MLS preview: Galaxy vs. Impact, Quakes vs. Sounders

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Week 28 of the 2015 Major League Soccer season is upon us, and it’s officially squeaky-bum time for teams currently chasing playoff places or jockeying for position anywhere from one to six in the Eastern and Western Conferences.

Predictions record through Week 27: 41-51

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:

LA Galaxy vs. Montreal Impact (Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live)

What’s at stake: For the Galaxy, it’s a chance to regain the top spot in the Supporters’ Shield (and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs) race; for the Impact, it’s a chance to strengthen their place as a playoff team in the Eastern Conference.

This is a really, really bad matchup for the Imapct, who are not only without MLS Defender of the Year contender Laurent Ciman, but have also won a paltry eight road points all season (11 road games). When teams visit the StubHub Center, they tend to sit back as a sign of respect toward the attacking quintet of Robbie Keane, Giovani dos Santos, Gyasi Zardes, Steven Gerrard and Sebastian Lletget. The Galaxy are the rare MLS team that thrives when opponents sit deep and force them to break down a bunkered defense every trip into the final third.

Prediction: Galaxy 3-1 Impact

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San Jose Earthquakes vs. Seattle Sounders (Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live)

What’s at stake: For the Earthquakes, a chance to move into sixth place (or higher) in the Western Conference for the time being; for the Sounders, a chance to keep the charging ‘Quakes at bay, or better, move out to a six-point advantage with just five games left to play.

First things first, Anibal Godoy will be back in the ‘Quakes lineup for this one, so consider last week’s toothless performance against the Philadelphia Union (I called it, kind of) a one-week aberration. Considering the Sounders snuck past a midfield-depleted Toronto FC last week, it’s hard to look favorably upon their chances against one of the league’s hottest teams this week. On the other hand, there will be chances-a-plenty for the ‘Quakes, who can come at you in a number of different ways.

Prediction: Quakes 2-1 Sounders

[ MORE: Week 26 MLS Team of the Week | Player of the Week ]

Toronto FC vs. New England Revolution (Sunday, 5 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

What’s at stake: Home-field advantage in the 4-vs.-5 knockout round playoff game (at least right now) — for the Revs, they’re trying to hold off TFC, who have a game in hand and a three-point deficit to make up, making this your classic “six-point game.”

Good news for TFC: Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore are back. Bad news for TFC: Sebastian Giovinco and Benoit Cheyrou, two players absolutely vital to the way the Reds play, are most likely out once again. The absence of the former creates an obvious problem going forward, but the latter creates a massive problem for the TFC defense, which is subpar at best. Lee Nguyen racked up three assists last week, and considering the time and space he’s likely to have in this one, it wouldn’t be a huge shock to see him do it again this week.

Prediction: TFC 1-1 Revs

How will USMNT line up versus Costa Rica?

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Saturday brings a first look at the United States men’s national team in 2020, though Gregg Berhalter’s bunch won’t look anything like its best self.

The Yanks have an almost exclusively MLS roster for the match, with Hobro’s Christian Cappas, Wolfsburg II’s Uly Llanez and unattached 17-year-old Bryang Kayo in the fold.

Many of Berhalter’s best MLS stars won’t be in Carson either for the 3:55 p.m. ET Saturday kickoff. Jordan Morris, Jozy Altidore, and Michael Bradley are the biggest names.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]  

Ronald Gonzalez’s Ticos will be similarly hampered, although more of Costa Rica’s A-side play in MLS and domestically.

We’ll leave the breakdown of the visitors for a later date, but who will rep the U.S. in Saturday’s Starting XI?

The travel roster includes keepers Sean Johnson, Bill Hamid, and Matt Turner, as well as defenders Aaron Long, Walker Zimmerman, Reggie Cannon, Julian Araujo, Chase Gasper, Justen Glad, Mark McKenzie, and Sam Vines. Listed midfielders Sebastian Lletget, Jackson Yueill, Brenden Aaronson, Cappis, Kayo, and Brandon Servania are joined by forwards Gyasi Zardes, Paul Arriola, Jonathan Lewis, Jesus Ferreira, and Ulysses Llanez.

Goalkeeper is anyone’s guess, but Johnson’s got the most run of the three during the Berhalter era. The younger Turner or more accomplished Hamid may step in there.

It would be surprising to see any other center backs besides Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long given what we know of Berhalter and his respect for regulars. Reggie Cannon should start at right back and it’s between Chase Gasper and Sam Vines for the left. We’ll choose Vines out of intrigue.

