MLS Preview: Donovan, Galaxy kick off weekend with California Clasico

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In the wake of the World Cup, Major League Soccer’s season stops for now one, not even itself. Though the All-Star game was on Wednesday, the league is back in action on Friday, with retiree-to-be Landon Donovan and the LA Galaxy welcoming the San Jose Earthquakes to StubHub Center (on NBCSN).

With big matches in Columbus, Dallas, Salt Lake, and Vancouver, here’s a preview of MLS’s nine-match, weekend schedule:

LA Galaxy vs. San Jose Earthquakes, Friday, 10:30 p.m. Eastern, NBCSN

This could have happened, in a former life. Like earlier today, when I woke up, and momentarily misunderstood the day’s biggest news:

Me: I don’t even know what to write.
Friend: Good, but pretending for a moment that I actually care what you do, why do you say that? What happened?
Me: Other than Landon Donovan, nothing, I suppose, but tomorrow’s NBCSN game is still going on, and I need to come up with something. My blurb is going to be surreal.
Friend: Somehow, I doubt it.
Me: It’s not like we haven’t seen LA play without him. It’s that they’re never going to play with him again. Insane …
Friend: Richard.
Me: … I mean, they have Ishizaki, and they can bring Husidic back into the lineup. And I guess if Dunivant is alright, Rogers can move back into the midfield …
Friend: Richard?
Me: But I don’t even remember what the Galaxy were like before Donovan. In-freakin’-sane. Now they really need Zardes …
Friend: RICHARD!
Me: Screw it. I’m just going to embed Kyle Martino’s entire timeline.
Friend: Will you just stop? Landon Donovan did not retire today, okay? He’s playing until the end of the season.
Me: Wait. What? When did this happen?
Friend: It happened below the headline. Did you even read that part?
Me: No. Never. (Long pause.) So LA’s just gonna win, then.
Friend: Yes, LA’s just gonna win then. Now log off, you moron.

Well, they aren’t just going to win, but everything points in that direction. At the moment, LA’s the best team in the league, and while San Jose is coming off two strong wins in a row (5-1 over Chicago; 1-0 over Seattle), visiting the in-form Galaxy could prove one of their most difficult games of the season.

If LA’s for real, it wins this game. Regardless, we’ll get to see how the StubHub crowd reacts to Thursday’s shocking news.

[ RELATED, Donovan: Twitter reacts | Garber, too | Need to move on | LA w/o LD, Becks ]

Philadelphia Union vs. Montréal Impact, Saturday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern

Speaking of games teams should win, say hi to Philadelphia. For most of the year, they’ve been okay, but now they’re on the verge of being good, with a surge up the East’s table since their coaching change leaving Jim Curtain’s team on the edge of the playoffs. With Montréal in town, the Union have a chance to turn up the heat on Columbus and New England – teams straddling the postseason line in the Eastern Conference.

Given how Montréal played last week, there’s no reason to think the Impact will offer much resistance. One day, however, a team with a decent amount of talent will shake their funk. Coming off a mid-week win in Champions League, Saturday may be that day.

source: APColumbus Crew vs. Toronto FC, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Eastern

Federico Higuaín and Mix Diserkud in the same midfield? Yeah, and I think we’d all be okay with that. Even if Columbus continues to desperately, perhaps hopelessly needs a striker, a three-man middle of Higuaín, Diskerud, and Will Trapp? Woof.

Unfortunately …

[tweet https://twitter.com/APrecourt/status/497210550741651456]

Think that will make it a little more bitter when Michael Bradley (right) comes to town? Toronto has their nice, shiny U.S. international, whereas Mix Diskerud’s dad kept the Crew’s at Rosenborg?

Subplots aside, these are two of the teams fighting at the edge of the East’s playoff picture – the tenuous place between the Supporters’ Shield contenders (Sporting, D.C. United) and the teams in pursuit (New England, Philadelphia).  In fifth place, the Crew needs this result more, but the last time the Reds came to Columbus, they left with full points.

source: APFC Dallas vs. Colorado Rapids, Saturday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern

Successful beyond expectations, FC Dallas is this year’s Colorado, the 2013 team that make an unpredicted push into the West’s playoffs. Doubted all season, the Rapids never faded from the top half of the conference, with Óscar Pareja (right) earning Coach of the Year consideration after his team reached the postseason.

