MLS Weekend Preview: Derbies close weekend kicking off off at Sporting Park

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Three national television games, two of which air on NBCSN, highlight another nine-match MLS match day, one which starts Friday at Sporting Park in Kansas City. With rivalry games in Vancouver, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, here’s a look at Labor Day weekend in Major League Soccer:

(Note: All rankings reflect this week’s version of our MLS PRs.)

#6 Sporting Kansas City vs. #16 Houston Dynamo, Friday, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, NBCSN/NBC Sports Live Extra

In recent seasons this matchup served as a playoff preview, with a Sporting team destined to finish near the top of the conference facing a Houston side building for  a playoff run. This year, however, the Dynamo’s playoff inevitability is a serious doubt. Between the team’s ninth place standing and last week’s 3-0 defeat at Columbus, a return to postseason soccer looks unlikely for Dom Kinnear’s club.

Not that Kansas City’s looking too hot right now, either. Sitting second in the East, Sporting problems are blessings compared to Houston’s, be after being blitzed at home on Saturday by D.C. United, the defending champions are facing their most serious questions of the season.

While Houston lacks the quality to answer them (e.g., this shouldn’t be a test), any stumble will heightened concerns. It will be difficult to argue away poor performances against Vancouver and United if Sporting struggles against Houston.

source: AP

#5 Seattle Sounders vs. #17 Colorado Rapids, Saturday, 4:00 p.m. Eastern

Colorado’s had 10 days off to think about its five-game losing streak. Unfortunately, the Rapids return to face a Seattle team revitalized by a win in Portland. Had they slipped at Providence Park, the Sounders could have descended into a slide that defined their season. But as their performance in Oregon showed, that was probably wild speculation – the type of analysis people like me offer when narrative overpowers reason.

Reason says Colorado’s will find things very difficult on Saturday, and while the speed of Deshorn Brown could trouble Chad Marshall and Zach Scott, the Rapids’ danger man only has one goal in his last four games. At the other end of the field, a depleted Colorado defense, one that’s given up 11 goals in its last three outings, will have to deal with Obafemi Martins (right) and Clint Dempsey.

Good luck with that.

source: AP#11 Toronto FC vs. #13 New England Revolution, Saturday, 5:00 p.m. Eastern

Jermaine Jones (right), at his introductory press conference this week, said he wanted to play on Saturday. Early returns from practice note the base fitness is there, but it’s clear he’s had a layoff. Whether he plays at BMO Field or not, Jones is unlikely to have his usual impact on Saturday in Toronto.

That means a little less protection for José Gonçalves and A.J. Soares, who’ll have to deal with Jermain Defoe and Gilberto. And in the middle, Michael Bradley won’t be exposed to a player of Jones’s caliber while going forward.

Against a New England team that’s won twice since May, that should be enough. After last week’s draw with Chicago, however, you can’t be too sure about Toronto.

source: AP#19 Montréal Impact vs. #7 Columbus Crew, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Eastern

Two months ago, Columbus was a wayward team having trouble scoring goals, a state that left them at the fringe of the Eastern Conference’s playoff race. Now, after impressive wins against LA and Houston, Columbus is the hottest team in the East, outscoring its recent foes 7-1 while pulling even with Toronto for third in the conference.

Salvage any semblance of that momentum in Montréal, and Columbus’s surge will continue, likely with multiple goals. In the Impact’s last eight games, the team has held given up at least two goals to seven opponents. The one that couldn’t reach that mark? Chicago. And Columbus is significantly better than Chicago.

Having taken 13 of their last 18 points, the Crew have six weeks of strong play to back their recent surge. They’ll have to derail themselves to stumble at Montréal.

source:  #18 Chicago Fire vs. #1 FC Dallas, Saturday, 8:30 p.m. Eastern

It’s the league hottest team against its coldest, two states that are reflected in our rankings. Chicago, having just given back No. 19 to Montréal, has claimed one point in it’s last six games, a level of frigidity matched by only Chivas USA. FC Dallas, on the other hand, has not lost since spring with a 7-0-3 record since that late-May loss capped by last week’s win over visiting RSL.

It’s a game FC Dallas has no reason to lose, though for most of their run, the team haven’t had the burden of being favorites. It’s intangible, and the reason sounds as lame as saying Seattle’s season would turn with a loss at Portland, but some teams have trouble with the role. It’s one thing to play as underdogs, have room to define yourselves, and enjoy the freedom to scavenge results. It’s another to play with a favorites’ expectations.

As good as they’re playing, Dallas is going to have to get used to the latter. There may be no better place to start than Bridgeview.

