Lee Nguyen (R), pictured with Patrick Mullins, was one of three New England players to register a goal and an assist against the Revolution (Diego Fegundez, Chris Tierney). (Photo: AP Photos.)

Week 11 Preview: Taking advantage of others’ losses

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As stars around the league leave the domestic scene to prepare for June’s international stage, Major League Soccer’s season forges on. With eight matches on tap for the campaign’s 11th round, here’s a quick look at the coming MLS weekend:

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

#18 Philadelphia Union vs. #3 New England Revolution, Saturday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern
Last week: Philadelphia lost to D.C. United but rebounded with a mid-week win at Sporting Kansas City; New England hit reset on Seattle’s surge with a 5-0 victory.

For the first time since March, Philadelphia is into the win column — beating the defending champions on the road, no less — and what’s their reward? A visit from the hottest team in the league. Three clubs had claims to the top spot in this week’s Power Rankings, and over the course of four days, the Union have to face two of them.

The Revolution go about their business in a completely different way to Kansas City, but the end product has some similarities. At times, New England can be quite conservative, but they’re capable of pouncing on any mistake thanks to the presence of a couple of playmakers. As they showed against Seattle, the Revs can make the most of midfield mistakes, with Diego Fagundez, Patrick Mullins, and Teal Bunbury forming a dangerous trio in transition.

Key matchup: Whomever partners normal central defender Amobi Okugo in defensive midfield will have to help contain Lee Nguyen. Brian Carroll missed Wednesday’s game with a groin problem. If he can’t go on Saturday, the Union will lean heavily on Okugo.

#2 Real Salt Lake vs. #16 Colorado Rapids, Saturday, 9:30 p.m. Eastern
Last week: RSL won in Houston; Colorado drew in San Jose before losing by three Chivas USA.

Still unbeaten under Jeff Cassar, the Western Conference champions get to deal with the losses of Álvaro Saborío, Kyle Beckerman, and Nick Rimando. Devon Sandoval and Jeff Attinella will likely step in up top and in goal, but who takes Beckerman’s spot now that Yordany Alvarez is in Orlando?

As for Colorado, they’re missing … nobody? That can’t be right. (Double checks roster.) Apparently, it is. As teams like Seattle, Real Salt Lake, and San Jose are hit hard by World Cup callups, the Rapids will roll through the tournament with their first choice squad in tact? Well, congratulations, Pablo Mastroeni. Make the most of it.

Key matchup: Javier Morales can hurt you from anywhere, but if Jose Mari can use Beckerman’s absence to severe the cord between RSL’s three deeper midfielders and its attacking focal point, Cassar will miss Saborío even more.

source: Getty Images

#15 Portland Timbers vs. #11 Columbus Crew, Saturday, 10:30 p.m. Eastern
Last week: Portland drew with LA, 1-1; Columbus lost at Houston and at home to Vancouver

Will Johnson’s country didn’t make it. Nor did Donovan Ricketts’. Darlington Nagbe’s years away from being eligible for the U.S., while Michael Harrington didn’t make any progress in the U.S.’s January camp. Aside from the injured Diego Chará, Portland is at full strength, whereas visiting Columbus will be missing three-quarters of its defense. For a team that relies so heavily on its central defenders being decent, the losses of Michael Parkhurst and Giancarlo Gonzalez (as well as left back Waylon Francis) could kill Columbus.

Key matchup: Whenever Diego Valeri turns upfield, Wil Trapp needs to be there. Nagbe is also a key to Portland’s attack, but take out Valeri, and the Timbers’ drive goes with him.

#14 Chicago Fire vs. #1 Sporting Kansas City, Sunday, 3:00 p.m. Eastern
Last week: Chicago won in New York, 5-4; Sporting won in Montréal but lost at home to Philadelphia on Wednesday

Who would have thought Sporting’s would transcend the absences of Graham Zusi and Matt Besler? Yet after its loss to Philadelphia, the defending champions face another of the Eastern Conference’s bottom dwellers, only this one is coming off it’s best performance of the season.

Like Columbus and Real Salt Lake, Sporting faces a team that lost nobody, with Quincy Amarikwa and Mike Magee guaranteed to test that Besler-less defense. It will be up to Paulo Nagamura and Oriol Rosell to limit their center backs’ exposure.

