MLS Preview: East leaders visit Bay Arena; West’s welcome Cascadia rivals

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Major League Soccer is two weeks removed from its World Cup break, but with almost all of its temporarily departed stars expected to return this weekend, the league is finally, fully back. Here’s a quick look at this weekend’s nine-match docket.

NBC’S FRIDAY NIGHT GAME
San Jose Earthquakes vs. D.C. United, Friday, 11:00 p.m. Eastern, NBCSN
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Consider this level of desperation: San Jose, a team that came into the season with playoff ambitions — one that had to be eliminated from CONCACAF Champions League on penalty kicks — is currently in last place in the Western Conference. They’re behind Chivas USA! And that’s not just about games played, though they have two in hand on Chivas. Even by points-per-game, San Jose (1.07) is behind the Goats (1.18). Losers of three straight, carrying a three-game losing streak into Friday’s game, San Jose has reached the now-or-never point of its season.

The return U.S. international Chris Wondolowski should help. With Víctor Bernárdez likely to start in central defense, San Jose will be close to full strength, too, though the bigger issue will be the men in white. After last week’s win in Toronto, D.C. United comes in two points clear at the top of the Eastern Conference.

Despite that success, there’s still an air of uncertainty around last year’s record-setters. It’s still unclear why D.C. United’s in first. Granted, “they have more points than the other teams” works, but how they have those points is a mystery.

Take last week’s game. Toronto out-possessed D.C. and created more chances, as evidenced by their huge edge in shots on goal (7-2). But those two D.C. shots? They both went in. One came after a Toronto giveaway in their own defensive third. The other came from busted coverage from a corner kick. D.C had two openings. They took them.

In a crude way, that sums up what D.C. does so well. They may not create a lot of opportunities, but they sure seem to take advantage of the ones you give them. At the back, it’s the opposite. They force you to earn their goals.

Perhaps it’s an indictment of the league that that formula’s produced so much success, but half-way through the season, it’s time to stop arguing with it. It may be simple, but it’s well-executed, and it also gives San Jose a few clear goals: Don’t screw up at the back; Do something beyond the norm going forward.

Do that, and you’ll probably beat D.C. United. Thus far, however, MLS teams are having trouble executing that formula.

source:  ALL AT ONCE NOW
Philadelphia Union vs. Colorado Rapids, Saturday, 7:00 pm. Eastern
New York Red Bulls vs. Columbus Crew, Saturday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern
Toronto FC vs. Houston Dynamo, Saturday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern
Montréal Impact vs. Sporting Kansas City, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Eastern
New England Revolution vs. Chicago Fire, Saturday,7:30 pm. Eastern

Major League Soccer’s crazy scheduling is one of my favorite topics, but I can’t write “Why are so many games crammed onto Saturdays” every week (unless you follow me on Twitter; in which case, I’m so sorry). Thankfully, MLS picked at another of my pet peeves this week by cramming five games onto one start time … Because who wants to actually wants to watch more than one of these games live, right?

Technically, there are two start times here, but if you want to watch a 7:30 p.m. ET stream, you’re not going to get to fully watch a 7:00 p.m. kickoff. Rather than give fans that option, MLS has stacked five of their nine weekend kickoffs into this window, even though there are some obvious options.

The most obvious is afternoon kickoffs. Some argue that will hurt attendance, but I don’t buy it. At this point, your typical MLS fans have created a certain level of inelasticity with their demand. The difference between 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. would be killer on a weekday; not so on a Saturday. The awesome thing about MLS fans: They will show up.

And, of course, there’s Friday and Sunday. Particularly when the NFL is dormant, why isn’t the league taking advantage of Sunday? Plus, as we saw last Friday, it’s kind of nice when you have a prime-time games for both the east and west coasts.

When somebody at MLS’s offices reads this, laughs it off, then drops a “you think you could do better” on me at the All-Star Game, I’m going to go full Herman Cain and sell my “2-5-2” plan: two games on Friday; five on Saturday; two on Sunday:

Day Kickoff Games
Friday 7:00 p.m. ET 1
Friday 10:00 p.m. ET 1
Saturday 4:00 p.m. ET 1
Saturday 7:00 p.m. ET 2
Saturday 10:00 p.m. ET 2
Sunday 7:00 p.m. ET 1
Sunday 10:00 p.m. ET 1

Not every weekend would allow a pure 2-5-2, but just like any good coach, we’d switch the formation as needed. The 2-5-2, however, will become the MLS default once I’m made MLS’s Executive Director of Scheduling and Deciding When We Do Stuff At Times That Make Sense.

