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MLS weekend preview: Quakes look to stay alive, Revs one win away from playoffs

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It’s the penultimate weekend of MLS regular season, and the playoff picture is nowhere near being completed, especially in the Western Conference. With two Sundays to go, four teams remain in the hunt for the final spot in the East. In the West, the fifth, sixth and seventh spots are yet to be decided.

Here’s a quick preview of each match being played this Sunday:

San Jose Earthquakes vs. Seattle Sounders: Will the San Jose Earthquakes’ miraculous turnaround under Matias Almeyda go the next level with the clinching of a playoff spot? Only a point away from surpassing the red line, San Jose are statistically forced to win against a playoff-destined Seattle Sounders, who look to move as high as second in the Western Conference with two games to play, on Sunday if they want to make an already laudable reconfiguration into a generational one. With the return of Almeyda, Chris Wondolowski and Cristian Espinoza, the Quakes’ chances will be as good as they’ll get at this point of the season: a coin flip.

New England Revolution vs. NYCFC:  NYCFC’s visit to Gillette Stadium is the Eastern Conference’s biggest game of the weekend. Domenec Torrent’s side are in a comfortable position – six points clear of second place Philadelphia Union. The New England Revolution, however, are a win away from clinching a playoff berth. Then again, with Bruce Arena leading the Revs, one can assume that the home team will sneak into the postseason.

Sporting Kansas City vs. Portland Timbers: After a rocky start to their season, the Portland Timbers are in the driver’s seat to make the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Timbers’ followers, clinching playoffs is not the topic of interests. After six years, Diego Valeri is reportedly playing his final days in Rose City, as contract talks between both parties have hit a roadblocks. The question now becomes: will Valeri’s  uncertain future affect the Timbers’ on the field starting this Sunday against an eliminated Sporting KC?

Chicago Fire vs. Toronto FC: After 13 years, countless goals and memories, the Chicago Fire say goodbye to Bridgeview, Illinois. The Fire, who are relocating to Soldier Field next season in the hopes of drawing interest from proper Chicago’s large soccer fanbase, are not entirely out of the playoff race either. With a loss from the Revs and win at home, Veljko Paunovic and company would be only a point removed from New England. Chicago’s latest result – a scoreless draw against a poor Cincinnati – doesn’t give the impression that they’ll be able to edge a balanced Toronto, who are in the postseason yet again.

Real Salt Lake vs. Houston Dynamo: Real Salt Lake continue to produce, despite their internal turmoil. On Friday, the club parted ways with general manager Craig Waibel in the wake of a lawsuit raised by former coach Mike Petke, who made a reference that Waibel was critical of owner Dell Loy Hansen and said he was resigning from his position at the end of the season. Recent history indicates the team will respond positively to such self-inflicted roadblocks. But with only a foot across the red line, it will be interesting to see how they show up against a crumbling Houston Dynamo.

Colorado Rapids vs. FC Dallas: Robin Fraser’s new-look Colorado Rapids aren’t out yet, but their playoff chances hang on by a thread, if that. On the other side, FC Dallas – a point above San Jose – look to win out and, as a result, sneak into the playoffs. They’ll have to do so against a new Rapids scheme in which attackers and defenders alike are scoring. No easy task for a Dallas team that has allowed five goals in their last three games.

FC Cincinnati vs. Orlando City: While Carlos Vela actively looks to break the league record for the most scored goals in a season, FC Cincinnati hopes not to be the team to allow the most goals in a single season. They’re one away from doing so. With Orlando City, who need to win out in order to have any last-minute chances to qualify, Ron Jans’ side’s probabilities are slim.

Montreal Impact vs. Atlanta United: Montreal Impact are one of the four teams fighting for a spot in the Eastern Conference’s big party. With midweek Canadian Championship celebrations still fresh, the Impact may have plenty of inspiration to pick up the reaming six points (or not). Jose Martinez-less Atlanta United, on the other hand, look to bounce back from a crushing loss to NYCFC that cost them the second spot in the East.

