World Cup Today: U.S. can advance with a win over Portugal

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WORLD CUP TODAY: SUNDAY, JUNE 22

So, what happened yesterday? First, Argentina and Iran fought out what looked to be a goalless draw, only for Lionel Messi to score the winner in injury time. Next came Germany, who everyone expected to win handily after beating Portugal 4-0. Instead they played out a thrilling 2-2 draw with Ghana. Finally, Nigeria knocked out Bosnia and Herzegovina with a lone goal and a questionable offside flag.

And, of course, we all know what today is – the chance for the USMNT to progress to the knockout stages. But first, there’s two other intriguing matches to get through, so get yourself comfortable.

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MATCH 30: BELGIUM VS. RUSSIA
Location: Estádio Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro
Time: Noon ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s Guide
Belgium started slow in their first match, going into the break down a goal. Marc Wilmots elected to make changes for the second half, and his more attacking lineup fought back to beat Algeria 2-1. Russia, too, had to battle for a point, fighting back to a 1-1 draw after goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev’s blunder allowed South Korea the opening goal.

What they’re saying

Vincent Kompany, who hopes to be fit for the match, on playing in the hallowed Maracanã stadium: “Playing at the Maracanã is an honour, a source of pride. With Wembley, it’s the most mythical stadium in the world. I’ve already achieved lots of my childhood dreams. This is another one. I think that all the players, Belgian and Russian, will share the same extraordinary feeling here.”

History
Russia may not be favorites going into this match, but they’ve got a slight historical edge, with four wins to Belgium’s three. The two sides have also drawn once.

Premier League Players
Belgium: 
Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal); Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea); Kevin Mirallas (Everton); Simon Mignolet (Liverpool); Vincent Kompany (Manchester City); Marouane Fellaini, Adnan Januzaj (Manchester United); Nacer Chadli, Mousa Dembélé, Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham)

Did you know: every player in the Russia squad plays their club soccer inside the country?

RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly

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MATCH 31: SOUTH KOREA VS. ALGERIA

Location: Estádio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre
Time: 3pm ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s guide
In South Korea’s first game, Lee Keunho scored thanks to a major howler from the goalkeeper, but Russia fought back to ensure both sides left with a point. Algeria took a surprising lead against Belgium and looked strong throughout, but they couldn’t overcome Wilmots’ second-half substitutions, and would up losing 2-1. Should both sides come out of their shells a bit, this could be a fun one to watch.

What they’re saying

Sofiane Feghouli, scorer of Algeria’s goal against Belgium, thinks his side should still be hopeful: “We held out for 70 minutes against one of the strongest nations at the World Cup. We learned a lot from the game. As a young side, we’ve got nothing to lose. It’s always disappointing to lose, but we need to take note of the positive aspects, especially in the way we played as a unit. We fought hard, demonstrating great teamwork, and that’s why I still think we can reach the Round of 16.”

History
The two sides have met just once, with South Korea winning 2-0.

Premier League players
South Korea:
 Park Chu-Young (Arsenal); Ki Sung-Yueng (Swansea); Yun Suk-Young (Queens Park Rangers)
Algeria: Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City); Nabil Bentaleb (Tottenham)

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MATCH 32: UNITED STATES VS. PORTUGAL

Location: Arena Amazônia, Manaus
Time: 6pm ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s guide
Portugal were already down 2-0 by the time Pepe gave Thomas Müller a loving head-nuzzle, so it was no trouble at all for Germany to down them 4-0. Clint Dempsey impressed for the United States, scoring within 30 seconds and playing nearly an hour with a broken nose. Ghana equalized late, but John Brooks came back with a goal to give the U.S. the 2-1 victory.

What they’re saying
Clint Dempsey believes the U.S. brought the 12th Man to Brazil: “To be able to have that feeling of feeling that you’re at home is pretty special, especially when I remember playing games in the States when I first got in the national side, where you’d be playing and they’d have more fans than you even in your home country. So now things are starting to change and the fact that we are here in Brazil, and playing in these different stadiums, you feel like you have that home-field advantage. It shows how far the game has come in the States.”

