MLS preview: NYCFC vs. Red Bulls, Timbers vs. Sounders highlight Rivalry Week

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Week 17 of the 2015 Major League Soccer season is upon, and it’s (Again? Already?) Rivalry Week. That means local rivalry after local rivalry on your TV, computer, tablet and/or smartphone all weekend long.

Predictions record through Week 16: 26-33

So, if you’re to watch just four MLS games this weekend — who am I to tell you to watch only four games? — might I suggest the following four:

New York City FC vs. New York Red Bulls (Sunday, 4:30 pm ET, ESPN)

Not even a month ago, this game would have been a joke to include among this week’s “Rivalry Week” matchups (not least because it’s still not a real rivalry, one game in and all). Then, NYCFC decided it was time to do a little winning (three in a row), while the Red Bulls thought to themselves, “That good start to the season we had? Eh, screw it, let’s throw it away.” (Four straight losses before winning mid-week)

Now, they’re separated by just three points while trending in completely opposite directions. NYCFC’s David Villa has tallied three goals and an assist in his last two games, while RBNY’s Bradley Wright-Phillips had two penalties saved just last weekend. With well over 40,000 expected at Yankee Stadium, Sunday’s second installment of the #NYSoccerWarz is bound to entertain, at the very least.

Prediction: NYCFC 2-2 Red Bulls

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders (Sunday, 7 pm ET, Fox Sports 1)

Speaking of teams trending in opposite directions, we’ve also got the Timbers (four straight wins before losing mid-week) and the Sounders (two straight losses after winning three of four) facing off Sunday night.

There will be no Clint Dempsey (suspension), Obafemi Martins (groin) or Osvaldo Alonso (hamstring) for the Sounders. Gonzalo Pineda might also be unavailable (knee). Without their midfield and forward quartet, Sigi Schmid’s side struggled mightily against the San Jose Earthquakes and suffered a rare home defeat. Now they travel 175 miles down I-5 and enter MLS’s most daunting in-stadium atmosphere to face a suddenly-healthy Timbers team. I’ll cut them some slack for Wednesday’s shellacking because, well, it was the Galaxy.

Prediction: Timbers 3-2 Sounders

[ MORE: Atlanta’s MLS team will, unfortunately, be called Atlanta United FC ]

New England Revolution vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (Saturday, 7:30 pm ET, MLS Live)

We saw once again last week that the Revolution have trouble controlling and killing off games without Jermaine Jones in the heart of their midfield. We also learned that Jay Heaps still has no desire to dial back his side’s overall tempo and attacking instinct. Coming up against the Whitecaps this weekend, we’re all in store for a treat, because the Whitecaps are still the best counter-attacking team in the league and the Revs, in their current state, provide so many counter-attacking chances.

One promise for this game: goals. Plenty of goals. Who doesn’t love goals?

Prediction: Revs 1-2 Whitecaps

[ MORE: Dempsey given additional suspension for USOC, and it’s a big one ]

Toronto FC vs. D.C. United (Saturday, 5 pm ET, MLS Live)

These two played just three weeks ago, and TFC grabbed a shocking (to some) road victory over the leaders in the Supporters’ Shield race. Fast forward three weeks, and finally we’ve got a matchup with two teams playing equally well at the moment about which to get excited.

Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore combined for five goals scored and assisted on (all three goals scored) in Wednesday’s victory over the Montreal Impact. They’ve found in just three months the kind of chemistry and continuity that usually takes teams years to create. This is the last game for the latter two before departing for the Gold Cup, so keeping that momentum rolling 90 minutes more is vitally important for the Reds.

Prediction: TFC 2-1 DCU

UCL final preview: Real Madrid v. Liverpool

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  • Real Madrid aiming to win a third-straight UCL trophy
  • Liverpool hope to win sixth Champions League trophy
  • Real win would extend their record of most European titles to 13
  • Klopp has lost all five major finals as a manager

Real Madrid and Liverpool square off in Kiev, Ukraine on Saturday in the final of the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: UCL final projected XI’s ]

Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Mohamed Salah. Spain vs. England. Zinedine Zidane vs. Jurgen Klopp.

