MLS Cup 2015 roundtable: Storylines, keys and predictions

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It’s time, once again, for the PST staff to pool its collective brainpower together in an attempt to forecast Sunday’s MLS Cup 2015 final between Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers.

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From the storylines, to the keys to the game, to predicting the final score and goalscorers, we’ve got all the answers right here. So, really, why even watch the game? (Just kidding… watch the game and check back with PST for full coverage of Sunday’s finale.)

1. Who’s the bigger surprise to be playing in MLS Cup 2015?

Joe Prince-Wright: I would say Portland. After the season Caleb Porter’s side had last season, and for most of this season, it was hard to see this coming. We all knew they possessed hugely talented players but having them all hit top form at exactly the right time is so difficult to predict. Columbus have ground out wins and have been steady and solid all season. Portland have peaked at precisely the right time.
Andy Edwards: It has to be Portland. From looking likely to miss the playoffs so late into the season, to the HE HIT BOTH POSTS!!! penalty scare against Sporting Kansas City, to running up against the no. 1 and 2 seeds in the Western Conference, everything on paper seems to say, “They should have been gone by now.” Plus, I picked Crew SC to win the title back in March.
Nicholas Mendola: Portland, if only because Caleb Porter and company had questions all year and the Crew’s stability in the midfield is admirable, desired, and so, so good.
Kyle Lynch: You have to go with the Portland Timbers, who only clinched a playoff berth on the final day of the regular season. Then, they were nearly eliminated in the first round before a goal deep into extra-time before surviving a wild penalty shootout against Sporting KC. That win gave the Timbers a lot of momentum, going from barely making the postseason to playing in MLS Cup.
Kyle Bonn: Portland. They first had to make the playoffs with their late-season push. They topped a mediocre yet experienced Sporting KC in the first round on penalties (which are always a total roll of the dice), blanked a solid Vancouver side, then stunned everyone by besting FC Dallas in the West finals. The Crew did the same on their side of the conference finals as well, but as a much more consistent team during the regular season, so their result wasn’t as surprising as Portland’s

[ MORE: Projected starting XIs for Sunday’s final ]

2. Is it a good (or bad) thing for MLS to have an MLS Cup without an LA or New York team, or any of the league’s highest-paid players?

JPW: From an exposure standpoint, sure, it’s probably better to have bigger market teams and the biggest names playing in the showpiece final. However, I really like the fact that the parity in MLS is on show here with two teams built sensibly and who don’t get talked about too much outside of their passionate fanbases and home cities. Both franchises deserve huge credit and around the world it shows that the salary cap model in soccer truly does give anyone a chance of winning it all.
Edwards: From a TV ratings standpoint, it’s terrible — the numbers will be bad. From a strictly soccer perspective, it’s great. The “retirement league” narrative has to be just about finished by now, right? It’s the younger teams, the ones that build from within, the ones that spend wisely, who are running MLS these days. New York City FC, please take note.
Mendola: Neither? If I had to pick one, it’s bad, but that’s because we’re still trying to draw the gawker/newbie/casual viewer to the league.
Lynch: I think it’s good to show there is more parity in MLS, as the league is not just dominated by markets that have a greater chance of attracting high-priced designated players. Despite being a smaller market, Portland has one of the top fanbases in all of MLS, and they definitely deserve to see their team in the final.
Bonn: Depends on what you think is “good” for the league. It’s always good for competitive balance and long-term league and franchise health to have parity across the competition no matter the market. But on a strictly financial sense, the finals will lack national appeal and flat out won’t generate the revenue it would have with a bigger market. This debate is the same across any professional sport, but here it’s amplified with MLS still climbing uphill in the United States to the level of the more prevalent sports’ championship games/series.

[ MORE: Matchup by matchup, picking the favorite in MLS Cup 2015 ]

3. Who has the edge, if any, in the technical area — Gregg Berhalter or Caleb Porter?

JPW: Right now, I have to say Porter. He is fired up, has his team thirsty for success and although Berhalter may be the better tactician, especially defensively, Porter’s men are on a mission. He needed this run to MLS Cup more and if the former Akron coach can win it all, that will set him up to stay in PDX for quite some time.
Edwards: I’m a huge Berhalter fan and think he needs to be in the discussion to replace Jurgen Klinsmann after 2018, but for the purposes of this game, I have to go with Porter. Not only does he have more (and better) options at his disposal on the bench, but he’s shown in recent weeks that he knows which button to push at exactly the right time. For instance, bringing on an attacker in stoppage time while up a goal, and that attacker, Lucas Melano, scores.
Mendola: Push.
Lynch: I think the slight edge goes to Porter. You feel he wants to prove the critics wrong almost more than his players do, as an MLS Cup title would vindicate his position as a top coach in the league.
Bonn: The experience factor is a complete wash. The paths to the finals are actually quite similar. Having joined their respective teams in 2013, both had a hand in their club’s improvement this offseason. Porter had to navigate lower lows this season, but ultimately, they come into this on an even keel.

[ MORE: What winning a championship would mean for Portland ]

4. What’s the biggest key to Crew SC winning MLS Cup 2015?

JPW: Don’t lose sight of what got them there. In front of a home crowd the temptation may be to go out and entertain, do things they aren’t used to and go for the win from the first whistle. We’ve see Columbus grind out 1-0 and 2-1 wins all season and they must stay tight at the back with Portland’s forwards possessing plenty of quality – and in red-hot form – to punish any mistakes. Oh, and they have to get crosses in the box for Kei Kamara to finish.
Edwards: Overload and overwhelm Diego Chara, the lone defensive midfielder for Portland. If they can do that, quality chances — and eventually goals — will come.
Mendola: Kei Kamara getting and finishing his chances against a Timbers back line that, in my opinion, has overachieved in recent months.
Lynch: It’s the easy answer, but you have to go with Kei Kamara. He was one of the top scorers in MLS throughout the year, and he’s going to be the go-to guy for Columbus when a big goal is needed.
Bonn: Put a lid on the Timbers. Portland’s electrifying but inconsistent attack is riding high here in the playoffs, and the Columbus defense is the weak point of their team. Defend, and Columbus will win a scrappy battle 10 times out of 10. They can still win a shootout, but if they concede 1 goal or less, mark me down for the Crew.

[ MORE: Three advantages that make Crew SC favorites ]

5. What’s the biggest key to the Timbers winning MLS Cup 2015?

JPW: Keep it rolling. It’s important that they also stay tight and don’t chase things but we’ve seen them hit teams on the counter with their pace and if they can get Darlington Nagbe on the ball as much as possible, he will dictate the tempo of this game. Nagbe’s battle with Will Trapp in the engine room is one I’m really looking forward to.
Edwards: Be the aggressors. Crew SC thrive on taking the game to the opposition. Plus, if the Timbers let their full backs and wingers get pinned deep inside their own half defensively, it’s goodnight for them.
Mendola: Adam Kwarasey. I expect Columbus to have at least 2-3 early spans of dominance.
Lynch: Stay confident. From barely surviving in the first round to knocking out the top seed in the West, Portland has to feel like they can beat anyone right now. As long as they stick to the gameplan and use their speed to attack, they’ll have a good shot.
Bonn: Conversely to Crew SC, the Timbers need to possess the ball and pummel the Columbus back line. That dangerous attack will put the ball in the back of the net if they create enough chances.  Since bombing Sporting KC but still losing 1-0 on October 3, they have been shut out once. One time. In a 0-0 draw with Vancouver in the second round of the playoffs, eventually winning the reverse fixture 2-0. This team doesn’t get shut out.

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons another stadium site, plan ]

6. Prediction time: who wins MLS Cup 2015, and what’s the score?

JPW: Ah, man, this is tough. I’m going with Columbus, 2-1. I think Portland will come flying out of the traps but the Crew’s defense will hold strong and Kamara will probably get the winner the way his season has gone.
Edwards: Crew SC, 3-1.
Mendola: Columbus, 2-0.
Lynch: I’m going to have to go with Columbus, 3-1. I think it will be a real close game with both teams getting chances, but the home crowd helps will the Crew ahead 2-1. Kei Kamara scores the final goal of the season in stoppage time when Portland has everyone pressing forward.
Bonn: Remember way back when I said Portland doesn’t get shut out? 2-0, Columbus. Book it.

Gabriel Jesus eager to lead Arsenal in final push for title

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LONDON — Gabriel Jesus received a standing ovation when he came off the bench in the second half of Arsenal’s win against Crystal Palace and knows he is truly loved.