History:
The U.S. and Portugal are dead even: two wins each, one draw, and five goals scored by each side. Will the balance tip in favor of one team today?

Premier League players
United States:
Brad Guzan (Aston Villa); Tim Howard (Everton); Geoff Cameron (Stoke City); Jozy Altidore (Sunderland
Portugal: Nani (Manchester United)

MLS players
United States:
Michael Bradley (Toronto FC); Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo); Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy); Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake); Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes); Clint Dempsey, DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders); Matt Besler, Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Sky Blue’s Sam Kerr named NWSL league MVP for 2017

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CHICAGO (AP) Sky Blue FC forward Sam Kerr has been named the National Women’s Soccer League’s Most Valuable Player for this season.

Kerr, a standout on the Australian national team, had a league-record 17 goals and became the league’s fifth Golden Boot winner to also be named MVP.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

She became the first NWSL player to score four goals in a game on Aug. 19 against the Seattle Reign. Kerr rallied Sky Blue from a 3-goal deficit to beat the Reign 5-4.

Kerr’s award was announced Friday. The league had earlier announced the season’s other award winners: North Carolina’s Abby Dahlkemper was named Defender of the Year, teammate Ashley Hatch was named Rookie of the Year, Portland’s Adrianna Franch was named Goalkeeper of the Year and the Thorns’ Mark Parsons was named Coach of the Year.

The Mendy Effect: Pep praises injured back

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Full back Benjamin Mendy cost Pep Guardiola and Manchester City $68 million, but perhaps he’ll be just as valuable as a very expensive sports psychologist.

The “Shark Team” member was amusing on social media even before his ACL injury sent him to the sidelines until at least April, but he’s become a must-follow Twitter fixture with his in-game messages (See some of his work below).

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

City faces Burnley at 10 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

It’s fairly clear his act has translated in private, too, as apparently Mendy is just as good in group messages (Let us in, Pep. We won’t tell anyone). From ManCity.com:

“Usually, players who are out for a long time with injury are sad. They sometimes train apart and feel isolated.

“Mendy decided to be present. He is communicating on social media, WhatsApp and he calls his teammates and messages me. He is going to be so important outside the pitch because people like him make the atmosphere much better.”

It’s not surprising for anyone who’s been following the former Le Havre, Marseille and Monaco man.

Keep in mind, these Tweets below are from the last few days alone!

Ozil to Manchester United?!? Wenger reacts to gossip

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Sometimes, even the biggest Arsene Wenger detractors have to feel for the guy.

Coming off a thrilling late win in Serbia, one that saw Olivier Giroud cap off a team goal straight out of the creative Wenger playbook, the manager should’ve been discussing how to stretch those good vibes into this weekend’s visit to Goodison Park.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

Yet no. Instead of talking about how the Gunners would respect the struggling Toffees, Wenger had to address speculation from several outlets claiming Mesut Ozil would move to Manchester United, perhaps as soon as January.

Feeling it? No, no Wenger was not feeling it. From Arsenal.com:

“We have to deal with all kinds of speculation when the players are at the end of their contracts. On the other hand, to be professional is to give 100 per cent as long as you are somewhere. For the rest, we came out many times and said that’s the situation. It [the media] can come out tomorrow and say that he extends his contract here. It will be exactly the same, it will not change anything. When you play the next game, commit 100 per cent. … When a player plays for Arsenal Football Club, his commitment cannot be linked with the length of his contract, it has just to be linked with the responsibility and the ambition he has to win the football game.”
Of course most big clubs have to deal with such drama on a year-to-year basis and, yes, having Ozil and Alexis Sanchez still in town was completely avoidable. But the idea that Ozil could leave, for free, to Manchester United? We’re sure Gooners the world over will be thrilled with the gossip.

MLS Decision Day preview: Much at stake

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Four teams can claim a Western Conference second round berth, while four more can earn a valuable first-round bye in the East.

Yep, there’s plenty to play for beyond the West’s final playoff spot Sunday during Major League Soccer’s Decision Day, when every team will take the pitch for 4 p.m. ET kickoffs.

