MLS weekend preview: Sounders meet Galaxy again, Caps and Timbers jostle for playoff spot

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It’s the last weekend of MLS regular season, and the playoff picture is almost complete. All five postseason spots in each conference have been clinched, except for fifth place in the West. The Vancouver Whitecaps will try to save that spot, and the Portland Timbers, only a point behind the Caps, will attempt to surpass Caleb Porter’s side.

Here’s a quick preview of each match.

Chicago Fire vs. Houston Dynamo: Both teams are out of the playoffs, so there are zero postseason implications. But it will definitely be interesting to see how these two teams close out the season. Houston and Chicago both regressed from a year ago, with encouraging play coming from young Fire midfielder Harry Shipp and the Dynamo’s 26-year-old goalkeeper Tyler Deric. It will be Dominic Kinnear’s last game after eight years as Houston’s manager.

Seattle Sounders vs. LA Galaxy: Two of Major League Soccer’s best teams with some of the best attackers in the league will continue their showdown on Saturday. Last week, the Galaxy gained a 2-0 lead at the StubHub Center, but Dempsey and Co. stormed back to salvage a 2-2 draw. The Supporter Shield is at stake, though for unbiased viewers, interest will arise from watching Clint Dempsey combine with Obafemi Martins for Seattle, or the wizardry of Robbie Keane and burgeoning talent of Gyasi Zardes on LA.

Montreal Impact vs. D.C. United: The East’s first-place squad, D.C. United, will face the conference’s last-place team, the Montreal Impact, in what will be Marco Di Vaio’s last competition for the Impact prior to his retirement at the end of the year. United never has any tricks up their sleeve; they just play fundamentally-sound soccer, and they should extend their unbeaten run to six matches.

New England Revolution vs. Toronto FC: A very disheartening season (missing the playoffs) for Toronto took place following their signings of two marquee Designated Players—U.S. international Michael Bradley and former Tottenham Hotspur striker Jermain Defoe. On the other side, the Revolution will make the playoffs for the second-straight year, and the combination of MLS MVP candidate Lee Nguyen and Jermaine Jones, a mid-year acquisition,  have propelled the Revs to second place in the Eastern Conference.

FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers: The Timbers have a lot more at stake in this scenario than the Toros do, as Portland sits in tight contention for the West’s last playoff position. If they grab three points on the road, Vancouver must draw or lose to keep the MLS Cup dream of Porter and Co. alive. Nevertheless, the magnificent performances of Blas Perez and Fabian Castillo have bolstered Dallas’ attack and carried the squad to the playoffs on the heels of a weak 2013 campaign. Diego Valeri has been a key component to the Timbers, and his play will certainly help decide the result.

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Colorado Rapids: Vancouver’s wealth of attacking players hasn’t made the biggest of impacts this season, but the Canadian crew has managed a four-game unbeaten run that has guided it into strong playoff contention. The Rapids, meanwhile, haven’t won since July, and having one of the worst statistical defenses in MLS moved Colorado in the wrong direction. Deshorn Brown, who leads the Rapids in goals with 10 scores, has been the only player to supplement their offensive end.

Columbus Crew vs. Philadelphia Union: The Union beat the reigning champion Sporting Kansas City last week, 2-1, but that victory wasn’t enough to keep them in the race for fifth place in the East. With interim manager Jim Curtin supposedly staying in Philly for the long run, there won’t be any efforts from players to retain his job. Columbus is secure for the playoffs, and has lost only two our of their past eight competitions. For purely the spectacle, let’s hope Federico Higuain buries a well-taken free kick for the Crew.

Chivas USA vs. San Jose Earthquakes: Chivas and San Jose just didn’t have the magic this season, and we’ve come to expect the poor record from the Goats. In 2013, however, the Quakes almost slid into the playoffs. Chris Wondolowski has scored more goals this season, too, but his supporting cast hasn’t contribute much on the attacking side. The same goes for Chivas. Erick Torres is surely a top striker in MLS, but once he stopped putting the ball in the net, he had no secondary support in addition to a dreadful defense.

Sporting Kansas City vs. New York Red Bulls: To cap off the series of MLS contests this weekend, Sporting KC will enjoy home-field advantage when the Red Bulls, coming off a tough 3-1 defeat to the Crew last weekend. All eyes will examine Thierry Henry and Bradley Wright-Phillips, as the dynamic duo is set to face the strongest defense in league anchored by U.S. center back Matt Besler. Dominic Dwyer will look to overshadow the Red Bulls’ stars and snag a win that prevent the Red Bulls from overtaking KC in the standings.

Spanish FA once again opposes La Liga match in U.S.

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For the second consecutive season, La Liga and Relevant Sports have proposed a league match to take place this winter in the U.S.

And once again, the La Liga proposal doesn’t have the support of its national soccer federation.

[READ: La Liga wants to move Villarreal-Atletico Madrid to Miami]

Luis Rubiales, president of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), told reporters on Thursday that it would oppose the match taking place outside of Spain’s borders, keeping a consistent line in the sand on how far globalization can go in soccer.

“It would disrupt the competition,” Rubiales said, via AS. “To play a game in Miami, La Liga needs permission from five bodies that it doesn’t have.”

The five bodies Rubiales referred to are the RFEF, FIFA, CONCACAF, U.S. Soccer and MLS.

Last time around, Relevant Sports and La Liga announced a long-term, lucrative marketing contract to expand the brand’s footprint in the Americas, and soon after, petitioned to move Girona’s home game against Barcelona to Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, the home stadium of Relevant Sports owner Stephen Ross and his Miami Dolphins.