It promises to be an open, entertaining game with attacking stars littered throughout both teams, but we all know how often finals fail to deliver goals and excitement with so much on the line.

[ MORE: Klopp praises Real Madrid

In team news Real have a fully fit squad as Gareth Bale has returned from injury and has been among the goals with four in his last three appearances. Liverpool are without Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but the likes of James Milner and Adam Lallana are fit to feature for the Reds.


What they’re saying

Jurgen Klopp on preparing for the final: “Nothing special in this week. We only have an agreement that I am responsible for the defeats, so they have nothing to lose. I think most of the players will be a bit nervous before the game, that is normal but in the game shoot, strike, cross, make headers, bicycle kicks if you want. Do all the things you want in a football game because it is only a football game, a big one for sure, but only a football game.”

Zinedine Zidane on the threat of Liverpool: “It may be the toughest final we’ve had. We’ll certainly not be thinking that Liverpool is weaker than other teams, because they’re not. They’ve earned their right to be in the final thanks to their performances. They’ve played well and knocked out top teams. It’s been a while since they reached their last final, but it’s a club with great history and knows how to play in these matches. We’ll have to be at our best on every level, not just physically. They’re an English team, so will never give up. But they not only rely on their physical attributes, but they are also good technically, with lots of speed and great players.”


Prediction

This promises to be an absolutely stunning game with so many wonderful attacking talents on the pitch at the same time. Liverpool are the slight underdogs and Real Madrid have plenty of experience after winning back-to-back UCL trophies, but you get the sense of an upset in the air. That said, I think it’s going to be another success for Ronaldo and Co. 3-2 to Real Madrid.

Germany’s ‘golden generation’ primed for World Cup defense

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BERLIN (AP) Germany coach Joachim Loew is brimming with confidence just over three weeks before what he calls the country’s “golden generation” begins its World Cup defense against Mexico.

“I have a very good feeling,” Loew said at the team’s training camp in South Tyrol, Italy. “I don’t know what will happen with this golden generation after the tournament. It’s possible there will be a break-up. But all the players are on fire for the World Cup.”

Germany is one of the favorites in Russia despite the retirements of Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Miroslav Klose since winning the tournament in Brazil four years ago.

Players like Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira, Mats Hummels and Thomas Mueller have grown into leading figures with the side, which wrapped up qualification with 10 wins from 10 games and 43 goals, a record number of goals for a European team in qualifying.

Now they are charged with attempting to make Germany the first team to retain the title since Brazil in 1962.

“I don’t have to coax new craving or new enthusiasm from the players,” Loew said in comments reported by news agency dpa. “The craving and ambition are still there, even among those who became world champions.”

Germany’s only worries concern the fitness of captain Manuel Neuer, defender Jerome Boateng and midfielder Mesut Ozil. Neuer hasn’t played since September with a hairline fracture in his left foot after being injured in training. Boateng is still recovering from a thigh injury sustained in the Champions League semifinals. Ozil missed Arsenal’s last few games of the season with back problems.

Team doctor Hans-Wilhelm Mueller-Wohlfahrt gave Ozil the green light to start training with the team and he was to decide Friday if Boateng should stay in Munich for further treatment or join the squad.

“We don’t want to make any mistakes,” Loew said of Boateng. “I think he’ll be able to at least take part in some team training next week.”

Neuer, too, is being given every chance to prove his fitness. Loew named four goalkeepers in his 27-man preliminary squad and is hoping that the 32-year-old Neuer won’t be the one sent home before FIFA’s June 4 deadline for final squads to be submitted.

“He can tolerate all the strains, even the most strenuous strains like jumping,” Loew said. “If he has the feeling he can perform at 100 percent he can be at the World Cup.”

Barcelona’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen will keep the No. 1 spot if Neuer doesn’t recover fully.

Ter Stegen was to join the rest of the squad on Friday, along with Bayern’s Hummels, Mueller, Joshua Kimmich and Niklas Suele, as well as Chelsea defender Antonio Ruediger.

“It’s clear to everyone that the training camp is to get the required strength and power for the tournament. The fuel has to be there,” said Loew, who also hopes it boosts team spirit. “Everyone has to know that he is just a puzzle piece for success. Nobody can be world champion on their own.”

Loew recently signed a contract extension through the next World Cup in Qatar in 2022. The 58-year-old former assistant coach took over after the 2006 World Cup and has led Germany to the semifinal stage or further in every major tournament since.

Germany has two warmup matches, against Austria in Klagenfurt on June 2 and Saudi Arabia six days later in Leverkusen, to iron out any pre-tournament issues.

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Klopp hails Real Madrid; plots upset in UCL final

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Jurgen Klopp has placed all of the pressure on Real Madrid ahead of the UEFA Champions League final in Kiev, Ukraine on Saturday.

[ MORE: UCL final projected XI’s ]

The Liverpool manager spoke to the media on Friday ahead of the showpiece final and revealed his admiration for Zinedine Zidane and his superstars, with Real hoping to win a third-straight UCL trophy and a record 13th European title.

Liverpool (five-time winners themselves) are the slight underdogs but the way Klopp was talking suggested this final was a proper David vs. Goliath battle.

It seems as though the pressure is off his players, as Klopp (who has lost all five of his major finals as a manager) believes the experience of Real is key but still thinks his players are quite capable of causing an upset.

“Experience is very important. I am pretty sure in the second before the game Real Madrid will be more confident than we are but the game doesn’t end in that second, it only starts. When you see Real Madrid play you say ‘wow they are really strong’ but they never played us,” Klopp said. “But we are here because we are Liverpool. We are not only a really good football team. This club has it in its DNA that it can really go for the big things.

“Nobody expected us to be here, but we are here. Because we are Liverpool. Because we have the games we had in the Champions League, the most exceptional run to the final, the most goals, I cannot believe that it is true… but it’s us. We scored the most goals, we had exceptional results away and at home, all of that stuff. The experience they have is a big advantage. 100 percent. To feel confident, or whatever, but in the game experience doesn’t help all the time.”

Wow. Okay.

Klopp is clearly trying to take the pressure off his players and the fact that he also lavished praise on Zidane ahead of the final shows how much respect Liverpool have for the team who have won the most European titles in history.

But are the Reds going too far here? Klopp added the following as he continued with the underdog theme.

“We have to make it as difficult as possible for them. That’s the plan of course,” Klopp said. “We cannot try to fight on their level but tactics in football are there to bring a better opponent on your level. When they are on your level you can beat them. That’s hard to do, but I think it’s worth a try.”

This just seems like Liverpool are giving Real a little too much respect ahead of the game. After all, no team has scored more goals than Liverpool in the UCL this season plus they have the hottest player in the world in Mohamed Salah on their side.

It’s tough to question Klopp given what he has achieved in the UCL this season but he does seem to have gone a little over the top here as he portrayed his Liverpool side as massive underdogs in the final.

List of most valuable European clubs released

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Auditors KPMG released its ranking of the most valuable clubs in Europe over the past year and the Premier League once again dominated with six teams in the top 10 and Manchester United leading the way ahead of Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Overall, the key stats to emerge from KPMG’s study is that there’s an aggregate growth of 14 percent among the top 32 clubs in Europe. While the English clubs in the top 32 list account for a staggering 42 percent of the total value, while Lyon, Sevilla and Tottenham are the big climbers in the list.

The top 14 clubs remain in the same positions as last season, but there is plenty of movement after that.

Manchester City are fourth, while Arsenal are in fifth, Chelsea in sixth, Liverpool in seventh and Tottenham stay in the top 10 as their progression on and off the pitch continues.

Leicester City are in 15th, West Ham United are newcomers to the list with the Hammers in 16th as their move to the London Stadium has increased their value substantially, while Everton are in 19th as nine of the most valuable 19 clubs in Europe are from the PL.

Below is a look at the top 32 via KPMG, while you can read the report in full here.