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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.

Why Mourinho needs Zlatan to stay at Man United

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 14:  Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United congratulates Zlatan Ibrahimovic after the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Manchester United at Selhurst Park on December 14, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
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Following Manchester United’s EFL Cup Final victory on Sunday, Jose Mourinho laughed off a question about Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s future at Old Trafford beyond this season.

He shouldn’t be laughing. He should be taking this situation very seriously. United need Zlatan. End of.

[ MORE: United, Mourinho get lucky

Ibrahimovic, 35, scored twice in the 3-2 win against Southampton at Wembley, including the game-winner with a late header, to hand Mourinho his first piece of major silverware as United’s boss. The veteran Swedish striker has now scored 26 goals in 38 games in all competitions this season, including six in his last four games.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

The incredible stats aside, his impact and influence on this team is clear for all to see. That’s why Zlatan needs to remain at United for at least one more season, and he could probably go for longer. That said, he isn’t giving anything away about where he will be next season.

“We have another two months of the season to go,” Ibrahimovic said. “Let’s see how I feel, the situation. Somebody made up a story that if we don’t qualify for the Champions League I will not extend. It has nothing to do with that.”

Mourinho thinks otherwise.

“One day, Zlatan decided to [leave me and Inter Milan to join] Barcelona, I was very sad, but I did nothing to try to stop him to go, so I don’t beg for players,” Mourinho said. “But, if needed, maybe United fans can go to the door of his house, and stay there all night, if needed. We all want, and believe, that he is going to stay another season.”

It simply has to happen.

Zlatan has a contract until this summer with United with an option to extend it for another year. Mourinho has suggested in the past Zlatan will stay but we’ve never had too much of a definitive answer from the player himself.

Right now, aside from his play on the pitch, Zlatan is having a massive impact on the confidence and belief levels of his teammates. He has scored the game-winner on eight occasions this season and comparisons are being made about Eric Cantona and the impact he had.

Zlatan’s aura is helping United win games at the moment and even at the age of 35 he has played more Premier League minutes than any other United outfield player, plus he’s played in more games this season, in all competitions, than any other PL player.

He can play until he is 40. Mourinho said it last week and he’s right. Zlatan doesn’t rely on pace to play the game. He has power, panache and predatory instincts in abundance.

With United’s creative talents and other pacey forwards, he not only brings the best out of them on the pitch but off it too. Mourinho clerly needs to rebuild parts of his defense to take United from top four hopefuls to title contenders next season and beyond, but without Zlatan’s goals this season they’d be in midtable.

United and Mourinho need Zlatan to stay next season. He knows it. He’s playing the game.

It would be a huge shock to see him anywhere other than Old Trafford next season. It wouldn’t be a huge shock to see him score the winner for United in the FA Cup and Europa League final this season, and then lead them to even greater glories next season and beyond. After his latest trophy, the 22nd of his playing career, Zlatan revealed he keeps all of his medals in one of his houses. He was also asked if United are building something special under Mourinho?

“I came. That’s special,” Ibrahimovic said.

Anyone who doubted Zlatan’s ability last summer ahead of his move to the Premier League will be scratching their heads. Like United right now, he seems to always find a way to score goals and get the job done. In that sense, Mourinho needs him to be the focal point of United’s attack for as long as Zlatan can play.

And also. He’s, well, Zlatan. In this mammoth rebuild of a roster and self-belief, he’s the X-Factor Mourinho can’t do without.

 

Premier League Preview: Leicester vs. Liverpool

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 02:  James Milner of Liverpool and Danny Drinkwater of Leicester City compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Liverpool at The King Power Stadium on February 2, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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  • First game after Ranieri’s sacking
  • Leicester in relegation zone
  • Liverpool can move 11 points behind Chelsea

Struggling Leicester City host Liverpool at the King Power Stadium on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Foxes in freefall and without a manager.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Following Claudio Ranieri‘s firing last week the reigning champs are in desperate need of a marquee win to drag themselves out of the relegation zone. Ranieri’s former assistant Craig Shakespeare is in caretaker charge but he has a big task on his hand as Leicester have lost five-straight games in the PL, failing to score in any of their last six.

