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.

Portland Timbers vs. Colorado Rapids, Friday, 11:00 p.m. Eastern NBCSN

WATCH LIVE: NBC Sports Live Extra

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

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

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.

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.

Watch Live: Leicester City vs. Man United (Lineups, Live Stream)

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 07:  Jamie Vardy of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Watford at The King Power Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Leicester City host Manchester United to the King Power Stadium (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via Live Extra) on Saturday.

And, remarkably, the Foxes are in first-place as Claudio Ranieri‘s side continue to stun everyone with Jamie Vardy leading the charge.

Vardy, 28, has scored in 10 consecutive Premier League games, equaling Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record. He can set a new record by scoring against Ruud’s old team on Saturday.


As for United, they sat in second place heading into the weekend but with goals continuing to be an issue for Louis Van Gaal, United’s fans aren’t overjoyed despite looking solid at the back. In this game last season United lead 3-1 but lost 5-3. Expect a tighter game this time out.

In teams news Leicester start with Okazaki up top with Vardy, while United bring in Paddy McNair, Michael Carrick, Juan Mata and Ashley Young into the starting lineup.


Leicester City: Schmeichel; Simpson, Huth, Morgan, Fuchs; Mahrez, Kante, Drinkwater, Albrighton; Okazaki, Vardy. Subs: De Laet, King, Schlupp, Ulloa, Dyer, Schwarzer, Inler

Manchester United:  De Gea, Darmian, McNair, Smalling, Blind, Carrick, Schweinsteiger, Mata, Young, Rooney, Martial. Subs: Romero, Borthwick-Jackson, Fellaini, Memphis, Pereira, Schneiderlin, Rashford

Saturday’s transfer rumor roundup: Bender to Gunners, Demichelis to NYCFC

<> on September 29, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.
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Arsenal, Manchester United, Newcastle, Sunderland and Manchester City are all running through the transfer gossip mill this weekend.

The London Evening Standard has linked Arsenal with a sextet of players in January, apparently eschewing the tradition of a low-movement winter window.

Bayer Leverkusen defensive midfielder Lars Bender is the headline subject, with Arsenal looking for answers at the position outside of current options Mathieu Flamini and Calum Chambers. If they don’t get him — and this is purely cheeky conjecture — perhaps his twin brother Sven could be lured from Borussia Dortmund.

[ MORE: Alex Teixeira says he’s “deep” into talks with Chelsea ]

Also linked with the Gunners: Sevilla’s Grzegorz Krychowiak andSporting Lisbon’s William Carvalho, with Napoli’s Lucas Biglia and a pair of Nice players in the fray (Vincent Koziello and Nampalys Mendy).

Will Louis Van Gaal go for another Ligue 1 forward to help inject danger into his attack? Former Alex Ferguson-era target Lucas Moura is said to be in play, and the 23-year-old PSG attacker is only a part-time starter in France.

The Daily Mirror tabs Martin Demichelis as a potential departure from Manchester City, at least on loan. And it says they could use him to shore up the back line at brother club New York City FC.

Speaking of MLS, this one slipped through the cracks over Thanksgiving, but could Seattle Sounders striker Obafemi Martins make a short-term return to goal-hungry Northeast England?

Let’s say you’re a 16-year-old goalkeeper who’s already appeared five times for AC Milan. What are you worth on the transfer market? Gianluigi Donnarumma’s super agent Mino Raiola says, “I’d compare him to a [piece by Italian artist Amadeo] Modigliani. He’s worth 170 million.”

WATCH: USMNT’s Johnson bags brace for Gladbach from the wing

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Jurgen Klinsmann’s lack of strong left backs puts the USMNT in a bind when it comes to the use of Fabian Johnson, but the Bundesliga star keeps making his case on the wing for Borussia Monchengladbach.

After scoring in the UEFA Champions League at midweek, the slick-moving American added two more to his account on Saturday.

The first came when he finished off this gorgeous bit of a ball movement against Hoffenheim.

[ MORE: Alex Teixeira says he’s “deep” into talks with Chelsea ]

Johnson’s razor-thin run was finished with a fortunate dink off the goal post and in, as the 27-year-old picked up his second Bundesliga goal of the season.

The second goal needs no words.


Klinsmann has sometimes used normal center backs at left back in order to deploy Johnson further up the field, where he’s been a key part of ‘Gladbach’s success. Many who didn’t watch the Bundesliga had been critical when Johnson began to be deployed further forward by the U.S. national team coach.

Much like Michael Bradley, the temptation to use Johnson in a second- or third-best position is high for Klinsmann. Saturday’s goal only adds to that predicament.

Watch Live, Stream links – Man City vs. Saints, every 10am ET game

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Five Premier League games are coming your way at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday, with plenty of tasty matches on the slate.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Click on the link above, or the individual links below, to stream every single game live online via Live Extra. Plus, if it’s lineups, stats and a box score you are after, click on the link below.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

So, here is your one-stop streaming shop for every PL game kicking off at 10 a.m. ET.

Saturday, 10 a.m. ET kick offs

Manchester City vs. Southampton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Injury-hit City will look to rebound from that crushing home defeat to Liverpool last week, while Saints also need to get back on track but Graziano Pelle is missing.

Sunderland vs. Stoke City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, USA) – [STREAM]

The Black Cats put in a composed defensive display away at Palace on Monday to win, while Stoke have won two-straight games and victory could take them into the top six.

Aston Villa vs. Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) –  [STREAM]

Boy, it’s getting serious for Villa. Remi Garde’s side were battered at Everton last week and Jack Grealish is in trouble. Watford are solid and will fancy this, big time.

Bournemouth vs. Everton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

The Cherries are without a win in seven and let a 2-0 lead slip at Swansea last week. Everton are flying after a 4-0 win over Villa with Lukaku and Barkley running the show.

Crystal Palace vs. Newcastle – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Alan Pardew facing his former team and even though the Eagles are struggling to score goals, they’re in a much healthier position than relegation-haunted Newcastle.