MLS Cup Playoffs Preview: Red Bulls vs. Revolution, Galaxy vs. Sounders in Conference Championship first legs

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The fine folks in the Seattle Sounders social media department said it best: “Here’s where the fun begins.”

Sure, the 2014 Major League Soccer regular season was pretty great and chock full of breakout stars, spectacular goals and lots of even crazier results, but not only is it now playoff time — it’s championship time.

Over the next three weekends, the 2014 MLS Cup Playoffs will whittle its field down from four hopeful competitors, to one champion.

[ RELATED: Ozzie Alonso “progressing on schedule,” could be available vs. Galaxy ]

That process begins Sunday afternoon when the East’s No. 4-seed, the New York Red Bulls, host the East’s No. 2-seed, the New England Revolution, in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Championship at Red Bull Arena (Watch live on NBC and online via Live Extra, 1:30 pm ET). Shortly after the conclusion of the day’s action in the East, the West’s No. 1 and 2 seeds, the LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders, do battle in the first leg of the Western Conference  Championship (5 pm ET) at StubHub Center.

In many ways, it’s the best possible final four teams MLS could have hoped to still be competing the last two weekends of November.

First and foremost, there’s the stars boasted by each and every team — Thierry Henry and Bradley Wright-Phillips; Lee Nguyen and Jermaine Jones; Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane; Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins, to name a few.

[ RELATED: List of 2014 MLS awards finalistsThree biggest MLS awards snubs ] 

source: AP
Thierry Henry, Bradley Wright-Phillips

Among those eight players you’ll find six 2014 All-Stars; the three finalists for the 2014 MLS MVP award — and very unlucky first snub; the league’s first-, third-, fourth-, fifth- and seventh-leading regular-season goalscorers — plus the No. 6 (Gyasi Zardes), who gets left off his own team’s marquee; the regular season’s first-, third-, fourth- and fifth-leading assist providers; one star who’s already announced his retirement at the end of the season and another whose final departure has been widely speculated of late — the two of which could face each other in a send-off showdown at MLS Cup.

Essentially, whichever two teams end up advancing from the conference championship round, this year’s MLS Cup final has the potential to be one of the best ever matchups.

Amazingly, only one of the final four teams has ever lifted and the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy (Galaxy, four-time winners). On the opposite end of MLS Cup joy, the Revs are four-time runners-up, including a staggering trio of shortcomings from 2005 to 2007, while the Red Bulls have lost MLS’s title game once (2008). And then there’s the Sounders — only six years into their MLS history — who have never played an MLS Cup final.

Roll on, the weekend, and take us one step closer to MLS Cup.

Brazilian player Taison banned in Ukraine for response to racism

Photo by Igor Kralj/Pixsell/MB Media/Getty Images

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) Brazilian player Taison has been banned for one game for his reaction to racist abuse in a Ukrainian league game.

The Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder showed his middle finger to Dynamo Kyiv fans who had abused him with monkey chants and kicked the ball into the stands during a game Nov. 10. Taison was shown a red card.

[ MORE: Mou says Spurs can win the PL next season ]

The Ukrainian Football Association ordered Taison to serve a one-game ban plus a suspended two-game ban.

Dynamo has been fined 500,000 hryvnyas ($20,000) and ordered to play one game behind closed doors. Another one-game sanction is suspended.

World players’ union FIFPro says “sanctioning a victim of racial abuse is beyond comprehension and it plays into the hands of those who promote this kind of disgraceful behavior.”

More AP soccer: and

Top Premier League storylines: Week 13

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Yes, Jose Mourinho is back in the Premier League and, sure, both Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manuel Pellegrini are in managerial hot seats, but is there any match more intriguing than Man City and Chelsea squaring off with the knowledge that a bad outcome could see them double digits out of first?

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ] 

Below we take a look at the key storylines to keep an eye on across the PL this weekend.

