Author: Richard Farley

Omar Gonzalez

Gonzalez, Keane, Marshall out, Boswell, Edu, Franklin in for MLS All-Stars

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Major League Soccer’s squad for Wednesday’s All-Star Game underwent a minor makeover on Saturday, with the withdrawal of three players forcing Caleb Porter to call in reinforcements. In place of Omar Gonzalez, Robbie Keane, and Chad Marshall, the Portland head coach, who will lead MLS’s stars against Bayern Munich this week, has called on Bobby Boswell, Maurice Edu, and Sean Franklin.

Though Galaxy teammate Landon Donovan is still scheduled to take part in Wednesday’s game, Gonzalez and Keane have been excluded, with Los Angeles scheduled to host the San Jose Earthquakes on Friday. Marshall, who missed Monday’s game against LA after a car accident, has also been withdrawn from the squad.

“Given the limited minutes that Omar and Robbie would need to play due to having a game on Friday and the injury to Chad, I felt we needed to bring in Sean, Bobby and Maurice to provide us with more cover in the back,” Porter said in a statement released by Major League Soccer. “This will also allow us to manage the other players’ time so everyone is ready for their matches on the weekend.”

In their first years with United, Boswell and Franklin have solidified a defense that’s helped D.C. to second in the Eastern Conference. Edu, in his first year back in MLS, has split time between defensive midfield and center back with the Philadelphia Union.

The Marshall injury couldn’t be helped, but with Gonzalez and Keane excluded because of scheduling, it’s worth asking if there were alternatives. Could MLS had done a better job of scheduling the All-Star Game? In a World Cup year, probably not. The league already pushed back the mid-season event because of Brazil 2014. With European seasons quickly approaching, this date was one of the last opportunities to play the game.

The better question is whether Porter’s replacements are the best available, but at this point, I don’t have much patience for the discussion. Boswell wasn’t the best center back missing from the roster, but who knows if players like Drew Moor, Chris Schuler, and Giancarlo Gonzalez made plans after being excluded from the initial squad. Franklin’s had a good year, but picking a left back (Justin Morrow) would have been nice. And whether Edu is being brought in as a midfielder or defender, he’s a justifiable choice, even if you don’t think he’s ideal.

I would have been fine if they named Frank Lampard. Or tried to get David Villa or Kaká to make an appearance. It’s an exhibition, it’s a showcase, and after the initial roster is named (and the non-dressed All-Stars are picked), might as well play to the spectacle.

At this point, though, bring on the game. Need to fill some spots? Let’s see who can show up. Sure, try to be fair about it, but hell, Michael Farfan was an All-Star two years ago. Boswell, Edu, and Franklin are certainly worthwhile picks, given the circumstances.

MLS weekend preview: Conference leaders, surging Galaxy take to NBC, NBCSN


After a weekend of spreading out the fun, MLS is back to its normal routine: an appetizer, a huge main course, and a little Sunday chaser. And is if to apologize for the neglect, the league’s schedule makers have managed to spread out the Saturday kickoffs.

With three matches across NBC’s networks, here’s a look at the upcoming weekend in Major League Soccer.

Sporting Kansas City vs. Philadelphia Union, Friday, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, NBCSN

When it happened, it was the most unexpected result of the season, a stumbling Union without Maurice Edu ending its nine-match winless run in Kansas. In hindsight, May’s 2-1 win is only slightly less perplexing. Thanks to a surge over the last two months, a previously dormant Union is in a playoff race. Ce la vie in the East, but after going into Sporting as one of the weakest teams in the East, Philadelphia’s managed to salvage its season.

Sporting, however, are back on top of the conference, defying the team’s absences and injuries to edge ahead of D.C. United in the East. But thanks to Matt Besler’s red card suspension, Friday’s game may force Peter Vermes to go back to improvising in defense.

Despite that intrigue, the battle at the other end of the field may prove more interesting. Philadelphia is using Maurice Edu and Ethan White in central defense, two players who haven’t logged much time in the middle this season, let alone with each other. Against a player with Dom Dwyer’s work rate, the duo will get a number of chances to make mistakes. In the last seven games, Philadelphia’s given up 11 goals.

source: Getty ImagesEARLY KICKOFF … ON NBC
LA Galaxy vs. Portland Timbers, Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Eastern, NBC

Portland may be on the up, its two-game winning streak bringing them back into the West’s playoff picture, but Monday’s result put LA on a different level. With the Galaxy’s 3-0 win in Seattle, Bruce Arena’s team has shown its first sign of competing for another title. We knew the talent was there, but now, the results are there, too.

