Chris Wondolowski

MLS Preview: East leaders visit Bay Arena; West’s welcome Cascadia rivals

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Major League Soccer is two weeks removed from its World Cup break, but with almost all of its temporarily departed stars expected to return this weekend, the league is finally, fully back. Here’s a quick look at this weekend’s nine-match docket.

NBC’S FRIDAY NIGHT GAME
San Jose Earthquakes vs. D.C. United, Friday, 11:00 p.m. Eastern, NBCSN
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Consider this level of desperation: San Jose, a team that came into the season with playoff ambitions — one that had to be eliminated from CONCACAF Champions League on penalty kicks — is currently in last place in the Western Conference. They’re behind Chivas USA! And that’s not just about games played, though they have two in hand on Chivas. Even by points-per-game, San Jose (1.07) is behind the Goats (1.18). Losers of three straight, carrying a three-game losing streak into Friday’s game, San Jose has reached the now-or-never point of its season.

The return U.S. international Chris Wondolowski should help. With Víctor Bernárdez likely to start in central defense, San Jose will be close to full strength, too, though the bigger issue will be the men in white. After last week’s win in Toronto, D.C. United comes in two points clear at the top of the Eastern Conference.

Despite that success, there’s still an air of uncertainty around last year’s record-setters. It’s still unclear why D.C. United’s in first. Granted, “they have more points than the other teams” works, but how they have those points is a mystery.

Take last week’s game. Toronto out-possessed D.C. and created more chances, as evidenced by their huge edge in shots on goal (7-2). But those two D.C. shots? They both went in. One came after a Toronto giveaway in their own defensive third. The other came from busted coverage from a corner kick. D.C had two openings. They took them.

In a crude way, that sums up what D.C. does so well. They may not create a lot of opportunities, but they sure seem to take advantage of the ones you give them. At the back, it’s the opposite. They force you to earn their goals.

Perhaps it’s an indictment of the league that that formula’s produced so much success, but half-way through the season, it’s time to stop arguing with it. It may be simple, but it’s well-executed, and it also gives San Jose a few clear goals: Don’t screw up at the back; Do something beyond the norm going forward.

Do that, and you’ll probably beat D.C. United. Thus far, however, MLS teams are having trouble executing that formula.

source:  ALL AT ONCE NOW
Philadelphia Union vs. Colorado Rapids, Saturday, 7:00 pm. Eastern
New York Red Bulls vs. Columbus Crew, Saturday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern
Toronto FC vs. Houston Dynamo, Saturday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern
Montréal Impact vs. Sporting Kansas City, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Eastern
New England Revolution vs. Chicago Fire, Saturday,7:30 pm. Eastern

Major League Soccer’s crazy scheduling is one of my favorite topics, but I can’t write “Why are so many games crammed onto Saturdays” every week (unless you follow me on Twitter; in which case, I’m so sorry). Thankfully, MLS picked at another of my pet peeves this week by cramming five games onto one start time … Because who wants to actually wants to watch more than one of these games live, right?

Technically, there are two start times here, but if you want to watch a 7:30 p.m. ET stream, you’re not going to get to fully watch a 7:00 p.m. kickoff. Rather than give fans that option, MLS has stacked five of their nine weekend kickoffs into this window, even though there are some obvious options.

The most obvious is afternoon kickoffs. Some argue that will hurt attendance, but I don’t buy it. At this point, your typical MLS fans have created a certain level of inelasticity with their demand. The difference between 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. would be killer on a weekday; not so on a Saturday. The awesome thing about MLS fans: They will show up.

And, of course, there’s Friday and Sunday. Particularly when the NFL is dormant, why isn’t the league taking advantage of Sunday? Plus, as we saw last Friday, it’s kind of nice when you have a prime-time games for both the east and west coasts.

When somebody at MLS’s offices reads this, laughs it off, then drops a “you think you could do better” on me at the All-Star Game, I’m going to go full Herman Cain and sell my “2-5-2” plan: two games on Friday; five on Saturday; two on Sunday:

Day Kickoff Games
Friday 7:00 p.m. ET 1
Friday 10:00 p.m. ET 1
Saturday 4:00 p.m. ET 1
Saturday 7:00 p.m. ET 2
Saturday 10:00 p.m. ET 2
Sunday 7:00 p.m. ET 1
Sunday 10:00 p.m. ET 1

Not every weekend would allow a pure 2-5-2, but just like any good coach, we’d switch the formation as needed. The 2-5-2, however, will become the MLS default once I’m made MLS’s Executive Director of Scheduling and Deciding When We Do Stuff At Times That Make Sense.

As for the games, here’s what to look for:

  • In Chester, a Union team in flux could debut its new signing, Jamaican Brian Brown. The bigger question, however, surrounds the Rapids: Are they for real? Early problems scoring from open play goals have been alleviated as Pablo Mastroeni has settled his formation and depth chart. But is this team really capable of competing for the second see in the West?
  • In Harrison, the Costa Ricans should be back. For New York, that means left back Roy Miller, who will alleviate Mike Petke’s shortage at fullback. For the Crew, that means left back Waylon Francis as well as Ticos standout Giancarlo Gonzalez, whose performance in Brazil has sparked speculation about a move abroad. With these two teams straddling the five-six line in the East, the returns of the Costa Ricans could be the difference.
  • In Toronto, Houston snapped a five-game losing streak last Friday against New York but still has the worst goal difference in the league, by far: -16 (Montréal’s next at -11). Saturday at BMO should produce a tight, conservative game Dom Kinnear used to steal. With Ryan Nelsen’s Reds continuing to improve at that game, Houston may be left hoping the returns of David Horst, Jermain Taylor, and Corey Ashe will solidify the league’s worst defense in the face of Jermain Defoe.
  • In Montréal, a Sporting team that’s weathered the World Cup (and injury) storm returns to Stade Saputo two points back of D.C. United. During their last visit, an early red card for the now-departed Collen Warner produced a KC rout. Emboldened by the league’s best defense, Sporting will be looking for a similar result in Quebec.
  • In Foxborough, a New England team that’s lost four in a row finds itself in danger of reversing all the good it did during spring’s perfect five-game run. Chicago’s in a similar boat. After winning its first two games of the season in mid-May, the Fire are winless in six. On the surface, this looks like a “something’s got to give scenario,” but, soccer. This could end in a draw.

ERICK TORRES WORLD TOUR!!!
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Chivas USA, Saturday, 10:00 p.m. Eastern

Normally having too much talent is a luxury that doesn’t draw sympathy, but Carl Robinson is in actually in a precarious position. What’s the difference between Gershon Koffie and Russell Teibert? Or, Erik Hurtado and Darren Mattocks? Does Nicolás Mezquida need more time? Is Sebastian Fernández the right choice in the starting XI? They’re problems most coaches would love to have, but in a deep Western Conference, making the right choice could mean the difference between making the playoffs and taking November off.

Contrast that with Chivas USA, who lately have only had one, obvious question: How do we get Erick Torres the ball? Three straight games …

 

… three 1-0 wins …

 

… three Erick Torres goals.

 

See you in Portland, Cubo.

GAME OF THE WEEK, NUMBER ONE
LA Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake, Saturday, 10:30 p.m. Eastern

Six games unbeaten, LA continues to fly under the radar – as much as a team led by Bruce Arena, featuring Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan can fly under the radar. There are various numbers you can look at — goals allowed rate, shots per game, shots allowed per game, possession, goal difference — that hint this is one of the league’s better teams. Sitting in sixth place, however, LA continues to be the subject of doubts, doubts that overlook the games played column is the primary reason for their low place in the standings.

Contrast that with Real Salt Lake, a team that’s been among the West’s top two all season. They’re allowing more goals than you’d expect, based on their recent years’ performance (23 in 17 games). They’re also scoring fewer, based on the attack Jason Kreis assembled last year (27). Their possession number is down, the shots per game numbers are ominous. In the same ways LA may be underrated, we may be overrating RSL.

None of the matters unless it manifests on the field, and with Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando back, Real Salt Lake has a chance to render those poor indicators meaningless. At the same time, LA can close its season series against the Western Conference champions by redeeming its opening night loss, moving closer to the West’s top five in the process.

source: Getty ImagesGAME OF THE WEEK, NUMBER TWO
Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers, Sunday, 10:00 p.m. Eastern, ESPN2

The league’s best rivalry would get Game of the Week status regardless of where the teams sat in the table. Unfortunately for Portland, we’re testing the extremes. While Seattle in on pace for 70 points (59 won last year’s Supporters’ Shield), the Timbers have the second-worst points-per-game rate in the West. Only San Jose has had more trouble claiming points.

