NewEngland

MLS Week 12 preview: First place on the line for New England, DC

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As teams begin to establish whether they are for real or just pretenders, we take a look around the MLS matchups for this coming weekend and how they could have serious impact not just on standings next week, but give us a glimpse into how serious teams are.

Shockingly powerful
#3 New England Revolution vs #4 DC United
Well, these weren’t words I would have expected to type a few months ago.

New England and DC United will battle for first place in the East tomorrow at Gillette Stadium at 7:30pm.

With the Revs in first place and DC behind by a pair, a win for either club either gives them the lead or extends it.

New England, winners of four in a row and undefeated since April 5, will take on a team that’s played a midweek game for the third straight week.  And for DC United, they will be playing for the third time in eight days.

However, relief is on the way for the visitors, who get Eddie Johnson back from suspension.  He wasn’t needed as they downed Houston on Wednesday 2-0 with goals from Chris Rolfe and Fabian Espindola, who leads DC with five goals and five assists, the latter of which is among the league leaders.

“I was happy I got a chance to play a little higher,” Espindola said after the match.  “I think in a way Eddie and I are similar like that.  Rolfe is a very technical player, highly skilled, so I think we worked well together.”

It will be interesting to see who head coach Ben Olson decides to select up top with so many players in good form.

For New England, they became just the third team in MLS history to score five goals in back-to-back matches last weekend, and are destroying anyone and anything in their path.  The high-powered matchup could either give the hosts plenty of room at the top of the table, or make things that much tighter.

Fulfilling high expectations
#10 New York Red Bulls vs. #18 Portland Timbers
Portland looks to end their draw-happy stretch that has them in last place as they travel across the country to Red Bull Arena in New York.  The Timbers have drawn their last three matches and seven of their eleven total this season, and their failure to hold onto three points is threatening to doom their season.

The hosts have also struggled to live up to last season’s expectations, with the defending Supporter’s Shield winners dropping their last two matches in completely opposite fashion, proving this season’s inconsistencies are a serious issue.  They fell just short in a barn-burning comeback against Chicago 5-4, and followed it up a week later by getting shut out at the hands of Toronto.

In order to follow up last season’s success with more, the Red Bulls are going to need to find ways to beat the top teams, but taking advantage of a struggling Portland side would do just as well.  They’ll hope first to hold off on conceding an early goal, like they have in the last few games, dooming them to come from behind most of the match.

#8 Vancouver Whitecaps vs. #1 Seattle Sounders
The first place Seattle Sounders are headed north of the border to take on the surging Vancouver Whitecaps, in fifth place and climbing after finding themselves undefeated in their last four.

The Sounders have – for now – proven that their demolition at the hands of the Revolution was just a blip, but will have to be up for the match against a team brimming with confidence.

As some added importance to the match, Vancouver has never defeated Seattle since coming to the MLS, with two losses and three draws in the last five.

#19 Montreal Impact vs. #9 Colorado Rapids
Striker Marco di Vaio will return for the Impact as they take on Colorado.  They sure as heck need him, as di Vaio has missed five matches this season, and Montreal has lost four of them.  When he’s in the lineup, they’ve lost just one out of five.

While di Vaio has just one goal, he certainly makes an impact on the game…yea that definitely wasn’t supposed to happen. Sorry.

#11 Columbus Crew vs. #13 Chicago Fire
It’s been yet another season of fighting from behind for Chicago and Columbus, as they look to climb the East despite poor results.

Columbus has yet to win since March, but Chicago has already begun that climb.  After failing to win their first eight, they’ve got six points in two impressive results back-to-back.

Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson said the team appreciates that they “know how to win again,” while Columbus just enjoys knowing how to score again, killing their 335-minute goalless streak, but it will take much more than that to beat a surging Chicago team.

#2 Real Salt Lake vs. #6 FC Dallas
This high-powered matchup takes unbeaten Real Salt Lake and a not-so undefeated FC Dallas.

With five losses and a draw completely scuppering the visitors’ flaming start, it’s essentially back to the drawing board for Oscar Pareja.  Center-back Matt Hedges said it best after their loss last week to LA Galaxy: “We have to figure out what was going on and why he was so open.” The key there is they have no idea what’s going on.

With Dallas spiraling out of control, it’s a perfect opportunity for Real Salt Lake to pounce and jump on any potential Seattle slip-up.

source: AP
Landon Donovan’s back, but he wasn’t supposed to be. He’s not going to go away quietly.

#12 Los Angeles Galaxy vs. #15 Philadelphia Union
A handy little west-coast road trip for Philadelphia begins in Los Angeles, and that would have been great except for one thing: an angry Landon Donovan isn’t going to be a fun Landon Donovan.

