MLS preview: Three weeks left as conf. finals kick off Sunday

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There are anywhere between 450 and 540 minutes left in the 2015 Major League Soccer season. That’s it. Eight months of games and 10 months of training sessions all come down to this, the conference finals, which kick off Sunday with the first of two legs in the Eastern and Western Conferences.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

I’m on the record as having picked FC Dallas to win MLS Cup, and through the conference semifinals, a strong case can be made they’re actually favorites to do so right now. That does, however, discount the red-hot Portland Timbers, who they’re set to face in the West, as well as Columbus Crew SC and the Supporters’ Shield-winning New York Red Bulls in the East.

Columbus Crew SC vs. New York Red Bulls — 5 p.m. ET, ESPN

Try all you like, and you still might not find two teams more different to one another than Crew SC and the Red Bulls. For the former, it’s all about attacking a wide open field, and quickly; for the latter, it’s all about limiting said space by applying a high line before settling in deep to defend with lots of numbers behind the ball. Given they’re playing away from home in the first leg, and away goals are at play, I fully expect RBNY to play for a 0-0 draw in the first — and, poor aesthetics aside, it’s not a bad plan at all.

If Crew SC’s 2015 season taught us anything, it’s that there is no Plan B if Plan A — destroy opponents on the counter — isn’t working. What RBNY really have going for them is a three-man midfield — Dax McCarty, Sacha Kljestan and Felipe — that works its collective socks, which they’ll be forced to do on Sunday, with full backs Kemar Lawrence and Sal Zizzo constantly dealing with dangerous wingers and overlapping full backs. The X-factor for Crew SC remains Kei Kamara, who in facing a pair of center backs already one yellow card away from suspension in the second leg, will feed on cross after cross after cross into the penalty area. Keep an eye on: Ronald Zubar, back-up-center-back-turned-starter due to injury, is good for a colossal gaffe about every two or three games; he was solid against D.C. United in leg no. 2.

Regular season: CLB 1-2 RBNY (3/28); CLB 2-1 RBNY (7/4); RBNY 2-1 CLB (10/3)
Injuries/suspensions: CLB — OUT: Gaston Sauro (suspension), Kristinn Steindorsson (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Tony Tchani (leg), Mohammed Saeid (hamstring); YC WARNING: Harrison Afful | RBNY — OUT: Damien Perrinelle (knee), Anatole Abang (hamstring), Chris Duval (broken leg); YC WARNING: Matt Miazga, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Sacha Kjestan, Ronald Zubar

[ MORE: Donovan believes Gerrard, Lampard misjudged MLS ]

Portland Timbers vs. FC Dallas — 7:30 p.m. ET, FS1

Here’s the good news for the Timbers: they’ve lost just once in their last eight games (regular season and playoff) since flipping the midfield triangle and shifting Darlington Nagbe into the center of midfield, where he’s put in regular shifts as the game-changer we’ve so long expected of him. It’s a change that was crying out to be made for months — if not years — by Caleb Porter. Remember those last eight games? Fanendo Adi has more goals (7, to go along with one assist) than anyone else in the league during that span — as good as Nagbe has been, Adi is the X-factor for Portland, because chances are always going to present themselves with the attacking talent on display; the problem has long been putting them away.

The bad news, though: it’s exactly the type of team that FCD thrives against, picking and choosing their moments to break from a low defending block and pick you apart on the counter through Mauro Diaz and Fabian Castillo. Much like RBNY, FCD will be happy to sit deep inside their own half in the first leg, away from home, only they’ll break out with greater urgency and devastating speed. The key to limiting Castillo’s impact in the first leg is all about right back Alvas Powell getting forward and forcing him to track back defensively well inside his own half. If Portland are able to do that, so much of what FCD will try to do on the counter will be stunted. It is, of course, easier said than done.

Regular season: POR 3-1 FCD (4/4); FCD 4-1 POR (7/25)
Injuries/suspensions: POR — OUT: Diego Valeri (suspension), Rodney Wallace (suspension), Ben Zemanski (knee); YC WARNING: Liam Ridgewell, Lucas Melano, George Fochive | FCD — OUT: Rolando Escobar (facial fracture); YC WARNING: Mauro Diaz, Blas Perez

Premier League social media wrap: Brighton, teqball, remembering Tiote

Premier League social media
Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
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Premier League sides are fully back in the flow of training with scheduled matches coming within a fortnight.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

So it’s no surprise that banter’s back, too.

That’s where we’ll start Friday, with Irish center back Shane Duffy making sure he’s keeping things light as Brighton and Hove Albion prepares to defend its Premier League place.

Duffy turned a sprinkler on his teammates at training, showing that, yes, your high school career has some things in common with Premier League footballers.

How about some skills as Manchester United gets ready for its return to the PL pitch?

Bruno Fernandes and Andreas Pereira tangled with Fred and Diogo Dalot in a match of Teqball.

You’ll have to watch to see who won.

There’s also a sad anniversary on this day.

It’s been three years since former Newcastle United wrecking ball Cheick Tiote passed away at age 30 after collapsing during a training session with Chinese side Beijing Enterprises, causing shock and grief around the Premier League.

His former teammates were remembering him on Friday, the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations winner was definitely beloved and will always be remembered for his incredible goal to cap off Newcastle’s 4-4 comeback draw with Arsenal.

We’ll start with Norwich City backstop Tim Krul, who spent time with Tiote at Newcastle.

Former Magpies wizard Yohan Cabaye pinned an old memorial to his Twitter wall.

