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

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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.)

MUST WIN-ESQUE
#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.

source: Getty ImagesTAKING THE DONOVAN TOUR ON THE ROAD
#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.

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BUSINESS YOU HAVE TO TAKE CARE OF
#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

TEST OF SHORT MEMORIES
#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

FEED THE FLAME
#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

COUNTER ON COUNTER
#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.

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THIS MIGHT HELP … ONE OF US
#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.

Metz-Lyon match stopped after keeper Lopes injured by firecracker

TURIN, ITALY - NOVEMBER 02:  Anthony Lopes of Olympique Lyonnais kicks the ball during the UEFA Champions League Group H match between Juventus and Olympique Lyonnais at Juventus Stadium on November 2, 2016 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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Lyon goalkeeper Anthony Lopes was taken to the hospital after being hit by a firecracker during the team’s Ligue 1 match against Metz on Saturday.

[ MORE: PL roundup — Chelsea handles Man City; Arsenal, Spurs win big ]

The match was stopped in the first half when Lopes was struck by a firecracker in the 31st minute, before the game was ultimately abandoned due to the lack of safety conditions.

Metz was leading the match 1-0 at the time of stoppage, however, Lyon could be awarded the 3-0 victory pending a decision from France’s governing body.

Here’s the official statement released by Lyon:

“The public authorities in Metz took the decision to stop the match between FC Metz and Olympique Lyonnais indefinitely, in agreement with the match delegate and the referee, following the incidents that took place at the half-hour point of the game,” French football’s governing body, the LFP, said in a statement.

“A report will be sent to the LFP’s Disciplinary Commission. The LFP regrets these incidents and will be uncompromising in its continued review of this report.”

Strong pressure helped ease Gunners to five-goal performance

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03:  Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain of Arsenal celebrates with team mates after scoring his team's fourth goal during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Arsenal at London Stadium on December 3, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
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Arsenal continues to apply pressure at the top of the Premier League, and Saturday’s performance at the London Stadium showed just how dangerous the Gunners can be away from home.

[ MORE: Chelsea makes it 8 in a row; Arsenal, Spurs combine for 10 goals ]

The Gunners took advantage of several West Ham mistakes on the afternoon, including a first-half turnover that sent Alexis Sanchez into the penalty area before setting up a simply tap-in finish for Mesut Ozil.

[ MORE: Carroll says Arsenal can “punish mistakes” instantly ]

Arsene Wenger‘s side went on to score four more times in Arsenal’s 5-1 rout against the Hammers, and Frenchman suggested post match that much of his team’s success was due to their willingness to high press and force West Ham into mistakes.

“I think overall we had a strong team performance for 90 minutes with very few weak periods,” Wenger said. “There’s only one regret that we didn’t take our chances in the first half and that it was 1-0 up at halftime and how it plays on the mind when you can play for that.

“But we maintained the pressure on West Ham and overall we finished in a really strong way. We were always dangerous because we won it quickly back. When we were on the breaks because we we always looked patiently to make the difference.”

Sanchez led the Gunners on the day with a hat-trick, bringing his goal total on the season up to 11. The Chilean has largely helped Arsenal become one of the PL’s most dangerous attacks, with the Gunners having scored the most goals in England’s top flight through 14 matches (33).

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

When asked about the prospect of putting up big score lines on a consistent basis, Wenger said that while every game possesses different challenges he is quite pleased with Arsenal’s road form this season.

“I think every game gives you a different problem,” Wenger said. “But at the moment it looks we score more goals away from home than at home. Is that because your opponent comes a bit more out? Is that because you play with a bit more freedom?

“That will be interesting to analyze that. Do we play with a block that is less deep away from home? If you look at our results away from home they’ve been very convincing.”

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

As Wenger noted, the Gunners have done very well notching goals away from the Emirates Stadium in 2016. In seven away matches thus far in PL play, Arsenal has tallied 18 goals on the road in comparison to the team’s 15 at home.

PL Saturday roundup: Chelsea routs Manchester City; Spurs put up five

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03:  Chelsea players applaud supporters after their 3-1 win in the Premier League match between Manchester City and Chelsea at Etihad Stadium on December 3, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte‘s side continues its recent path of destruction atop the Premier League, while the rest of England looks to keep up with the Blues.

Chelsea battled back in the second half on Saturday to defeat Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium to extend the club’s PL unbeaten streak to eight matches.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Elsewhere, Tottenham notched five goals in their rout of Swansea City, while Arsenal comfortably handled West Ham United at the London Stadium.

Here, we take a look back at Saturday’s action from around England’s top flight.

Manchester City 1-3 Chelsea — RECAP

Eight straight victories have Chelsea atop the PL, and the biggest now becomes: who will be the club that stops Conte’s Blues? An unlikely own goal from Gary Cahill gave the Citizens the lead on the stroke of halftime, but a thunderous comeback from the visitors helped give Chelsea three points at the Etihad. Goals from Diego Costa, Willian and Eden Hazard rung throughout Manchester in the second stanza, however, Costa’s exit from the match will surely be monitored by the Blues.

Additionally, City will play shorthanded moving forward after Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho picked up red cards during a late scuffle that ensuing following the Argentine’s rash tackle on David Luiz.

Tottenham 5-0 Swansea City — RECAP

Spurs couldn’t have drawn it up better following last week’s disappointment at Stamford Bridge. Tottenham received great contributions from Harry Kane and Christian Erikson, who each netted braces on the day, while Heung-Ming Son delivered a stunning acrobatic effort to help the hosts rout Bob Bradley‘s team. The Swans sit bottom of the PL table on nine points and have conceded 31 times in their opening 14 matches.

West Ham 1-5 Arsenal — RECAP

The Gunners had no troubles with West Ham on Saturday as Arsene Wenger‘s side moved up to second place behind a five-spot from one of the PL’s top attacks. Alexis Sanchez paced the Gunners with a hat-trick, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mesut Ozil also scored for the visitors at the London Stadium. Andy Carroll provided the lone moment of consolation for West Ham after Dimitri Payet‘s free kick smacked off the crossbar and onto the head of the Englishman.

Crystal Palace 3-0 Southampton — RECAP

Fraser Forster put the Saints behind in the first half after a tremendous mistake in front of his own net, leaving Christian Benteke with one of the easiest finishes he’ll ever have. The former Liverpool striker added a second and James Tompkins also got in on the scoring for the Eagles as Alan Pardew‘s men snapped a six-match losing streak.

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03: Leicester player Andy King (c) reacts as Sunderland goalkeeper Jordan Pickford makes a last minute save to deny Leicester a draw during the Premier League match between Sunderland and Leicester City at Stadium of Light on December 3, 2016 in Sunderland, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Sunderland 2-1 Leicester City — RECAP

Jermain Defoe continues to be the talisman for the Black Cats, however, Sunderland’s good fortunes began off of a Robert Huth own goal. The Foxes pulled a goal back in the 78th minute through Shinji Okazaki but Leicester continued its struggles on Saturday with its seventh loss of the campaign. Sunderland has now won three of its last four matches, bringing David Moyes‘ side up to 18th in the table.

West Brom 3-1 Watford —  RECAP

Tony Pulis‘ side has quietly made some noise in 2016, and while West Brom likely won’t pull off a Leicester-like feat this season the Baggies currently find themselves in sixth place as the halfway point nears. Jonny Evans and Chris Brunt netted in the first half for the hosts before Matt Phillips scored late to ensure all three points would go in favor of the Baggies. Despite nabbing a goal in the second half, Watford’s chances of picking out a result were halted when Roberto Pereyra was sent off.

Stoke City 2-0 Burnley — RECAP

Jonathan Walters and Marc Muniesa helped propel Stoke up ninth place on Saturday with their victory at the Brittania Stadium. For Muniesa, the goal marked his first in the PL. Burnley drops to 14th place following the loss, and the Clarets sit just three points above the relegation zone.

Carroll: Arsenal can “punish mistakes” in blink of an eye

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03:  Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal scores their thrid goal during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Arsenal at London Stadium on December 3, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
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Slaven Bilic and West Ham have had anything but an ideal start to the 2016/17 Premier League season, and Saturday’s result against Arsenal was a humble reminder of how far the club must come if they are to compete with England’s big boys.

[ MORE: Sanchez scores sensational hat-trick against Hammers ]

Despite Andy Carroll‘s late consolation for the Hammers seven minutes from time, Arsenal built up a throttling 5-1 victory at the London Stadium, leaving West Ham in 17th place.

[ MORE: Chelsea make it eight straight after comeback win at the Etihad ]

West Ham has now conceded nine goals in its previous two matches in all competitions, and have also failed to muster up a victory in six straight fixtures.

For Carroll, the English striker chalked the result up to Arsenal’s ability to punish West Ham when they became sloppy with the ball.

“It was a tough game and disappointing with the way it went. I was ready to come on at 1-0 but they went and scored,” Carroll said. “Their first was a little mistake and we got punished. You saw at the end how teams like Arsenal punish mistakes.”

Angelo Ogbonna cost West Ham in a big way during the first half after committing a turnover to Alexis Sanchez, who then set up Mesut Ozil for an easy tap-in near goal.

The Hammers had trailed 1-0 heading into the final 20 minutes, but Sanchez notched the first of his three goals in the 72nd minute and then proceeded to complete his hat-trick in a span of 14 minutes.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

While Bilic and co. will certainly be deflated following Saturday’s home defeat, Carroll believes the Hammers can turn things around with a simple shift in mentality.

“I’m feeling good but at times like this we need to focus on the team, rather than individuals. We have to improve,” Carroll said.

“We’ve got a good group and I’m sure we can pull ourselves out of it, but at the minute we’re in a tough spell.”