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.

Dest: Best decision was stay with US and not switch to Dutch

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DAVENPORT, Fla. (AP) Sergino Dest’s decision to stay with the U.S. national team rather than switch to the Netherlands got a mixed reaction from his Ajax teammates.

“Some of them, they didn’t like it,” Dest said. “Some of them, they said just: `Congratulations: You followed your heart. So that’s always good.”

An 18-year-old outside back who has become an Ajax regular this season, Dest made his U.S. national team debut in September and played exhibitions against Mexico and Uruguay. He skipped last month’s CONCACAF Nations League matches against Cuba and Canada in order to keep his options open, then announced Oct. 28 he was committing to the U.S. program long-term.

“It’s a hard decision, of course, because you are for both of them,” Dest said Wednesday, two days before he likely will make his senior national team competitive debut. “I just made my own decision. It’s my life. If it’s not working out well. I’m the one who is dealing with the trouble.”

Dest has a Surinamese-American father and Dutch mother. He came up through the U.S. youth national team programs, playing for the Americans at the 2017 Under-17 World Cup and the 2019 Under-20 World Cup.

The Dutch national team, winner of the 1988 European Championship and a three-time World Cup finalist, tried to persuade Dest to ask FIFA for a switch of affiliation. Dest’s American youth team background was stressed by U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter and U.S. Soccer Federation sporting director Earnie Stewart when they had lunch with Dest and his father, Ken, on Oct. 24, the day after Dest and Ajax played Chelsea and American star Christian Pulisic in the Champions League.

Dest announced his decision on Oct. 28 and will be cap-tied once he appears in a competitive match.

“He is part of our future and we’re going to make sure that he develops himself to a player that will perform in ’22 and ’26,” Stewart said Tuesday. “What happened in his youth national team career helped the conversations with Sergimo, with his father, with his management in securing him for our U.S. national team, which is great for the program.”

Dest’s decision came 21 months after Monterrey midfielder Jonathan Gonzalez, now 20, switched to Mexico after coming up through the American youth national team program.

LA Galaxy midfielder Efrai­n Ãlvarez, also eligible for the U.S. and Mexico, has made four starts and once substitute appearance for El Tri as it advanced to a Thursday semifinal against the Dutch at the Under-17 World Cup.

Dest said his time with the U.S. program “might be the biggest influence” in his choice.

“I think I made the right decision,” Dest added. “Now I have to make sure that I made a good one and show what I’ve got.”

Stewart, now 50, grew up in the Netherlands with a Dutch mother and a father who was in the U.S. Air Force. He, too, played for a Dutch club and joined the U.S. national team, and played in three World Cups while scoring 17 goals in 101 international appearances from 1990-2004.

“It was very, very similar,” Stewart said, comparing their histories. “His father played an important role, very proud American, ex-military veteran that’s in Europe right now. Very proud that his son is going to play for the U.S. national team as my father was for me.”

Stewart’s experience resonated with Dest.

“It’s always good to hear from people that are also Dutch-American, and they also have a story in the U.S.,” Dest said. “My decision that I made, I listened to everybody’s advice, but it’s just a decision I’m making.”

Dest said his father was pleased, as was his mom.

“I think if I go play for the Netherlands, he would also be happy. He’s just happy when I’m happy. He’s a dad,” Dest said. “They’re just like, `OK, if you want to make that decision then, it’s your life. You have to make your own decisions.”

The U.S., rebuilding after its failure to reach last year’s World Cup, hosts Canada on Friday night at Orlando in another Nations League match, then finishes group play against Cuba at George Town, Cayman Islands. To advance to the semifinals, the Americans must win both games and overcome a goal difference of four against Canada.

In a game Dest skipped last month, the U.S. lost 2-0 at Toronto.

“That’s not going to happen the next game on Friday,” Dest said. “We’re not going to lose.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Chelsea Ladies sign NWSL superstar Sam Kerr

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Sam Kerr is heading to London.

The Australian megastar is leaving the Chicago Red Stars for Chelsea after scoring two MVP awards in the National Women’s Soccer League (2017, 2019).

[ MORE: NYCFC teen off to Gladbach ]

Kerr, 26, has 38 goals in 83 caps for the Lady Matildas, scoring four times in one World Cup match against Jamaica last summer.

Her 69 goals are the most in an NWSL career, and she admits it was a challenge to leave her comfort zone and head to Europe.

“Probably the part that was most difficult was leaving friends and the US because I’ve created such a home there, but it was just time for me to make a change. And once I had my eyes set on Europe, it was kind of an easy decision to choose Chelsea as a club.”

It’s a huge signing for Chelsea, who is leading the table through five matches with an unbeaten 4W-1D record. She’ll join the team in January.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic says goodbye to the LA Galaxy

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic has bid adieu to Major League Soccer, thanking the LA Galaxy for “making me feel alive again.”

The Swedish superstar averaged nearly a goal per game with the Galaxy, and was rumored to be in line for another two years at the club.

[ MORE: Columbus acquires Nagbe ]

Perhaps those reports, and maybe AC Milan’s struggles to score goals, have made more suitors come forward. Time will tell.

The Galaxy said the decision was a “mutual parting of ways” and thanked the player for his work both on and off the pitch.

From LAGalaxy.com:

“We would like to thank Zlatan for his contributions to the LA Galaxy and Major League Soccer,” said LA Galaxy President Chris Klein. “Since his arrival in 2018, Zlatan has positively influenced the sport of soccer in Los Angeles. We are grateful for his work ethic and passion. We thank Zlatan for his professionalism and immeasurable impact on the Los Angeles community and the soccer community in North America as a whole.”

Zlatan’s full thoughts, below, were a bit more Zlatanny.

Klein will have his hands full in replacing Ibrahimovic, who scored 52 times in 53 matches, but the Galaxy have always managed to bring in big names.

Getting a star playmaker is even more important as El Trafico rivals LAFC have rewritten the MLS record book and snared plenty of attention in California and across the league.

Columbus acquires Nagbe from Atlanta for $1M in allocation

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Darlington Nagbe is headed for a reunion with old boss Caleb Porter.

Columbus has sent over $1 million in allocation money to Atlanta United in order to claim the influential midfielder.

[ MORE: Top 25 players in USMNT pool ]

Porter coached Nagbe at the University of Akron and the Portland Timbers, and has 25 USMNT caps but has turned down Gregg Berhalter’s requests for service.

Nagbe made 46 appearances across all competitions for the Five Stripes this season, scoring twice with five assists. He has 313 matches played between Portland and Atlanta.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“Darlington Nagbe is a proven winner and the type of player who can be a difference-maker in our team,” Crew SC president and GM Tim Bezbatchenko said in a statement. “In addition to his skill set, we believe that Darlington is someone whose character and values fit well within our organization. As we stated heading into this offseason, we continue to look both domestically and internationally for players that will make our team better, and we believe Darlington is an important part of those efforts.”

It’s a bold statement from Columbus, who had a reputation for getting the most of its talent under Berhalter but faded under Porter after a hot start. The Crew began 2019 with a 4-1-1 record but lost 13 of its next 15 matches.

Of course, being MLS, the Crew then only lost 2 of their final 13 matches. Shoulder shrug emoji.