MLS preview: Earthquakes vs. Galaxy, Sounders vs. Timbers headline Rivalry Week

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Buckle your seat belts, everybody, it’s time once again for Rivalry Week in Major League Soccer. (Yes, branding “rivalry week” is still somewhat annoying, but do you remember how great the actual games were last time around? We’ll all take that 10 times out of 10.)

Predictions record through Week 25: 37-48

There’s an added bonus this time around, too: so much jockeying for playoff position.

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 three:

San Jose Earthquakes vs. LA Galaxy (Friday, 11 pm ET, UniMas)

Clear-cut favorites to win the Supporters’ Shield as well as the hottest team in the league right now (Galaxy — four straight wins), versus the other hottest team in the league currently blitzing the Western Conference’s six playoff teams at present (Earthquakes — three straight wins).

Everything is clicking for the Galaxy after the additions of Steven Gerrard and Giovani dos Santos, though the ‘Quakes’ mid-season acquisitions, Anibal Godoy and Quincy Amarikwa, are having just as much of an impact on their new side, at a fraction of the price. The ‘Quakes went on the road last week and beat Sporting Kansas City (3rd, West) and D.C. United (1st, East) on Wednesday and Saturday by a combined score of 7-0.

Prediction: Quakes 2-2 Galaxy

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Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers (Sunday, 4:30 pm ET, ESPN)

Neither the Sounders or Timbers come into MLS’s marquee rivalry in dazzling form (six losses in seven for the Sounders; just two wins in seven for the Timbers), which means both sides are sliding toward the bottom of the West’s playoff places as those above mentioned ‘Quakes catch fire. A Sounders loss and any positive result by the ‘Quakes puts the Rave Green on the wrong side of the playoff cut line.

Diego Chara is suspended for this one, and that’s likely to hurt the visitors a great deal. Whether Will Johnson drops deeper in midfield to shield the backline or George Fochive starts in Chara’s place, it’s a huge drop in athleticism at the defensive midfield spot against a side that relies on Obafemi Martins to make driving runs and combinations through that very area of the field. I’m expecting another big day from Oba, which is just enough to put the Sounders over the top.

Prediction: Sounders 2-1 Timbers

[ MORE: Jurgen Klinsmann struggling to get USMNT players released for Olympic qualifying ]

New York Red Bulls vs. D.C. United (Sunday, 7 pm ET, Fox Sports 1)

The top two teams in the Eastern Conference renew unpleasantries for the final time this season (United won the first meeting, 2-0, and drew the second, 2-2) with so much more than three points and pride on the line this time. United currently hold a five-point advantage over the Red Bulls, but the latter have three games in hand with less than two months to the end of the regular season.

Thus, this sets up as a massive, massive, massive swing game in the race for home-field advantage in the East. A win puts the Red Bulls two points back with three games in hand, whereas a loss necessitates winning all three games in hand to make up an eight-point deficit. I feel pretty confident in saying that the winner of this weekend’s finale will finish top of the East at season’s end.

Prediction: Red Bulls 2-1 United

[ MORE: Week 25 Team of the Week | Player of the Week ]

Toronto FC vs. Montreal Impact (Saturday, 4 pm ET, MLS Live)

Didier Drogba made his Impact debut last weekend in a 1-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union, and in doing so picked up an injury that sounds all but certain to keep the Ivorian striker out of Saturday’s 401 Derby. An even bigger loss for the Impact than Drogba’s absence? That of Ignacio Piatti.

Without the Argentine playmaker, the Impact are a dire attacking team, capable only of hitting on the counter. Against TFC, they’ll find the center third of the field squeezed into about a 20-yard section where Michael Bradley and Benoit Cheyrou will corral them and cut off the circulation of passing, turning them over again and again, thus springing Sebastian Giovinco into counter-attacking with very little ground to cover. TFC takes this one in a rout.

Prediction: TFC 3-0 Impact

Jovic could see himself in Premier League, Serie A

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Maybe Luka Jovic’s presumed move to Real Madrid won’t happen this summer.

Or at all.

[ MORE: Real, Chelsea debate Hazard price ]

The Eintracht Frankfurt striker has been tipped for a move away from the Bundesliga after another strong campaign, and taking the center forward reins from Karim Benzema at Real Madrid.

Several outlets reported the deal as done, but Jovic isn’t speaking that way (or at least the Serbian is throwing us off the scent.


“In terms of the physique, the Bundesliga is very demanding, but after the games against Chelsea or Inter Milan, I personally had the feeling that I could feel even better [playing] in the Premier League or Serie A. … The way the teams play there suits me better.”

Jovic scored 27 times in 48 appearances for Frankfurt, adding seven assists at the tender age of 21. Ten of those came in the Europa League, and we’re not talking about flooding the nets of minnows; Jovic scored against Chelsea (twice), Marseille (three), Lazio (two), and Inter Milan (once).

Report: Chelsea, Real $38M apart on Hazard

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How much for Hazard?

Real Madrid are willing to pay $127 million, no small fee, to bring Eden Hazard from Chelsea, but that’s well off the Blues’ evaluation according to Sky Sports.

