MLS Preview: Houston Dynamo at Montréal Impact

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  • Houston winless since May 8
  • Dynamo without Brad Davis, Boniek Garcia
  • Montréal claiming league best points, goals per match

On May 8, Houston went to RFK Stadium and blitzed D.C. United, a result that not only reaffirmed our doubts about Ben Olsen’s squad but helped confirm preseason suspicions about the Dynamo. Having solidified in the offseason, Houston convinced most pundits that they’d avoid the fifth place finish that complicated last year’s route to a second-straight MLS Cup final. Since, however, Dominic Kinnear’s team is winless in a four-match span that’s seen the team handed their first losses at BBVA Compass Stadium. They’ve also managed only one of a possible six points from New England and Columbus.

Houston also played Sporting Kansas City twice in that span, so it’s not like the Dynamo had the easiest of months, but the struggles still bring preseason expectations into perspective. At MLS Cup last year, when I asked Kinnear about his team’s fifth place finish, he expressed some mild disappointment with his team’s placing. “We certainly didn’t try to finish fifth,” he said, a response which, months later, provided a hint as to how a bulked up Dynamo team would tackle the 2013 season.

With the second-highest point rate in the East, Houston appear to have improved on last year’s mid-table performance, yet given their last months’ slide, it’s worth considering where things may be going wrong. With only two goals in their last four games, the answer seems clear, but with Brad Davis and Boniek Garcia just returning from national team duty, things may not get better tonight in Montréal (8:00 p.m. EDT kickoff at Stade Saputo). Will Bruin, Andrew Driver – somebody needs to find a way to create chances in the absence of the team’s two best players.

The Impact are coming off their own disappointment, having lost this weekend in Columbus. Though Montréal remain the only MLS team claiming at least two points per game, the Crew provided a reminder of the Impact’s unique quality.  Given their talents and how Marco Schällibaum’s setting his team up, Montréal is the team you’d least want to grant the opening goal. Not coincidentally, despite the league’s best goal rate, they’re also a team disproportionately hurt by giving up the first goal.  Even a team like Columbus, a decent but far from elite side, can take down the Impact if they score early and force them to play so different from their base approach.

But when we’re talking about a team that’s sitting atop the Eastern Conference, these are trifling concerns. All successful teams have styles they prefer. Montréal’s is a patient, conservative approach that becomes opportunistic, aggressive when Patrice Bernier finds Marco Di Vaio in transition. Of course, they’re not unbeatable, but a short-handed Houston making the long, mid-week trip to Quebec, we’re likely to see why Montréal, in only their second season, are a viable Supporters’ Shield contender.

If they win, Montréal will open up a four-point lead on second place New York, a huge gap considering the Impacts’ two matches in hand. If Houston wins, they’ll leap into a tie with Red Bull for second place, one point behind the conference leaders.

Other notes: Aside from Davis and Garcia’s absences, both teams will be at full strength … Referee Chris Penso has issued eight red cards and given 13 penalties in his 38 MLS games … Teams are 1-1-1 all-time against each other … Montréal has recently flirted with a 4-4-2 formation, trying to get Andrew Wenger more time. For former No. 1 overall pick was ineffective in Columbus, subbed off early in the second half … With captain Davy Arnaud available, Montréal could return to the 4-5-1 … Houston get Bobby Boswell (suspension) and Jermaine Taylor (international duty) back in central defense, allowing Ricardo Clark to return to midfield … When that defense lost Eric Brunner early in Columbus, Anthony Arena made his full debut; Rookie Jason Johnson got his first start of the season in Columbus.

USWNT’s Harvey: From World Cup champ to human rights leader

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
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Mary Harvey is used to blazing the trail in sports.

Despite growing up without major soccer tournaments to aspire to play in, the goalkeeper helped the U.S. win the inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1991 and the first women’s Olympic soccer title five years later.

“As a women’s national team, we didn’t set out to have wide scale impact, but we did,” Harvey recalled in an interview with The Associated Press. “From that I learned that that’s what I wanted my life to be about: the ability to impact others in a positive way.”

Today, that desire has made her one of the biggest campaigners for human rights through sports.

After starting her career as a consultant in the private sector, Harvey led development work at FIFA from 2003-08, helping formulate a human rights strategy for the successful 2026 World Cup bid by the United States, Canada and Mexico. Now Harvey will be taking that strategy global by heading a new sports human rights watchdog.

“The language of human rights it not certainly the language of sport,” Harvey said. “So I went through that personally and learned it (for the World Cup bid) and so I think the center has an opportunity to provide that.”

Harvey is preparing to move to Switzerland from the United States to serve as chief executive of the Centre for Sport and Human Rights, hoping governing bodies adopt some of FIFA’s newfound commitment to making compliance on labor and discrimination issues central to whether a country can host a major event.

The game-changer was Qatar winning the vote to host the 2022 World Cup and the subsequent focus on labor conditions for migrant workers, which led to the energy-rich nation being compelled to provide greater protections. FIFA made bidders for the 2026 edition own up to their human rights risks and present a means of tackling them ahead of the vote this year.

FIFA serves on the Centre for Sport and Human Rights’ advisory board among 41 organizations across sports, along with sponsors such as Coca-Cola and Visa.

“In the future if people are bidding and they’re less than aggressive with what they want to do on the human right side, with maybe a smart box-ticking exercise,” Harvey said. “There should be accountability for that.”

It’s about leveraging the power of a country chasing a mega sports event to encourage changes.

“This isn’t a panacea for nation building,” Harvey said. “We can exert influence.”

That is necessary beyond major events, or high-profile teams.

Afghan authorities suspended the head of the soccer federation and other officials this month after media revelations of allegations of sexual and physical abuse of female players. Harvey hopes the Centre for Sport and Human Rights can be an outlet for athletes, officials or workers around sport to report wrongdoing and have their safety protected.

“Human rights defenders are targets,” Harvey said.

However, the center still requires investment, she added.

“We can’t operate with any sort of fear of what we say or do and how that affects funding,” Harvey said by telephone. “We have to be able to operate independently and provide a free service.”

The center was launched in June and is chaired by former Irish President Mary Robinson, who has also served as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“We need to bring human rights more centrally into sport and make people involved in sport realize that they have to take responsibility and they have to work on many issues at so many different levels from the big stadiums to discrimination or racism or trafficking,” Robinson told the AP.

Using the center’s status, Robinson will be looking to secure greater protections for local communities impacted by sports events – such as the traders forced to close their stalls near World Cup venues, as Robinson complained to FIFA about during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and 2014 edition in Brazil.

“I hope they won’t exclude those who you know could actually improve their living by being able to trade around the stadiums and get the footfall on big occasions,” Robinson said.

There are also concerns about how free labor can be relied on to operate events.

“Volunteers can play a role,” Robinson said, “but not if it displaces the potential for people having jobs where the entities can well afford to give people the opportunity to have gainful employment rather than work as volunteers.”

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

FC Cincinnati acquires Kendall Waston from Vancouver

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP
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There was some teeth-grinding around MLS circles that perhaps FC Cincinnati bringing many of its USL players to the top flight could be a naive decision that leads to a Minnesota United level first year struggle.

Those concerns should be somewhat if not largely quelled on Tuesday, as FCC added two international quality backs and several other players via trades and the Expansion Draft.

[ RECAP: Liverpool 1-0 Napoli ]

FCC saved the best for last, acquiring Kendall Waston from the Vancouver Whitecaps for a lot of numbers and slots and stuff (via FCCincinnati.com):

  • $450,000 of General Allocation Money
  • $300,000 of Targeted Allocation Money
  • The 2019 international roster spot obtained from the Colorado Rapids via trade after the 2018 MLS Expansion Draft.
  • Vancouver will retain a percentage of future transfer fees should FC Cincinnati trade or transfer Waston.
  • Additionally, should Waston reach certain performance-based incentives with FC Cincinnati, Vancouver will also receive an additional $75,000 in GAM.

With respect to Greg Garza, no move is more promising than the rescue of Waston from Vancouver.

Waston had a down year this season with the Caps, but so did the Caps. The captain was angered by the firing of coach Carl Robinson, and said he was ready to move on (Vancouver also traded another critic, Kei Kamara, on Tuesday).

Thirty times capped by Costa Rica, Waston scored against Switzerland in his only action of the 2018 World Cup.

If Emmanuel Ledesma is able to have half the impact he had in USL, find steady goalkeeping, and line up a CB to pair with Waston (Forrest Lasso?), FCC is going to surprise a lot of teams.

Possible Champions League opponents (so far) for Liverpool, Spurs

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First things first: There aren’t going to be any dogs in the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16, but there are certainly teams you’d like to see on your docket more than others.

Now that Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur have finished second in their groups, with Manchester United likely to join them, meaning Man City already has a good idea of its possible opponents.

[ MORE: UCL Weds. preview ]

In the Champions League Round of 16, you cannot be drawn with a team from your group or your domestic league. Both rules go out the window from the quarterfinals all the way to the final.

As it stands now, here are the first- and second-seeded teams:

First place: Borussia Dortmund, Barcelona, PSG, Porto, Real Madrid.

Second place: Liverpool, Schalke, Spurs, Atletico Madrid, Roma

Likely to join that top group are Bayern Munich, Man City, and Juventus, which means a rough ride for the second place sides.

And should City get a point or lose and see Lyon drop one or three, it could have its potential field winnowed to four if Juventus handles its business in Switzerland to keep Man Utd out of first.

So fans of Liverpool and Spurs should be hoping to see Ajax surprise Bayern Munich with a win in Amsterdam, and they’d also like to see Juventus slip up at Young Boys and Man Utd win in Valencia.

City fans will hope for a win over Hoffenheim (or Lyon dropping points) and Bayern Munich and Juventus to handle their business and win their groups.

Possible opponents in the Round of 16 with one day of group play to go

Liverpool: Borussia Dortmund, Barcelona, Porto, Bayern Munich, Ajax, Lyon, Real Madrid, Juventus

Tottenham Hotspur: Borussia Dortmund, PSG, Porto, Bayern Munich, Ajax, Lyon, Real Madrid, Juventus

Man City: Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Barcelona, PSG, Porto, Schalke, Bayern Munich, Ajax, Real Madrid, Roma, Juventus.

Manchester United: Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Barcelona, PSG, Porto, Schalke, Bayern Munich, Ajax, Real Madrid, Roma, Lyon, Shakhtar Donetsk.

Champions League Weds. preview: Group stage conclusion

Martin Rickett/PA via AP
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Manchester United has already clinched its spot in the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds and faces rivals Liverpool on Sunday in the Premier League, but manager Jose Mourinho isn’t mailing it in when it comes to his lineup on Wednesday in Valencia.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

Mourinho will start Paul Pogba and use all senior players at the start of the match, though he is bringing a pair of youngsters for the experience. From ManUtd.com:

“I’m looking for him to play well, and to have a good impact in the game and in the team. … [It will be] a team with many players that don’t have many miles in their legs, a team with some players that are not playing a lot. So I hope that people like Paul and a couple of others that are normally in the team, who have the number of miles that players need to be at that top level, I hope that they can have a good impact on the team.”

(Mike Egerton/PA via AP)

Man City has also clinched its spot in the next round but still has the group’s top slot in play and is also smarting following its first league loss since last Spring.

City fell to Chelsea 2-0 at Stamford Bridge this weekend, and will host a Hoffenheim side still attempting to finish in the Europa League place.

Rest players? With Sergio Aguero, David Silva, and Kevin De Bruyne unavailable, Pep Guardiola doesn’t have much of a choice as to who he can suit up on Wednesday at the Etihad Stadium.

“We have 15 players available, so I can’t do it too much,” he said.“We are in next stage which is important but we have to try and win every game, to finish first. Last 16 is always tough but in general the next Monday when there is a draw it’s a success we are there and the team we will face will be tough.

“They were incredible against Donetsk and they lost. It was incredible and fascinating to watch as a spectator. My admiration for Hoffenheim has increased. I knew about Julian Nagelsmann and his team but now I realize how tough tomorrow will be.”

The other match to monitor is in City’s group, where Shakhtar Donetsk and Lyon remain alive for the last spot in the Round of 16.

Full UEFA CHampions League docket

Viktoria Plzen vs. AS Roma — 12:55 p.m. ET
Real Madrid vs. CSKA Moscow — 12:55 p.m. ET
Young Boys vs. Juventus — 3 p.m. ET
Benfica vs. AEK Athens — 3 p.m. ET
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Lyon — 3 p.m. ET
Man City vs. Hoffenheim — 3 p.m. ET
Ajax vs. Bayern Munich — 3 p.m. ET
Valencia vs. Manchester United — 3 p.m. ET