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

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

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

Report: New York Red Bulls reject West Ham bid for Aaron Long

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The New York Red Bulls have rejected an offer from West Ham for defender Aaron Long, according to Sky Sports.

The Hammers’ offer for the 27-year-old former MLS Defender of the Year was $500,000 for a season-long loan with a $4.5 million option to buy in the summer.

Last summer, Long, who has a $4 million release clause was on the verge of joining the London-based side, but was unable to secure a work permit.

“As our biggest ally, it seems strange that a football player from the US can’t automatically get a work visa to play in England,” the defender said last summer, amid a move to England. “Every kid in the USA dreams of playing in the English Premier League. Not many players get the chance, so of course I would like to play there someday.”

West Ham, who haven’t won in three Premier League matches, stand 17th on the table with 23 points.

Neymar pays tribute to Kobe Bryant (video)

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Neymar dedicated his second goal to Kobe Bryant, who, along with eight others, tragically passed away on Sunday.

The Brazilian star approached a sideline camera after his second goal of the night, gesturing the numbers two and four with his fingers, a number worn by Bryant during his time with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Following the game, Neymar paid additional respect to Bryant via Twitter.

It reads in English: “Sad day for us in sports, for us fans and especially for Kobe’s family and friends. A legend has been made with your hands, thank you for extolling the Kobe sport … may God comfort the hearts of your family and friends”

Bryant, 41, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and six others, died in the helicopter accident on Sunday morning in Southern California.

A basketball legend and soccer fan, others within the sport paid tribute to Bryant:

Klopp admits Liverpool youngsters will feature in Shrewsbury replay

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In proper FA Cup fashion, League One side Shrewsbury Town pulled off a late draw against Liverpool, forcing a replay at Anfield.

[ RECAP: Shrewsbury forces FA Cup replay with Liverpool ]

The replay, which is set to take place during the Premier League’s winter break, is going to be a problem for Liverpool, according to manager Jurgen Klopp. First-team players have been granted the time off, forcing Klopp and company to play the “kids” for the upcoming replay of the fourth-round bout.

“We intend to honor the original idea of the break,” the Liverpool manager said on Sunday. “We have respect for the players’ welfare and they need this time off.”

“We got a letter from the authorities in April last year asking us not to organize anything during the week of the break and we haven’t,” he added. “We have given the players the time off, and some are going away. They will still be keeping fit, but they do not have to play football that week and they do not have to come in to Melwood.”

Jason Cummings’ right-footed strike in the 75th minute nulled Liverpool’s two-goal advantage early in the second half. The German also admitted that there was no reason for a replay on Tuesday 4 February or Wednesday 5 February.

“We lost the ball in the wrong moments and we never got used to the pitch,” he said. “We conceded the penalty after losing the ball and when they scored their second goal it was after we had lost two challenges in a row. We didn’t play well enough to take anything from the game, we got what we deserved. I would like to give Shrewsbury credit for their performance and the atmosphere their supporters produced. I enjoyed the atmosphere around the cup tie, I just didn’t enjoy the way we played.”

Liverpool squanders lead as Shrewsbury forces FA Cup replay

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Liverpool may be crushing the Premier League, but League One side Shrewsbury Town wasn’t phased facing the juggernaut at its home ground New Meadow, not even after falling 2-0 down on a horrid own-goal. Instead, the hosts came back to draw 2-2 and force an FA Cup fourth round replay at Anfield.

Liverpool started a youthful lineup that featured youngsters Curtis Jones, Neco Williams, Pedro Chirivella, and Harvey Elliott mixed in with Takumi Minamino, Divock Origi, and Dejan Lovren. The opener came in the 15th minute via 18-year-old Jones who slurped up a fabulous through ball from Chirivella and slotted it home from a tight angle past a charging Shrewsbury goalkeeper Max O’Leary.

[ EARLIER: Man City torches Fulham | Man United hammers Tranmere ]

The second came just seconds after the second-half restart on a comical own-goal as former Manchester United defender Donald Love poked a Williams cross into his own net under absolutely no pressure. It was a brainless decision as it appeared Love meant to poke the ball behind for a corner, but with nobody nearby, he somehow finished into the lower left corner instead.

After Liverpool doubled its lead at 2-0, Shrewsbury came to life and began to challenge the young Liverpool lineup. Callum Lang found himself through on goal with a great chance to bring the hosts back into the match, but his one-on-one change was saved by the fingertips of a diving Adrian. Shrewsbury did eventually cut the lead in half after Yasser Larouci cut down Josh Laurent in the penalty area and substitute Jason Cummings slotted home the chance from the spot.

The Shrews were a tough out with confidence back high after the goal, O’Leary made a fantastic diving save to stop Divock Origi. He booted down the field and and they drew level in the 75th minute as Cummings grabbed his second as he brought down a long ball and split the Liverpool defensive duo Williams and Lovren. Once past the Liverpool defenders he slotted home cooly past Adrian to equalize.

Jones nearly won it for Liverpool late as the ball squirted across the line in a goalmouth scramble, but his sliding effort was blocked off the line by a Scott Goldbourne tackle.