As for Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp‘s men beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 last time out and have enjoyed a two week break from action which should see them re-energized for the final 13 games of the season.

In team news Leicester will give late fitness tests to Islam Slimani and Leonardo Ulloa, while Liverpool will reportedly be without captain Jordan Henderson who is said to have suffered a foot injury in training. Plus Daniel Sturridge and Dejan Lovren could also miss out for the Reds.


What they’re saying

Leicester’s goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel on reports of a player revolt against Ranieri: “There is absolutely no truth in that whatsoever. We are players and can only affect on the pitch and we haven’t done that. What happens above our heads at boardroom level is completely out of our control… We are footballers and have a responsibility to perform on the pitch and we haven’t lived up to that. That’s the blame we take but anything else, that’s completely out of our control.”

Jurgen Klopp on Adam Lallana signing a new deal: “For me it was clear we had to try everything to keep a player like him. He is a very important player for us. I heard when I came in what a lot of people had said about him before I came in, but I actually only knew him from Southampton. Since I’ve been here he has been a really important player for all our development steps which we made — not only for him personally. I have a lot of time together with the players but I am not in the dressing room so you need to have players there too and he is one of them.”

Prediction

With everything going on at Leicester, it will be intriguing to see what the atmosphere is like from the home fans after Ranieri’s firing. If Liverpool score early, and often, it could turn nasty. I expect both to happen. 4-1 win for Liverpool, just like it was at Anfield back in September, to pile the misery on Leicester.

VIDEO: Wayne Shaw delights fans by eating another pie

SUTTON, GREATER LONDON - FEBRUARY 20:  Reserve goalkeeper Wayne Shaw of Sutton acknowledges the crowd after The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Sutton United and Arsenal at Gander Green Lane on February 20, 2017 in Sutton, Greater London.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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On a bus heading to the EFL Cup Final on Sunday was a familiar face to many: Wayne Shaw.

The former Sutton United reserve goalkeeper shot to stardom during the fifth-tier team making it to the last 16 of the FA Cup where they lost 2-0 to Arsenal last Monday.

However, his actions when eating in a pie as an unused sub in the second half of that game sparked investigations by the UK Gambling Commission and the FA after bets were placed at odds of 8-1 on Shaw eating a pie during the game. The day after Sutton’s defeat to Arsenal he resigned.

Shaw, 46, weighs in at over 280 pounds and he has become somewhat of a celebrity, even after #PieGate which saw him lose his job.

It doesn’t seem to be impacting him too much though.

Video has emerged of Shaw, a Southampton fan, heading up to Wembley to watch the EFL Cup final which Saints lost 3-2 to Manchester United.

While on the bus Shaw played up to the crowd who sang songs such as “Get your pasty out!” and “It wasn’t a pie, it was a pasty!” then Shaw acted like a matador, teasing the crowd before pulling out another pasty to chew on.

See the video below for some banter.


PSV goalkeeper scores bizarre own goal

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - DECEMBER 18:  Goalkeeper, Jeroen Zoet of PSV in action during the Eredivisie match between Ajax Amsterdam and PSV Eindhoven held at Amsterdam Arena on December 18, 2016 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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If you’re having a rough Monday morning, things could always be worse.

You could be PSV Eindhoven goalkeeper Jeroen Zoet.

[ MORE: United, Mourinho lucky

On Sunday PSV’s goalkeeper scored one of the most bizarre own goals ever as he stopped a shot on the line in the 82nd minute, then as he pulled the ball into his chest while on the floor he actually carried the ball over the line.

The Goal Decision System (GDS) awarded the game-winning goal and the reigning Dutch champs lost 2-1 to Feyenoord who are the current Eredivise leaders and stretched their lead over third-place PSV to 11 points.

Take a look at the video below to see the monumental error, as the video replay showed that all of the ball was about one blade of grass over the line.

Fine margins indeed…