MLS preview: Galaxy vs. FC Dallas, Crew vs. Timbers

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Week 30 of the 2015 Major League Soccer season is upon us, and believe it or not, we’re finally starting to figure this whole playoff picture out. By the end of the weekend, any of four teams could have their respective conference’s top seed all but sewn up, while it’s time to kick one of these Western Conference wannabes to the curb. Who’s with me?

Predictions record through Week 29: 41-54

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. FC Dallas (Sunday, 9:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1)

Something pretty interesting has been going on with the Galaxy, and it’s pretty much exactly what we predicted would happen months before the arrival of Steven Gerrard: they’ve got worse — much worse — and it’s all to do with the midfield balance. See, Gerrard isn’t 25 anymore. He’s not even 28, or 30, or 32. He’s 35, and an old 35 at that. To preserve his $6-million-per-year investment, Bruce Arena can’t play Gerrard in a role at all resembling a box-to-box midfielder, which is precisely what the Galaxy need.

Juninho is an elite defensive midfielder who sits in front of the back line, cleans up messes before they’re ever made, and sprays brilliant long balls into both channels and out to the wings. Problem is, that’s now Gerrard’s position, because, legs. So Juninho’s wandering further up the field, turning the ball over because he’s under a lot more pressure in the attacking half, and the Galaxy midfield and defense are suddenly under lots of pressure… with a 35-year-old attacking-midfielder-turned-d-mid charged with protecting an already frail defensive unit. Guess what. They’ve given up four goals in three games and haven’t scored a league goal since their five-goal dismantling of New York City more than a month ago. Oh, and maybe nobody in MLS attacks space and makes you pay on the counter like FCD and Fabian Castillo.

Prediction: Galaxy 2-2 FCD

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

Columbus Crew SC vs. Portland Timbers (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live)

Can someone confirm for me that Crew SC and the Timbers aren’t, in fact, the same team? Let’s run down the list really quickly: Great on set pieces — check; terrible at defending set pieces — check; midfield three that holds its own with any unit in the league — check; overlapping full backs like whoa — check; exciting, dynamic wingers — check; enigmatic center forwards who see plenty of chances each game — check.

OK, that settles it, Crew SC and the Timbers are the same group of guys who just fly across the country and place twice every weekend. A win could push Crew SC all the way into the Eastern Conference’s top spot, while the Timbers need to win and overcome nine goals’ worth of goal differential to leave behind the sixth spot in the West.

Prediction: Crew SC 4-2 Timbers

[ MORE: Week 29 Team of the Week | Player of the Week ]

San Jose Earthquakes vs. Real Salt Lake (Sunday, 7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1)

Can we agree to one thing, for the sake of my sanity? Whichever of these teams walks out of Avaya Stadium with zero points Sunday night, we make them go away until March. Can we agree to that? Because, man, I am so done with these two teams and their yoyo-ing “we’re alive,” “we’re dead,” “we’re alive,” “we’re dead” schtick of the last two months.

How’s anybody supposed to have a correct take on a team if every time you buy into them, they fall flat on their face; and every time you say they’re finally dead, they hammer one of the league’s best teams? Naturally, they’ll play to the most exciting draw of the season, leaving us once again scratching our heads, still unsure what to make of either side’s postseason chances. They’ve currently both out of the playoff places, and pretty likely to still be there come Oct. 25.

Prediction: Earthquakes 1-1 RSL

First Leagues Cup will be an all-Liga MX affair

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Given Major League Soccer’s record against Liga MX sides when both teams are bringing their best players to the party, it’s no surprise that the former has been left out of the Leagues Cup Final.

Instead, Cruz Azul and Tigres UANL will meet on Sept. 18 for the first ever crown in the history of the competition pitting teams from Mexico, Canada, and the United States top flights.

[ MORE: Predicting the USMNT September call-ups ]

Choosing not to play Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Jonathan Dos Santos, and Carlos Pavon amongst others, the LA Galaxy fell 2-1 to Cruz Azul in Carson, California, getting an Emil Cuello goal but allowing the below delightful winner from Orbelin Pineda just after halftime.

The Galaxy were in the midst of a nasty four-match fortnight, and opted for this match — a tournament semifinal against a league which has bossed its league — to rest their men. Not a choice we love, but a fair choice given the Galaxy’s mere 4-point advantage on 7th place in the West.

Tigres needed penalties to get past Club America in an absolutely bonkers semifinal.

