Week 10 Preview: LA returns to Portland; West giants visit East leaders

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The 10th weekend of the season sees Major League Soccer finally embrace this thing we call Sunday, with four games breaking the league’s little known “one, maybe two on that other day” rule. Here is our quick look at the coming, refreshingly balanced MLS weekend.

Note: All rankings reflect PST’s weekly MLS Power Rankings.

YOUR NBCSN GAME OF THE WEEK
#12 Portland Timbers vs. #4 LA Galaxy, Sunday, 2:30 p.m. Eastern (NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra)
Last week: Portland claimed its first victory of the season, 3-2 over D.C. United; LA lost at Colorado, 1-0

Bruce Arena has never beat Caleb Porter! Granted, they’ve only faced off three times, but Portland took seven out of nine points from the Galaxy last season, including all six at home. Don’t look at that as a sign of dominance, though. Look at it for what it was: Two close games breaking Portland’s way.

In LA’s first visit to the then-JELD-WEN Field, the now departed Andrew Jean Baptiste headed home a stoppage time winner – not exactly a formula for world domination. In the second, only Maxi Urruti’s mini Zlatan moment separated the sides:

But that was when Portland was good. In 2014, we’ve been treated to the “I can’t tell if they’re good” version of the squad. The soccer’s not that bad, but the record’s pretty gross (1-3-5).  Even after last week’ s break through, it’s impossible to get a read on this year’s Timbers.

Against a Galaxy team that’s also better than its record (2-2-2), last week’s performance won’t be good enough. Robbie Keane’s not going to have a second consecutive off week, and Landon Donovan (right) is coming agonizingly close to his record-setting goal. With Juninho, Stefan Ishizaki, and Baggio Husidic bringing the team’s new midfield together, Bruce Arena has the tools to pick apart another mistake-prone performance.

Matchup to watch: Galaxy DM Juninho vs. Portland number 10 Diego Valeri; or, Rob Friend versus sportsmanship. I can’t decide.


source: Getty Images

EAST VS. WEST CHALLENGE
#7 New England Revolution vs. #1 Seattle Sounders, Sunday, 6:00 p.m. Eastern
Last week: New England won in Toronto, 2-1; Seattle came back to beat Philadelphia, then Dallas.

#14 Houston Dynamo vs. #3 Real Salt Lake, Sunday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern
Last week: Houston beat Chivas before knocking off Columbus; Real Salt Lake went goonie on Chicago.

Okay, Western Conference: You really think you’re that much stronger than the East? Prove it. Your best against two of the teams at the top of the East. You’re on the road, but if you’re really that much stronger, you should be able to get results.

For the Sounders, it’s their first trip East since winning at Olympic Stadium earlier this year. Riding a five-match winning streak, the likes of Clint Dempsey (right) and Obafemi Martins will test a defense that’s been without reigning Defender of the Year Jose Goncalves. Get around destroyer Andy Dorman, and the Revs’ central pair can be had.

At BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston will look to extend its second two-match winning streak of the season, but RSL won’t be as susceptible on set pieces as Columbus was on Wednesday. Still undefeated, Salt Lake’s poised to take advantage of their hosts’ quick turnaround.

Matchups to watch: Seattle destroyer Osvaldo Alonso vs. Revolution creator Lee Nguyen; Houston’s suddenly hot Will Bruin against RSL emerging star Chris Schuler.


BE AN MLS ULTZY, EMBRACE

#13 San Jose Earthquakes vs. #5 FC Dallas, Saturday, 10:30 p.m. Eastern
Last week: San Jose lost in Vancouver before drawing with Colorado; Dallas lost twice in the last seven days: to New York, then Seattle.

Wednesday in Seattle, a brutally cynical side to Dallas came out, an approach that may have been motivated by a pragmatism that’s set in after Mauro Diaz’s injury. If brutal cynicism’s going to be their thing, though, they’re going to have to take the belt from the champs. This is San Jose’s bread and butter.

Break out the bandannas; we’re going to get ultzy for this one. Over/under on red cards: 1.5.

Matchup to watch: Blas Perez vs. gravity


source: AP

BACON AND SKINNIES AND HORN RIMS ALL IN ONE
#6 Columbus Crew vs. #9 Vancouver Whitecaps, Saturday, 10:30 p.m. Eastern
Last week: Columbus lost at Kansas City and Houston; Vancouver beat San Jose, 3-2.

Two teams that never get much national love are among the league’s most watchable. Even last weekend against Kansas City, Columbus were stubbornly enjoyable, persisting with its possession hungry, Federico Higuain-heavy approach. If that guy does down (or, wears down), whoa are they in trouble.

Vancouver on the other hand are less about style than pure talent. The club has this huge stable of attackers Carl Robinson essentially rolls out in shifts. At the start of a game, Kekuta Manneh (right), Darren Mattocks, and Sebastian Fernandez could be flying around Pedro Morales. By the end you’re chasing Russell Teibert, Nicolas Mezquida, Erik Hurtado. With Matias Laba winning balls in the middle and Morales flinging them all over the park, that’s a lot of talent to throw behind Columbus’s bombarding fullbacks.

After watching the Crew midweek in Houston, I liked them to end their six-match winless streak on Saturday. After taking a second look at how these teams matchup, I’m not so sure.

Regardless, this has the potential to be the weekend’s most entertaining match. If Robinson sticks with his 4-2-3-1 (virtually guaranteeing Manneh will start), skip New York-Chicago for this one.

Matchup to watch: Vancouver vs. the road (3 wins at BC Place; none away from home)


CLIMBING BEANSTALKS

#18 Montreal Impact vs. Sporting Kansas City, Saturday, 4:00 p.m. Eastern
Last week: Montreal is coming off a bye week; Sporting beat Columbus, 2-0

#8 New York Red Bulls vs. #16 Chicago Fire, Saturday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern
Last week: The Red Bulls took three points out of Dallas; Chicago blew a two-goal lead at home against RSL.

While Houston and New England deal with two Western Conference titans, the East’s other leaders face the bottom of the conference. There is, however, some (possibly thin) reason each could slip up.

Two weeks ago in New England, Kansas City gave the type of tepid performance we occasionally see from them on the road. If they allow Montreal to stay as close as the Revolution, another freak red card (penalty, injury, et al.) could be their undoing. It happens, and even once in a while, Kansas City doesn’t do enough to prevent it.

For New York, there’s a problem matching up against the Jeff Larentowicz, Benji Joya, and (coming in from the left) Harry Shipp midfield. Patrick Nyarko can create chances against Roy Miller, and Quincy Amarikwa will be back. The Red Bulls main recourse: Chicago’s error-prone central defenders against a gelling forward tandem.

Matchups to watch: Sporting’s wingers against whomever starts at left back for Montreal; Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Bakary Soumare trying to lock down Bradley Wright-Phillips and Thierry Henry at Red Bull.


source:  COFFEECOFFEECOFFEE!
#17 Philadelphia Union vs. #15 D.C. United, Saturday, 4:00 p.m. Eastern
Last week: Philadelphia lost at Seattle, 2-1; D.C. United fell in Portland, 3-2

#10 Colorado Rapids vs. #19 Chivas USA, Sunday, 3:00 p.m. Eastern
Last week: Colorado beat Los Angeles before drawing at San Jose; Chivas was blown out by Houston

According to an article from the world-famous Mayo Clinic, 400 milligrams of caffeine per day “appears to be safe for most healthy adults.” That’s four cups of coffee, 10 sodas, or two energy drinks.

All I’m saying is you have options, especially if you’re willing to risk a fast heartbeat, muscle tremors, or a little insomnia. Those are the potential drawbacks to excessive caffeine use, but on rare occasions, the trade-off could be worth it.

Matchups to watch: D.C. defensive midfielder Perry Kitchen against Philadelphia creator Vincent Nogueira; Colorado attacker Deshorn Brown against center backs Bobby Burling and Carlos Bocanegra.

Germany’s ‘golden generation’ primed for World Cup defense

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BERLIN (AP) Germany coach Joachim Loew is brimming with confidence just over three weeks before what he calls the country’s “golden generation” begins its World Cup defense against Mexico.

