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MLS preview: Top-5 showdowns in East, West make for important weekend

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Previewing the biggest games across Major League Soccer this weekend…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

New York Red Bulls vs. Montreal Impact — Saturday, 7 p.m. ET (MLS Live)

The Red Bulls are currently the walking wounded with the majority of their defensive unit unavailable through injuries, and set to be so for quite some time: MF Dax McCarty (broken leg), CB Damien Perrinelle (ankle, knee), CB Gideon Baah (broken leg) and RB Connor Lade (torn ACL), as well as Bradley Wright-Phillips (undisclosed injury).

Suffice it to say, this is hardly the time Jesse Marsch would want to come up against a peaking and in-form Impact side, with whom the Red Bulls are currently level on points (33) while having played two more games than the bunch from Quebec. On top of the ill-timed meeting of Eastern Conference powers, there’s also the ill-time return of Didier Drogba (from the dumbest red card of 2016), who’s contributed 13 goals (8 goals, 5 assists) in 13 appearances this season (following 12 — 11 goals, 1 assist — in 11 games in 2015). Also featured: a pair of MVP candidates — Ignacio Piatti (12 goals, 5 assists in 20 games0 and Sacha Kljestan (5 goals, 13 assists in 23 games).

We’ll officially call it an eight-team race for the playoffs in the East…

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
NYCFC 24 10 7 7 40 40 0 4-5-3 6-2-4 37
Toronto FC 23 10 6 7 33 24 9 7-3-1 3-3-6 36
RBNY 24 9 6 9 40 32 8 8-1-2 1-5-7 33
Montreal 22 8 9 5 37 31 6 6-3-2 2-6-3 33
Philadelphia 23 8 7 8 38 37 1 7-3-2 1-4-6 31
New England 23 6 8 9 29 40 -11 5-4-2 1-4-7 26
Orlando City SC 22 5 11 6 36 39 -3 4-7-1 1-4-5 26
D.C. United 22 5 9 8 22 28 -6 4-3-4 1-6-4 24

[ MORE: “This guy’s crazy, but he can play” — Jermaine Jones in his own words ]

FC Dallas vs. Sporting Kansas City — Saturday, 9 p.m. ET (MLS Live)

Speaking of ill-timed showdowns of magnitude, an FCD side selected at close to full-strength, which needed 120 minutes to come back and beat the LA Galaxy in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals on Wednesday, has 72 hours to prepare for a full-rested (but suspension-riddled) Sporting KC side Saturday night in Frisco, Tex., where it’ll be close to 100 degrees (and a possibility of thunderstorms) at kickoff.

FCD have lost just one of their last seven and remain unbeaten at home this season, while SKC have dropped three of their last seven and have won just two games away from home all season (none since April 9). SKC will be without midfielders Roger Espinoza and Soni Mustivar (suspensions) for this one, meaning a serious overhaul of the midfield is in order for Peter Vermes. Expect a center back — either Nuno Coelho or Lawrence Olum — to slot into the defensive midfield spot with just one regular midfield contributor, Benny Feilhaber, eligible for action.

A look at the Supporters’ Shield and home-field advantage races in the West…

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
FC Dallas 24 13 5 6 37 31 6 9-3-0 4-2-6 44
Colorado 22 11 8 3 26 19 7 9-3-0 2-5-3 41
Real Salt Lake 24 10 7 7 35 34 1 6-5-0 4-2-7 37
LA Galaxy 22 9 10 3 37 22 15 6-5-0 3-5-3 37
Sporting KC 25 10 4 11 28 28 0 8-1-4 2-3-7 34
Portland 24 8 8 8 36 34 2 8-2-3 0-6-5 32
Vancouver 24 8 6 10 33 39 -6 5-5-2 3-1-8 30
San Jose 22 6 10 6 23 24 -1 6-4-1 0-6-5 28
Seattle 22 7 3 12 24 29 -5 5-1-5 2-2-7 24

[ MORE: Nashville joins cities seeking MLS expansion team ]

LA Galaxy vs. Colorado Rapids — Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET (MLS Live)

The quick turnaround from Open Cup to league play won’t be any easier for the Galaxy, who’ll welcome the second-place Rapids to StubHub Center on Saturday. Since losing at Toronto FC on June 18, the Galaxy are unbeaten in eight league games (four wins), climbing their way back into the Supporters’ Shield conversation in the process. After losing 5-1 to New York City FC two weeks ago, snapping their 15-game unbeaten run from mid-April to late-July, the Rapids bounced back with a systematic dismantling of the Vancouver Whitecaps last weekend.

Jermaine Jones (quad) remains unlikely to feature for the Rapids, while Gyasi Zardes (chest muscle strain) returned to the field Wednesday night and should make his way into the starting lineup on the weekend. Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard were left out of the Open Cup squad, while Zardes, Giovani dos Santos and Sebastian Lletget only saw minutes off the bench.

Nguyen, Rossi help LAFC beat the Rapids 2-0

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LOS ANGELES (AP) Lee Nguyen and Diego Rossi each scored in the second half to help Los Angeles FC beat the Colorado Rapids 2-0 on Sunday night.

Nguyen scored the opener for LAFC (12-7-6) in the 49th minute, gathering Jack Price’s attempted clearance back into the area, rolling it back with his right foot to evade a defender and spinning around to create an opening for a left-footed finish.

[READ: Josef Martinez scores 27th goal of season]

In the 80th minute, Diego Rossi took Adama Diomande‘s back-heel flick just past midfield, dribbled it up the right side and finished his eighth goal of the season past goalkeeper Tim Howard.

The Rapids (6-13-6) had their three-game unbeaten streak snapped.

With the win, LAFC moved into a tie for second place in the Western Conference standings with Sporting Kansas City as both teams are on 42 points, just three behind first-place FC Dallas. LAFC also has a four-point gap above RSL in fourth place.

The Rapids meanwhile, averaging less than a point per game, sit in second-to-last place in the standings.

Ronaldo’s Juventus debut ends with goalkeeper in hospital

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MILAN (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo’s Serie A debut was marked not by a goal but by accidentally putting the opposing team’s goalkeeper in hospital.

With the score locked at 2-2 late on in Juventus’ match at Chievo Verona, Ronaldo collided with Stefano Sorrentino in a chaotic penalty area.

[ MORE: Juventus win on Ronaldo’s goal-less debut; Napoli chasing again ]

Sorrentino was knocked out cold briefly and there were an anxious few minutes as he received immediate treatment before being substituted.

The 39-year-old goalkeeper was immediately taken to the hospital and released on Sunday morning with a fractured nose, bruising to his left shoulder and whiplash.

Sorrentino was able to joke about the incident, posting a photo on Twitter with the caption: “Thanks for your messages of support, affection and esteem. We are a fantastic group and yesterday we almost achieved the feat: while CR7 got me in full!”

He also later revealed on the social media site that Ronaldo had been in touch: “I received a message of support and wishing me a speedy recovery from Cristiano Ronaldo. Thanks legend!”

[ MORE: Edin Dzeko starts Roma off right with stunning winner ]

Sorrentino pulled off several fine saves to deny Ronaldo and his Juventus teammates – although Chievo went on to lose the match 3-2 following Federico Bernardeschi’s stoppage-time winner.

“Before coming onto the pitch I told myself I would have to try to stop him in every way possible,” Sorrentino said on Italian television. “I did that in the real sense of the word.”

During the commotion Juventus was awarded a goal using goal-line technology, then it was disallowed a few minutes later on video review.

[ MORE: Lazio ultras want to ban women from “sacred space” in stadium ]

Paulo Dybala and Giorgio Chiellini celebrated when the goal was given, causing widespread outrage as Sorrentino was still receiving urgent treatment.

“Paulo wrote to me, apologizing because he hadn’t realized the seriousness of the situation and he was celebrating for a goal that I didn’t even know I had conceded,” Sorrentino said.

DCU win again, look like genuine playoff contenders

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The game in 200 words (or less): No individual — other than Ben Olsen, perhaps — has benefitted from the arrival of Wayne Rooney at D.C. United more so than Luciano Acosta. Through his first 82 games in MLS, Acosta managed to rack up nine goals and 23 assists — a healthy enough haul considering the lack of quality around him since day one in 2016. Still, the frustration and unhappiness were plain to see, every time the Argentine playmaker’s teammates weren’t able to link up or finish one of his brilliant through balls. In United’s last five games (Acosta has played 438 of 450 minutes), including Sunday’s 2-0 win over the 10-man New England Revolution: four goals and three assists. Of course, United, as a whole, have benefitted greatly, too. Their record in Rooney’s eight games: 5W-1D-2L (prior to his debut, the Black and Red won just two of 14 games). Olsen and Co., have risen from last place in the Eastern Conference and reach the dizzying heights of eighth place, where they are now just six points back of fifth and sixth place — a de facto impossibility just a month ago, when they had just 10 points to their name and were 13 off the pace of sixth.

[ MORE: Josef Martinez ties MLS record with 27th goal in 2018 ]

Three moments that mattered

13′ — Acosta finishes with aplomb at the back post — The three Revs defenders, who let the ball run across the face of goal without making any attempt to play or clear it, could have done just about anything else and it would have been preferable to what they did.

73′ — Caldwell gets a second yellow, Revs down to 10 — Scott Caldwell didn’t need to run into Junior Moreno a full second or two after the ball was away, but he did so anyway. No advantage to gain from the “challenge,” and Caldwell’s teammates had to finish the game a man short.

89′ — Stieber gets in behind, makes it 2-0 — Rooney had skied a nearly identical chance just seconds earlier, leaving it up to Zoltan Stieber to put the game to bed.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Luciano Acosta

Goalscorers: Acosta (13′), Stieber (89′)

Lazio ultras want to ban women from “sacred space” in stadium

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ROME (AP) Lazio’s “ultra” fans have caused outrage by telling women to avoid their “sacred space” in the club’s Stadio Olimpico.

The die-hard supporters distributed flyers ahead of their team’s Serie A opener at home to Napoli.

[ MORE: Juventus win on Ronaldo’s goal-less debut; Napoli chasing again ]

“The Curva Nord represents for us a sacred space, an environment with an unwritten code to be respected,” read the flyer. “The first few rows, as always, have been experienced like the trenches. In the trenches, we do not allow women, wives and girlfriends, so we invite them to position themselves from the 10th row back.

“Those who choose the stadium as an alternative to a carefree and romantic day in (Rome’s) Villa Borghese (gardens), should go to other sections.”

Lazio spokesman Arturo Diaconale told Italian news agency Ansa on Sunday that “it is not the position of the club, we are against any discrimination.”

He added: “Moreover, there is an enormous number of Lazio fans, this instead is an initiative from a few fans. We can’t always intervene to avoid politically incorrect displays like this.”

[ MORE: Edin Dzeko starts Roma off right with stunning winner ]

Some Lazio fans caused outrage last season when they littered the Stadio Olimpico in Rome with images of Anne Frank — the young diarist who died in the Holocaust — wearing a jersey of city rival Roma. Lazio was fined $63,000 by the Italian soccer federation because of the anti-Semitism displayed by the team’s fans.

It was the latest in a series of racist and anti-Semitic incidents, with Lazio previously having its stadium fully or partly closed for European and domestic matches as punishment.