The match was level at 2 after regulation, with two own goals, a penalty, and a 90th minute red card doled out to Tigres’ Roger Martinez.

The second Tigres own goal, which came before the club outlasted America 5-3 in penalties, came deep in stoppage.

USWNT lawsuit goes to trial May 5

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LOS ANGELES (AP) A judge has set a May 5 trial date for the gender discrimination lawsuit filed by the women’s national team against U.S. Soccer.

District Judge R. Gary Klausner assigned the date at a hearing Monday in Los Angeles, which came less than a week after mediation between the two sides broke down.

[ MORE: Predicting the USMNT September call-ups ]

The players sued U.S. Soccer in March, alleging institutionalized gender discrimination that includes inequitable compensation when compared with their counterparts on the men’s national team.

The federation claims that compensation for each team is the result of separate collective bargaining agreements, and that the pay structures are different as a result.

The sides had agreed to mediate the dispute after this summer’s World Cup in France. The U.S. beat the Netherlands in July for its second straight title, and fourth overall.

The players and U.S. Soccer had requested a trial date after the Tokyo Olympics, which start July 25.

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

Report: Zappacosta off to Roma as Chelsea trusts youth

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Tuesday was a great day to be Reece James.

Not that it hasn’t been a good summer altogether with Frank Lampard in charge of Chelsea.

[ MORE: Predicting the USMNT September call-ups ]

Lampard sanctioned the loan of Zappacosta to AS Roma, which puts James firmly in line for first team reps at Stamford Bridge.

The 19-year-old James has earned his place after two seasons on loan at Wigan Athletic, and Cesar Azpilicueta will either need rest or time at center back at some point.

As for Zappacosta, he was a curiosity buy who was serviceable during his time at Stamford Bridge. At Roma, though, he’ll… also be second choice to club captain Alessandro Florenzi.

Lampard is definitely giving the Blues’ youth a chance to shine during this transfer ban, and this may well be the best opportunity of James’ career.

Predicting the USMNT September call-ups

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The United States men’s national team has just a pair of friendlies remaining before its next CONCACAF competition, the Nations’ League.

Gregg Berhalter’s USMNT will meet Uruguay and Mexico in September, and the looming CNL — you know Berhalter wants some sort of crown given the Gold Cup Final loss to El Tri — certainly hints at a strong XI even with players like Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Tyler Boyd (Besitkas) and Zack Steffen (Fortuna Dusseldorf, on loan from Man City) settling into new digs.

[ MORE: Klopp “couldn’t afford” Coutinho ]

Before we dare to name a 23-man outfit for these matches, we should note that there’s no guarantee every big team will want to release their players in September. But this projection will act under the assumption that his best healthy men will accept invitations or that, at least, Berhalter will invite his best healthy men.

The MLS playoff push may actually force his hand in that Berhalter may respect teams in said playoff race due (though MLS does not have every team playing over the break).

We’ll assume for this exercise that DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle) and Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig) don’t miraculously come fit.

Now for the Big Berhalter Questions (BBQs):

  1. Since Gyasi Zardes has scored three goals and an assist in his last six MLS games and there’s no chance Berhalter ignores him, who will not get a look: Tim Weah (Lille), Tyler Boyd (Besiktas) or … wait, it’s gonna be Boyd.
  2. Wil Trapp has been poor in a USMNT jersey, but has three assists in his last six MLS matches so will he…. book his place, too.

Finally, I’m not going to say that this 23-man roster will be correct, but it will be fun.

Goalkeepers (3)

Zack Steffen (Fortuna Dusseldorf)
Sean Johnson (New York City FC)
Kasey Keller (Millwall)
Pick the guy who you think I should pick here and pretend you like it better than:
David Bingham (LA Galaxy)

Defenders (8)

John Brooks (Wolfsburg)
Matt Miazga (Reading)
Aaron Long (West Ham New York Red Bulls)
Walker Zimmerman (LAFC)
Tim Ream (Fulham)
Sergino Dest (Ajax)
Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas)

Midfielders (6)

Christian Pulisic (Chelsea)
Weston McKennie (Schalke)
Michael Bradley (Toronto FC)
Julian Green (Greuther Fuerth)
Paxtom Pomykal (FC Dallas)
Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy)

Forwards (6)

Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen)
Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC)
Timothy Weah (Lille)
Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders)
Paul Arriola (DC United)
Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew)