MLS Preview: Colorado Rapids at San Jose Earthquakes

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  • Teams are fifth, sixth in the Western Conference.
  • San Jose has lost one home game all season.
  • Earthquakes without Chavez; Rapids without Brown, Torres.

‘Six-pointer’ is one of the worst expressions in soccer. All matches are six-pointers! They each carry a potential six-point swing in the standings.- the difference between Team A winning and Team B claiming full points. Whether you’re talking about a game in round one or the last match of the season, they’re all six-pointers.

But typically that monicker’s been reserved for games between teams competing for (or, trying to avoid) the same threshold. That’s why a match between teams trying to avoid the drop is a relegation six-pointer (almost exclusively how the term’s used).

Wednesday’s Major League Soccer schedule presents us with a six-pointer of a different kind. A late season surge sees the San Jose Earthquakes, last year’s Supporters’ Shield winners, in sixth place in the West – just outside a playoff position. Right on the other side of that line? The upstart Colorado Rapids, whose young core has been slowly augmented by veterans to give Oscar Pareja’s team an unexpected staying power.

Coming off a 5-1 win over Seattle, the Rapids may have shed that upstart label. After thrashing a recognized MLS Cup-contender, it no longer seems right to add any mitigating adjectives. Young Rapids, that’s fine? Athletic, dynamic, talented? Sure. Upstart has come to carry a slightly negative connotation, when we use it in sports. It’s almost as if we don’t believe it’s real.

Last year’s San Jose and this year’s Montréal weren’t/aren’t classified as upstarts (particularly because of the veteran makeup of their rosters). Instead, we discuss their potential impact on the postseason. Particularly after this weekend’s showing, don’t we owe Colorado the same respect?

First things first, Colorado need to get into the playoffs, which brings us back to the six-pointer concept. If Colorado loses at Buck Shaw (which nine out of 15 visitors have), they bring San Jose within one. But if they win? The pull seven points clear and could clinch, provided Vancouver drops points in Seattle.

If that happens, not only will Colorado become only the second team to claim full points from Santa Clara this season, they will send San Jose to the brink of elimination. One more Galaxy win, and the Earthquakes would be out.

It highlights the tightrope Matt Watson’s team is walking, though the fact that they haven’t already fallen to earth is a testament to both the new boss and his resilient squad. When Frank Yallop left the team early this season, it forced the players to internalize their poor start.

Though they’re unlikely to make the playoffs, the fact that San Jose is still in contention in October speaks to the professionalism of the group. Instead of playing for next year, the team decided to earn the paychecks they’re getting now.

And let’s not completely dismiss the possibility of them getting into the playoffs. If they win out, they get to 53 points, and they’re likely in. If they go 2-0-1, they hit 51 points and can get in if Vancouver takes some points from Colorado in those teams’ season-ending home-and-home. Watson’s already achieved something by keeping San Jose alive, but their chances to achieve greater things shouldn’t be so readily dismissed.

But if there’s a narrative to grab onto here, it’s Colorado’s. The team made an early commitment to their young core without any expectation of making this year’s playoffs. Set to allow the likes of Shane O’Neill, Deshorn Brown, and Dillon Powers room to grow beneath what looked like a jammed Western Conference playoff race, the Rapids were happy to rebuild, jettisoning Conor Casey and Jeff Larentowicz to do so. But with Clint Irwin’s emergence in goal and the ascension of Chris Klute to becoming the season’s best left back, the Rapids became as much about the present as the future.

That rise brings expectations. Coming off a 5-1 win over Seattle, a trip to San Jose suddenly looks winnable. With Marvin Chavez off with Honduras, Klute will have more cause to get forward down Colorado’s left. In the absence of Gaby Torres and Deshorn Brown, a Colorado attack featuring Edson Buddle, Vicente Sanchez, and Powers should find holes in a defense that’s missing Victor Bernardez and relying on a hobbled Clarence Goodson. Chris Wondolowski and Alan Gordon are available for San Jose, but Steven Lenhart is not, giving O’Neil and Drew Moor one less nuisance to worry about. If Colorado is a playoff-caliber team, they should find a way to get something from this match.

As much as the actual standings, that’s what Wednesday’s six-pointer is about: Identifying which of these two teams is truly playoff-worthy. Getting results under tough circumstances, taking advantage of the opportunities you’re presented, ending your opponents’ dreams – these are all tasks you endure in the postseason. San Jose and Colorado get a taste of it Wednesday night.

Real Salt Lake coach Mike Petke suspended, fined

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NEW YORK (AP) Real Salt Lake coach Mike Petke has been suspended an additional game and fined $10,000 by Major League Soccer for on-field misconduct during a game against Minnesota United.

[ MORE: Alisson on the brink of joining PL giants Liverpool ]

The suspension announced Wednesday follows an automatic one-game game ban for being ejected from the Utah club’s 3-1 road loss Saturday night.

Petke was fined for abusive and profane language directed at officials, uncontrollable behavior when he was ejected and public criticism of officials during a postgame press conference. Real Salt Lake also was fined $10,000 fine for social media posts.

Petke will miss games Saturday night against Colorado and July 28 against San Jose.

Adam takes shot at Shaqiri as example of Stoke rot

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Xherdan Shaqiri has left relegated Stoke City for the greener Premier League pastures of Liverpool, labeling it a move in search of silverware.

Former teammate Charlie Adam thinks that’s pretty rich.

[ MORE: Alisson on the brink of joining PL giants Liverpool ]

The 32-year-old Adam, a former Red himself, says Shaqiri was among the group of players he criticized for shrinking in big moments and not caring enough about the relegation fight.