Key matchup: Even in victory, Chicago’s defense was a problem. Zusi may be gone, but the work rate of Dom Dwyer can still take advantage of service from Benni Feilhaber, Chance Myers, and Seth Sinovic. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and whomever starts to his left (Bakary Soumaré or Patrick Ianni) will have to keep tabs on him.

#12 Toronto FC vs. #7 New York Red Bulls, Saturday, 4:30 p.m. Eastern
Last week: The Reds were given a week to consider their three-match losing streak; New York lost 5-4 at home to Chicago

In a season where the World Cup talent on rosters harkens back to the league’s early days, two of the circuit’s big-ticket items are staying home. Thierry Henry has long been out of the France national team picture, while Jermain Defoe will be left behind by Roy Hodgson. Making a combined $10.53 million dollars this year, the former Premier League duo will entertain us while their peers are in Brazil.

The big absence here is Toronto’s Michael Bradley. Tim Cahill and Roy Miller are also missing for New York, but neither man is as important to the Red Bulls and Bradley is to Toronto. With Álvaro Rey returning to health, Jonathan Osorio and Kyle Bekker could be teamed in the middle as TFC tries to end its three-game losing streak.

Key matchup: Particularly behind forwards who don’t provide much pressure, Bekker and Osorio will need to be conscious of where Henry is moving. Ideally, Dax McCarty will be forced to find the Red Bull playmaker wide, which will shift the emphasis onto right back Mark Bloom.

#3 Seattle Sounders vs. #8 San Jose Earthquakes, Saturday, 10:00 p.m. Eastern
Last week: Seattle beat FC Dallas before getting crushed at New England; San Jose drew with Colorado before extending Dallas’s losing streak

Number three versus number eight. This looks like a pretty good game right? Except San Jose is missing its four best players (Chris Wondolowski, Clarence Goodson, Víctor Bernárdez, Shea Salinas) while Seattle will be without Clint Dempsey, Brad Evans, and DeAndre Yedlin. Seattle’s thinning fullback corps could even things out (Dylan Remick should be back), but without “Wondo” and Salinas, the Earthquakes may not have the firepower to bother the Sounders.

Key matchup: Obafemi Martins can tied up the best of central tandems, but on against Ty Harden and J.J. Koval? The Nigerian will have a major advantage. Hopefully San Jose’s duo can summon the spirit of the Nemesio Diéz.

#13 Houston Dynamo vs. #5 LA Galaxy, Saturday, 8:30 p.m. Eastern
Last week: Houston beat Columbus before giving up five at home to Real Salt Lake; LA drew in Portland

Landon Donovan is a heavy favorite to make the U.S.’s squad for Brazil, but he still needs to show Jurgen Klinsmann that whatever plagued him in April hasn’t lingered into May. Even if he does, the U.S. icon may have to outplay Houston’s Brad Davis for a place in the squad.

With both U.S. internationals in California, Boniek Garcia (set to join Honduras after Saturday’s game) and Stefan Ishizaki will have to provide the creativity in midfield, though the game’s big difference could be in the forward corps. Robbie Keane, who scored his fifth goal of the season last week, will test David Horst in Houston’s defense, while Mark Sherrod will get a chance at an Omar Gonzalez-less defender, if Will Bruin can’t go.

Key matchup: Horst is going to have to keep his defense organized to deal with Keane, but the absence of Ricardo Clark could prove costly. Last week in Portland was an extremely example, but particularly since Rob Friend’s been inserted into the starting lineup, Keane is spending more and more time dropping into midfield.

#9 D.C. United vs. #19 Montréal Impact, Saturday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern
Last week: D.C. United won in Philadelphia, 1-0; Montréal went down a man early and lost at home to Sporting, 3-0

A huge sign of progress for D.C. United: They’re actually, unambiguously, favorites in a game. But from a certain perspective, this is where the pressure starts.

It’s one thing to motivate yourself to plays as underdogs, using any means necessary to attain a result few expect you to get. It’s another to be the better side, have to take the game to an opponent, and come away with three points.

Not that D.C. can’t do it. After last year, however, we just don’t know. This is D.C.’s chance to show they can win from the rail.

