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Major League Soccer’s Week 4 preview: Crew, Sounders stare down tough slump stoppers

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Last week saw just a trio of MLS games due to the international break, but we get a full slate of games this weekend.

[ MORE: Stock up/stock down after USMNT’s wild qualifiers ]

That features two perceived powers, Columbus and Seattle, aching to end early season slumps despite very tricky inter-conference competition.

FC Dallas vs. Columbus Crew — 9 p.m. ET Saturday

We live in a world where there is a very real possibility that the Eastern Conference champion Crew will be without a win after four matches.

That’s because Dallas has looked very good while Columbus has not only failed to cure its MLS Cup hangover, but also has Ethan Finlay, Tony Tchani and Wil Trapp returning from very busy international breaks.

This is MLS, of course, so it stands to reason that Columbus will pick up a huge win. We won’t pick that, though, because Fabian Castillo, Matt Hedges and stuff.

Prediction: Dallas 2-1.

Seattle Sounders vs. Montreal Impact — 10 p.m. ET Saturday

Montreal is flying halfway across a continent for this, which is good for struggling Seattle. Teams tend to find real trouble on these long trips, and Montreal won just one of its five Western roadies last season. Seattle went 5-0 when an Eastern Conference foe came calling in Washington.

So do you bet on form, which would have Montreal picking up three points? Or do you bet on a combination of geography and biology? We’ll meet this one halfway.

Prediction: 1-1

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Los Angeles Galaxy — 10 p.m. ET Saturday

Two teams many figured to be competing for the Supporters Shield tangle in British Columbia with the risk of sinking further off the pace.

The ‘Caps are 2-2 after four matches, while L.A. is 2-1. Vancouver will be without Masato Kudo, who was suspended for his game-winning penalty dive against Houston but has won two-straight, and swept its season series with the Galaxy last season.

Robbie Keane is out 4-6 weeks, and that could help the Canadian side. In fact, coupled with L.A.’s week off while the ‘Caps beat the Dynamo, we bet it’ll make the difference.

Prediction: ‘Caps 2-1.

Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget, left, and Vancouver Whitecaps defender Kendall Waston fight for a head ball in the second half of an MLS soccer game at StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., Saturday, June 6, 2015. The Whitecaps won 1-0. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
(AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

[ Q&A: NASL commissioner Bill Peterson ]

Picking the rest
New England 1-0 New York Red Bulls — Friday
Chicago Fire 2-2 Philadelphia Union — Saturday
Colorado Rapids 1-2 Toronto FC — Saturday
Sporting KC 1-0 Real Salt Lake — Saturday
San Jose Earthquakes 3-1 DC United — Saturday
Orlando City 1-1 Portland Timbers — Sunday

Aubameyang: Arsenal coaching change can help “stagnation”

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Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is politely echoing what many Gunners supporters have been saying for some time when it comes to Arsene Wenger leaving the Emirates Stadium set.

[ MORE: Next USMNT-Mexico date set ]

Unai Emery has been tabbed to replace the departing legend, who oversaw a relatively poor sixth place finish in the Premier League this season.

From RMC, translated by Goal.com:

“I think it’s a little bit of a mixed feeling in fact,” Aubameyang said. “On one hand, it’s strange for all the fans that the coach has left. But it’s definitely a fresh start.”

“Since over the last few seasons – you have to tell the truth – the club has stagnated a little bit, I think everyone is actually a little bit excited to see what happens next season.”

The 28-year-old striker scored 10 times for Arsenal since arriving from Borussia Dortmund in January, scoring or assisting in 10 of 13 Premier League matches and bagging braces in two appearances.

“Hopeful” Commisso extends deadline for $500m NASL restoration

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New York Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso tells ProSoccerTalk that he has extended his deadline in regards to his $500 million investment offer to fund a resurgent North American Soccer League.

Why? Well, for one, Commisso feels that progress is being made, so much so that he’s willing to characterize his outlook as “hopeful.”

