Round 35 in MLS begins tomorrow; what’s happening mid-week in league and Champions League play

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Every team in Major League Soccer plays a 34-game regular season schedule … so “Round 35” is something like the 7th-and-a-half floor from Being John Malkovich. It’s just weird.

But let’s push past it. Because it will be fascinating, with lots of moving parts.

It all starts Wednesday as Chivas USA begins wrapping up its latest campaign to forget in Utah, up against Real Salt Lake, a club still hoping for a Western Conference Crown. Jason Kreis’ club won’t get it without at least a tie, as a single point will move the men from Rio Tinto alongside Portland for top spot in the West.

A win Wednesday in suburban Sandy will put pressure on Portland when the Timbers visit this same Chivas USA club to wrap up the regular season.

Here’s a little more on the Goats visit to Real Salt Lake.

The bulk of Major League Soccer’s, ahem, 35th round, happens Saturday (four games) and Sunday (five games). The full schedule is here.

(MORE: ProSoccerTalk’s MLS Weekly rankings) 

Four MLS clubs are also involved in CONCACAF Champions League … and it really comes at the worst possible time.

For instance, Houston Dynamo manager Dominic Kinnear has some tough personnel decisions to make. His club travels to Panama to face Árabe Unido on Thursday with a tournament quarterfinal at stake. A draw will do for Houston, but it’s hard to imagine Kinnear running out bunch of first-choice selections. Not when his team will at RFK Stadium three nights later, and the Dynamo need a draw and probably even a win just to make the playoffs.

Yikes.

Before that, Sporting Kansas City takes on Olimpia of Honduras, also with a Champions League quarterfinal berth on the line. A draw at Sporting Park will also suffice for Peter Vermes (pictured) and his team team, which will get a day to recover before flying East for a match Saturday at PPL Park against Philadelphia. Sporting Kansas City has the best chance of nicking the Red Bulls for Supporters Shield if New York slips up against Chicago, but it would take an SKC win in suburban Chester.

(MORE: The MLS coaching carousel is about to get crazy!)

About the time that one is ending Wednesday, San Jose will kick off against CD Heredia. Interim manager Mark Watson and his team have one more MLS match, but they are out of the playoffs. So, all Buck Shaw eggs will be in the CONCACAF basket; a win will put the Earthquakes into next year’s tournament quarterfinals, helping to salvage something from a 2013 campaign that went oddly sideways.

San Jose was the fifth MLS Supporters Shield winner to miss the playoffs the following season.

Finally, the LA Galaxy travel to El Salvador to face Metapan. Thanks to big results early in group stage, Bruce Arena’s team can roll out all the reserves, safely through to the quarters. All things considered, Robbie Rogers, Landon Donovan, Omar Gonzalez and other Galaxy starters won’t get any closer to El Salvador than the nearest Salvadoran restaurant. (Although one fairly prominent reserve, Robbie Rogers, coming off a 22-minute shift Sunday against San Jose, is apparently on the team charter.)

By the way, the Galaxy still has plenty to play for in that season finale against Seattle, as we already know.

Japan upsets ten-man Colombia in Group H opener

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On paper, the 61st-ranked team in the world beating the 16th-ranked team in the world is a massive upset. But considering the circumstances within the game, perhaps this wasn’t an upset after all.

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Two set pieces were the difference as Japan defeated ten-man Colombia, 2-1 on Tuesday morning in Saransk. Colombia played with ten men for nearly the entire match, after Carlos Sanchez was sent off for a handball in the box and a denial of a goal scoring opportunity.

The game took a massive turn in the third minute, as Colombia centerback Davinson Sanchez failed to control a pass and Yuya Osako found himself free on goal. His shot was parried away by Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina but Kagawa’s rebound shot was clearly blocked by Sanchez’s right arm. The referee, Damir Skomina immediately pointed to the penalty spot and went to the back pocket, sending Sanchez to the showers.

Kagawa stepped up and cooly sent Ospina the wrong way to put Japan on top.

Late in the first half, after both teams had chances on target, Colombia came back and evened the scoreline.

