MLS Weekend Preview: Trio of marquee matches begins Friday in Frisco

Leave a comment

Saturday’s schedule contains another disappointing MLS cluster — four games kicking off within 30 minutes of each other* — but considering how the weekend’s biggest games are spaced out, the next three days couldn’t have worked out much better for those who don’t overdose on Major League Soccer. If you’re a league looking to highlight the playoff push, you couldn’t ask for more than the West’s best (right now) on Friday, the East’s on Saturday, and the league’s premier rivalry to end the show.

* – Other leagues around the world do this. Maybe they should think about changing things up, too.

The first of those games kicks off tonight on NBCSN (and NBC Sports Live Extra), where John Strong, Russ Thaler, and Stu Holden are on hand to ring in the MLS Weekend. Here’s your preview:

(All rankings reflect the team’s current place in PST’s Major League Soccer PRs.)

#3 FC Dallas vs. #1 Real Salt Lake, Friday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, NBCSN (NBC Sports Live Extra)

The hottest team the league versus the best? The latter title is debatable. The former is not.

FC Dallas, undefeated since May 31, has changed the conversation. Instead of people asking whether they can make the playoffs, they’re debating how far Dallas can rise. Perhaps the Toros don’t have the same slew of proven talents they’ll face Friday night, but they have Fabián Castillo (right), arguably the most dangerous player in the league, right now. They have Mauro Díaz, one of the most dangerous players in the league this spring. And perhaps most importantly, they have confidence, coming off a 5-0 dubbing of San Jose.

Looking at Real Salt Lake’s defense, there’s no clear answer. Nat Borchers and Chris Schuler are the league’s best central tandem, but heaven help them if they’re in the open field against Castillo. Tony Beltran’s good, but seeing him get turned by Kenny Cooper last week doesn’t inspire confidence one-on-one. Without traditional wide midfielders to help, RSL’s fullbacks seem destined to be isolated against Castillo.

Jeff Cassar will have to come up with something, or perhaps this is a time where the team’s characteristic, sometimes stifling control can take over. For much of Saturday’s match against Seattle, RSL held over 60 percent of the ball (the number settled at 58). Tomorrow in Dallas, possession may be the visitors’ best defense.

TEED UP FOR SUCCESSsource: Getty Images
#11 New York Red Bulls vs. #18 Montréal Impact, Saturday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern

Some much needed rest for Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill, and Bradley Wright-Phillips (right) ends with a visit from one of the league’s weakest teams – a match that should serve as a transition back into the weekly routine. With Columbus, Philadelphia, and Houston looking more spry in the East’s playoff race, a postseason return is destined to be hard fought. New York needs to make the most of this easy spell.

Montréal is coming off a slump-busting win, but the performance wasn’t a convincing one. They did the bare minimum needed to beat one of the worst teams in MLS, earning a 1-0 home win that felt more like an obligation than an accomplishment.

This is a game New York has to win. Not because the math says so, and not because there’s any finality to the result. But if you can’t beat Montréal at home, there’s no reason to think you can do anything else.

source: AP

#8 Toronto FC vs. #19 Chicago Fire, Saturday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern

Much like New York, Toronto gets a great transition game on Saturday, only instead of moving on from a week off, they’re trying to put last Saturday’s result behind them. The 4-1 scoreline at Kansas City may have exaggerated the divide between the teams, but it was still a three-goal loss.

Jermain Defoe should be back. Michael Bradley (right) has shaken off his World Cup phase. Steve Caldwell and Mark Bloom are returning to a defense that gave its kids valuable minutes in their absence. Even in the wake of last week’s set back, Toronto is primed to solidify its hold on third.

As for Chicago’s part, some version of this might work:

This is a game New York Toronto has to win. Not because the math says so, and not because there’s any finality to the result. But if you can’t beat Montréal Chicago at home, there’s no reason to think you can do anything else.

