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.

Pique: For first time in career, Barca star feels “inferior to Madrid”

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Gerard Pique does not have the sort of personality that makes admitting defeat an easy proposition.

The longtime Barcelona center back is raging after his side was beaten 5-1 over two legs by rivals Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup.

[ MORE: Barca releases statement on terror attacks ]

And for the first time in his life, he thinks Barca is a step behind its El Clasico enemies. From The Telegraph:

“This is a long process and there is room for improvement but in the nine years that I have been here, it is the first time that I feel inferior to Madrid,” Piqué said. “We are not in the best moment, either as a team or as a club. We must stay as close as possible and keep moving forwards.”

Barcelona looked very poor in the second leg of the Super Cup, though the club did hammer the woodwork on multiple occasions. Real is the best team in the world, which makes being its rival a real hassle.

In fact, both clubs have been 1-2 in the world for some time, which has to make it extra perplexing when you’re No. 2 to only the club you despise more than any other.

Bundesliga preview: Schalke, BVB chase Bayern Munich

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The last time Schalke spent a season outside of European football, the celebrated German club finished second in the league en route to a Champions League semifinal the following campaign.

That’s one of the only silver linings from last season’s disappointing 10th place finish, 19 points behind fourth place Hoffenheim.

[ MORE: Schalke’s teen American impact ]

“Naturally, nobody is happy about not playing international this year,” center back Benedikt Howedes told ProSoccerTalk. “During the week we currently have more time to focus on the next opponent. We will battle the European positions with many teams this season. I think, the race is up in the air. The Bundesliga is very balanced.”

World Cup winner Howedes has 334 appearances for Schalke (Getty Images).

Schalke’s tumulutous 2016-17 season started poorly and never really found its footing. The club lost its first five league matches under Markus Weinzierl, who was fired in June, and saw marquee transfers Naldo, Breel Embolo, and Coke miss a lot of time through injuries.

Enter 31-year-old Domenico Tedesco. Don’t let the age fool you, he’s the boss not a player, and youth will be part of the team as well. Schalke still has Embolo, Max Meyer and Leon Goretzka, American teen Weston McKennie has been promoted to the first team, and Amine Harit has arrived from Nantes.

From the outside, that puts an emphasis on veteran leadership. Fortunately for Schalke, it has living club legend Howedes and ex-Man City defender Matija Nastasic amongst others in the fold.

“The spirit, if you could be in the locker room, it’s amazing,” McKennie told PST. “It doesn’t matter how old you are.”

[ MORE: Guide to two promoted Bundesliga teams ]

In the case of Nastasic, who won the Premier League with Manchester City in 2013-14, his 24 years carry a lot of experience. He’s thrived at Fiorentina, become a staple of the Serbian national team, and rebounding from his injury-hit time at City and is a leader at Schalke.

And those young guys can learn from Nastasic, who’s seen it all at 24.

“When I just arrived in Italy I was only 18 and it was the first year out of my country,” Nastasic told PST. “I didn’t expect at the beginning that I would play that much. Then I changed to England, and it was totally different. Italy is more tactical. Football in England is physical with a lot of tempo and running. I was young also without so much experience but when I was fit I think I played good.”

Schalke will need its young attack to find more goals. Its defense was Top Five in goals conceded last season, but its 45 goals was mid-table.

“Everyone knows that last season was not as good as we had expected,” Howedes said. “With our new coach, we want to improve our game and make our fans happy again. We are training hard and I am sure, that we will be more constant and improve our performances this season.”

[ MORE: First female ref to make Bundesliga debut ]

“From the team I expect a much better season than last year,” Nastasic adds. “We are not playing international games so maybe that’s an advantage for us. We can concentrate on the Bundesliga.”

Both Nastasic and Howedes heaped praise on McKennie, as well as American teammate Haji Wright, who will spend the season on loan to Sandhausen, and the game overseas in general.

