MLS preview: Main event comes early as Seattle-RSL kicks off nine-match weekend

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Two more NBCSN games highlight another full slate of Major League Soccer action, with a meeting between two of the league’s top four teams kicking off the weekend in Seattle. 

Here is a quick look at the league’s nine-match slate. All numbers reflect the teams’ current place in our Major League Soccer Power Rankings.

#5 Seattle Sounders vs. #2 Real Salt Lake, Friday, 10:30 p.m. Eastern, NBCSN/NBC Sports Live Extra

Stakes: Games between these two always seem bigger than they actually  are. Both teams are going to make the playoffs, in all likelihood avoiding that four-five play-in game.  Sure, there are Supporters’ Shield implications, but a loss isn’t going to derail either team’s season. Win, lose, or draw, both are going to be contenders to make it out of the West this November.

And yet, it feels like this game is going to tell us something. Maybe it won’t tell us a lot, but consider the team’s two previous meetings. Seattle issued RSL a huge wakeup call at the end of May but never seemed fully in the game during a 2-1 loss at Rio Tinto (August). Neither game seems representative of how the teams would matchup in the playoffs, but given how the series’ first 180 minutes have played out, good luck predicting what will transpire tomorrow.

Key Players: Obafemi Martins seems programmed to give Nat Borchers trouble. Quick, versatile, and relentless, Martins is capable of occupying the attentions of both Borchers and partner Chris Schuler, leaving more space for Clint Dempsey to pick up (and quickly layoff) the ball.

It’s an edge Seattle has against anybody, but if Osvaldo Alonso and Gonzalo Pineda can hold their own against RSL’s four-man middle, it could prove particularly valuable on Friday.

Prediction: Sounders … no, draw … no! Sounders. 2-1.

source: Getty Images#19 Chivas USA vs. #12 Sporting Kansas City, Friday, 10:30 p.m. Eastern

Stakes: Sporting Kansas City’s four-game losing streak goes from unfortunate turn to full blow soccer crisis (mate) with a loss in Carson, Calif. How likely is that? Seems “astronomically unlikely,” but this is a Kansas City team that gave up three goals at home to Houston. They’re making the impossible possible.

Key Players: You have to think focused performances by Graham Zusi (right) and Benny Feilhaber see Sporting dominate the ball. And with Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin’s frustrations growing at the back, the central pair should take pride in shutting down a returning Erick Torres. (Who isn’t returning at all, because he has one game left on his suspension.)

Prediction: The only way Sporting doesn’t win this one is if they don’t care enough to make a stand. And that’s not the Sporting we know. Kansas City, 2-0.

#7 Philadelphia Union vs. #10 New York Red Bulls, Saturday, 3:00 p.m. Eastern, NBCSN/NBC Sports Live Extra

Stakes: Philadelphia has won three out of four and are dead even with Columbus for the East’s last playoff spot. Ahead of that duo is New York, who overcame a lackluster performance on Wednesday night to take full points, vaulting the Red Bulls into fourth place. Winner stays in the top five. Loser risks falling out.

Key Players: Thierry Henry, of course, for New York, but Tim Cahill should be back in the starting lineup after returning from international duty. (He was only available off the bench on Wednesday.) With New York now playing 4-2-3-1, it will be interesting to see where a slots in. If it’s above Dax McCarty and Eric Alexander, New York will go forward with a much more capable midfield.

Regardless, the Red Bull attack will have to break through defender Maurice Edu and midfielder Amobi Okugo while McCarty tries of cut off Philly’s access to Conor Casey and Sebastien Le Toux.

Prediction: Philadelphia hasn’t lost at home since May, while New York hasn’t won on the road since March. Henry taking advantage of space behind Le Toux, in front of Sheanon Williams, sounds promising, but the prospect is not without drawbacks. Union, 2-1.

source: AP#6 New England Revolution vs. #13 Montreal Impact, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Eastern

Stakes: As much as we’ve talked up Montreal today, they haven’t been strong away from home, and with a surging New England, the Impact are facing a second straight difficult foe.

