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PL Sunday preview: Man City v. Arsenal, plus Man United in action

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Manchester City’s title hopes are on the line while Arsenal and Manchester United fight for a place in the top four in what should be an incredibly important day of matches.

[READ: USMNT takes down Costa Rica]

Manchester City v. Arsenal — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

With a loss to Newcastle last weekend, Manchester City’s margin for error continues to shrink as it fights to win the Premier League again. However, it will be a tough task against an Arsenal side with three wins in its last four, including a confidence-building victory over Chelsea.

Working in Manchester City’s favor is the history and form of Sergio Aguero, who has scored seven goals in his last 11 matches against Arsenal. Man City has won its last three matches against Arsenal and if they make it four, it will be the first of that occurrence since 1937, according to the Premier League.

In the past, Manchester City’s midfield passing and vision would be talented enough to break down Arsenal’s porous backline. However, Arsenal seems to have shored up its defense, which could make for an interesting matchup against the likes of Kevin De Bruyne.

On the other side, Arsenal has a chance to debut its new signing, Dennis Suarez. Suarez was the only first team signing to come in this winter, when Arsenal requested reinforcements along the wings and fans wanted in in defense. But Suarez could play anywhere across the front three and in attacking midfield. An interesting storyline related to this is what Arsenal manager Unai Emery does with Mesut Ozil. The German playmaker made his first start since Boxing Day in last Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Cardiff at home, but with Suarez in the fold, is Ozil now out for good?

INJURIES: Manchester City —  OUT: Vincent Kompany (undisclosed); QUESTIONABLE: Benjamin Mendy, Ederson (both knee injuries) | Arsenal — OUT: Sokratis, Danny Welbeck (both ankle), Rob Holding (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Laurent Koscielny (jaw), Ainsley Maitland-Niles (knee), and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (foot)


Leicester City v. Manchester United — 9:05 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s 100 percent record as Man United manager came to an end last Tuesday in a surprise 2-2 draw at home against Burnley, where the Red Devils came back down to earth a bit. Late goals from Paul Pogba and Victor Lindelof saved Man United’s blushes but it was only a matter of time before they delivered a sub-standard performance. However, Solskjaer’s formula, allowing his players the creative license to attack, especially down the wings, has paid dividends handsomely since the Norwegian took over as manager in December.

A bonus for Man United fans on transfer deadline day was not only the departure of long-time midfielder Marouane Fellaini for China, but the announcement of a new contract for Anthony Martial. The young French winger has looked promising this season, and could make a big impact for Man United down the stretch as they work to secure a top-four finish.

As for Leicester City, Claude Puel‘s side has been in a terrible rut recently. Yet, the Foxes have somehow managed to draw or beat Liverpool (draw), Chelsea and Manchester City (both wins) since late December. It seems that against some of the bigger clubs, they rise to the occasion, especially when those clubs leave space in behind for Jamie Vardy and co. to attack on the counter. In fact, Vardy is tied with Aguero and Gylfi Sigurdsson for the most goals against Man United since the start of the 2014-2015 season, scoring four in that span. Youri Tielemans, Leicester City’s new signing and a talented Belgian midfielder, could make his debut against Man United at home. Tielemans, who – fun fact – once displaced Sacha Kljestan at Anderlecht as a 16-year-old, never really settled in at AS Monaco over the last 18 months. Perhaps a change of scenery for him will help. Puel’s side will surely avoid relegation, but another big result against a top-6 side could help the Frenchman’s case to remain as manager for the long term.

INJURIES: Leicester City —  OUT: Daniel Amartey (ankle) | Manchester United — OUT: Marcos Rojo (undisclosed); QUESTIONABLE: Anthony Martial (knock); PROBABLE: Paul Pogba (knock), Chris Smalling (toe)

Report: Sacramento finally gets MLS expansion franchise

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After years of trying, it appears that Major League Soccer is finally heading to Sacramento.

