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Week 10 Preview: LA returns to Portland; West giants visit East leaders

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The 10th weekend of the season sees Major League Soccer finally embrace this thing we call Sunday, with four games breaking the league’s little known “one, maybe two on that other day” rule. Here is our quick look at the coming, refreshingly balanced MLS weekend.

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

YOUR NBCSN GAME OF THE WEEK
#12 Portland Timbers vs. #4 LA Galaxy, Sunday, 2:30 p.m. Eastern (NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra)
Last week: Portland claimed its first victory of the season, 3-2 over D.C. United; LA lost at Colorado, 1-0

Bruce Arena has never beat Caleb Porter! Granted, they’ve only faced off three times, but Portland took seven out of nine points from the Galaxy last season, including all six at home. Don’t look at that as a sign of dominance, though. Look at it for what it was: Two close games breaking Portland’s way.

In LA’s first visit to the then-JELD-WEN Field, the now departed Andrew Jean Baptiste headed home a stoppage time winner – not exactly a formula for world domination. In the second, only Maxi Urruti’s mini Zlatan moment separated the sides:

But that was when Portland was good. In 2014, we’ve been treated to the “I can’t tell if they’re good” version of the squad. The soccer’s not that bad, but the record’s pretty gross (1-3-5).  Even after last week’ s break through, it’s impossible to get a read on this year’s Timbers.

Against a Galaxy team that’s also better than its record (2-2-2), last week’s performance won’t be good enough. Robbie Keane’s not going to have a second consecutive off week, and Landon Donovan (right) is coming agonizingly close to his record-setting goal. With Juninho, Stefan Ishizaki, and Baggio Husidic bringing the team’s new midfield together, Bruce Arena has the tools to pick apart another mistake-prone performance.

Matchup to watch: Galaxy DM Juninho vs. Portland number 10 Diego Valeri; or, Rob Friend versus sportsmanship. I can’t decide.


source: Getty Images

EAST VS. WEST CHALLENGE
#7 New England Revolution vs. #1 Seattle Sounders, Sunday, 6:00 p.m. Eastern
Last week: New England won in Toronto, 2-1; Seattle came back to beat Philadelphia, then Dallas.

#14 Houston Dynamo vs. #3 Real Salt Lake, Sunday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern
Last week: Houston beat Chivas before knocking off Columbus; Real Salt Lake went goonie on Chicago.

Okay, Western Conference: You really think you’re that much stronger than the East? Prove it. Your best against two of the teams at the top of the East. You’re on the road, but if you’re really that much stronger, you should be able to get results.

For the Sounders, it’s their first trip East since winning at Olympic Stadium earlier this year. Riding a five-match winning streak, the likes of Clint Dempsey (right) and Obafemi Martins will test a defense that’s been without reigning Defender of the Year Jose Goncalves. Get around destroyer Andy Dorman, and the Revs’ central pair can be had.

At BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston will look to extend its second two-match winning streak of the season, but RSL won’t be as susceptible on set pieces as Columbus was on Wednesday. Still undefeated, Salt Lake’s poised to take advantage of their hosts’ quick turnaround.

Matchups to watch: Seattle destroyer Osvaldo Alonso vs. Revolution creator Lee Nguyen; Houston’s suddenly hot Will Bruin against RSL emerging star Chris Schuler.


BE AN MLS ULTZY, EMBRACE

#13 San Jose Earthquakes vs. #5 FC Dallas, Saturday, 10:30 p.m. Eastern
Last week: San Jose lost in Vancouver before drawing with Colorado; Dallas lost twice in the last seven days: to New York, then Seattle.

Wednesday in Seattle, a brutally cynical side to Dallas came out, an approach that may have been motivated by a pragmatism that’s set in after Mauro Diaz’s injury. If brutal cynicism’s going to be their thing, though, they’re going to have to take the belt from the champs. This is San Jose’s bread and butter.

Break out the bandannas; we’re going to get ultzy for this one. Over/under on red cards: 1.5.

