target. The 0-0 served as one of the first indications that the diamond formation Pablo Mastroeni had installed in the Rapids’ midfield could send the team in a much more conservative direction.

Tonight in Santa Clara, both teams had a chance to redeem that performance, and by some measures, hey managed to do so. Due in part of San Jose playing more aggressively at home, the teams combined for 11 shots on target, with the Earthquakes nearly claiming an opening goal on three occasions. And with Mastroeni having moved away from the diamond over the last two games, Colorado also played a more open game, with Charles Eloundou and Chris Klute providing width this year’s Rapids had been lacking.

All of which meant nothing at the final whistle. Ninety more minutes, zero more goals, and the Earthquakes and Rapids had played out another scoreless draw. San Jose remains mired near the bottom of the West, their seven points in eight games besting only Chivas USA, while Colorado stays fourth, seven points off league-leading Seattle.

I’ll admit my immediate reaction to this game was “I don’t want to see round three” (Sept. 28, in Colorado). After some time to think about it, these first games feel like two very different, coincidentally 0-0 results. The introductions of Eloundou and Kemani Hill gave the Rapids a completely different look, while San Jose started a new, more balanced midfield (Khari Stephenson and Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi as opposed to Sam Cronin and J.J. Koval). Both teams are evolving. There’s no telling what we’ll see in September.

In the interim, Colorado gets a valuable road point, continuing what’s been a strong start. If this team really is evolving, improving as Pablo Mastroeni grows into the head coach’s job, 15 points from nine games will look like a boon come October (particularly since they’ve already played six times within the Western Conference).

For San Jose, the performance is another example of why the team is better than its record (1-3-4). At some point, though, the Earthquakes have to translate their competitiveness on the field into points in the standings. The season’s nearly at the quarter, and while they’re only six points back of a playoff spot, it’s a spot that Galaxy and the Timbers are also on the outside looking in on. The Earthquakes not only have to make up the gap, but they have to outplay three good teams over the next 26 games if they’re to return to the postseason.

The West, as predicted, is hyper-competitive, and while other teams will have spells like San Jose’s, the Earthquakes need to prove theirs is temporary. Form is nice. Points are better.

Albanian federation denounces “extremist acts” of their fans in Italy

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s soccer federation has strongly denounced the incident that halted the World Cup Group G qualifier with Italy for nearly nine minutes on Friday.

During the match, which was won by Italy, 2-0, a group calling itself Illyrian Elite threw flares onto the pitch.

“Such totally extremist actions from the grouping Illyrian Elite have nothing to do with the excellent Albanian fans” who were distinguished in the EURO 2016 finals in France for their friendship and camaraderie in their festivities, the statement added.

The federation said an coach Gianni De Biasi also was “upset by the flares,” adding that during five years he has been in charge “I’ve seen something that’s never happened before.”

USMNT: 4 players, including Brooks, Lletget, released; Arriola added

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Hours after his side’s 6-0 thrashing of Honduras to resuscitate dreams of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, Bruce Arena announced on Saturday five changes to the U.S. national team roster ahead of Tuesday’s qualifier against Panama.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

John Brooks (sinus infection), Sebastian Lletget (foot), Jordan Morris (knee) and Michael Orozco (knee) were all released back to their club teams, while Club Tijuana midfielder Paul Arriola was added to the squad.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Brooks dealt with the sinus infection throughout USMNT camp this past week, as Morris did his knee injury which he picked up last weekend. Lletget left Friday’s win over Honduras in the 18th minute and will undergo further tests to determine the severity of his injury; he was seen leaving the stadium on crutches and wearing a walking boot.

The USMNT’s roster for Tuesday’s qualifier in Panama City, Panama, now stands at 23 players, and reads as follows:

Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Rapinoe won’t back down on social issues despite U.S. Soccer policy

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Megan Rapinoe recently earned her spot back in the U.S. Women’s National Team squad ahead of next month’s friendlies against Russia, but the veteran won’t remain silent when it comes to her stance on the social climate of America.

[ MORE: Looking back on USMNT’s big win over Honduras ]

The 31-year-old was scrutinized for joining NFL player Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when they knelt during their respective sporting events, along with dozens of other athletes across the United States.

While Rapinoe admits that the form of protest is up for discussion, she also states that social inequality issues in the U.S. go far beyond that.

“What has surprised me the most, especially post-election, is that people are still sort of arguing against it. It’s really obvious that we have very serious inequality in this country across many different spectrums,” Rapinoe told the Guardian. “Yes, we can talk about the form of protest, or the way it’s done, or this or that. But it’s still not really the conversation that I think we desperately need to have more of in this country.”

A few weeks back, U.S. Soccer announced that it now requires all players that represent the Stars and Stripes to stand when the national anthem is played, and Rapinoe has agreed to do such.

While her days of kneeling on the pitch are in the past, Rapinoe believes she wouldn’t do anything different because she was simply trying to spark discussion amongst the American people.

“I don’t think there’s any perfect way to protest. I think if there was something else being done, something else would have been said about it. I can’t look back and say that I would have done this different, this different or this different.

“I can sleep at night knowing that I genuinely tried to have a really important conversation, or at least tried to open it up. I think I came to it with an open mind, an open heart and tried to get as many people to talk about it as I could.”

Report: Chelsea planning Hazard, Courtois pay raises

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Eden Hazard has returned to his old self under Antonio Conte this season, and now Chelsea is hoping to lock down their star attacker.

[ MORE: Lukaku says decision has been made on Everton future ]

According to the Mirror, the Premier League leaders are planning on offering up a pay raise to Hazard, who has 11 league goals this season for the Blues.

Hazard signed a nearly $250,000 per week deal two seasons ago, but the Belgium international will likely rake in significantly more under the reported deal as Chelsea hopes to keep the 26-year-old away from Spanish giants Real Madrid and others.

The Mirror is also reporting that goalkeeper and Hazard’s Belgian teammate Thibaut Courtois is likely to be handed a raise is salary as well.

The shot-stopper is set be handed a deal roughly in the range of what Hazard is currently making after allowing just 21 goals in 28 PL matches this season.