Deshorn Brown, Dillon Powers

MLS Preview: Playoff tensions rise as last teams reach half-way mark

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After this weekend’s matches, every team will have reached its halfway mark, bringing the playoff races into view on the horizon. Starting with NBC’s Friday Night Game, here’s a look at the upcoming weekend in Major League Soccer.

NBC’S FRIDAY NIGHT GAME
Portland Timbers vs. Colorado Rapids, Friday, 11:00 p.m. Eastern NBCSN

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Portland’s collapsing quest to return to the postseason wouldn’t look so bad if it wasn’t for Colorado. We knew Seattle, Real Salt Lake, and the LA Galaxy were good bets for the Western Conference playoffs, while the talent accumulated in Vancouver just needs to be pieced together in the right way. If the Whitecaps recapture their spring form, they’ll be there, too.

In theory, Colorado should be the team that comes back to the pack, the one that could leaves room for the Timbers to play into November, but that’s just not happening. The Rapids have moved on from spring’s conservative, penalty-dependent team to become a more resourceful group. Pablo Mastroeni has managed to solidify his team while continuing to put players like Deshorn Brown, Dillon Powers, and Vicente Sánchez in positions to define matches.

Perhaps as important: Colorado has six points on the Timbers, as well as a game in hand. The Timbers aren’t their only threat, but with win at Providence Park, the Rapids could deal a big blow to a team that could become its most dangerous.

Notes: Sánchez is serving the last of his two-game suspension on Friday, with Nick LaBrocca (yellow accumulation) and Shane O’Neill (disciplinary committee suspension) joining him on the sidelines; Liam Ridgewell could debut in defense for Portland.

source: Getty Images

GAME OF THE WEEK STUFF
Sporting Kansas City vs. LA Galaxy, Saturday, 6:00 p.m. Eastern, ESPN2

On 14 goals, Dom Dwyer (right) has been one of MLS’s most prolific goal-scorers, with his production crucial for a Kansas City where no other player has scored more than two goals. It’s a frightening dependency, one that should be corrected with Graham Zusi’s return. Whereas a year ago Dwyer was still establishing his place in Peter Vermes’ starting lineup, now he’s their most indispensible player.

The Galaxy had a similar dependency on Robbie Keane earlier this year, only getting results when their star forward got on the scoresheet. Over the last two months, however, LA’s own emerging talent has alleviated that concern. With six goals, all since May 21, Zardes is establishing himself as a desperately needed second scorer.

It’s strange to say that about a team that also has Landon Donovan, but with Keane scoring and Donovan creating, there just weren’t enough goals. Since Zardes started scoring eight games ago, LA has 17 goals. In the eight games before the 22-year-old’s run, LA’s only scored eight times.

In a way, however, those are mere details in a bigger story. Whenever Sporting and LA meet, we’re talking about two of the best, most talented organizations in Major League Soccer. With Kansas City unbeaten in five, both teams will be carrying significant momentum into Saturday’s early kickoff.

source: Getty Images

THE GAMES YOU SHOULD WIN
New York Red Bulls vs. San Jose Earthquakes, Saturday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern
D.C. United vs. Chivas USA, Sunday, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, Univision Deportes

As Erick Torres (right) continues to remind us, even the league’s bottom feeders are capable of greatness in spurts, a lesson an East-leading United has taken to heart during its dramatic turnaround season. At some point, however, there just aren’t enough clichés that can obscure the obvious: Good teams should beat bad teams, particularly at home.

Is D.C. a good team? The standings say yes, but how the team goes about its business makes Chivas USA dangerous. Though they’re in first in the East, United’s walking a fine line by playing so many close games. And lately, unbeaten in its last five, Chivas has been pushing other teams over that line.

New York has been so inconsistent, it’s difficult to say they’re actually good. One day they’re blowing out Columbus. The next they’re practically anonymous during a game in Philadelphia. If consistency’s a hallmark of quality, the Red Bulls have a way to go.

Against a team that’s falling away from the West, New York should win. But San Jose has enough weapons to pull an upset, should short rest bring out the Mr. Hyde in the Red Bulls.

source: Getty ImagesLEAST IN THE EAST
Columbus Crew vs. Montréal Impact, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Eastern
Chicago Fire vs. Philadelphia Union, Saturday, 8:30 p.m. Eastern, Univision Deportes

Too bad this isn’t an elimination tournament, right? Perhaps that’s a bit harsh. After all, there’s still a long way to go in the season. Any of these teams could still heat up, though from a neutral’s perspective, there’s no way around it. Four of the seven worst teams in the league (in terms of points-per-game) are in these games.