“Haji Wright started spectacular,” Howedes said. “For young players the most important thing is to play. On loan in Sandhausen the chance is greater than here. I rejoice for him he get this opportunity. The step in the 2.Bundesliga can be a good beginning of his career.

“The American soccer is really developing the last years. It is no coincidence that a lot of great players like Kaka and Gerrard joined Major League Soccer. And who knows, I also can imagine to play there some day in the future.”

Different champs (but probably not different champs): Bayern Munich will neither have Xabi Alonso nor Philipp Lahm this season, but that doesn’t mean they are runaway favorites to claim its 27th title and sixth-straight since Borussia Dortmund’s two-year reign ended with the 2011-12 crown. Carlo Ancelotti has reloaded with James Rodriguez and Corentin Tolisso, and will be favored to hold off BVB for the crown.

Here’s to the new Bosz: USMNT phenom Christian Pulisic is already making an impact in the mind of his new coach, Peter Bosz, and the manager will be pleased to note that reports say Pulisic has no interest in looking into his future until after the 2018 World Cup.

Sleepers? Eintracht Frankfurt dropped into 11th last season, and may benefit from not finishing in a European place. The club has added Mexican national teamer Carlos Saucedo, Dutch star Jetro Willems, and well-traveled Jonathan De Guzman for its new season.

Americans Abroad:
John Brooks (Wolfsburg)
Julian Green (Stuttgart)
Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)
Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach)
McKennie (Schalke)
Timothy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Bobby Wood (Hamburg)
Aron Johannsson (Werder Bremen *expected to be sold)
Caleb Stanko (Freiburg)

Old faces, new places:
Serge Gnabry (Hoffenheim, on loan from Bayern Munich)
Mahmoud Dahoud (Borussia Dortmund, from ‘Gladbach)
Mathew Leckie (Hertha BSC, from Ingolstadt)
Sven Bender (Bayer Leverkusen, from BVB)
Marcel Heller (Augsburg, from Darmstadt)
Kyriakos Papadopoulos (Hamburg, from Bayer)
John Brooks (Wolfsburg, from Hertha)
Paul Verhaegh (Wolfsburg, from Augsburg)
Holger Badstuber (Stuttgart, from Bayern)

New faces, new places:
James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich)
Jonathan Klinsmann (Hertha BSC)
Reece Oxford (Gladbach, on loan from West Ham)
Harit (Schalke)
Jonathan de Guzman (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Jetro Willems (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Carlos Salcedo (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Viktor Fischer (Mainz)

Opening weekend
Bayern Munich vs. Bayer Leverkusen — Friday
Hamburg vs. Augsburg — Saturday
Hertha Berlin vs. Stuttgart — Saturday
Hoffenheim vs. Werder Bremen — Saturday
Wolfsburg vs. Borussia Dortmund — Saturday
Mainz vs. Hannover 96 — Saturday
Schalke vs. RB Leipzig — Saturday
Freiburg vs. Eintracht Frankfurt — Sunday
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Koln — Sunday

FC Barcelona releases statement after terror attack

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FC Barcelona found tragedy at home on Thursday when a terrorist plot unfolded in Las Ramblas, killing 13 and injuring more than 100.

Las Ramblas is just a 20-minute ride from the Camp Nou, and the Catalan club hosts Real Betis on Sunday.

[ MORE: Another American teen making Bundesliga name ]

A terrorist-driven rental van was driven at 50 mph through a crowded plaza. As of post time, two men had been arrested but the driver remained on the loose.

Saying it was sickened by the attack, FCB announced it will fly flags at half-mast, wear black arm bands during the match and hold a minute’s silence.

Here’s the full statement:

FC Barcelona wants to express its profound sorrow and utter disgust at the terrorist attack that has hit the heart of our city, la Rambla de Barcelona. The Club wishes to send our support and thoughts to the victims, their families and friends as well as the people of Barcelona and its visitors.

As a mark of respect, the flags will fly at half-mast at the Club’s facilities and the players from both teams will wear black armbands in all the Club’s matches this weekend.

