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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.

source:

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.

Report: French outfit Nice interested in adding Liverpool’s Balotelli

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 14:  Mario Balotelli of AC Milan looks on during the Serie A match between AC Milan and AS Roma at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 14, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)
Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images
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Mario Balotelli could soon have a new home, according to the BBC’s Phil McNulty.

The mercurial Italian striker, 26, has one league goal in each of his last two seasons (spent between Liverpool and AC Milan).

Jurgen Klopp is ready for Balotelli to find a home away from Anfield and McNulty says that place could be OGC Nice, where he’d join newly-signed ex-Bayern man Dante. Balotelli also had talks with Sion in Switzerland, according to the report.

The striker was a blazing hot commodity after scoring 17 goals for Manchester City in 2011-12, and again after netting 18 for AC Milan in 2013-14.

Balotelli has 13 goals in 33 caps for Italy, but hasn’t appeared for the national team since 2014.

Report: West Ham lands Zaza from Juventus for $32 million

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 07: Simone Zaza of Juventus in action during the Pre-Season Friendly between West Ham United and Juventus at The Olympic Stadium on August 7, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)
Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images
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After months and months of trying to land a big name striker, it seems West Ham has done just that.

David Amoyal of DiMarzio says that Juventus striker Simone Zaza is on his way to the London Stadium for a medical which will seal a $32 million transfer to West Ham.

[ MORE: Chelsea adds EURO champion ]

Zaza, 25, made his name as Sassuolo before moving to Juve last season, and forced his way into the national team. He has 14 caps with one goal, but is perhaps better remembered at this point for missing a penalty — with a creative run-up —  in Italy’s final EURO game.

The striker had been linked with West Ham as far back as this time last season.

This move should help insure the Hammers avoid too many goalless outcome moving forward, even with Andy Carroll and Andre Ayew out for a while.

That’ll be music to Slaven Bilic‘s ears. The manager said, “The disappointment is massive” after his side couldn’t break down Astra Giurgiu and dropped out of the UEFA Europa League on Thursday.

Chelsea adds No. 2 goalkeeper from Portugal’s EURO winning squad

LISBON, PORTUGAL - JULY 11: Portuguese goalkeeper Eduardo  during the meeting with the countries President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa for the Portugal Euro 2016 Victory ceremonies at Lisbon on July 11, 2016 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images)
Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images
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Chelsea have added some depth at the very back.

Eduardo’s the name, and the 33-year-old Portuguese backstop arrives at Stamford Bridge with a decent resume, having been on the roster for his country’s EURO 2016 triumph.

[ MORE: Stambouli, Bentaleb reunited ]

USMNT fans will remember him from his time between the sticks for Portugal at the 2014 World Cup. He has 35 caps, and has been with Dinamo Zagreb since 2014.

From ChelseaFC.com:

‘All the colleagues I have always say the dream is to come to the Premier League, where there are the best clubs and the best players, and the opportunity to come here arrived at this moment.

‘I am happy to be here and I hope I meet the expectations people have for me.’

Eduardo certainly won’t be taking over for Thibaut Courtois, but will definitely provide competition for No. 2 Asmir Begovic.

UEFA Europa roundup: West Ham bounced by Astra Giurgiu; Genk, Gent, Anderlecht roll on

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27:  Angelo Ogbonna of West Ham and Takayuki Seto of FC Astra Giurgiu battle for possesion during the UEFA Europa League match between West Ham United and FC Astra Giurgiu at the Olympic Stadium on August 27, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Alex Broadway/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Broadway/Getty Images
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West Ham dominated the game but not the score line against Romanian side Astra Giurgiu, who advanced to the UEFA Europa League group stage with a 1-0 win at London Stadium on Thursday.

Well-traveled French midfielder Filipe Teixeira did the damage for Astra Giurgiu, as the former West Brom and Barnsley man scored in the 45th minute to give the visitors a 2-1 lead on aggregate after the sides went 1-1 in Romania last week.

The Irons carried possession and a wealth of shots, but couldn’t find their way past Romanian international goalkeeper Silviu Lung, Jr.

[ MORE: Stambouli, Bentaleb reunited at Schalke ]

Sassuolo star Domenico Berardi scored in a 1-1 draw with Red Star Belgrade, completing a 4-1 score line.

Elsewhere, a hat trick from Slovan Liberec’s Jan Sykora led the Czech side to a 3-0 second leg win, and 4-0 aggregate defeat of Cypriot side AEK Larnaca.

Gent got a pair of goals from giant Malian striker Kalifa Coulibaly as the Belgians completed a 6-1 aggregate win over Shkendija.

Full scoreboard
West Ham United 0-1 (agg. 1-2) Astra Giurgiu
Astana 2-2 (agg. 4-2) BATE Borisov
Arouca 1-2 (agg. 1-3) Olympiacos
Midtjylland 0-3 (agg. 0-4) Osmanlispor
Trencin 2-0 (agg. 0-4) Rapid Wien
Lokomotiva 0-2 (agg. 2-4) Genk
AEK Larnaca 0-3 (agg. 0-4) Slovan Liberec
Dinamo Tbilisi 0-2 (agg. 0-5) PAOK
Austria Wien 2-1 (agg. 4-2) Rosenborg
Beitar Jerusalem 0-0 (agg. 1-2) Saint-Etienne
Vojvodina 0-0 (agg. 0-3) AZ Alkmaar
Gabala 0-1 (agg. 3-2) Maribor
Slavia Prague 0-3 (agg. 0-6) Anderlecht
Fenerbahce 2-0 (agg. 3-0) Grasshopper
Panathinaikos 1-1 (agg. 4-1) Brondby
Krasnodar 0-0 (agg. 4-0) Partizani Tirana
Gent 4-0 (agg. 6-1) Shkendija
Istanbul Basaksehir 0-2 (agg. 1-4) Shakhtar Donetsk
SonderjyskE 2-3 (agg. 2-3) Sparta Prague
Sassuolo 1-1 (agg. 4-1) Red Star Belgrade
Goteborg 0-3 (agg. 1-3) Qarabag
Maccabi Tel Aviv 1-2 (agg. 3-3) Hajduk Split