MLS Preview: Philadelphia Union vs. Montréal Impact

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  • Montréal’s regained first place in the Eastern Conference
  • Philadelphia coming off a 5-1 loss; Impact coming off 5-0 win
  • Amobi Okugo suspended; Sheanon Williams to play in the middle

Sporting Kansas City. New York Red Bulls. Philadelphia Union. They’ve all had their chance to take control of the East, and to this point, they’ve all fail. After Saturday’s 5-0 thrashing of Houston, Montréal’s regained the conference’s top spot.

Throughout the summer, as the Impact struggled to keep up their torrid spring pace, the East was there for the taking, yet over the last two weeks — with the conference’s other contenders failing to impress — Marco Schällibaum’s team has regained control. Back-to-back league not only have Montréal two points clear in the East but back on pace for the Supporters’ Shield, the team holding the highest points-per-game mark in MLS.

It’s no coincidence this minor surge has coincided with Argentine midfielder Hernán Bernardello settling into Montréal’s starting XI. As Schällibaum tried a two-striker system through much of the summer, it was unclear why his team had moved away from their effective three-man midfield. Davy Arnaud’s fitness was an excuse, but even after the captain came back, the Impact seemed intent on getting Daniele Paponi to work up top with Marco Di Vaio. In the meantime, the rest of the East caught up and passed Montréal.

Bernardello’s acquisition has moved Montréal back to three in the middle, and although the Impact lost their first match with their new Designated Player in the starting XI (2-1 at Chicago on Aug. 10), they’ve won their last two, with last weekend’s thrashing of the Dynamo portending a possible return to form. Replicating their spring formula, Montréal has lost the possession battle in each of their last two games, relying on a strong defensive shape and opportunistic attacking to reclaim their spot atop the East.

This Jekyll and Hyde, good versus bad Montréal makes the teams’ early meeting that much more instructive. In late May, the Impact scored five times at Stade Saputo, never trailing during their 5-3 win over the Union. That game, however, saw Montréal use their less-effective two-front, starting Andrew Wenger up top with Di Vaio. The Impact handled the Union while using their less effective setup, one they’re unlikely to employ Saturday at PPL Park.

It won’t help the Union that they’re set to be without starting central defender Amobi Okugo, suspended for Saturday’s match. An injured Ray Gaddis may also miss the game, while John Hackworth’s midfield could be without Keon Daniel. Coming off a 5-1 thrashing last week in New England, the Union are destined to have momentum, fitness, and suspensions working against them against Montréal.

With Conor Casey up top and the sometime susceptibility of the Impact’s central defense, Philadelphia have a route to victory. But they are underdogs. Given the state of the conference, the Union should be happy to get a stalemate in lieu of the three points they need to bridge the gap between themselves and Montréal.

What they are saying

Montréal forward Marco Di Vaio: “The next two games won’t be easy, but we have to do more if we want to make the playoffs. We have to pick up points away like we did early this season. It’s very important: it might be the difference between fifth place leading to the wild card game and the top of the table sending us directly into the playoffs.” [source]

Philadelphia head coach John Hackworth, on last week’s result: “It’s tough to move on from that, but we do our video and then our process is that we do move on. So I think from a coaching standpoint and from our staff and from our players, what we’ve all said is that we have to move on, we have to move on.” [source]

Philadelphia right back Sheanon Williams, on playing center back: “I’m comfortable doing it. I’ve done it before and it’s not something that doesn’t come natural. Regardless of where you are on the back four, you should be ready to play all of the positions.”

Prediction

Based on the teams’ first meeting, form, the injury and suspension status of both teams, everything points in Montréal’s favor. Hackworth may have to significantly change things up to protect an already suspect defense from the East’s most prolific attack, potentially slowing the game down to make set pieces decisive. But the pick: Montréal, 3-2.

 

Cardiff City: “Poetic justice” that Etheridge stopped violent Kenedy

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Neil Etheridge is writing some nice chapters in the chronicle of Filipino footballers in the Premier League.

The first Philippines national teamer to play in England’s top flight has now stopped penalties in successive weeks, this time in stoppage time to give Cardiff City its first point of the season.

[ RECAP: Cardiff 0-0 Newcastle ]

It was aided by a dreadful effort from Newcastle United’s Kenedy, who should’ve been sent off anyway, but that won’t change how Etheridge and the Cardiff City Stadium feel about his save.

“We don’t want that to become a regular occurrence, but we deserved at least a point,” Etheridge said. “We knew we would have a chance at home and needed to get points on the board. … It is not easy to step up in the 90th minute and take a penalty, but today I came out victorious.”

His manager, Neil Warnock said Kenedy’s miss and Etheridge’s save were both befitting the occasion.

