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MLS Preview: Real Salt Lake, Sporting KC host weekend’s marquee match ups


NBCSN games on Friday and Saturday highlight MLS’s nine-games weekend, one that features marquee match ups in Salt Lake City and Kansas City. From the opener in Houston to the finale in D.C., here’s our quick look at the coming match ups in Major League Soccer.

(All rankings reflect ProSoccerTalk’s latest PRs.)

#18 Houston Dynamo vs. #11 Philadelphia Union, Friday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, NBCSN
Watch Live on NBC Sports Live Extra

I’m trying to figure out what’s one degree short of “must win.” “Really, really need to win?” “So important, we’re willing to delude ourselves?” Friday’s game at BBVA Compass Stadium falls into that category. It’s not a must-win in the mathematical sense, but at home, against a beatable playoff rival, a loss to the Union will say bad things about the Dynamo.

Houston needs this. With DaMarcus Beasley and Luis Garrido integrated, the team has to have a proof of concept, one that isn’t defined by a late D.C. United breakdown in front of goal.

If the Dynamo can’t win this one, there’s no reason to think they can make a run.

source: Getty ImagesSTATEMENTS IN ALL-CAPS
#2 Real Salt Lake vs. #4 Seattle Sounders, Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Eastern, NBCSN
Watch Live on NBC Sports Live Extra

Congratulations, Seattle. That was an amazing showing mid-week against Chicago. The way you poured it on at the end? Impressive. It really was. The depth Adrian Hanauer accumulated this offseason is admirable.

Now, get that feeling out of your system, because none of the ease you saw Wednesday at Starfire Stadium will be waiting for you at Rio Tinto. This is the week’s marquee battle, one that gives each team a chance to claim some primacy in the Western Conference, but whereas RSL is riding a five-game unbeaten run, only a visit from Houston in an ugly Sunday night game got the Sounders back in the MLS win column.

Saturday’s NBCSN game gives Sigi Schmid’s team an opportunity to show its title credentials. Whether those shine though, both teams will get 90 minutes to measure itself against a likely obstacle in the Western Conference playoffs.

source:  BEST CHANCE THEY’RE GOING TO GET #19 Montréal Impact vs. #15 Chicago Fire, Saturday, 6:30 p.m. Eastern

If Montréal can’t beat Chicago at Stade Saputo, we might as well put 3-0 across the rest of their schedule. At home, against one of the next worst teams in the league, the Impact get the easiest game of its run-in. If they can’t win this one, the next two-and-a-half months are going to be horrible.

Conversely, Chicago needs these points in order to keep the dream from becoming a nightmare. That dream, one that ends with the Fire in the post season, is still alive despite their embarrassment in Tukwila. But if U.S. Open Cup showed us anything, it’s that Frank Yallop’s team is on the verge of falling apart.

#13 Columbus Crew vs. #1 LA Galaxy, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Eastern

Columbus gets first crack at saying goodbye to Landon Donovan, with the Crew set to honor the retiring star before Saturday’s game. Once that’s over, a team coming off a discouraging performance will have to solve the best team in the league, one that’s still trying to make good on its games in hand.

As with any Crew opponent, the key will be managing Federico Higuaín, who will have trouble against the Galaxy duo of Marcelo Sarvas and Juninho. At the other end of the pitch, the Galaxy are creating enough chances to give Michael Parkhurst and Giancarlo Gonzalez trouble.


#16 New England Revolution vs. #10 Portland Timbers, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Eastern

Losers of nine out of 10, New England clearly needs a win. But that’s been the case for most of the summer.

The more interesting angle on this game is Portland’s. Winners of three out of four, the Timbers have finally pulled themselves back to edge of the West’s top five, a position Saturday’s game gives them a chance to solidify. Much like their recent trip to Montréal, the long flight shouldn’t prevent the Timbers from claiming full points.

The difference between the two games, though: Whereas Montréal’s is inert, a team with Lee Nguyen, Diego Fagundez, and Kelyn Rowe inspires suspicion. At some point, New England’s going to wake up. It’s Portland job to make sure it doesn’t happen on Saturday.

source: Getty Images

#3 Sporting Kansas City vs. Toronto FC, Saturday, 8:30 p.m. Eastern

Last week in Vancouver, Sporting fell into a common Eastern Conference trap, having to adapt to the game’s speed at BC Place. The adjustment never truly happened, leaving the East leaders on the wrong end of a 2-0 loss.

Back home, against a team they’ve already earned four points from this year, Sporting should regain their stride, but with Jermain Defoe possibly back from injury, Toronto may have a chance to make up some needed ground.

Take three points in Kansas, and the Reds can look beyond the three seed they seem to be settling into. Within four with two games in hand, TFC would be able to set sights on the top of the conference.

source: Getty Images

#17 Chivas USA vs. #6 Vancouver Whitecaps, Saturday, 10:30 p.m. Eastern

For Vancouver’s part, last week’s win over Sporting gives the team a chance to pull away from the malaise of four straight draws. With Carl Robinson starting to make some permanent decisions about his starting lineup, the Whitecaps are gaining momentum, part of the reason they’ve displaced a slumping Colorado in the West’s top five.

Like Montréal, Chivas has become an obligatory three points, even if their record is nowhere near as bad. Having fallen off from their early summer surge, the Goats have regressed to their former selves, making it all the more important Vancouver build on last week’s result.

source: Getty Images

#9 San Jose Earthquakes vs. #5 FC Dallas, Saturday, 10:30 p.m. Eastern

Two games, two first half red cards, two 2-1 San Jose wins, with the 180 minutes the teams have played against each other this season providing no insight into what to expect on Saturday. The teams have spent more time playing 11-on-10 than at full strength. With San Jose’s makeover and Mauro Díaz’s return, there’s almost nothing we can glean from the team’s first two meetings.

Right now, both sides are thriving on the counter. Dallas has been strong on set pieces, while San Jose may still be able to revert to their former, direct selves, but with players like Díaz and Matías Pérez García central to each teams’ attacks, San Jose and Dallas willing to wait for their chances in transition.

That matchup typically means an ugly game; at least, until the first goal’s scored. If we’re lucky, that breakthrough will come early at Buck Shaw.


#7 D.C. United vs. #14 Colorado Rapids, Sunday, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, Univision Deportes

So strong over the first half of the season, Colorado and D.C. have been playing like two anchors, both sinking to a bottom we couldn’t see before. On the way down, they’re about to collide, stopping one’s fall. For the lucky team, the current will come and carry it upward. The other will keep falling for at least one more week.

Colorado, after spending most of the season in the West’s top five, has lost three in a row, dropping the team into a tie for sixth with Portland. For their part, D.C. United has lost two in a row, with poor showings at Houston and Real Salt Lake seeing Ben Olsen’s team outscored 4-0 over its last 180 minutes.

On the surface, something has to give, but given the way these teams have played over the last two weeks, this game could end in a draw. While three points will be there for the taking, one team will have to rediscover its July form to take advantage of the other.

Kroenke: “Very high” on Wenger who is “very hard” to replace

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LONDON — Arsenal remains “very high” on Arsene Wenger and it will be “very hard” replacing the manager who is in the final year of his contract, owner Stan Kroenke told The Associated Press on Monday.

Wenger this month celebrated 20 years in charge of Arsenal and has offered no indication whether he wants to sign a new deal into next season.

The 67-year-old Frenchman became the Premier League’s longest serving manager when Alex Ferguson retired from Manchester United in 2013. United is now on its third manager in three years and has not competed for the Premier League title since Ferguson’s departure.

In a rare interview about Arsenal, Kroenke noted the tricky post-Ferguson succession at United while discussing the challenge of eventually replacing Wenger.

“You see it (at United), you bring up a comment like that,” Kroenke told the AP after Arsenal’s annual general meeting. “It’s very hard. He’s a great manager.”

Wenger signed his last three-year contract extension in 2014.

“We will sit down and discuss the future at the appropriate time,” Arsenal chairman Chips Keswick told shareholders at a meeting where Wenger didn’t address his contract situation in his speech.

Although Wenger has won the Premier League three times, the last success came in 2004 – a drought which frustrates fans.

“He’s been a wonderful influence on the club,” Kroenke said. “We are all very high on Arsene. We are (joint) top of the table right now.”

Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool are only separated on goal difference at the summit. Despite Wenger only winning the FA Cup twice since 2004, the team is in the lucrative Champions League for the 19th successive year thanks to its runner-up finish last season. Wenger is yet to win European football’s top prize.

“I know a number of (sports team) owners that are very successful that say the same thing – the hardest thing to do is be consistently competitive at the top of the league,” said Kroenke, who also owns the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams. “Arsene has always done that and Arsenal has always been in that position. We have always been competitive.

“We may not always win the things we want to win. We are very focused on winning for sure the league. Arsene’s been consistently at the top and I will tell you – it’s very, very hard to do if you look around sports.”


2016 MLS Cup playoffs bracket in full

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07:  Michael Bradley #4 and Jozy Altidore #17 of Toronto FC celebrate a goal by teammate Tsubasa Endoh #9 during the first half of an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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With Major League Soccer’s Decision Day 2016 in the books, we now know who will battle it out for MLS Cup.

[ MORE: Who will win MLS Cup? ]

Up first on Wednesday and Thursday are the four knockout round games, then the Conference semifinal first legs kick off this weekend.

