MLS preview: Whitecaps vs. FC Dallas, RSL vs. Sounders headline Week 25

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Week 25 of the 2015 Major League Soccer season is upon us, and — oh, would you look at that — it’s officially (I decided) time to sound the “Playoffs Are Coming” alarm and watch every game the rest of the way with one eye completely fixated on those league standings.

Even FC Edmonton goalkeeper Matt Van Oekel (at right, frightening Kekuta Manneh) is feeling super pumped.

Predictions record through Week 24: 35-47

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

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. FC Dallas (Saturday, 10 pm ET, MLS Live)

Oh, baby. First things first, get used to seeing this matchup featured here pretty regularly as the 2015 regular season winds down, because the Whitecaps and FCD will do battle three times over the next nine weeks. Current Western Conference standings: ‘Caps – 2nd, 42 points; FCD – 5th, 38 points (with two games in hand).

With so many games remaining against one another, it’s probably safe to say one of these sides — if not both — will end up in the five-versus-six, knockout-round game the first week of the playoffs. Once you realize who lies ahead in that conference semifinals home-and-away tie three days later — LA, Sporting KC, or maybe even Seattle (more on them in a second) — this game, and the two more between these two teams become more and more and more and more and more important.

Prediction: Whitecaps 2-2

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

Real Salt Lake vs. Seattle Sounders (Saturday, 10 pm ET, MLS Live)

This is it for RSL. This is their entire season. Have a look at the league standings. That’s RSL in ninth place in the Western Conference, six points adrift of the team currently occupying sixth place, the Sounders. Now look at the other five teams currently in the top six — LA, Vancouver, Sporting KC, Portland and Dallas. Which of those are RSL supposed to catch? Let’s be real for a second: the answer is none of them.

With Obafemi Martins back in the fold for the Sounders — and to devastating effect already — and Clint Dempsey not far behind him, the Sounders will rise. Three points for the Sounders at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday, and RSL are nine points out of a playoff place. MLS is crazy, yes, but it ain’t that crazy.

Prediction: RSL 2-1

[ MORE: Week 24 MLS Team of the Week | POTW | CONCACAF Champions League recap ]

Toronto FC vs. Orlando City SC (Saturday, 4 pm ET, MLS Live)

Remember when TFC were rounding into tip-top form and threatening to take the Eastern Conference by storm with a massive slate of home games remaining a mere two months ago? Have just two wins in nine league games to take a little wind out of your sail. Remember when Orlando City were safely occupying a playoff place and trending upward as the summer began? One win in their last eight league games.

Two teams falling quickly doesn’t exactly make for the most exciting matchup on paper, but in reality it breeds desperation as the playoffs are now barely two months away. Much of OCSC’s early work has been undone and the Lions are in danger of missing out on the playoffs. Meanwhile, TFC’s idea of a trophy in 2015 is currently looking more and more like simply clinching their first-ever playoff berth rather than those shiny silver things they hand out to winners.

Prediction: TFC 2-0 OCSC

Dest: Best decision was stay with US and not switch to Dutch

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DAVENPORT, Fla. (AP) Sergino Dest’s decision to stay with the U.S. national team rather than switch to the Netherlands got a mixed reaction from his Ajax teammates.

“Some of them, they didn’t like it,” Dest said. “Some of them, they said just: `Congratulations: You followed your heart. So that’s always good.”

An 18-year-old outside back who has become an Ajax regular this season, Dest made his U.S. national team debut in September and played exhibitions against Mexico and Uruguay. He skipped last month’s CONCACAF Nations League matches against Cuba and Canada in order to keep his options open, then announced Oct. 28 he was committing to the U.S. program long-term.

“It’s a hard decision, of course, because you are for both of them,” Dest said Wednesday, two days before he likely will make his senior national team competitive debut. “I just made my own decision. It’s my life. If it’s not working out well. I’m the one who is dealing with the trouble.”

Dest has a Surinamese-American father and Dutch mother. He came up through the U.S. youth national team programs, playing for the Americans at the 2017 Under-17 World Cup and the 2019 Under-20 World Cup.

The Dutch national team, winner of the 1988 European Championship and a three-time World Cup finalist, tried to persuade Dest to ask FIFA for a switch of affiliation. Dest’s American youth team background was stressed by U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter and U.S. Soccer Federation sporting director Earnie Stewart when they had lunch with Dest and his father, Ken, on Oct. 24, the day after Dest and Ajax played Chelsea and American star Christian Pulisic in the Champions League.

Dest announced his decision on Oct. 28 and will be cap-tied once he appears in a competitive match.

“He is part of our future and we’re going to make sure that he develops himself to a player that will perform in ’22 and ’26,” Stewart said Tuesday. “What happened in his youth national team career helped the conversations with Sergimo, with his father, with his management in securing him for our U.S. national team, which is great for the program.”

Dest’s decision came 21 months after Monterrey midfielder Jonathan Gonzalez, now 20, switched to Mexico after coming up through the American youth national team program.

LA Galaxy midfielder Efrai­n Ãlvarez, also eligible for the U.S. and Mexico, has made four starts and once substitute appearance for El Tri as it advanced to a Thursday semifinal against the Dutch at the Under-17 World Cup.