As for the games, here’s what to look for:

  • In Chester, a Union team in flux could debut its new signing, Jamaican Brian Brown. The bigger question, however, surrounds the Rapids: Are they for real? Early problems scoring from open play goals have been alleviated as Pablo Mastroeni has settled his formation and depth chart. But is this team really capable of competing for the second see in the West?
  • In Harrison, the Costa Ricans should be back. For New York, that means left back Roy Miller, who will alleviate Mike Petke’s shortage at fullback. For the Crew, that means left back Waylon Francis as well as Ticos standout Giancarlo Gonzalez, whose performance in Brazil has sparked speculation about a move abroad. With these two teams straddling the five-six line in the East, the returns of the Costa Ricans could be the difference.
  • In Toronto, Houston snapped a five-game losing streak last Friday against New York but still has the worst goal difference in the league, by far: -16 (Montréal’s next at -11). Saturday at BMO should produce a tight, conservative game Dom Kinnear used to steal. With Ryan Nelsen’s Reds continuing to improve at that game, Houston may be left hoping the returns of David Horst, Jermain Taylor, and Corey Ashe will solidify the league’s worst defense in the face of Jermain Defoe.
  • In Montréal, a Sporting team that’s weathered the World Cup (and injury) storm returns to Stade Saputo two points back of D.C. United. During their last visit, an early red card for the now-departed Collen Warner produced a KC rout. Emboldened by the league’s best defense, Sporting will be looking for a similar result in Quebec.
  • In Foxborough, a New England team that’s lost four in a row finds itself in danger of reversing all the good it did during spring’s perfect five-game run. Chicago’s in a similar boat. After winning its first two games of the season in mid-May, the Fire are winless in six. On the surface, this looks like a “something’s got to give scenario,” but, soccer. This could end in a draw.

ERICK TORRES WORLD TOUR!!!
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Chivas USA, Saturday, 10:00 p.m. Eastern

Normally having too much talent is a luxury that doesn’t draw sympathy, but Carl Robinson is in actually in a precarious position. What’s the difference between Gershon Koffie and Russell Teibert? Or, Erik Hurtado and Darren Mattocks? Does Nicolás Mezquida need more time? Is Sebastian Fernández the right choice in the starting XI? They’re problems most coaches would love to have, but in a deep Western Conference, making the right choice could mean the difference between making the playoffs and taking November off.

Contrast that with Chivas USA, who lately have only had one, obvious question: How do we get Erick Torres the ball? Three straight games …

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-sYPzfP1Lo width=410 align=center]

 

… three 1-0 wins …

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5PyS0ImgXA width=410 align=center]

 

… three Erick Torres goals.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8mrHogdLiFw width=410 align=center]

 

See you in Portland, Cubo.

GAME OF THE WEEK, NUMBER ONE
LA Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake, Saturday, 10:30 p.m. Eastern

Six games unbeaten, LA continues to fly under the radar – as much as a team led by Bruce Arena, featuring Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan can fly under the radar. There are various numbers you can look at — goals allowed rate, shots per game, shots allowed per game, possession, goal difference — that hint this is one of the league’s better teams. Sitting in sixth place, however, LA continues to be the subject of doubts, doubts that overlook the games played column is the primary reason for their low place in the standings.

Contrast that with Real Salt Lake, a team that’s been among the West’s top two all season. They’re allowing more goals than you’d expect, based on their recent years’ performance (23 in 17 games). They’re also scoring fewer, based on the attack Jason Kreis assembled last year (27). Their possession number is down, the shots per game numbers are ominous. In the same ways LA may be underrated, we may be overrating RSL.

None of the matters unless it manifests on the field, and with Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando back, Real Salt Lake has a chance to render those poor indicators meaningless. At the same time, LA can close its season series against the Western Conference champions by redeeming its opening night loss, moving closer to the West’s top five in the process.

source: Getty ImagesGAME OF THE WEEK, NUMBER TWO
Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers, Sunday, 10:00 p.m. Eastern, ESPN2

The league’s best rivalry would get Game of the Week status regardless of where the teams sat in the table. Unfortunately for Portland, we’re testing the extremes. While Seattle in on pace for 70 points (59 won last year’s Supporters’ Shield), the Timbers have the second-worst points-per-game rate in the West. Only San Jose has had more trouble claiming points.

The problem for the Timbers is the same one Caleb Porter’s been talking about all season: Goal prevention. With 30 goals allowed, the Timbers are tied for the worst defense in the league, a stat that looms large with the returns of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins. Though Portland took their rivals to extra-time mid-week in Open Cup play, Seattle was playing without their two best attackers. At home, in front of a crowd that could approach 60,000, Seattle should end its four-game winless run (in MLS) against their Cascadian rivals.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks

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Here are the latest Prince-Wright‘s Premier League picks ahead of Matchweek 28 in the Premier League, with eight games on the slate due to the League Cup final between Aston Villa and Man City on Sunday.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun with these Premier League games.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

While you can download the NBC Sports Predictor app (below) and play the Premier League Pick ‘Em game yourself to predict the scores and win the prizes.

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With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the long shots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Crystal Palace 3-1 Brighton – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Watford 0-2 Liverpool – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM


DON’T TOUCH THIS…

West Ham 1-1 Southampton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

Norwich 1-2 Leicester – (Friday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Everton 2-1 Man United – (Sunday, 9 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Newcastle 2-1 Burnley – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM


“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Bournemouth 1-0 Chelsea – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Tottenham 1-3 Wolves – (Sunday, 9 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Predicting the 2020 MLS standings

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The 2020 Major League Soccer season is almost here and it is time to assess the offseason for each of the 26 teams and predict how they will stack up in the standings.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage

Our writers have been asked to predict where each team will finish in the table this season and with two new teams arriving in Nashville SC and Inter Miami, plus plenty of changes in terms of players and coaches across MLS, this was not an easy task. At all.