“So good. They have always been with me,” Gabriel Jesus smiled when ProSoccerTalk asked about the support from the fans. “They help me, push me. The way they did it last Sunday against Fulham it was amazing. I will never forget that. All I want is to give them something back on the pitch. Maybe the next game. I hope a lot.”

Arsenal are running out of ‘next games’ this season and have on hand hovering over the Premier League trophy.

With 10 games to go they sit eight points clear atop the table and the return of their talismanic Brazilian striker from a near four-month injury layoff has given the Gunners a perfect boost ahead of the run-in.

Leading from the front, even on the sidelines

For so long the doubts around Arsenal’s unlikely title bid were all about how they would cope without Gabriel Jesus, a four-time Premier League winner with Manchester City.

He has yet to score in his three appearances in all competitions since returning but (even before the injury) he represents much more than goals.

“It is very good to be back. It is not easy to be out long and have a very, very bad injury. Now I’m back I am fully fit. At the same time I am so happy because the team are doing good to keep the distance to the second,” Jesus said.

“I want to be involved. I was injured but in my mind I was involved. I need to talk, to try to help them with something like talking, or seeing the games. That is why. Always together. Everyone.”

Jesus a total team player

As well as helping the team off the pitch, his play on it helps Arsenal’s other attackers come to life and he has already slotted back in seamlessly.

Jesus admitted he suffered “a lot” while he was out but he’s been helping as much as he can behind-the-scenes and is delighted both Eddie Nketiah and Leandro Trossard have stepped up to boost Arsenal’s attacking options in his absence.

“The team are doing so good. Everybody here is together. When I was getting fit we were sure Eddie can go there and help us and he did it. Trossard came and did it as well. Everyone is together. To be champions of this big, big competition we don’t need only 11 players,” Jesus explained.

He also explained that he has always been watching videos of his games, focusing on the goals he has scored, the chances he has missed and always striving to get better. That dedicated seems to have seeped into his teammates and fans love the extreme dedication of Gabriel Jesus.

Entire squad ready for the run-in

The atmosphere around the Emirates was buzzing throughout their routine win against Crystal Palace as back-up players like Rob Holding, Kieran Tierney, Jakub Kiwior, Emile Smith Rowe and Jorginho all featured as injuries to William Saliba and Takehiro Tomiyasu stretch the squad to its limits but the likes of Reiss Nelson and Fabio Vieira are still in reserve.

The fans, players and staff are together as one and Jesus is happy to be entering the business end of the season with this group as he was asked about Mikel Arteta referring to Arsenal as a ‘family’ unit.

“I believe when you have a good relationship with your teammates everything on the pitch works well. We are top of the league, we are playing good football, we are understanding each other. It is very good to be a family,” Jesus said.

“Now is the best part of the season. End of the season when you have deciding games, big games away and at home. Now is the time we have to play the same, don’t change, still together.”

Jesus is a focused, serious, dedicated individual and the perfect role model for this young Arsenal side. He and Oleksandr Zinchenko have been serial winners at Manchester City in bit-part roles but in their first season at Arsenal they are now thriving as key men in this unlikely title push.

“I think the most important thing is my mind. I keep focused and then come back fully fit,” Jesus said.

Arsenal are glad he’s back fit to further boost their title hopes and the role Jesus has played off the pitch over the last four months could be just as important as his play on it as this young Gunners outfit are still the team to catch.

USMNT upcoming schedule – Nations League, friendlies, Gold Cup

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After reaching the last 16 of the 2022 World Cup, the USMNT have a big 2023 coming up as they aim to build off a successful showing on the world’s biggest stage.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA

For the next few months CONCACAF Nations League takes center stage, while the program is very much in transition as Anthony Hudson takes temporary charge and both the GM (Brian McBride) and Sporting Director (Earnie Stewart) left in recent months.

As for now, here is the USMNT’s upcoming schedule for 2023, with plenty more games to be added based on their potential qualification for the 2023 Gold Cup on home soil.


