MLS preview: Sounders vs. Toronto FC, Crew SC vs. FC Dallas headline Week 27

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Week 27 of the 2015 Major League Soccer season is upon us, which means it’s time to talk about how awesome lame it is that MLS continues to schedule league games during FIFA’s international windows. Furthermore, only half the league has to play this weekend, handing a decided advantage to the league’s other 10 teams who aren’t forced to play a game without some of their best players. Fun times!

Predictions record through Week 26: 40-49

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:

Seattle Sounders vs. Toronto FC (Saturday, 10 pm ET, MLS Live)

It sounds as though Clint Dempsey might actually play in this one, given he’s expected to join US national team camp for Tuesday’s friendly against Brazil, so that’s pretty neat. Dempsey and Michael Bradley each skipped the USMNT’s friendly against Peru on Friday to be available for one of MLS’s highest-priced (salaries, that is) showpiece games.

With Benoit Cheyrou out with injury, Bradley could be forced into a deeper-sitting midfield role against the Sounders, which is a bummer for him, for TFC and for anyone who enjoys watching an American player enjoying a real purple patch of form, but should offer an interesting tactical battle as Dempsey and Obafemi Martins look to combine through Bradley’s part of the field in front of the porous TFC defense.

Prediction: Sounders 2-1 TFC

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Columbus Crew SC vs. FC Dallas (Sunday, 7 pm ET, Fox Sports 1)

Any other week, this is the no. 1 game I’m circling on the calendar and looking forward to for three or four weeks prior. Alas, international call-ups have completely stripped these two super-fun teams of their super-fun parts — Crew SC: Kei Kamara, Wil Trapp, Justin Meram and Waylon Francis (among others); FCD: Fabian Castillo, Blas Perez, Tesho Akindele and Moises Hernandez (among others).

Let’s be real here: this is going to be an awful game, but one man, Crew SC’s Ethan Finlay, is going to have an absolute blinder in this one and, for 90 minutes at least, look like the best player in the world. Without Hernandez, who generally starts at left back (and very capably so) for FCD, Finlay is going to run riot over Ryan Hollingshead, who has deputized in Hernandez’s absence of late. Jack McInerney will squander a number of quality chances created by Finlay, only to tap in a free rebound with about 15 minutes left in the game.

Prediction: Crew SC 1-0 FCD

[ MORE: If you’ve ever questioned Jurgen Klinsmann, you don’t understand soccer ]

San Jose Earthquakes vs. Philadelphia Union (Saturday, 10:30 pm ET, MLS Live)

“Why in the world would this guy tell me to watch San Jose and Philly,” is what I know you’re screaming at your computer/smartphone/tablet. It’s mostly because the Earthquakes have been good for three weeks now. Like, really, really good. They’ve won four straight, and knocked of Sporting Kansas City, D.C. United and LA Galaxy, in that order, by a combine score of 8-0.

That’s all well and good, to play that way against some of the league’s top teams with your season on the line (the ‘Quakes are suddenly level on points with the Sounders for the sixth and final playoff place in the Western Conference, and have a game in hand). Wouldn’t it just be “peak MLS,” though, for one of the league’s hottest teams to lay an egg against the last-place-in-the-league Union, at home, immediately following the above run of results? Don’t get MLS’d this weekend, and I’m ready to consider the Fighting Dom Kinnears real playoff contenders.

Prediction: Quakes 2-2 Union

Kane, Sterling star as England rout Bulgaria

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On a night where racist abuse from the stands in Bulgaria marred the overall spectacle, England’s players produced an incredible result and spectacle for the visiting fans, with all things considered.

Harry Kane scored once and assisted on three others as England rolled over Bulgaria, winning 6-0 on Monday evening in the Vasil Levski Stadium in Sofia, Bulgaria. Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley both scored a brace for the Three Lions and Marcus Rashford’s thunderbolt from a tight angle gave England the opening goal it needed.

The blowout result was the perfect response after England had suffered its first loss in qualifying for a decade, losing on Friday, 2-1 at the Czech Republic. The six goals England put past Bulgaria was also the fourth time out of six games that England had scored at least five goals in a match. The only other time, aside from the defeat, was a 4-0 win last month at Wembley Stadium over Bulgaria.

