Week 13 Preview: RSL takes its unbeaten mark to Seattle; Donovan visits Yallop, Magee in Chicago

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The 13th weekend of the MLS season begins on Saturday at 4:00 p.m. Eastern with in the Pacific Northwest and ends its nine-match round Sunday night in … the Pacific Northwest? With symmetry at our side, here’s our quick look at what’s on top this weekend in Major League Soccer.

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

TOO IMPORTANT TO BE PLAYED WITHOUT ITS STARS
a.k.a., The game you really should still watch
#3 Seattle Sounders vs. #2 Real Salt Lake, Saturday, 4:00 p.m. Eastern
Last week: Seattle drew in Vancouver, 2-2; Real Salt Lake was held at home by FC Dallas, 0-0

Somewhere, long ago, when the pros and cons of this issue were first discussed, somebody had to make a list of reasons why MLS shouldn’t play through the World Cup. And hopefully, high on that list, they wrote “Unrepresentative product.” A league that’s trying to convince the public of its quality has to worry about a below-standard product, particularly around the World Cup.

Saturday’s game in Seattle is the latest example. In the big picture, the Sounders and RSL are two of the teams most likely to represent the West at MLS Cup, but in the narrow, microscopic, comically irrelevant view of Saturday’s 90 minutes, it’s a game that will be played without Seattle’s Clint Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin. Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman, and Álvaro Saborío will also be missing for RSL.

In fairness to MLS, it would have been difficult to anticipate such a sharp increase in players going to Brazil this summer. Whereas the league barely lost any talent to South Africa, this time teams like Sporting, Houston, Columbus and San Jose have been hamstrung. Real Salt Lake and Seattle are in that group, too, though the player that is RSL’s Clint Dempsey (in terms of significance) is still with the team. He doesn’t get as much publicity, and he doesn’t even play the same role, but Javier Morales can have Dempsey’s influence over a given 90 minutes. He’ll be in Seattle on Saturday, as will center backs Nat Borchers and Chris Schuler.

That’s not enough to say Jeff Cassar’s team will win this game, because Seattle has enough talent to manager its absences. It’s just a shame that this game, one which on another date would otherwise be a great showcase for what Major League Soccer can offer, will be played without many of its stars. Even if RSL’s unbeaten record falls, we’ll wonder what how these matchup at full strength.

Prediction: The weekend’s best game.

source: Getty ImagesPACKAGING MAY BE DECEIVING
#15 Chicago Fire vs. #5 LA Galaxy, Sunday, 4:00 p.m. Eastern
Last week: Chicago lost at Columbus, 2-0; LA beat FC Dallas and Philadelphia, (2-1, 4-1).

Little known fact: A Bruce Arena team leads its conference in ball possession. Real Salt Lake’s number (53.9%) is practically identical, but that revamped, diamond-esque formation the league’s most successful coach is using? It’s holding more of the ball than The Diamond Masters Of Utah, not exactly what we would have predicted from an Arena side.

Frank Yallop, in his first season in Chicago, is defying expectations, too. After building his last San Jose team around a modest midfield of Rafael Baca and Sam Cronin, the Fire has proven surprisingly adroit in the middle. While that hasn’t translated to a great possession number (45), it has translated to chances. The Fire’s fourth in the league in shots per game, with Harry Shipp’s 2.6 key passes (passes ahead of shots) leading the charge.

Arena and Yallop are two of the league’s more successful coaches, but the ways they achieve their success change. The duo’s 2014 squads are showing some of their newer tricks.

Prediction: More Landon Donovan goals.

source: APTAKING ADVANTAGE OF WHAT’S IN FRONT OF YOU
#7 D.C. United vs. #4 Sporting Kansas City, Saturday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern
Last week: D.C. lost at New England, 2-1; Sporting drew with visiting Toronto, 2-2

By now it’s clear that absences and injuries have made Sporting KC a completely different team, but that’s not D.C. United’s problem. Instead, it’s an opportunity. Though United had problems two weeks ago playing the favorite against Montréal, they have a chance to take advantage of a Kansas City team that’s given up seven goals in its last four games.

Prediction: Benny Feilhaber challenges the 100-pass mark for the second game in a row.

(Note: Eddie Johnson, right, had his red card appeal accepted and will play on Saturday.)

OH, NO. NOT YOU AGAIN
#8 Toronto FC vs. #11 Columbus Crew, Saturday, 5:00 p.m. Eastern
Last week: Toronto drew at Sporting Kansas City, 2-2; the Crew defeated Chicago, 2-0

When Toronto visited Columbus at the beginning of April, and early goal from Michael Bradley sparked a performance that handed the Crew its first blemish. For the rematch, however, Bradley will be with the U.S. national team while Federico Higuaín, playing as well as anybody in Major League Soccer, remains at the wheel for Columbus.

Bradley’s presence would normally drive Higuaín deep to pick up the ball. Without him, Kyle Bekker may have to come up big.