How to watch USMNT

TV channels in English: HBO Max, TNT
TV channels en Español:
Universo, Telemundo Deportes
Streaming en Español: Peacock


USMNT upcoming schedule

* Friendly | ** CONCACAF Nations League | *** 2022 World Cup

2023

vs. Serbia* — Jan. 25, 10 pm ET — Loss 2-1 | Recap & highlights
vs. Colombia* — Jan. 28, 7:30 pm ET — Draw 0-0 | Recap & highlights
at Grenada** — March 24, 8 pm ET — St. George’s, Grenada
vs El Salvador** — March 27, 7:30pm ET — Orlando, Florida
vs Mexico* — April 19, 10:22pm ET — Glendale, Arizona – More details 

2023 Gold Cup from June 16 to July 19 (USMNT yet to qualify)


USMNT games in 2022

vs. Morocco* — June 1 — Win 3-0
vs. Uruguay* — June 5 — Draw 0-0
vs. Grenada** — June 10 — Win 5-0
at El Salvador** — June 14 — Draw 1-1
vs Japan* — Sept. 23 (in Dusseldorf, Germany) — Loss 2-0
vs Saudi Arabia* — Sept. 27 (in Murcia, Spain) — Draw 0-0


USMNT at 2022 World Cup

Group B
vs. Wales*** — Nov. 21, 2 pm ET — Draw 1-1
vs. England*** — Nov. 25, 2 pm ET — Draw 0-0
vs. Iran*** — Nov. 29, 2 pm ET — Win 1-0

Last 16
vs. Netherlands*** — Dec. 3, 10 am ET — Loss 3-1


USMNT 2022 World Cup qualifying scores, recaps, analysis

at El Salvador — Sept. 2Draw 0-0
vs. Canada — Sept. 5 — Draw 1-1
at Honduras — Sept. 8 — Win 4-1

vs. Jamaica — Oct. 7 — Win 1-0
at Panama — Oct. 10 — Loss 0-1
vs. Costa Rica — Oct. 13 — Win 2-1

vs. Mexico — Nov. 12 — Win 2-0
at Jamaica — Nov. 16 — Draw 1-1

vs. El Salvador — Jan. 27 — Win 1-0
at Canada — Jan. 30 — Loss 0-2
vs. Honduras — Feb. 2 — Win 3-0

at Mexico — March 24 — Draw 0-0 
vs. Panama — March 27 — Win 5-1
at Costa Rica — March 30 — Loss 0-2 


Final CONCACAF World Cup qualifying standings

Canada — 28 points – (QUALIFIED) GD +16 – automatic qualification
Mexico — 28 points (QUALIFIED) GD +9 – automatic qualification
USMNT — 25 points – (QUALIFIED) GD +11 – automatic qualification


Costa Rica — 25 points (PLAYOFF) GD +5


Panama — 21 points (ELIMINATED)
Jamaica — 14 points (ELIMINATED)
El Salvador — 10 points (ELIMINATED)
Honduras — 4 points (ELIMINATED)

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Premier League table, 2022-23 season

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If it’s the 2022-23 Premier League table you’re after, you’ve come to the right place.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]

After the break for the 2022 World Cup, the Premier League returned with a bang and the start to 2023 has delivered plenty of fun.

Now we are approaching the final few months of the campaign, it is so tight up and down the Premier League table.


Who’s looking like title contenders and/or favorites?

As we head into the final months of the 2022-23 season, Arsenal and Manchester City are looking head and shoulders above the rest and although Manchester United briefly surged into the picture, they look more likely to cement their spot as the third best team in the Premier League.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

The Gunners will have their hands full for the duration of their title challenge, as Erling Haaland continues to take the Premier League by storm with an almost impossible goal-scoring record.


What about the top four and European places?

Uneven Tottenham are hanging in the top four battle and for the moment have hunted down Newcastle, while Liverpool is back in the Champions League picture after their return to form and Chelsea looks like a top six finish is their ceiling. For now.

Surprising Fulham, Brentford, and Brighton are all hanging around on the periphery with fine campaigns. Can one of them surprise and qualify for Europe?


Who are the candidates for relegation?

Southampton, West Ham, and Bournemouth currently occupy the relegation places but that keeps changing all the time and it is so tight at the bottom of the table.

Nottingham Forest, Leicester City, Wolves, Leeds, Everton and Crystal Palace all find themselves within a few points of the bottom three as the race to stay in the Premier League intensifies. This could be the craziest relegation scrap in Premier League history.