Winners of four-in-a-row, the Revs are now within three points of Sporting Kansas City, and while this isn’t the weekend they’re likely to overtake the champs, they’ll look to stay within reach.

Key Players: What Henry is to New York, Lee Nguyen (right) is to New England – the playmaker who may be a little too important to his team’s success. With Jermaine Jones quickly making an impact in the middle, the Revs have a second player who can define games, making it all the more important that Felipe and Calum Mallace do enough to give Ignacio Piatti  a chance to steal a result.

Prediction: Montreal’s scoring goals lately, but they’ve done a very poor job of preventing them. New England, 3-2.

source: AP#16 Chicago Fire vs. #18 Toronto FC, Saturday, 8:30 p.m. Eastern

Stakes: By the rankings, this is the weekend’s worst matchup, and unfortunately for viewers, the teams’ entertainment values match their recent results. Even though the sides combined for four goals at BMO Field last month, the game was forgettable.

Key Players: A big game from Michael Bradley (right) likely ends Toronto’s five-game winless streak, but it’s been some time since we saw one of those. Against Chicago’s two-man midfield (Razvan Cocis, Matt Watson), Bradley will have a chance to be the game’s defining player, and with Dominic Oduro, Gilberto, and Luke Moore as scoring threats, Toronto has way to steal this result.

Prediction: Quincy Amarikwa or Robert Earnshaw. One of these guys will pressure a mistake out of that Toronto defense. When Doneil Henry accidentally clotheslines Amarikwa, the Fire will have their 1-0.

source: Getty Images#4 FC Dallas vs. #14 Vancouver Whitecaps, Saturday, 8:30 p.m. Eastern

Stakes: Coming off two straight losses, Dallas needs this one to recapture the moment that carried them unbeaten through most of thesummer. For the Whitecaps, this is a chance to consolidate their new two-point lead for the West’s last playoff spot.

Key Players: After going seven straight games with at least a goal or an assist, Fabian Castillo (right) has been silenced in the last two. Until Mauro Diaz is fully healthy, the Colombian may be Dallas’s only route to success, making it all the more important Matias Laba stay in position to limit the damage from FCD’s counters.

Prediction: Kendall Waston’s virtues on set pieces gives Vancouver a way to steal this game, and with the Whitecaps willing to sit in their own end on the road, you could see this devolving into a one-goal affair. After two straight losses, though, Dallas should be focused on full points, with the Whitecaps’ road approach giving the Toros plenty of chances to convert on dead balls. Dallas, 2-0.

source: Getty Images#11 Houston Dynamo vs. #8 Columbus Crew, Saturday, 8:30 p.m. Eastern

Stakes: Given how Columbus tore Houston apart three weeks ago, the Crew should feel confident they’ll improve on May’s 1-0 loss at BBVA Compass. Since then, Houston has plummeted toward the bottom of the East, but thanks to nine points in their last four games, the Dynamo are back in the playoff race. Their only stumble in that time: At Crew Stadium.

Key Players: Surprisingly, Houston was beaten at its own game in Ohio, with early second half goals from Adam Bedell and Aaron Schoenfeld seeing Columbus capitalize on direct play. Add in Justin Meram’s hot streak (five games, five goals) and the presence of Federico Higuain, and the likes of David Horst and Ricardo Clark (right) will have their hands pull.

Prediction: Between Tyler Deric in goal and A.J. Cochran in defense, there’s some unproven talent at key positions for Houston right now. But the Dynamo have been strong at home this season (7-3-3), and although Wil Trapp and Tony Tchiani will be back for Columbus, the quality in that Houston midfield should be able to protect home field. Dynamo, 2-1.

source: AP#18 Colorado Rapids vs. #9 Portland Timbers, Saturday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern

Stakes: Colorado’s a lost cause. Injuries at the back have taken their toll, while the team’s gone 240 minutes without a goal. Seven straight losses have ended their playoff hopes.

Though Portland’s defense was again exposed last week, the team’s attack remains among the most potent in Major League Soccer. And after a home draw against San Jose, Caleb Porter’s team will be looking to reclaim points lost.

Key Players: Diego Valeri (right) is the key for Portland. Though Rodney Wallace’s absence (international duty) means Valeri may start wide right, he’ll be at center of everything Portland goes, giving Colorado left back Marc Burch a chance to be the hero or the fool.

At the other end, Liam Ridgewell needs to play better. While it may be unfair to ask a player to adjust to a new league immediately, this is an All-Star Designated Player. He’s being paid to solidify Portland’s defense.

If he can’t, Deshorn Brown’s scoreless slump (six games, one goal) will come to an end on Saturday. And Colorado may get back into the win column.

Prediction: Irresistible force: The back of Portland’s net. Immovable object: Colorado’s place in the form table. Despite the Timbers’ history of struggles in Commerce City (one point in five games), a team focused after last week’s disappointment gets this result. Portland, 3-1.

source: Getty Images#15 San Jose Earthquakes vs. #1 LA Galaxy, Sunday, 3:00 p.m. Eastern, UniMas

Stakes: Wednesday’s loss was a major setback for San Jose, who held faint hopes of making the playoffs. Losing to one of the teams in their way (a slumping one, at that) may stop the Earthquakes from fooling themselves. They’re not making the postseason.

Contrast that with the Galaxy, who are only one point behind Seattle in the Supporters’ Shield race. After LA’s mid-week draw, the Sounders have a game in hand, even if the Galaxy look like the strongest team in Major League Soccer.

Key Players: Landon Donovan’s last six games: four goals, six real assists (no hockey gimmes), and two MLS Player of the Week honors. What’s most impressive about that? He may not be LA’s hottest player. Gyasi Zardes (right) has five goals in his last three games. With 56 goals in 27  games, LA has the best attack in Major League Soccer.

It’s hard to see San Jose getting anything from LA without a huge game from Jon Busch. The veteran goalkeeper made 10 saves in Portland, but he may need an even performance on Sunday. Whereas most of the Timbers’ shots were right at him, Los Angeles may do a better job of missing his gloves.

Prediction: The Galaxy won their last trip to San Jose, 1-0 in June. They’re even better now. LA, 3-0.

Mesut Ozil retires at 34; World Cup winner won four FA Cups with Arsenal

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Enigmatic and undeniably gifted, World Cup winner Mesut Ozil has called time on his playing career at age 34.

Ozil joined Istanbul Basaksehir last summer but appeared just seven times for the first team, totallling 142 minutes due to continued back troubles.

[ MORE: Breaking down Premier League title race ]

The 92-times capped German international is best known for his time at Arsenal and Real Madrid but came through the youth ranks at Schalke before breaking onto the international stage with Werder Bremen.

Ozil registered 54 assists across three La Liga seasons with Real Madrid, and came within one assist of Thierry Henry’s Premier League record when he set up 19 goals in the 2015-16 season.

He finished his Arsenal career with 44 goals and 79 assists in 254 appearances.

Here’s part of his announcement, from Instagram:

“I’ve had the privilege to be a professional football player for almost 17 years now and I feel incredibly thankful for the opportunity but in recent weeks and months, having also suffered some injuries, it’s become more and more clear that it’s time to leave the big stage of football.”

Ozil won the 2014 World Cup with Germany and scored in the 2010 and 2014 editions of football’s top international showcase. He claimed four FA Cups with Arsenal, the German Cup with Werder Bremen, and Copa del Rey and La Liga honors with Real.

Outspoken on social issues, Ozil was the subject of some controversy over statements denouncing Chinese internment camps and the treatment of Uyghurs in the country.

 

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Premier League top scorers: Who is leading Golden Boot race?

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Harry Kane scored twice on Saturday to give him 20 goals on the Premier League season, and impressive figure with 10-plus matches left for the teams of the Premier League this season.

