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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

Club World Cup: Kashima beat Chivas 3-2, will meet Real Madrid

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AL AIN, United Arab Emirates (AP) Japanese side Kashima Antlers beat Chivas of Mexico 3-2 on Saturday, advancing to a semifinal against Real Madrid at the Club World Cup.

Ryota Nagaki canceled out Angel Zaldivar’s early goal for Chivas and Kashima took the lead when Serginho converted a penalty in the 69th minute.

Hiroki Abe assured the win with a goal in the 84th before Hugo Leonardo scored an own goal in stoppage time.

Kashima will play Madrid on Wednesday.

Madrid needed extra time to beat Kashima 4-2 in the 2016 final of the Club World Cup.

Also, Al Ain FC beat Esperance Sportive de Tunis 3-0, setting up the other semifinal with South American champion River Plate on Tuesday.

La Liga: Atleti pull level with Barcelona; Real two points back

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ SERIE A: Cristiano Ronaldo scores winner in his first Turin derby ]

Real Valladolid 2-3 Atletico Madrid

Despite a largely indifferent run of form from superstar Antoine Griezmann (just four goals in the first 15 games) to start the season, Atleti managed to hang around in the title race thanks to their league-best 12 goals conceded. Griezmann was always likely to experience something of a World Cup hangover before eventually breaking out and resuming regular service as one of La Liga’s most prolific goalscorers.

Saturday might have been Griezmann’s re-emergence, as the 2018 World Cup winner bagged a brace, including the game-winning goal in the 80th minute, to help Atleti to a 3-2 victory over Real Valladolid.

Nikola Kalinic put the visitors 1-0 ahead before halftime and Griezmann converted from the penalty spot to make it 2-0 as soon as the second half began, but a goal conceded followed by an own goal capped off a dreadful six-minute spell for Diego Simeone’s side. Griezmann was there to save the day, though, popping up at the right place at the right time when Valladolid failed to clear a corner kick and gave Los Rojiblancos three clear-cut chance from inside 10 yards.

Real Madrid 1-0 Rayo Vallecano

Real Madrid scored their game-winning goal nearly 70 minutes earlier than their capital rivals, but their victory wasn’t anymore comfortable as Santiago Solari’s side held on for dear life — and were out-shot 11-9 — by Rayo Vallecano.

Karim Benzema bagged the game’s only goal in the 13th minute before he was forced off with an ankle injury in the 77th minute. Madrid were without Gareth Bale due to an ankle injury of his own. Los Blancos will now depart for the United Arab Emirates where they’ll face Japanese side Kashima Antlers in the semifinals of the Club World Cup on Wednesday.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Getafe 1-0 Real Sociedad
Eibar 1-1 Valencia

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Sevilla v. Girona — 6 a.m. ET
Espanyol v. Real Betis — 10:15 a.m. ET
Huesca v. Villarreal — 12:30 p.m. ET
Levante v. Barcelona — 2:45 p.m. ET

Serie A: Ronaldo scores winner in his first Turin derby

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ PL PREVIEW: Liverpool v. Man United at Anfield; Chelsea, Arsenal in action ]

Torino 0-1 Juventus

Cristiano Ronaldo marked his Turin derby debut by scoring the game’s only goal, from the penalty spot, to extend Juventus’ winning streak to seven league games and open up an 11-point lead in the scudetto race.

Torino held strong for more than an hour, despite being forced to sub off starting goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu in the 20th minute. It was Sirigu’s replacement, Salvador Ichazo, who gave away the penalty when he brought down Mario Mandzukic in the 70th minute. Ichazo nearly made the save to preserve the scoreless draw for the home side, but Ronaldo’s powerful strike got past the Uruguayan to take his season tally to 11 goals (to go with five assists) in 16 appearance in league play.

Inter Milan 1-0 Udinese

Inter ended a seven-game winless skid (all competitions) with a narrow home victory over Udinese. Luciano Spaletti’s side left it even later than Juve, waiting until the 76th minute before Mauro Icardi converted from the penalty spot.

Despite the prolonged period of poor results, Inter have a six-point lead on fourth-place AC Milan, who have yet to play this weekend, but have tumbled to 14 points back of the runaway leaders.

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

SPAL v. Chievo — 6:30 a.m. ET
Fiorentina v. Empoli — 9 a.m. ET
Frosinone v. Sassuolo — 9 a.m. ET
Sampdoria v. Parma — 9 a.m. ET
Cagliari v. Napoli — 12 p.m. ET
Roma v. Genoa — 2:30 p.m. ET

The 2 Robbies: Gabriel Jesus puts Man City back on top of PL

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Robbie Earle braves it alone without Robbie Mustoe for this one, but is joined by members of NBC’s Premier League crew — Jen Calhoun, Mike Wolosz and Jorge Bustamante — to discuss Manchester City’s win over Everton (0:45), Tottenham’s last-gasp victory against Burnley (12:00) and hear from a true Bournemouth fan after their defeat to Wolves (19:15). Plus a look ahead to Liverpool v. Manchester United — can Jose Mourinho pull off one more special upset? (31:10)

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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