Ultimately, La Liga president Javier Tebas and Relevant Sports were unable to get permission from the RFEF or FIFA to hold the event outside Spain and it went off as expected in Girona. At the time, Spain’s player’s union and fans groups opposed the move. Tebas has filed a lawsuit in Spain to try to force the RFEF to approve their request, but it seems unlikely to be awarded and it surely doesn’t provide any good will between the two parties.

There’s been plenty of talk about bringing league games abroad before, but it has just been talk so far. The Premier League considered adding an extra game to the season to be played all over the world, but never went through with creating plans for matches.

Associations – not leagues, to be clear – have brought things like Super Cups abroad. For example, the RFEF moved the 2018 Spanish Super Cup to Tangiers, Morocco, while the France Football Federation has brought its national Super Cup match to both the U.S. and Montreal, Canada in recent years. However, the argument in favor of bringing those games abroad is they’re basically meaningless. Meanwhile, one result in a league season could – in theory – determine whether a team is relegated or not, especially if the margin is three points or less.

We could see another legal fight on our hands, so watch this space, there’s plenty more to come.

Rodgers excuses Maddison’s behavior after England departure

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Leicester City and England midfielder James Maddison made headlines for the wrong reasons after he was pictured last week watching the England match at the Czech Republic from a casino.

Despite the negative attention from Maddison’s decision to watch the game at that venue, he has the backing of his club manager, Brendan Rodgers.

“The kid went away with the international team and took ill while he was away,” Rodgers said, via the Guardian. “He wanted to stay and hopefully be ready for the second game. But the England medical staff – which I can understand, as he had flu and they didn’t want that to spread to his teammates – decided it’s best for him to leave the camp. So he leaves, gets some tablets with our guys at the club, then he feels better.

“He watched the game at home on his own on the Friday and then goes out at half-time – probably he’ll make better decisions in his life but he went to a casino on his own to sit and watch the second half by a poker table. The suggestions are he left England purposelessly and then goes to a casino but that’s totally not the case at all. But his eyes have been opened now to the wider world in terms of what he did. He knows in hindsight he’s made a mistake.”

Considering all that went on during England’s international break, from the poor performance in Prague to the horrible racism endured in Bulgaria, this is a bit of a silly scandal. To be honest, as long as Maddison is taking care of his body and himself, why does it matter if he was at a casino, or a pub, or anywhere?

However, there’s no denying that the optics look bad. Folks didn’t know that he arrived to England camp with the flu, or a flu-like illness at least, and the England medical staff are right to send him away to make sure no one else gets sick. He may have been feeling better by Friday and wanted to get out of the house. I think we’ve all been there after being sick for a few days.

The most important lesson for Maddison is to learn that his actions, out of context, can be misunderstood. In terms of soccer, after Ross Barkley’s performance for England, Maddison will have to prove in his club form that he should still have a place in the England team for the near future. There’s only two more international dates left before the 2020 Euros, so time is running out for Maddison to make an impact to Southgate.

 

Tierney, Lacazette available for Arsenal

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Arsenal are edging closer to finally having a full-strength squad.

Ahead of Monday’s prime-time matchup with Sheffield United, Arsenal manager Unai Emery confirmed that Kieran Tierney was in line to make his Premier League debut, while Alexandre Lacazette was back in full training and should be in the gameday squad.

“Today is Lacazette’s first training back with us,” Emery said in a press conference on Thursday. “He finished it well and he’s feeling well with his injuries. Tomorrow we will be training again and he will be with us. We will decide.

“The most important thing is that first he is training, then secondly it’s whether he can be with us and it depends how he can feel in the next days training with us, whether his ankle is not giving him any more problems.”

This is a huge boost to Arsenal, which has had to rely on some youngsters and have made some lineup changes to accommodate not having Lacazette on the field. Tierney meanwhile could step into a position where there’s already a decent starter, Sead Kolasinac.

Lacazette’s return also couldn’t have come at a better time. In Premier League action, Arsenal’s high-powered offense has been stymied, scoring just two goals in the last two league games. Meanwhile, against weaker defenses in the UEFA Europa League and the Carabao Cup, Arsenal has bagged a total of 12 goals.

The veteran Frenchman has scored two goals in three appearances so far this season, including a big goal just before halftime in the 2-2 draw with Tottenham. However, he suffered a long-term ankle injury in that match that has kept him on the sidelines for more than a month.

“[Tierney is] ready to play,” Emery later said. Now we have two options in that left-back role with Sead Kolasinac and him. We’re going to play a lot of matches after Monday. We will need every player. It depends how he comes into the first training with us, Sead, after his international matches. We now have two players in that position and we can use one on Monday, it depends how they are, one or the other.”

Tierney, the 22-year-old Scottish left back, has made two appearances for the Arsenal first team since recovering from a double hernia operation over the summer. Signed from Celtic for around $32 million, Tierney adds a skill that Kolasinac has struggled with – expert crosser of the ball into the box, where the likes of Lacazette, Nicolas Pepe, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can score when given a decent chance.

USWNT star Rapinoe, boxer Shields win sportswomen of year

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Soccer star Megan Rapinoe and boxer Claressa Shields have been honored as Sportswomen of the Year by the Women’s Sports Foundation.

They won in the team and individual categories, the awards coming at the foundation’s 40th annual Salute to Women in Sports.

Rapinoe led the U.S. to victory at the World Cup in France and earned the FIFA Player of the Year award. Shields is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and middleweight champion.

Sheila Johnson, part-owner of the Washington Wizards, Capitals and recent WNBA champion Mystics, won the Billie Jean King Leadership Award. Marta Vieira da Silva, star of the Brazilian national soccer team, won the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award.

Rapinoe thanked her teammates Wednesday night and lauded Marta, a six-time FIFA Player of the Year, calling the Brazilian the greatest of all time and an “absolute hero in our sport.”

John Burke, president of the Trek Bicycle company, received the inaugural Champion for Equality Award.