Dest said his time with the U.S. program “might be the biggest influence” in his choice.

“I think I made the right decision,” Dest added. “Now I have to make sure that I made a good one and show what I’ve got.”

Stewart, now 50, grew up in the Netherlands with a Dutch mother and a father who was in the U.S. Air Force. He, too, played for a Dutch club and joined the U.S. national team, and played in three World Cups while scoring 17 goals in 101 international appearances from 1990-2004.

“It was very, very similar,” Stewart said, comparing their histories. “His father played an important role, very proud American, ex-military veteran that’s in Europe right now. Very proud that his son is going to play for the U.S. national team as my father was for me.”

Stewart’s experience resonated with Dest.

“It’s always good to hear from people that are also Dutch-American, and they also have a story in the U.S.,” Dest said. “My decision that I made, I listened to everybody’s advice, but it’s just a decision I’m making.”

Dest said his father was pleased, as was his mom.

“I think if I go play for the Netherlands, he would also be happy. He’s just happy when I’m happy. He’s a dad,” Dest said. “They’re just like, `OK, if you want to make that decision then, it’s your life. You have to make your own decisions.”

The U.S., rebuilding after its failure to reach last year’s World Cup, hosts Canada on Friday night at Orlando in another Nations League match, then finishes group play against Cuba at George Town, Cayman Islands. To advance to the semifinals, the Americans must win both games and overcome a goal difference of four against Canada.

In a game Dest skipped last month, the U.S. lost 2-0 at Toronto.

“That’s not going to happen the next game on Friday,” Dest said. “We’re not going to lose.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Chelsea Ladies sign NWSL superstar Sam Kerr

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Sam Kerr is heading to London.

The Australian megastar is leaving the Chicago Red Stars for Chelsea after scoring two MVP awards in the National Women’s Soccer League (2017, 2019).

[ MORE: NYCFC teen off to Gladbach ]

Kerr, 26, has 38 goals in 83 caps for the Lady Matildas, scoring four times in one World Cup match against Jamaica last summer.

Her 69 goals are the most in an NWSL career, and she admits it was a challenge to leave her comfort zone and head to Europe.

“Probably the part that was most difficult was leaving friends and the US because I’ve created such a home there, but it was just time for me to make a change. And once I had my eyes set on Europe, it was kind of an easy decision to choose Chelsea as a club.”

It’s a huge signing for Chelsea, who is leading the table through five matches with an unbeaten 4W-1D record. She’ll join the team in January.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic says goodbye to the LA Galaxy

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic has bid adieu to Major League Soccer, thanking the LA Galaxy for “making me feel alive again.”

The Swedish superstar averaged nearly a goal per game with the Galaxy, and was rumored to be in line for another two years at the club.

[ MORE: Columbus acquires Nagbe ]

Perhaps those reports, and maybe AC Milan’s struggles to score goals, have made more suitors come forward. Time will tell.

The Galaxy said the decision was a “mutual parting of ways” and thanked the player for his work both on and off the pitch.

From LAGalaxy.com:

“We would like to thank Zlatan for his contributions to the LA Galaxy and Major League Soccer,” said LA Galaxy President Chris Klein. “Since his arrival in 2018, Zlatan has positively influenced the sport of soccer in Los Angeles. We are grateful for his work ethic and passion. We thank Zlatan for his professionalism and immeasurable impact on the Los Angeles community and the soccer community in North America as a whole.”

Zlatan’s full thoughts, below, were a bit more Zlatanny.

Klein will have his hands full in replacing Ibrahimovic, who scored 52 times in 53 matches, but the Galaxy have always managed to bring in big names.

Getting a star playmaker is even more important as El Trafico rivals LAFC have rewritten the MLS record book and snared plenty of attention in California and across the league.

Columbus acquires Nagbe from Atlanta for $1M in allocation

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Darlington Nagbe is headed for a reunion with old boss Caleb Porter.

Columbus has sent over $1 million in allocation money to Atlanta United in order to claim the influential midfielder.

[ MORE: Top 25 players in USMNT pool ]

Porter coached Nagbe at the University of Akron and the Portland Timbers, and has 25 USMNT caps but has turned down Gregg Berhalter’s requests for service.

Nagbe made 46 appearances across all competitions for the Five Stripes this season, scoring twice with five assists. He has 313 matches played between Portland and Atlanta.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“Darlington Nagbe is a proven winner and the type of player who can be a difference-maker in our team,” Crew SC president and GM Tim Bezbatchenko said in a statement. “In addition to his skill set, we believe that Darlington is someone whose character and values fit well within our organization. As we stated heading into this offseason, we continue to look both domestically and internationally for players that will make our team better, and we believe Darlington is an important part of those efforts.”

It’s a bold statement from Columbus, who had a reputation for getting the most of its talent under Berhalter but faded under Porter after a hot start. The Crew began 2019 with a 4-1-1 record but lost 13 of its next 15 matches.

Of course, being MLS, the Crew then only lost 2 of their final 13 matches. Shoulder shrug emoji.