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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.

PSG signs American defender Alana Cook from Stanford

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PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain’s women’s team has signed American defender Alana Cook from Stanford University.

The 21-year-old Cook, who was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, has signed until June 2022. She was named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year this season for her performances with Stanford and has represented the U.S. at Under-20 level.

[ MORE: Atlanta signs Watford teen ]

She played 93 games and scored five goals for Stanford.

PSG’s women’s team is second in the French first division and sits two points behind five-time European champion Lyon after 15 rounds.

Cook says “I really wanted to play in a European club and to play against the best teams in the world.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

MLS notes: Zimmerman spurns Europe, Vazquez sold, DC youngster in remission

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Let’s sweep up some good, somewhat-expected, and wonderful news from around Major League Soccer.

DC United defender and Maryland product Chris Odoi-Atsem announced that he is in remission after a fight with Stage Two Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

[ MORE: Atlanta signs Watford teen ]

Odoi-Atsem was expected to undergo four months of chemotherapy, and the announcement comes just under three months into the journey.

At 23, Odoi-Atsem hopes to rejoin the team after his final round of chemo later this month. He was the 12th overall draft pick in 2017.

Another defender is extending his stay in Los Angeles.

USMNT center back Walker Zimmerman was a huge part of LAFC’s success as an expansion club following his arrival from FC Dallas, and was reportedly ready to test the waters of European soccer with interest from the Premier League, Ligue 1, and the Bundesliga.

But Bob Bradley pushed the right buttons and LAFC will have its 25-year-old mainstay back in the fold via a Targeted Allocation Money contract running through the 2022 season.

Finally, one of the key pieces to Toronto FC’s 2017 MLS Cup triumph is on his way out of Ontario.

Victor Vazquez is going to be sold to an unnamed Qatari club, pending a physical according to TSN’s Kristian Jack.

The 32-year-old scored posted 18 goals and 15 primary assists for TFC.

Transfer rumor roundup: Pellegrini to Man Utd? Dabbur wants Liverpool

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As Arsenal might be losing its head of recruitment, other Premier League movers and shakers are looking to bring big names to the Top Four fight.

If Northern Ireland is the hub for transfer movement, January is going to be a wild ride for one of the Premier League’s flagship clubs.

[ MORE: Atlanta signs Watford teen ]

The Belfast Telegraph is reporting that Manchester United is pursuing young Roma midfielder Lorenzo Pellegrini in addition to the whispers linking the club to former Liverpool wizard Philippe Coutinho.

Pellegrini, 22, has two goals and six assists for Roma this season, having become a regular call-up for Italy. He reportedly has a $35 million release clause in his contract, though he is cup-tied in the Champions League (Roma next faces Porto).

His 2.6 key passes per game lead Roma and only AC Milan’s Suso and Atalanta’s Alejandro Gomez average more across Serie A. Pellegrini is second on Roma in crosses with 1.5.

How does $115 million sound for an elite 27-year-old defender? That’s what Napoli would reportedly accept from Real Madrid to bring Kalidou Koulibaly west to Spain.

The report, which also links Real with interest in Roma’s Kostas Manolas and Porto’s Eder Miliato, says United remains interested in the player despite the exit of admirer Jose Mourinho.

Anything more than $97 million, the fee Liverpool paid for Virgil Van Dijk, would break the world transfer record for a defender.

Meanwhile, Israeli striker Munas Dabbur is angling to bring his 20-goal season to Anfield.

Reports that Dabbur has turned down a move to Valencia in the hopes of joining Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino at Liverpool.

The Red Bull Salzburg striker has scored half of his 20 goals in the Champions League and Europa League, and has 11 Israel caps.

The cost for Dabbur is said to be $28 million, but is there any guarantee Dabbur can produce at a level that would demand playing time. Divock Origi has three goals in six matches and can hardly get time for the Reds, and Daniel Sturridge has only found 576 minutes in the first half of the season.

Arsenal to reportedly lose head of recruitment Mislintat

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The man expected to usher in an era of exciting new young talent at Arsenal may be leaving the club after less than 14 months.

Arsenal head of recruitment Sven Mislintat, 46, has been hailed as the man who discovered Christian Pulisic and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang while at Borussia Dortmund.

[ MORE: Atlanta signs Watford teen ]

Well-connected reporter Raphael Honigstein says Mislintat is frustrated by a change in recruitment policy since Ivan Gazidis left the Emirates Stadium. Gazidis hired Mislintat to use analytics and stats to find diamonds, whereas new head of football Raul Sanllehi prefers to work his own network for players.

Mislintat is considered the key to bringing in Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi, as well as clear connections like former BVB center back Sokratis Papastathopolous.

His departure would be a shot across the bow of an organization which enjoyed stability under Gazidis and Arsene Wenger for years.