Here’s what Adam said in May:

“I’ll be honest for the supporters, I think some players have been getting away with murder for a long time and it’s difficult for supporters. It’s not just one or two, I think there are four or five that could be counted.”

Offensively, Shaqiri had the best season of his career. The 26-year-old Swiss international scored eight goals in the Premier League, but was absent from the score sheet from March 3-April 28. Stoke collected just four points during that eight-match span, all draws.

But Shaqiri did score Stoke’s lone goal in the match which saw them officially relegated, a 2-1 loss to Crystal Palace in which there’s no question the stakes were incredibly high.

Asked about Shaqiri on Thursday, Adam did not hold back.

“Was he one of them? Oh, definitely. When the chips are down you look at your big players, you want your big players to bring magic in one moment in the season, and at times we felt like the so-called big players in the squad never turned up for us and never performed.

“Yeah, everybody else could help, but for all the plaudits to so-called bigger players we getting from certain members of the management staff last season – they weren’t producing.”

Shaqiri scored in three-straight February matches, of which Stoke won exactly zero, and pitched in seven assists this season. Huh.

While we don’t know what his attitude was like around the Potteries, it’s very difficult to consider labeling his season a big reason for Stoke’s downfall.

He’s an easy man to scapegoat now, being out the door, but Shaqiri had a decent season for sure. Adam is a strong servant of Stoke, but played in less than a dozen games. This truly seems like the wrong messenger picking the wrong target, though it could help build a bit of momentum for a new season.

USOC roundup: LAFC, Chicago join Philly, Houston in semis

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All four quarterfinals of the 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup were played on Wednesday, and not a single one of the fixtures required extra time or penalty kicks. The semifinal field is set, as follows…

[ MORE: Man City, USMNT’s Mix Diskerud loaned to South Korea ]

Los Angeles FC 3-2 Portland Timbers FULL HIGHLIGHTS

LAFC might be an expansion team in 2018, but Bob Bradley‘s bunch is headed to the semifinals of the Open Cup after narrowly outlasting the Portland Timbers on Wednesday.

Each side put the ball into the other team’s goal twice, but David Guzman’s early own goal — the game’s opening tally in the 33rd minute — proved the difference on the night. Carlos Vela made it 2-0 to LAFC just five minutes later, but Julio Cascante halved the lead in first-half stoppage time.

Two more goals, courtesy of Marco Ureña and Vytautas Andriuskevicius, came in quick succession early in the second half. It was 3-1 after 51 minutes, and 3-2 after 52.

A memorable night in Southern California was, however, marred by a racial slur which was allegedly lobbed at LAFC striker Adama Diomande.

Houston Dynamo 4-2 Sporting Kansas City — FULL HIGHLIGHTS

The defending holders of the Open Cup went ahead, through Johnny Russell, after two minutes, but proceeded to conceded the game’s next four goals — three of which came during a scintillating 34-minute stretch beginning in the 35th minute.

Romell Quioto scored nos. 1 and 2, followed by nos. 3 and 4 from Mauro Manotas to put the game away and brush aside a shorthanded, injury-stricken Sporting KC side playing its fourth game in 14 days (three of four have been on the road). Yohan Croizet pulled a goal back during second-half stoppage time, but it was far too little, too late.

Sporting head coach Peter Vermes held back very little as he lit into his players after the game.

“I thought some players gave everything they had. There were other players that didn’t give everything they had. More so, I think a couple guys gave up in the game. … You’re not going to win a game when you have certain players that just give up or don’t put the effort in like they have to. That’s the result you get.”

Chicago Fire 4-0 Louisville City — FULL HIGHLIGHTS

Chicago dispatched the last remaining lower-division team in this year’s tournament, smacking aside Louisville with a pair of first-half goals, followed by another paid during the final minute of the game and stoppage time.

Nemanja Nikolic and Aleksandar Katai did the damage in the first half, followed by Diego Campos and Elliot Collier in the 90th and 92nd minutes.

Philadelphia Union 1-0 Orlando City SCFULL HIGHLIGHTS

In the night’s opening game, Philadelphia got an early goal from Alejandro Bedoya and held on for the ensuing 86 minutes to knock off Orlando City at Talen Energy Stadium. It was Haris Medunjanin’s free kick which was headed across the face of goal by Fafa Picault, and Bedoya arrived late to poke the ball past backup goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr.

Semifinal draw

Thursday, July 19, 1:45 p.m. ET — on ussoccer.com

Mourinho bemoans ‘very bad’ preseason for Man United

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MANCHESTER, England — Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has described the team’s preseason as “very bad” because of the disruption caused by the World Cup and the absence of Alexis Sanchez for the tour of the United States.

Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford, Marouane Fellaini and Phil Jones will not return to training with United until close to the start of the new season because their countries got to the semifinals of the World Cup in Russia.

Sanchez wasn’t among the United squad heading across the Atlantic because there was an issue with his visa after the Chile forward accepted a 16-month suspended sentence in Spain over a tax issue.

Mourinho said “preseason is very bad, I have to say that,” adding that “I am worried because I am not training with all my players.”

On Sanchez, Mourinho said “he’s very sad, it’s not good for him or me, not good for anyone. There is no one to blame — the club is making an effort. I have to respect the U.S. authorities in their process of selection of visas. I hope he will come to join us.”

Mourinho said he is set to start the season with Sanchez, Juan Mata and Anthony Martial as his strike force.

United flew to Los Angeles on Sunday and will play five games, including three International Champions Cup matches against Real Madrid, AC Milan and Liverpool, during its stay.

United plays its first English Premier League game of the season on Aug. 10 against Leicester at Old Trafford.