Then Erling Haaland converted a penalty at Crystal Palace to give him 28 on the season, reminding the country that the Golden Boot race remains in fait accompli territory.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ] 

There is something somewhat dull about knowing the identity of the 2022 Golden Boot winner, the lone curiosity being the final number of his final tally, we get it, but most of what Haaland is doing this season is simply marvelous and to be admired without much fear.

Haaland’s Premier League-leading 28 goals have him seven goals clear of the next closest challenger: Tottenham’s fantastic and firing Harry Kane.

The Norwegian star piled up 20 goals in a single Premier League season faster than any player in history… by seven games (Kevin Phillips of Sunderland did it in 21). Now he’s within five goals of equalling Kevin Phillips’ record for most goals in a debut Premier League season.

And the later this season goes with him projected so far over the current record, the less chucking is accompanied by marking out the pace (especially considering Haaland was not beaten up by the World Cup, as Norway was not in the tournament). And even though Haaland is currently overperforming his expected goals total, it’s clear that projecting him for the Premier League record is rather realistic.

Which records can Haaland break?

Haaland may not be likely to hit 50 goals given the schedule congestion to come for Man City, but the Premier League record is very well under assault and that figure isn’t entirely absurd. He’s played in 23 of Man City’s 24 games, scoring 26 goals.

Mohamed Salah holds the 38-game season record with his 32 goals scored for Liverpool during the 2017-18 season, while Newcastle’s Andy Cole and Blackburn’s Alan Shearer bagged 34 during 42-game seasons in the 20th century’s final decade.

Haaland also could topple the record for goal involvements (goals plus assists) in a single season, including beating the 42-game record. Alan Shearer put up 47 over 42, while Thierry Henry holds the 38-game record with 44.

Other records that Haaland could legitimately tie or topple:

  • 30 goals in a first Premier League season (Kevin Phillips, Sunderland, 1999-2000)
  • Goals in 24 different Premier League matches (Salah, Liverpool, 2017-18)
  • Most goals in a Premier League match (Five tied with five)
  • 11-straight Premier League games with a goal (Jamie Vardy, Leicester, 2014-15)

Read on to see the latest Premier League goal totals for the 2022-23 season, as Haaland looks to claim a Golden Boot in his first PL season.

Premier League 2022-23 Golden Boot race

    1. Erling Haaland, Man City — 28
    2. Harry Kane, Tottenham — 21
    3. Ivan Toney, Brentford — 16
    4. Marcus Rashford, Manchester United — 14
    5. Gabriel Martinelli, Arsenal — 13
    6. Bukayo Saka, Arsenal — 12
    7. Miguel Almiron, Newcastle — 11
    8. Aleksandar Mitrovic, Fulham — 11
    9. Mohamed Salah, Liverpool — 11
    10. Rodrigo, Leeds United — 11
    11. Martin Odegaard, Arsenal — 10
    12. James Maddison, Leicester City — 9
    13. Phil Foden, Man City — 9
    14. Ollie Watkins, Aston Villa — 9
    15. Harvey Barnes, Leicester City — 9
    16. Leandro Trossard — Brighton/Arsenal — 8
    17. Danny Ings, Aston Villa/West Ham — 8
    18. Darwin Nunez, Liverpool — 8
    19. Roberto Firmino, Liverpool — 8
    20. Callum Wilson, Newcastle — 7
    21. Brennan Johnson, Nottingham Forest — 7
    22. Alexis Mac Allister, Brighton — 7
    23. James Ward-Prowse, Southampton — 7
    24. Kai Havertz, Chelsea — 7
    25. Solly March, Brighton — 7
    26. Wilfried Zaha, Crystal Palace — 6
    27. Pascal Gross, Brighton — 6
    28. Kaoru Mitoma, Brighton — 6
    29. Heung-min Son, Tottenham — 6
    30. Phillip Billing, Bournemouth — 6
    31. Alexander Isak, Newcastle — 6

Premier League table, 2022-23 season

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If it’s the 2022-23 Premier League table you’re after, you’ve come to the right place.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]

After the break for the 2022 World Cup, the Premier League returned with a bang and the start to 2023 has delivered plenty of fun.