“Regarding the penalty miss, I thought it was poetic justice,” Warnock said. “Sometimes you don’t get what you deserve. The lad Kenedy shouldn’t have been on the pitch. It was straight red, but I never saw it. Regarding the penalty, Morrison’s hand is outside the box and his body is inside.”

Cardiff City is off to Huddersfield Town next week before facing Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester City in successive weeks. This point was big, but getting one or three next week is imperative to their early season mindset.

Hopefully Etheridge won’t need to stop another penalty to do it, but at least the Bluebirds would know he’s in the heads of the taker.

Watch Live: Premier League games, 10am ET

AP
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Four Premier League games are coming your way at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday in the 2018-19 season.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

Fulham head to play Spurs at Wembley, Everton welcome Southampton to Goodison, there is a Midlands derby as Leicester host Wolves and Bournemouth head to West Ham.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

You can access additional games by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold which also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: “Goal Rush” here ]

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of being similar to the NFL RedZone with action shown from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window. More info is available here.

The schedule for all four games at 10 a.m. ET is below and you can stream each game live by clicking on the links.


10 a.m. ET: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Fulham – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Everton vs. Southampton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Leicester City vs. Wolves – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Ham United v. Bournemouth – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

Newcastle miss late penalty, draw at Cardiff

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  • Hayden sent off in second half
  • Zohore, Perez go close
  • First point of season for both clubs
  • Etheridge saves last-gasp penalty kick

Cardiff City and 10-man Newcastle United played out a tight, tense draw at the Cardiff City stadium on Saturday.

Kenneth Zohore had Cardiff’s best chances, while Newcastle battled hard after going down to 10-men in the second half but failed to create many clear-cut chances.

Newcastle had a glorious chance to grab all three points late on but Kenedy‘s penalty kick was saved by Cardiff’s Neil Etheridge in the 96th minute.

Both teams are off and running with their first point on the board for the season.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Cardiff started brightly and Bamba had an effort bundled away by Newcastle and at the other end Ayoze Perez had a decent effort on goal.

Zohore was a handful in the first half as he nodded wide and created plenty of mayhem in the box.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

A major flashpoint arrived before half time as Kenedy kicked out at Camarasa and could have been in plenty of trouble had referee Craig Pawson seen the incident.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Cardiff threatened on the break as Zohore headed wide and Jonjo Shelvey made a great last-ditch clearance to deny the home side taking the lead.

Issac Hayden, a half time sub, then caught Josh Murphy and was shown a straight red card. Harry Arter was lucky to stay on the pitch after a late kick as the game heated up.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Zohore then had a header cleared away at the near post as Cardiff pushed for a late winner but Newcastle were given a great chance to snatch all three points.

Muto’s cross from the left struck Sean Morrison in the arm and a penalty kick was awarded.

But Kenedy’s tame free kick was saved by Etheridge and Cardiff grabbed a point as Newcastle were dejected.

Usain Bolt arrives for trial in Australian A-League

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SYDNEY (AP) Usain Bolt has arrived in Australia for his try out with Central Coast Mariners, saying his goal of playing professional football is “for real.”

The eight-time Olympic sprint champion wore a Mariners scarf after landing in Sydney on Saturday following a 14-hour flight from Los Angeles.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live

He was welcomed by a small group of Central Coast fans and told reporters he was looking forward to hitting the practice field on Tuesday, which is his 32nd birthday.

Bolt will train for several weeks with the Mariners – based at Gosford, north of Sydney – in the hope of winning a contract to play in the A-League from October.

He has previously trialed unsuccessfully with teams in Germany, Norway and South Africa.

Mariners officials say Bolt will train with them for an “indefinite” period, allowing the 31-year-old Jamaican every chance to prove he has the ability to play football professionally.

The club, which won the A-League in 2013 but finished in last place of 10 teams last season, said Bolt would be treated as any other player and would not be offered a contract if he did not make the grade

Bolt has accepted that challenge.

“I’ve said all along this is for real and I’m here to show what I can do,” he said. “I know what I’m capable of and I know what I can do, so this is the opportunity.

“I’m here forever. That’s the plan. I’m really going to push myself. I’m going to work hard and I’m looking forward to putting my best foot forward.”

Mark Leadbetter, chairman of the Mariners’ official supporters club, made the one hour drive to Sydney to greet Bolt and determine for himself if he thought the sprinting great’s A-League bid is genuine.

“I was certainly interested when I first heard the news,” he said. “It’s out of the box and the more I’ve heard about it, the more I’ve come to embrace it

“Nothing’s impossible. As long as it’s based on football principles, why not? I get the impression that he’s been genuine about this and so has the club.”