Matchup to watch: Blas Perez vs. gravity


source: AP

BACON AND SKINNIES AND HORN RIMS ALL IN ONE
#6 Columbus Crew vs. #9 Vancouver Whitecaps, Saturday, 10:30 p.m. Eastern
Last week: Columbus lost at Kansas City and Houston; Vancouver beat San Jose, 3-2.

Two teams that never get much national love are among the league’s most watchable. Even last weekend against Kansas City, Columbus were stubbornly enjoyable, persisting with its possession hungry, Federico Higuain-heavy approach. If that guy does down (or, wears down), whoa are they in trouble.

Vancouver on the other hand are less about style than pure talent. The club has this huge stable of attackers Carl Robinson essentially rolls out in shifts. At the start of a game, Kekuta Manneh (right), Darren Mattocks, and Sebastian Fernandez could be flying around Pedro Morales. By the end you’re chasing Russell Teibert, Nicolas Mezquida, Erik Hurtado. With Matias Laba winning balls in the middle and Morales flinging them all over the park, that’s a lot of talent to throw behind Columbus’s bombarding fullbacks.

After watching the Crew midweek in Houston, I liked them to end their six-match winless streak on Saturday. After taking a second look at how these teams matchup, I’m not so sure.

Regardless, this has the potential to be the weekend’s most entertaining match. If Robinson sticks with his 4-2-3-1 (virtually guaranteeing Manneh will start), skip New York-Chicago for this one.

Matchup to watch: Vancouver vs. the road (3 wins at BC Place; none away from home)


CLIMBING BEANSTALKS

#18 Montreal Impact vs. Sporting Kansas City, Saturday, 4:00 p.m. Eastern
Last week: Montreal is coming off a bye week; Sporting beat Columbus, 2-0

#8 New York Red Bulls vs. #16 Chicago Fire, Saturday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern
Last week: The Red Bulls took three points out of Dallas; Chicago blew a two-goal lead at home against RSL.

While Houston and New England deal with two Western Conference titans, the East’s other leaders face the bottom of the conference. There is, however, some (possibly thin) reason each could slip up.

Two weeks ago in New England, Kansas City gave the type of tepid performance we occasionally see from them on the road. If they allow Montreal to stay as close as the Revolution, another freak red card (penalty, injury, et al.) could be their undoing. It happens, and even once in a while, Kansas City doesn’t do enough to prevent it.

For New York, there’s a problem matching up against the Jeff Larentowicz, Benji Joya, and (coming in from the left) Harry Shipp midfield. Patrick Nyarko can create chances against Roy Miller, and Quincy Amarikwa will be back. The Red Bulls main recourse: Chicago’s error-prone central defenders against a gelling forward tandem.

Matchups to watch: Sporting’s wingers against whomever starts at left back for Montreal; Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Bakary Soumare trying to lock down Bradley Wright-Phillips and Thierry Henry at Red Bull.


source:  COFFEECOFFEECOFFEE!
#17 Philadelphia Union vs. #15 D.C. United, Saturday, 4:00 p.m. Eastern
Last week: Philadelphia lost at Seattle, 2-1; D.C. United fell in Portland, 3-2

#10 Colorado Rapids vs. #19 Chivas USA, Sunday, 3:00 p.m. Eastern
Last week: Colorado beat Los Angeles before drawing at San Jose; Chivas was blown out by Houston

According to an article from the world-famous Mayo Clinic, 400 milligrams of caffeine per day “appears to be safe for most healthy adults.” That’s four cups of coffee, 10 sodas, or two energy drinks.

All I’m saying is you have options, especially if you’re willing to risk a fast heartbeat, muscle tremors, or a little insomnia. Those are the potential drawbacks to excessive caffeine use, but on rare occasions, the trade-off could be worth it.

Matchups to watch: D.C. defensive midfielder Perry Kitchen against Philadelphia creator Vincent Nogueira; Colorado attacker Deshorn Brown against center backs Bobby Burling and Carlos Bocanegra.