Key matchup: All eyes will be on Eddie Johnson to see how the snubbed striker responds to his national team exclusion. Who he faces in Montréal’s defense will depend on which center backs Frank Klopas presses into action after the Impact’s mid-week win against FC Edmonton.

#10 FC Dallas vs. #17 Chivas USA, Saturday, 8:30 p.m. Eastern
Last week: FC Dallas lost 2-1 games at Seattle and San Jose; Chivas USA post a 3-0 win against the Rapids in Colorado

MLS teams are tied for the league leaden red cards (four), and they meet on Saturday in Frisco, Tex.

Dallas will enter the match on a peculiar four-game losing streak, one that leaves us with little idea of how good the Toros are. They lost to D.C. United and Houston while down a man, changed approach and fell in Seattle, then couldn’t leverage their own man advantage in San Jose. Along the way, we’ve learned little about how the team can cope without Mauro Díaz.

Key matchup: Eric Avila, a converted midfielder, continues to grow into a right back, but Fabian Castillo has a way of making even the most experienced fullbacks look foolish.

“Sorry to kill your stories”: Klopp not seeking new Liverpool GK

during the UEFA Europa League Group B match between Liverpool FC and FC Girondins de Bordeaux at Anfield on November 26, 2015 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.
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The topic of goalkeeper Simon Mignolet is a lightning rod for a certain subset of Liverpool fans, but you can count Jurgen Klopp in the group that likes him just fine, thank you.

[ MORE: USMNT back Alvarado on Club America’s transfer list? ]

The 27-year-old Belgian has been the man between the sticks for Klopp since the manager took over at Anfield, and Klopp is already tiring of the rumors that he’s looking for better in the goalkeeping department.

From the BBC:

“I’m absolutely satisfied with our goalkeeper situation.

“I’m sorry to kill your stories about German goalkeepers and different goalkeepers from Stoke – we are not looking for another goalkeeper.”

Pretty clear cut there. Jack Butland would be nice and all, but Klopp’s fine with Mignolet and ex-Bolton man Adam Bogdan.

Do you think they need better?

Klinsmann backs Altidore ahead of busy 2016; USMNT star “back on board”

Jurgen Klinsmann, Jozy Altidore
AP Photo/Matt Dunham
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Jurgen Klinsmann thinks Jozy Altidore‘s tumultuous year ended on an upswing, and expects it to continued into an important 2016.

The Toronto FC hitman had plenty of ups and downs for club, and just as many for country. Whether injuries or form, Altidore wasn’t often the player USMNT fans remember from years past.

[ MORE: USMNT back Alvarado on Club America’s transfer list? ]

But the recently-turned 26-year-old scored six times in his last nine games with TFC to give him 13 on the season, and Klinsmann seems to think his big striker is out of the woods.

From US Soccer:

“Everybody saw that 2015 for Jozy Altidore has been very difficult, a tricky year, but it has become a year toward the end of it where it got stronger and stronger. He had some injury issues and some fitness issues in the beginning of the year. Obviously we had the episode in the Gold Cup where he was not in the shape he needed to be. In then towards July, August, September, he got more and more into the flow. He started to score goals for Toronto, and he got stronger and stronger for the national team as well. This is a very positive sign for us to have Jozy back on board, to plan with Jozy into a very busy 2016, obviously the biggest highlight is the Copa America in June.”

It’s great for the coach to have faith in the United States’ fourth all-time leading scorer, who should catch Eric Wynalda for third this season. Whether Klinsmann will be rewarded for his faith in the striker is another thing altogether, especially in that pivotal, U.S. hosted tournament this summer.

The tricky thing for Altidore, in the run up to the 2018 World Cup, will be for him to prove his merit if players like Bobby Wood, Aron Johannsson and Jordan Morris continue their rises as scoring options.

Manchester City defeat a “cruel” reminder for Hull City’s Bruce

BRISTOL, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 21: Hull City Manager Steve Bruce during the Sky Bet Championship match between Bristol City and Hull City at Ashton Gate on November 21, 2015 in Bristol, England.  (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)
Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images
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For nearly 90 percent of Hull City’s League Cup quarterfinal against Manchester City, the Tigers hung tough.

A 1-0 deficit made dreams of an Etihad equalizer far from absurd, and Hull had to be thinking about the possibility of another extended Cup run after making it to the 2014 FA Cup Final.