If you’re looking for a reason to go beyond the records and tune in, might I suggest focusing on the stars? Consider:

  • Columbus’s Federico Higuaín (right) is one of the league’s elite playmakers. The Argentine leads the league in throughballs per game, with only Javier Morales creating more chances for his teammates.
  • Montréal’s Marco Di Vaio is nearing the end, but he still has the talent to be the East’s Erick Torres. If he gets hot, the Impact can make a late run.
  • In Chicago, Mike Magee may be the reigning MVP, but rookie Harry Shipp has been the Fires best player. Destined to be the league’s Rookie of the Year, the 22-year-old leads the team in both goals (six) and assists (four).
  • And with Philadelphia, Maurice Edu has been asked to move back from midfield, where he was an international-caliber player, into defense, a position he’s had dalliances with in the past. His switch could stabilize the Union; or, it could continue the team’s drift.

source: Getty ImagesTOTAL OPPOSITES
FC Dallas vs. New England Revolution, Saturday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern
Houston Dynamo vs. Toronto FC, Saturday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern

Sometimes we (bloggers, writers, et al.) get a bit lazy when using clichés like “going in opposite directions. Other times, you see the wisdom in the crutch.

Consider Dallas and New England. Despite Fabián Castillo’s suspension, Óscar Pareja has his team unbeaten in four, with Mauro Díaz returning just in time to help keep the team in the West’s top five. Contrast that with New England, who’ve gone from the league’s best team in mid-spring to one of its worst. A 5-1, mid-week defeat to Los Angeles gave the Revs six straight losses.

The story’s similar in Houston, where the defense’s collapse has left the Dynamo with one point in seven, sinking Dom Kinnear’s team to ninth in the East. To stop that slide, they’ll have to derail a TFC team that’s lost once since May 3 – a team that beat the Dynamo 4-2 last week at BMO.

source: APQUIETLY, THE WEEKEND’S BEST GAME
Real Salt Lake vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, Saturday, 10:00 p.m. Eastern

Sporting and LA will draw the hype, but given the teams’ tendencies, the game in Kansas could (d)evolve into a very cagey battle. Whichever team scores first is more than capable of holding that lead. The day’s biggest game could turn into one for the true connoisseurs.

Saturday’s late game in Sandy will have just as much quality on the field, but with creators like Javier and Pedro Morales and attacking talents like João Plata and Kakuta Manneh, the day’s finale could prove much more exciting. With Kyle Beckerman (right) and Matías Laba doing battle with a pairs of the league’s elite playmakers, a series of great one-on-one match ups are part of this game’s charm.

Another part of that charm comes from the teams’ flaws. After reaching May 31 undefeated, Real Salt Lake’s only win in its last seven came against New England. And thanks to a similar disappointing run (one win in six), Vancouver has fallen out of the West’s top five.

Perhaps those slides will create a sense of urgency in two of the league’s most talented teams. Regardless, only one team can end its slide at Rio Tinto.

CCV, Zelalem, Klinsmann on U-20 roster as U.S. plays Germany, Netherlands, England

COMMERCE CITY, CO - OCTOBER 06:  Gedion Zelalem #16 of the United States controls the ball against Pedro Jeanine #5 of Panama during 2015 CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on October 6, 2015 in Commerce City, Colorado. The United States defeated Panama 4-0.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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In some ways, this tournament could be more interesting than the USMNT’s friendlies against Cuba and New Zealand.

The United States U-20 team is preparing for World Cup qualification by facing a fearsome threesome in the Four Nations Tournament in England.

[ MORE: PST talks with Michael Bradley ]

The Yanks will play Germany on Wednesday in Leigh, the Netherlands on Friday in Manchester, and England on Monday in Rochdale.

Among the names to watch, of course, are Spurs’ Cameron Carter-Vickers and Arsenal youngster Gedion Zelalem. Also, Jonathan Klinsmann, son of USMNT boss Jurgen, is one of two goalkeepers in the bunch.

A pair of Fulham players make the cut, as does new UD Las Palmas signing Emmanuel Sabbi. Seattle Sounders forward Victor Mansaray and Orlando defender Tommy Redding rep MLS on the roster.

[ MORE: Carter-Vickers signs extension with Spurs ]

It’ll be a must-follow tournament, considering the opposition. The Yanks will be tested by an English roster which includes Premier League players Reece Oxford (West Ham), Joshua Onomah (Spurs), and Lewis Cook (Bournemouth). England’s full roster is here.

U.S. U-20 roster

GOALKEEPERS: Jonathan Klinsmann (University of California), Justin Vom Steeg (Fortuna Dusseldorf)

DEFENDERS (8): Hugo Arellano (LA Galaxy), Marcello Borges (Michigan), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur), Marlon Fossey (Fulham), Tommy Redding (Orlando City SC), Miles Robinson (Syracuse), Toni Suddoth (VfB Stuttgart), Auston Trusty (Bethlehem Steel FC)

MIDFIELDERS (7): Danny Acosta (Real Salt Lake), Luca De La Torre (Fulham), Derrick Jones (Bethlehem Steel FC), Brooks Lennon (Liverpool), Weston McKinnie (Schalke 04), Jonathan Suarez (Queretaro), Gedion Zelalem (Arsenal)

FORWARDS (5): Jeremy Ebobisse (Charleston Battery), Victor Mansaray (Seattle Sounders FC), Emmanuel Sabbi (UD Las Palmas), Sebastian Saucedo (Veracruz), Isaiah Young (PDA)

Jurgen Klopp angry despite Liverpool’s fourth-straight win

SWANSEA, WALES - OCTOBER 01:  Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool reacts  during the Premier League match between Swansea City and Liverpool at Liberty Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool ground out a 2-1 win at Swansea City on Saturday as the Reds have now won four-straight games in the Premier League.

