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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.

source:

#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.

El Clasico Preview: Barcelona looks to break Real Madrid’s hold on La Liga

BARCELONA, SPAIN - APRIL 02:  Casemiro of Real Madrid CF battles for the ball with Neymar of FC Barcelona during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF at Camp Nou on April 2, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
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It could very well be the greatest rivalry in all of sports, and Saturday will see another installment of El Clasico in Spain’s top flight.

[ MORE: Messi looking to end El Clasico scoring drought ]

Barcelona will host Real Madrid on Saturday at the Camp Nou (10 a.m. ET on beIN Sport) as the Blaugrana look to hand the Madridistas their first loss of the La Liga season.

[ MORE: Griezmann joins Ronaldo, Messi for FIFA’s Best Player award ]

Through 13 rounds of play, Real remains the only unbeaten side in La Liga, sitting on 33 points atop the first division. Barca finds itself six points back, however, a victory would go a long way in cutting down Real’s advantage.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s 10 goals in league play thus far has paced Real to its hot start, which includes a 20-match unbeaten streak in all competitions dating back to the start of the La Liga calendar.

The Portuguese attacker will need to continue his brilliance this weekend, though, as Real is forced to cope without Welsh star Gareth Bale. The winger is expected to miss four months after undergoing an ankle operation recently.

Meanwhile, Barcelona enters the Clasico in less-than-ideal form for a club with massive expectations. Luis Enrique’s side has gone unbeaten in its last five matches across all competitions, but the Blaugrana have looked less than convincing in that span.

“It’s a special game and we want to make the team and fans happy. I expect 100,000 people cheering us on,” said Enrique. “The game tomorrow is a chance to beat Real Madrid and to get closer to the top of the table, nothing more.

“Controlling your emotions is basic. In a game like this one, what happens on the field has little to do with the league table.”

Temperament will surely be key for both sides in the contentious matchup, particularly with the meeting being historically one of great physicality. Red cards have been shown in the last two meetings, with Real players both being the recipients of the ejections (Sergio Ramos & Isco).

Lionel Messi and his 21 previous Clasico goals will prove to be crucial for Barcelona as they look to put the first blemish on Real’s record in 2016. The Argentine has 19 goals in all tournaments, making his presence an absolute must if Barca is to snatch a victory.

Real earned a victory in their most recent encounter with Barca, a 2-1 result in April 2016, where Ronaldo netted the game-winner inside the final five minutes of play.

Bayern regains Bundesliga lead behind Lewandowski brace vs. Mainz

EINDHOVEN, NETHERLANDS - NOVEMBER 01: Robert Lewandowski of Bayern Muenchen (C) celebrates scoring his sides first goal with his team mates during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between PSV Eindhoven and FC Bayern Muenchen at Philips Stadion on November 1, 2016 in Eindhoven, Netherlands.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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Robert Lewandowski fired twice on Friday afternoon as Bayern Munich defeated Mainz, 3-1, to regain to the top spot in the German Bundesliga table.

[ MORE: Ronaldo, Mourinho reportedly involved in tax evasion system ]

Bayern currently sits on 30 points through 13 matches, but Red Bull Leipzig has the opportunity to surpass the reigning German champions this weekend when they take on Schalke.

The Polish striker netted his first finish after eight minutes, leveling the match at 1-1 after an early Jhon Córdoba tally had given the hosts the advantage.

Lewandowski put the game to rest in second-half stoppage time after curling a free kick over the Mainz wall and into the back of the net.

After the sluggish start was past Bayern, Arjen Robben found a goal of his own in the 21st minute after diving in to head home Thomas Muller’s cross.

Antonio Conte humble, yet eager to dine at Premier League’s top table

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LONDON — Two of the brightest and most highly-regarded managers in world soccer square off on Saturday at the Etihad Stadium as Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte collide.

[ MORE: Conte or Guardiola? ]

Manchester City vs. Chelsea (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) is eagerly anticipated as many people’s title favorites lock horns in what should be an intriguing tactical battle with Guardiola and Conte both already stamping their authority on their teams just a few months into their reign.

Speaking at Stamford Bridge on Friday before Chelsea hopped on a train from London to Manchester Conte spoke to the media in a humble manner, playing down his own importance and revealing his admiration and respect for Guardiola not only as a coach but as a player when they met the one time in Italy towards the end of their careers.

With Conte having success at Juventus, plus with the Italian national team despite winning any title, the 47-year-old coach was asked who was more popular; himself or Guardiola?

“For sure Pep,” Conte laughed. “Because Pep won a lot in his career, he won trophies internationally, not only in Spain but also in Germany and now he’s in England. For sure Pep. I think now he is the top.”

When you look around the Premier League at the top managers currently working in big clubs (Jurgen Klopp, Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger, Mauricio Pochettino and many others) that’s high praise indeed from Conte. Yet, you get the sense that he and Guardiola aren’t so different and aren’t so far off one another.

[ WATCH: Full TV, streaming schedule for Premier League ]

Talking after Liverpool beat Chelsea in September at Stamford Bridge, Liverpool’s manager Jurgen Klopp referred to Conte as the “Guardiola of Turin” for the work he did with Juventus, leading them to three-straight Serie A titles from 2011-14.

What did Conte make of that comparison to Guardiola?