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#10 Vancouver Whitecaps vs. #12 Portland Timbers, 10:30 p.m. Eastern

Portland rolls right from one Cascadia Derby to another, but whereas last week’s disappointment against Seattle did little damage in the standings, this is a practical six-pointer. Vancouver, fifth in the West, will open a five-point gap on the Timbers with a win. Add in some potential help from Seattle earlier in the day against Colorado, and the Whitecaps may have some unexpected breathing room between themselves and sixth place.

Most unexpected about that breathing room: It’s been a while since Vancouver was very good. A talented squad that looked ready to move past its Renne-ness this spring, the Whitecaps have won only one of their last eight: A 2-0 win over a Sporting team decidedly uncomfortable at BC Place. Their last convincing win before that (overlooking the win in July over a shorthand Seattle): A 4-3 at Providence Park on June 1.

That result may hint at Saturday’s bottom line. For as unconvincing as the Whitecaps have been this summer, they’re still a team with talent going forward. And the Timbers are still a team that can give up four goals. As long as these things remain true, Vancouver’s likely to win at home against Portland.

source: AP#14 San Jose Earthquakes vs. #4 Real Salt Lake, 10:30 p.m. Eastern

RSL saw a perch atop the West and its six-match unbeaten run ruined last week in Frisco, with a 10-man Dallas reliant on set pieces an counters highlighting Jeff Cassar’s absences in attack. Against a team willing to rely on mistakes and transition, Javi Morales and Álvaro Saborío were particularly missed, with a team that’s come to rely on Joao Plata’s production unable to leverage the new Ecuadorian call up.

Life may prove similar at Buck Shaw, just without the threat of Fabián Castillo ruining their night. Though San Jose was forced to come out of its shell at Philadelphia (such things happen when you give up two early goals), they’re increasingly willing to play without the ball, relying on their transition game to generate chances.

RSL, however, is a team comfortable dominating the ball, and while they did give up a goal last week to Castillo, it was off a deep defensive giveaway, not a true transition chance. As they showed against Seattle, Salt Lake is capable of suffocating an opponent. Against San Jose, the question is whether they’ll break through while doing so.

source: AP

#2 D.C. United vs. #9 New York Red Bulls, 2:30 p.m. Eastern, NBCSN/NBC Sports Live Extra

In a weekend of three notable derbies, this may be the biggest. Though it’s recently been usurped by Seattle-Portland as the league’s most celebrated, D.C United’s rivalry with New York is still one of MLS’s best, with this week’s potentially the most important since the teams met in the playoffs two years ago. Coming off a loss at L.A., first place United will be looking to rebound, while New York will hope to continue solidifying a place in the East’s top five.

That place was improved last week when the Red Bulls defeated Montréal, but Thierry Henry’s Player of the Week-caliber performance ended up overshadowing some continuing problems. Two goals conceded to Montréal highlighted the occasionally worrisome defense, while Henry’s performance in Saturday’s second half was a reminder: Bradley Wright-Phillips’ season doesn’t make New York any less reliant on its playmaking star.

The first time these teams met, D.C. used a Davy Arnaud goal to claim a 1-0 win at RFK Stadium. Since then, United’s evolved into more than smash-and-grab artists. Tied for the most goals in the East, Ben Olsen’s team has a number of ways to exploit New York, if the Red Bulls defense again decides to be troublesome.

source: AP#16 Chivas USA vs. #3 LA Galaxy, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, Univision Deportes

Sunday may be the end of an era in Carson, albeit a short one. Nine years ago, Chivas USA debuted with a four-win season, one that was supposed giveaway to Mexico’s biggest brand having its impact on Major League Soccer. Now, with the league trying to find new owners for a lifeless franchise, there’s a danger this will be the last meeting between the MLS Goats and their StubHub rivals. Come March 2015, CD Chivas USA could be Los Angeles FC.

While writing this post, I mentioned the possibility to my go to Galaxy friend (SB Nation’s Ryan Rosenblatt), who gave the perfect answer to the possibility of saying goodbye to Chivas versus LA:

[tweet https://twitter.com/ryanrosenblatt/status/505204168575827969]

In 33 all-time meetings, Chivas has won eight times, only once since 2009. With LA surging while Wilmer Cabrera’s team crumbles, Sunday’s result will likely fall in line with history. While we should celebrate the likely end on this LA rivalry, it may be better to just let it go.

UEFA Champions League semifinal predictions

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With the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League to kick off over the next few days, let’s take a look at both games and predict which teams will make it to the final in Kiev on May 26.

[ MORE: Champions League scores

Liverpool or Roma? Real Madrid or Bayern Munich?

Here’s the lowdown as two eagerly anticipated games take center stage across Europe.


Liverpool vs. AS Roma
First leg: Apr. 24, 2:45 p.m. ET at Anfield
Second leg: May 2, 2:45 p.m. ET at Stadio Olimpico

This should be one heck of a tie with defending optional for both teams but both have very different ways of playing. Jurgen Klopp will unleash the fluid trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino on an often brittle Roma defense but the Italian giants have a giant in their own up top in the shape of Edin Dzeko. How Virgil Van Dijk and Liverpool’s defense deal with the threat of Dzeko will likely decide the outcome of this game. Liverpool will look to feed off the famous Anfield atmosphere to wrack up a big first leg lead before they head to Roma for Leg 2, and I fancy Salah to blow his old team away in the first leg. Liverpool to advance 4-2 on aggregate.

Bayern Munich vs. Real Madrid
First leg: Apr. 25, 2:45 p.m. ET at Allianz Arena
Second leg: May 1, 2:45 p.m. ET at Santiago Bernabeu

A proper heavyweight clash as Bayern and Real do battle knowing that whoever wins will be the favorites in the final. Cristiano Ronaldo is in the form of his life (again) after a slow start to this season and Zinedine Zidane’s side made hard work of it against Juventus in the last round but are on course for a third-straight UCL trophy. As for Bayern, they have been in imperious form and you feel like Robert Lewandowski can get the better of Real’s center backs. Expect this to be a tight game with extremely high quality from both teams. Real being at home in the second leg is a big advantage. Real Madrid to advance 3-2 on aggregate. 

Cologne’s Hector extends contract despite likely relegation

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COLOGNE, Germany (AP) Germany defender Jonas Hector has shunned reported interest from Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund by extending his contract with Cologne – despite the club’s almost certain relegation from the Bundesliga.

Cologne, eight points from safety with three games remaining, says its 27-year-old captain has signed a two-year extension to 2023 instead of using a release clause in his contract.

Hector, who has been at the club since 2010, says, “It wouldn’t have been a problem to switch to another club after this season but it didn’t feel right for me. I belong to Cologne and want to tackle the new season with the team and the fans behind us.”

Cologne sporting director Armin Veh says Hector’s decision is, “a great signal for the team, the club and our fans.”

Klopp talks politics: “Brexit makes no sense”

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Jurgen Klopp isn’t a fan of Brexit and he doesn’t care who knows it.

Liverpool’s German manager has spoken in the past about his disdain towards the vote by British citizens to leave the European Union, with Brexit officially planned for March 2019.

Klopp sat down with the Guardian to chat about a whole host of topics but it was his political views which will get the headlines ahead of Liverpool’s huge UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg against AS Roma at Anfield on Tuesday.

The man who has Liverpool on the cusp of reaching a major European final and comfortably in the top four of the Premier League also admitted that he has a “helping syndrome” and wants to help out everyone and he cares about them greatly.

It is worth letting the words speak for themselves when it comes to Klopp’s comments on Brexit as it is clearly something else he cares a lot about.

Take it away, Jurgen…

“When Mr [David] Cameron had the idea [of a referendum] you thought: ‘This is not something people should decide in a moment.’ We are all influenced by the way only some of the argument is given, and once the decision is taken nobody gives you a real opportunity to change it again. The choice was either you stay in Europe, which is not perfect, or you go out into something nobody has any idea how it will work.

“So you give people the chance to make this big decision. And then it’s a 51-49 [51.9%-48.1%] vote and you’re thinking: ‘Wow, 49% are not happy with the decision that’s going to change the country.’ For the 51%, I’m sure they realized pretty early after the vote: ‘What have we done?’ The two leaders of the leave campaign then stepped aside. It was a pure sign they were surprised themselves by the vote. OK, that can happen. But then, come on, let’s sit together again. Let’s think about it again and let’s vote again with the right information – not with the information you’ve got around the Brexit campaign. They were obviously not right, not all of them. It makes no sense at all.”

“The EU is not perfect but it was the best idea we had. History has always shown that when we stay together we can sort out problems. When we split then we start fighting. There was not one time in history where division creates success. So, for me, Brexit still makes no sense.”

VIDEO: Napoli fans celebrate Juventus win

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It is safe to say Napoli’s fans were pretty happy with the 1-0 win their team secured at Juventus on Sunday.

Kalidou Koulibaly powered home a header in stoppage as Napoli moved just one point behind Juventus, who sit top of the Serie A table, with four games to go. The title race is well and truly on in Italy.

The scenes across Naples after the game were incredible and when the players arrived back at the airport at around 3 a.m. local time they were greeted by thousands of adoring fans.

Take a look at the video below. Wow.