This story will be updated.

 

Racist abuse delays England v. Bulgaria qualifier

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England raced out to an impressive 4-0 lead at Bulgaria by halftime, but the wonderful attacking display was marred by horrendous incidents from the crowd.

The match in the Vasil Levski Stadium in Sofia, Bulgaria was stopped on two occasions with announcements being made to ask sections of the crowd to stop their abusive language. This comes with the stadium already serving a partial stadium closure due to racist chanting from the crowd in previous qualifiers.

Below is UEFA’s protocol on how to intervene in these situations, and what transpired from lead writer Joe Prince-Wright.

Tottenham re-signs goalkeeper Vorm

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With Hugo Lloris set to miss at least another two months of action with a broken elbow, Tottenham has turned to a familiar face to provide some cover between the pipes.

Tottenham announced Monday it had re-signed goalkeeper Michel Vorm to a contract through the end of the 2019-2020 Premier League season. Vorm spent five seasons with Tottenham after signing from Swansea City in 2014. However, after playing second-fiddle to Lloris and later serving as the third backup behind current Tottenham No. 2, Paulo Gazzaniga for the past couple of seasons, Vorm was released at the end of last season.

Its certainly a boost for Tottenham that a player with a long history at the club and plenty of experience was available to help in this situation. Similar to Liverpool picking up Adrian after Alisson Becker’s injury, Tottenham know what it’s getting in Vorm and may play him a few times if Gazzaniga needs a night off in the next few months.

According to Vorm, he had been home in his native Netherlands and was watching the game when he saw Lloris get injured.

“Obviously I saw straight away that he had a bad injury and at the time I thought about how bad it was, Vorm told Tottenham’s website. “After the game I spoke with Jan (Vertonghen), he told me what was going on and I spoke also with Toni (Jimenez, our goalkeeping coach) and, yes, during the week I got the phone call to ask if I was open to come back and help out. I’ve kept in contact with a lot of the players and also with Toni. We were speaking quite regularly and on Thursday he called me, we had the conversation and from there on, it went very quickly.”

In his five seasons with Tottenham, Vorm made a total of 47 appearances in all competitions. He saw plenty of time in the League Cup, FA Cup, UEFA Europa League and Champions League during his stay at White Hart Lane.

In-form striker Duvan Zapata injured on international duty

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This international break has been particularly brutal to clubs who have seen a host of key players go down with injuries, and there’s still a few days of matches remaining.

The latest player to succumb to injury is Atalanta striker Duvan Zapata who returned from Colombia duty with an adductor strain and will miss at least three weeks, according to Sky Sports Italia (via FootballItalia). Zapata went down 23 minutes into Colombia’s 0-0 friendly draw with Chile on Friday and was sent back to Italy for tests at his club.

Those tests have reportedly confirmed the initial fears. The loss of Zapata is a massive one for Atalanta, as the 28-year-old has been steadily building for years and is having a breakout start to this campaign, scoring six Serie A goals in seven matches plus one more in Champions League play, currently on a run of four consecutive games with a goal across all competitions. With Zapata’s help, Atalanta sits third in the Serie A table, having bagged the most goals of any team with 18 through seven games.

Zapata becomes the latest high-profile injury from this international break, joining Colombia teammate Alexis Sanchez who went down late in the same match and is reportedly out until 2020 with a serious ankle injury. Chelsea has been hit the hardest, with Andreas Christensen, Mateo Kovacic, and Reese James all pulling up while N’Golo Kante was injured in France warmups but he is expected to be fit for the weekend. Luka Modric may miss time after going down in a Euro qualifier against Wales, while Gareth Bale also picked up a knock in that match. Neymar went down in Brazil’s match against against Nigeria, which forced manager Tite to explain his reasoning for the selection in a friendly. Sergio Aguero is apparently struggling to train with Argentina thanks to a mystery injury confirmed by Lionel Scaloni. Arsenal’s Dani Ceballos withdrew from Spain training earlier in the week with “hamstring overload.” Atlanta United defender Miles Robinson left USMNT camp with a hamstring problem with the MLS playoffs on the horizon.