Granted, a Toronto loss will feel more like a slip than an indictment of the team’s chances (that’s New York’s world). Regardless, there’s no reason to lose a home game to Chicago.

#9 Columbus Crew vs. #14 Houston Dynamo, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Eastern

There’s a way of looking at each game that boils the matchup down to series of questions: How will Real stop Castillo? Can Toronto shake off last week’s loss? How quickly will New York click after its time off?

The questions for Columbus and Houston are clear. For the Crew, it’s a matter of harnessing whatever they did against Los Angeles and bringing it back to the field.  Twelve shots on target (a season high), and four goals past Jaime Penedo (the most LA’s conceded this year). Is that the real Columbus Crew?

For Houston, it’s a matter of showing constant improvement – building on the progress they showed last Friday against Philadelphia, and taking the show on the road. With a stiffer challenge against a fully rested squad, is Houston a viable playoff contender? If so, they’ll at least keep it close.

#16 New England Revolution vs. #15 Chivas USA, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Eastern

Despite its slump, New England has four points from its last two home games, both against Western Conference foes. In gallup the Goats, another transcontinental guest, to give the Revolution hope. With a win (one they really should get), the Revs could finish the weekend in the East’s top five. Remarkable.

For Chivas USA, the concern is Mauro Rosales; or, rather, what his departure means for the team. One of the team’s two best players — one whose experience and work commands respect — has been shipped to a playoff contender for a spare part. Even if the locker room knew this was coming, it’s not exactly a move that inspires confidence.

source: Getty Images

#2 Sporting Kansas City vs. #6 D.C. United, Saturday, 8:30 p.m. Eastern

Between Friday’s game in Dallas and Sunday’s Cascadia Derby, this battle at the top of the East is in danger of being overlooked, though the real reason may have more to due with United than what’s happening around this match.

Out of respect for what they’ve done, nobody’s talking about it, but it’s clear very few people think D.C. United’s a real Cup contender. The team’s record, goals for, and goals allowed all say this team’s for real, but the names on the team sheet leave room for doubt. There are no game-breaking stars, while the team’s secondary numbers (like being out-shot on the season) suggest there’s room for regression. Ultimately, people look at D.C. United and see a team playing over its head.

Saturday presents and opportunity to prove those people wrong. Whatever’s happened to this point in the season will see a whole new life if Ben Olsen’s team can win at Sporting Park.

Do so, and United jumps to first in the East, their game-in-hand providing the team an extra edge during their surprising resurgence. Fall, and Kansas City crafts the gap most critics expect to develop.

source: AP

#4 LA Galaxy vs. #7 Vancouver Whitecaps, Saturday, 10:30 p.m. Eastern

For the second time in eight days, Vancouver visits StubHub Center, only instead of facing a forgiving Chivas USA, Saturday’s opponent is a Galaxy team looking to recapture its groove.

Going into last weekend’s game in Columbus, LA was the best team in the league. Then came a 4-1 loss, after which they fell behind 3-1 at Colorado on Wednesday. The team roared back in the second half, leaving Commerce City with a  4-3 result, but a new air of vulnerability accompanies the team back to Carson.

Vancouver received their own wake up call of sorts last weekend. At least, let’s hope the Whitecaps’ 0-0 creates a sense of urgency. Carl Robinson’s team is too talented to be dropping needed points at Chivas USA, and while the Goats again showed they can be troublesome, it’s the type of troublesome a young, growing, improving team should be able to navigate at this point of the season. That Vancouver couldn’t makes you wonder if they’re destined to be passed by Portland.

source: AP

#10 Portland Timbers vs. #5 Seattle Sounders, Sunday, 5:00 p.m. Eastern, ESPN2

Speaking of Portland, people are already camping out at the gates of Providence Park for what could be a turning point in the Timbers’ season. After a slow start, Caleb Porter’s team has clawed itself to the edge of the West’s top five, but the signature win that would proclaim the team true playoff threats has been elusive.