Chelsea sees Hazard’s price as $165 million. Belgian writer Kristof Terreur told Sky that Hazard wants his future sorted by June 4.

[ MORE: Bayern wins double ]

The Blues’ superstar is entering the final year of his contract, and could begin negotiating with other clubs in January and leave on a free transfer.

Hazard turns 29 in January. He recorded 19 goals and 16 assists in 51 matches this season, his best output in a Blues uniform.

The report says Chelsea feels no pressure to sell Hazard, but it would be a surprise if it dug in its heels too deeply considering the state of the Belgian’s contract.

Even for Chelsea, letting over $100 million walk out the door is wild, and for all Hazard’s won with Chelsea there’s also been consternation under several managers and a more than occasional habit of disappointing on the table.

MLS roundup: Timbers end road trip with emphatic win in Philly

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in MLS…

[ MORE: USA topped by Ukraine in U-20 World Cup opener ]

Philadelphia Union 1-3 Portland Timbers [ HIGHLIGHTS ]

Just when everyone had begun to take the Union seriously — to give them the respect befitting a first-place team — Jim Curtin’s side fell flat on its face and fell out of the Eastern Conference’s top spot. Saturday’s defeat to the suddenly streaking — and homeward bound — Timbers snapped Philadelphia’s six-game unbeaten run (four wins).

24-year-old attacker Brian Fernandez, signed as a Designated Player earlier this month, made his first MLS start and marked the occasion with two first-half goals (31st and 36th minutes). Diego Valeri added the third (87th) after Kacper Przybylko pulled the Union back to 2-1 in the 47th.

Now, with 14 points from their 12-game road trip to start the season, Portland heads home for 17 of their final 22 games to be played inside a newly renovated — and expanded — Providence Park. The gap between themselves and a Western Conference playoff place is just four points.

New England Revolution 1-1 D.C. United [ HIGHLIGHTS ]

With the Union slipping up and dropping all three points, D.C. United made the most of their opportunity to return to the top of the East on the back of Wayne Rooney‘s 90th-minute penalty kick to snatch a 1-1 draw with (what will soon be) Bruce Arena’s Revolution.

Juan Agudelo put the home side ahead with a header in the 61st minute, and the lead held firm for nearly the final half-hour. Alas, video review reviewed a handball late in the game, which presented Rooney the chance to play the part of hero. He duly obliged and hammered his spot kick past backup goalkeeper Brad Knighton, who replaced Matt Turner following his 56th minute red card for cleaning out Rooney.

Arena is expected to take charge of Revs training this week and make his debut as head coach next Sunday, when his new side visits… his old side, the LA Galaxy.

Colorado Rapids 3-2 Columbus Crew SC [ HIGHLIGHTS ]

Don’t look now, but the Rapids have won two straight games under interim head coach Conor Casey and appear set on clawing their way out of the league’s basement.

Sure, they blew a pair of leads at home, but they also hit back with another goal of their own every time Crew SC drew level, culminating in a stunning winner from Nicolas Mezquida.

The gap between Colorado and 23th place is now just three points, as expansion side FC Cincinnati come closer and closer on the horizon.

Elsewhere in MLS

Chicago Fire 1-1 New York City FC [ HIGHLIGHTS ]
Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 FC Dallas [ HIGHLIGHTS ]
FC Cincinnati 0-2 New York Red Bulls [ HIGHLIGHTS ]
Minnesota United 1-0 Houston Dynamo [ HIGHLIGHTS ]

Sunday’s MLS schedule

Sporting Kansas City v. Seattle Sounders — 6 p.m. ET
Toronto FC v. San Jose Earthquakes — 7:30 p.m. ET

Will winning the double be enough to keep Kovac at Bayern?

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BERLIN (AP) Niko Kovac is the first to win a domestic double in Germany as a player and coach, yet it may not be enough to keep his job as Bayern Munich coach.

[ MORE: Valencia end Barcelona’s four-year hold on Copa del Rey ]

Kovac, whose side defeated Leipzig 3-0 in the German Cup final on Saturday, a week after clinching the Bundesliga title, is yet to be given assurances in public from the club that he will remain in charge, despite bringing a successful end to what had been a testing season.

The pressure and uncertainty appeared to cast a shadow on what was Kovac’s second successive German Cup win — he was Eintracht Frankfurt coach when the side defeated Bayern in the final last year.

“Last year I was leaving the team. This year everything is a little less emotional, no tears, but still, I’m happy,” Kovac said.

“Sometimes I would really wish that things went a little differently. It’s difficult to turn the wheel back. We should all work on it, we’re all human. We should make sure that we get along with each other.”

[ U-20 WORLD CUP: Ezequiel Barco’s golazo paces Argentina to big win ]

Kovac, who won the double as a player in 2003, acknowledged the cup win on Saturday was “very important” as “it shows that we have worked well.”

Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was again coy when pressed on the coach’s future.

“At the end of the day, we have to get titles. Of course the coach plays a central role,” Rummenigge said. “It was never an issue for us with the term that he has until 2021, that he would simply not be there anymore as coach beforehand.”