Now we are approaching the final few months of the campaign, it is so tight up and down the Premier League table.


Who’s looking like title contenders and/or favorites?

As we head into the final months of the 2022-23 season, Arsenal and Manchester City are looking head and shoulders above the rest and although Manchester United briefly surged into the picture, they look more likely to cement their spot as the third best team in the Premier League.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

The Gunners will have their hands full for the duration of their title challenge, as Erling Haaland continues to take the Premier League by storm with an almost impossible goal-scoring record.


What about the top four and European places?

Uneven Tottenham are hanging in the top four battle and for the moment have hunted down Newcastle, while Liverpool is back in the Champions League picture after their return to form and Chelsea looks like a top six finish is their ceiling. For now.

Surprising Fulham, Brentford, and Brighton are all hanging around on the periphery with fine campaigns. Can one of them surprise and qualify for Europe?


Who are the candidates for relegation?

Southampton, West Ham, and Bournemouth currently occupy the relegation places but that keeps changing all the time and it is so tight at the bottom of the table.

Nottingham Forest, Leicester City, Wolves, Leeds, Everton and Crystal Palace all find themselves within a few points of the bottom three as the race to stay in the Premier League intensifies. This could be the craziest relegation scrap in Premier League history.

Below you will find the latest Premier League table.


Premier League table – March 19

Premier League standings

NBC Sports’ standings and scoreboard



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USMNT roster for Nations League features Gio Reyna, no Tyler Adams

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The USMNT will be without captain Tyler Adams when they play a pair of CONCACAF Nations League games later this month, but they will have 13 members of the 2022 World Cup squad, including Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna, as confirmed by U.S. Soccer on Wednesday.

The Yanks will also not have Timothy Weah, who suffered a scary concussion for Lille versus Toulouse on Sunday. He’s been replaced by AZ Alkmaar’s Djordje Mihailovic.

[ MORE: USMNT to face rivals Mexico in April friendly ]

Adams will miss the games against Gernada (March 24) and El Salvador (March 27) after suffering a hamstring injury during a recent training session with Leeds United.

Reyna’s place within the team and program had come into question in the weeks and months since the World Cup, with events and an investigation transpiring involving former/a candidate to remain USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter and Gio’s parents, Claudio and Danielle. Interim head coach Anthony Hudson explained Reyna’s inclusion as a decision to “move forward.”

[ MORE: USMNT upcoming schedule – Nations League, friendlies, Gold Cup ]

“It became a bit more complex in the months since the World Cup, but as far as we’re concerned Gio is a part of our program,” Hudson said. “He’s a good guy and a top talent, and he is evaluated like any other player. We made the roster decisions based on what gives the team the best opportunity to win these games, and we brought him in because we think he can help us do that.”


Full USMNT roster for 2022-23 CONCACAF Nations League

Goalkeepers (3): Ethan Horvath (Luton Town), Zack Steffen (Middlesbrough), Matt Turner (Arsenal)

Defenders (8): Sergiño Dest (AC Milan/), Mark McKenzie (Genk), Tim Ream (Fulham/), Bryan Reynolds (Westerlo), Antonee Robinson (Fulham), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United), Joe Scally (Borussia Monchengladbach/), Auston Trusty (Birmingham City)

Midfielders (7): Brenden Aaronson (Leeds United), Johnny Cardoso (Internacional), Luca de la Torre (Celta Vigo), Weston McKennie (Leeds United), Yunus Musah (Valencia), Alan Sonora (Juárez), Djordje Mihailovic (AZ Alkmaar)

Forwards (6): Taylor Booth (Utrecht), Daryl Dike (West Bromwich Albion), Ricardo Pepi (Groningen), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Alejandro Zendejas (Club America)

EDIT: Tim Weah (Lille) was originally called up, but exited due to a head injury.

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