MLS Cup Playoffs: Field to be cut from 8 to 4 in leg 2 of conf. semis

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Sunday afternoon is drawing closer and closer, which can mean only one thing: another quadrupleheader of 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs action, this time to send four teams through to the conference finals and four more teams home for another winter of wondering “what if?”

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

The conference semifinals, which will see four second legs played from Sunday afternoon to late in the evening, set up as follows…

New York Red Bulls 1-0 D.C. United — Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Red Bulls are the only remaining side to hold an advantage before kicking off the second leg at home. As such, they’ve got to be considered massive favorites to advance to the Eastern Conference finals, though it won’t as straightforward as that without center back Damien Perrinelle, who was lost for the rest of the playoffs after he suffered a left knee injury in the first leg.

That is, of course, dependent upon United venturing into the Red Bulls’ final third every now and then to put a shot on target — something they have thus far failed to do even once through 90 minutes. A mass exodus and complete reshuffling of the United roster presumably looms this winter, so it’s last chance saloon time for Ben Olsen’s current edition of the Black and Red.

Prediction: Red Bulls 2-1 (3-1 agg.) United

[ MORE: An MLS postseason awards ballot — MVP, Coach, Rookie & more! ]

Columbus Crew SC 1-2 Montreal Impact —Sunday,  5 p.m. ET, ESPN

No second leg presents itself with the excitement and vast array of possibilities of Columbus versus Montreal. An early Crew SC goal makes this one all the better, considering Montreal will have to chase an away goal, thus opening themselves up tot he devastating counter-attacking ways of the Black and Gold. Crew SC were largely reined in during the first leg, unable to counter into the open field so regularly as the regular season.

For the Impact, their season almost entirely comes down to their midfield three — Marco Donadel, Nigel Reo-Coker and Patrice — taking care of the ball in the middle third of the field, not allowing Ethan Finlay and Kei Kamara to start counters inside their attacking half, and quickly snuffing out those chances in the (hopefully, for their sake) rare event. Oh yeah, then there’s Didier Drogba, who has 12 goals in 13 games (playoffs included) since signing for the Impact, biding his time for a chance to play hero.

Prediction: Crew SC 1-1 (2-3 agg.) Impact

[ MORE: Which MLS teams should be in the Cubo Torres sweepstakes? ]

FC Dallas 1-2 Seattle Sounders — Sunday, 7:30 p.m. ET, FS1

To put it simply, FC Dallas blew a golden opportunity to put their semifinal tie with the Sounders away in leg no. 1 last Sunday. After 18 minutes, Oscar Pareja’s side held a 1-0 lead at CenturyLink Field and had the Sounders on the ropes, shaking at the knees and ready to be knocked down. Instead, FCD took their foot of the gas, dropped deeper defensively, conceded more than 56 percent of possession the rest of the way and watch the Sounders scored two deserved late goals to undo a brilliant opening half-hour from FCD.

That said, FCD are still in a great position to go through, especially if midfielder Osvaldo Alonso and/or defender Brad Evans (injuries) are unable to go in Sunday’s second leg. In Alonso, the Sounders lose one of MLS’s strongest engines and ball-winners, without whom the red carpet is rolled out for Mauro Diaz and Fabian Castillo to stroll through the middle of the park. In Evans, they lose a mobile center back partner to Chad Marshall’s aerial dominance and cement-block feet, without whom Marshall, 31, and Zach Scott, 35, will be playing catch-up to Castillo, Tesho Akindele and David Texeira all game long. Spoiler alert: the Sounders will lose that battle.

Prediction: FCD 3-1 AET (4-3 agg.) Sounders

[ MORE: Gerrard won’t be returning to Liverpool (to play) ]

Vancouver Whitecaps 0-0 Portland Timbers — Sunday, 10 p.m. ET, FS1

If you think you have any idea which way the second leg of Vancouver versus Portland is going to go, you’re flat out lying. 0-0 in the first leg had a lot to do with the Timbers playing 120 minutes and needing 11 rounds of penalty kicks 72 hours earlier in the knockout round. If not for goalkeeper David Ousted coming up big on two occasions, the Timbers still would have taken an advantage into leg no. 2. Darlington Nagbe has put together the best month of his professional career after moving to the center of midfield, so he’ll (as always) be the X-factor on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Whitecaps continue to fly under the radar as the side who concedes very few goals and takes very few chances going forward — a far cry from the wide open, run-and-gun side of March and April. Pedro Morales is still working his way back into fitness after a hamstring injury robbed him of the final month of the regular season, which means it’s entirely possible we see the workman trio of Gershon Koffie, Matias Laba and Russell Teibert in the center of midfield once again. If Diego Chara (foot) is unable to go for the Timbers once again, that’s a battle the ‘Caps will win — and exploit — all night long, right into the Western Conference finals.

