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.

Referee leaders want on-field official to see video replays

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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

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

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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.

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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.


Liverpool’s Emre Can scores stunning goal in training

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Emre Can, take a bow.

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Alongside Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum, the German international stole the show as BT Sport rocked up for an episode of “Goals Recreated” at Melwood.

The premise is simple: can current day PL players recreate sensational goals of the past?

On this occasion each player had four attempts to mirror Papiss Cisse‘s stunning goal for Newcastle United against Chelsea, and although Mane came close Can was the man of the moment.

Click play on the video below to see the stunning effort.


Barcelona defends Messi over “unfair” suspension

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Lionel Messi’s four-match international suspension for insulting a linesman was “unfair and totally disproportionate.”

[ MORE: Messi handed ban by FIFA ]

Barcelona released a statement Wednesday expressing “its surprise and indignation” with FIFA’s decision to sideline the playmaker for so long following the incident in Argentina’s win over Chile in World Cup qualifying last week.

The punishment was announced before Argentina lost at Bolivia 2-0 Tuesday, a result that left the two-time champions at risk of not qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

Barcelona says it “wishes to reiterate its support for Leo Messi, an exemplary player in terms of conduct both on and off the field.”

Pending an appeal, Messi will only be available to play in Argentina’s final qualifier, on Oct. 10 against Ecuador.