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MLS preview: Orlando-Philadelphia Friday appetizer leads to tasty weekend

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With the MLS tables still looking topsy-turvey four games into the young season, Seattle has a golden opportunity to build on its first points of the year, while teams like Columbus, D.C., and New York will need big performances if they wish to get themselves back on track.

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More on that in a bit. First, a Friday taste brings us a pair of teams with surprisingly good starts.

Philadelphia Union vs. Orlando City SC – Friday, 7:00 p.m. ET

Orlando City leads the packed Eastern Conference and Philadelphia sits two points back as both teams come into today with a pair of wins on the season. Orlando is unbeaten thus far, and Kaka has returned after missing the first three games of the year, and he was stellar last week in a win over Portland. That record will be tested, as they will be without Brek Shea, who scored a goal in the Portland win, but had a yellow card changed to a red following the match, and thus is suspended. Also, Cyle Larin’s hamstring injury will keep him out, and Tommy Redding will miss with a head injury.

New England Revolution vs. Toronto FC – Saturday, 4:00 p.m. ET

Two teams with just one win on the year meet at Gillette Stadium on Saturday. Toronto will have to buck a few trends to turn things around from two straight defeats and pick up some points. They have not scored in their last two matches, building on a dubious streak of 94 scoreless minutes. They also have lost four of their last five to New England, and seven of their last nine regular season road matches.

Montreal Impact vs. Columbus Crew – Saturday, 4:00 p.m. ET

Montreal is another club that’s failed to score its last two times out, although their situation is different after picking up wins in their first two matches which still has them second in the East. Columbus will look to strike on Montreal’s slide, still without a win on the year and in the East basement. The Crew may also want to use some of their playoff mojo if any is leftover, having knocked Montreal out with a thrilling 3-1 extra time win in the second leg. Stat to note: Montreal has conceded four set-piece goals in four games, while two of Columbus’s three goals this season have come off corners.

D.C. United vs. Vancouver Whitecaps – Saturday, 5:30 p.m. ET

D.C. remains without a win, and they’ll need an upset in form if that will change this weekend. Vancouver is unbeaten in three conceding just a single goal across that span, and none since 52nd minute against Seattle back in mid-March. The Whitecaps have improved defensively, and D.C. will need to match them if they hope to pick up the season’s first win.

New York Red Bulls vs. Sporting KC – Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ET

The referees haven’t helped, but the defending Supporters’ Shield winners have just three points on the year. As they travel to a seemingly revived Sporting KC, the central defense situation hasn’t improved. Kemar Lawrence, already an emergency option in the middle, was injured last week and is likely out for this weekend. Damien Perrinelle, Ronald Zubar, and Gideon Baah all missed out last week and will likely do so again in this bigtime meeting. Sporting KC failed in an attempt to beat a shorthanded team last week, falling to Real Salt Lake at home, but they get another go at the situation again this time around.

FC Dallas vs. San Jose Earthquakes – Saturday, 9:00 p.m. ET

FC Dallas is maybe the league’s hottest team, taking last season’s momentum and carrying it over, translating to 10 points through five matches. With an already good start, it could get better with key attacking cog Mauro Diaz set to return, having already found his way back to training. This already feels like an important meeting, with the Western Conference so clogged with points already. San Jose has seven points through four games, a quality haul by any standards, and yet they sit in just seventh. Points here would be huge to vault up the table in the early going.

Real Salt Lake vs. Colorado Rapids – Saturday, 9:30 p.m. ET

A pair of revived teams meet in a late Saturday match. Real Salt Lake has scored a whopping eight goals this season, quite the number after finding themselves shut out 14 times last season. That scoring form comes into this game against a Rapids side that will be shorthanded, with defender Mekeil Williams stuck in Trinidad & Tobago with a visa issue after playing for his national team in World Cup qualifying. Meanwhile, it’s the opposite for RSL as Kyle Beckerman returns from suspension along with Jamison Olave and Burrito Martinez.

Houston Dynamo vs. Seattle Sounders – Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET

The Seattle Sounders are still bottom of the Western Conference. That’s funky no matter what way it’s spun, but with their first win of the season last time out, they are poised to turn things around. All three of their losses came by one goal, and that’s how they won last weekend, so things could be turning their way. The Sounders will need to buck a trend if they wish to come back home victorious, having never won at BBVA Compass Stadium in six tries. Houston, meanwhile, has scored 11 goals this season and conceded eight, so they’ll need to bring that latter number down if they wish to take advantage of the colossal tally up front.

New York City FC vs. Chicago Fire – Sunday, 7:00 p.m. ET

A pair of clubs with five points on the year look for separation in the East. Mark Geiger will referee this match after having come under fire for some red cards early in this season. NYCFC manager Patrick Viera said some handed out so far have been “harsh” so keep an eye on the discipline of this game. Chicago defender Johan Kappelhof is one to watch, having started his MLS career off quite well, earning MLS Team of the Week honors last time out in a 1-0 win over Philadelphia.

L.A. Galaxy vs. Portland Timbers – Sunday, 9:30 p.m. ET

Portland hasn’t seen victory since the first week of the season, and as a result, they are only buffered from the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings by Cascadia brethren Seattle. However, a 5-2 win over the Galaxy late last year sparked a stunning unbeaten run that ran them to the MLS Cup. Can they use the same opponent as a springboard yet again? They’ll need to improve quick, as Kaka tore them to shreds last weekend.  The Galaxy, meanwhile, been all over the map amidst a host of injury problems. Steven Gerrard is a question mark having not returned to full training from a calf injury, Robbie Keane is still on the shelf after knee surgery, and Gio dos Santos is back to training but still could be held back.

Neymar pays tribute to Kobe Bryant (video)

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Neymar dedicated his second goal to Kobe Bryant, who, along with eight others, tragically passed away on Sunday.

The Brazilian star approached a sideline camera after his second goal of the night, gesturing the numbers two and four with his fingers, a number worn by Bryant during his time with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Following the game, Neymar paid additional respect to Bryant via Twitter.

It reads in English: “Sad day for us in sports, for us fans and especially for Kobe’s family and friends. A legend has been made with your hands, thank you for extolling the Kobe sport … may God comfort the hearts of your family and friends”

Bryant, 41, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and six others, died in the helicopter accident on Sunday morning in Southern California.

A basketball legend and soccer fan, others within the sport paid tribute to Bryant:

Klopp admits Liverpool youngsters will feature in Shrewsbury replay

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In proper FA Cup fashion, League One side Shrewsbury Town pulled off a late draw against Liverpool, forcing a replay at Anfield.

[ RECAP: Shrewsbury forces FA Cup replay with Liverpool ]

The replay, which is set to take place during the Premier League’s winter break, is going to be a problem for Liverpool, according to manager Jurgen Klopp. First-team players have been granted the time off, forcing Klopp and company to play the “kids” for the upcoming replay of the fourth-round bout.

“We intend to honor the original idea of the break,” the Liverpool manager said on Sunday. “We have respect for the players’ welfare and they need this time off.”

“We got a letter from the authorities in April last year asking us not to organize anything during the week of the break and we haven’t,” he added. “We have given the players the time off, and some are going away. They will still be keeping fit, but they do not have to play football that week and they do not have to come in to Melwood.”

Jason Cummings’ right-footed strike in the 75th minute nulled Liverpool’s two-goal advantage early in the second half. The German also admitted that there was no reason for a replay on Tuesday 4 February or Wednesday 5 February.

“We lost the ball in the wrong moments and we never got used to the pitch,” he said. “We conceded the penalty after losing the ball and when they scored their second goal it was after we had lost two challenges in a row. We didn’t play well enough to take anything from the game, we got what we deserved. I would like to give Shrewsbury credit for their performance and the atmosphere their supporters produced. I enjoyed the atmosphere around the cup tie, I just didn’t enjoy the way we played.”

Liverpool squanders lead as Shrewsbury forces FA Cup replay

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Liverpool may be crushing the Premier League, but League One side Shrewsbury Town wasn’t phased facing the juggernaut at its home ground New Meadow, not even after falling 2-0 down on a horrid own-goal. Instead, the hosts came back to draw 2-2 and force an FA Cup fourth round replay at Anfield.