[ MORE: League Cup roundup sees Man City, Stoke, Everton advance ]

Then, the 80th minute hit Hull. Seven minutes later, it was 4-0 Man City. Boom. It finished 4-1.

From the BBC:

“If we needed a reminder how cruel it was to play against the big boys, we just had one.

“After 80 minutes we just had our best spell of the match and after 87 minutes it was 4-0. It was never a 4-1.”

Hull is three points off the lead in the Championship after being relegated from the Premier League last season. Their only loss since Sept. 12 came Saturday against Derby County, so the gifts of Man City were likely a surprise.

With loads of genuine respect to Bruce and complete understanding of what he’s inferring, it did feel more like a 4-1 than the 1-0 his Tigers faced for 68 minutes after Wilfried Bony‘s 12th minute tally.

What would it mean for MLS if Portland wins it all on Sunday?

Fanendo Adi, Portland Timbers
AP Photo/The Oregonian, Randy Rasmussen
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It’s a tricky question, isn’t it? Would there be an underlying thread, a lesson, or a copycat inspiration inside of Portland scoring a minor upset of Columbus at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday?

Here are some thoughts on the storylines from a post-Timbers title.

1) Stick with the boss

Caleb Porter’s reputation is rather “hate or love”, and people (including this “perhaps still bitter from the Olympics” writer) were expecting his days to be numbered after a rough start to this season.

In his first year in PDX, Porter engineered a 20-point upgrade to the West’s No. 1 slot, but Year Two featured no playoffs and it looked headed that way for much of this year.

[ MORE: USMNT back Alvarado on Club America’s transfer list? ]

But after leaping into control of its playoff destiny with a game to play, Porter now has a Conference Final and an MLS Cup Final (at least) on his resume inside of three seasons.

Where other teams have gone through coaches like candy, Portland keeps going with Porter. Perhaps there’s a lesson there, as in 102 games he’s posted 41 wins and 36 draws to go with just 25 losses (and he was missing Will Johnson and Diego Valeri for the critical moments of his bum season).

2) Spend* at the back, and spread it out

Portland spent the league’s 10th highest total dollars on players when including Designated Players, but that total leaps to sixth if you discount the big money guys (Liam Ridgewell, Lucas Melano, Diego Valeri).

You have to get to 19th on the list of top MLS salaries to find Portland’s first entrant (Ridgewell), and you don’t hit another until No. 33 (Fanendo Adi).

[ MLS: Impact to sign 96-times capped Ivorian defender? ]

But Portland has six players in the Top 100, compared to Columbus’ four. High-end spenders NYC (five players), Toronto (four), and L.A. (four) all don’t hit that figure inside of the Top 100 (and to be specific, Portland does in 98).

They also rank ninth in spending on forwards, 14th on midfielders, and third in defenders. Of the 15 players making more than 100k in base salary, four are defenders and one is goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey.

All numbers come from Spotrac*

3) Get Darlington Nagbe

This will be harder to copycat, seeing as there’s only one Darlington Nagbe, but the Timbers’ midfielder is versatile and helps Porter challenge opposing coaches because of the unpredictable nature of how he can be deployed on the pitch.

In fact, when you run numbers on advanced statistics site Squawka, you’ll see something quite interesting. Among players who hit the pitch in at least 2/3 of their teams’ games this season, Nagbe is fourth in MLS in combined score. More intriguing? Besides Michael Bradley, he’s the most complete contributor (offense, defense, possession) of any top scorer.

[ MORE:  Who is the favorite for MLS Cup 2015? ]

Nagbe stats4) Parity continues to reign

For the same reason people barely celebrate the NHL’s Presidents Trophy, the MLS Supporters Shield is a bit of a fallback party for fan bases who fail to capitalize on a season’s worth of solid play.

In much of world soccer, the season-long title matter more than a tournament, but North America is about the playoffs. The fact of the matter is that only one team in MLS this season finished more than four wins out of a playoff spot (Chicago), and most teams that missed the playoffs by a bunch (New York City, Colorado, Real Salt Lake, Houston), earned their gaps off the playoff pace by losing a lot once they were officially eliminated.

Even Chicago, who was awful, had a shot at the playoffs when August ended, only to lose seven of eight to finish the season. MLS, for better or worse, literally is anyone’s ball game at nearly any time.