In 2014, recent history’s repeating itself, only instead of merely making the playoffs, Dallas is gearing up to have an impact in November. Fabián Castillo has returned from suspension. Mauro Díaz is slowly returning to match fitness, while injuries at the back have revealed some new options, like Zach Loyd in the middle.

Dallas has already beaten Colorado once this season, but with its key players returning to health, the team can start building for something bigger. If its pieces come together, FCD can transcend what Pareja’s Rapids were able to do last season.

Real Salt Lake vs. D.C. United, Saturday, 10:00 p.m. Eastern

So … the last time D.C. visited RSL:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pyxUybU6IH0]

Sorry about that, RSL fans, but unfortunately, D.C. United’s even better this season. Surprises in spring, the black and red have started to assume a frontrunner’s pose this summer, and while Real Salt Lake’s veteran core surely hasn’t forgotten one of last year’s two heartbreakers, a taste for revenge is no guarantee they’ll be able to derail Ben Olsen’s squad.

source: AP

Portland vs. Chivas USA, Saturday, 10:30 p.m. Eastern

A terrible defensive record means the Timbers are one of only two Western Conference teams with a negative goal difference, though if things go well over the next three days, they could end the weekend tied for fifth. Get some help from Dallas and Sporting, take care of business at home against Chivas, and Portland will be even with Colorado. Not bad for a team that looked decidedly un-playoff-like on Saturday against the Galaxy.

Taking care of business, however, is the theme that will follow Chivas throughout the rest of the season. Every team they’ll face between now and game 34 will be favored to take three points. Those that don’t will lose ground in another hyper-competitive playoff race.

For a Timbers team that’s struggled to get back in that race, dropping points will be a bitter pill. But if that happens, we’ll get a better idea of which teams are ready for their playoff runs.

source: APChicago Fire vs. New York Red Bulls, Sunday, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, Univision Deportes

Over the last two games, New York has played well, even though last week’s trip to RSL had a way of disguising that performance. Both on paper and form, the Red Bulls look like a better team than Chicago, but on the road, with three players called into action in Portland, a draw seems like an acceptable result.

But please, god of whatever has saved MLS over the last 10 years, please don’t let Chicago tie any more. Let them be good, let them be bad – I don’t care. I just don’t want to sit though another Chicago Fire draw, mostly because the sense of inevitability behind every result. Even when they take an early league (like last week against Columbus), you thought “I don’t how they’re give back this one.”

That’s what’s so frustrating. It’s not the draws themselves. We’re used to those. And it’s not a team playing badly. Thanks to Montréal, we’re used to that, too.  It’s the stasis of it all; the empty nothingness.

It’s good enough. It’s bad enough. We just stay … in … this one … place, on pace for 21 draws.

Soccer god, help us.

source: Getty ImagesVancouver Whitecaps vs. Sporting Kansas City, Sunday, 8:00 p.m. Eastern

For me, this is the weekend’s best match, one that pits a Sporting side that gets Matt Besler back in the team against one of the deepest attacks in the league. On a unique home pitch Kansas City sees only once every two years, players like Pedro Morales and Matías Laba will have a significant edge, one that usually forces a big change to how opponents approach their game.

But for all that depth, Vancouver has become a team in flux. Darren Mattocks is being worked back into the lineup, with Erik Hurtado’s move wide pushing Kekuta Manneh out of Carl Robinson’s choice XI. Jay DeMerit’s sudden retirement has left the team thingat the back, while the rotation that the Whitecaps have used throughout the season has left the team with short on certainties as the final third approaches.

As we saw when Kansas City visited Toronto, the defending champions know how to exploit the thinnest of margins. If Sunday’s margin is the `Caps latent uncertainty – the unsteadiness that’s kept one of the league’s most talented teams from realizing its potential – Peter Vermes may be able to take a point out of Vancouver.

source: Getty ImagesSeattle Sounders vs. Houston Dynamo, Sunday, 10:30 p.m. Eastern, ESPN2

We’ve been mentioning (read: dwelling on) it for since they lost to the Galaxy, but in the wake of the team’s performance in San Jose, the word is finally starting to come up: Collapse. It happened at the end of last season, and to a smaller extent, it’s happened in previous postseasons, too. Dealing with their first two-game losing streak of the season, the worries of last year are starting to emmerge.

