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MLS Week 1: LA-Dallas showdown; New boys debut

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Major League Soccer begins its 22nd season on Friday when Portland hosts one of the league’s two new squads: Minnesota United.

United as expansion teams and in nickname, Minnesota and Atlanta United are the shiny new toys for MLS fans (even if the former has a strong history in another league, the NASL).

[ MORE: Atlanta United architect Eales talks club ]

The focus will definitely be on the new boys this weekend, though the bevy of new players in the league will put a glimmer on most of the matches.

Also on tap? A crazy early litmus test for two of the top teams in the West. Here’s one line for each of the 10 matches on Opening Weekend.

Portland Timbers vs. Minnesota United — 9:30 p.m. EDT Friday

Minnesota’s welcome to MLS happens in one of the rowdiest joints in all the land, as Caleb Porter and the Timbers attempt to get some of the egg of their playoff-less face.

Columbus Crew vs. Chicago Fire — 2 p.m. EDT Saturday

The league’s other major disappointment last season, Columbus, hopes that the widely-expected resurrection of Chicago under striker Nemanja Nikolic and midfielder Dax McCarty needs a few weeks to take shape.

LA Galaxy vs. FC Dallas — 4 p.m. EDT Saturday

Romain Alessandrini and the new-look Galaxy hope the home crowd helps LA to a win over last season’s powerful Supporters’ Shield winners.

Real Salt Lake vs. Toronto FC — 4:30 p.m. EDT Saturday

The MLS Cup finalists begin on the road at Rio Tinto, where Jozy Altidore, Sebastian Giovinco, and Michael Bradley lead TFC against a renewed RSL.

Colorado Rapids vs. New England Revolution — 6 p.m. EDT Saturday

The Rapids posted one of the best defensive performances in MLS history last season, and will aim to prove it no fluke against a New England side which could be a beast or a bust under Jay Heaps.

DC United vs. Sporting KC — 7 p.m. EDT Saturday

Perhaps no club finished the regular season as hot as Patrick Nyarko and DC, and they’ll be the first to test Gelso Fernandes and deep SKC.

September 24 2016: Orlando City FC defender Kevin Alston (12) defends against D.C. United forward Patrick Nyarko (12) during a MLS match at RFK Stadium in Washington D.C. DC United defeated Orlando City SC. 4-1. (Photo by Tony Quinn/IconSportswire)
Nyarko (Photo by Tony Quinn/IconSportswire)

Houston Dynamo vs. Seattle Sounders — 8:30 p.m. EDT Saturday

Wilmer Cabrera has a flashy Honduran pair in Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis, and they’ll attempt to break down the champs’ defense.

San Jose Earthquakes vs. Montreal Impact — 10 p.m. EDT Saturday

One of the longest road trips in MLS pits the steady Impact against a Quakes side with more questions than answers in its XI.

Orlando City SC vs. New York City FC — 5 p.m. EDT Sunday

Now with two each seasons under their belts, Orlando and New York City hope to get their seasons started the right way as OCSC manager Jason Kreis faces his former side.

Atlanta United FC vs. New York Red Bulls — 7:30 p.m. EDT Sunday

ATL UTD makes its much-anticipated debut against an RBNY side which will have played a late CONCACAF Champions League match in Vancouver on Thursday night.

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Philadelphia Union — 9:30 p.m. EDT Sunday

The ‘Caps will hope their depth and home field is enough to deal with two matches in four days, as Philadelphia continues the Earnie Stewart revolution.

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.