Liverpool started a youthful lineup that featured youngsters Curtis Jones, Neco Williams, Pedro Chirivella, and Harvey Elliott mixed in with Takumi Minamino, Divock Origi, and Dejan Lovren. The opener came in the 15th minute via 18-year-old Jones who slurped up a fabulous through ball from Chirivella and slotted it home from a tight angle past a charging Shrewsbury goalkeeper Max O’Leary.

[ EARLIER: Man City torches Fulham | Man United hammers Tranmere ]

The second came just seconds after the second-half restart on a comical own-goal as former Manchester United defender Donald Love poked a Williams cross into his own net under absolutely no pressure. It was a brainless decision as it appeared Love meant to poke the ball behind for a corner, but with nobody nearby, he somehow finished into the lower left corner instead.

After Liverpool doubled its lead at 2-0, Shrewsbury came to life and began to challenge the young Liverpool lineup. Callum Lang found himself through on goal with a great chance to bring the hosts back into the match, but his one-on-one change was saved by the fingertips of a diving Adrian. Shrewsbury did eventually cut the lead in half after Yasser Larouci cut down Josh Laurent in the penalty area and substitute Jason Cummings slotted home the chance from the spot.

The Shrews were a tough out with confidence back high after the goal, O’Leary made a fantastic diving save to stop Divock Origi. He booted down the field and and they drew level in the 75th minute as Cummings grabbed his second as he brought down a long ball and split the Liverpool defensive duo Williams and Lovren. Once past the Liverpool defenders he slotted home cooly past Adrian to equalize.

Jones nearly won it for Liverpool late as the ball squirted across the line in a goalmouth scramble, but his sliding effort was blocked off the line by a Scott Goldbourne tackle.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Eriksen to Inter nearly complete, Spurs looking for replacement

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Tottenham Hotspur is in the news on multiple fronts this Sunday morning, for both incoming and outgoing transfer rumors.

Christian Eriksen, who has been heavily linked with a move to Inter, is nearing the completion of that deal, according to Inter CEO Beppe Marotta who went public with the news. “We are not hiding, we have been negotiating with Tottenham for some time,” Marotta told DAZN about the Eriksen move. “I am optimistic, I hope to conclude as quickly as possible. I am confident that it can be resolved in the next few days.”

Despite all the speculation, Eriksen has been playing for Spurs, but he was held out of the squad for Saturday’s 1-1 FA Cup draw with Southampton. Gianluca di Marzio reports that talks have progressed to the stage where Eriksen is expected in Italy today for a medical.

The 27-year-old’s contract is up at the end of the season, and Spurs clearly wished to offload him early rather than see him leave for nothing. However, the delay Marotta suggested is reportedly due to Spurs hoping to secure an attacking replacement. Reports state their talks for Real Sociedad striker Willian Jose have fallen flat, while Spurs have reached out to PSV about Steven Bergwjin and continue to hold interest in AC Milan striker Krzysztof Piatek.

Tottenham has also reportedly been in contact with Juventus, according to tabloid reports in England. It would cost Spurs around $33 million, a win for Juventus given they signed Can on a free transfer in the summer of 2018. The 26-year-old midfielder has yet to earn a consistent place on the Juve squad packed with midfielders, with just eight Serie A appearances this season.

Leicester City is in a fight for the top four, but the Foxes have come down to Earth a bit in Premier League play, having picked up just 10 points in their last eight matches. That could push Leicester to make a move for a January reinforcement, and they have been linked with young French midfielder  Ibrahima Diallo.

According to a report in France, Leicester City submitted a $17.6 million bid for the 20-year-old who plays for Ligue 1 club Brest. The former Monaco youth product has 18 appearances for the 13th placed side, playing 90-minute shifts in nearly all of those.

Unfortunately for Leicester City, the report states that Diallo is wary of a move too soon in his career, wanting to finish out the year. That’s still workable, with the possibility of a permanent deal to Leicester City in January followed by a loan back to Brest for the remainder of the season, if that placates the player.

Italian outlet Gazzetta dello Sport is confident that Everton will move forward with the pursuit of Inter midfielder Matias Vecino before the January deadline.

The Sunday edition of the publication claims that Inter received an offer for the 28-year-old Uruguayan who’s made 14 appearances for Inter this season but has recently been out of the squad the last few weeks. The report says he’s interested in a move to Everton, and therefore the Toffees have gone forwad with a bid.