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.

SUCH LITTLE REWARD
#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.

HOW COME YOU DON’T LOSE ANYBODY?
#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.

source: APWHERE AGING FORWARDS DARE
#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.

CAN’T WE JUST RESCHEDULE?
#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.

source:  THEY COULD HAVE SETTLED IT ON THE FIELD
#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.

FINALLY … FAVORITES
#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.

source: APRED, RED, RED, RED … RED, RED, RED, RED
#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.

Report: Minnesota United adds Hearts midfielder Sam Nicholson

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Minnesota United has had its shares of ups and down in its debut MLS season, but the Loons are on the verge making an exciting young signing.

[ MORE: Wesley Sneijder closing in on Los Angeles FC move ]

ESPN FC is reporting that Minnesota will sign Hearts winger Sam Nicholson from the Scottish Premier League on a deal that makes him a Loon until 2019.

The young attacker is expected to join the MLS side when the summer transfer window opens on July 10.

Nicholson, 22, has played with the Edinburgh side since his youth days, and made his senior debut with the club in 2013. During his time at Hearts, Nicholson scored 16 goals in all competitions for the team.

Last season, Nicholson missed 16 matches due to a significant knee injury.

According to the report, Scottish sides Rangers and Aberdeen were also among those interested in acquiring Nicholson, while English Championship clubs Bristol City and Barnsley also reached out about the attacker.

Premier League vet Scott Parker calls quits on playing career

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Scott Parker has announced his retirement from soccer after a stellar 20-plus year career in England.

[ MORE: Chile bests Portugal on PKs to reach Confed Cup final ]

The 36-year-old spent almost the entirety of his career in the Premier League, and played with seven teams during his time on the pitch.

“I believe now is the right time to move on to the next chapter in my life and career,” Parker said in a statement.

“I feel incredibly honoured and proud to have enjoyed the career that I have and I’ve loved every moment of it.”

Parker began playing with Charlton after coming up through the team’s youth academy, before completing a move to Chelsea in 2004.

Throughout his career, Parker also spent time at Newcastle, West Ham and Tottenham, before finishing up at Fulham this past season.

Three storylines when Mexico meets Germany in Confed Cup semis

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With a place in the final on the line tomorrow afternoon, it’s all or nothing for Mexico and Germany as they meet in the second semifinal at this summer’s FIFA Confederations Cup.

The two nations have had very similar paths in reaching the final four, after both accumulated seven points during the group stage and showed signs of improvement with every match.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s FIFA Confederations Cup action ]

Here are some of the key battles to watch on Thursday when Mexico and Germany square off for a place in the final.

How does Germany’s youth hold up vs. Mexico’s experience?

Even when Jurgen Low released his roster heading into the Confederations Cup, much was expected of the Germans. After a strong run of play during the group stage, Low’s men have lived up to the billing with an exciting young attack and an improving backline to match.

When Germany meets Mexico though, the defending World Cup champions will be taking on an El Tri side that has loads of international experience, and similar to that of Chile, the Europeans will surely receive all that they can handle.

At the tender age of 23, Julian Draxler captains the Germans and has been challenged with leading his nation throughout the tournament. The PSG attacker has been quality thus far, but he and his side will take on a whole different task on Thursday against a quick, feisty Mexican group.

Will Hirving Lozano be the difference in the attack?

Injuries and a key suspension will certain hinder Mexico in the semifinal round, but the bigger question is: how will Juan Carlos Osorio’s side cope with the losses?

El Tri know it will be without winger Andres Guardado due to yellow card accumulation, while striker Javier Hernandez is in question ahead of the Germany clash after reportedly training by himself on Monday.

Although Hernandez likely just needed rest after a busy season of matches in the Bundesliga, Mexico is still seeking a quality playmaker to replace Guardado on Thursday, one that they’re hoping with be Hirving Lozano.

The newly-signed PSV man has quickly become one of the top young faces in global soccer, and with three international goals for El Tri dating back to 2016, Lozano is the spark that Mexico needs.

El Tri must start fast

In all three of Mexico’s group stage matches Osorio’s side fell behind during the first half. While El Tri managed to come away unscathed to remain perfect in group play, it’s difficult to imagine that they will be able to pull off the same feat against a quality German side.

On the other hand, Mexico’s resilience has been impressive. In their opener against Portugal, El Tri pulled off a late winner against the reigning European champions, a result that likely set the tone for the team’s ensuing comebacks versus New Zealand and Russia, respectively.

Chile bests Portugal on penalty kicks to reach Confed Cup final

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Chile is on its way to the Confederations Cup final after a thrilling battle with Portugal on Wednesday afternoon.

The Chileans edged their European opposition, 0-0 (3-0 on penalty kicks), at Kazan Arena in Russia after goalkeeper Claudio Bravo made a trio of saves during the penalty shootout.

Arturo Vidal hit the post in the 119th minute from close range, before Martin Rodriguez’s rebound smashed off the crossbar and stayed out of goal to the dismay of the Chileans.

Chile had a legitimate claim for a penalty kick in the second half of extra time as Jose Fonte stepped on the foot of Francisco Silva inside the Portuguese area, but the referee opted to play on.

The South Americans thought they had picked out the lead just a few minutes into extra time when Alexis Sanchez’s header glanced just wide of goal.

Cristiano Ronaldo had several quality chances to break the deadlock during regulation, but none better than in the 72nd minute when the Real Madrid star had his deflected effort narrowly miss the top corner.

Chile began to find more of a rhythm during the second stanza, and Eduardo Vargas nearly gave his side the lead in the 59th minute when he acrobatically shot on goal, forcing a reaction save out of Rui Patricio.

Vargas had the first big chance for the South Americans in the sixth minute when he found himself in on goal against Patricio, but the Portuguese goalkeeper stood tall and made the save.

Meanwhile, Claudio Bravo found himself in a similar situation on the other end just a minute later, when the Manchester City keeper kept Portugal off the scoreboard.

Chile will meet the winner of Thursday’s contest between Mexico and Germany, while the Portuguese will await the loser of the match to decide third place.