MLS Week in Review

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Abbreviated schedule: Most MLS weeks will come and go with nine matches, but league officials shaved Round 15 to just five contests. That was the compromise for playing over the dates officially designated by FIFA for World Cup qualifiers. This week will be another one, with just five MLS games set for kickoff. Which brings us to …

Missing men: It’s not a bad choice like New Coke or a third Hangover movie, but playing through World Cup fixture dates continues to be a bad idea. Several teams were missing important pieces. For instance, it’s impossible to think that Los Angeles isn’t missing center back Omar Gonzalez, having given up eight goals in two matches. The latest was Saturday’s 3-1 loss to Real Salt Lake in Utah.

Portland had to do without its starting goalkeeper, Jamaican international Donovan Ricketts, and a communications issue was in play on Chicago’s opening goal at Toyota Park.

Real Salt Lake and Seattle were missing significant pieces, as well. But both of them won, both at home. So perhaps those absences don’t smart as much in the long run.

First coaching dismissal of 2013: Frank Yallop had the second longest tenure going among MLS managers, in place at San Jose since the club’s 2.0 version began passing and trapping in 2008. But he’s no longer manager around Buck Shaw Stadium today; the club fired him Friday. And in all honesty, the move doesn’t make much sense.

The streaks to talk about: Portland keeps rolling. Saturday’s 2-2 tie in Chicago extended the team’s unbeaten streak to 12 games. It’s not as showy, but New England is unbeaten in in five matches. They weren’t stretched much defense, so Bobby Shuttleworth (pictured) needed to make just one save to extend the team’s impressive shutout streak to 395 minutes. All that happened in a 0-0 draw at home with D.C. United.

Ben Olsen’s United is now winless in 12. Yuk.

Worst refereeing decision:  We have a tie!

In Seattle, referee Hilario Grajeda got it wrong, refusing to point to the 12-yard spot when Whitecaps midfielder Jun Marques Davidson lunged and brought down Sounders striker Obafemi Martins a half yard inside the 18. Would a quick word with the linesman have helped?

In Utah, Drew Fischer, working just his 14th MLS match, thought he saw the Galaxy’s Marcelo Sarvas trip RSL’s Ned Grabavoy along the left wing. Thought he saw it. Sure looked like Grabavoy managed to avoid the flung-out foot. If it was just a foul, it wouldn’t matter. But it was a yellow card. And it put the Galaxy midfielder over the limit, which means he’ll miss the next match.

Craziest six minutes this year: Philadelphia was scoring barely over a goal a game at home this year (7 in 6 matches before Wednesday). So scoring three over a six-minute period … are you kidding me? Perhaps craziest of all is that league leading scorer Jack McInerney didn’t get in on the quick-fire sequence, which happened early in the home team’s 3-0 win over Columbus.

Best Match: The field may not have been in the best shape (yes, we are going to keep talking about that), but it sure didn’t hurt the match, a real cracker jack as Seattle went up early, fell behind and then rallied for a 3-2 win over Vancouver in front of an NFL-size crowd. Both sides were missing some important players, so perhaps the quality wasn’t what it could have been. But for entertainment value, this one was cranked up to 11!

Best goal:Watch the wonderful placement on Ben Zemanski’s shot for the Timbers, a ball that curls perfectly around Chicago Fire goalie Sean Johnson. (And Johnson is long and athletic, so it took some perfection in the placement.

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Most athletic goal: Philly’s Sheanon Williams once looked like a future U.S. international at right back. If he can sort out some of the defending, maybe the 23-year-old Union defender can get there, because he sure has the attacking audacity. And the athleticism. Watch this goal:

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Brazilian player Taison banned in Ukraine for response to racism

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) Brazilian player Taison has been banned for one game for his reaction to racist abuse in a Ukrainian league game.

The Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder showed his middle finger to Dynamo Kyiv fans who had abused him with monkey chants and kicked the ball into the stands during a game Nov. 10. Taison was shown a red card.

[ MORE: Mou says Spurs can win the PL next season ]

The Ukrainian Football Association ordered Taison to serve a one-game ban plus a suspended two-game ban.

Dynamo has been fined 500,000 hryvnyas ($20,000) and ordered to play one game behind closed doors. Another one-game sanction is suspended.

World players’ union FIFPro says “sanctioning a victim of racial abuse is beyond comprehension and it plays into the hands of those who promote this kind of disgraceful behavior.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Top Premier League storylines: Week 13

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Yes, Jose Mourinho is back in the Premier League and, sure, both Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manuel Pellegrini are in managerial hot seats, but is there any match more intriguing than Man City and Chelsea squaring off with the knowledge that a bad outcome could see them double digits out of first?

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ] 

Below we take a look at the key storylines to keep an eye on across the PL this weekend.


The Jose Mourinho Era begins against a familiar foe

  • West Ham v. Tottenham Hotspur — Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN

Manuel Pellegrini and Jose Mourinho have matched wits many times, which could help the former in his bid to get ready for a rankled Spurs side to kickstart the Premier League weekend.

Mourinho has only matched up with six managers more than Pellegrini in his career, and boasts a 7W-3D-4L record. Can he quickly get Spurs put together for a visit to a desperate Irons side.


Chelsea, Man City put slim title hopes on the line

  • Manchester City v. Chelsea — Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC

Both Pep Guardiola‘s City and Frank Lampard‘s Chelsea have lost to Liverpool, meaning their chances to directly affect the Reds’ title hopes are limited. Matches like this one are the ones that get the Reds salivating, in fact, knowing that only one team can snare three points.

City enters the day nine points back of first and a point behind Chelsea and Leicester City. The Top Four race sure looks clear cut right now — the chasing pack is eight points behind fourth — but failure to win on Saturday will likely leave either side double-digit points back of first.


Knock off the Red Devils? Wilder things have happened

  • Sheffield United v. Manchester United — Sunday, 11:30 p.m. ET, on NBCSN

Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder has the newly-promoted side in fifth place on the table, one point better than his celebrated visitors. The Blades will sit no worse than five points back of the Top Four if they can beat Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s Red Devils, adding another big name to a season of results which already includes a defeat of Arsenal and draws against Chelsea and Spurs. United is still without Paul Pogba and now will also miss Scott McTominay. Another upset brewing?


Reds hope to get back to business as usual in title fight

  • Crystal Palace v. Liverpool — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

A week removed from a glitzy show against Man City, Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds now visit a Palace side who is probably getting sick of facing the Premier League’s best. Roy Hodgson‘s table rise has been stunted by a four-match winless run that includes 2-0 losses to Man City, Leicester City, and Chelsea to go with a 2-2 draw against Arsenal.

A Liverpool win will boost it clearer of Man City and/or Chelsea, as the Reds seek a double-digit lead on the field (Second-place Leicester City is away to Brighton and Hove Albion).


Arsenal looks to right wobbly league ship versus slumping Saints

  • Arsenal v. Southampton — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSN

Unai Emery‘s Gunners may be doing fine in the Europa League, but they’ve taken just two points from 12 since an Oct. 6 defeat of Bourrnemouth at the Emirates Stadium. Saints only win since mid-September in any competition is a 4-0 demolition of rivals Portsmouth. If Arsenal cannot get right here, well…

The 2 Robbies break down Tottenham’s big switch from Poch to Mou

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Maybe you saw the firing of Mauricio Pochettino coming, and maybe you even though Jose Mourinho could be in the running to take his place, but the whole thing happening in rapid fire fashion calls for something different.

Call it an emergency podcast for The 2 Robbies.

[ MORE: Ederson back in training ]

Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle respond to the shocking and divisive news coming from North London earlier this week.

Tottenham Hotspur sacked Pochettino and quickly replaced him with The Special One. This episode also includes some of Jose’s first words as the new Spurs Head Coach.

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Pochettino leaves emotional whiteboard message to Spurs

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Mauricio Pochettino and his backroom staff have left Tottenham Hotspur, but not without fond words for the North London set.

Pochettino’s backroom staff was also dismissed, with assistant Jesus Perez and coaches Miguel D’Agostino and Antoni Jimenez leaving to make room for Jose Mourinho’s crew.

[ MORE: Mou says Spurs can win the PL next season ]

And Perez wanted to make sure that the world knew the final words Pochettino left for his players, something that has Tottenham supporters even more emotional.

It also surely plays as a political piece which will increase the villain status of Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, who’s been under fire for not helping Pochettino by selling players who did not want to be in North London.

Even Mourinho heaped praise on his predecessor.

“Mauricio, for the work he did, this club will be always his home,” Mourinho said. “He can come when he wants. When he misses the players, when he misses the people he work with. The door is always open for him. He will find happiness again. He will find a great club again. He will have a great future.”

Get your tissues, Spurs fans.