The Jose Mourinho Era begins against a familiar foe

  • West Ham v. Tottenham Hotspur — Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN

Manuel Pellegrini and Jose Mourinho have matched wits many times, which could help the former in his bid to get ready for a rankled Spurs side to kickstart the Premier League weekend.

Mourinho has only matched up with six managers more than Pellegrini in his career, and boasts a 7W-3D-4L record. Can he quickly get Spurs put together for a visit to a desperate Irons side.

Chelsea, Man City put slim title hopes on the line

  • Manchester City v. Chelsea — Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC

Both Pep Guardiola‘s City and Frank Lampard‘s Chelsea have lost to Liverpool, meaning their chances to directly affect the Reds’ title hopes are limited. Matches like this one are the ones that get the Reds salivating, in fact, knowing that only one team can snare three points.

City enters the day nine points back of first and a point behind Chelsea and Leicester City. The Top Four race sure looks clear cut right now — the chasing pack is eight points behind fourth — but failure to win on Saturday will likely leave either side double-digit points back of first.

Knock off the Red Devils? Wilder things have happened

  • Sheffield United v. Manchester United — Sunday, 11:30 p.m. ET, on NBCSN

Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder has the newly-promoted side in fifth place on the table, one point better than his celebrated visitors. The Blades will sit no worse than five points back of the Top Four if they can beat Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s Red Devils, adding another big name to a season of results which already includes a defeat of Arsenal and draws against Chelsea and Spurs. United is still without Paul Pogba and now will also miss Scott McTominay. Another upset brewing?

Reds hope to get back to business as usual in title fight

  • Crystal Palace v. Liverpool — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

A week removed from a glitzy show against Man City, Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds now visit a Palace side who is probably getting sick of facing the Premier League’s best. Roy Hodgson‘s table rise has been stunted by a four-match winless run that includes 2-0 losses to Man City, Leicester City, and Chelsea to go with a 2-2 draw against Arsenal.

A Liverpool win will boost it clearer of Man City and/or Chelsea, as the Reds seek a double-digit lead on the field (Second-place Leicester City is away to Brighton and Hove Albion).

Arsenal looks to right wobbly league ship versus slumping Saints

  • Arsenal v. Southampton — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSN

Unai Emery‘s Gunners may be doing fine in the Europa League, but they’ve taken just two points from 12 since an Oct. 6 defeat of Bourrnemouth at the Emirates Stadium. Saints only win since mid-September in any competition is a 4-0 demolition of rivals Portsmouth. If Arsenal cannot get right here, well…

The 2 Robbies break down Tottenham’s big switch from Poch to Mou

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Maybe you saw the firing of Mauricio Pochettino coming, and maybe you even though Jose Mourinho could be in the running to take his place, but the whole thing happening in rapid fire fashion calls for something different.

Call it an emergency podcast for The 2 Robbies.

[ MORE: Ederson back in training ]

Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle respond to the shocking and divisive news coming from North London earlier this week.

Tottenham Hotspur sacked Pochettino and quickly replaced him with The Special One. This episode also includes some of Jose’s first words as the new Spurs Head Coach.

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Pochettino leaves emotional whiteboard message to Spurs

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Mauricio Pochettino and his backroom staff have left Tottenham Hotspur, but not without fond words for the North London set.

Pochettino’s backroom staff was also dismissed, with assistant Jesus Perez and coaches Miguel D’Agostino and Antoni Jimenez leaving to make room for Jose Mourinho’s crew.

[ MORE: Mou says Spurs can win the PL next season ]

And Perez wanted to make sure that the world knew the final words Pochettino left for his players, something that has Tottenham supporters even more emotional.

It also surely plays as a political piece which will increase the villain status of Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, who’s been under fire for not helping Pochettino by selling players who did not want to be in North London.

Even Mourinho heaped praise on his predecessor.

“Mauricio, for the work he did, this club will be always his home,” Mourinho said. “He can come when he wants. When he misses the players, when he misses the people he work with. The door is always open for him. He will find happiness again. He will find a great club again. He will have a great future.”

Get your tissues, Spurs fans.