We get into it thick and fast.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage

The PST crew already selected their picks for the postseason and filled out their bracket. You can see that by clicking on the link above. FWIW, I have Toronto FC beating the Seattle Sounders in MLS Cup…

[ MORE: Ranking MLS playoff teams ]

Below is the MLS playoff bracket in full so you can make your picks and let us know who you went for in the comments section below.


MLS Playoff bracket, 2016

MLS Playoff bracket, 2016

Arsenal AGM: Wenger’s future; points target to win title set

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02: Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal looks on during the Premier League match between Burnley and Arsenal at Turf Moor on October 2, 2016 in Burnley, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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Mystery continues to shroud Arsene Wenger‘s future as Arsenal manager.

[ MORE: Ballon d’Or shortlist ]

The Frenchman, who celebrated his 67th birthday on Saturday and 20 years in charge of Arsenal earlier this month, has yet to decide if he will remain in charge at the Emirates Stadium beyond this season.

Wenger’s current contract runs out next summer and at the club AGM on Monday it was revealed no talks have been held between the manager and directors about a new deal.

Key figures such as majority shareholder Stan Kroenke, chairman Sir Chips Keswick and Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis spoke, as well as Wenger himself who didn’t address his future and instead talked about the points target Arsenal must reach to win the Premier League this season.

Via Jeremy Wilson of the Telegraph, who was at Wenger’s AGM, below are some of the key quotes which surfaced.

Overall, the mood of this AGM was much more relaxed compared to previous years where many shareholders called for Wenger to leave and/or Arsenal to send more money amid a lack of success on the pitch.

Wenger on how he sees Arsenal’s title chances

“We have gone through periods where we had more selling of players. The amount of selling was a big part of our income. I think we have survived quite well that period. Now, in the last three or four years, we have reinforced by strengthening. We are much more competitive today than five or six years ago to fight for the championship. After nine games, the first trend is set. It is about 20 points which means the championship will be certainly decided at 82 to 86 points. Our challenge is to compete for absolutely everything. I think we have the squad of the first time that is more mature and better equipped for to compete for all the challenges. I am absolutely committed to give my best.”

Chairman Sir Chips Keswick on Wenger’s future

“We will sit down and discuss Arsene’s future at the appropriate time. We all recognize the fantastic contribution Arsene Wenger has made. He continues to have huge energy passion and desire. We are confident in his ability to take us forward. Our current focus is continuing our strong run and competing for trophies.”

Majority shareholder Stan Kroenke on Wenger’s legacy at Arsenal

“One of the main reasons we got involved is the values and traditions of the club and no one has represented them better than Arsene. You have always shown dedication, commitment and energy. You brought a new style to English football and our club. Amid a world subject to great scrutiny and pressure, you have always handled yourself with great class. We are excited about the club and season. We know we will compete for trophies and we would like nothing better than to see you win the Championship.”

Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis on Ozil and Sanchez’s future

“We have a good track record in recent seasons of retaining players as a result of a lot of hard work. I can’t get into discussion on individual players but can say we will apply the same diligence and focus to our existing squad. I think you can see our direction of travel.”

Jurgen Klopp on Liverpool title talk: “I don’t care”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 22:  Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool applauds the fans following their team's 2-1 victory during the Premier League match between Liverpool and West Bromwich Albion at Anfield on October 22, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
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Jurgen Klopp isn’t having any of your title talk.

[ MORE: Ballon d’Or shortlist ]

After Liverpool beat West Bromwich Albion 2-1 on Saturday at Anfield and Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester City and Manchester United all dropped points this weekend, plenty of people are talking up Liverpool’s chances of winning the Premier League title this season.

With nine games of the season gone, Liverpool sit joint-top with Arsenal and Man City on 20 points with Chelsea and Tottenham just behind them on 19 points.

It is tight at the top but whatever people are saying, Klop isn’t bothered.

“I don’t care. It is normal in football that when you are in a good position people start talking a little more positive. I don’t recognize so much what everyone is saying about us but of course I recognize the mood, I said it already, around LFC it is good. But we are still in October… unfortunately. There is a long way to go,” Klopp said. “Nothing to say about this. Hopefully you can ask these questions through the whole season and everything is good but at the moment I have no answer for it. It is good up until now. Not more but good. Let’s carry on.”

Liverpool’s attack has been mightily impressive this season with the fluid movement of Sadio Mane, Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino ripping teams apart. Klopp’s side are the highest scorers with 20 goals thus far but the one issues many have about them being genuine title contender is their defensive play. Klopp’s side have kept just one clean sheet in their nine PL games so far this season and they’ve conceded the most goals in the top six.

Klopp’s right, there’s a long way to go. But plenty are also correct to be positive about this Liverpool team.

Challenging for the PL title this season may just be beyond them but securing a top four finish certainly isn’t. Klopp is pushing Liverpool in the right direction. Any of us can see that, even if he doesn’t want to admit it.