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

1 Comment

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.

Valverde dismisses deal to coach Barcelona

Getty Images
Leave a comment

MADRID (AP) Departing Athletic Bilbao coach Ernesto Valverde has been avoiding talk about a possible move to Barcelona, saying he has not entered into negotiations with any club.

Valverde did not confirm reports that he has already reached a deal to coach Barcelona next season, and did not dismiss taking a year off after four seasons at Athletic.

“I haven’t committed to any club, I haven’t talked to anybody,” Valverde said. “I have an agent and there are teams that have shown interest in me. Now I have to decide whether I will take on a new adventure, and it would have to be a challenging one.”

The 53-year-old Valverde has been widely touted to replace Luis Enrique, who announced earlier this year that he was tired and would not continue as Barcelona’s coach.

The Catalan club ends its season after the Copa del Rey final against Alaves on Saturday.

The Mundo Deportivo newspaper reported this week that Valverde has already reached a two-year deal with Barcelona, with an option for a third season. The newspaper said the announcement would be made next week.

“I don’t know what’s been published,” Valverde said. “I never talk about negotiations with clubs and that won’t change. This wouldn’t be the first time that I have offers from important clubs.”

He said there was still the possibility of taking some time off and not immediately taking over another club.

“Why not?” he said. “In the end I can do whatever I want, no?”

A former forward, Valverde played two seasons with Barcelona in the late 1980s. He spent six years with Athletic from 1990-96.

Valverde didn’t hide that he will be hoping Barcelona wins the Copa del Rey title this weekend, which would guarantee Athletic a spot in the Europa League next season. Athletic finished seventh in the Spanish league, but will play in the second-tier European competition with a Barcelona victory because the Catalan club will play in the Champions League. Only the teams in fifth and sixth places automatically qualify for the Europa League.

Valverde led Athletic to victory over Barcelona in the final of the Spanish Super Cup in 2015, which marked the team’s first title in more than three decades. He also coached the club from 2003-05.

Valverde has also coached Espanyol, Olympiakos, Villarreal and Valencia.

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

LIVE: Man United face Ajax in Europa League final

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manchester United and Ajax square off in Stockholm, Sweden on Wednesday for the UEFA Europa League trophy and a place in the Champions League next season.

[ LIVE: Europa League final ] 

This a huge game for Jose Mourinho and United bad coming less than 48 hours after a suicide bomber killed 22 people in Manchester, this game has taken an entirely different complexion.

The mood around the Friends Arena is a somber one as Manchester United’s fans mourn those lost in the terror attack and people around the world send their love and prayers to Manchester.

Black armbands will be worn by both teams and there will be a minute’s silence before the game to honor the victims.

United have never won this trophy and they will have their work cut out against a young, talented Ajax side.

Click no the link above to follow the action live from Stockholm, while here at ProSoccerTalk we will have all the analysis, reaction and more from the final.

How will Man United line-up vs. Ajax in Europa League final?

Getty Images
1 Comment

How will Jose Mourinho set up Manchester United for their crucial Europa League final against Ajax in Stockholm on Wednesday?

[ MORE: Europa League final preview ]

With an automatic UEFA Champions League spot on the line, United must win to get back to Europe’s top club competition next season. If they don’t it is back to the Europa League for Mourinho’s men.

This won’t be easy, though, as United’s defense has been ravaged by injuries in recent weeks and they’re without Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Local lad Marcus Rashford has to come up with the goods.

[ MORE: Manchester clubs react to bombing

Ajax’s young, attack-minded side will be led by Kasper Dolberg and Bertrand Traore, while Davy Klaassen will pull the strings in midfield.

Back to United, and with Mourinho confirming Sergio Romero would start in goal ahead of David De Gea, just like he has done for most of the Europa League campaign, we know one starter. In defense it is likely to be Phil Jones and Chris Smalling in the center with Eric Bailly suspended, Marcos Rojo out injured and the duo of Ashley Young and Luke Shaw also missing. Valencia and Blind should get the nod out wide with Darmian in reserve.

Midfield is where things get tricky. Michael Carrick‘s experience may be invaluable but Mourinho is likely to go with Fellaini’s grit (if he’s fit) in the engine room alongside Ander Herrera.