The problem for the Timbers is the same one Caleb Porter’s been talking about all season: Goal prevention. With 30 goals allowed, the Timbers are tied for the worst defense in the league, a stat that looms large with the returns of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins. Though Portland took their rivals to extra-time mid-week in Open Cup play, Seattle was playing without their two best attackers. At home, in front of a crowd that could approach 60,000, Seattle should end its four-game winless run (in MLS) against their Cascadian rivals.

Arsene Wenger confirms deals for Mustafi and Perez are complete

GETAFE, SPAIN - APRIL 24:  Shkodran Mustafi of Valencia applauds fans after Valencia drew 2-2 with Getafe CF during the La Liga match between Getafe CF and Valencia CF at Coliseum Alfonso Perez on April 24, 2016 in Getafe, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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Arsenal has completed a pair of big-money deals with the transfer windows closing down,.

Manager Arsene Wenger confirmed that the club has finished the transfers of Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Perez, two players they have long been linked with. He also confirmed the club was unlikely to sign any other players, unless new opportunities cropped up before the window shuts on Wednesday.

“We have bought two players, Mustafi and Perez. We had to work very hard to get signings done,” Wenger said. “We have no plans for anyone else now.”

Mustafi fills the most pressing need, helping patch up a back line ravaged by injuries. He is set to sign a five-year deal, according to the BBC and other reports. The fee is a reported $46 million.

Perez, a 27-year-old Spaniard, also fills a heavy need up front. With just Olivier Giroud and Chuba Akpom as the only healthy strikers available to the Gunners, Perez will help fill a gap. Perez was purchased for a reported $22 million, triggering the player’s release clause.

It’s unclear how soon the players will be available to play for Arsenal. The club next takes on Southampton after the international break.

Dortmund, Wolfsburg, Gladbach all win in Bundesliga openers

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 14:  Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Borussia Dortmund is challenged by Alberto Moreno of Liverpool during the UEFA Europa League quarter final, second leg match between Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund at Anfield on April 14, 2016 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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The Bundesliga officially opened Friday with Bayern Munich’s 6-0 demolition of Werder Bremen, but the rest of the league got under way Saturday, and it was business as usual.

Borussia Dortmund cruised with a 2-1 win over FC Mainz at Westfalenstadion behind a brace from main man Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The first came early in the 17th minute, a headed goal at the far post on the end of a beautiful ball from Andre Schurrle. The second on a penalty in the 89th minute after Schurrle was fouled by Karim Onisiwo. Aubameyang started last season with 13 goals in the team’s first 10 games, and he’s begun this year’s campaign on the same foot.

Wolfsburg worked its way to a 2-0 win on the road at Augsburg with a pair of impressive goals. Daniel Didavi bagged an incredible strike from a seated position in the 35th minute. After being knocked to the ground near the penalty area, the ball fell in the lap of the 26-year-old, and he spun around, looping the ball into the top corner.

The second was a late free-kick from Ricardo Rodriguez to double the lead.

Borussia Monchengladbach won a thriller at Borussia-Park 2-1 thanks to an 85th minute winner from Lars Stindl. The 28-year-old stayed just onside and beat Tin Jedvaj to the ball, slotting it in five minutes from time for all three points. Goals from Andre Hahn and substitute Joel Pohjanpalo had cancelled each other out. Fabian Johnson entered the game in the 61st minute.

Elsewhere, Timmy Chandler and Eintracht Frankfurt held serve at home with a 1-0 win over Schalke. Alex Maier scored the only goal in the 13th minute, and while he had a later penalty saved, The Eagles held their opponents scoreless the rest of the way. Chandler came on as a 56th minute substitute and helped keep the clean sheet.

Ingolstadt pulled out a 1-1 draw on the road at Hamburg thanks to a 76th minute equalizer from Lukas Hinterseer. Marcel Reese and Anthony Modeste gave Cologne a 2-0 home win over Darmstadt.

Premier League Saturday Roundup: Chelsea, Arsenal cruise, United snatches three points

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New managers have quickly brought the attention back to the Premier League’s traditional powerhouses, but one newcomer continues to impress in its return to top-flight football.