With Robbie Keane (right) matched up against a Portland defense that conceded twice to Montréal, those results seems set to continue on Saturday, but under Caleb Porter, the Timbers have done a good job of restraining LA’s stars. In five games against Bruce Arena, Porter’s Portland teams have only conceded four goals.

That may leave the game close enough for Diego Valeri to steal. Two weeks ago, a late Valeri goal from beyond the penalty area delivered a one-goal win over Colorado, and last week, another late tally from distance sunk Montréal. If LA doesn’t put Portland away early, the Timbers’ All-Star may extend his team’s winning run.

source: Getty Images

Montréal Impact vs. Toronto FC, Saturday, 5:00 p.m. Eastern

The dismissal of Nick de Santis sends Montréal into a state of flux, a circumstance that casts the rest of 2014 as a rebuild. On both the administrative and technical sides, the Impact is reworking its front office, meaning any change that will happen between now and season’s end will be up to head coach Frank Klopas. As the Timbers showed last weekend, nobody should be scared about going into Montréal.

If you listened to this week’s news out of Toronto, however, you’d think the Reds were the team in free fall. Despite finishing up a man on Saturday against visiting Kansas City, both Michael Bradley (right) and head coach Ryan Nelsen chose to take the officials to task, sounding bitter, incredulous notes in the process. Had they not given up a late goal to a 10-man Sporting,  the officials may not have been seen as such a problem.

Thanks to the loss, Toronto’s 12 back of first, with a three-way tie for third in the East bringing more urgency to merely making the playoffs. With New York closing in, three points in Quebec’s a near-must.

source: Getty ImagesLEE VS. THIERRY
New York Red Bulls vs. New England Revolution, Saturday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern

Strong mid-week performances from each team make this one of the weekend’s more compelling, evenly matched games, but it’s still tempting to reduce this to a one-on-one battle, a showdown between two attacking stars who are among the league’s most important players to their teams.

That importance was evident on Wednesday in Foxborough, where Lee Nguyen (right) played a part in all three Revolution goals. And on the same night in Salt Lake, the casual elegance of Thierry Henry allowed New York to earn a point despite putting only one shot on target.

Those stars make each team’s defensive midfield all the more important, with New York seemingly having an advantage thanks to Dax McCarty, but if Kelyn Rowe can recapture his 2013 form, his ability to operate in front of defensive could draw some of McCarty’s attention. It could also pull Tim Cahill away from where he’s best: operating in the opposition’s penalty area.

Chicago Fire vs. Columbus Crew, Saturday, 8:30 p.m. Eastern

After nearly two months without a win, Columbus has won two in a row, a streak that nearly matches Chicago’s win total for the entire season. Yet thanks to an increasingly frustrating collection of ties, the Fire are still within reach of the playoffs. Again, ce la vie in the East.

The problem, in terms of aesthetics, comes when you try to answer one question: Is Chicago any good? Their inability to win games says no, but their unwillingness to lose games leaves the door open. At some point (perhaps when Jermaine Jones arrives), they may figure it out and make the small, late push they’ll need to claim a playoff spot.

For now, however, Columbus looks like the slightly better team, particularly with players like Bernardo Anor, Ethan Finlay, and Justin Meram helping Federico Higuaín (right) over the last two weeks. But given Chicago’s only lost five times this season, it would be foolish to suggest they can’t get something out of this one. Particularly at home.

Colorado Rapids vs. Real Salt Lake, Saturday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern

Colorado’s coming off a disappointing loss, but given the stars that didn’t start in New England, it’s unlikely the 3-0 result is the start of something big. Come Saturday, Dillon Powers (right) will be back, as will Vicente Sánchez. Though it’s unclear when Deshorn Brown will return, signs of life from Gabriel Torres help make up for the loss. Jeff Cassar won’t have Jay Heaps’ luck.

All of which may be secondary if Real Salt Lake play their game. On Wednesday against New York, last year’s Western Conference champions were back to their former selves, showing the type of persistent control that characterized the team under Jason Kreis. Thanks to Thierry Henry, the result wasn’t there, but they held a Red Bull side giving a decent performance to one shot on goal.

