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.

Watch Live: Arsenal v. Leicester City

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Arsenal host Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Gunners aim for a tenth-straight win in all competitions.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE

Leicester have never won at Arsenal in the Premier League with the Gunners winning each of their last 11 encounters at home against the Foxes.

Unai Emery‘s men have been flying in recent weeks with six wins on the spin in the PL and the likes of Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scoring goals galore in attack.

In team news Arsenal bring in Shkodran Mustafi for the injured Sokratis Papastathopoulos with Stephane Lichtsteiner in at left back.

Leicester make one change with Jonny Evans coming in for the suspended Wes Morgan in central defense.


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Cristiano Ronaldo discusses rape allegations against him

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Cristiano Ronaldo has been speaking publicly for the first time about accusations made by American Kathryn Mayorga, who says she was raped by the Portuguese superstar in Las Vegas back in 2009.

Ronaldo, 33, issued a statement via his lawyers about the allegations after he had originally called Mayorga’s claims “fake news” on his social media account.

Lawyers for Ronaldo claim they will sue Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine who first published the claims from Mayorga but the German publication stand by their reporting. Juventus were heavily criticized for the statement they released in support of Ronaldo, while his main sponsor Nike have revealed they are “deeply concerned” about the allegations.

Speaking ahead of his return to Old Trafford with Juventus on Tuesday in the UEFA Champions League, the former Manchester United star addressed the speculation, although the BBC are reporting that no English journalist was allowed to ask questions at the press conference.

“I know I am an example, 100%. In the pitch and outside the pitch. I am a happy man, I smile, I play in a fantastic club, I have four kids, I am healthy, the rest doesn’t interfere on me so I am very glad. I am a happy man. We have done a statement two weeks ago and I am glad,” Ronaldo said. “Of course I am not going to lie in this situation, my lawyers are confident and I am too. I enjoy the football, my life and the rest people take care of my life. The truth always comes in first position. I am good.”

Ronaldo was then asked about his return to United, the club he played for from 2003-2009 and where he won three Premier League titles and a UEFA Champions League trophy under Sir Alex Ferguson before leaving for Real Madrid.

“It is emotional for me. I can remember I won lots here. Cups and leagues,” Ronaldo said. “The support was fantastic and my best possible wishes to Sir Alex Ferguson. He gave me a huge lift in my career.”

List of top 25 selling MLS jerseys released

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Ahead of the final week of the 2018 Major League Soccer season, a list of the top player jerseys have been released.

Some will surprise you. Others won’t.

[ MORE: Rooney, Zlatan to PL on loan?

LA Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic sits top of the pile, while LAFC’s Carlos Vela is in second and Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez is third. Wayne Rooney has only been in MLS for half a season but the D.C. United star is in fourth, while Atlanta’s Paraguayan star Miguel Almiron is fifth.

Some surprising names high up on the list include Diego Rossi, Darlington Nagbe and  Dom Dwyer.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage

Below is the full list of the top 25 best-selling jerseys in Major League Soccer.


1. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
2. Carlos Vela
3. Josef Martinez
4. Wayne Rooney
5. Miguel Almiron
6. Bastian Schweinsteiger
7. David Villa
8. Sebastian Giovinco
9. Clint Dempsey
10. Ezequiel Barco
11. Diego Valeri
12. Diego Rossi
13. Bradley Wright-Phillips
14. Giovani dos Santos
15. Darlington Nagbe
16. Jozy Altidore
17. Alphonso Davies
18. Hector Villalba
19. Dom Dwyer
20. Luciano Acosta
21. Graham Zusi
22. Cristian Roldan
23. Darwin Quintero Jr.
24. Paul Arriola
25. Diego Chara

Premier League loans for Rooney, Zlatan?

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This is something which happened a lot in the past but loan deals from Major League Soccer to the Premier League seem to have died down slightly in recent years.

[ MORE: Rooney, DC make playoffs ]

I’m talking Robbie Keane to Aston Villa and Thierry Henry to Arsenal in 2012. Landon Donovan to Everton in 2010 and 2012. David Beckham to AC Milan in 2009 and 2010. That kind of deal. Not quite Frank Lampard from New York City FC to Manchester City, because we all know how that worked out…

But could Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic be the latest MLS stars to head back to Europe for an offseason loan stint?

Given Zlatan’s incredible form in his debut campaign in MLS with 22 goals in 26 games at the ripe age of 37, plus Rooney’s huge impact at D.C. United (12 goals and 10 assists in 19 games) which has dragged them from last place in the East to playoff qualification, surely they could help out a few PL clubs right now?

Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson recently said Rooney, 32, left England too soon, and with the Eagles having goalscoring issues, maybe they could an option if the Manchester United captain fancied a stint back in England in January?

While Zlatan’s former club Man United could certainly use a little help given their poor start to the season and with a busy festive season coming up with PL and European action. It has even been suggested by the Spanish media that Real Madrid would be willing to sign Zlatan on a short-term loan. Now, wouldn’t that be something…

But lets think about this. Would D.C. United and the LA Galaxy really want their star players heading overseas to risk injury and burnout after a gruelling MLS campaign?

In Zlatan’s case, probably not. The Galaxy would be correct to be concerned about Zlatan’s injury record and the fact that the Swedish superstar has four years on Rooney suggests he could probably do with a rest. Plus, Zlatan has played an entire MLS season whereas Rooney arrived at the halfway point.

As for Rooney, it seems like December-February would be better spent getting to known the D.C. area better with his family after his move during the season to MLS.

But, as we know with top players, they want to play at the best level possible for as long as possible and both Rooney and Ibrahimovic will no doubt have offers on the table for loan moves in January. It’s not about the money with these two veterans. It is more about proving to everyone than can still do it. And their form in MLS proves they can.

You can scoff at MLS all you want but if you tell me that 15 out of the 20 current Premier League teams wouldn’t jump at the chance to take Rooney and Zlatan on loan in January, then I’d call you a liar right to your face.