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.

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

[ PREVIEW: Tuesday’s Premier League action ]

“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.