If RSL plays like that, the danger Brown can muster will be missed, but if Wednesday can’t be replicated, Colorado should put Foxborough behind them.

San Jose Earthquakes vs. Seattle Sounders, Saturday, 10:30 p.m. Eastern, NBCSN

Over the last week, we’ve mentioned San Jose’s need to change its approach, but with Steven Lenhart struggling to return from a knee injury, the transformation has already begun. When Yannick Djaló partners Chris Wondowlowski (right) up top, Mark Watson’s team can’t rely on 2012’s approach, something that will give Seattle (and what’s expected to be a huge crowd at Levi’s Stadium) a different look. Cross and crash may be fading out.

But this game’s intrigue is all about Seattle. After falling apart in Monday’s first half against Los Angeles, the Sounders look like the same team that’s suffered scarring defeats at the end of the last three seasons. At this point, it’s not a question of whether collapses will come. It’s a matter of whether Seattle can overcome them.

While a win won’t quell all doubts, it will at least address the possibility that a collapse like last year’s will define another season.

Houston Dynamo vs. D.C. United, Sunday, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, Univision Deportes

Quietly, and in the face of a lot of incredulity, D.C. United has put up the East’s best goal-per-game rate despite the fact nobody on the team has scored more than seven goals. That player, Fabián Espindola, is still working his way back from injury, but with Eddie Johnson (right) starting to look like his normal self (scoring in three straight games), it’s possible United’s attack has another gear.

Contrast that with the Dynamo, whose most glaring weakness is in defense. The team’s giving up a league-high 40 goals, an inexplicable rate for a Dom Kinnear side. The central defense has been a problem, and some issues with Tally Hall have started to surface, but it’s still not quite unclear why a defense that was above average in 2013 has completely fallen apart this season.

DaMarcus Beasley, expected to debut on Sunday, should help, as will Luis Garrido, though playing in Houston may have Sunday’s biggest effect on D.C.’s surprisingly potent attack.

Chivas USA vs. FC Dallas, Sunday, 10:00 p.m. Eastern

At one time July’s darlings, Chivas USA has lost two in a row, a turn that wouldn’t be so disturbing if the team wasn’t also out-scored 6-1. Back at home, and presumably ready to put veterans like Mauro Rosales back in the lineup, Wilmer Cabrera’s team should improve, but the halcyon days of July 2014 will be gone by Sunday’s kickoff.

That should give Óscar Pareja’s team room to continue its charge. Unbeaten in six, FCD has done remarkable job of overcoming injury (Mauro Díaz, right) and suspension (Fabían Castillo) to stay in the West’s top five. Now that the team’s starting to reassemble, Dallas may be ready to take aim at teams farther up the table. Real Salt Lake is only three points away, while Seattle’s threatening to come back to the pack.

That’s what makes games like these so important. A draw on the road in Carson, Calif., isn’t a bad in absolute terms, but considering every other team in the West’s top five has another visit to Chivas USA, Sunday’s result takes on a relative importance. If Dallas doesn’t get three points at StubHub, another team will.

José Mourinho insists Chelsea needs Fernando Torres

Chelsea's Fernando Torres celebrates scoring a goal against Manchester City during their English Premier League soccer match at Stamford Bridge in London

One of the themes José Mourinho has harped on throughout this summer: His need for three strikers. From game day teams to balancing the demands of a four-competition schedule, the Chelsea manager sees three number nines as “fundamental” to his squad. Last year, the trio was Samuel Eto’o, Fernando Torres, and Demba Ba. This year, Diego Costa and Didier Drogba have taken the places of Eto’o and Ba.

That Torres is still around has become a fixation for media and fans, with the Spanish international part of a crew Mourinho criticized throughout the 2013-14 season. Yet with a wage bill that demands around $15 million per year, Torres is practically unmovable, with the handful of teams capable of paying his wages able to find better forwards.

Perhaps that’s why Mourinho seems intent on making the most of a bad situation. Speaking to Sky Sports News today, the Chelsea boss insisted that Torres is essential to his team, saying rumors of an impending sale have nothing to do with his forwards.

As reported by the Press Association:

Mourinho indicated in an interview with Sky Sports News that there may be a departure in the transfer window. But when asked if Torres was the player in question he said: “No. Three strikers is fundamental in a squad and we have three strikers – Fernando, Didier and Diego, so one of them is not [going] for sure.”