Sacramento Republic FC have long been one of the best runs franchises in the lower leagues in the United States of America and both city officials and their new ownership group have backed this push to join MLS.

It seemed certain that Sacramento would get a team in 2016 and 2017, but they’ve been left behind as plenty of other cities have been awarded expansion franchises.

A report from the Sacramento Bee states that the franchise will be announced on Monday in a ceremony in downtown Sacramento.

“Sources said league officials will hold a press conference in downtown Monday followed by a fan event in the afternoon, celebrating the franchise award. The announcement will mark the successful conclusion of a laborious five-year effort by Sacramento community leaders and various investors to secure a franchise in MLS.”

New majority owners LA billionaire Ron Burkle (who also owns the Pittsburgh Penguins) and Hollywood producer Matt Alvarez joined Sacramento businessman Kevin Nagle this spring to get the finances in line for a new soccer-specific stadium and to pay the expansion fee which is close to $200 million.

Sacramento released a statement on the speculation, after Burkle, Alvarez and Nagle had been working closely with MLS in recent months to iron out the details of arriving in North America’s top-flight.

“We share the great excitement and anticipation in our community about Sacramento’s bid to join Major League Soccer. We will continue to respect the MLS expansion process and remain confident about the future of our club and our city. We look forward to sharing more information in the days ahead.”

Nagle and Warren Smith set up Sacramento Republic FC, who began play in the United Soccer Leagues in 2014, and have built an impressive fanbase.

Burkle and Alvarez were the final pieces of the jigsaw as their cash investment will allow the construction of a $250 million 20,000 capacity stadium long planned in the Railyards district of downtown Sacramento, while the city will also add funding to the effort as they add their second major league franchise.

Sacramento Republic will have an instant rival in MLS too, as the San Jose Earthquakes are located just 120 miles south-west.

With St. Louis awarded an expansion franchise in August and to begin play in 2022, MLS is now up to 29 teams with Nashville and Miami joining for the 2020 season, plus Austin FC arriving in 2021.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber seems keen to get the number of teams to 30, with Charlotte, Phoenix, Detroit and Las Vegas all pushing hard to become the 30th franchise in the coming years.

Sacramento’s journey to MLS has been a long one, but now they are about to celebrate.

Bulgaria detains four fans following racist acts

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SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) The Bulgarian government says it has detained four soccer fans linked to making racist gestures, including Nazi salutes, during a European Championship qualifying match against England.

[ MORE: Bulgarian FA chief resigns ]

Bulgarian fans also directed monkey noises at England’s black players during the match, which was halted twice in an effort to stop the racist abuse. England won the match 6-0.

The Ministry of Interior says police have “detained four people, whose involvement in what happened is being clarified.”

The ministry says any evidence collected will be handed over to prosecutors.

In the fallout from Monday’s game, the president of the country’s soccer federation has resigned and the Bulgarian special police forces have raided the federation offices.

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

Berhalter slams USMNT after Canada defeat. What now?

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Gregg Berhalter and the USMNT hit a new low on Tuesday as they lost 2-0 to Canada in Toronto and it could have been worse.

Much worse.

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings ]

Totally outplayed in their CONCACAF Nations League game, pressure is mounting on Berhalter as the U.S. men’s national team perhaps haven’t even hit rock bottom yet. Two years after their shocking failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup as they lost at Trinidad & Tobago, in many ways the performance against Canada was worse.

What progress has been made since that fateful night in Couva in 2017?

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Speaking to reporters after the damaging defeat at BMO Field, Berhalter threw his players under the bus. Big time.

“The first thing that stands out to me, was desire; desire of Canada,” Berhalter said. “Give them credit. But having said that, the minimum we expect is to match that. We need to compete on every single play in games like this, and that’s important. I don’t think it was a lack of effort. I don’t think it was purposeful. But I wasn’t happy with the desire that we displayed tonight to win the soccer game. Too many 50-50 balls we lost, and that hurt us.”

