As Kevin Payne lands at Toronto FC, a look at his D.C. United legacy

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Through the years I had a “go” or two at D.C. United president Kevin Payne, who just relocated his big trunk of MLS knowledge north of the border to Toronto FC.

Whenever I did criticize Payne and, more or less interchangeably, D.C. United, it typically came down to one thing: failure to see the here and now.

United won four of the first nine league championships to leave a truly superb mark on the MLS formative years. The last MLS Cup crowning came in 2004.

But 2004 was roughly the final year of MLS 1.0; it was still a 10-team operation. That’s not to take a thing away from United; an MLS Cup is an MLS Cup, each one deserving of its own long, slow applause.

Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake joined MLS the next year. Soon after came Toronto and then San Jose’s rebirth. Then Seattle and … well, you get it. We’re at 19 teams today, with New York II still at sea, scanning for a port in the Big Apple harbor.

Each club added new ideas and bright new minds to reinforce Major League Soccer’s competitive structures. Long story short, it was never going to be as easy to be king of MLS hill. Only, I never got the feeling that D.C. United understood.

Thus, as I wrote a few times before, a feeling of entitlement crept into the organization. When that happens in sports, it affects the decisions being made. That’s where I believe Payne and DCU lost the plot a little.

All this is Potomac water under the bridge now, except for this part: If Payne can adjust in his new position at Toronto FC, there’s no reason he can’t pull that sad organization out of the ditch. Because Payne did, in fact, figure out MLS before almost everyone else. He’s clearly got something on the ball; perhaps a fresh perspective around BMO Field (pictured), free of the obscuring haze of early MLS largesse, can inspire Payne anew.

I could tell you more about that early MLS success and how Payne went about it (something I did not get to write as much about over the last few years), but someone else already did it eloquently.

Read up on Payne’s legacy around D.C. United in this well-written work from Black and Red United.

97th minute equalizer puts Norwich City on precipice of Championship title

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Norwich City is on the verge of securing the Championship title and automatic promotion to the Premier League after bagging a 97th minute equalizer to draw 2-2 with Sheffield Wednesday.

Mario Vrancic deposited a free-kick into the top-right corner deep into second-half injury time to secure the draw and move Norwich City five points clear at the top with three matches to go. While the slip is another opportunity for second-placed Sheffield United to gain ground, it also keeps Norwich City just out of reach with the season winding down.

The result is redemption for just two games ago when Norwich City themselves were pegged back in the 97th minute to finish 2-2 with Reading. That late equalizer came after Norwich had turned around a 1-0 deficit with goals in the 86th and 88th minutes. In fact, Norwich has had a propensity for late goals all season, including an 81st minute equalizer in a 1-1 draw with Wigan last time out, an 83rd minute equalizer in a 1-1 draw with West Brom in January, another in the 1-1 draw against Brentford, an 86th minute winner against Blackburn in December, and a 93rd minute winner against Bolton.

Marco Stiepermann had put the hosts in front after just 19 minutes on Friday, but Norwich proceeded to cough up the lead and even fell behind as Steven Fletcher scored for Sheffield Wednesday by sliding at the far post to reach a delivery less than 10 minutes after the halftime break.

Norwich will be thankful that the season is coming to an end and the window of opportunity for challengers to creep nearer is closing. The Canaries have led the way since late February, but have drawn three straight matches, including two to lower-half sides in Reading and Wigan. The finish is moderate, with matches remaining against lower-half sides Blackburn and Stoke City, plus a road visit to playoff hopefuls Aston Villa to close things out.

Lyon strengthens Champions League place with win over Angers

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Olympique Lyonnais is one step closer to a spot in next year’s Champions League after topping Angers 2-1 on Friday thanks to first-half goals by Memphis Depay and Martin Terrier.

Depay opened the scoring just 14 minutes in with his seventh goal of the Ligue 1 season, breaking away thanks to an incredible long-ball up the field from 20-year-old French youth international Houssem Aouar. Depayevaded a last-ditch tackle by Mateo Pavlovic and scored one-on-one with Angers goalkeeper Ludovic Butelle. It marked the Dutchman’s first goal since a 5-1 win over Toulouse in early March, and just his second league tally since mid-November.

With six minutes to go until halftime, Lyon struck again as Aouar provided yet another wonderful assist, threading a ball down the middle from the halfway line that a streaking Terrier connected with after splitting the defensive unit. That left the 22-year-old alone with Butelle and he also finished the breakaway chance.

The two assists for Aouar mark his first multi-assist match of the season and sees his assist total move to five on the league campaign to go along with his seven goals. The youngster has cooled off since his blistering start to the year where he scored five goals in an eight-match span through October and November. Still, he has been a vital part of the Lyon squad this season, having racked up 2,541 Ligue 1 minutes out of a possible 2,970.

The win strengthens Lyon’s position in third place in the Ligue 1 table, moving them to 59 points, six ahead of fourth-placed St. Etienne and eight above fifth-placed Marseille. It would be the club’s second season in a row in the Champions League, having reached the Round of 16 this time around before elimination at the hands of Barcelona.

MLS Preview: Top of the Table Clash in Western Conference awaits

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Here’s everything you need to know ahead of a busy and exciting week eight of MLS action, starting on Friday night.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Los Angeles FC v. Seattle Sounders — Sunday, 7 p.m. ET

Unbeaten no more, Los Angeles FC returns home to Banc of California Stadium this weekend to face another Cascadia opponent, only this time, it’s one much stronger on paper. The Seattle Sounders’ visit to LAFC this Sunday sets up a highly-anticipated top of the table clash in the Western Conference, and a Sounders win would put both sides level at 19 points in the standings. Meanwhile, an LAFC win would give Bob Bradley‘s squad an even-bigger lead over the rest of the conference.

Working on Seattle’s favor is that the team has a full week of practice to prepare. It’s coming off a game in which backup forward Will Bruin and midfielder Christian Roldan scored the goals, with Raul Ruidiaz, Nicolas Lodeiro and Jordan Morris all ready for their chance to make an impact. For LAFC, it will have to quickly shake off the defeat and travel fatigue from the trip up the west coast to be ready to face the quick counter attacks of the Sounders. It should be an exciting match, with temperatures expected in the mid-60s around game time, perfect for most players.

LA Galaxy v. Houston Dynamo — Friday, 11 p.m. ET

LAFC may be taking all the attention, but LA’s “other” – some might say, first – team has quietly had a strong start to the season. The LA Galaxy look more like the title-contending teams of old under former Columbus Crew and Boca Juniors legend Guillermo Barros Schelotto, with five wins in the club’s first six games of the season. Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored a brace in the Galaxy’s last match, a 2-0 win over the Philadelphia Union, and more importantly, Schelotto appears to have solved the backline woes, as the Galaxy secured another clean sheet.

On the other side, Wilmer Cabrera looks to have rebounded from an off-year in 2018 with a playoff contender in 2019. On the attack, the Dynamo are one of the most dangerous teams in the league, having scored two or more goals in all but one of their games so far this season. Alberth Elis, Mauro Manotas and Tomas Martinez make up one of the best attacking trios in the league, and the Galaxy defense will have plenty of work to do to keep those three from finding the back of the net. Expect goals, and end-to-end action in this one if you stay up for it on the east coast, or you lean back on the couch if on the west coast. In what’s becoming more of a trend, this match will be streamed on Twitter.

Columbus Crew v. Portland Timbers — Sunday, 7:30 p.m. ET

Caleb Porter takes on his former club for the first time since resigning after the 2017 season as the Portland Timbers continue their barnstorming start of the season with a trip to the Columbus Crew. The Timbers are currently the worst team in the standings, with no wins and just one point from the club’s first six games, and the tests won’t get any easier as the few holdovers from the Porter-era in Portland will know. The Timbers are starting the MLS season with eight-straight home games as their home field, Providence Park, undergoes renovations. However, that means that there’s plenty of home games at the back-end, and if the Timbers can pick up a few points before June, it could put them in a place to battle for a playoff place come October.

The Crew meanwhile has done very well under Porter, who took over after the departure of Gregg Berhalter to the U.S. Men’s National Team. The Crew are currently in second place in the Eastern Conference standings, though they suffered a surprise 1-0 defeat last week against Montreal. Look for the likes of Federico “Pipa” Higuain, Gyasi Zardes and Wil Trapp to have a bigger impact against the Timbers, in what will be a rematch from the 2015 MLS Cup final.

Full MLS schedule

Friday

FC Cincinnati v. Real Salt Lake — 7:30 p.m. ET
Toronto FC v. Minnesota United — 8 p.m. ET
LA Galaxy v. Houston Dynamo — 11 p.m. ET

Saturday

Chicago Fire v. Colorado Rapids — 1 p.m. ET
Philadelphia Union v. Montreal Impact — 1 p.m. ET
Orlando City v. Vancouver Whitecaps — 3 p.m. ET
Atlanta United v. FC Dallas — 4 p.m. ET
Columbus Crew v. Portland Timbers — 7:30 p.m. ET
New England Revolution v. New York Red Bulls — 7:30 p.m. ET
San Jose Earthquakes v. Sporting KC — 10 p.m. ET
FC Cincinnati v. Real Salt Lake — 7:30 p.m. ET

Saturday

D.C. United v. New York City FC — 4 p.m. ET
Los Angeles FC v. Seattle Sounders — 7 p.m. ET

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks

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Another pivotal weekend is coming up across the Premier League, as so many teams have so much still to play for.

The title and top four are still up for grabs, while the battles for seventh place and to stay out of the relegation places rage on.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ]

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

While you can download the NBC Sports Predictor app (below) and play the Premier League Pick ‘Em game yourself to predict the scores and win the prizes.

DOWNLOAD NBC SPORTS PREDICTOR

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the long shots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Man City 3-1 Tottenham – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Bournemouth 4-2 Fulham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Huddersfield 1-3 Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM] 

Cardiff 0-3 Liverpool – (Sunday, 11 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM] 


DON’T TOUCH THIS…

Wolves 2-1 Brighton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Everton 1-1 Man United – (Sunday, 8:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

West Ham 1-2 Leicester – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, CNBC) – [STREAM]

Newcastle 2-1 Southampton – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM


“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Chelsea 1-1 Burnley – (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Arsenal 1-1 Crystal Palace – (Sunday, 11 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM