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Major League Soccer’s Week 3 preview: Surprising strugglers, Cali Clasico and more

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Every team has a bad week and, given the unpredictable nature of Major League Soccer, most teams will experience back-to-back clunkers at some point in a season.

But three? Three usually leads to panic (at least a little).

Several teams with promising offseasons are scratching their heads after two weeks of MLS 2016. As Week 3 takes hold on Friday, which ones might have to worry if their struggles trend into a third week?

[ MORE: Man Utd-Liverpool recap | 3 things | Europa roundup ]

New York Red Bulls, Columbus Crew, Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps are all 0-2. All could remain winless after the weekend, though it’d be shocking if the first two fail to get at least a point from their matches.

Two of those teams square off, headlining our Week 3 preview.

Seattle Sounders vs. Vancouver Whitecaps — 10 p.m. ET Saturday

Washington will be the venue for this pair of Cascadia Cup rivals, both hoping to halt tough runs to start the season. While the ‘Caps lost to 3-2 Montreal and 2-1 to Sporting KC, Seattle has scored just one goal in season-opening losses to KC and Real Salt Lake.

It’s been a bit of baptism by fire for Jordan Morris, who is shouldering more responsibility than expected after the departure of Obafemi Martins. He’s looked lively, but has yet to dent the score sheet.

As for Vancouver, they sent mercurial attacker Darren Mattocks packing this week and will hope that’s a bit of addition by subtraction. Both teams know a rivalry win could trigger the good vibes they so badly want to reclaim. The visiting team in this series went 3-0 last year. We’ll be watching to see if that improbable trend continues, or if Carl Robinson will be further vexed by his charges.

Prediction: 2-2.

Los Angeles Galaxy vs. San Jose Earthquakes — 10:30 p.m. ET Saturday

Get multiple screens ready, or at least your recording device, as the California Clasico takes its first strides in 2016. L.A. is smarting after a shocking road defeat to Colorado that set them back to 1-1, while Dominic Kinnear’s Quakes are feeling good with a 2-0 start to the season.

On paper, the Quakes will like their chances after beating the same Rapids team that topped the Galaxy last weekend, but not only does this match carry rivalry stakes, L.A.’s massive star and veteran qualities should have them raring to get back on the home — or any — pitch.

Prediction: Galaxy 2-1

Sporting Kansas City's Matt Besler, left, vies for the ball with Toronto FC's Jozy Altidore as Sporting KC's Jimmy Medranda, right, chases during the first half of an MLS soccer match in Toronto on Saturday, Aug. 8, 2015. (Frank Gunn /The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
(Frank Gunn /The Canadian Press via AP)

Sporting KC vs. Toronto FC7 p.m. ET Sunday

Through two weeks, this bad boy looks like an MLS Cup final preview. KC has beaten a pair of decent opponents in Seattle and Vancouver, while TFC cruised past New York Red Bulls before picking up a point at Yankee Stadium.

Both of those came without Jozy Altidore, and Toronto may have to live life without the big USMNT striker again this week (though he’s expected to be named to the U.S. roster for this month’s World Cup qualifiers).

TFC is again dealing with stadium expansion, and this is match three of an eight-match road swing to start the season. This one would have tough night written all over it in the past, but their veteran additions — especially goalkeeper Clint Irwin — could hold sway here.

Prediction: 1-1.

The rest
New York City 2-1 Orlando City
Chicago Fire 0-2 Columbus Crew
New York Red Bulls 2-0 Houston Dynamo
FC Dallas 2-2 Montreal Impact
Portland Timbers 1-0 Real Salt Lake
Philadelphia Union 1-1 New England Revolution
DC United 3-1 Colorado Rapids

Sadio Mane injury update

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An injury update has arrived on Sadio Mane after the Liverpool winger was subbed off in the first half of their 2-1 win at Wolverhampton Wanderers on Thursday.

Mane, 27, is Liverpool’s leading goalscorer this season and the Senegalese star has taken his game to a new level.

Asked for an update on Mane’s fitness, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp confirmed the details and that the Premier League leaders will assess the damage further.

“Sadio is a real shame he had to go off,” Klopp said. “Hopefully it’s not too bad – just a muscle tweak, but we will see tomorrow.”

Asked about their gruelling schedule coming up before their mid-season player break in mid-February, Liverpool’s boss basically confirmed that Mane will not play in the FA Cup fourth round this weekend.