The Union will have to contend with the US icon who failed to make Jurgen Klinsmann’s World Cup roster, and he clearly isn’t too happy about it. He will be involved the match, Bruce Arena confirmed, which isn’t good for Philadelphia.

Between a Donovan with a chip on his shoulder and an in-form Robbie Keane, it will be hard for Philadelphia to swing their penjulum back to the good side. It’s been swinging back and forth all season, and they would like it to come back up after a hammering by New England.

#16 San Jose Earthquakes vs. #7 Houston Dynamo
Speaking of pendulums, Sunday’s late game features a Houston Dynamo squad that has gone win, loss, win, loss in their last four, which in all honesty is an improvement from the beginning of the year.  With a chance to put their dud against DC United behind them, the Earthquakes won’t let it come easy.

San Jose was downed by that goal by Obafemi Martins. You know, THAT goal, that chip goal.  They lost to the first-placed team on that, Mark Watson’s gang certainly won’t be taking Houston lightly, especially in front of the home fans.

Leicester fan will win $50,000 from $10 bet if Foxes win Premier League

Leicester’s Jamie Vardy celebrates after scoring against Manchester United, his eleventh consecutive goal in the Premier League, during the English Premier League soccer match between Leicester City and Manchester United at the King Power Stadium, Leicester, England, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015. Vardy becomes the first man to score in 11 consecutive English Premier League soccer matches after finding the back of the net against Manchester United today.(AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
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As their odds of winning the Premier League title continue to be slashed, tales of Leicester City fans set to win an incredible amount of cash continue.

The latest story is a beauty.

[ VIDEO: Ferrell – “I got Mourinho fired” ]

On the eve of the 2015-16 Premier League season one Leicester City fan, Chloe Cope, decided to put $10 on her side to win the title. The odds were 5,000 -1. So, with the Foxes five points clear at the top of the table with just 13 games to go, the first league title in Leicester’s 132 year history would not only bring unbeliavable amounts of jubilation to the East Midlands city but also plenty of cash for its fans. $50,000 for this Miss Cope, in fact.

The story gets even better. Check this out.

[ MORE: Report – Mourinho tells friend he will take over at United

Miss Cope’s flutter on her beloved Foxes was actually her first-ever bet. She opened up an online betting account last summer in the UK with Sky Bet and was rewarded a free $30 bet which she used to make a bet that Leicester would finish in the top six this season. That’s virtually assured so she will win another $637.

The two bets she made back on August 7 2015 are shown in the Tweet below via Jacqui Oatley.

A few other Leicester fans are also in line to win plenty of cash, but this one seems to have the most riding on it.

Will big changes in Europe threaten UEFA Champions League’s future?

FC Barcelona, 2014-15 UEFA Champions League winners
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With talk of the UEFA Champions League being threatened by a “super league” of some sort, that notion has been undermined by some of Europe’s top teams.

For now.

[ MORE: What is USMNT’s best XI?

On Wednesday in Paris the European Clubs’ Association (ECA) met at its 16th annual congress and confirmed it will seek to change the way the UEFA Champions League and Europa League is run when the current term of agreement cycle expires at the end of the 2017-18 season.

With over 200 member clubs the ECA represents many of the biggest teams on the planet with Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Juventus, Bayern Munich and Chelsea all included.

In the past there has been a growing notion for a European “super league” to replace the Champions League and that perennial European giants should not have to rely on qualifying for Europe via their domestic competitions.

That is one of the factors currently being discussed by the ECA, as they released the following statement after the congress in France this week.

“In light of the upcoming 2018-21 UEFA Club Competition Cycle, the clubs are currently discussing the future of UEFA’s main club competitions, namely the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League. As in the past, the clubs are in constant dialogue with UEFA to further develop and improve both competitions. All ECA Member Clubs have gathered in informal working groups to exchange initial thoughts and ideas.”

[ MORE: Reports claim Mourinho to United is “done deal”

The current ECA chairman and chairman of Bayern Munich, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, also spoke about the need to revamp both club competitions.

“I believe both ECA and UEFA are interested in an evolution of the competitions. Stagnation means regression,” Rummenigge said. “We have always jointly looked into ways to further develop and improve the competitions. It is important to find a good and balanced solution for everyone involved.”

So, overall, it seems that for now both ECA and UEFA is willing to work together to improve the current format of the UCL rather than go their separate ways and the ECA member clubs beginning their own competition, as had been mooted by Rummenigge and other high-ranking officials in the past.

What changes could be discussed for the 2018-21 UEFA Club Competition Cycle?

For me, it seems like it would be a good idea to somehow reduce the number of UCL teams who enter the group stage. That would help it preserve its elite status and potential shave two matchdays off the schedule to lessen the pressure on teams. Currently 32 teams qualify in eight groups of four teams and a total of 78 teams from across UEFA’s 54 member nations qualify for the UCL each season. 46 fall by the wayside in the qualifying rounds and many of those teams are too small to ever dream about getting anywhere near the group stages.

[ PHOTOS: New PL logo released

Perhaps just having one playoff round to make the UCL and limiting the number of spots for nations with lower UEFA coefficients is the way to go. That way those nations would back their teams competing in the Europa League and that competition will gain more prestige as a direct correlation between teams performing well in the Europa League will lead to certain nations being granted places in the UEFA Champions League. That’s the case now, but adding extra emphasis to the Europa League should be a big part of the next cycle.

The biggest situation the ECA seem to want to sort out here is how some of Europe’s biggest teams did not qualify for the UCL. The overriding notion seems to be that the ECA wants them to qualify each year. Even though the likes of past UCL winners Liverpool, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Borussia Dortmund weren’t involved in Europe’s elite competition this season, did the tournament really suffer because of it? In terms of gate revenue, perhaps, but it seems that the ECA is conflicted about the best way to get as many of its member teams involved in the elite competition as possible.

Another idea I’m just throwing out there could be to hand teams a spot in the UCL based on their current coefficient which takes into account their previous performances in UEFA Club Competitions. Perhaps four spots per season could be reserved for teams who don’t qualify for the UCL domestically, but have the highest coefficient of the non qualifiers. Just a thought.

There’s clearly plenty to sort out but it seems like — for now, at least — we haven’t seen the end of the UEFA Champions League. But tweaks will need to be made to stop it regressing.

VIDEO: Will Ferrell is feeling guilty – “I got Jose Mourinho fired”

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Sometimes there’s just something you have to admit.

[ MORE: Mourinho to United “done deal”

It sounds better if you say it out loud and get it off your chest. This is one of those moments for comedian, actor and now part-owner of a Major League Soccer franchise, Los Angeles FC, Will Ferrell.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Joining the Men In Blazers this week the self-proclaimed soccer nut joked that he was the one who actually got Jose Mourinho fired by Chelsea.

For real. Watch the video above to see Ferrell’s admission as he explains exactly what happened.

[ MORE: Arsenal, Spurs to fight for the PL title? ]

Just seven months after leading Chelsea to the Premier League title, Mourinho was dismissed by the west London club in December.

NOTE: Severe tongue-in-cheek mode activated.

WATCH: NBC to stream USWNT, every CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying game

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The CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championships kick off on Wednesday and NBC Sports will be streaming all 15 games of the tournament over the next 11 days.

Every single game will be streamed live online or on the app via NBC Sports Live Extra, in addition to up to four matches airing on NBCSN with the U.S women’s national team — aiming for a fourth-straight Olympic gold — featuring heavily in live broadcasts.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

The eight-team tournament takes place from Feb. 10-21 in Houston and Frisco, Texas, with the top two teams advancing to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Below is a full schedule of the games.

2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship Schedule

Frisco, Texas – Toyota Stadium
Houston, Texas – BBVA Compass Stadium
Times U.S. Central (U.S. Eastern in parentheses)

FIRST ROUND
Group A: USA, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Costa Rica
Group B: Canada, Guatemala, Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana

Wednesday, Feb. 10 (Frisco)
Puerto Rico vs. Mexico                                   5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
USA vs. Costa Rica                                    7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.)

Thursday, Feb. 11 (Houston)
Guatemala vs. Trinidad & Tobago                  5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
Canada vs. Guyana                                           7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.)

Saturday, Feb. 13 (Frisco)
Costa Rica vs. Puerto Rico                              12:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m.)
USA vs. Mexico                                                 3 p.m. (4 p.m.) NBCSN at 9:30 p.m. ET

Sunday, Feb. 14 (Houston)
Guyana vs. Guatemala                                     12:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m.)
Trinidad vs. Canada                                          3 p.m. (4 p.m.)

Monday, Feb. 15 (Frisco)
Mexico vs. Costa Rica                                       5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
USA vs. Puerto Rico                                          7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.) LIVE on NBCSN

Tuesday, Feb. 16 (Houston)
Trinidad & Tobago vs. Guyana                         5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
Canada vs. Guatemala                                      7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.)

SEMIFINALS

Friday, Feb. 19 (Houston)
Group B winner vs. Group A runner-up          4:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m.) ***
Group A winner vs. Group B runner-up          7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.) ***

FINAL

Sunday, Feb. 21 (Houston)
Semifinal winners                                            4 p.m. (5 p.m.) NBCSN at 11 p.m.

***USA’s semifinal, should the USA advance, will air LIVE on NBCSN