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MLS Weekend Preview: Fringe playoff teams get tough tests

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A number of Major League Soccer clubs fighting for playoff position have extremely difficult tasks this weekend as the MLS season reaches the final five or six matches of the year.

In the Eastern Conference, the two teams just above the playoff cut – Montreal and Philadelphia – both meet top-tier sides. Montreal meets NYCFC on Saturday, while Philadelphia hosts Western Conference leaderes Sporting KC on Sunday. With D.C. United off this weekend, the teams have an opportunity to pull away, with Philadelphia able to give itself an 11 point lead, a near certainty to make the postseason.

Meanwhile, the Vancouver Whitecaps sit four games back of Seattle for the final Western Conference playoff spot, and the Whitecaps welcome second-place FC Dallas to BC Place. Just above Seattle is Real Salt Lake, and they travel to Eastern Conference leaders Atlanta United.

So which team in the playoff hunt will fall into danger, and which will pick up key momentum?

Atlanta United vs. Real Salt Lake – Saturday 9/22, 7:00 p.m. ET

Real Salt Lake has lost just one of its last nine, but that will be put to the test with a visit to Mercedes-Benz Stadium to take on Atlanta United. San Jose did its best to hold on for dear life, but was ultimately unable to hold off the blazing guns of the visitors. The usual suspects were at it again for Atlanta in Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron, and RSL will have plenty to think about, especially having kept just one clean sheet since the start of August.

Montreal Impact vs. NYCFC – Saturday 9/22, 7:30 p.m. ET

Montreal took one major step towards securing a playoff spot with a win over Philadelphia, and now a much stiffer test awaits as they welcome NYCFC to town. The Eastern Conference’s third-placed side is coming off a bye week, last playing September 8. While the top of the table is out of reach for NYCFC, a few more points would secure positioning for the postseason. They have faded of late, however, without a win in over a month.

Philadelphia Union vs. Sporting KC – Sunday 9/23, 1:00 p.m. ET

Both teams have suffered just one loss over their last seven games, and while both teams have offensive capabilities, only one has the defensive structure to go with it. Outside of a 3-1 loss at Seattle, Sporting KC has conceded just one single goal in its last six matches. Meanwhile, Philadelphia will be without the suspended Jack Elliott, a major loss for a team that has improved drastically at the back since Elliott’s introduction to the starting lineup in early August.

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. FC Dallas – Sunday 9/23, 7:00 p.m. ET

Vancouver sits just one single position out of the playoffs, four points behind sixth-place Seattle, but lost to the Sounders last weekend and must pick up the pieces from that major Cascadia stumble. The first roadblock is a big one, welcoming the Western Conference’s 2nd placed team. Since being shut out by Real Salt Lake in early July, FC Dallas has bagged 19 goals in its last nine games, although they were blanked last time out in a 0-0 draw with Columbus after a forgettable 90 minutes.

LA Galaxy vs. Seattle Sounders – Sunday 9/23, 7:00 p.m. ET

The LA Galaxy are in slightly more peril than the Whitecaps find themselves in, and now they draw the side that beat Vancouver last weekend in the Sounders. Seattle had its winning streak finally come to an end at a relatively inopportune time, but there is still time to recover before the playoffs begin. In fact, they must recover – and fast – because Seattle is just four points above the cut line, sitting in sixth. A critical “six-pointer” at the StubHub Center will see the home side look to become the first team since the start of July to put two goals or more past Seattle.

Other games

LAFC vs. San Jose Earthquakes – Saturday @ 3:30 p.m. ET
NY Red Bulls vs. Toronto FC – Saturday @ 5:00 p.m. ET
Columbus Crew vs. Colorado Rapids – Saturday @ 7:30 p.m. ET
New England Revolution vs. Chicago Fire – Saturday @ 7:30 p.m. ET
Orlando City vs. Houston Dynamo – Saturday @ 7:30 p.m. ET
Minnesota United vs. Portland Timbers – Saturday @ 8:00 p.m. ET

Red Bulls handle Atlético Pantoja to start CCL campaign (video)

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The New York Red Bulls didn’t need to leave it late (like DaMarcus Beasley and Houston), nor did the MLS side forget how to play (like Toronto FC).

[ MORE: Nashville gets its MLS logo ]

RBNY scooped up a 2-0 first leg defeat of Dominican Republic side Atlético Pantoja in CONCACAF Champions League play in Santo Domingo on Wednesday.

Daniel Royer inspired a first half Pantoja own goal, but it was Kaku’s looping assist to Royer that stole the show with an insurance marker in the 67th minute.

Academy product and former Wake Forest midfielder Omir Fernandez, 20, made his senior debut off the bench in the 75th minute.

Nashville SC to keep its name, unveils logo for MLS 2020

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Nashville SC will remain Nashville SC when it moves into Major League Soccer next season, the USL club announced on Wednesday.

Nashville SC’s logo is an N wearing headphones — I apologize if I’m wrong here, but that’s what I see — as the Music City becomes a welcome addition to the United States’ top flight.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

Stunningly The fans wanted to keep the name of the club they’ve been supporting for a few years, and former Liverpool executive Ian Ayre announced that the club will keep a color from its crest as well.

“Gold is our primary club color, and we need to own that color in the sport. As we grow as a team we want to be recognizable by our color, our name and our values as a club.”

What do you think? It certainly could’ve been worse! We look forward to the building up of a regional rivalry with FC Cincinnati, Atlanta United, Sporting KC, and maybe one day Saint Louis FC.

Sarri, Emery face 2nd leg challenges at home

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Sevilla clinched the first Round of 16 spot with a Europa League win over Lazio on Wednesday, and the other 15 berths will be settled by late Thursday.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings ]

That includes home second legs with varying degrees of difficult for a pair of London sides from the Premier League.

Maurizio Sarri looks like he’ll need to win the Europa League in order to get Chelsea back into the Champions League, and Chelsea needs to bounce back from another poor showing while also preparing for a hardware tilt; The FA Cup loss to Manchester United was three days before Thursday’s match with Malmo, which is three days before the League Cup final against Man City.

Chelsea holds a 2-1 lead after one leg. From ChelseaFC.com:

“We have to solve a big problem because we stayed in the other half for 75 minutes out of 90, and we were not able to score. They played only 15 or 16 balls into our box and they scored two goals. We have to solve this problem. It is probably a problem of aggression, determination in both boxes.”

Arsenal has an even bigger fish to fry than recent form, down 1-0 after one leg in Belarus.

Unai Emery is hoping the North London faithful can be the difference.

“It is also very important to play in our stadium with our supporters, and we need their support for this match and I hope there is a big atmosphere for us. Together, with their support, I know our players can play and give their all. The supporters want to watch our team play with the best performance possible.

“For this reason, I think we need good feedback between the supporters and us. … We need to listen to them supporting us and the players must give them the best performance in our stadium.”

The full schedule is below.

Thursday’s Europa League second legs
All times ET

12:55 p.m. ET
Arsenal v. BATE Borisov (BATE leads 1-0)
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Shakhtar Donetsk (2-2)
Villarreal v. Sporting Lisbon (Villareal leads 1-0)
Dinamo Zagreb v. Viktoria Plzen (Plzen leads 2-1)
Zenit Saint-Petersburg v. Fenerbahce (Fener leads 1-0)
Red Bull Salzburg v. Club Brugge (Brugge leads 2-1)
Valencia v. Celtic (Valencia leads 2-0)
Napoli v. FC Zurich (Napoli leads 3-1)

3 p.m. ET
Chelsea v. Malmo (Chelsea leads 2-1)
Benfica v. Galatasaray (Benfica leads 2-1)
Rennes v. Real Betis (3-3)
Inter Milan v. Rapid Vienna (Inter leads 1-0)
Dynamo Kiev v. Olympiakos (2-2)
Bayer Leverkusen v. Krasnodar (0-0)
Racing Genk v. Prague (0-0)

Juve: ‘No use crying over spilt milk’ after ‘ugly’ first leg loss

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Max Allegri and Juventus look set to fall short of a UEFA Champions League title again, and this time are staring down an exit before the quarterfinals.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

The club has two things going for it after a 2-0 first leg loss to Atletico Madrid in Spain: The 90 minutes or more of the second leg, and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The player has already made his feelings known by setting the second leg stage with a very Patrick Roy (for you hockey fans out there) title rip.

Allegri is a bit more diplomatic, ripping Juve’s “ugly” second half at the Wanda Metropolitano but also demanding the club move past it immediately. From Football-Italia.net:

“Now we have the chance to turn this around, we must have faith, we’ll have some players back and there’s no point crying over spilt milk. We knew it was going to be tough, that Atletico Madrid force you to play badly, with a slow tempo. We moved the ball quicker in the first half, but not in the second.

“We got the approach wrong in the second half. It’s that simple. These things can happen, there will be great disappointment after this 2-0, but we can turn it around. It won’t be easy, we need a great second leg, but it can be done and we must have faith.”

And there’s Ronaldo, Dybala, and a number of world class players on his side. An inspired, spiteful Ronaldo is one thing, but take into account the man clearly carries his legacy on his hip pocket and the Portuguese hero is going to be flying come March 12 in Turin.