“That is tough and it’s probably without Sadio,” Klopp said when asked about their FA Cup trip to Shrewsbury on Sunday.

Klopp was then about the pressure of being 16 points clear at the top of the Premier League table and look nailed on to win their first league title in over 30 years, Klopp shrugged it off but mentioned that the next week will take a big toll on his players.

“I didn’t think about it, I know we play Sunday at Shrewsbury, I know we play Wednesday at West Ham and I know we play Saturday,” Klopp said. “That’s three games in seven days which is a lot. We lost Sadio Mane and that’s the pressure I think about. All the rest is no pressure.”

Mane has spearheaded Liverpool’s title procession this season and there seems to be no real need to rush him back from a hamstring injury.

With the damage done and Liverpool’s Premier League title all but secured, Klopp should focus on having him fit for their upcoming UEFA Champions League knockout games. That should be the focus as the likes of Divock Origi, Takumi Minamino, Curtis Jones and Xherdan Shaqiri can step in for Mane.

Liverpool cannot replace Mane, especially given his form this season, but given the comfortable situation they find themselves in there’s no need to risk losing him for an extended period of time.

Javier Hernandez explains retirement comments

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Javier ‘Chicharito‘ has explained comments he made about his move to the LA Galaxy and Major League Soccer as he mentioned the word ‘retirement’ in his YouTube reality show which featured him talking about his move to LA.

That’s right, using the words retirement and MLS in the same sentence will unleash an unreal level of fury among the most ardent supporters of North America’s top-flight.

Chicharito, 31, was shown in tears as he spoke with his parents on the phone about his move to the Galaxy and it appears his comments have been blown out of proportion as he was speaking about the end of his European journey as he returns to North America.

“It’s so simple. I think all over the world, but in my country, we love and we are, like, obsessed with drama and excess,” Hernandez said. “They don’t really listen to what I said at the beginning of the retirement (comment). This retirement could last 10 years. That word is strong for them when I mention (retirement), but it’s just the beginning of that. Hopefully this beginning is going to last so long.”

Drama? LA? Soccer? Surely not…

Hernandez has issued some much-needed perspective on this topic. Is he heading towards the end of his career? Well, folks, water is wet. Anybody who tries to say MLS is not a great place for stars from Europe to see out the final years of their careers is in denial. There is still a place in MLS for huge names to raise the profile of the league and have a swansong while they are paid handsomely.

MLS isn’t dominated by those type of players anymore but we’ve all seen the success David Villa, Thierry Henry and Robbie Keane had and more recently Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney.

Yes, Hernandez probably should have not used the word ‘retirement’ but it was taken out of context and even if he now realizes he’s in the final years of his career he seems hellbent on enjoying them in the USA as he tries to restore the Galaxy’s status as the elite club in MLS.

Chicharito is keeping it real and we salute him for that. Anybody who has a serious problem with his comments should probably just go back to yelling at the clouds.

Chicharito seizes chance to be center of the Galaxy

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Carson, Calif. — Javier Hernandez has been to the top of the soccer world. He spent the last 10 years in Europe’s top leagues, winning trophies and representing some of the biggest clubs.

Yet from Manchester United to Sevilla, the Mexican striker better known as Chicharito often struggled to get consistent playing time.

Whether his path was blocked by Wayne Rooney‘s brilliance or a manager’s lack of confidence in him, Hernandez rarely got to show his full talent. When he wasn’t fighting injuries, he often served as a key backup instead of a centerpiece.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

That’s the main reason the 31-year-old Hernandez agreed to return to North America with the LA Galaxy, who introduced their latest superstar acquisition Thursday.

Chicharito is the center of the Galaxy now, and he is thrilled.

“I just want to play,” Hernandez said in his distinctively rapid bilingual delivery. “This league and this team, it’s giving me that opportunity (to show) that I’m one of the best players around the world. That’s why they want me to be here, to try to improve this league and this team. … It’s a win-win-win-win. I know I’ll be on the pitch most of the time if I keep working hard for the club. I’m going to be doing what I loved since I was in the belly of my mother.”

With Chicharito playing in only nine games so far this season for Sevilla, the timing was finally perfect for this long-rumored combination of player and club.

While the Galaxy made major improvements and reached the playoffs last season behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s franchise-record 30 goals, they desperately needed another topflight striker at the center of coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s attack when Ibrahimovic chose to return to Europe. Unlike most Major League Soccer clubs, the Galaxy have the money to go get elite talents, even in the January transfer window.