“There’s been a lot of back-and-forth, they basically said they can’t get everything done by the 31st and they need more time and that’s the reason why we changed the deadline,” Commisso said.

U.S. Soccer told the NASL it could not meet prior to the June 13 vote regarding 2026 World Cup hosting. In extending his deadline to May 31, Commisso is asking for a few commitments from U.S. Soccer.

Commisso wants U.S. Soccer to commit to a board meeting with a “yes or no” vote no later than June 29, and wants U.S. Soccer to provide a list of prerequisite actions needed to have such a decision on his proposal at said meeting. And he wants a commitment from U.S. Soccer to stick to the timeline.

So what’s the impetus for Commisso’s hopeful nature?

“They’ve showed some good faith and I’m willing to move if they’re willing to do X, Y, and Z. It’s a moving thing and I’m being flexible to their asks and to see at what point and time they’re going to come up with something else.”

Commisso said his deadlines have not been about putting pressure on USSF, rather the many things he’d have to do to get the NASL back on the field by March 2019 for a season with a minimum of 10 teams, which would be sanctioned as D-2.

Additionally, the 10-year runway would include D-1 sanctioning in 2020 with a minimum of 14 teams, a minimum of 10,000-seat stadia, a minimum of three time zones represented, as well as a plan to introduce promotion and relegation in said top flight.

He’d also need multi-team ownership to start, but said that would be solved by independent ownership at the end of the 10-year runway, if not sooner, with all teams meeting the current Professional League Standards for D-1.

“I’m asking for the 10 years, let’s be clear,” Commisso said. “If you read our original letters, we’ve always asked for the ability of multi-ownership. We put out a chart that goes back all the way to 1996 that shows the transition from 1996 to 2011, that during those periods there were certain owners with multi-teams. In 2003, three guys owned the entire league, so that’s what I’m asking for.”

Commisso said that, like the MLS build-up in the late 1990s and early 2000s, there would be safeguards in place to maintain sporting integrity, and that his full 2019 roster of clubs would be finalized by Sept. 20, with the NASL’s league ops fully restored by New Year’s Eve. There’s also an ask of commitment from USSF to address governance issues by February 2019.

The $250 million he’s investing is joined by $50 million each from Miami FC owner Riccardo Silva and Jacksonville Armada owner Robert Palmer, plus help from “leading Wall Street banks.”

The NASL has already identified 12 potential clubs, 11 of which are in metropolitan areas with populations above one million. The investment would go to building modular soccer-specific stadia in some markets, and his league would put an emphasis on youth development and domestic players.

“I’m hopeful that the leadership of U.S. Soccer sees in the largest investment ever proposed by a single individual for the benefit of American soccer getting this through as quickly as possible.”

Italy coach Mancini leaves door open for Gianluigi Buffon

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FLORENCE, Italy (AP) Italy coach Roberto Mancini says former captain Gianluigi Buffon will still be considered if he wants to return to the national team.

Buffon retired from international soccer in November after Italy lost a World Cup playoff to Sweden, but he recently returned for friendlies.

[ MORE: Next USMNT-Mexico date set ]

Mancini says “(Buffon) wants to continue playing football … Everyone who will play and will be among the best can be considered for the national team.”

Buffon is expected to bid the national team goodbye for good in another friendly on June 4 against the Netherlands at Allianz Stadium. However, at a news conference last week to announce his departure from Juventus, Buffon insisted he had made the last of his 176 appearances for his country.

Champions League Final to return to Istanbul

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Here’s a bit of news which will put smiles on Liverpool supporters’ faces ahead of the weekend’s big UEFA Champions League Final against Real Madrid.

The UEFA Champions League Final is headed back to Istanbul, the city known for boasting perhaps the most celebrated moment in Liverpool history.

[ MORE: Next USMNT-Mexico date set ]

Istanbul’s Ataturk Olympic Stadium will host the 2020 UCL Final, 15 years after the Reds rallied from a 3-0 halftime deficit to defeat AC Milan in penalty kicks.

The 2019 final will be held in Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, home of Atletico Madrid.