Prediction: Whitecaps 2-2 (2-2* agg. – away goals) Timbers

Europa League: How to watch, odds, start time, predictions

Europa League
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The UEFA Champions League and Europa League resume this week and I’m going to reveal my predictions for this next round as well as the latest odds for Europe’s top two continental tournaments.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

With Manchester City and Chelsea still in the Champions League and Manchester United and Wolves among the favorites to win the Europa League, there is a lot on the line for Premier League clubs in the coming weeks.

Just because the Premier League season is over, that doesn’t mean the action is over. Far from it.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

In the next few days the Europa League and Champions League Round of 16 second legs will take place before mini tournaments begin.

Man City lead Real Madrid 2-1 from their first leg in Spain, while Chelsea trail Bayern 3-0 as they head to Germany for the return game. Man United are all but in the quarterfinals, while Wolves are favored to make the Europa quarters too.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, while the Europa League games will be hosted around Germany.

Below is a look at my predictions, the odds for the games this week and how to watch and follow all of the fixtures in the USA.


How to watch, stream Champions League and Europa League

Dates: August 5-23
Location: Round of 16 at home venues; Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon/Germany
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


JPW’s Champions League predictions

Round of 16 (August 7-8)
Friday, August 7: Manchester City 1-1 Real Madrid (2-1)
Friday, August 7: Juventus 2-1 Lyon (0-1)
Saturday, August 8: Barcelona 3-1 Napoli (1-1)
Saturday, August 8: Bayern Munich 2-1 Chelsea (3-0)


JPW’s Europa League predictions

Round of 16 (August 5-6)
Copenhagen 1-2 Istanbul Basaksehir
Wolves 2-0 Olympiakos
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Rangers
Shakhtar Donetsk 1-3 Wolfsburg
Basel 1-2 Eintracht Frankfurt
Manchester United 3-1 LASK
Inter Milan 3-0 Getafe
Sevilla 1-3 Roma


Champions League betting odds

Round of 16 (August 7-8)
(-139) Manchester City v. Real Madrid (+320). Tie: +340
(-230) Juventus v. Lyon (+650). Tie: +340
(-150) Barcelona v. Napoli (+400). Tie: +300
(-250) Bayern Munich v. Chelsea (+650). Tie: +410

Quarterfinals (August 12-13)
(+200) Atalanta v. Paris Saint-Germain (+120). Tie: +285
(+225) RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid (+133). Tie: 220

Outright winner
Manchester City (+350)
Bayern Munich (+365)
Paris Saint-Germain (+450)
Atletico Madrid (+700)
Atalanta (+950)
Barcelona (+1100)
RB Leipzig (+1500)
Juventus (+1700)


Europa League betting odds

Round of 16 (August 5-6)
(+155) Copenhagen v. Istanbul Basaksehir (+180). Tie: +235
(-134) Wolves v. Olympiakos (+390). Tie: +260
(-162) Bayer Leverkusen v. Rangers (+410). Tie: +310
(+135) Shakhtar Donetsk v. Wolfsburg (+185). Tie: +265
(+155) Basel v. Eintracht Frankfurt (+155). Tie: +275
(-455) Manchester United v. LASK (+1200). Tie: +550
(-143) Inter Milan v. Getafe (+385). Tie: +285
(+110) Sevilla v. Roma (+270). Tie: +230

Outright winner
Manchester United (+160)
Inter Milan (+500)
Bayer Leverkusen (+700)
Wolves (+800)
Sevilla (+900)

Europa League: Man United, Inter Milan advance to QF

Europa League Man United
Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images
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Results from the round of 16 in the Europa League: Man United and Inter Milan advanced to the quarterfinals on Wednesday…

[MORE: Man City sign Nathan Ake from Bournemouth ]

Man United 2 (7)-1 (1) LASK

Manchester United had a virtually insurmountable advantage following their first-leg demolition of Austrian side LASK, which gave Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the freedom to rotate his team ahead of the second leg at Old Trafford.

Philipp Wiesinger opened the scoring not long before the hour mark, and did so in spectacular — if understated — fashion. LASK’s free kick was initially headed out of the penalty area, but the ball fell to Wiesinger with not a single red shirt within 10 yards. The first-time rocket he unleashed couldn’t have been placed any better.