Three points on Sunday would give them that win, one that would simultaneously send Seattle into a tailspin. Over five games (or, seven, depending on how you see it), the Sounders have done their best to rekindle 2013’s woe. Looking decidedly second best against Los Angeles and Real Salt Lake, Seattle’s on the verge of a minor identity crisis, one that would see the one-time MLS Cup favorites transform into consumed by its doubts.

Given how Seattle’s season ended last season (eliminated by its rivals), a win by the Timbers would deal some major damage. At a minimum, it would become the latest, most relevant reminder the 2013 is not so far in the distance.

A loss at Portland, and things get real.

#12 Philadelphia Union vs. #13 San Jose Earthquakes, Sunday, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, Univision Deportes

Last week’s battle of counterattacking sides was blown open by Fabián Castillo’s first half goal, one that gave FC Dallas room to complete their Santa Clara romp. Unfortunately, this week’s battle of the possession adverse doesn’t feature a Castillo, or anything close to a player with that kind of explosive talent. On Sunday in Chester, two teams who are fine playing without the ball may try to wait each other out.

Just like last week’s game in the South Bay, the key all be an early goal. If that happens, we’ll get a watchable game, one where one club will look to exploit the opportunities provided by an pursuing opponent.

Without that early goal, a good over-under for shots on target would be 3.5. Particularly if Philadelphia reverts to their possession-ready, goal-deprived ways, this could be … a subtle one.

Alexis Sanchez leaves Arsenal match with apparent right hamstring injury

NORWICH, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29:  An injured Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal (17) is given assistance during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Arsenal at Carrow Road on November 29, 2015 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Alexis Sanchez has joined Arsenal’s long list of walking wounded.

The Chilean subbed off after 60 minutes at Carrow Road after suffering what appeared to be a right hamstring injury.

[ WATCH: Petulant Costa tosses bib at Mourinho ]

Arsene Wenger has been critical of the use of his players on international duty when not at 100 percent, but that didn’t stop him from using Alexis on a hamstring injury.

Alexis was headed for a loose ball when he tried to leap over a defender and instead pulled up with the injury.

Sunday’s transfer rumor roundup: Vardy to Chelsea, Man City; Real wants Neymar

BARCELONA, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 24:  Neymar of FC Barcelona controls the ball during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between FC Barcelona and AS Roma at Camp Nou stadium on November 24, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Neymar is playing as well as any player in the world, so it makes sense that anyone would be interested in signing the player were it a possibility, but would the Barcelona star considering swapping shirts with his current club’s biggest rival? Florentino Perez wants to woo the Brazilian to the Bernabeu, according to AS, though it’s an absolute head-scratcher as to why — aside from Perez’s wild ego — this move could go down.

Jamie Vardy could leave Leicester City, says the Independent. The thought here is that the Foxes couldn’t refuse a $45 million offer from a giant like Chelsea or Manchester City. Straight swap for Diego Costa (We kid, we kid; How would the mercurial striker possibly live with Tony Pulis?).

[ MORE: Chelsea’s Costa tosses bib at Mourinho | Jose reacts ]

Burnley defender Michael Keane continues to impress as the Clarets aim for a Premier League return, and The Sun says Aston Villa is joining Manchester United and Everton with interest in the 22-year-old back.

The same publication says Everton back John Stones is taking Spanish lessons in preparation for a move to Barcelona (although many people speak Spanish in soccer, of course). The Sunday Mirror says Arsenal could also move for Stones.

Sky Italia says Leicester’s Andrej Kramaric is looking toward, essentially, all the big names in Serie A. AC Milan and Juventus are among the clubs mentioned by the report.

Jack Butland is having a strong season for Stoke, and the young English keeper is wanted by both of the Merseyside’s Premier League clubs, according to The Sun. The price? $30 million.

West Ham United 1-1 West Bromwich Albion: Baggies come back to hold Irons

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29:  James McClean of West Bromwich Albion is tackled by Carl Jenkinson of West Ham United during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and West Bromwich Albion at Boleyn Ground on November 29, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Leave a comment

A Winston Reid own goal undid a gorgeous Mauro Zarate free kick, as West Ham failed to take all three points from West Brom in a 1-1 draw at the Boleyn Ground on Sunday

The draw moves West Ham into 7th place, while West Brom stays 13th.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

West Brom had a good-looking buildup in the ninth minute, as Manuel Lanzini came close to meandering through a packed West Brom back line before passing to Mauro Zarate, who missed wide of the goal.

At the other end, Salomon Rondon smoked a fine effort just wide of Adrian’s far post.

The Hammers broke through off an 18th-minute set piece, as Zarate curled a free kick over the wall and into the upper 90.

Lanzini then stole the ball from Yacob and darted to the top of the arc, where he unleashed a whirling shot that Boaz Myhill was able to save.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Click here for full lineups, stats, box score ]  

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29: Tony Pulis manager of West Bromwich Albion reacts as Slaven Bilic manager of West Ham United looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and West Bromwich Albion at Boleyn Ground on November 29, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
(Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Despite dominating the first half, West Ham soon found itself level when West Brom substitute Rickie Lambert struck a ball that changed course off Winston Reid’s arm to beat Myhill. 1-1. Game on.

Lambert later forced Adrian to push a low free kick out for a corner, but the Baggies found the ensuing chance cleared away from danger.

In the 61st minute, Adrian was called upon to make a strong save on Rondon’s powerful close-range header.

A break toward the other end saw Victor Moses cue up Diafra Sakho, but Jonas Olsson slid to block the West Ham chance out for a corner.

Pochettino trolling? “You got the feeling that Chelsea were a small team”

Leave a comment

LONDON — Tottenham Hotspur huffed and puffed at White Hart Lane on Sunday but never really got going as they settled for a point at White Hart Lane.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Harry Kane forced Asmir Begovic into two good saves in the first half and Song Hueng-min should’ve scored in the second half with a header but even after after a grueling 5,000-mile round trip to Azerbaijan on Thursday night for Europa League action which saw them arrive back in England at 6 a.m. local time Friday, manager Mauricio Pochettino wasn’t pleased his team didn’t win to move into the top four.

“No, not really happy. We deserved more than we got, so I was disappointed, but it’s true that I’m proud of the players. For me they’re big heroes,” Pochettino told ProSoccerTalk. “The effort was massive. Chelsea played one of their best games of the season, and when you make the effort we showed and the maturity, you have to be happy with your players but disappointed with one point.”

[ MORE: Mourinho calls benched Costa “privileged” ]

With Spurs now stretching their unbeaten run to 13 games this season — their one and only defeat in 2015-16 came on the opening day of the season, 1-0 at Manchester United — Pochettino was asked if his side, who sit five points off the top, should be pleased that a draw against Chelsea felt like two points dropped.

The Argentine coach then released his inner Jose Mourinho — the pair have a close relationship and before Poch came to coach in England he spoke at length to Mourinho — dishing out a backhanded compliment to the master of the backhanded compliment.

“This is a good thing. We play the champions. It’s good. You got the feeling that Chelsea were a small team and Tottenham can win every game we play,” Pochettino said. “It’s very difficult, though. Not easy. We’re the youngest team in the PL and the maturity we showed today we have shown in different games. We have to feel happy. It’s a good thing that, maybe, we are a bigger club than Chelsea or that we deserve more. We showed good performances in the last few games, and I’m happy, but we have to keep working hard. We’ve only had 14 games in the PL and it’s too early to think about the end of the season.”

Whether or not those comments were lost in translation from a man who is still getting used to English as his second language, Pochettino clearly felt Spurs deserved more than the point they got and it’s apparent from the differing predicaments both teams find themselves in that Spurs have more chance of winning the title and finishing in the top four than Chelsea this season.