In that way, Sunday’s visit is the perfect test. Houston has added DaMarcus Beasley and Luis Garrido, but there’s nothing about its team or results that suggests they should beat Seattle. If they do — if, for some reason, the Sounders drop points against Houston — it will be time to start worrying about 2013.

La Liga: Sevilla win late to move even with Atletico Madrid in 3rd

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MADRID (AP) Wissam Ben Yedder scored three minutes after entering the game to give Sevilla a late 2-1 win over 10-man Celta Vigo in the Spanish league on Thursday.

The victory moved Sevilla even on points with third-place Atletico Madrid with four matches left. Third place guarantees an automatic spot in the Champions League next season, while the fourth-placed team has to go through a playoff.

Ben Yedder netted the winner from close range after a low cross by Samir Nasri in the 79th minute, beating a defender to the ball and hitting the top of the net with a right-footed shot.

“It was a complex game but the team was able to overcome the difficulties,” Sevilla coach Jorge Sampaoli said.

Joaquin Correa put the host ahead after halftime, and Iago Aspas equalized by converting a penalty kick just minutes later. Aspas did not celebrate the goal out of respect to fans of his former club.

Sevilla dominated from the start and was pressuring vigorously in search of the winner, especially after Celta went a man down when midfielder Pablo Hernandez was sent off with a second yellow card in the 56th with the game 1-1.

Sergio Escudero and Nasri each struck the crossbar a few minutes apart late in the second half, and Vicente Iborra also had hit the woodwork earlier in the game played under steady rain in Seville.

It was the third win in four matches for Sevilla after a streak of five games without a win.

Sevilla and Atletico are level on points, but the Madrid club is ahead on the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Top PL Storylines: Bye-bye, St. Totteringham’s Day? So long, Sunderland?

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Ahead of Week 34 of the 2016-17 Premier League season, we’re most looking forward to keeping an eye on the following storylines…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Cancel St. Totteringham’s Day?

8,018 days (otherwise known as 22.9 years) have passed since Tottenham Hotspur last finished above Arsenal in the Premier League. First of all, that’s a lot of days. Secondly, the time to reset that clock is nearly upon us, as Tottenham take a 14-point lead into Sunday’s North London derby (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) — perhaps the final one to be played at White Hart Lane. With Arsenal having only five games left to play after Sunday, a 17-point deficit would be mathematically impossible to overcome, and would guarantee Spurs’ first PL finish above Arsenal since the spring of 1995.

The fact that Spurs could end that embarrassing, heinous streak in a game against Arsenal, in perhaps their next-to-last game at White Hart Lane, and maybe even close to within a single point of Chelsea in the title race… it’s almost all too timely and too perfect to believe it could really happen… to Spurs.


Finish the job

With all due respect to Middlesbrough (home), West Bromwich Albion (away), Watford (home) and Sunderland (home), Sunday’s trip to Goodison Park, where they’ve lost on their last two visits (all competitions) and they’ll take on seventh-place Everton (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com), is far and away the toughest remaining fixture on Chelsea’s schedule as they chase a fifth PL-era title (fifth in all eras). Having booked their spot in the FA Cup final by beating Spurs last weekend, Antonio Conte is dreaming of — and a favorite to win — a double in his first season at Stamford.


Someone has to finish top-four

Ahead of the weekend, two points separate Liverpool (third), Manchester City (fourth) and Manchester United (fifth), with Arsenal another four back in sixth (but possessing a game in hand). Given all the points dropped by each of the aforementioned sides in recent weeks, it’s important to remember that someone has to finish third and fourth in the PL this season.

We’ve already discussed Arsenal’s titanic task, so here’s the challenges facing the other three this round: Liverpool, at Watford (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com); Man City, at Middlesbrough (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, on  NBCSports.com); Manchester United, vs. Swansea City (7 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com).


So long, Sunderland?

