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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Messi returns for Argentina qualifiers vs. Brazil, Colombia

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JUNE 26:  Lionel Messi #10 of Argentina takes the ball against the Chile during the Copa America Centenario Championship match at MetLife Stadium on June 26, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.Chile defeated Argentina 0-0 with the 4-2 win in the shootout.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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BUENOS AIRES (AP) — Having fully recovered from a groin injury, Barcelona star Lionel Messi was named on Friday in Argentina’s squad to face Brazil and Colombia in the next round of World Cup qualifiers.

Messi has been in fine form for Barcelona since coming back from his latest niggling injury, scoring four goals in two matches, including a superb hat trick against Manchester City in the Champions League on Wednesday.

He has not played for his country since scoring the winner in a 1-0 win against Uruguay on Sept. 1.

In his absence, Argentina drew 2-2 away to Peru and lost 1-0 at home to Paraguay, putting it in fifth place and out of the top four positions that ensure a direct spot for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Messi’s return will be in Belo Horizonte against leaders Brazil, which has won its four first matches under new coach Tite.

Five days later, Edgardo Bauza’s Argentina side hosts fourth-place Colombia.


Goalkeepers: Nahuel Guzman, (Tigres), Sergio Romero (Manchester United), Geronimo Rulli, (Real Sociedad).

Defenders: Martin Demichelis (Espanyol), Mateso Musacchio (Villarreal), Nicolas Otamendi (Manchester City), Ramiro Funes Mori (Everton), Gabriel Mercado, (Sevilla), Facundo Roncaglia (Celta Vigo), Emanuel Mas (San Lorenzo), Pablo Zabaleta, (Manchester City).

Midfielders: Javier Mascherano (Barcelona), Guido Pizarro (Tigres), Lucas Biglia (Lazio), Ever Banega (Inter Milan), Enzo Perez (Valencia), Nicolas Gaitan (Atletico Madrid), Angel Di Maria (Paris Saint-Germain), Julio Buffarini (Sao Paulo), Marcos Acuna (Racing Club).

Strikers: Angel Correa (Atletico Madrid), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Gonzalo Higuain (Juventus), Paulo Dybala (Juventus), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City), Lucas Pratto (Atletico Mineiro).

Guardiola: Aguero, Kompany have nothing to worry about at Man City

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 15:  An injured Vincent Kompany of Manchester City (4) speaks to Sergio Aguero of Manchester City as he leaves the pitch during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg match between Manchester City FC and FC Dynamo Kyiv at the Etihad Stadium on March 15, 2016 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Both Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany have nothing to worry about regarding their place in the Manchester City squad, according to manager Pep Guardiola.

Neither was in the starting lineup for the Champions League loss to Barcelona, with Kompany not even in the 18. But according to Guardiola, he had his reasons for both.

“Vincent was not perfectly fit,” Guardiola said. “Sergio, I said after the game, was a tactical decision. If Sergio decides to leave it will be his decision.”

The former Barcelona manager played a striker-less formation against the La Liga giants, employing Kevin De Bruyne as a false 9. It failed, with Barcelona storming through en route to a 4-0 win, with Lionel Messi scoring a hat-trick.

Kompany has struggled with injuries the past two seasons, missing all of this season so far, half of last year, a healthy portion of the previous campaign with various injuries from hamstring problems to calf tweaks to groin pulls. According to Guardiola, it has left a permanent mark on the Belgian defender’s psyche.

“One day, in the training session, he said: ‘I didn’t feel like this [good],’” Guardiola said. “In that moment, when his head is not ready and with what happened in the last two years, it is better to stay out. I don’t want to put a lot of pressure about how many games we want him to play or set big, big targets. So it’s just try to train good and after a week of training no injuries, we’ll play a game, and after that another one. And after that we’ll see.”

Timmy Chandler, Frankfurt thrash Bobby Wood, Hamburg 3-0

SINSHEIM, GERMANY - AUGUST 01:  Coach Markus Gisdol of Hoffenheim reacts during the friendly match between 1899 Hoffenheim and AFC Bournemouth at Wirsol Rhein-Neckar-Arena on August 1, 2015 in Sinsheim, Germany.  (Photo by Daniel Kopatsch/Getty Images)
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Hamburg may have made a coaching change, but that didn’t change their immediate fortunes.

Bobby Wood and company fell to fellow USMNTer Timmy Chandler and Frankfurt 3-0 at Volksparkstadion. It was a rough home opener for new Hamburg manager Markus Gisdol, as former Fulham and Tottenham midfielder Lewis Holtby opened the scoring with an unfortunate own-goal after an ugly giveaway.

Things got worse as Dennis Diekmeier picked up his second yellow card shortly after halftime, and it was gravy from there for Frankfurt as Shani Tarashaj and Haris Seferovic bagged goals to secure the win.

Hamburg, a club that narrowly staved off relegation in a playoff last season, has just a measly two points through eight matches. They fired manager Bruno Labbadia after just a month, but it hasn’t gone much better for Gisdol as a road draw with Borussia Monchengladbach is the only salvageable result through three thus far.

Bobby Wood’s honeymoon start to the league season for Hamburg is long gone. He scored two goals in two games to start the year, but hasn’t hit the back of the net since.

Timmy Chandler, on the other hand, he’s played the full 90 minutes in every game for Frankfurt since the opener, assisting a goal in the 2-2 draw with Bayern Munich last weekend. He’s helped Frankfurt move to fourth in the league, three points behind Bayern and Koln and Red Bull Leipzig between them (what?!).

Jose Mourinho says Chelsea can’t “delete” him from its history

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 20:  Jose Mourinho the manager of Manchester United looks on during the UEFA Europa League Group A match between Manchester United FC and Fenerbahce SK at Old Trafford on October 20, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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With Manchester United set to visit Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, the Special One will be returning to his former stomping grounds, a place where he spent six tumultuous seasons spread across two separate reigns.

While Jose Mourinho insisted he has “no hard feelings” for his former club and the way things ended, but did not mince words the subject of his former boss came up.

While Mourinho insisted he has “respect” for Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, telling Sky Sports, “We were never friends. We were never close to each other. So he is just a person that I keep very respected.”

Mourinho also said that, even if The Blues wanted to, “They couldn’t delete me from Chelsea history. They belong to my history too. No bad feelings,” Mourinho told Sky Sports. The owner, he decided to sack me…the fans, they have no power. They show day by day, match after match, that they wanted me, but in this profile of club, the fans have no power. In some clubs, especially in some Latin countries, the format of the club, the fans have real power on the board and with the president and owners, but here they have no power so Mr Abramovich decided to sack me, but I left with not one bad word about anyone or anybody at the club.”

The 53-year-old said the titles he won at Chelsea were proof that “I did my job.” He finished by saying that no matter the treatment from fans, he will always hold Chelsea as he does all his other stops. “From me, you are not going to have, ever, a bad word about any one of my previous clubs,” Mourinho said. “I keep always a very good feeling. It doesn’t matter what is going to happen. But, it is my nature. It is my job. It is my new club. On Sunday I will go there to try and do my job.”