On Sunday, before the 2017/18 La Liga opener against Betis, the Camp Nou will hold a minutes silence in recognition and memory of the victims.

AC Milan and Napoli likeliest challengers to Juve’s crown

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MILAN (AP) Juventus’ six-year Serie A domination could end this year.

AC Milan has reinforced its squad, Inter Milan has had some much-needed stability after four managerial changes last season, while Napoli looks set to mount an even stronger challenge this time around.

Lazio could also be surprise contenders after Simone Inzaghi’s side withstood a late comeback to beat Juventus 3-2 and win the Italian Super Cup on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Another American teen making Bundesliga name ]

However, Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri has warned the rest of Serie A that it will be a very different performance from his team in Saturday’s season opener at home to Cagliari.

“We cannot and must not play like that in the league,” he said. “This defeat brings us back to earth. Some of the players aren’t fully fit yet, so I knew it wasn’t going to be easy … but starting on Saturday you’ll see a different Juve.”

Allegri also took encouragement from the last time Juventus played Lazio in the Super Cup, in 2015.

“We beat Lazio in Beijing for the Super Cup two years ago and then had a bad start to the Serie A season, so hopefully we’ll do it the other way round this time,” he said.

Juventus has dominated Italian soccer for nearly a decade, winning three successive league and cup doubles and it will be tricky for anyone to prevent the Bianconeri from extending their league record to seven straight Serie A titles.

Milan was the last team other than Juventus to win the title and, despite having last finished in the top three in 2013, it looks the likeliest to depose the Turin-based club.

The Chinese-led consortium that purchased Milan from Silvio Berlusconi for $800 million in April has infused the club with cash and splashed out more than 200 million euros ($234 million) in the offseason.

[ VIDEO: Giovanni Reyna’s MOTM job for USYNT ]

As well as signing Italy’s top defender Leonardo Bonucci from Juventus, Milan also brought in forward Andre Silva from FC Porto; midfielders Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Franck Kessie and Andrea Conti (Atalanta), Hakan Calhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen) and Lucas Biglia (Lazio); and defender Mateo Musacchio (Villarreal).

Fourth place in Serie A now guarantees qualification to the Champions League and that will be the minimum requirement for Vincenzo Montella’s team. But, if the new team gels quickly, there is the feeling that Milan could make a strong challenge for the title.

Bonucci was playing down his new side’s chances.

“Juve remains favorite and Napoli has a great chance of fighting for the title,” Bonucci said in interview with Gazzetta dello Sport. “As we are now we’re still a step below both, but we shouldn’t put limits on ourselves. After those two, I see Milan, Inter and Roma as equal.”

Napoli has finished in the top three in four of the past five seasons but even a record number of points last campaign still left it third, five points behind Juventus.

However, talk of the `scudetto’ is no longer a taboo for Napoli, which hasn’t won the title since 1990.

But, while it didn’t make any big signings in the transfer window, its biggest success of the offseason has been in keeping its band of talented players together.

It sold Ezequiel Lavezzi in 2012 and Edinson Cavani the following year – both to Paris Saint-Germain – while Gonzalo Higuain moved to Juventus in 2016.

This year Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne have signed new contracts, while Marek Hamsik is just three goals away from breaking Diego Maradona’s scoring record for the club.

Mertens was reportedly pursued by a number of clubs – both in Italy and abroad – but the Belgium international, who scored more than 30 goals for Napoli last campaign, opted to extend his stay with the southern side.

“I stayed here because the team plays very beautiful football and doing that we can get a lot of joy,” said Mertens, who scored again as Napoli beat Nice 2-0 in the first leg of its Champions League playoff on Wednesday.

Napoli played arguably the best soccer in Italy last season and its attacking flair saw it score 94 goals, but it faltered against teams in the lower half of the table and coach Maurizio Sarri is hoping to have corrected that by the time it kicks of its Serie campaign at Hellas Verona on Saturday.

More AP Italian soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA