Five reasons you should watch five MLS games tonight

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Soccer — you just can’t get enough of it, can you?

As the 2015 calendar years wears on and winds down, so too does the 2015 Major League Soccer season. The regular season — which feels like it began just last week, by the way — is very much into its final stretch, as some teams have played as many as 25 games (though, not all teams), meaning the countdown to playoffs is either in or nearing single digits.

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With that in mind, each and every game the rest of the way carries an added tinge of importance. With five MLS games slated for Saturday, Aug. 15 (fire up those MLS Live accounts), here’s five reasons to watch all of them:

New York Red Bulls vs. Toronto FC (7 pm ET, MLS Live)

It would be cheating if I said, “Sebastian Giovinco — enough said,” right here, wouldn’t it? Probably, but this is my workspace, so I can do that. Seriously, watch this guy. He’s scored 16 goals (you can watch them all, right here, in 60 seconds flat) and tallied 11 assists in his first 22 MLS games. The Red Bulls’ defense has given up the third-fewest goals in MLS this season (25), so this will be a tough test for the Atomic Ant. Do yourself a favor: watch this game and find out what all the Giovinco hype is about.

New England Revolution vs. Houston Dynamo (7:30 pm ET, MLS Live)

OK, admittedly pinpointing one particular reason to watch this game is significantly more difficult than what we encountered above. So here’s what we’ll go with: major playoff position jockeying in both conferences. The Revs, currently fifth in the East on 31 points, are just five points behind the second-place Red Bulls. The Dynamo, currently seventh in the West on 31 points, are a single point behind the Portland Timbers for the other conference’s sixth and final playoff place. Huge three points on the line. Huge.

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Sporting Kansas City vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (9 pm ET, MLS Live)

On Friday I wrote the following in my weekly MLS preview:

Quick: name a team in MLS with a higher points per game average than Sporting KC (1.76) or the Whitecaps (1.75). That’s a trick question, because there isn’t one.

That’s a nice place to start. If PPG were extrapolated to complete a full 34-game season, these would be the first- and second-place finishers in the whole entire league. Throw in the fact that the Whitecaps are an historically lethal counter-attacking team, alongside the MVP candidate form of Benny Feilhaber (eight goals, 12 assists in 21 games), and I’m feeling extra lucky to be at Sporting Park tonight.

FC Dallas vs. LA Galaxy (9 pm ET, MLS Live)

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Gyasi Zardes, LA Galaxy

Yet again I could take the easy way out right here by saying, “all of the Galaxy’s stars,” but that would be 1) lazy, and 2) horrifically not pun-ny of me. Besides, we’re all extremely familiar with Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard and Giovani dos Santos. Instead, how about two teams leading MLS in terms of the “youth movement,” and having massive success while doing so? Playing alongside the above headliners are American stars (in the making) Gyasi Zardes (23) and Sebastian Lletget (22) for the Galaxy, and Fabian Castillo (23), Mauro Diaz (24), Tesho Akindele (23), Matt Hedges (25), Kellyn Acosta (20), Victor Ulloa (23) and Moises Hernandez (23) — all of whom are every-game starters — for FCD. The future of MLS is bright, and that only has so much to do with the guys making 5, 6 and $7 million a year.

[ MORE: NYCFC 3-1 DCU to kick off the weekend | PHI 1-0 CHI (USOC) | SKC 3-1 RSL (USOC) ]

Real Salt Lake vs. Portland Timbers (10 pm ET, MLS Live)

Before the season began, I predicted the near-unthinkable: RSL would not qualify for the playoffs in 2015. Through 24 games, that prediction is looking pretty good (Jeff Cassar’s side trail the Seattle Sounders, sixth place in the West, by three points). Considering Saturday’s opponent is one the teams they’re currently chasing for a playoff place, and the fact it’s very nearly “their season is on the line” time, this is a massive game for a struggling (two wins in their last eight league games) and exhausted (fifth of five games, in 15 days, in three different countries — 1W-0D-3L thus far) Claret and Cobalt bunch.

LIVE — MLS Cup Playoffs begin; Atlanta, Seattle at home

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Reigning champs Atlanta United kick off a four-match docket as the MLS Cup Playoffs begin Saturday around North America.

[ FOLLOW: MLS Cup Playoffs live, box scores, stats ]

Pity Martinez starts on the bench for the Five Stripes, who are without injured USMNT back Miles Robinson.

Two other recent cup champions, Toronto and Seattle, are home later in the day, while Utah is the scene for the final match of the night.

Schedule

Atlanta United v. New England Revolution — 1 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders v. FC Dallas — 3:30 p.m. ET
Toronto FC v. DC United — 6 p.m. ET
Real Salt Lake v. Portland Timbers — 10 p.m. ET

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Bournemouth and Norwich in stalemate

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Bournemouth and Norwich City played out a tense 0-0 draw at the Vitality Stadium on Saturday, as the Canaries dug deep for a point on the road as they secured their first clean sheet.

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The Cherries and Canaries both had decent chances in the game but neither were clinical and both Aaron Ramsdale and Tim Krul had some decent outings in goal.

Bournemouth sit in ninth on 12 points, while Norwich are 19th on seven points.


3 things we learned

1. Teemu Pukki is struggling for support: He scored twice for Finland over the international break, but he hasn’t scored for Norwich since that big win agains Man City on Sept. 14. Pukki didn’t get much support and Norwich have scored just once in their last four PL games.

2. Norwich much happier with the point: Daniel Farke has been plagued with injuries all season long, especially defensively, so he will be delighted his side kept a clean sheet on the road against a very dangerous Bournemouth side. At times Norwich rode their luck, but they looked solid enough and Todd Cantwell kept things ticking over in midfield. Tim Krul stood tall too, as the Canaries head home happy.

3. Bournemouth improving defensively: Every could has a silver lining, and for Eddie Howe that will be another decent day defensively for the Cherries. Going forward they disappointed but at the back they’ve only conceded five times in their last five PL outings. That is very good for Bournemouth. Ake and Cook have a strong partnership and Ramsdale is finding his feet. Yes, Bournemouth will have hoped to score three or four against this Norwich defense, but at least they’ve improved at the back.

Man of the Match: Tim Krul – Tough to pick a player of the game but Krul was solid when called upon and organized this banged up Norwich defense well. Used all of his experience.


Bournemouth pressed Norwich back early on and Tim Krul then denied Dominic Solanke.

Norwich had a half chance as Teemu Pukki delayed his effort and Steve Cook cleared, with neither side taking the game by the scruff of the neck.

In a tight, tense game both cancelled one another out in an uneventful first half.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

At the start of the second half Norwich lost yet another defensive player to injury as Ben Godfrey, just back from a hernia operation, was replaced by Tom Trybull.

Pukki’s shot was deflected by Cook as it looped up close to the goal, while at the other end Bournemouth went close as Wilson and Adam Smith combined but the ball was just off target.

Both teams tried to push for the win late on but held back a little as Norwich in particular were happy with the shutout and point on the road given all of their defensive issues.

Grealish leads Villa past 10-man Brighton

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Jack Grealish‘s star turn helped Aston Villa take advantage of 10-man Brighton and Hove Albion in a 2-1 comeback win at Villa Park on Saturday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Adam Webster‘s early goal gave Brighton a lead but Aaron Mooy‘s twin first half yellow cards put them under the knife.

Aston Villa moves 11th with 11 points. Brighton’s nine points seat them 16th.


Three things we learned

1. Touchy red helps undo Brighton: Aaron Mooy’s first yellow card was silly, so he know there was a need to play careful the rest of the way. He didn’t, and a soft yellow doomed the Seagulls to more than a half without the full complement of players.

2. Villa finally catching breaks: Dean Smith‘s men have had their fair share of bad luck come from good performances, so it was nice for them to follow up a blowout defeat of Norwich City with a little nudge from the Seagulls. Matty Targett’s winner came after plenty of time playing 11v10, and Villa’s standing of 11th now reflects its performances.

