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New order in NY? A closer look at Red Bulls, NYCFC

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It’s a rivalry that has already captivated Major League Soccer in just two short seasons, but with the 2017 campaign getting set to begin, it’s the first time that New York City FC and the New York Red Bulls are on a level playing field.

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Prior to entering MLS two seasons ago, NYCFC had lofty expectations largely due to the fact that the club plays at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, a venue that has become synonymous with winning over the years.

[ MORE: MLS 2017 Eastern Conference preview ]

The club has yet to have a great deal of success against their cross-river rivals, but 2017 could be the year that NYCFC breaks that trend.

While the Red Bulls have managed to keep a large portion of its squad together for yet another season, the club did undergo several disturbances during the offseason that could halt the squad’s success.

Below, PST makes the case for both New York-based teams and why each club will finish above the other in the final standings.

Reasons NYCFC will be better than Red Bulls

Two words; David Villa. The way things are shaping up, the former Barcelona attacker could go down as one of the best Designated Player in MLS history. In two seasons with NYCFC, Villa has scored 41 goals while adding 12 assists for the Eastern Conference side, and has additionally served as the club’s captain.

Manager Patrick Vieira made a promise heading into the offseason and he stuck to his word. The Frenchman sought a younger roster, and that’s exactly what he got. While there was a decent amount of turnover within the NYCFC squad this winter, losing the likes of Frank Lampard, Andoni Iraola and others, the club has found suitable options to fill those holes with younger selections.

Among these names are midfielders Miguel Camargo and Alex Ring, as well as attacking Designated Player Maxi Moralez, who joins the team from Liga MX side Club Leon.

It’s unclear who the starting goalkeeper will be ahead of the 2017 season, but Vieira has two pretty solid options at his disposal. Eirik Johansen showed well towards the tail end of the 2016 campaign, and his 6-foot-7 stature is surely beneficial. Meanwhile, adding a savvy, talented veteran like Sean Johnson gives NYCFC a capable first-team choice who could be the NYCFC keeper for years to come.

Villa has been the clear catalyst for the NYCFC attack in the club’s first two years, but the club has a plethora of youthful options that could very well explode this season. Jack Harrison is clearly the first name that comes to mind after taking the league by storm at times during his rookie campaign, while Khiry Shelton enters his third season in the Bronx.

The club also added reigning USL MVP Sean Okoli, first round SuperDraft pick Jonathan Lewis while bringing back Tommy McNamara, who has scored some of the team’s most brilliant goals in its brief history.

Although struggled at times to find their footing at home last season, NYCFC boasted the best road record in MLS at 7-7-3. NYCFC racked up 24 points on the road a season ago, and if the team can finish around .500 away from Yankee Stadium again in 2017 then Vieira’s group will be in a good position.

Reasons Red Bulls will be better than NYCFC

The most compelling argument the Red Bulls make is their brief history against NYCFC. Over six matches in the past two seasons, Jesse Marsch’s side has won five encounters against the Bronx side by a combined score of 18 to 5. Although their May 2016 meeting resulted in a lopsided 7-0 Red Bulls victory, the overall difference in form has been resounding when the two clubs get together.

At the center of it all has been goalscoring extraordinaire Bradley Wright-Phillips, who has notched eight finishes in the six clashes. Wright-Phillips is the reigning MLS Golden Boot winner, and the Englishman has shown no signs of slowing down after already bagging a goal for the Red Bulls in the CONCACAF Champions League.

Additionally, playmaker Sacha Kljestan is coming off of his most productive season ever in MLS after bagging six goals and leading the league in assists with 20. Kljestan has been a driving force for Marsch’s squad since joining the team in 2015, and his quick distribution fits the Red Bulls’ style of play.

The biggest storyline of the entire offseason was likely Dax McCarty’s blockbuster move to the Chicago Fire, and normally it would have been a major discussion because of the player that McCarty is, but luckily for the Red Bulls they have a suitable replacement.

Sean Davis has emerged over the past several seasons as a strong role player in the central midfield, but with McCarty gone, it’s his and Felipe’s midfield to control. Davis has shown he has the size, physicality and awareness to distribute the ball well enough to fill the void, and he’s a significantly younger option for Marsch.

The Red Bulls have benefitted from having a top-notch defense over recent years, but they also boast an elite goalkeeper. Since 2013, Luis Robles has started every single MLS match for the Harrison side, while making 400 regular season saves in that span. Not only is Robles durable, but he is the emotional leader of the backline, which may not appear on a stat sheet but is certainly a valuable asset to have.

Finally, Red Bull Arena may not always draw the crowds that Yankee Stadium does, but it’s been a fortress for the Red Bulls since the club adopted it as its home. Since 2012, the club has won 10 or more matches at home, including finishing with a record of 13-2-2 a season ago at the venue, which accounted for 41 of the team’s 57 total points.

Timbers sign Peruvian winger Andy Polo from Liga MX’s Morelia

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Portland Timbers have acquired winger Andy Polo on loan from Liga MX club Monarcas Morelia for the upcoming season.

The 23-year-old native of Peru played in 25 matches last year for Morelia and made six starts with two goals.