“I have a very good feeling,” Loew said at the team’s training camp in South Tyrol, Italy. “I don’t know what will happen with this golden generation after the tournament. It’s possible there will be a break-up. But all the players are on fire for the World Cup.”

Germany is one of the favorites in Russia despite the retirements of Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Miroslav Klose since winning the tournament in Brazil four years ago.

Players like Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira, Mats Hummels and Thomas Mueller have grown into leading figures with the side, which wrapped up qualification with 10 wins from 10 games and 43 goals, a record number of goals for a European team in qualifying.

Now they are charged with attempting to make Germany the first team to retain the title since Brazil in 1962.

“I don’t have to coax new craving or new enthusiasm from the players,” Loew said in comments reported by news agency dpa. “The craving and ambition are still there, even among those who became world champions.”

Germany’s only worries concern the fitness of captain Manuel Neuer, defender Jerome Boateng and midfielder Mesut Ozil. Neuer hasn’t played since September with a hairline fracture in his left foot after being injured in training. Boateng is still recovering from a thigh injury sustained in the Champions League semifinals. Ozil missed Arsenal’s last few games of the season with back problems.

Team doctor Hans-Wilhelm Mueller-Wohlfahrt gave Ozil the green light to start training with the team and he was to decide Friday if Boateng should stay in Munich for further treatment or join the squad.

“We don’t want to make any mistakes,” Loew said of Boateng. “I think he’ll be able to at least take part in some team training next week.”

Neuer, too, is being given every chance to prove his fitness. Loew named four goalkeepers in his 27-man preliminary squad and is hoping that the 32-year-old Neuer won’t be the one sent home before FIFA’s June 4 deadline for final squads to be submitted.

“He can tolerate all the strains, even the most strenuous strains like jumping,” Loew said. “If he has the feeling he can perform at 100 percent he can be at the World Cup.”

Barcelona’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen will keep the No. 1 spot if Neuer doesn’t recover fully.

Ter Stegen was to join the rest of the squad on Friday, along with Bayern’s Hummels, Mueller, Joshua Kimmich and Niklas Suele, as well as Chelsea defender Antonio Ruediger.

“It’s clear to everyone that the training camp is to get the required strength and power for the tournament. The fuel has to be there,” said Loew, who also hopes it boosts team spirit. “Everyone has to know that he is just a puzzle piece for success. Nobody can be world champion on their own.”

Loew recently signed a contract extension through the next World Cup in Qatar in 2022. The 58-year-old former assistant coach took over after the 2006 World Cup and has led Germany to the semifinal stage or further in every major tournament since.

Germany has two warmup matches, against Austria in Klagenfurt on June 2 and Saudi Arabia six days later in Leverkusen, to iron out any pre-tournament issues.

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Klopp hails Real Madrid; plots upset in UCL final

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Jurgen Klopp has placed all of the pressure on Real Madrid ahead of the UEFA Champions League final in Kiev, Ukraine on Saturday.

[ MORE: UCL final projected XI’s ]

The Liverpool manager spoke to the media on Friday ahead of the showpiece final and revealed his admiration for Zinedine Zidane and his superstars, with Real hoping to win a third-straight UCL trophy and a record 13th European title.

Liverpool (five-time winners themselves) are the slight underdogs but the way Klopp was talking suggested this final was a proper David vs. Goliath battle.

It seems as though the pressure is off his players, as Klopp (who has lost all five of his major finals as a manager) believes the experience of Real is key but still thinks his players are quite capable of causing an upset.

“Experience is very important. I am pretty sure in the second before the game Real Madrid will be more confident than we are but the game doesn’t end in that second, it only starts. When you see Real Madrid play you say ‘wow they are really strong’ but they never played us,” Klopp said. “But we are here because we are Liverpool. We are not only a really good football team. This club has it in its DNA that it can really go for the big things.

“Nobody expected us to be here, but we are here. Because we are Liverpool. Because we have the games we had in the Champions League, the most exceptional run to the final, the most goals, I cannot believe that it is true… but it’s us. We scored the most goals, we had exceptional results away and at home, all of that stuff. The experience they have is a big advantage. 100 percent. To feel confident, or whatever, but in the game experience doesn’t help all the time.”

Wow. Okay.