Hull City couldn’t pull out a draw against unbeaten PL favorites Manchester United, but the Tigers still looked impressive at times. Meanwhile, Chelsea, Leicester and Arsenal all won on the day, with the Blues keeping their winning ways up as well.

 

Hull City 0-0 Manchester United – RECAP

The points were surely going to be split between two of the better sides during the opening month of the season, but Marcus Rashford stole all three out from under Hull City. Despite a clever defensive effort from the Tigers, United remained unbeaten through three games after the second-half substitute smashed home Wayne Rooney‘s cross in the 92nd minute of play.

Chelsea 3-0 Burnley – RECAP

It was easily Chelsea’s best performance of the young season, and Eden Hazard looks to be back to his old ways after kicking off the day with a goal. The Clarets were held throughout the match at Stamford Bridge, limited to zero shots on target.

Tottenham 1-1 Liverpool — RECAP

Philippe Coutinho continues to present challenges for opposing defenses but luckily for Spurs the Brazilian was off with his finishing on the day. A James Milner penalty kick gave Liverpool the lead at White Hart Lane before Danny Rose leveled things up for the home side. Spurs remain unbeaten in their start to the new campaign but like many other PL sides, Mauricio Pochettino‘s men are still fine-tuning in the early portion of the season.

Watford 1-3 Arsenal – RECAP

A brutal schedule to open the season forced the Gunners to wait three weeks to find their opening win, but Saturday’s performance was a reminder of just how dangerous Arsene Wenger‘s group can be when firing on all cylinders. Alexis Sanchez looked like a menace from the opening kickoff, working his way into dangerous areas on the field and troubling the Watford backline.

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

 

Leicester 2-1 Swansea City RECAP

The Foxes don’t look dominating like they were a season ago, but the most important thing about Saturday’s performance was that they won. Jamie Vardy got back on track with a much needed finish off of a routine long ball, before captain Wes Morgan powered home a close-range strike.

Crystal Palace 1-1 Bournemouth – RECAP

It looked as though Josh King‘s first-half finish would be enough for Bournemouth to earn its first win of the season, but Scott Dann‘s late effort ensured that Palace would take a share of the points at home. Neither side looked dominant after the opener from the visitors, but it was a valiant effort from Alan Pardew‘s side to pick up a draw.

Southampton 1-1 SunderlandRECAP

Chances were limited until the latter stages of the match but some clever play from Jermain Defoe to earn a penalty kick handed the Black Cats the lead with 10 minutes to play before the home side equalized in the dying minutes. Jay Rodriguez was the savior for Southampton, after scoring with five minutes to play for the Saints.

Everton 1-0 Stoke City – RECAP

The Toffees have quietly gone about their business this season but Ronald Koeman‘s side have taken seven out of nine points in their first three matches. Leighton Baines‘ penalty kick secured the team’s second win of the new PL season on Saturday, and Everton will be certainly pleased with the start.

Hull City 0-1 Manchester United: Rashford strikes late on the road

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  • Rashford plays hero after entering as substitute
  • Jakupovic makes seven saves in losing effort
  • Hull held to two shots on target
  • United remains unbeaten in first 3 matches

Hull City did just about everything right to earn a draw on Saturday, but Marcus Rashford decided to flip the script in the dying minutes.

Manchester United came away with a 1-0 victory at the KC Stadium after the second-half subsitute smashed home Wayne Rooney‘s cross in the 92nd minute.

Robert Snodgrass nearly handed Hull the lead after 25 minutes when the midfielder’s free kick narrowly missed wide of David De Gea‘s net. The Spanish goalkeeper was easily beaten by the shot, but United dodged a bullet as he watched the attempt go off target.

Chances were aplenty for United throughout the match, including the first half, which saw the Red Devils’ claims for a handball inside the penalty area denied.

The Red Devils found another chance to break the deadlock on the stroke of halftime but Zlatan Ibrahimovic couldn’t find the back of the net. The Swedish striker appeared to be offsides on Wayne Rooney’s free kick but Hull survived the sequence unscathed.

It always seemed like United would find a breakthrough, despite Hull’s best defensive efforts, and Rashford’s late finish ensured the Red Devils would remain unbeaten to start the 2016/17 season.