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.

Brussels could potentially lose Euro 2020 slot over stadium doubts

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Belgian FIFA Council member Michel D’Hooghe expressed his sincere doubts about a new stadium at the crux of the winning Brussels bid for Euro 2020.

According to D’Hooghe, there are serious political hangups with the construction, even if Anderlecht decides to fill the stadium after the tournament. Anderlecht currently plays at Constant Vanden Stock Stadium, which also hosted the 1972 Euro semifinal between Hungary and Soviet Union. The club pulled out of its initial agreement to fill the new stadium back in February due to the political disputes.

“If they want to build it they have to start building very soon, and there I have severe doubts,” D’Hooghe said to the Associated Press during an anti-doping summit in Switzerland. “Even if Anderlecht would say `We go there,’ there remains the political problem.”

“The organizers (in Brussels) still hope that there will be a solution. It is not impossible. The problem is you cannot start building today.”

Euro 2020 is set to be a one-time cross-contential tournament. UEFA selected Brussels back in 2014 as one of 13 host cities. Cardiff is one city that was not chosen, but could fill in, the AP points out, as they host the Champions League final this coming summer at Millennium Stadium, built in 1999 for the Rugby World Cup. A number of French cities were also rejected due to the country hosting in 2016.

The proposed Brussels stadium would hold 60,000 fans and be built in Grimbergen, just north of Brussels. The current stadium at that site, King Baudouin Stadium, can hold 50,000, but lacks the modern facilities for hosting a tournament, including broadcast facilities and suites.

MLS Snapshot: Jozy double downs Dynamo, Toronto wins 2-0

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The game in 100 words (or less): Toronto FC had too much firepower for defensively challenged Houston, and the hosts carved up the Dynamo for a 2-0 win north of the border. Giovinco was creative and flashy if not sharp, and Jozy Altidore was the benefactor as the American bagged both goals. After an early spell of Houston possession off the opening whistle, Toronto dominated from start to finish, with the midfield bossing the game.

Three moments that mattered

16′ – Raheem Edwards on the ball out wide, he burst into the box and – seeing Giovinco draw 2 defenders in an offside position – he cut back for Altidore who finished cooly from the spot. Too easy for the opener.

32′– Jozy doubled his lead as he played an absolutely brilliant one-two with Giovinco. The Italian popped it over the top as Altidore slipped through the line, and the USMNT star had the simplest of finishes.

85′ – Houston looked to get back into things by pouring men forward, but to no avail. The closest they came was off a corner as Alex ripped off a shot that sailed over the bar.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Victor Vazquez/Marco Delgado

Goalscorers: Jozy Altidore (16′, 32′)

Juventus bumped by Atalanta at the death

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Juventus is still in firm control of the Serie A title race, but they were dealt a slight setback as Atalanta secured a 2-2 draw with a dramatic 89th minute equalizer in Bergamo.

Dani Alves had given Juventus the lead in the 83rd minute on a header after a brilliant far-post cross by Miralem Pjanic, but Remo Freuler answered late as he grabbed a point.

The goal came on a fortunate bounce as Pjanic and substitute Stephen Lichtensteiner got tangled up on the ball and failed to clear, and the ball squirted to Freuler who suddenly found himself free in front of Gianluigi Buffon. The Juventus keeper came off his line to smother the chance, but he failed to completely collect, and the ball again popped free. Freuler followed up the loose ball, and with a trio of Juventus defenders flying in, the 25-year-old Swiss attacker knocked it in.

The draw was deserving for Atalanta, who had controlled the game for much of the first half, and went ahead just seconds before the break on a goal by Andrea Conti. Atalanta outshot Juventus 7-4 in the first half, 3-1 on shots on target. Juventus took over control in the second half, and got back on level terms just five minutes after the break as Juventus loanee Leonardo Spinazzola put one in his own net.

Alves’ goal put Juventus in front, but that lead only lasted six minutes. Juventus goes nine points clear at the top of the Serie A table with the draw, but Roma has the chance to cut that to six if they can beat Lazio at home on Sunday.

MLS Week 8: Litmus tests across the board

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Week 8 in MLS action could teach fans a lot about clubs with plenty to prove.

With questions still abound regarding teams like NYCFC, New England, Seattle, Portland, and New York Red Bulls, all those teams have a chance to make statements regarding their potential strength this season.

[ MORE: Week 8 MLS Power Rankings ]

In addition, struggling teams such as Los Angeles, Minnesota, and Montreal all have opportunities for much-needed points against arguably weaker opposition.

Let’s take a look at the weekend slate chronologically:

Toronto FC vs. Houston Dynamo
7:30 p.m. ET Friday

Toronto got a pair from Giovinco last time out, and sitting near the bottom of the crowded East mid-tier, they need points fast to avoid finding themselves in a hole behind the top of the table. There’s goals in this one, with Houston defensively challenged and Cubo Torres on fire to start the year.

Montreal Impact vs. Vancouver Whitecaps
3:00 p.m. ET Saturday

An all-Canadian clash actually serves as a vitally important match for both clubs. With each side near the bottom of their conference standings, they both need a result badly to jump-start the campaign. A draw does nobody any good here moving forward.

Orlando City vs. Colorado Rapids
4:00 p.m. ET Saturday

The Lions are one of 2017’s surprises, and Cyle Larin is on an absolute tear. Unfortunately, so far, anyone who shuts down Larin shuts down Orlando City. That said, good luck to Colorado shutting down an early MLS Golden Boot challenger.

Cyle Larin has 6 goals in 6 games this season (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images).

NY Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire
7:30 p.m. ET Saturday

New York has seen bumps on the early-season road, but overall remains a strong Supporter’s Shield contender. They face a big test against another strong Eastern Conference side, and a win here would make it three straight, all over good competition. Chicago is reeling after its defeat to Toronto, out-shot 9-1, but has another chance to pick up a road win before heading back home.

Columbus Crew vs. NYCFC
7:30 p.m. ET Saturday

Columbus has been poor on the road, but they return home to Mapfre Stadium to take on a strong NYCFC side. This game could potentially teach us a lot about whoever comes out on top, as both look to build separation from the rest of the pack in the East. Both have lost two of three, but both still appear strong up front, and three points in this game could prove to be a marquee win to point to later in the season.

Minnesota United vs. San Jose Earthquakes
8:00 p.m. ET Saturday

Minnesota United, owners of one of the worst starts to the season, has shown signs of life. Can they keep it going against another team struggling for points?

FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers
8:00 p.m. ET Saturday

This is a marquee matchup, and with FC Dallas unbeaten so far, represents a huge test but also a huge opportunity for Portland to announce itself as a true top contender in the West. They’re top of the table, but have played at least one more game than most teams just below them. Can the Timbers find a way through the strong Dallas D?

Sporting KC vs. Real Salt Lake
8:30 p.m. ET Saturday

A big rivalry game with big table implications, Sporting KC has the unfortunate luck of catching RSL after hiring Mike Petke and not before. This should be a fun one.

Seattle Sounders vs. New England Revolution
10:00 p.m. ET Saturday

We still don’t know exactly what New England is. For every step forward they’ve taken one back, and for every setback they’ve had they’ve found a way through. This is a fantastic test. There are plenty of excuses for a potential loss with the team going cross-country to face one of the league’s best attacks, but a result could be a true statement.

LA Galaxy vs. Philadelphia Union
10:30 p.m. ET Saturday

With Philadelphia struggling and now traveling a long way, this should be a chance for the Galaxy to turn things around. Should be.

Atlanta United vs. D.C. United
3:00 p.m. ET Sunday

Atlanta is back home for the first time in over a month. They have slipped a bit since the torrid start, but still appear a dangerous club. D.C. will have its work cut out.