 

Preview: Borussia Dortmund v. Hertha Berlin

Borussia Dortmund v. Hertha preview, how to watch
Photo by Alexandre Simoes/Borussia Dortmund via Getty Images
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Four Bundesliga teams are unbeaten in their last five matches and Hertha Berlin is the unlikeliest of the bunch.

They’ll tangle with Borussia Dortmund at the Westfalenstadion on Saturday in the latest challenge of the Bruno Labaddia era in Berlin.

[ BUNDESLIGA: Week 30 preview and predictions ]

Labbadia is Hertha’s third manager of the season and Hertha has played a scrappy brand of football that has punched and counter-punched under his tutelage. That doesn’t mean they’ve failed to find finish, as Liverpool loanee Marko Grujic and Brazilian youngster Matheus Cunha have been potent.

Borussia Dortmund is a bigger ask, though Hertha made RB Leipzig make mistakes in a 2-2 tie.

[ LIVE: Bundesliga scores, stats ]

Will it be able to get a result at the Westfalenstadion? Perhaps this is a bridge too far, because Dortmund’s shown an explosive offense and its defense has been strong far more often than not this season.

That said, Erling Haaland is just returning to fitness and has just one goal since the league’s restart from the coronavirus pause. Mats Hummels will miss with a yellow card suspension and Marco Reus still isn’t back.

Maybe American teen Giovanni Reyna will get prolonged run along with Jadon Sancho. We’ll see!

Borussia Dortmund v. Hertha Berlin, how to watch

  • TV Channels: FS2
  • Stream LiveVia Fox Soccer
  • Americans Abroad: Giovanni Reyna (Dortmund)
  • When: Saturday, June 6 – 12:30 p.m. ET: Dortmund v. Hertha

Sheffield United season restart preview

Sheffield United season restart preview
Photo by Bradley Collyer/PA Images via Getty Images)
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

Sheffield United is next.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things Blades when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: Sheffield United has welcomed itself to the Premier League and put its feet up on the big boys’ tables while asking what’s for dinner. Blades sit seventh and will hope to continue a fairytale which has them on the precipice of the Europa League. Their fixture list in monstrous, especially at Bramall Lane, but Wilder’s proven capable of outwitting even the smartest of bosses for long periods of time. A name to remember is Simon Moore. The backup keeper and starter from Blades’ League One days could become vital should Manchester United defy expectation and pull Dean Henderson home from his loan upon its June 30 expiry.

[ MORE: Ranking every Southampton player in 2019-20 ]


Tactical analysis: Chris Wilder has flummoxed many a Premier League manager with his creative use of defenders in attack. United typically uses Jack O’Connell, John Egan and Chris Basham as a back-3 with Enda Stevens and George Baldock as the two wingbacks. Those players have accounted for six of United’s 18 PL assists this season. For more on the tactics, Wilder laid things out in entertaining fashion for Arlo White late last month.


Possible XI (3-5-2) 

—– Henderson* —–

— Basham — O’Connell — Egan —

— Baldock — Fleck —  Berge —– Norwood — Stevens—

—– McBurnie —– Mousset —–

The challenge here is fitting January signing Berge into the mix, as fellow central midfielders John Fleck, Oliver Norwood, and John Lundstram have been instrumental in this amazing season. Lundstram seems the most likely to cede his spot if someone will, which really says something about Berge’s immense talent. David McGoldrick and Billy Sharp have provided a lot up top, so McBurnie and Mousset will see plenty of time on the bench. And the biggest question of all is Henderson, who’s on loan from top seven rival Manchester United.

[ MORE: The 2 Robbies assess Sheffield United’s chances ]


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Spurs, Wolves, Chelsea, Everton
Away: Newcastle, Manchester United, Burnley, Leicester City, Southampton

Predicted finish: The Blades will get the chance to defend their home turf from not one, not two, not three, but four would-be European rivals (It’s a little generous to include Everton, but the talent is there). Throw in Leicester and Manchesteer United away, and there is a huge bridge to cross for Wilder’s men to keep their incredible season on the path toward unprecedented heights. It’s not just about keeping Spurs and Arsenal in the rear view mirror, as Blades meet the next four teams above their seventh-place footing.

Petersen’s header leads Freiburg past 10-man Gladbach

Freiburg v. Borussia Monchengladbach recap
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Nils Petersen’s second half goal led Freiburg to a huge 1-0 win over 10-man Borussia Monchengladbach at the Schwarzwald-Stadion on Friday.

Freiburg keeps its Europa League hopes alive by moving onto 41 points, one behind sixth and seventh.

Gladbach fails in a bid to go third and remains fourth with 56 points, ahead of Bayer Leverkusen on goal differential.

A second yellow card to Plea was a double curse to Gladbach, who went down a man and now will miss a star forward against Bayern Munich.

[ LIVE: Bundesliga scores, stats ]

Bayer’s Ramy Bensebaini utilized a slick backheel turn to nutmeg an opponent and send in a cross that was put out for a corner kick.

Freiburg keeper Alexander Schwolow made a tight-angle save on Alassane Plea just after the quarter-hour mark.

Gladbach saw a chance chalked off after two dangerous bids resulted in an offside deflection into the goal.

Florian Neuhaus came close to scoring again when Lars Stindl headed the penultimate move of a fine team play into the six, but he popped it over the frame.

[ BUNDESLIGA: Week 30 preview and predictions ]

Gladbach’s second half again settled into the Freiburg final third, but it was a home sub that paid dividends at the other end.

Petersen improved his club record for goals when he nodded Vincenzo Grifo’s free kick home in the 59th.

Stindl wasn’t too far from equalizing with a 17-yard shot at the hour mark, but Plea’s second yellow card damaged Gladbach’s hopes of a comeback.