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MLS Decision Day Preview: Quakes, Timbers battle it out; Vela, Zlatan go for Golden Boot

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In the Western Conference, four teams fight one last time for two playoff spots, while Carlos Vela and Zlatan Ibrahimovic – two goals apart from one another – go toe-to-toe for the league’s Golden Boot. Now, that’s a Decision Day that will keep everyone on the edge of their seats.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Portland Timbers vs. San Jose Earthquakes: Unlike the Portland Timbers, the San Jose Earthquakes were hit with a major distraction midweek ahead of their most important game of the year: Matias Almeyda’s rumored move to Monterrey. After the rumors made its rounds in Mexico and then stateside, the Northern Californian club decided to release a statement, which denied any contact from the Liga MX club and San Jose.

Amidst all of the disturbance, Almeyda and company assured that they’re going for the win in what is a win-and-your-are-in scenario.

“We put ourselves in a huge opportunity, a good opportunity, and I think that it’s a phenomenal environment and we’re going to go get the job done and how this group knows how to,” Quakes’ fullback Nick Lima said midweek. “It’s exciting.”

The Timbers, who can still clinch with a loss if Dallas losses to draws, is approaching Sunday’s game at Providence Park with the same, winning mindset.

“It’s a must win. That’s all it is,” said Portland defender Zarek Valentin. “The focus starts now because we know that we control our own destiny in terms of winning and getting in and that’s all you can ask for at the end of the year. Obviously, we wish we could be a little bit higher, but we believe in ourselves and luckily it’s in our hands. We’ve just got to get out there, get some points and get in the playoffs.”

This year’s Decision Day – with the Eastern Conference playoff bracket set – may lack playoff implications, but the Quakes and Timbers matchup makes up for it.

FC Dallas vs. Sporting Kansas City:  Following a bumpy season, FC Dallas controls its own destiny heading into Sunday in what has been its first year under coach Luchi Gonzalez. Their scenario, too, is pretty simple: win and you’re in.

A home game against a surprise playoff absentee Sporting Kansas City stands in their way, but like many other teams in the league at this stage of the competition, Dallas are already in playoff mode.

“The way we’re looking at it from here on out is there’s five games to win an MLS Cup – something that the club doesn’t have on the shelf yet,” first-year head coach Gonzalez said this week. “And we’re really excited to play this first game of five to try to take the next step in the pursuit of an MLS Cup. That’s our focus.”

LAFC vs. Colorado Rapids: The Colorado Rapids, who have been on a hot streak since the takeover of Robin Fraser, are, mathematically, still in the playoff hunt. The likelihood of them clinching, however, stand at less than one percent, according to FIveThirtyEight.

What is a real possibility is Carlos Vela being presented with the league’s Golden Boot. LAFC’s captains goal count is at 31 – one shy of breaking Josef Martinez’s single-season record and two ahead of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 29 goals.

That said, it wasn’t Vela leading the headlines ahead of Sunday, but Zlatan, who claimed the only reason he’s behind the Mexican’s count is because he’s featured in less games this season.

“I have 29 goals in 28 games,” the 38-year-old Swedish striker said. “If I would have the same amount (of) games like the other ones, it would be different.”

“But now I’m chasing someone that has more games than me,” he added ahead of LA Galaxy’s game against the Houston Dynamo. “But if we score we score, we’ll have to see what the end number will be. We’ll see. If there still is a possibility, we’ll try.”

Decision Day’s full schedule

FC Dalla v. Sporting Kansas City — 4 p.m. ET

LAFC  v. Colorado Rapids — 4 p.m. ET

Portland Timbers v. San Jose Earthquakes — 4 p.m. ET

Orlando City v. Chicago Fire — 4 p.m. ET

Vancouver Whitecaps v. Real Salt Lake — 4 p.m. ET

D.C. United v. FC Cincinatti — 4 p.m. ET

Montreal Impact v. NY Red Bulls — 4 p.m. ET

Toronto FC v. Columbus Crew — 4 p.m. ET

Seattle Sounders v. Minnesota United — 4 p.m. ET

Houston Dynamo v. LA Galaxy — 4 p.m. ET

Philadelphia Union v. NYCFC — 4 p.m. ET

Atlanta United v. New England Revolution — 4 p.m. ET

Top 25 players in the USMNT pool right now

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Christian Pulisic is the best American soccer player in the world.

Of this, there is little debate.

But there is a debate to who is second, third, and well down the line, and we’ve got our last chance to really assess the full crop with Major League Soccer now out of season for a few months.

[ USMNT: Most to gain/lose from November ]

Let’s set some ground rules:

  • The ranking is meant to illustrate who would be most likely to positively affect a USMNT match, regardless of manager or teammates, right now.
  • Health doesn’t matter to our rankings if a current injury isn’t one which could drastically alter the player’s skill set moving forward.
  • Age/potential/experience doesn’t matter either, at least not much; It’s how likely you are to contribute to the team if put on the field right now. Obviously Chris Richards of Bayern Munich II is a better long-term prospect than 32-year-old Tim Ream, but most would rather have the Fulham man in a big spot right now.