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Juan Fernando Quintero, starting in place of the recovering James Rodriguez, smartly took a free kick and fired it low, under the wall as it jumped. Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima reacted late and although he arrived as the ball was crossing the line, he couldn’t keep it from going over, tying the game in the 39th minute.

Ultimately, despite its efforts, Colombia began to tire and on a corner kick, the Blue Samurai took back the lead and control of their destiny in Group H. A corner kick from Keisuke Honda was re-directed past Ospina by Osako, who jumped well over Santiago Arias, to give Japan a 2-1 lead in the 75th minute.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Rodriguez was introduced in the 57th minute but try as he did, Colombia was unable to find the final pass in the box, and Japan held on for the unexpected victory.

With the win, Japan top Group H ahead of a meeting with Senegal, while Colombia will have to regroup to face Poland.

In a World Cup full of unexpected results, Tuesday brought yet another memorable win for an underdog.

New Zealand women footballers rebel against national coach

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Wellington, New Zealand (AP) Only weeks after New Zealand Football made headlines by signing a revolutionary equal pay deal with its female players, the organization is facing a mutiny by members of its women’s team against the national coach.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

New Zealand Football confirmed on Tuesday it had received a letter signed by a number of New Zealand players complaining about the methods and tactics employed by Austria-born coach Andreas Heraf.

The complaints follow the New Zealand team’s recent 3-1 loss at home to Japan. Heraf angered his players, and fans of the Football Ferns national team, by taking an entirely defensive game plan into the rare home international.

Heraf then further angered his players with comments defending his approach.

He said there was “a big difference in quality” between the New Zealand and Japanese players and that New Zealand “will never have that quality” to compete with top teams like Japan. He said the scoreline might have been 8-0 if New Zealand had not adopted a defensive approach.

One of New Zealand’s leading players, United States-based Abby Erceg, retired after playing 132 matches for New Zealand, citing Heraf’s approach in previous international matches.

She later told New Zealand media: “I couldn’t stand to wear that (national symbol) on my chest any more when his vision was to cower in a corner and not get beat by too much.”

New Zealand Football defended Heraf against the media and public criticism but admitted his comments were “strange” and “wrong” and did not accurately reflect his views. Heraf later apologized and said he had not expressed himself clearly.

But efforts to dampen the controversy have failed. New Zealand Football said in a statement it had “received a letter from the NZ Professional Footballers Association (NZPFA) last night with a number of complaints from the players of the Football Ferns.”

The mutiny comes only weeks after New Zealand gained international headlines for a deal which gives female pay parity with their male counterparts.

New Zealand Football signed the deal which provided female players with equal match payments, travel arrangements and prize money.

At the time, New Zealand women’s captain Ali Riley said the deal meant New Zealand would “be able to compete against the top teams, to be able to do well at a World Cup and the Olympics – this is what we needed.”

VIDEO: Colombia sees red, Japan takes early lead

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The first red card of the World Cup came just moments after fans took their seats in Saransk.

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After David Ospina blocked a breakaway opportunity from Yuya Osako in the third minute of the match, Japan star and former Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa fired the rebound on goal. But his shot was blocked by the arm of Colombia midfielder Carlos Sanchez, which earned him a straight red card from referee Damir Skomina and an early trip to the locker room.

Kagawa then stepped up to the spot and calmly sent Ospina the wrong way to give Japan the shock early lead.

Colombia will play the rest of the match with ten men and no James Rodriguez, who was named to the bench for this match as he recovers from a reported calf injury.

Rodriguez out of Colombia starting XI

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Taking a page out of Egypt’s book, Colombia will be without its talismanic playmaker for its first match, Tuesday morning against Japan.

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Juan Fernando Quintero replaced James Rodriguez in Colombia’s starting Xi to take on Japan in Saransk as Colombia coach Jose Pekerman clearly hopes a few extra days of recovery for the injured Rodriguez will help him return to 100 percent fitness. Rodriguez is battling a reported calf injury.

Rodriguez scored six goals and had two assists in five games at the last World Cup in Brazil, helping guide Los Cafeteros to their first World Cup quarterfinals appearance.