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MLS Western Conference Preview

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Major League Soccer returns this weekend, kicking off the 24th year of the ever-growing North American league. As usual, there’s a plethora of storylines to follow, especially in the Western Conference.

Can Matias Almeyda make the San Jose Earthquakes into a playoff contender? Is Sporting Kansas City even better than last year, when it won the conference? And what do we think of the tandem of Guillermo Barros Schelotto on the sideline and Zlatan Ibrahimovic up top for the LA Galaxy.

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We’ll dive into all that and more, in our Western Conference preview (teams are listed by order of their 2018 regular season finish):


Sporting Kansas City – The Western Conference’s best team over the course of the regular season may be even better now. The club acquired MLS veterans Kelyn Rowe and Rodney Wallace, and added Hungarian international defender Botond Barath while keeping the core of the squad together.

Star player: Matt Besler. It’s hard to pick just one player but Besler is definitely the first player on the team sheet every week thanks to his rock solid defending.

Realistic expectation: Competing for the treble: the U.S. Open Cup, Supporters Shield and MLS Cup.


Seattle Sounders – Jordan Morris returns to a squad that kept its very talented core together and seems likely to challenge for the best in the West again.

Star player: Raul Ruidiaz. The Peruvian striker scored 10 times in 14 games after coming last summer. With Jordan Morris and Nico Lodeiro, they can be a feared front three.

Realistic expectation: Seattle should contend for the Western Conference and even MLS Cup. They’ll go as far as Chad Marshall can take them.


LAFCBob Bradley led LAFC to one of the best expansion seasons ever, and they’re set up for another strong season. Eddie Segura replaces Laurent Ciman and the front three of Diego Rossi, Adama Diamonde, and Carlos Vela should produce plenty of goals.

Star player: Carlos Vela. The Mexican hasn’t always performed for El Tri but last year he scored 14 goals and had 13 assists for LAFC.

Realistic expectation: Contending for the Western Conference title, and it should host a  playoff game or two.


FC Dallas – It’s the start of a new era as Luchi Gonzales takes over the helm. FC Dallas is expected to use a lot of young, homegrown players this season, which will be exciting for the future. But it could lead to some tough times in the present.

Star player: Jesse Gonzalez. The USMNT goalkeeper became the team’s regular starter, and with Matt Hedges and Reto Ziegler in front of him, they form a formidable foe in the box.

Realistic expectation: FC Dallas will probably miss the playoffs this year, as young potential stars get more first team minutes.


Portland Timbers – Like most of the Western Conference contenders, the Timbers didn’t make wholesale changes. Should Diego Valero continue his MVP-level form and Giovanni Savarese continue his strong management, the Timbers can make another run at the title.

Star player: Diego Valeri. There are plenty of talented players on the Timbers but none comes close to Valeri’s level. He’s been a consistent star for the last five years and Portland will always have a chance to win as long as he’s on the field.

Realistic expectation: Savarese always seems to get the best out of his teams, and the Timbers can certainly compete for MLS Cup once again.


Real Salt Lake – Mike Petke’s side has one of the league’s best attacks, with potential to score from anywhere across the front three. However, there are still questions of how far those attackers can take this team, which includes the aging but ever steady Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando.

Star player: Albert Rusnak. The Slovakian international was slightly less productive last season, but perhaps with a full offseason he’ll be able to raise his level again. He’s one of the most dangerous left wingers in the league.

Realistic expectation: Miss the playoffs. RSL didn’t make any major signings this offseason, and considering how they barely snuck in last season, it will be a tougher road ahead for them in 2019.


LA Galaxy – There’s a new head coach – Barros Schelotto – a new general manager – Dennis te Klose – and Zlatan has a new contract. The Galaxy upgraded in central midfield and at centerback, and look primed for a winning season.

Star player: Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The big Swede is now 37-years old, but he proved last year he can still be one of the world’s best goalscorers. Don’t take your eyes off this man.

Realistic expectation: Host a playoff game. The Galaxy should be back in the playoff picture with a new coach, mentality and some better players in the side.


Vancouver Whitecaps – The Whitecaps are in full rebuild mode, with a new coach, Marc Dos Santos, and 15 new signings. While LAFC and Atlanta proved that finding chemistry can occur quicker than expected, it still could be a tough season in Vancouver as some players adjust to a new system and teammates.

Star player: Hwang In-beom. The South Korean midfielder joined the Whitecaps this offseason on a Young Designated Player contract. While playing in MLS will be a test, his experience with the South Korean National Team at such a young age should give him a leg up when settling into the competition. In-beom could be the league’s next great attacking midfielder. 

Realistic expectation: Missing the playoffs. It’s likely going to be a tough season in Vancouver, but perhaps a piece or two will prove they’re worth holding onto in the future.


Houston Dynamo – The Houston Dynamo secured the 2018 U.S. Open Cup, but their league form last season was much worse. They recorded just two away wins, a mark Wilmer Cabrera will look to improve upon. The Dynamo have added two new defensive pieces, but will it be enough.

Star player: Alberth Elis. The young Honduran attacker is one of the best strikers in MLS, and he even had double-digit assists last season. He’ll need to up his goal tally this year though to bring Houston back to the playoffs.

Realistic expectation: Missing the playoffs. The Dynamo have some new pieces but it’s unclear if it’s enough. On the back line, Maynor Figueroa and DaMarcus Beasley are both older than 35 and new signing Aljaz Struna is untested.


Minnesota United – The Loons, ahead of the opening their new soccer specific stadium, made significant upgrades defensively and to their spine. Jan Gregus signed as a Designated Player and the team added Ozzie Alonso and Ike Opara.

Star player: Darwin Quintero. One of the top attackers in the league, Quintero will be the central point of Minnesota United’s attack, with his pace and dribbling ability a nightmare for defenders.

Realistic expectation: Fighting for the last playoff spot. Minnesota’s acquisitions are impressive but it’s unflear whether they can form a successful unit.


Colorado Rapids – Anthony Hudson’s first season in Colorado was pretty much a disaster, and it appears he’s learned that MLS experience is more important than talent from abroad. However, his new star signings Kei Kamara and Benny Feilhaber are on the wrong side of 30.

Star player: Benny Feilhaber. The former USMNT midfielder is on his 3rd team in as many years, but in Colorado he’ll be relied on to connect the lines of defense and midfield as well as play wingers into space.

Realistic expectation: Miss the playoffs. Colorado didn’t make the investments needed to push for a playoff spot.


San Jose Earthquakes – The ‘Quakes are the most intriguing team in the league this season. With Almeyda in charge, the squad has a fresh look and a new mindset.

Star player: Christian Espinoza. The young Argentine attacker joined from Villarreal in the offseason.

Realistic expectation: Fighting for a playoff spot. Almeyda likely won’t be able to flip the script completely, but the Quakes should make significant strides this season.

Arsenal uses thrilling comeback to win Europa League group

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Nothing Arsenal-related is allowed to be easy, it seems.

The Gunners used a goal and an assist from Bukayo Saka to come back from a two-goal deficit and draw Standard Liege 2-2 in Belgium on Thursday, winning its Europa League group when Vitoria came back to beat Eintracht Frankfurt on a wild afternoon of soccer.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Arsenal trailed on second half goals from Samuel Bastien and Selim Amallah, but rallied behind Bukayo Saka and Alexandre Lacazette to score a second-straight win for interim boss Freddie Ljungberg.

Saka sent in a laser cross in the 78th minute and Lacazette did quite well to power it under the bar.

He’s loving this competition, having made a serious entrance earlier in the tournament versus Eintracht Frankfurt. The 18-year-old now has two goals and five assists across all competitions this season.

The Gunners needed just three more minutes to tie the score on a day they outshot the hosts 15-11.

Saka showed his nose for goal to tie the score five minutes later with a dribble to the top of the 18 and a sly finish to the keeper’s left.

This was all happening around the same time Vitoria scored twice in three minutes to take a 3-2 lead on Eintracht Frankfurt.

Standard Liege goes from the knockout rounds to nothing in a blink, while Eintracht goes from winning the group to second.

The field for the Europa League is looking fierce, with Inter Milan, Benfica, Ajax, Club Brugge, Olympiacos, Shakhtar Donetsk, Bayer Leverkusen, and Red Bull Salzburg joining the competition via transfer from the UEFA Champions League.

Arsenal joins Premier League sides Wolves and Manchester United in the knockout rounds, having lost the Europa League final to rivals Chelsea at the end of last season.

The Gunners beat West Ham on Monday and host Manchester City at 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks

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Matchweek 17 is here in the Premier League as the games continue to come thick and fast during the festive season.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

While you can download the NBC Sports Predictor app (below) and play the Premier League Pick ‘Em game yourself to predict the scores and win the prizes.