Hernandez is well aware of the five-time MLS champions’ history of landing world-class players, reeling off his own list of favorites: “Robbie Keane. Steven Gerrard. Giovani Dos Santos. Jonathan Dos Santos. Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Landon Donovan. David Beckham, that’s the most iconic one, obviously. And then my name is over those. I’m just so blessed and so humble that I can be a part of all this.”

The speedy, shifty Chicharito likely fits Barros Schlelotto’s style even better than the hulking Zlatan, and the Argentine coach worked aggressively behind the scenes to land Hernandez.

While Chicharito’s European career got off to a strong start at Manchester United under the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson, he repeatedly struggled elsewhere when managers clearly didn’t believe in his abilities.

[ MORE: Premier League Club Power Rankings ]

“More than anybody, Guillermo was involved in making it happen,” said Galaxy general manager Dennis Te Kloese, who has known Chicharito since the player’s childhood. “In the end, it had to do with Javier’s interest in being a part of this organization because he’s going to be in a team and with a coach who has a lot of trust in him.”

That clearly wasn’t always the case in Hernandez’s European career. After four years in Manchester, Chicharito spent one season at Real Madrid and two more at Bayer Leverkusen, followed by two seasons back in the Premiership at West Ham. He scored goals at every stop, but never landed a permanent, consistent role matching his importance to the Mexican national team.

“I think what makes a lot of the world-class players even better is (how) they get used to their circumstances,” Chicharito said. “That’s something that I think I can bring. I want to show them that I’ve never been a selfish player – even though strikers are going to be in front of everyone, and I’m probably going to take the shot. I’m completely motivated.”

The top goal-scorer in the history of the Mexican national team already knows Los Angeles from many trips representing El Tri, which is invariably treated as the home team at the Rose Bowl by California’s massive Mexican-American population. Chicharito was greeted at the airport by hundreds of noisy fans when he arrived with his young family Wednesday night.

“I’ve been playing in this country since I was 16 years old,” Chicharito said. “I’ve won a lot of games here, and I’ve been treated with a lot of value and respect. I want that, and it’s coming from the best club in the USA. They came to get me, and that speaks of what they think of me.”

While the MLS is an undeniable step back in overall exposure and competition, Hernandez knows he will deal with even more scrutiny on his home continent from the fans and Spanish-language media based in Los Angeles.

That extra scrutiny has already started: When Chicharito’s YouTube reality show released an episode Wednesday in which Hernandez told his father that moving to the Galaxy was “like the beginning of my retirement,” fans and critics immediately seized on the term often used to denigrate MLS.

Chicharito explained himself with a smile before he held aloft his Galaxy jersey and formally began his next chapter.

“In my country, we love and we are, like, obsessed with drama and excess,” Hernandez said, clarifying that he only meant he had finished the European portion of his career.

“They don’t really listen to what I said at the beginning of the retirement (comment). This retirement could last 10 years. That word is strong for them when I mention (retirement), but it’s just the beginning of that. Hopefully this beginning is going to last so long.”

Simeone has no plans to leave Atletico Madrid despite setbacks

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It might seem insane, the idea that anyone other than Diego Simeone would manage Atletico Madrid any time soon.

And if the 49-year-old Argentine manager comes available, the market for his services is going to be active.

Simeone was answering questions about his future following Atleti’s stunning 2-1 loss to third-tier Cultural Leonessa in the Copa del Rey’s Round of 32 on Thursday.

“I have the desire to work like every day since I arrived,” Simeone said, via Marca. “The penalties or the extra time in the Champions League didn’t change me, nor will going out in this round. I have an important squad and results will come soon.”

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Simeone has led Atleti to a La Liga crown, two Europa League titles, and a pair of Champions League finals.

He’s a three-time La Liga coach of the year, and Atleti has finished Top Three in all of his seasons at the club except 2011/12. He was hired in December of that year and won Europa.

The third-place run is at risk this season, and not because Simeone hasn’t been able to marshal his back line (Come on, obviously). The club has struggled to find goals without Antoine Griezmann, though massive signing Joao Felix has shown signs. After Alvaro Morata’s 10 goals, only Angel Correa (5) and Felix (4) have more than two.

Hence all the Edinson Cavani talk. And the Alexandre Lacazette talk.

If Simeone were to be looking for a job, it would be interesting to see how many jobs would almost instantly become available.