For five seasons now, Sunderland have flirted with relegation from the PL; and every previous season, they’ve pulled a rabbit out of the hat and managed to stay up. This season, though, under David Moyes, there appears to be no rabbit. With five games to go, safety is a whopping 12 points away, which means a loss to Bournemouth on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSports.com), coupled with a win or draw by 17th-place Hull City, would officially send Sunderland to the Championship next season. If the Black Cats somehow find their way out of this predicament, a northeastern knighthood awaits Mr. Moyes.

French authorities investigating 2018, 2022 World Cup bids

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PARIS (AP) French financial prosecutors are investigating the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and have heard former FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

A person with direct knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press on Thursday that France’s financial prosecutor services (PNF) opened the investigation on grounds of private corruption, criminal association, influence peddling, and benefiting from influence peddling relating to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which were awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the case.

Blatter was questioned in Switzerland last week as a witness, the same person told the AP.

The office of the attorney general of Switzerland said in a statement that “at the request of and in the context of proceedings being conducted by French justice authorities, it has questioned Mr. Joseph Blatter in his capacity as a person providing information on the 20th April 2017 in Zurich.”

The PNF opened its investigation last year.

FIFA has also been targeted by investigations led by Swiss and US authorities. Last month, FIFA sent 1,300 pages of internal investigation reports into suspected bribery and corruption to Switzerland’s attorney general. The documents complete a 22-month probe by legal firm Quinn Emanuel, which FIFA retained in the fallout from United States and Swiss federal prosecutors revealing their sprawling investigations of soccer corruption in May 2015.

Blatter said last week that he met with U.S. Department of Justice investigators and insisted he was not a suspect in their bribery and corruption case linked to FIFA.

Blatter was suspended from office in September 2015 and later banned from soccer by the FIFA ethics committee.

Johannsson expected to leave Bremen this summer — is MLS next?

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Aron Johannsson’s time at Werder Bremen is all but finished, as the 26-year-old American-born, Icelandic-raised striker is expected to leave the club this summer after 22 months with Die Werderaner.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

Having failed to make much of an impact during his second season in the Bundesliga, following a few promising days early in the fall of 2015, the German press stated on Thursday, in no uncertain terms, “Aron Johannsson is leaving the northern club” — quotes from Kicker (translation courtesy of Google Translate):

In addition, Aron Johannsson is leaving the northern club. The US boy was not able to get through the hard competition in the storm, claimed more time, which can hardly be guaranteed in the next season. The fact that Baumann is already talking about finding a meaningful solution with the striker in the summer can be interpreted as follows: Johannsson will leave Werder.

Since various bits and pieces are lost in the above translation, allow us to offer a translation of the translation: the “hard competition in the storm” refers to the three or four strikers presently ahead of him in the pecking order. Johannsson fell down the depth chart due in large part to a hip injury which cost him the final seven months of last season.

Johannsson was recently quoted as saying, “It’s not my desire to leave, but at the end of the day it’s important that I play. I love football, but I need to play to be happy.”

[ MORE: John Brooks hip injury is worrying ahead of World Cup qualifiers ]

So, what’s next for Johannsson?

He can probably forget about a move to a top-division team in any of Europe’s premier leagues (England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France). A move back to Holland, where he starred at AZ Alkmaar (39 goals in 81 games) before moving to Bremen, would make sense if his goal is to stay in Europe at all costs. Another strong season (just a half, even) could earn him another shot with a first-division side roughly the size of Bremen.

Then, there’s MLS, which Johannsson’s been linked with before, and has publicly expressed a desire to join one day. As a current U.S. national team player, a move to MLS would mean a trip through the league’s allocation order for Johannsson. As of this posting, the Houston Dynamo hold the no. 1 spot in the allocation order, with Columbus Crew SC, San Jose Earthquakes, Minnesota United and Orlando City SC rounding out the next five.

[ WATCH: If you haven’t Darlington Nagbe’s latest golazo ]

Any team in MLS could land Johannsson by acquiring the top spot in the allocation order, via trade, and agreeing (what would almost certainly be) a Designated Player contract with him.

At the age of 26, Johannsson will likely feel there is still something left for him to accomplish in Europe. A strong showing in this summer’s Gold Cup (he’s a perfect candidate for Bruce Arena’s “B-team”) could open plenty of eyes — and doors. Money talks, though, just as the opportunity to be the face of the franchise and score a boatload of goals in MLS might also do.