USMNT fans are calling for Berhalter to be fired just 10 months into his reign, and his possession-based style isn’t sinking in with his young, hard-working squad. Berhalter wants the USMNT to play like Barcelona but right now they look more like Burton Albion. And that’s being kind.

The youngsters coming through are being asked to overcomplicate things and aren’t playing to their strengths. After a heavy defeat to Mexico last month and a damaging loss to Canada, qualifying for the 2022 World Cup would now be a huge achievement for the USMNT. It should be a given.

Where do we go from here?

The fact USMNT general manager Earnie Stewart may well have to get the thumbs up from Berhalter’s brother, Jay, who is the expected incoming new CEO of U.S. Soccer, adds to the anger from U.S. fans.

It is unlikely Berhalter will be removed anytime soon and that U.S. Soccer will stick with him after waiting a year for him to take charge.

Former interim coach Dave Sarachan did the best job he could do from November 2017 to November 2018, but that lost year waiting for Berhalter has sent this young group of players spiralling backwards.

The lack of progression is clear for all to see, but Berhalter doesn’t want anyone pointing to the shocking defeat in Canada as a true reflection of where this team is at.

“I wouldn’t make a statement about the program based on this game,” Berhalter said. “The reason why is that these games are difficult. It was never going to be easy and come here and win the game. There was no way. When you look at their team, when at their quality, when you look at where they are right now, it wasn’t going to be an easy game. We have to accept that. I think all of us have to accept that. We wanted to win the game, and hopefully we’re going to keep improving and hopefully we’re going to start winning games on the road, but tonight wasn’t the night to do it.”

Berhalter is under pressure and things have got worse for the USMNT since their embarrassing World Cup qualifying failure two years ago.

Is it time to pull the plug on Berhalter? After the performance against Canada his players appear to think so, and so too do the fans.

U.S. Soccer have a big decision to make, as things look like they will get a lot worse before they get any better.

State of play in CONCACAF Nations League

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Well, well, well…

Canada’s controlling 2-0 defeat of the USMNT on Tuesday adding some intrigue to the final two match days of the CONCACAF Nations League next month

[ USMNT-CANADA: Time for change? | Player ratings ]

Mexico nearly provided another shock at Azteca thanks to a relative inability to break down Panama, but young stunner Jose Juan Macias scored for the fourth time in three caps to lead El Tri to a 3-1 win on the night.

Roberto Alvarado saw his 28th minute goal canceled out by pre-halftime own goal, and Mexico had better than 75 percent possession when Macias bagged his winner. Rodolfo Pizarro rounded out the scoring in stoppage time.

Here’s where we sit in the battle for four semifinal spots. The semifinals and finals will be staged in June.

Group A

Canada’s defeat of the USMNT means the Yanks need to make the most of the Canucks visit to the Orlando next month and smash Cuba in the Cayman Islands. Overall goal difference is the second tie breaker, and the Yanks are four behind Canada. A two-goal win in Florida would mean the Yanks would simply need a victory over Cuba to advance to the semifinals. Canada advances with a draw against the U.S., while Cuba has already be relegated to League B.

Group B

Mexico now has six points to Panama’s three and Bermuda’s three. El Tri will visit Panama next and can clinch a spot in the semifinals with a draw or better. Even if Panama beats Mexico, Tata Martino’s men would need to get nothing from Bermuda at Azteca to fail to make the semifinals. Bermuda needs Panama to beat Mexico before getting a blowout win at Azteca. Not looking good.

Group C

Honduras is onto the semifinals. Whether Martinique or Trinidad and Tobago, both on two points, can avoid relegation by getting a superior result against Honduras in November. Honduras heads to Martinique before hosting T&T.

Group D

Curacao had five points compared to its rivals two each and can advance to the semifinals with a home defeat of Costa Rica. If Los Ticos claims the three points, then it will have at least a two-goal advantage on Haiti heading into a home finale.