Lest we trust Mourinho too much, let’s remember the manager’s penchant for exaggeration, often using the media to suit his whims. Today’s whim may be keeping his players happy, something that makes sense given how unlikely it is another team will come in for Torres. With Atlético Madrid president Enrique Cerezo confirming his team will not move for its former star (see link, above), the last team connected with Torres is Monaco, who were reportedly only interested should Radamal Falcao move.

That brings Monday’s scenario back into view. If keeping Torres means registration problems in Champions and Premier League, one non-homegrown player has to go. The most logical move: Selling Petr Cech, who has been connected with a $17 million move to Paris-Saint Germain. If a market for Torres doesn’t develop, Cech may go from a luxury to a solution.

George John undergoes season-ending knee surgery

George John 3
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As FC Dallas’s season has progressed, defender George John, once the centerpiece of the team’s back line, has become an afterthought, an unfortunate state for a player who once seemed destined for Europe.

Struggling with right knee problem throughout the year, John has yet to play a minute for head coach Óscar Pareja, a state that won’t change any time soon. After undergoing surgery today, John was placed on the disabled list, ending his 2014 season.

FC Dallas made the announcement on its website this evening:

“Dr. Michael Nguyen performed an osteoplasty of the medial femur to repair the knee, which has sidelined John throughout the 2014 season. Recovery from the procedure will keep the veteran center back out for the remainder of the season and he will be placed on the season-ending injury list.”

While John’s obviously been missed this season, FC Dallas has managed to survive without him, with a back line led by new captain Matt Hedges allowing the team to enter the weekend tied for third in the Western Conference. Despite that standing, FCD has allowed 31 goals in 21 games, with only Portland and Chivas USA conceded more often among teams in the West.

In light those numbers, it’d normally be tempting to ask how much better Dallas would be with John. Unfortunately, there’s never been a sense that the center back was improving. As Pareja has had to rely on the likes of Stephen Keel and Walker Zimmerman, John’s name has remaining in the background, with few giving the impression his return was even imminent.

When that return does happen, John will also have to recover from a prolonged time away from the field, with his last MLS appearance coming on Oct. 5 at Real Salt Lake. Though Dallas didn’t quote a timeline in today’s announcement, even a return for the 2015 season opener would mean 18 months between Major League Soccer appearances.

For Napoli, hairstyle part of Marouane Fellaini’s appeal

Will Fellaini be on the move this week?
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Two days after rumors connecting Marouane Fellaini to Napoli surfaced, the Serie A club has confirmed the Manchester United midfielder is “on the table.” Club president Aurelio De Laurentiis verified his team’s interest in Thursday, with the filmmaker/soccer executive telling an Italian radio station that the Belgian’s hairstyle helps make him an attractive options for the club.

Fellaini, know for his characteristic large, dark afro, has been linked with moves away Old Trafford, with new manager Louis van Gaal reportedly hoping to trim him from the Red Devils’ roster. Though United gave Everton $42.8 million for the 26-year-old last September, the club is willing to cut its losses to find a new home for David Moyes’s first major acquisition.

Though Napoli won’t be able to approach last year’s fee, the club’s still been Fellaini’s most prominent suitor, with the possibility of a season on loan reported on Monday.

Per De Laurentiis, Fellaini is one of a number of options, though the Belgian has one edge on the field. From England’s Press Association

“Fellaini is one of the names on the table, but not the only one,” the Napoli president told the Italian radio station Kiss Kiss when asked about potential transfers for the upcoming season.

De Laurentiis thinks Fellaini and Gökhan Inler would make a good centre-midfield pairing for Napoli, not because of their playing styles but because of their respective hair styles …

“Fellaini has long hair and the Swiss [Inler] is shaven. Together they have a hairstyle that looks like a lion’s mane and three years ago I presented Inler with the mask of a lion!”

Assuming Fellaini can move on from last year’s struggles, a holding tandem of him and Inler in Napoli’s double-pivot should be very effective. But De Laurentiis, being the entertainer he is, sees beyond that potential. Effective is one thing. Attractive is another.

How much is that worth to United, though? The Red Devils are going to have to take a hit on Fellaini’s sale, but are the aesthetics of a deal enough to get Napoli’s commitment? At this point, it’s difficult to imagine the Belgian international being with the club come Sept. 1.