As we all know by now, Major League Soccer loves to keep it weird and plenty of teams will no doubt surprise us all. Until then, we are going with our hunch.

Below we reveal how we think both the Eastern Conference and Western Conference will look at the end of the 2020 regular season.


Joe Prince-Wright

Eastern Conference
1. Atlanta United
2. New York City FC
3. Toronto FC
4. Philadelphia Union
5. D.C. United
6. New York Red Bulls
7.  Inter Miami
8. Montreal Impact
9. New England Revolution
10. Columbus Crew SC
11. Chicago Fire
12. FC Cincinnati
13. Orlando City SC

Western Conference
1. LAFC
2. LA Galaxy
3. Sporting Kansas City
4. Seattle Sounders
5. Minnesota United
6. Real Salt Lake
7. Portland Timbers
8. Colorado Rapids
9. FC Dallas
10. San Jose Earthquakes
11. Houston Dynamo
12. Vancouver Whitecaps
13. Nashville SC


Nick Mendola

Eastern Conference
1. NYCFC
2. Atlanta United
3. Toronto FC
4. DC United
5. Philadelphia Union
6. Chicago Fire
7. Columbus Crew
8. Montreal Impact
9. FC Cincinnati
10. New England Revolution
11. Orlando City
12. Inter Miami
13. New York Red Bulls

Western Conference
1. LAFC
2. Portland Timbers
3. LA Galaxy
4. Sporting KC
5. Seattle Sounders
6. FC Dallas
7. San Jose Earthquakes
8. Colorado Rapids
9. Vancouver Whitecaps
10. Houston Dynamo
11. Real Salt Lake
12. Minnesota United
13. Nashville SC


Andy Edwards

Eastern Conference
1. New York City FC
2. Atlanta United
3. Toronto FC
4. Philadelphia Union
5. D.C. United
6. Montreal Impact
7. New England Revolution
8. Columbus Crew SC
9. Inter Miami
10. New York Red Bulls
11. Chicago Fire
12. Orlando City SC
13. FC Cincinnati

Western Conference
1. Seattle Sounders
2. LAFC
3. LA Galaxy
4. Real Salt Lake
5. FC Dallas
6. Sporting Kansas City
7. Colorado Rapids
8. Portland Timbers
9. Minnesota United
10. Houston Dynamo
11. San Jose Earthquakes
12. Vancouver Whitecaps
13. Nashville SC


Kyle Bonn

Eastern Conference
1. Atlanta
2. Toronto
3. NYCFC
4. RBNY
5. Philadelphia
6. D.C. United
7. NE Revs
8. Inter Miami
9. Columbus
10. Orlando City
11. Montreal Impact
12. FC Cincinnati
13. Chicago Fire

Western Conference
1. LAFC
2. Seattle
3. Portland
4. RSL
5. LA Galaxy
6. FC Dallas
7. Minnesota
8. San Jose Quakes
9. Sporting KC
10. Houston
11. Vancouver
12. Nashville
13. Colorado

Premier League TV, streaming schedule

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The Premier League TV schedule is set and we have your stream links as Matchweek 28 is going to be a lot of fun. Get in there.

Remember, there are eight games this week due to the League Cup final between Aston Villa and Man City.

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The full TV schedule for the games this weekend are below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today, Sky Sports News, NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” for all the goals as they go in around the grounds. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App.

[ MORE: Premier League “Goal Rush” ] 

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Here’s your full TV schedule and Premier League stream links for the coming days.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Friday
3 p.m. ET: Norwich v. Leicester – NBCSN [STREAM]

Saturday
7:30 a.m. ET: Brighton v. Crystal Palace – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Bournemouth v. Chelsea – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Newcastle v. Burnley – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Ham v. Southampton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
12:30 p.m. ET: Watford v. Liverpool – NBCSN [STREAM]

Sunday
9 a.m. ET: Tottenham v. Wolves – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
9 a.m. ET: Everton v. Man United – NBCSN [STREAM]

In the Mixed Zone with JPW: Episode 2

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NBC Sports’ Pro Soccer Talk lead writer and editor Joe Prince-Wright shares his behind-the-scenes access into the Premier League mixed zones highlighting the intriguing interviews from this week’s marquee matches.

This week, JPW shares his mixed zone interviews from Southampton-Aston Villa, Chelsea-Tottenham and Man United-Watford, talks Champions League and previews Matchweek 28.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

He also spoke exclusively with Will Smallbone, Southampton’s latest top academy product who made his PL debut in their win against Aston Villa.

“We’ve had quite a lot of players come through the ranks and you look up to them when you’re younger. To come through myself and hopefully do the best I can, it is very special,” Smallbone said.

To listen to more from the mixed zone with Joe Prince-Wright as he takes you deep inside stadiums, subscribe to In the Mixed Zone with JPW Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

And you can follow him on Twitter @JPW_NBCSports here.

Click here for In the Mixed Zone with archive ]

Click play below to listen to Episode 2 in full.