He’s also World Cup-bound, having appeared in Peru’s two-legged playoff against New Zealand in November. Peru won 2-0 on aggregate. Overall, he’s appeared with the Peruvian national team 15 times since his senior debut in 2016.

“Andy is a versatile, young player who will add another element to our attack, and we believe that he has further upside to his development,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said in a statement.

The Timbers used targeted allocation money and have a purchase option. Polo’s arrival is pending a physical and receipt of a visa.

He will occupy an international roster spot.

Can Man United still sign Sanchez without Mkhitaryan swap?

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The answer to the (first) titled question is, undoubtedly, yes.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

The latter question — the “will they?” — remains a relative unknown at this point, but if reports out of the UK are to be believed, Manchester United are just as likely to send $40 million (or so) Arsenal’s way in exchange for Alexis Sanchez, should Henrikh Mkhitaryan refuse the move by declining any contract offers from the Gunners.

[ MORE: Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies ]

The thinking, at least for the last few days since Man United somewhat unexpectedly entered the Sanchez sweepstakes, was that swapping the Armenian for the Chilean was the obvious — and, perhaps only — way forward. Call it special circumstances or an obvious audible, but that’s not necessarily the case — from the Guardian:

“It is understood that if Mkhitaryan does not leave Mourinho believes that, given the club’s robust finances, [Man United executive vice-chairman] Ed Woodward could still sanction a move for a player who would potentially vastly improve United.”

By the time Sanchez is signed, sealed and delivered, United will have also paid Sanchez and his agent, Fernando Felicevich, massive signing-on fees that could total another $30 million. No matter the order in which the Sanchez-Mkhitaryan saga plays out, United will come out ahead with a superior player at a massively discounted price — should Sanchez ultimately move to Old Trafford, of course.

Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies

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If the FA, English football’s governing body, is insistent upon testing video-assistant refereeing (VAR) as they have done in recent FA Cup and League Cup fixtures, Antonio Conte believes they should darn well use it.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Following his Chelsea side’s penalty-shootout victory over Norwich City in an FA Cup third-round replay on Wednesday, Conte was equal parts frustrated and confused by the fact that video-referee Mike Jones failed to prompt referee Graham Scott to consult the on-trial system on multiple occasions.

Most notably, Chelsea’s 92nd-minute (extra-time) penalty shout following Timm Klose‘s tackle on Willian. Scott, instead, booked the Brazilian for diving — one of three cards, all shown to Chelsea players, for simulation on the night — and that was that.

“If you watch the replay you see very clearly it is a penalty,” said Conte after the game — quotes from the BBC:

“I think that there was a penalty but not on [Alvaro] Morata — on Willian.

“With Willian, the referee heard what the other referee watched and decided to continue to play. If we want to try to use this new system, it is important for the referee to wait, especially in this incident that is not so clear.

“And then when the referee that is watching had a doubt, he has to call the referee to watch and he can make a decision. The referee on the pitch has to make the decision, not one off the pitch.

“We can improve it for sure but we need to try to take the best solution. The final decision is for the ref on the pitch. Otherwise, why is there this ref?

“The mistake wasn’t of the ref on the pitch but the person watching. When you see this, you have to call the referee.”

VAR was used in another third-round replay, on Tuesday, and helped to correctly rule Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho as being in an onside position when he scored his side’s second goal. While offside/onside calls are much clearer, cut-and-dry decisions to make — and with the aid of a natural stoppage in play — clearly much work lies ahead with regard to the process of determining whether the referee has made a “clear and obvious error,” which remains the threshold for using VAR, in instances of fouls/diving.

Copa QF: Messi misses PK, Barca’s 29-game unbeaten run ends

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MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi missed a penalty and Barcelona conceded late as its 29-match unbeaten streak ended in a 1-0 loss to city rival Espanyol in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal on Wednesday.

Messi failed from the spot in the 62nd minute, his shot brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Diego Lopez.

Youngster Oscar Melendo netted the winner for the hosts in the 88th with his first goal as a professional.

“I have no words, I was looking forward to this first goal,” said the 20-year-old Melendo, who had come on as a substitute in the second half.

It was Espanyol’s first win against Barcelona at its RCDE Stadium.

The second leg of the Catalan derby is next week at Camp Nou.

Barcelona hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat by Real Madrid in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Aug. 16. It had won 23 of its last 29 matches in all competitions.

“We knew we would lose one day,” Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said. “The positive thing is that in a week we have a chance to rebound and advance.”

Messi had his chance from the spot after Sergi Roberto was fouled by Esteban Granero, but his low shot into the right corner was stopped as Diego Lopez dived to his left to tip the ball away.

It was a rare miss for Messi, who is having a stellar season and is the Spanish league’s top scorer with 17 goals.

“The penalty save gave us the boost that we needed,” Melendo said. “We were playing too defensively.”

Melendo netted the winner with a low shot from the middle of the area after a well-timed pass by Marc Navarro.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde did not use all of the team’s regular starters, leaving players such as Luis Suarez on the bench.

The match was interrupted for a few minutes in the 76th after Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was hit by an object thrown by fans behind his goal.

Barcelona midfielder Paulinho was replaced in the second half because of a foot injury.