DOWNLOAD NBC SPORTS PREDICTOR

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the long shots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Chelsea 3-0 Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Liverpool 3-1 Watford – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM] 

Crystal Palace 3-1 Brighton – (Monday, 2:45 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Leicester 3-0 Norwich – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]


DON’T TOUCH THIS…

Southampton 1-1 West Ham – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

Sheffield United 2-1 Aston Villa – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Man United 2-1 Everton – (Sunday, 9 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM


“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Arsenal 3-3 Man City – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Wolves 1-2 Tottenham – (Sunday 9 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Burnley 1-2 Newcastle United – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Premier League TV, streaming schedule

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Matchweek 17 of the Premier League season is here, as the busy festive season continues.

Get in there.

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The full TV schedule for the games this weekend are below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today, Sky Sports News, NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” for all the goals as they go in around the grounds. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App.

[ MORE: Premier League “Goal Rush” ] 

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Saturday
7:30 a.m. ET: Liverpool v. Watford – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Chelsea v. Bournemouth – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Burnley v. Newcastle – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Leicester City v. Norwich City – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Sheffield United v. Aston Villa – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
12:30 p.m. ET: Southampton v. West Ham – NBC [STREAM]

Sunday
9 a.m. ET: Wolves v. Tottenham – NBCSN [STREAM]
9 a.m. ET: Man United v. Everton  – NBC Sports Gold[STREAM]
11:30 a.m. ET: Arsenal v. Man City – NBCSN [STREAM]

Monday
2:45 p.m. ET: Crystal Palace v. Brighton – NBCSN [STREAM]

Miami ready to arrive as global soccer city

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This weekend the Premier League on NBC Sports crew are heading to Miami Beach to host the second Premier League Mornings Live Fan Fest of the season.

And Rebecca Lowe, Robbie Earle, Robbie Mustoe and Kyle Martino, along with several high-profile guests, will be arriving in a city which is primed to re-enter the discussion as a truly global soccer city.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

With David Beckham’s Inter Miami CF franchise arriving in Major League Soccer for March 2020, CONCACAF’s HQ in Miami, plus many of the biggest clubs in the world visiting Miami to play in friendly games each summer — and of course the USMNT and USWNT both playing regularly in South Florida — Miami is already well on its way to becoming a key U.S. hub for the global game.

But things are changing. Rapidly.

After the Miami Fusion folded in early 2002 and the heyday of the NASL long gone, there was a soccer void in MIA, but now teams are popping up in both MLS and USL, and if you wander around Miami you will spot jerseys from just about every club on the planet.

Peter Smith (who played for the U.S. Futsal Team in the 1989 world championships) is involved in soccer in the Miami area where he runs his company, Smash Soccer, a consultancy agency.

He has seen a huge upturn in the popularity of the sport in and around Miami in recent years.

“There will be a big turnout and a great atmosphere at the Clevelander because their is such a passion for the sport in Miami and South Florida,” Smith said. “Miami is more of an international city than an American city. You always see Barcelona, Real Madrid, PSG, Juventus, Boca Juniors, River Plate and Flamengo jerseys, as well as plenty of Liverpool, Man United, Man City and Chelsea shirts and there is so much interest in the global game.

“Miami has such a mix of tourists and residents that you will always have PL interest in and around the bars and on the streets and there really is a growing interest in the Premier League. There are plenty of fan bars on gamedays, and in particular areas of Miami where you have specific bars for fans supporting clubs in South America and Europe. It’s a real mix and it is wonderful.”

[ MORE: How to attend the Miami Fan Fest ]

When you start to ask around the Miami area, it is clear soccer is on the minds of many.

Mike Ryan Ruiz is the Executive Producer for The Dan Le Batard Show and Host of Chelsea’s new U.S. focused podcast, “Chelsea Mike’d Up.” 

Aside from his focus on all things Premier League with the Blues, Ruiz believes the arrival of Inter Miami CF will be a key part of the puzzle in soccer getting back on the map in Miami.

“The soccer community is really buzzing down here for Inter Miami, even though it’s in Fort Lauderdale initially. Our supporters groups, I think, are going to be the talk of MLS. There are three main groups but the wildest is Vice City,” Ruiz explained. “I really think Inter is going to be a success story. The town is desperate for a winner and I think they’re well positioned even as an expansion team. We’ve been waiting on this for so long. It felt like the day might never come… but we’re here.”

It is sure to be one heck of a party at the Clevelander Hotel in Miami Beach this weekend as Miami continues to grow as a worldwide soccer destination.

All the details for our Fan Fest can be found right here.