Klopp is clearly trying to take the pressure off his players and the fact that he also lavished praise on Zidane ahead of the final shows how much respect Liverpool have for the team who have won the most European titles in history.

But are the Reds going too far here? Klopp added the following as he continued with the underdog theme.

“We have to make it as difficult as possible for them. That’s the plan of course,” Klopp said. “We cannot try to fight on their level but tactics in football are there to bring a better opponent on your level. When they are on your level you can beat them. That’s hard to do, but I think it’s worth a try.”

This just seems like Liverpool are giving Real a little too much respect ahead of the game. After all, no team has scored more goals than Liverpool in the UCL this season plus they have the hottest player in the world in Mohamed Salah on their side.

It’s tough to question Klopp given what he has achieved in the UCL this season but he does seem to have gone a little over the top here as he portrayed his Liverpool side as massive underdogs in the final.

List of most valuable European clubs released

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Auditors KPMG released its ranking of the most valuable clubs in Europe over the past year and the Premier League once again dominated with six teams in the top 10 and Manchester United leading the way ahead of Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Overall, the key stats to emerge from KPMG’s study is that there’s an aggregate growth of 14 percent among the top 32 clubs in Europe. While the English clubs in the top 32 list account for a staggering 42 percent of the total value, while Lyon, Sevilla and Tottenham are the big climbers in the list.

The top 14 clubs remain in the same positions as last season, but there is plenty of movement after that.

Manchester City are fourth, while Arsenal are in fifth, Chelsea in sixth, Liverpool in seventh and Tottenham stay in the top 10 as their progression on and off the pitch continues.

Leicester City are in 15th, West Ham United are newcomers to the list with the Hammers in 16th as their move to the London Stadium has increased their value substantially, while Everton are in 19th as nine of the most valuable 19 clubs in Europe are from the PL.

Below is a look at the top 32 via KPMG, while you can read the report in full here.


How will Liverpool, Real Madrid line up for UCL final?

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With just over 24 hours to go until the UEFA Champions League final in Kiev, Ukraine, excitement is building as Liverpool and Real Madrid lock horns in the battle to become Champions of Europe.

[ LIVE: Champions League final ]

Jurgen Klopp and Zinedine Zidane both possess an embarrassment of riches in attack but both coaches know they have weaknesses in defense.

With that in mind, we are expecting attack-minded starting lineups from both coaches. But who will get the nod for the XI?

Below is a look at my projected starting lineups for the final in Kiev, as well as analysis on the gameplan for both teams.


LIVERPOOL

—– Karius —–

— Alexander-Arnold — Lovren — Van Dijk — Robertson —

—- Milner —- Henderson —- Wijnaldum —-

—- Salah —- Firmino —- Mane —-

Analysis: At this point, there are no real surprises in Liverpool’s squad as Klopp is without the likes of Joe Gomez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain through injury and the back five pick themselves. The only real dilemma will be in midfield but even then the duo of Emre Can and Adam Lallana have been out injured and aren’t fully fit, so James Milner and Georginio Wijnaldum are likely to start alongside Jordan Henderson in a midfield three. Then, up top, well, Salah, Firmino and Mane will start with Danny Ings and Dominic Solanke on the bench.


REAL MADRID

—– Navas —–

— Carvajal — Ramos — Varane — Marcelo —

—– Kroos —– Casemiro —- Modric —–

—- Isco —–

 —- Benzema —- Ronaldo —-

Analysis: Like Liverpool, the back five pretty much select themselves for Zidane with Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane a talented central defensive duo but marauding full backs Dani Carvajal and Marcelo will leave plenty of gaps for Salah, Mane and Firmino to expose. In midfield the silky duo of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric will pull the strings, while the robust Casemiro will look to stop and Salah and Co. from getting at Ramos and Varane. The forward three is the biggest dilemma for Zidane with Cristiano Ronaldo certain to start centrally, but the likes of Marco Asensio and Gareth Bale could well find themselves on the bench with Isco and Karim Benzema likely to get the nod, plus Lucas Vazquez pushing hard for a starting spot. Having Bale (in fine form with four goals in his past three games) fresh to bring on from the bench may well just prove to be the difference if the game becomes tight and tense in the second half.