Below you will find the latest Premier League table.


Premier League table – March 19

Premier League standings

NBC Sports’ standings and scoreboard



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Ranking Premier League Player of the Season candidates

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We are entering the final months of the 2022-23 season and now is a good time to start thinking about the candidates for Premier League Player of the Season.

It’s not that easy this season, is it?

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]  

From Erling Haaland banging in goals galore to Arsenal’s youngsters shinning and talisman across the league carrying their teams, this award could be heading to some very different places.

Below is a look at the Premier League Player of the Season contenders heading into the home stretch.


Ranking the Premier League Player of the Season candidates

7. Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City)

KDB leads the Premier League in assists once again and his silky passes and crosses drive this Manchester City side. He has had dips in form this season and has struggled a little with injuries but he still delivers mind-boggling moments consistently and is always hungry to deliver. He is the kind of character you His connection with Erling Haaland has been particularly strong and KDB is ready to lead City to a late-season trophy push.


6. Harry Kane (Tottenham)

He has hit the 20-goal marker in the Premier League for the sixth time in nine full PL seasons in his career. The other three seasons he scored 17, 18 and 17. His consistency is remarkable and Kane is on track to beat his best-ever PL haul of 30. As well as becoming Spurs’ all-time leading goalscorer, his importance to the way they play is clear. With Heung-min Son having a poor season, Spurs will be worried about Kane suffering from a bad back late in the season from all the carrying he’s done this campaign…


5. Ivan Toney (Brentford)

Brentford’s main man is only behind Kane and Haaland in goals and is leading their unlikely charge for Europe. The Bees and Toney were supposed to be a bit of a one-season wonder but that isn’t the case. Toney has developed his game and like Kane, he links up play superbly and if he doesn’t score, he makes sure to help create plenty of chances. Off the pitch the FA charging him with alleged breaches of their betting rules is hanging over him but on it Toney has been incredible. Plus, his penalty kick record, and technique, is amazing.


4. Marcus Rashford (Manchester United)

In red-hot form since the World Cup, this is the Marcus Rashford we know and love. His runs in-behind have caused havoc and Rashford has become United’s talisman. He needs more help to share the goalscoring burden but he is seeing plenty of chances fall his way as United play direct and to his strengths. Rashford is so hard to mark wherever he starts on the pitch and he’s added clinical finishing to his wonderful pace and intelligent runs.


3. Martin Odegaard (Arsenal)

The Arsenal skipper has been majestic and is so calm on the ball but has also brought a steely determination to his game. He has blossomed as a leader under Mikel Arteta and has popped up with important goals and assists throughout the Gunners’ campaign. Odegaard was always seen as a silky playmaker but he’s added extra grit and drive to his play and his connection with Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Jesus and Gabriel Martinelli is a big reason why Arsenal are challenging for the title.


2. Erling Haaland (Manchester City)

Scoring goals at an incredible rate all season long, Haaland is so tough to stop when Manchester City get going. He has scored all types of goals and has slotted in seamlessly. There are still spells when he goes a few games without a goal but he always bounces back and his hold-up play is improving even as Premier League defenders become more aware of his movements. He is a special talent, a powerhouse and a goal-machine. If City win the title, Haaland’s goals will be a huge reason why.


1. Bukayo Saka (Arsenal)

It’s hard to believe Saka is still just 21 years old. He was a star at the World Cup with England and his early goals and assists in games have been a key feature of Arsenal’s title push. Saka is so hard to stop when he gets going as he can go either way, whip in a delightful cross or score a beauty of his own. He is the complete attacking player and the Arsenal academy graduate is a club legend in the making. What a season he’s had and he never seems to run out of steam.


Honorable mentions: Bruno Guimaraes (Newcastle), Kieran Trippier (Newcastle), Casemiro (Manchester United), Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United), Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Rodri (Manchester City), Alexis Mac Allister (Brighton), Moises Caicedo (Brighton), William Saliba (Arsenal), Gabriel Martinelli (Arsenal), Thomas Partey (Arsenal), Gabriel Jesus (Arsenal), Leandro Trossard (Brighton, Arsenal), James Maddison (Leicester City), Rodrigo Bentancur (Tottenham), Jack Grealish (Manchester City), Miguel Almiron (Newcastle), Joao Palhinha (Fulham)