Prediction: A Ryan Nelsen special – early goal; sit on the lead.

source: APDEAD TEAM WALKING?
#19 Montréal Impact vs. #1 New England Revolution, Saturday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern
Last week: The Impact lost 4-1 at Colorado; New England defeated D.C. United, 2-1

A visit from the league’s hottest team may only highlight what’s become a demoralizing situation in Montréal. Having already expressed disappointment with general manager Nick De Santis, Impact fans may not let the team’s poor performance in Colorado go unnoticed. Even after a midweek draw at Toronto (Canadian Championship), an increasingly disillusioned fan base will want to see improvement.

Prediction: Protest banners in two languages.

11-ON-11? TAKE TWO
#9 San Jose Earthquakes vs. #13 FC Dallas, Saturday, 8:30 p.m. Eastern
Last week: San Jose beat Houston, 3-0; FC Dallas lost at LA (2-1) beat drawing at RSL (0-0)

When Dallas visited Santa Clara three weeks ago, Shea Salinas got himself sent off just before halftime, giving way to an extravaganza of Clarence Goodson and Víctor Bernárdez clearances. If all 22 players manage to stay on the field this weekend, the game should be decided in an increasingly Dallas kind of way: See if Fabian Castillo create more goals than the defense eventually allows. For all Castillo’s speed and talent, that answer’s been “no.”

Prediction: Fans remember how much calmer things were when Steven Lenhart was out.

PARENTAL DISCRETION ADVISED
#17 Chivas USA vs. #18 Philadelphia Union, Saturday, 10:30 p.m. Eastern
Last week: Chivas lost on Wednesday to Portland, 2-0; Philadelphia also lost at StubHub Center (to the Galaxy), 4-1

Between actual attendance, television audience, MLS Live viewers, this may end up being one least-consumed games of the year. Maybe Philadelphia’s large fan base will prove that wrong, but on paper, this looks like one of the least desirable matchups of the season.

One team (Chivas USA) has a scorer but can never get him the ball. The other can keep the ball but has no scorers. Enjoy?

Prediction: The ability to take over the #CHVvPHI hashtag.

source: APTESTING THE REBOUND …
#16 Portland Timbers vs. #6 Vancouver Whitecaps, Sunday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern
Last week: Vancouver was drawn by Seattle, while Portland’s won consecutive matches at New York and Chivas USA.

Portland’s won two in a row, but what an interesting two they were. It’s 2-1 win in New York saw the losing team create the better chances, and during the midweek win at Chivas, an almost entirely changed team played a lackluster first half before Fanendo Adi scored his first two MLS goals.

That momentum’s probably not enough to overcome Vancouver’s advantages. The Whitecaps are the form side, on full rest and, depending on who you ask, have the better players.

That Portland defense that’s been struggling all year? Against Kekuta Manneh, Erik Hurtado, Pedro Morales, and potentially Darren Mattocks, they’ll need to give one of their season’s best performances.

Prediction: Both goalkeepers stay in the general vicinity of their goals.

… AND LET THE REBOUND CONTINUE
#14 Colorado Rapids vs. #12 Houston Dynamo, Sunday, 6:00 p.m. Eastern
Last week: Colorado downed Montréal, 4-1; Houston lost at D.C. United at San Jose by a combined 5-0.

So let me just get this straight: One team is at full strength, having lost none of its players to World Cup duty, while the other is missing its two best players? No, I understand Houston knew this was coming. It’s just weird, that’s all. Too bad Rico Clark and Mark Sherrod aren’t around to help.

Prediction: Fewer Shane O’Neill goals.

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.

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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.

Asian FIFA executive pleads guilty to bribery charges

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A guilty plea was entered early Friday by senior Asian Federation (AFC) official Richard Lai to bribery charges, leading FIFA to suspend the 55-year-old indefinitely.

Lai has served as the head of the Guam FA since 2001, and is a member of the FIFA audit and compliance committee. He was also formerly a member of the AFC executive committee, and currently sits on the AFC marketing committee. Lai is a United States citizen.

The guilty plea confirms more than $1 million in bribes accepted by Lai, including those from Kuwaiti officials looking to increase their influence over FIFA voters in the confederation. Two unnamed AFC executives, including one Kuwaiti, were also named as co-conspirators.

“One of the functions the defendant Richard Lai performed for Co-Conspirator #2 and Co-Conspirator #3 in exchange for the funds they sent him was to advise them on who was supporting which candidates in AFC and FIFA matters, including elections, and who Co-Conspirator #2 and Co-Conspirator #3 should recruit to support their chosen candidates,” a Department of Justice document published on Friday said.

That wording seems to indirectly implicate Qatari executive Mohamed bin Hammam, who was banned for life by FIFA in 2011 for bribery.

“I would like to thank the American authorities for their continued efforts to stamp out corruption from football,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said in a statement following the plea. “I am happy to confirm once again, that FIFA will provide whatever assistance is needed by the U.S. and any other authorities around the world.”

Lai has also been provisionally suspended by the AFC.