Top 25 USMNT players – November 2019

*not currently a part of USMNT squad due to injury
**not currently a part of USMNT squad due to coach’s decision

  1. Christian Pulisic, Chelsea*
  2. Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig*
  3. John Brooks, Wolfsburg
  4. Weston McKennie, Schalke
  5. Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf
  6. Sergino Dest, Ajax
  7. Jordan Morris, Seattle Sounders
  8. Matt Miazga, Reading (on loan from Chelsea)**
  9. Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen
  10. Zack Steffen, Fortuna Dusseldorf (on loan from Man City)*
  11. DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle United
  12. Jozy Altidore, Toronto FC*
  13. Tim Ream, Fulham
  14. Timothy Weah, Lille*
  15. Julian Green, Greuther Furth**
  16. Cristian Roldan, Seattle Sounders
  17. Ike Opara, Minnesota United**
  18. Michael Bradley, Toronto FC*
  19. Fabian Johnson, Borussia Monchengladbach**
  20. Cameron Carter-Vickers, Stoke City (on loan from Spurs)**
  21. Tyler Boyd, Besiktas
  22. Sebastian Lletget, LA Galaxy
  23. Miles Robinson, Atlanta United*
  24. Paul Arriola, DC United
  25. Jackson Yueill, San Jose Earthquakes

Next up, established: Antonee Robinson (Wigan Athletic), Walker Zimmerman (LAFC), Eric Lichaj (Hull City), Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas), Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge), Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas), Duane Holmes (Derby County), Bill Hamid (DC United).

Next up, youth: Konrad de la Fuente (Barcelona U19), Alex Mendez (Ajax U19), Giovanni Reyna (Borussia Dortmund U19), Ulysses Llanez (Wolfsburg U19), Chris Richards (Bayern Munich II), Richie Ledezma (PSV Eindhoven), Donovan Pines (DC United), Sam Vines (Colorado Rapids)

Leaked image shows big fines that face Chelsea rule breakers

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Frank Lampard‘s ready to go into his players’ wallets if they disobey his laws.

A posted list of fines for Chelsea players, signed by the manager, has been confirmed and we would completely understand if the Blues were on time all the time.

[ MORE: Salah out for Egypt ]

A player is fined about $640 per minute he’s late to a meeting, and if he misses a practice, well, wow: The fine is nearly $26,000.

If a phone rings during a meeting, that’s gonna be $1,300.

And if any fine isn’t paid within two weeks, it doubles! Seems like Christian Pulisic and his teammates will have a lot of alarms set on their phones.

From The Telegraph:

Lampard has also banned agents from the training ground, unless on official business, and players must inform the club if they intend to travel abroad, even on scheduled days off.

The average Chelsea salary last season was approximately $6.6 million, meaning players make on average $127,000 per week.

The full list of fines is below.

Kompany: Liverpool’s Premier League title ghosts should ‘be to City’s advantage’

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Vincent Kompany says history could help Manchester City climb back into the Premier League title race even after his former team dropped nine points back of first place Liverpool.

[ MORE: Salah out for Egypt ]

Now at Anderlecht, the center back also said history might’ve played a role in City’s 3-1 setback at Anfield. In a rare bit of explicit honesty, the often interesting Kompany said that players do deal with demons of a club’s past.

“We always struggle at Anfield,” he said, according to Sky Sports. “I said that on Super Sunday, you’re fighting 25 years of not winning at Anfield and that’s difficult, it’s two games in one game: You’re playing a great team and you’re fighting history.”

“Flip it around and the same will happen for Liverpool. They will fight the history of not winning the league for 30 years. That should be to City’s advantage I still think.”

Do you buy that? Most of the buzz around the Premier League is that this Liverpool is a different team than even the dominant one of last season, and City has suffered big injury problems. The Reds players almost went out of their way last year to say they weren’t worried about blowing their table lead last season (which was bigger, later in the season).

Kompany also said that he believes City doesn’t need to add a center back in January, which is bonkers unless he’s coming back, but the Belgian has proven time and again that he’s one of the better minds in the game.

The guy did title  his MBA dissertation, “How professional football clubs in the Premier League can benefit from home game advantage and achieve game-changing levels of improvement” after all. Then again, I’m not sure any of our dissertations on the same topic would’ve been approved had we done that.

Liverpool’s Salah to miss Egypt’s first two AFCON qualifiers

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Good news for Liverpool, not so much for Egypt.

Mohamed Salah will not suit up for the Pharoahs this month as Egypt begins qualifying for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.

[ MORE: Will Zlatan rejoin LA? ]

Salah has been dealing with ankle problems since a rough tackle from Leicester City’s Hamza Choudhury, and it’s acting up following a tackle from Fernandinho in the Reds’ 3-1 defeat of Man City on Sunday.

Egypt needs Salah, but it’s no surprise he’s erring on the side of caution given the tumultuous relationship between the superstar and his country (and Liverpool’s status as a contender in five (!!) tournaments).

Salah, 27, has 41 goals in 67 caps. The next five leading active Egyptian scorers have a combined 31 goals in their careers over 284 caps. The youngest of those is Aston Villa’s Trezeguet (25), followed by Besiktas’ Mohamed Elneny (27).

Egypt are heavy favorites to finish in one of the top two spots and qualify for AFCON 2020, even with the injury. The 49th ranked Pharoahs (FIFA ranking) are in a group with Kenya (108), Togo (124) and Comoros (142).

Egypt hosts Kenya on Thursday to kick off qualification, and visits Comoros on Monday.