“I think this is a great compliment,”Conte said. “I thought that Klopp said this because I had the possibility in three years to build a clear idea of football with Juventus. It was a good compliment for me.”

Humble is word which sums up Conte well.

He is still getting to grips with his English and is improving every week but he still looks rather sheepish and almost embarrassed when he is talked about in the same breath as Guardiola and the great coaches currently managing in England.

Where does he rank himself among the elite coaches in the Premier League.

“Yeah, but for me it is difficult to give a judgement on myself. It is very difficult. I prefer the other people to be the judge,” Conte said. “I know me very well. I know that I put a lot of pressure, I study a lot of football to create and find solution. I know I put a lot of the time of my day in my work. I know this. Then I don’t know if I am up in this table or at the bottom of this table.”

Conte is clearly not at the bottom of the table but in England his fame has yet to translate to the street. In Italy he would be mobbed for photos while out at a dinner or shopping due to his success with Juve and the Azzurri, however in west London he doesn’t get bothered much. And he quite enjoys that.

“In England it is very different if you compare with Italy. Here they ask with great education to sign a photo. In Italy you can find lots of friends who say ‘come with me, take a photo, come on’ and you are eating at your table and the fans come and sit with you and want to eat with you!” Conte said, laughing. “This is the big difference. I am pleased that when I go for a walk and people ask me to sign a photo, I am pleased and able to take the photo every time.”

Photos aside, Conte has hit the ground running at Chelsea and had just a few days of vacation this summer as he transitioned straight from Italy’s penalty shootout heartbreak in the quarterfinals of EURO 2016 to taking charge of Chelsea and managing in the Premier League for the first time in his career. He has taken to Chelsea quickly and the fans have taken to him, with his name sung loud and proud around Stamford Bridge by home fans in recent weeks as his rapport with them has been built by signals to get behind the team and jumping in and celebrating with them when the Blues score.

But does Conte have to win a title, or even a UEFA Champions League, at Chelsea to get to the same level of admiration that Guardiola has globally?

“I don’t know if you win a league and what you can reach. I have to work with my team to reach the best results for us. I remember our first press conference. Not many people trust in Chelsea and our work,” Conte said. “This must be a great strength for us. To continue to work and change the opinion of the people. For me, I never think of myself. I always think for my team and my club. We win and we lose together.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 15: Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea celebrates the goal scored by Diego Costa of Chelsea during the Premier League match between Chelsea and West Ham United at Stamford Bridge on August 15, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

With Chelsea on a seven-game winning streak and conceding just one goal in that stretch, Conte’s side are in-form and one point ahead of Guardiola’s City ahead of Saturday’s game. Following their 10th place finish last season as their title defense went horrendously wrong, not much was expected of Chelsea this season under Conte. They’ve exceeded expectations, thus far.

As for Guardiola, plenty was expected of his expensively assembled squad and City have faltered in recent months, winning just three of their last seven Premier League games.

Conte isn’t sure if Guardiola is under more pressure than he is, but he does know that he will continue to put massive pressure on his shoulders and, gradually, on the shoulders of his players who currently sit top of the remier League.

“I must be honest I don’t know. I know that I put myself under great pressure on every situation,” Conte said. “I try to work, try to win always, also when sometimes you understand this is very difficult bu I put a lot of pressure on myself. Also I try to start to transfer this pressure on my staff and also to start to push this pressure on my players.”

With his Chelsea team written off at the start of the season, slowly expectations levels are starting to rise and many of the doubters are turning into believers of Conte’s project in west London.

“Before we are working for ourselves, our club, our fans to show we love this shirt, love this club,” Conte said.” It is normal when you are a great team like Chelsea and when you play and you are a manager of this great team, the expectation is high. Sometimes it is right to be high. Sometimes you have to wait because you are building something important. I repeat, now it is important to continue to work and show that Chelsea can fight for a place in Champions League or fight for the title and fight the best teams in the league.”

Report: Ronaldo, Mourinho involved in massive tax evasion system

MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 19:  Head Coach Jose Mourinho (R) of Real Madrid instructs Cristiano Ronaldo during the UEFA Champions League group G match between Real Madrid and AC Milan at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on October 19, 2010 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
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Wikileaks findings played a massive role in this year’s presidential election, and now “Football Leaks” could produce potentially damaging news regarding some of the world’s greatest soccer players.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines heading into the weekend ]

According to information obtained by various European media outlets, Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo and Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho are at the heart of a multi-million dollar tax evasion ring.

[ MORE: Who’s more important? Diego Costa or Sergio Aguero? ]

German outlet Der Spiegel is reporting that Ronaldo could have hidden as much as”hidden 150 million euros (roughly $160 million) in tax havens in Switzerland and the British Virgin Islands.”

Jorge Mendes, who serves as an agent for both Ronaldo, Mourinho and various other major soccer stars, is considered to have played a key role in the alleged wrongdoing.

Mendes reportedly helped Ronaldo and Mourinho conceal money in various offshore accounts, including in Switzerland, Panama and the British Virgin Islands.

In total, the alleged system implemented by Mendes amounted to a loss of “at least 185 million euros (roughly $197 million) of sponsorship income from the tax administrations.”

As more details emerge, follow PST for all the latest information.