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MLS Preview: Top of the table clash in Western Conference awaits

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Here’s everything you need to know ahead of a busy and exciting week eight of MLS action, starting on Friday night.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Los Angeles FC v. Seattle Sounders — Sunday, 7 p.m. ET

Unbeaten no more, Los Angeles FC returns home to Banc of California Stadium this weekend to face another Cascadia opponent, only this time, it’s one much stronger on paper. The Seattle Sounders’ visit to LAFC this Sunday sets up a highly-anticipated top of the table clash in the Western Conference, and a Sounders win would put both sides level at 19 points in the standings. Meanwhile, an LAFC win would give Bob Bradley‘s squad an even-bigger lead over the rest of the conference.

Working on Seattle’s favor is that the team has a full week of practice to prepare. It’s coming off a game in which backup forward Will Bruin and midfielder Christian Roldan scored the goals, with Raul Ruidiaz, Nicolas Lodeiro and Jordan Morris all ready for their chance to make an impact. For LAFC, it will have to quickly shake off the defeat and travel fatigue from the trip up the west coast to be ready to face the quick counter attacks of the Sounders. It should be an exciting match, with temperatures expected in the mid-60s around game time, perfect for most players.

LA Galaxy v. Houston Dynamo — Friday, 11 p.m. ET

LAFC may be taking all the attention, but LA’s “other” – some might say, first – team has quietly had a strong start to the season. The LA Galaxy look more like the title-contending teams of old under former Columbus Crew and Boca Juniors legend Guillermo Barros Schelotto, with five wins in the club’s first six games of the season. Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored a brace in the Galaxy’s last match, a 2-0 win over the Philadelphia Union, and more importantly, Schelotto appears to have solved the backline woes, as the Galaxy secured another clean sheet.

On the other side, Wilmer Cabrera looks to have rebounded from an off-year in 2018 with a playoff contender in 2019. On the attack, the Dynamo are one of the most dangerous teams in the league, having scored two or more goals in all but one of their games so far this season. Alberth Elis, Mauro Manotas and Tomas Martinez make up one of the best attacking trios in the league, and the Galaxy defense will have plenty of work to do to keep those three from finding the back of the net. Expect goals, and end-to-end action in this one if you stay up for it on the east coast, or you lean back on the couch if on the west coast. In what’s becoming more of a trend, this match will be streamed on Twitter.

Columbus Crew v. Portland Timbers — Sunday, 7:30 p.m. ET

Caleb Porter takes on his former club for the first time since resigning after the 2017 season as the Portland Timbers continue their barnstorming start of the season with a trip to the Columbus Crew. The Timbers are currently the worst team in the standings, with no wins and just one point from the club’s first six games, and the tests won’t get any easier as the few holdovers from the Porter-era in Portland will know. The Timbers are starting the MLS season with eight-straight home games as their home field, Providence Park, undergoes renovations. However, that means that there’s plenty of home games at the back-end, and if the Timbers can pick up a few points before June, it could put them in a place to battle for a playoff place come October.

The Crew meanwhile has done very well under Porter, who took over after the departure of Gregg Berhalter to the U.S. Men’s National Team. The Crew are currently in second place in the Eastern Conference standings, though they suffered a surprise 1-0 defeat last week against Montreal. Look for the likes of Federico “Pipa” Higuain, Gyasi Zardes and Wil Trapp to have a bigger impact against the Timbers, in what will be a rematch from the 2015 MLS Cup final.

Full MLS schedule

Friday

FC Cincinnati v. Real Salt Lake — 7:30 p.m. ET
Toronto FC v. Minnesota United — 8 p.m. ET
LA Galaxy v. Houston Dynamo — 11 p.m. ET

Saturday

Chicago Fire v. Colorado Rapids — 1 p.m. ET
Philadelphia Union v. Montreal Impact — 1 p.m. ET
Orlando City v. Vancouver Whitecaps — 3 p.m. ET
Atlanta United v. FC Dallas — 4 p.m. ET
Columbus Crew v. Portland Timbers — 7:30 p.m. ET
New England Revolution v. New York Red Bulls — 7:30 p.m. ET
San Jose Earthquakes v. Sporting KC — 10 p.m. ET
FC Cincinnati v. Real Salt Lake — 7:30 p.m. ET

Saturday

D.C. United v. New York City FC — 4 p.m. ET
Los Angeles FC v. Seattle Sounders — 7 p.m. ET

Chairman Mubarak: Other clubs are ‘jealous’ of Man City’s success

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Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak believes that other clubs — namely those who have fallen miles back of the back-to-back Premier League champions — are “jealous” of the club’s success.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante to miss Europa League final with new injury ]

The root of the perceived jealousy is, of course, Man City’s seemingly unlimited spending power which dwarves that of just about — if not — every other club in the PL. There’s a growing sense around the league — and around the world — that clubs like City, just to name one, are doing the game a disservice by distorting the transfer market and building an infallible super-team with the aid of unprecedented financial resources.

Mubarak believes that these feelings also stem from other clubs’ failed dealings in the transfer market: spending comparable — if not more — money on players who don’t justify that price tag the same way some of City’s big-money buys have done — quotes from the BBC:

“With success, there is a certain level of jealousy, envy, whatever you call it. That’s part of the game.

“It’s not easy for our competition, we know that. But the reality is, we didn’t buy the most expensive player in the Premier League [Paul Pogba], we didn’t buy the most expensive goalkeeper [Kepa Arrizabalaga], we didn’t buy the most expensive midfielder, we didn’t buy the most expensive striker [Romelu Lukaku].

“People make decisions, they’ve got to live by them. This is a well-run club.”

City’s financial dealings have regularly been in the headlines of late, as they are believed to have circumvented FFP rules by lying about sponsorship deals so as to balance a larger expenditure on transfer fees and player wages with revenue generated by the club.

Valverde under pressure after dismal end to Barcelona’s season

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MADRID (AP) A couple of weeks ago, few questioned Ernesto Valverde as Barcelona coach.

The team had just won a second straight Spanish league title under his command and was close to making it to the Champions League final after beating Liverpool 3-0 in the first leg of the semifinals.

The team was also through to the Copa del Rey final, where it would try to win an unprecedented fifth straight title in the competition.

Valverde seemed to be comfortably in control as the club moved closer to winning the treble.

Things quickly took a turn for the worse, though, and Valverde woke up on Sunday under added pressure and facing increased criticism.

Barcelona lost 2-1 to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday, a result that followed the disastrous elimination against Liverpool in the Champions League and added to the team’s woeful end to what had been a great season.

“A month ago we were celebrating the league title. Fifteen days ago we were thinking we had a chance at a treble,” Valverde said. “And we came up short in the decisive moments in both the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.”

The disappointing ending brought out a wave of criticism of Valverde, who last year also finished the season under a cloud after another humiliating Champions League elimination – that time it squandered a big first-leg lead against Roma in the tournament’s quarterfinals.

The criticism seems more pronounced this time, with some fans and local media calling for a change at the helm.

It didn’t take long after Barcelona’s loss to Valencia in Seville for club President Josep Bartomeu to come out and defend the coach.

“Ernesto has a contract and he remains the team’s coach,” Bartomeu said. “This loss was not the coach’s fault. The team created a lot of scoring chances but the ball didn’t go in, and what counts is how many times you score.”

Bartomeu had already defended Valverde after the demoralizing 4-0 loss to Liverpool in the Champions League, saying the club was not considering a change in command for next season.

Valverde said he was not worried and felt supported by the club despite the disappointing ending.

“It’s a bad feeling, we won’t deny it, but we have to stay strong,” he said. “What we want as coaches is to have a chance to come back. It’s tough to lose, it means something went wrong. We have to take the responsibility for it.”

Even if Valverde stays as expected, it doesn’t mean there won’t be changes for Barcelona.

Several players played below expectations this season, especially former Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho, who was regularly jeered by fans and whose place with the club remains uncertain.

Bartomeu will likely have to go shopping in the offseason to try to improve the supporting cast for Lionel Messi, who had a fantastic year but wasn’t able to save the season by himself. When Messi looked ordinary, no one was able to take over his role as protagonist, and it proved costly in the decisive moments.

Young midfielder Frenkie de Jong is joining from Ajax and he should significantly boost the midfield, but Barcelona will definitely need to add to its attack, as Luis Suarez was the only true striker who performed consistently well. He couldn’t play in the Copa final after undergoing knee surgery and his absence was felt as the team struggled to capitalize on its scoring chances.

Veteran Gerard Pique is set to return for another season in defense, but there are still doubts about the fitness of Samuel Umtiti, who missed several matches this season because of injuries.

“We’ve been thinking about next season for a while, but it’s not the time to discuss the future,” Bartomeu said. “We ended with the Spanish league title, it was important. We couldn’t win the Copa, but we’ll just move on.”

Suarez defends surgery decision after Barca lose Copa del Rey final

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Luis Suarez has defended himself from criticism for undergoing knee surgery that prevented him from playing for Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final.

The Uruguayan released a statement Sunday saying he had no option despite the timing of the final, which Barcelona lost 2-1 to Valencia on Saturday.

Suarez said he had to undergo surgery “against my will” after rupturing his meniscus against Liverpool in the Champions League semifinals.

He said the surgery earlier this month had nothing to do with a cartilage issue that he had been nursing since the beginning of the season.

Barcelona won the Spanish league but finished the season on a low after being eliminated by Liverpool in the Champions League and losing the Copa final to Valencia.

Suarez scored 25 goals in 49 matches this season, second only to Lionel Messi on the scoring charts for Barcelona.

U-20 WC roundup: Mexico hammered by Japan; Italy top Ecuador

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action at the U-20 World Cup in Poland…

[ MORE: USWNT wins final match before World Cup (video) ]

Mexico 0-3 Japan

Mexico’s heavy defeat at the hands of Japan means El Tri‘s stars of tomorrow, who have zero points from their first two games, cannot finish top-two in Group B and can only advance to the knockout rounds as one of four third-place teams.

Taisei Miyashiro (21st and 77th minutes) and Kyosuke Tagawa (52nd) bagged the goals on Sunday, as Japan picked up its first victory and set up an all-important finale with Italy to decide who finishes top of the group on Wednesday.

Ecuador 0-1 Italy

Andrea Pinamonti scored the only goal in Italy’s 1-0 victory over 10-man Ecuador to reach the six-point mark and guarantee themselves a top-two finish and a place in the round of 16.

Elsewhere in the U-20 World Cup

Senegal 2-0 Colombia [ HIGHLIGHTS ]
Poland 5-0 Tahiti [ HIGHLIGHTS ]

Monday’s U-20 World Cup schedule

Honduras v. Uruguay — 12 p.m. ET
Qatar v. Ukraine — 12 p.m. ET
USA v. Nigeria — 2:30 p.m. ET
Norway v. New Zealand — 2:30 p.m. ET