UEFA Europa League group stage: Man United, Saints handed tough draws

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 19:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United celebrates scoring the opening goal with Paul Pogba during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Southampton at Old Trafford on August 19, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Premier League clubs Manchester United and Southampton were both handed tough, but exciting, draws in the 2016-17 group stage of the UEFA Europa League.

[ MORE: Europa League schedule

The draw, which took place in Monaco on Friday, saw Jose Mourinho’s United placed in Group A as they face Turkish giants Fenerbache, Dutch powerhouse Feyenoord and Ukrainian side Zorya Luhansk with some big games coming up at Old Trafford.

Saints, who have reached the group stage of the Europa League for the first-time in club history, face mouth-watering clashes against Inter Milan, while they also have tough games against Czech giants Sparta Prague and the champions of Israel Hapoel Beer-Sheva.

48 teams who had qualified for the Europa League group stage were split up into 12 groups of four teams with some other big ties cropping up as Group G looks particularly strong as it contains Ajax, Standard Liege, Celta Vigo and Panathinaikos.

The Europa League final will take place in Stockholm, Sweden at the Friends Arena on May 24, 2017.

Below is the draw in full, with the opening group games taking place on Thursday Sept. 15. There are six group games in total for each team and you can see the full schedule by clicking on the link above.


GROUP A
Manchester United
Fenerbache
Feyenoord
Zorya Luhansk

GROUP B
Olympiakos
APOEL FC
Young Boys
FC Astana

GROUP C
Anderlecht
St Etienne
FSV Mainz 05
Gabala

GROUP D
Zenit St Petersburg
AZ Alkmaar
Maccabi Tel-Aviv
Dundalk

GROUP E
Viktoria Plzen
AS Roma
Austria Wien
Astra Giurgiu

GROUP F
Athletic Bilbao
Genk
Rapid Wien
Sassuolo

GROUP G
Ajax
Standard Liege
Celta Vigo
Panathinaikos

GROUP H
Shakhtar Donetsk
SC Braga
Gent
Konyaspor

GROUP I
FC Schalke 04
FC Salzburg
Krasnodar
Nice

GROUP J
Fiorentina
PAOK FC
Slovan Liberec
Qarabag

GROUP K
Inter Milan
Sparta Prague
Southampton
Hapoel Beer-Sheva

GROUP L
Villarreal
Steaua Bucharest
FC Zurich
Osmanlispor

UEFA: Top four leagues guaranteed four teams in UCL from 2018

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27:  UEFA  Champions League trophy is seen ahead of the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at Vincente Calderon on April 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The UEFA Champions League will see a big change for three seasons from the 2018-19 campaign.

[ MORE: UCL group stage draw ]

On Friday it was announced by UEFA that several changes, most notably the way teams qualify for the UCL, had been approved and will take place in the next competition cycle.

The biggest change and the one everyone is talking about is that from 2018 the teams who finish in the top four of the four highest ranked UEFA nations will automatically qualify for the UCL group stage.

[ MORE: Analyzing UCL draw for PL teams ]

That means no more UCL play-off for teams who finish fourth in the Premier League.

In a statement on their website, UEFA’s General Secretary ad interim Theodore Theodoridis revealed everyone is happy with the changes.

“The amendments made will continue to ensure qualification based on sporting merit, and the right of all associations and their clubs to compete in Europe’s elite club competitions. We are happy that European football remains united behind the concepts of solidarity, fair competition, fair distribution and good governance.”

Some argue that having 16 places guaranteed to teams from the top four nations in Europe — currently Spain, Germany, England and Italy — is a monopoly and limits the chances of smaller clubs from smaller nations from qualifying.

UEFA also revealed a new coefficient system with clubs no longer having a country share tacked on to their coefficient under most circumstances, plus historical success will be weighted in the coefficient rankings to take into account past UCL and Europa League titles won.

For example, Liverpool’s coefficient will likely increase despite not playing in Europe this season as instead of the coefficient being solely made up of how they and other English teams have performed in Europe over the past few years, now their five previous UCL titles will be weighted and their coefficient will improve due to past success.

Blatter says he will accept verdict as CAS appeal begins

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 25:  FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter speaks during the Preliminary Draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at The Konstantin Palace on July 25, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)
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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter arrived for his appeal hearing against a six-year ban from football on Thursday, pledging to accept the verdict of the Court of Arbitration for Sport

“I do hope it will be positive for me,” Blatter, sporting a light gray beard, told reporters at around 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) ahead of a hearing expected to last several hours.

The court’s verdict is expected within several weeks, and could be challenged in a further appeal to Switzerland’s supreme court.

The 80-year-old Blatter denies wrongdoing in authorizing a $2 million payment to former FIFA vice president Michel Platini in 2011. They claimed it was for backdated and uncontracted salary for work Platini did in advising Blatter from 1999 to 2002.

[ MORE: Ranking Champions League groups ]

The so-called “disloyal payment” led Blatter to be put under investigation for criminal mismanagement by Swiss federal prosecutors last September. That investigation is ongoing.

FIFA’s ethics committee judged the $2 million deal was a conflict of interest and initially banned Blatter and Platini for eight years last December. FIFA’s appeal committee cut both bans to six years.

Platini’s appeal to CAS was already judged in May, when Blatter appeared in person as a witness. Platini promised a further appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal after his ban was only cut from six to four years.

Platini arrived at the hearing around midday local time to be a witness. Both men have denied any wrongdoing.

Blatter’s comments Thursday suggest he would not pursue a federal case. Federal judges can intervene only if legal process is abused.

“We are football players, we learned to win but also we learned to lose and it will not be the end of the world,” Blatter said outside CAS.

The three-member panel for Blatter’s case is expected to respect the verdict of a separate panel which judged Platini.

A failure to overturn the ban for Blatter would likely end his hope to one day be named FIFA honorary president by its 211 member federations.

[ MORE: Ranking Champions League groups ]

The case already ended Platini’s chance to replace Blatter as FIFA president, and also forced him out of European governing body UEFA.

On Sept. 14, UEFA members will elect a successor to replace Platini who had a mandate through March 2019. By imposing a four-year ban, the CAS panel ensured UEFA had to replace Platini, rather than wait for him to return.

The “disloyal payment” emerged last year when Platini was strongly favored to win the election to replace Blatter, who had announced his departure plans after 17 years as president amid pressure from American and Swiss federal investigations of corruption implicating senior FIFA officials.

[ MORE: Bundesliga season primer ]

Both men were questioned at FIFA headquarters last September by Swiss investigators who were waiting for them outside an executive committee meeting.

During the turmoil in world football, Platini’s right-hand man at UEFA, Gianni Infantino, submitted an election candidacy on the entry deadline day and won the vote in February.

Arriving at the hearing with his Zurich-based lawyer Lorenz Erni, Blatter said he hoped the CAS panel “will understand that the payment made to Platini was really a debt that we had against him.”

“This is a principle, if you have debts you pay them,” Blatter said.

NASL weekend preview: Miami, Minnesota meet playoff fortunes head on

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There are still two full months of soccer to go in the NASL’s Fall Season, but this weekend could be a major day for the title fortunes of one squad in particular.

Miami FC and Minnesota United are level on points with 15 heading into Saturday’s match at FIU Stadium.

[ MORE: MLS Weekend Preview ]

If you’re unfamiliar, the NASL Playoffs involve four teams: the Spring champion (Indy Eleven), the Fall champion, and two other teams with the best combined record between seasons.

Miami’s played one fewer game, and both it and Minnesota — fresh off the news it’s headed to MLS in 2017 — are seven points shy of first-place FC Edmonton.

But Minnesota is on pace to make the playoffs through combined schedule, while Miami had a poor first half and would be better served to win the Fall Season if it wants a shot at the NASL Soccer Bowl Trophy.

Saturday
Carolina Railhawks at New York Cosmos
Rayo OKC at Tampa Bay Rowdies
Minnesota United at Miami FC

Sunday
Indy Eleven at Ottawa Fury
Puerto Rico at FC Edmonton