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

1 Comment

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.

Lamela needs hip surgery, out for rest of Spurs season

Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Tottenham Hotspur won’t be getting an Erik Lamela boost any time soon.

The 25-year-old winger will undergo surgery on his ailing hip this Saturday, costing him availability for Spurs’ stretch run and Argentina duty.

[ MORE: RSL hires Petke ]

Lamela has been missing since Oct. 29, and left Spurs lineup with the team unbeaten in the Premier League (5W-4D).

He registered a goal and an assist in PL play, adding a goal and four helpers in the side’s first two rounds of the EFL Cup and two assists in three Champions League matches.

Real Salt Lake introduces Mike Petke as new head coach

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Mike Petke is getting a deserved next kick as an MLS coach.

The New York Red Bulls icon, 41, is taking over at Real Salt Lake, where he had been leading USL side Real Monarchs since December.

“They’re an animal waiting to be released from a cage,” Petke called RSL’s roster.

[ MORE: Zlatan to stay at United?

Petke won better than 41 percent of his matches as RBNY boss, leading the club to the 2013 Supporters’ Shield. This came after 351 matches between Colorado, the Red Bulls/MetroStars, and DC United.

He leaves Real Monarchs with a perfect 1-0 record. Unbeaten!

“The vision that he laid out, along with Craig and Rob, was music to my ears,” Petek said. “They really showed me what was ahead for the RSL organization, and it was an easy thing to be a part of.”

Petke thanked the Monarchs for restoring some of his love for managing, something he said was “kicked out of me”. The Red Bulls shockingly parted ways with Petke in January 2015, moving onto Jesse Marsch.

This is a low risk hire for Real, who gains a respected coach and soccer mind. The optics aren’t great coming so early into the season and so soon after his hiring at Monarchs raised eyebrows.

The hiring comes four days after RSL drew the Red Bulls 0-0 at Red Bull Arena, which is the only disappointment of this whole ordeal: Not getting to see the response at his old home.

Referee leaders want on-field official to see video replays

Getty Images
Leave a comment

LONDON (AP) Antoine Griezmann headed the ball into the net and was in full celebration mode with his France teammates when referee Felix Swayer pinned a finger into his left ear to block out the stadium noise.

[ VIDEO: VAR system used correctly

An assistant in front of a bank of monitors was assessing replays and had some bad news for Griezmann. Swayer was told through his earpiece that a player was offside in the buildup.

The goal was then ruled out, without Swayer seeing a replay. But that won’t necessarily be the case by the time video replays are fully approved to be rolled out across soccer.

For now, the experimental phase is still in full flow but if refereeing leaders get their way officials should always have access to the footage themselves around the field.

“The subjective decisions should be made by the on-field referee because they have got the feel for the game,” Mike Riley, general manager of English refereeing organization, told The Associated Press. “They can put it in the context of everything else. So as part of the process we have got to work out how we can do that as effectively as possible … without interrupting the flow of the game.”

The International Football Association Board, the game’s lawmaking body, is in its second year of trials with various versions of video assistant referees (VAR). Some games, like the France-Spain friendly, do not allow the referee to evaluate incidents and instead by rely on the VAR.

But VAR could end up only ruling on what Riley describes as “decisions of fact,” such as whether a ball was inside or outside the penalty area.

Ultimately, if you are appointing one of the top referees to preside over a major game, that person is seen as ideal for making the big calls, according to IFAB.

“Fundamentally we are told very much by players and coaches they want the referee to be making the most important decisions,” IFAB technical director David Elleray said, referencing England’s top referee. “They don’t know who is in a van out in the car park or 300 miles away in a match center.”

Soccer’s lawmakers only envisage video replays being used to correct game-changing decisions involving four situations: penalties being awarded, red cards, cases of mistaken identity and goals being scored.

That situation arose twice in the Stade de France on Tuesday as France lost 2-0 to Spain. After Griezmann’s goal was disallowed, video replays worked against France again but in Spain’s favor when an incorrect offside call against Gerard Deulofeu was overturned and his goal stood.

Swayer again relied on the information from a colleague benefiting from replays.

“Nicola Rizzoli was appointed to referee the last World Cup final because he is the best referee,” Elleray said. “But if actually the two most important decisions in the match are made by somebody watching a TV screen … the most important person is the man you put behind the TV screen not the man on the field.”

The challenges are how referees are able to view replays without lengthening the delay. For now the technology isn’t satisfactory for officials to use wearable devices and receive footage in real time. That means going to the side of the field to watch incidents with the eyes of thousands of fans in the stands on them. The screens are likely to be on the opposite side to the technical area to avoid coaches being able to surround and harangue the referee.

“Some of our stadiums don’t lend themselves to monitors by the side of the pitch because they are really tight,” said Riley, a former Premier League referee who is now in charge of appointments for games in the world’s richest soccer competition. “Is it right for referees to have to run 30 yards to go and look? Can you get the footage to the referee on the field somehow? All these things have to be explored through the experiment and come out with a solution that works for football.”

Live experiments are taking place in about 20 competitions this year, including the Confederations Cup in Russia in June and July that will serves as a World Cup test event.

Once IFAB adds video replays to the laws of the game, any competition meeting the requirements will be able to use them.

For Riley, permitting replays is “the most significant change in refereeing in the game for generations,” far more significant than the 2012 decision to allow technology that simply determines whether the ball crossed the goal line.

“If you are making such a significant change,” Riley said, “you need to really explore and understand all the potential implications.”

Rob Harris can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

Amid fanfare, Bastian Schweinsteiger arrives in Chicago

Chicago Fire
Leave a comment

Arriving at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, it is clear Bastian Schweinsteiger is kind of a big deal…

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game live

Posing for photos with fans as he stepped off the flight with his wife, former Serbian tennis star Ana Ivanovic, the former Bayern Munich midfielder was mobbed by Chicago Fire fans who are delighted he has arrived in Major League Soccer as the newest Designated Player.

The German legend has completed his move from Manchester United to the Fire and will be officially unveiled to the media on Wednesday after signing a one-year deal.

[ MORE: Latest MLS news ]

Schweinsteiger, 32, has already had a training session in the books and the World Cup winner is expected to make his debut in Chicago’s home clash with the Montreal Impact on Saturday at Toyota Park.

Below is a video of Schweinsteiger’s arrival in Chicago, his first training session and a collection of photos he took with ecstatic Fire fans.