3. Grealish a monster: A sliding finish to make it 1-0 and clever feed to Targett for the winner. The Peaky Blinders’ haired man turned in a performance worthy of a BAFTA, with five dribbles and plenty of good moments in keeping possession moving for the victors.

Man of the Match:


[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Brighton was knocking on the door early, but you’d be forgiven if you failed to predict the man to break it down.

Promising center back Webster’s stock continues to rise as he did to nod Pascal Gross‘ free kick into the goal.

A silly first yellow card for Mooy’s blocking of a free kick became egregious when he was shown another for knocking down Grealish, who would then score a sliding goal — they all count — to bring Villa level before halftime.

Solly March saw a shot through traffic go wide in the 51st as the Seagulls worked to overcome their disadvantage.

But Villa got the win through Targett at the death, a deserved-enough win although Brighton will feel hard done by.

Wolves grab draw against stubborn Saints

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Wolverhampton Wanderers and Southampton battled to a 1-1 draw at Molineux on Saturday, as Danny Ings‘ goal was canceled out by a Raul Jimenez penalty kick.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

After Jimenez had two goals correctly ruled out for offside in the first half, Saints took the lead as Ings made the most of a defensive mistake. However, VAR then confirmed a penalty to Wolves and Jimenez scored amid controversy to grab them a point.

Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side have 11 points, while Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s Southampton have eight and they’ll be happier with a point than Wolves.


3 things we learned

1. VAR drama gets two correct, one wrong: Jimenez’s two goals in the first half were correctly ruled out by VAR, but a big call in the second half went in Wolves’ favor. The referee awarded a penalty kick when Matt Doherty went down in the box but it looked harsh as Yoshida and Hojbjerg did their best to stay out of the way of the stumbling right wing back. It was harsh on Saints and VAR should have overturned the decision.

2. Ings in fine form for Saints: Danny Ings is perfect for this system under Hasenhuttl. He has now scored goals against Spurs, Liverpool and Wolves by pouncing on defensive errors and Saints’ high-pressing game now had someone who can deliver an end product. Yes, Saints and Ings won’t be happy with not holding on to win this game, but Ings has five goals in his last four games and six for the season. If Ings stays fit, he will keep Southampton in the Premier League.

3. One step forward, two back for Wolves: After beating Watford and Man City back-to-back ahead of the break, Wolves finally got their first wins on the board this season. But they huffed and puffed against Saints and were a little lucky to nick a point. Just like last season, they play better against the big boys and struggled to break down more defensive-minded teams at the bottom of the table. That has to change if Wolves are going to challenge for European qualification once again.

Man of the Match: Raul Jimenez – He got his goal from the penalty spot, had two others disallowed and his constant clever movement, dropping deep and holding the ball up caused Saints many issues. Mexico’s striker ended his mini-drought and played superbly well.


It was all Wolves early as Joao Moutinho fired just over and Saints couldn’t get going as an attacking force.

Raul Jimenez thought he had given Wolves the lead but he handled the ball when controlling and then scored, but VAR was then used as he was handed a yellow card.

Wolves’ Ryan Bennett had to come off injured and Jesus Vallejo replaced him, as Nuno Espirito Santo was forced to reshuffle his defense.

Saints improved as the first half wore on with Danny Ings and Nathan Redmond causing Wolves problems, as the former was played in by the latter but Conor Coady blocked.

Wolves thought they had taken the lead once again just before the break as Jimenez scored after Cutrone’s flicked effort goalwards was pushed away by Angus Gunn. Despite Wolves’ celebrations, VAR again denied the goal in what was the correct decision.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

At the start of the second half Saints had a great chance to take the lead as Vallejo gave the ball away and Ings was through on goal but his low shot was tame and Rui Patricio saved.

Ings did then put Southampton ahead, as the in-form striker finished well after Vallejo and Coady got themselves in a mess and Saints made the most of it.

But Saints’ lead didn’t last long, as Wolves were awarded a penalty kick as Doherty went down after a tangle with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. After VAR was used, the penalty was given and Jimenez scored to make it 1-1, but Southampton were far from happy with the decision.

James Ward-Prowse saw a free kick saved well and neither team pushed too hard for the win late on as a draw was probably a fair result.