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MLS at Week 14: Congested conferences look for separation

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Week 14 is here and a number of team puts their winning streaks on the line as the MLS season nears the halfway point.

[ MORE: MLS Power Rankings — Week 13 ]

Toronto FC has kept a hold of MLS through 13 weeks, and Greg Vanney’s side has a comfortable advantage at the top of the Eastern Conference.

Meanwhile, several clubs like the LA Galaxy have found their footing as of late, and the surging side out west will put their recent form to test against D.C. United.

Portland Timbers vs. San Jose Earthquakes — 11 p.m. EDT on Friday

The Timbers have allowed 21 goals thus far, the second-most of any team in either conference currently sitting in a playoff position. It’s quite clear what’s wrong with Portland to this point, but can they fix their defensive woes? Meanwhile, the Quakes will hope for similar fortunes against the Timbers from the last time the sides met, a 3-0 win for Dominic Kinnear and Co.

New York City FC vs. Philadelphia Union — 1 p.m. EDT on Saturday

The Union finally cooled off against RSL last time out, while NYCFC is the one going through some struggles now with just one win in five. NYCFC is fourth in MLS in goals scored (25)

Sporting KC vs. Minnesota United — 5 p.m. EDT on Saturday

The Loons haven’t strung together back-to-back wins in their inaugural season. Can Adrian Heath get his side past that hurdle on Saturday?

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Atlanta United — 5:30 p.m. EDT on Saturday

The Whitecaps have alternated wins and losses for the past three weeks and yet the Canadian side is just one point outside of the Western Conference’s final playoff spot. Atlanta, however, has returned to its shining form from early in the season with big victories over Houston and NYCFC as of late. With a lot of talented teams in the middle of the pack in the East it could be tricky getting a playoff position, but Atlanta is going to be fun to watch all season, regardless of where they finish.

D.C. United vs. LA Galaxy  — 7 p.m. EDT on Saturday

The Galaxy are the hottest side in MLS not named Toronto FC, but they’ll quietly go about their business for as long as they can. The Western Conference side has scored nine goals in their last three matches, all wins, and now the Galaxy have a chance to jump higher out west with a win over a topsy-turvy D.C. United side.

New England Revolution vs. Toronto FC — 7:30 p.m. EDT on Saturday

Is anybody going to stop Toronto FC in the near future? Highly doubtful. TFC’s unbeaten run is up to eight matches now, and the Canadian side is smashing its opponents in that span with 19 goals for while only allowing six.

Montreal Impact vs. New York Red Bulls — 7:30 p.m. EDT on Saturday

The bleeding appears to have stopped for the Red Bulls after back-to-back results while the Impact picked up a huge victory over the Timbers. The Impact still sit buried at the bottom of the East to this point though, so a win would go a long way against the reigning Eastern Conference champions.

FC Dallas vs. Real Salt Lake — 8 p.m. EDT on Saturday

After starting off hot this season, Dallas has cooled off lately, with the club failing to win in their last three. The goals haven’t come in that span either, as Oscar Pareja’s group has tallied just one finish since their May 14 draw against NYCFC.

Colorado Rapids vs. Columbus Crew — 9 p.m. EDT on Saturday

The Rapids have something positive to build off of after knocking off Sporting KC last weekend, while the Crew continue to be a difficult puzzle to figure out. Greg Berhalter’s side went out a laid an egg in the form of a 5-0 defeat in Toronto last weekend before beating the Sounders at home. Consistency is certainly lacking for both clubs.

Orlando City vs. Chicago Fire — 7:30 p.m. EDT on Sunday

In one of the clashes of the weekend the Lions look to regain their fortress status at home after falling to New York City FC last time out down in Orlando. Their opponent though is a side on a mission after the Fire have racked up four straight wins and five consecutive positive results in recent weeks. Veljko Paunovic’s men currently sit in second place in the East, a position most people didn’t expect the club to be in after last season’s struggles.

Seattle Sounders vs. Houston Dynamo — 10 p.m. EDT on Sunday

The Sounders are only one point out of a playoff spot in the west but this isn’t the team we expected to see when the season began. Meanwhile, the Dynamo continue to be one of the most pleasantly surprising teams in MLS as the Texas club sits atop the Western Conference. They’ll go for their first away win of the season on Sunday despite boasting a perfect home record.

MLS Snapshot: NYCFC run rampant on Red Bulls, win 2-0

Photo credit: NYCFC
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The game in 100 words (or less): The only thing standing in the way of New York City FC avenging their infamous 7-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls with a lopsided demolition job of their own, on Saturday, was an otherworldly goalkeeping performance from Luis Robles. It was the Red Bulls shot-stopper, with his four saves on the afternoon (three of them coming in spectacular fashion), who kept Jesse Marsch’s side within touching distance for more than an hour. Jack Harrison was denied early on by Robles, but got the better of him not long later for the game’s opening goal. Heroics from Robles kept the score at 1-0 for another 32 minutes, before Ben Sweat’s (accidental?) header made it 2-0 in the 65th minute. The Red Bulls, on the other hand, managed their first shot on target in the 80th minute. That’s three wins in a row for NYCFC, who go seven points clear of their Hudson River rivals and keep Toronto FC in sight at the top of the league table, five points ahead.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

Three moments that mattered

18′ — Robles goes full-stretch to deny Harrison — David Villa’s vision and Rodney Wallace‘s hold-play created the chance for Harrison, but Luis Robles’ acrobatics denied the 20-year-old Englishman in spectacular fashion.