Columbus Crew vs. Philadelphia Union: Fresh off a win against the Quakes, Jim Curtin and company look to separate themselves from Atlanta United, and seal second place in the East. The Crew, who have proven to be a threat time and time again this season, will put up a fight.

Minnesota United vs. LAFC: With a Supporters’ Shield to point towards, LAFC have every reason to take things slow until the second round of the Western Conference playoffs. That said, given that Vela is one goal away from tying Martinez’s league record, though, the Black-and-Gold will likely continue moving forward at full speed until the Mexican writes his name in the record book. If that holds true, LAFC and second place Minnesota United will be a must-watch.

New York Red Bulls vs. D.C. United:  A rivalry with two games left in the regular season is never a bad thing, especially when both teams are looking to climb the standings before the playoffs. To add to a thick plot, both teams are already in good form, and only a point apart in the Eastern Conference standings.

LA Galaxy vs. Vancouver Whitecaps: Just a couple of months ago, the LA Galaxy were in serious trouble of making the playoffs. But with the improvement of their backline and the non-stop dominating play from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Galaxy now find themselves playoff bound. It’s the type of transformation the Whitecaps were looking for but were never able to accomplish in Marc Dos Santos’ first year at the helm. As expected, the home side will look to exploit that and aim for the West’s second spot.

DC United acquires Julian Gressel from Atlanta

Atlanta United trades for Julian Gressel
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How much is Major League Soccer’s best assist man worth?

About $750,000.

DC United paid Atlanta United that fee in allocation money for the rights to Julian Gressel, who had been at a contract impasse with the club who drafted him in 2017.

That fee could hit $1.1 million in incentives, and even so could be a bargain.

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Gressel was due to make around $133,000 this season and wanted an improved deal from Atlanta given his massive production since becoming the eighth overall pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft.

That salary is less than hundreds of players, most of them nowhere near Gressel’s impact. Nineteen Atlanta United players made more than him last season, so it’s understandable that the 26-year-old wanted to get paid.

We don’t know what he was asking, or why Atlanta wouldn’t get there. From MLSSoccer.com:

“If we really wanted to, we could have had him play on $130,000 this season, extend him a bona fide offer at the end of the season and (we’d still own his MLS rights),” said Atlanta United vice president Carlos Bocanegra. “We’re also trying to do the right thing for a guy who has given so much to the club and is really just a good kid all around.”

It’s a weird one, given what the club’s been paying others.

Gressel arrived at Providence College from Eintracht Bamberg and immediately started delivering for the Big East side. He finished his four years with 30 goals and 26 assists and All-American status.

There was some adapting to MLS, but he’s gotten better with every season. He scored 10 goals with 13 assists in all competitions last season.

Spurs chairman reportedly met with Real Madrid about Gareth Bale

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As a neutral, the idea of Gareth Bale rejoining Tottenham Hotspur would be a delight to our Premier League matchday viewing.

Obviously this applies to Spurs fans to the nth degree, especially after a dull 0-0 with Watford at the weekend.

In the short-term, Bale would be a terrific stopgap as Spurs struggle to find themselves without Harry Kane in both the PL and Champions League.

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In the long-term, Bale and Heung-Min Son on the wings of Harry Kane would be enough to make any PL power trio blush (unless Liverpool really does add Timo Werner).

A report out of Spain says Real Madrid president Florentino Perez met with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy about several things including the availability of Bale.

The Welsh star has been long admired by Jose Mourinho, and of course knows Spurs well having become a superstar after arriving from Southampton.

Bale is 30 and his wages would easily top Spurs’ pay list. His 21 goals and nine assists in the 2012/13 Premier League season join his 19 and 11 in 2015 La Liga as his top league seasons.

Spurs host Norwich City on Wednesday (Watch live at 2:30 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

Guardiola praises Laporte, “the best left central defender in the world”

Pep Guardiola praises Aymeric Laporte
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Manchester City kept its first clean sheet of 2020 on Tuesday, posting a 1-0 win over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.

It took the two-time reigning Premier League champions six tries to get there, the previous zero coming against this same Blades side at the Etihad Stadium.

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City manager Pep Guardiola was quick to give credit to a returning hero, as center back Aymeric Laporte returned to the fold for the first time since Aug. 31.

The club was 3W-1D at that point. They went 12W-2D-5L without him.

Here’s Guardiola, from the Manchester Evening News:

“It’s incredible,” Guardola said. “We have missed him a lot, he’s the best left central defender in the world. Imagine the best teams in the world lose their best central defender. We miss him a lot because he’s a specialist left foot where our buildup. He is fast, strong in the air.”

“He has something that we don’t have in the squad. His left foot and many actions to build up to make it quicker and better – we don’t have it, not because the other ones are not good but he has the only left foot as a central defender and for the way we want to play that is so important. His character and mentality and winning, he has all the attributes. For me, when he is fit he is the best left central defender in the world.”

If you read that as a little bit of an explanation for City being 13 points off Liverpool, you’ve similar eyes to us.

Pep is asking how Liverpool would look without Virgil Van Dijk, how Real Madrid appears when Sergio Ramos is out.

It’s not the be-all, end-all, but as I wrote when Laporte went down, this is the key piece to their defending efforts as well as where they begin possession.

We’re also grateful that Guardiola didn’t drop some sort of, “He’s like a January transfer addition,” statement (at least as far as we’ve read.

Chelsea admit they miss USMNT’s Pulisic

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LONDON — Since USMNT star Christian Pulisic was injured in training in the first week of January, Chelsea have lost against Newcastle, drawn with Arsenal and blown away Burnley.

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In the two games where they’ve dropped points they’ve missed Pulisic’s genius in the final third with both Willian and Callum Hudson-Odoi easily shackled by Arsenal in their London derby. Chelsea admitted as much when speaking after the 2-2 draw against Arsenal on Tuesday, an Arsenal side who played with 10 men for over 60 minutes of the game.

Asked by Pro Soccer Talk about Pulisic’s adductor injury and if they missed him during the draw against Arsenal, downbeat Chelsea boss Frank Lampard noted that Pulisic, 21, was “playing really well” before his injury.

“Yeah, a game like today could have been a good where he would have been helpful for us because he was playing well for a patch. But other people have to stand up in those situations,” Lampard said.

When will Pulisic be back?

Lampard confirmed he is making good progress but will not be fit until after the mid-season player break in February, which means he will miss their FA Cup trip to Hull City this Saturday and their clash at Leicester City on Feb. 1. He may not be back until Feb. 17 when they host Manchester United in the Premier League, which means in total he will have been out for a period of six weeks.

“In terms of when he’s back, it is not going to be a week, it is probably be the other end of the early February break but he is getting better and he isn’t far away,” Lampard said.

Speaking to Pro Soccer Talk pitch-side at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta, who scored their late second goal which looked like being the winner, lavished praise on Pulisic when asked about his absence over the last week.

“Christian is a magnificent player. Since he joined us in the summer he has shown us his potential and we know that he can make the difference at any time. Whenever a player is injured it is not good for a team because we lose potential and I hope to have him back soon,” Azpilicueta said.

Chelsea’s skipper is expecting big things from Pulisic when he does return to fitness, as the fourth-place Blues now have just a six-point cushion to those outside of the top four and have played a game more.

It seems like everyone at Chelsea hopes the USMNT star can rejuvenate their attack in the final months of the season.

“After coming to Europe as a young boy to Germany, he came to Chelsea and it is one step forward, playing for Chelsea every game, fighting to win and fighting for trophies,” Azpilicueta said. “In my role I’ve tried to help in settle into the city and the club. He has a brilliant attitude. Always trying to improve. I am sure he will become bigger and bigger.”