Jackson Yueill, Paul Arriola, Sebastian Lletget, and Gyasi Zardes are safe bets to start, and this would seem a spot to give Jonathan Lewis more than subs’ run. That leaves one spot, and we’re pegging Brandon Servania to be the one chosen of four midfielders aged 17-20.

There’s also the matter of whether FC Dallas striker Jesus Ferreira will be internationally cleared to play Saturday. We sure hope he will be!

How do you think Berhalter will line them up?


How Berhalter may go

Johnson

Cannon — Zimmerman — Long — Vines

Yueill — Servania

Arriola — Lletget — Lewis

Zardes


What we’d like to see

Turner

Cannon — Zimmerman — McKenzie — Vines

Yueill — Cappis — Servania

Arriola — Ferreira — Lewis

Watch our transfer deadline day show from 6-8 p.m. ET on Jan. 31, live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com.

Report: Sheffield United in ‘advanced talks’ for $22M Norway star

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Sheffield United is ready to add one of the game’s brightest young talents to its blossoming Premier League side.

Norway midfielder Sander Berge is the name, and he’s been linked with Liverpool amongst others over the past few months.

Berge turns 22 next month and already has 20 caps for Norway in addition to 113 senior appearances for Genk in Belgium and 43 more for Valerenga in his home country.

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The defensive midfielder has chipped in six goals and four assists. He won the Belgian Super League with Genk last year and has a career-best four goals so this season.

It shows what success brings to a club, as Sky Sports reports that Berge turned down a move to Bramall Lane in the summer.

The fee is said to be $22 million, which isn’t small but completely reasonable given his stature for club and country.

This may move may join the Lys Mousset purchase as one of the Blades’ smartest bits of business, especially as Chris Wilder‘s men look for success on multiple fronts. Their success as a newly-promoted side is one of the great stories of the European season, and a place in Europe would be a fantastic achievement.

From The Yorkshire Post:

“It is going well, no doubt about it,” Wilder said. “On the Premier League front and in the Cup. You probably would not think it, but the win at Millwall has given me an enormous amount of pleasure in confirming, not even seeing, what my team is about. Players have come in with the likes of the skipper (Billy Sharp) and other players who are really driving it forward and want to produce individual performances and the atmosphere is good.”

Watch our transfer deadline day show from 6-8 p.m. ET on Jan. 31, live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com.

Espanyol identify 12 fans who racially insulted player

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BARCELONA, Spain — Spanish club Espanyol says it has identified 12 fans who racially insulted an Athletic Bilbao player in the Spanish league last weekend.

Espanyol said on Monday in a statement that nine of the fans were club members and would face punishment that could include suspension or a full-time ban.

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It said a report of its analysis of the video images of Saturday’s game at RCDE Stadium were sent to authorities.

The club reiterated its “categorical condemnation of any displays of violence and racism.”

The fans made monkey noises directed at Athletic forward Inaki Williams, who is black. Television images showed Williams confronting the section of Espanyol fans who taunted him after he was substituted late in the game in Barcelona.

The Spanish league said it will seek a partial stadium closure for Espanyol and will raise the incident with the Spanish soccer federation’s competition committee, which handles disciplinary issues.

Transfer rumors: West Ham want $44M midfielder, Barca eyes Rodrigo

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West Ham United is being linked with a big transfer splash, and it’s not even a striker.

Uruguayan midfielder Nahitan Nandez is the man in question, and West Ham is reportedly tempting Cagliari with a $44 million offer this January.

Nandez, 23, arrived from Boca Juniors for less than half that fee this summer, and has chipped in a goal with three assists for Tommaso Giulini’s sixth-place Serie A side.

He’s got 31 caps for his national team, and is averaging 1.5 tackles per match with Cagliari. Nandez is also averaging a key pass and 1.1 successful dribbles per league outing.

Football-Italia says that Cagliari will try to tie Nandez to a new deal with a $44 million release clause if the move to West Ham is unsuccessful.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Meanwhile Barcelona’s pursuit of a Luis Suarez replacement isn’t limited to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, according to Marca.

Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu admits that Valencia striker Rodrigo Moreno is interesting his coaches.

“We don’t talk about players from other teams. But [Rodrigo’s] name is on the table of the coaches, and a replacement will arrive. I do not know whether it will be from Barcelona B or from outside. I like many players.”

The Spaniard has eight goals in 21 caps, and turns 29 in March. Rodrigo has four goals and 10 assists in 23 matches across all competitions this season.

Valencia beat Barcelona this weekend to send the Blaugranas three points back of La Liga leaders Real Madrid.