[ MORE: Conte feels pressure ]

Here’s what we do know regarding the playoffs:

  1. Supporters’ Shield winning Toronto FC gets a first round bye, while No. 6 seed New York Red Bulls are headed to the road for a first round playoff
  2. New England, Montreal, Philadelphia, Orlando, DC, Minnesota, Colorado, and LA will not make the playoffs
  3. Full stop.

So, yes, this will be fun.

First, let’s look at the Eastern Conference Standings ahead of Sunday’s extravaganza:

Eastern Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Toronto FC 33 20 8 5 72 35 37 13-3-1 7-5-4 68
x – New York City FC 33 16 8 9 54 41 13 10-4-2 6-4-7 56
x – Chicago 33 16 7 10 61 44 17 12-3-2 4-4-8 55
x – Atlanta 33 15 9 9 68 38 30 11-2-3 4-7-6 54
x – Columbus 33 16 5 12 51 47 4 12-2-3 4-3-9 53
x – New York 33 13 8 12 51 46 5 9-6-2 4-2-10 47

— New York City FC controls its bye destiny, though Columbus could join them on 56 points and would pass them on tiebreakers (wins).

— If that happens, Chicago could claim the second bye with a win or draw in Houston (The Fire owns the goal differential tiebreaker).

— If New York City and Chicago lose or draw, Atlanta could finish second with a home win over TFC.

— Columbus can finish second with a win and non-wins for Chicago and Atlanta.

Western Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
x – Vancouver 33 15 7 11 49 47 2 9-5-3 6-2-8 52
x – Portland 33 14 8 11 58 49 9 10-4-2 4-4-9 50
x – Seattle 33 13 11 9 49 39 10 10-5-1 3-6-8 50
x – Sporting KC 33 12 13 8 39 27 12 10-6-1 2-7-7 49
x – Houston 33 12 11 10 54 45 9 11-4-1 1-7-9 47
San Jose 33 12 7 14 36 58 -22 9-5-2 3-2-12 43
FC Dallas 33 10 13 10 43 47 -4 7-7-2 3-6-8 43
Real Salt Lake 33 12 6 15 47 54 -7 8-4-4 4-2-11 42

Byes

— Vancouver finishes first with a win or draw at Portland. The ‘Caps could finish as low as third with a loss to Portland and a Seattle win versus Colorado.

— Portland finishes first — and wins the Cascadia Cup — with a win over visiting Vancouver.

— Seattle can claim a first round bye with a win over visiting Colorado and a Vancouver win over Portland.

— Sporting KC can finish second with a win at Real Salt Lake and non-wins for Portland and Seattle.

Final playoff spot

— San Jose claims the sixth seed with a home win over Minnesota. They can also finish sixth with a draw joined by non-wins for FC Dallas at home to LA and Real Salt Lake at home versus SKC.

— FC Dallas claims the sixth seed with a win over LA and a San Jose draw or loss versus Minnesota. FCD gets sixth with a draw, and a San Jose loss coupled with a RSL loss or draw versus SKC.

—  Real Salt Lake gets sixth with a win over SKC, and non-wins from San Jose and Dallas. RSL could also get sixth with a draw and losses for San Jose and Dallas.

(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

Schedule
FC Dallas vs. LA Galaxy
DC United vs. New York Red Bulls
San Jose vs. Minnesota United
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting KC
Houston vs. Chicago
Seattle vs. Colorado
Philadelphia vs. Orlando City
Portland vs. Vancouver
Montreal vs. New England
New York City vs. Columbus
Atlanta vs. Toronto

Predictions

— NYCFC hangs on for a draw against Columbus, earning a bye, leaving Chicago to host New York Red Bulls and Atlanta off to Columbus for the first round of the playoffs (We have Toronto beating Atlanta on Sunday).

— Vancouver and Portland draw, while Seattle beats Colorado. The ‘Caps and Sounders get byes, while Seattle takes back the Cascadia Cup.

— San Jose beats Minnesota, gaining the West’s sixth seed. The Quakes head to Portland for the first round, while SKC hosts Houston.