33′ — Harrison not to be denied this time — Sweat delivered the ball to Harrison near the top of the box, and the second-year man did everything right with what’s a really, really difficult chance to take — facing away from goal, first-time, ball traveling across the goalkeeper, upper-90 to the far post.

65′ — Sweat loops a header past Robles for 2-0 — Sweat probably didn’t mean it, but the ball hit the back of the net, and that’s all that matters. Not a bad time to score your first MLS goal, either.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Luis Robles

Goalscorers: Harrison (33′), Sweat (65′)

Watford signs Will Hughes from Derby County

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Watford has completed the capture of 22-year-old central midfielder Will Hughes, a fantastic transfer for one of England’s younger talents.

Hughes, despite his young age, racked up 189 appearances for Derby County (despite missing significant time in 2015 for an ACL tear) and now gets his first shot at the Premier League, and with it potentially a chance to push his way into the England fold. Hughes has been a staple for the England youth system, making 22 appearances for the country’s U-21 side but is yet to feature for the senior team.

The fee for the transfer was undisclosed but reports have tabbed the amount at around $10 million.

Hughes came close to making the Premier League with Derby County on multiple occasions, reaching the Championship playoffs in both 2014 and 2016. Now, he’ll battle the likes of Valon Behrami, Tom Cleverley, Etienne Capoue, Abdoulaye Doucoure for a spot in Watford’s midfield.

The club release confirmed that Hughes has not yet completed his medical, and will do so when he returns to the U.K. from competing in the U-21 European Championships in Poland.

New Zealand 0-4 Portugal: Ronaldo, Portugal win Group A

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New Zealand gave the 2017 Confederations Cup all they had, but they go home empty-handed as Portugal won the Group A finale 3-0 to advance to the knockout round.

Portugal held much of the possession as expected, but they found little at the end early on. The first true chance fell to Cristiano Ronaldo in the 24th minute, who latched onto a Ricardo Quaresma cross from wide right and produced a powerful header, but it was poorly directed straight to New Zealand goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic for the easy save.

[ RECAP: Mexico eliminates Russia with 2-1 comeback ]

Ronaldo had another headed chance minutes later, but he rocketed the attempt back off the post. Portugal would eventually find the opener just past the half-hour mark via the penalty spot. Danilo was clearly shoved by a pair of defenders on a set-piece, and Ronaldo easily dispatched the spot-kick for a 1-0 lead.

The favorites would double their lead just a few minutes later as Eliseu on the overlap came down the left flank and cut horizontally into the box. He fed a charging Bernardo Silva, and the in-demand Monaco attacker jumped to meet it and poked home. Silva was unable to celebrate after turning his ankle heavily on the landing, but he would come back onto the field.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

Portugal finished things off with 10 minutes to go in the game as Andre Silva burst through the midfielder, shucked his defender, and fired past Marinovic to seal the game for good. Nani added a fourth The win means Portugal finishes level on points with Mexico at the top of Group A, winning the group on goal differential thanks to Silva’s final goal.

Mexico 2-1 Russia: Comeback seals semifinal place

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Mexico again produced a poor first half, but were saved in the final 45 minutes as Juan Carlos Osorio led the CONCACAF squad to the semifinals of the 2017 Confederations Cup.

Right off the bat, there was a controversial moment. Just five minutes into the game, Yuri Zhirkov burst into the Mexico box and went to ground under a challenge from Hector Moreno. The referee waved play on, but it appeared on replay that Moreno tripped Zhirkov. Nevertheless, no call was made and no word came from the video assistant referee.

[ RECAP: Portugal eases by New Zealand 4-0 ]

The hosts had another huge penalty shout, but the referee again waved play on as Fedor Smolov was sent flying to ground as Nestor Araujo contacted his leg from behind in the 17th minute. After about a minute of play, the VAR called for a review, but even after a look at the monitor, the referee decided there was not obvious reason to reverse the call.

With Russia applying all the pressure, they would find the breakthrough in the 25th minute. A pair of fantastic saves from Memo Ochoa went for naught as Alexandr Erokhin whiffed, but he was able to find Aleksandr Samedov who struck low past Ochoa for the opener.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

The lead wouldn’t last long. Mexico didn’t exactly seem sparked by the deficit, but they would draw back level against the run of play just past the half-hour mark. It appeared that Nestor Araujo’s looping header was meant to set up a teammate at the far post, but it ended up chipping Igor Akinfeev and tucking inside the woodwork for the equalizer.

After halftime, Mexico scored completely out of nowhere. A bombed clearance out of the back by Hector Herrera seemed an easy collect for Akinfeev, but as the ball bounced high up into the air, Hirving Lozano charged it down and headed the ball under feeble pressure from the Russian goalkeeper. The ball bounced unchallenged into the net, and Mexico took a shock 2-1 lead.

Mexico appeared to have a third to pad the lead, but VAR took 34 seconds to correctly reverse the call as replay spotted goalscorer Hector Moreno in an offside position on the delivery. Russia was doomed to defeat when Zhirkov was given a second yellow card for a clear elbow to the face of Miguel Layun. Somehow, the hosts still had one big chance in the 72nd minute despite the disadvantage, but Igor Smolinkov somehow missed the net on what should have been a tap-in.

The win for Mexico sees them into the knockout stage, but they fail to win the group, finishing level with Portugal on 7 points but coming up short on goal differential by one. Mexico will be without Andres Guardado in the semifinals, as he was shown his second yellow card of the tournament in the first half.