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MLS at Week 8: Lone unbeaten sides clash in Dallas

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While many of the usual suspects remain in playoff positions after the first several weeks of the MLS season, 2017 has kicked off with quite a few surprises.

As it stands, three non-playoff teams from a season ago and an expansion side sit inside the top 6 in the Eastern Conference, while the Houston Dynamo and San Jose Earthquakes continue to impress in a congested Western Conference.

[ MORE: MLS Power Rankings — Week 7 ]

Toronto FC vs. Chicago Fire – 7:30 p.m. ET Friday

Can we talk about how good Bastian Schweinsteiger has been? On paper, it looked like a pointless move for the Fire after acquiring Dax McCarty in the offseason and boasting a fairly strong attack but the German international has been everything Veljko Paunovic could have hoped for since arriving in the Midwest. The Fire are unbeaten in three and have scored six goals in that span, while only allowing two goals. Toronto finally dropped a decision last week against the Crew, but there shouldn’t be great cause for concern from last season’s runners’ up.

Philadelphia Union vs. Montreal Impact – 1 p.m. ET Saturday

Jim Curtin and his side are running dangerously close to having wholesale changes arrive in Chester. Four consecutive losses have the Union sitting bottom in all of MLS with two points and the team’s lack of finishing has proved to be a massive cause for concern. The Impact haven’t been much better to start, but last week’s effort against Atlanta should give Montreal supporters a glimmer of hope.

Houston Dynamo vs. San Jose Earthquakes – 3:55 p.m. ET Saturday

Two of the more surprising sides in 2017 will meet at BBVA Compass Stadium on Saturday, and that provides fans the opportunity to get a closer look at Erick “Cubo” Torres. The league leader in goals (6) is finally living up to the hype, and if the Mexican international can continue to produce up front then the Dynamo will be a very hard out as the season rolls on. Elsewhere, the Quakes are unbeaten in three with three straight draws against quality opposition. Dominic Kinnear will want to turn those ties into wins but it’s been a very strong start for the two-time MLS Cup winners.

Portland Timbers vs. Vancouver Whitecaps – 4 p.m. ET Saturday

For the first time all season, the Timbers failed to score last weekend against Sporting KC. The Whitecaps will look to contain the rampant Portland attack but that’s easy said than done. Carl Robinson’s Whitecaps earned an important win over the Sounders last week and now Vancouver can earn back-to-back Cascadia victories on Saturday in the Pacific Northwest.

New England Revolution vs. D.C. United – 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday

D.C. finally came back down to earth against rivals New York Red Bulls, but there’s been better play from Ben Olsen’s group over recent weeks. The Revs have been up and down to say the least and with both clubs sitting on the outside of the top 6 Saturday’s meeting could play an important role later in the season.

New York Red Bulls vs. Columbus Crew – 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday

The Red Bulls snapped a four-match winless run against D.C. but the Crew present a much bigger challenge with the East leaders coming to Harrison. After missing the postseason in 2016, it was only a matter of time for Greg Berhalter’s side to return to form given the club’s talent. Plus, you’ve got two of the league’s best strikers in Bradley Wright-Phillips and Ola Kamara matching up.

FC Dallas vs. Sporting KC – 8 p.m. ET Saturday

Saturday night’s clash in Dallas is intriguing for several reasons, most notably because of the fact that these two sides are the only unbeatens remaining in MLS through seven weeks. Both clubs continue to play stingy defense, while their attacks aren’t producing as much as either team would like.

Real Salt Lake vs. Atlanta United – 9:30 p.m. ET Saturday

Outside of maybe Portland, Atlanta has been the most exciting team to watch over the first seven weeks. Tata Martino’s boys have found the back of the net 14 times and once they get Josef Martinez back into the fold, the expansion side will be that much more dangerous. RSL has picked up its play recently with back-to-back wins over the Whitecaps and Rapids, but Atlanta will pose a bit of a bigger threat.

New York City FC vs. Orlando City – 1:30 p.m. ET Sunday

When these two clubs met on opening weekend it turned out to be quite the wild affair. If anyone thought that Kaka could go down injured in the opening 10 minutes and Orlando would still come away victorious, whoever said that was probably lying. Now, the Lions have several other injury woes, although there’s a chance that the Brazilian could play on Sunday afternoon. NYCFC is coming off an important win over D.C. United last week but Patrick Vieira’s group will have to cope without a key defender as Ronald Matarrita is sidelined with an ankle injury.

LA Galaxy at Seattle Sounders – 4 p.m. ET Sunday

Six points in six matches isn’t exactly what the Sounders had in mind after hoisting MLS Cup five months ago, but if we learned anything from the Cascadia side in 2016 then there shouldn’t be cause for panic. For the Galaxy, Romain Alessandrini has lived up to the billing early with the newcomer netting four goals and adding two assists in the first month-plus of the season.

Minnesota United vs. Colorado Rapids – 6 p.m. ET Sunday

The bottom sides out West meet in the weekend’s final matchup, and each club could really learn something from the other. While Minnesota has managed to score at a solid pace over recent weeks, the Loons have struggled mightily out of the back, allowing a league-high 24 goals in seven matches. Meanwhile, Pablo Mastroeni’s side continues to search for goals and its defense remains the strongest aspect of the Rapids squad.

FIFA bans Colombia midfielder Cardona 5 games for gesture

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has banned Colombia midfielder Edwin Cardona for five matches for making a discriminatory gesture with his eyes toward a South Korean opponent.

FIFA will allow Cardona to serve the ban in friendly games, so he should be available for Colombia’s World Cup opener against Japan on June 19.

[ MORE: Pep on post-derby celebrations ]

Cardona has also been fined 20,000 Swiss francs ($20,150) because of the incident last month in a friendly in Seoul.

Cardona apologized at the time, saying he “didn’t mean to disrespect anyone, a country or a race, but if anyone felt offended, or interpreted it in that way, I am sorry.”

Spurs’ Alderweireld won’t return until February

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Spurs finally got a bit of good news this weekend with a blowout of Stoke City.

That was a followed by a tough draw against Juventus in the UEFA Champions League, and bad news on an old injury.

[ MORE: Benitez on NUFC struggles ]

Center back Toby Alderweireld is going to be gone into February, extending his time on the sidelines with a hamstring injury suffered Nov. 1 against Real Madrid.

Spurs were 6-2-2 in league when Alderweireld went down, and are just 2-2-2 since the injury. The Belgian has missed losses at Arsenal and Leicester, draws against Watford and West Brom, and wins over Crystal Palace and Stoke.

Tottenham did win both of its UCL matches since the injury.

Benitez: If we can’t add in January, work gets harder

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Newcastle United has swung from the top half of the table to the fringes of the drop zone, something that hasn’t caught Rafa Benitez off guard.

The veteran manager has not lost sight of his August transfer window shortcomings. He hasn’t dwelled on it in the media, but Benitez is also very cognizant that his team has lacked depth at striker, out wide, and at left back.

[ MORE: Pep on post-derby celebrations ]

To boot, most of his additions — Mikel Merino, Christian Atsu, Javi Manquillo — haven’t been loaded with experience.

“Some games we are the youngest team in the Premier League. We have to learn quickly. This team is working very hard. Little things we have to improve and we will be stronger.”

“We know our job. Everyone has an opinion. It’s not rocket science – we need players in some positions. If we can, fine, if not, we will have to work harder.”

Newcastle isn’t far away, but it’s woefully short at left back (to the point where it’s best options have been displaced center back Chancel Mbemba and right back Manquillo), and Benitez doesn’t trust Aleksandar Mitrovic up top with Joselu not firing (though Championship star scorer Dwight Gayle may be coming around).

Additions are still needed, and perhaps Benitez is marginally better off that Newcastle didn’t continue overachieving as it did early days.

Premier League Preview: Swansea City vs. Manchester City

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  • Man City leads all-time 22W-4D-7L
  • Swans winless in 11 vs. Man City
  • Last Swans win: 2012 at home

Manchester City can set the Premier League record for consecutive wins in a single season when it visits Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium on Wednesday (Watch live at 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Each side has scored in the last eight meetings between the two in all competitions, which is about the only bit of good news for Paul Clement‘s side outside of their weekend win over West Brom. Man City has dominated the series in recent memory, and really all time.

[ MORE: Pep on post-derby celebrations ]

And some good news for Man City, too: There won’t be any problem with what they do in their own changing room.

“Like any club, Manchester City are able to play music in their dressing room,” a Swansea City spokesman said following the fracas at the Manchester Derby.

Wilfried Bony will be fired up to face his former club, and he’s coming off a big goal to sink West Brom. He’s going to have a lot in the tank. From the Manchester Evening News:

“Every game I look forward to but it is special to play against your old team. Injuries had an impact on my time at City. When you come from a club where you play every game and then you are playing maybe once a month or two games a month it is completely different.”

Vincent Kompany is out for Man City.

What they’re saying

Swansea City back Alfie Mawson on slowing Man City“I’m very fortunate to test myself against the highest calibre of footballer there is. City are flying this season. They’ve got one of the best managers in the world. We’ve got to find a way to combat them. Every team is finding it hard and I’m sure it’s going to be a very tough game because of the quality and depth they have. We’ve got to be switched on for the entire game, as they’ll punish one lapse in concentration.”

Man City’s Kevin De Bruyne on the 11-point table lead“Lots of teams lost points this weekend so it is a big one for us [the win] just to put more pressure on the rest. We have to enjoy it and then focus again for Wednesday. It is a big gap. If we slip up we are still in the lead. We can’t be complacent. We need to do what we have all year. I prefer to be 11 points ahead than 11 points behind that’s for sure.”

Prediction

The run continues, as Paul Clement prioritizes Saturday’s trip to Everton and City cruises to a 3-0 win.