Ahead of them in the three attacking positions, Mkhitaryan and Pogba seem certainties to start and then it’s a straight battle between Lingard, Mata and Martial for the other spot. Lingard may just win that battle due to his superior defensive abilities, but it will be close.

Up top it will be Rashford to start with Wayne Rooney waiting in the wings in what could be his final game for United.

Take a look at our suggested lineup below. Do you agree?


Manchester United starting lineup vs. Ajax, Europa League final

—– Romero —–

— Valencia — Jones — Smalling — Blind —

—- Herrera —- Fellaini —-

— Mkhitaryan — Pogba — Lingard —

—– Rashford —–

Premier League awards: Player, Coach, Best XI & more

Getty Images
Leave a comment

It is time for ProSoccerTalk’s end of season awards for the 2016-17 Premier League campaign.

[ MORE: Full 2016-17 season reviews

Our writers were asked to select their Player of the Year, Young player of the Year (has to be under the age of 21), Coach of the Year and also select their Best XI, plus a little bonus segment at the bottom of this page…

Take a look at our answers below and we are intrigued to your selections in the comments section below.


Coach of the Year

Joe Prince-Wright selects… Antonio Conte – The way he galvanized this Chelsea team was remarkable. The tactical switch after the Arsenal defeat was the defining moment of the season and won him the PL in his first-ever campaign in England. Plus, his passion on the sidelines excites fans and he’s a gentleman in press conferences. Chelsea’s players seem to know where they stand with Conte and this seems like the start of an era of dominance. Mauricio Pochettino from Tottenham was a close second.

Nick Mendola selects… Antonio Conte – Really don’t think it needs an explanation. Back on top.

Kyle Bonn selects… Antonio Conte – Easy choice here. In his first season, he righted the ship and steered Chelsea to a Premier League title. He guided the players through a new system and still managed to get the best out of them. Stellar.

Matt Reed selects… Antonio Conte – The Italian didn’t go big in the transfer market but the additions of David Luiz, N'Golo Kante and Marcos Alonso were everything Chelsea could have hoped for and then some.

Dan Karell selects… Antonio Conte – It’s the easy choice, but his ability to get the team to believe in him and change the system following the 3-0 defeat to Arsenal lead to a dominant season for the Blues. Also, he made David Luiz great again!


Player of the Year

Joe Prince-Wright selects… Dele Alli – I have to buck the trend and not go with a Chelsea player. Yes, they won the title and Kante, Hazard and Azpilicueta were immense, but Alli was out of this world. This is a youngster who is in just his second season in the PL and he scored 17 goals from midfield. His class on the ball and driving runs remind me of Frank Lampard and he can finish like him too. The sky is the limit for Dele.

Nick Mendola selects… N’Golo Kante – Maybe it’s a little boring to go with the guy that the league named, but Kante was the best player in the league for the second successive season, on two different title winning teams. No biggie.

Kyle Bonn selects… Eden Hazard – I know N’Golo Kante was incredible, and I don’t want to take away from the midfielder who was an absolute rock, but Hazard was outstanding. He won the most take-ons of anyone in the league at a higher percentage than anyone, and was among the most creative players as well. A true superstar.

Matt Reed selects… N’Golo Kante – You could pick a handful of players from Chelsea’s squad to be in this discussion but for the bargain price in which the Blues acquired him, Kante was worth every penny.

Dan Karell selects… N’Golo Kante – Even with Conte, Chelsea may not have been miles ahead of everyone without the tireless effort of Kante. Kante finished 2nd in the PL with 127 tackles and had 82 interceptions. He also finished 2nd on Chelsea with 2,122 passes. Kante’s work defensively allowed Eden Hazard and Nemanja Matic the space to operate forward, leading to 85 goals and a record 30 wins.


Young Player of the Year

Joe Prince-Wright selects… Leroy Sane – This is a player who got better and better as the season went on. Sane’s pace was always there but Guardiola has made him more patient on the ball and he appears to be timing his runs better. He will be a star for the next decade.

Nick Mendola selects… Dele Alli – 21 and under? Does it have to be 21? You know Dele Alli is 21, right? Haha… Dele Alli, guys. Dele. Alli.

Kyle Bonn selects… Dele Alli – Tottenham’s midfielder scored an insane amount of goals this year, but he displayed an all-around game that is the envy of the league.

Matt Reed selects… Leroy Sane – The German has all the makings of becoming one of the PL’s best wingers over the next several seasons as he refines his game. He’ll surely be pleased with nine goals (all comps) in his first season at the Etihad Stadium.

Dan Karell selects… Dele Alli – The midfielder still has to prove he can be consistent at the highest level but he showed this year why he’s constantly linked with the likes of Real Madrid.


Best XI

Joe Prince-Wright selects… Lloris; Azpilicueta, Alderweireld, Vertonghen; Hazard, Kante, Alli, Alonso; Mane, Kane, Sanchez – Somehow I had to get Eden Hazard in this team, but don’t expect him to do much defending on the right flan of this 3-4-3 setup. Spurs’ goalkeeper Lloris and their two Belgian center backs were superb, while it is tough to look past Alli and Kante in midfield. Kante is a given up top and Sadio Mane gets the nod alongside Alexis Sanchez to support him. All-out attack.

Nick Mendola selects… Lloris; Azpilicueta, Luiz, Alderweireld; Coutinho, Kante, Pogba, Hazard, Sanchez, Ibrahimovic, Kane

Kyle Bonn selects… De Gea; Walker, Luiz, Alderweireld, Azpilicueta; Kante, Eriksen, De Bruyne, Hazard; Sanchez, Kane – Zlatan had a shot had he not been injured. Costa was a great team player and was hugely important to Chelsea, but didn’t have the individual seasons that Sanchez and Kane had. Eriksen, De Bruyne, and Hazard were the 3 most creative players in the league this season. De Gea is still, in my opinion, the best sheer goalkeeper in the league, and the flashiest; that choice is tough on Hugo Lloris, who had a great season for sure.

Matt Reed selects… Courtois; Walker, Alderweireld, Luiz, Danny Rose; Kante, Alli, Hazard, Mane; Lukaku, Kane

Dan Karell selects… Heaton; Azpilicueta, Alderweireld, Cahill; Coutinho, Alli, Kante, Silva; Lukaku, Kane, Sanchez


BONUS! We also asked the guys for their underrated XI of the season. You know, those guys who ball every week but always seem to fall under the radar…

Underrated XI

Joe Prince-Wright selects… Foster; Maguire, Kompany, Bailly; Silva, Wanyama, Romeu, Herrera; Pedro, King, Sigurdsson – I went for a few big names in here who have had been so important to their teams but seem to never get huge amounts of love. Pedro, Kompany and Silva fall into that category. Elsewhere the midfield destroyers of Wanyama, Romeu and Herrera all had fine seasons, while the only reason Swansea stayed up was Sigurdsson and Josh King was superb at Bournemouth. Foster and Maguire had a great seasons for teams often not talked about.

Nick Mendola selects… Heaton; Valencia, Gibson, Reid, Martins Indi; Antonio, Gueye, Herrera, Son; Silva, King

Kyle Bonn selects… Lloris; Vertonghen, Bailly, Milner, Valencia; Herrera, Pogba, Sigurdsson, Silva, Coutinho; Pedro – None of these guys I feel got looks for PL Best XI, but they maybe should have. Pogba was far better than he got credit for given his price tag, while Herrera got publicity late in the year but was a rock all season long. With all due respect to Steve Cook, who had a very good year statistically at CB, I couldn’t include him here given Bournemouth’s abysmal defensive record, so I went with Squawka’s #1 ranked defender this season, Jan Vertonghen. Eric Bailly was a machine for Manchester United. Pedro was maybe Chelsea’s most underrated player this season in their title run.

Matt Reed selects… Pickford; Azpilicueta, Gibson, McAuley, Bertrand; Herrera, Romeu, Tadic, Sigurdsson; Albrighton, Defoe

Dan Karell selects… Foster; Bailly, Keane, Mee; Romeu, Arter, Gueye, Drinkwater, Lanzini; Zaha, King