Still, Klopp isn’t that happy.

[ MORE: Latest transfer news ]

That’s because Liverpool were second best in the first half as they failed to cope with Swansea’s high-pressing and were behind 1-0 at half time.

Klopp had some strong words for his players in the dressing room and it worked as Roberto Firmino equalizes and James Milner‘s late spot kick won it.

Despite plenty of optimism over Liverpool’s strong start to the season — they have won five of their opening seven games and have 16 points on the board — the German coach wasn’t best pleased when speaking to Sky Sports afterwards.

“We are really happy in this moment, second half was like the whole game should have been. We were really angry with ourselves with the first half because the body language was not good and too late in mind and all that stuff. It was far away from our best performance but we showed a reaction in the second half and that’s important,” Klopp said. “You can lose football games and we will lose football games in the future but you have to show minimum part of your usual face. That’s what we showed second half and that was Liverpool and that’s what we think we should be. We were the deserved win in the end.”

Liverpool deserved to just edge the game but they could’ve been 2-0 or even 3-0 down at half time had Swansea been more clinical. Defending set pieces continues to be a problem for Klopp and his side have now conceded the most from those situations in the Premier League since he arrived last October. There was no surprise Leroy Fer‘s goal came from a set piece as zonal marking was again an issue for the Reds, while goalkeeper Lorus Karius looked a little nervy at times when coming for crosses as Mike Van der Hoorn should’ve equalized in the dying stages for Swansea.

With plenty of euphoria around Liverpool’s stellar start to this season, question marks over their defensive play still linger. Liverpool has now failed to keep a clean sheet in any of its last 10 Premier League away games dating back to last season, which is closing in on the club record of 12. Yes, we know they are the top-scoring team in the Premier League in 2016 but shoring up these defensive issues will be the priority for Klopp.

Klopp also confirmed that both Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren are struggling with groin injuries. Lallana hobbled off in the first half and Klopp believes the England midfielder will not be available for Gareth Southgate over the international break.

“One or two problems today. Adam with a groin problem and Dejan Lovren too. I’m pretty sure they both cannot go now to national team,” Klopp confirmed. “We need further assessment and then we will see. Hopefully they can use the time to recover and be back in the race for the next game.”

Liverpool remain in the race for the PL title with yet another win but Klopp knows his side will come up against better opponents than a struggling Swansea and they got out of jail a little bit on Saturday.

STREAM: Watch Hull-Chelsea, West Ham-Boro, every 10am ET game

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: Diego Costa of Chelsea shows his frustration during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium on September 24, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Four games take center stage at 10 a.m. ET in the Premier League on Saturday.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

Hull City host Chelsea at the KCOM Stadium, while struggling West Ham host Middlesbrough at the London Stadium.

Elsewhere Bournemouth head to Watford and Sunderland is hoping to get their first win as West Brom head to the Stadium of Light.

You can stream each game live by clicking on the links below or above.


10 a.m. ET: Hull City vs. Chelsea – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Sunderland vs. West Brom – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Ham vs. Middlesbrough – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Watford vs. Bournemouth – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]

Pardew, Palace wish luck to FC Cincinnati; USL Playoffs underway (video)

CINCINNATI, OH - JULY 16: Tyler Polak #3 of FC Cincinnati steals the ball from Bakary Sako #26 of Crystal Palace FC as Paul Nicholson #8 of FC Cincinnati falls back on defense during the first half at Nippert Stadium on July 16, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.(Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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Before Crystal Palace drew Everton 1-1 at Goodison Park on Friday, they turned their attention Stateside.

The club released a video message in support of United States third tier side FC Cincinnati on Friday, as the third-seeded USL club prepares to take on No. 6 Charleston Battery at Nippert Stadium on Sunday.

[ MORE: PST talks with Michael Bradley ]

Palace visited FC Cincinnati this summer, with 35,000-plus showing up as the Premier League side beat its USL opposition in a wonderful showcase for American soccer supporters.

Well, Pards and the boys were impressed, and issued a vote of good luck:

The playoffs are underway, with 16 of the 29 clubs making the march forward. Reigning champion Rochester Rhinos open up against Charlotte at Rhinos Stadium on Saturday, while the No. 1 seeds are New York Red Bulls II (Eastern Conference) and Sacramento Republic FC (Western Conference).

Full first round

Western Conference

Sacramento Republic (1) vs. Orange County Blues (8) — Saturday
Swope Park Rangers (4) 3-0 LA Galaxy II (5)
Colorado Springs Switchbacks (3) 1-2 Vancouver Whitecaps 2 (6)
Rio Grande Valley FC Toros (2) vs. Oklahoma City Energy FC (7)

Eastern Conference

New York Red Bulls (1) vs. Orlando City B (8) — Sunday
Rochester Rhinos (4) vs. Charlotte Independence (5) — Saturday
FC Cincinnati (3) vs. Charleston Battery (6) — Sunday
Louisville City FC (2) vs. Richmond Kickers (7) — Sunday