United hit back through Jesse Lingard just two minutes later, though, restoring the five-goal lead and ruining any dreams of a miraculous comeback at the Theater of Dreams. Anthony Martial added to the lopsided final scoreline in the 88th.

United will face Danish side Copenhagen in the quarterfinals on Monday, Aug. 10.

[ MORE: Report: Arsenal offer Willian three-year deal ]

Inter Milan 2-0 Getafe

The first and only leg (due to the previous coronavirus shutdowns in Italy and Spain) of Inter Milan’s last-16 clash with Getafe was played at Schalke’s Veltins-Arena, and Romelu Lukaku proved to be the hero of the day for Antonio Conte’s side as he bagged the game’s opening goal in the 33rd minute. After getting on the end of Alessandro Bastoni’s long ball forward, Lukaku put his left foot through the ball and snuck it just inside the far post.

Super-duper sub Christian Eriksen sealed Inter’s place in the quarterfinals, where they’ll face Rangers or Bayer Leverkusen, with a cool second-chance finish in the 83rd minute.

Other Europa League scores

Copenhagen 3 (3)-0 (1) Istanbul Basaksehir
Shakhtar Donetsk 3 (5)-1 (1) Wolfsburg

Thursday’s Europa League schedule

Sevilla v. Roma — 12:55 pm ET
Bayern Leverkusen (3) v. Rangers (1) — 12:55 pm ET
Wolverhampton Wanderers (1) v. Olympiacos (1) — 3 pm ET
Basel (3) v. Eintracht Frankfurt (0) — 3 pm ET

Man City sign Nathan Ake from Bournemouth

Man City sign Nathan Ake
Photo credit: Man City
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Man City sign Nathan Ake from Bournemouth: Another day, another potentially transformative signing for Pep Guardiola and Co., as they reload for their quest to reclaim the Premier League title.

[ MORE: Report: Arsenal offer Willian three-year deal ]

Ake joins Man City after four hugely successful seasons at Bournemouth, which initially took him on loan from Chelsea in 2016 before making the deal permanent for $26 million a year later. With the Cherries relegated from the PL this season, Ake was always going to leave the Vitality Stadium for top-tier pastures.

The transfer fee is said to be in the neighborhood of $52 million, which makes the 25-year-old a relative steal in comparison to fees now being paid for center backs around Europe. Given he has ample experience in the PL, and earned much of it playing in a side that favored a hugely expansive possession style of soccer, Ake should gain Guardiola’s trust and favor rather quickly as we begin to look toward the 2020-21 season.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup: Gabriel to Arsenal; Lewis to Liverpool ]

John Stones has mostly struggled to impress and raise his level to that of City since moving to the Etihad Stadium in 2016, leaving Guardiola with a serious need at center back alongside Aymeric Laporte. Midfielder Fernandinho was regularly deputized in recent seasons, but that will no longer be necessary with one of the 10-12 best central defenders in the world arriving this summer.

Report: Arsenal offer Willian three-year deal

Arsenal offer Willian
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Arsenal offer Willian three-year deal to join on free transfer: According to multiple reports out of the UK, the Gunners have made the soon-to-be former Chelsea winger a very high priority in the opening hours and days of the summer/fall transfer window of 2020.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup: Gabriel to Arsenal; Lewis to Liverpool ]

With other interest reportedly coming from Barcelona and MLS side Inter Miami, Willian undoubtedly has options as a free agent following the expiration of his Chelsea contract. According to Sky Sports, the weekly wages offered by Arsenal are “still some way short” of those coming from Barca and Miami.

The 31-year-old is said to have been open to remaining at Stamford Bridge, but he was only offered a two-year contract to do so, prompting him to explore possibilities elsewhere.

Despite starting the season at 30 and turning 31 in September, Willian put together his best season for the Blues, at least statistically speaking, in 2019-20. The Brazilian tallied nine goals and seven assists (in 36 appearances) in Premier League action, plus another pair of goals and an assist between the Champions League and FA Cup.

[ MORE: Premier League transfers: Every deal from all 20 clubs ]

Factoring in their willingness to give him the third year he clearly desires, in order to secure his earning power until he’s 35, Arsenal could very well be favorites to land Willian.

Let’s say they’re offering $150,000 per week, which comes out to a little over $7.8 million per year, bringing the grand total to more than $23 million over three years. Even if Barca have offered $200,000 per week for just the two seasons, the total package falls roughly $4 million short over the life of the respective offers. Sure, Willian could take the gamble of the shorter, more lucrative offer and then be available for another move in the summer of 2022, but such a decision would come without the added security given he’ll be 34 years old at the time and could see his abilities and production fall off dramatically.