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MLS Playoffs Preview: 1st round kicks off on Saturday

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After a two-week break, MLS is back, and with some outstanding matchups as the first round of the playoffs kicks off on Saturday.

Here’s a closer look at Saturday’s matchups in the Western Conference and Eastern Conference.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]


2. Atlanta United v. 7. New England Revolution — Saturday, 1 p.m. ET

Atlanta United begins its title defense against the most successful coach in MLS history, Bruce Arena.

Atlanta United heads into the match at home a bit shorthanded. Miles Robinson suffered a left hamstring strain while on international duty with the U.S. Men’s National Team, leaving veteran centerback Michael Parkhurst to start alongside Leandro Gonzalez Pires. There’s also some questions over whether Ezequiel Barco and Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez will start together in midfield.

All that being said, Atlanta is still one of the best teams in MLS and as long as they have Josef Martinez, they’ll be a threat to make a deep run in the playoffs. The Revs have been a revelation since Bruce Arena took over in May, and no one knows the MLS playoffs more than he. Carles Gil and Gustavo Bou have been terrific this summer for the Revs while the defense, anchored by centerbacks Andrew Farrell and Michael Mancienne and 25-year-old goalkeeper Matt Turner have kept opponents off the board.

Atlanta certainly has the edge here, especially at home, but never count out a Bruce Arena team.

2. Seattle Sounders v. 7. FC Dallas — Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET

Unlike in previous years, the Seattle Sounders never needed to make a patented late-season push to make it into the playoffs. This time, the Sounders were solid throughout, especially thanks to a start that included five wins in six games. With Jordan Morris in peak form and Roman Torres and Kim Kee-Hee patrolling the middle of the backline, Seattle sure looks like an MLS Cup contender. Of course, they’d have to get past LAFC first, no small task.

For FC Dallas, in a way, they’re just happy to be here. It seems like forever, but was less than a year ago when club legend Oscar Pareja left for the Club Tijuana manager spot. In his place was local soccer legend and former FC Dallas academy director Luchi Gonzalez, and with a mostly young squad of players, Gonzalez has proven he could guide them to the playoffs. It doesn’t hurt though that one of the few veterans, Zdenek “Cobra” Ondrášek, has been on fire the last two months and just scored for the Czech Republic against England. The Sounders should take care of business at home, but Jesus Ferreira and Paxton Pomykal can create something out of nothing and could make Saturday’s match interesting/

4. Toronto FC v. 5. DC United — Saturday, 6 p.m. ET

With the regular season concluded and the start of single-elimination matches, we’re on the verge of saying goodbye to Wayne Rooney at any moment, and it could come as early as Saturday.

Thanks to a win and some other favorable results, Toronto FC jumped up in the standings and earned a home playoff match. It doesn’t hurt that it’s been very solid to close out the season, going unbeaten in its last 10 matches – though to be fair, that span only included four wins. Worryingly for TFC is that striker Jozy Altidore didn’t practice on Thursday after missing the international break with yet another muscle injury. However, his Canadian international teammates Jonathan Osorio, Liam Fraser, and Richie Laryea are returning to the club side on a high after beating the U.S.

For D.C. it’s been an up and down last few weeks. They picked up huge wins over Portland and Seattle in the final two months of the season, only to settle for scoreless draws against the porous New York Red Bulls and abject horror show in FC Cincinnati. As always, there will be plenty of pressure on Rooney to produce some magic, and his side will need it if they want to keep their season alive. Toronto, playing at home, has the edge here.

3. Real Salt Lake v. 6. Portland Timbers — Saturday, 10 p.m. ET

Mike Petke was fired by Real Salt Lake in mid-August after serving a two-week suspension for berating the referee – and saying some unacceptable terms – after a Leagues Cup game in July. In his place, interim coach Freddy Juarez has done quite well with the squad, winning seven games in the final three months of the season to cruise into a top-three place and earn a home game in the playoffs.

Former Manchester City and Queens Park Rangers defender Nedum Onuoha has been a rock at the back alongside youngster Justin Glad, and RSL may have the most underrated attack in the league. Albert Rusnak, Damir Kreilach and Jefferson Savarino have all been brilliant at points this season. If the trio put it together, RSL could be a dark horse for the title.

The Timbers beat expectations a year ago as Giovanni Savarese led his team to another final – his fourth straight final as a coach. It will be an incredible achievement if they make it this time around. Portland has elite offensive capabilities when everyone is firing on all cylanders. Sebastian Blanco, Diego Valeri, and even Dairon Asprilla can create moments of magic, while Jeremy Ebobisse has had a breakout season with 11 goals, though he’s missed a few he’ll want back. The issue is the team defensively, and they’ll have to be on their game to slow to RSL’s front three on the road.

Of course, the Timbers did win both matchups against RSL this season, so even on the road, they should be confident they can get it done again.

Klopp update on Thiago; praises Keita, cooling breaks

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Jurgen Klopp has provided an update on the reported pursuit of Thiago Alcantara following Liverpool’s 2-0 win against Aston Villa at Anfield on Sunday.

[ MORE: New PL TV schedule ]

Klopp was pleased his Premier League champion ground out a win to keep their record-breaking season on track and speaking to reporters via Zoom after the game he said it was tough going inside a windy Anfield as he rotated his squad.

Asked about consistent reports linking them with Bayern Munich and Spain midfielder Thiago, here’s what Klopp had to say.

“Would you be surprised if I don’t give an answer on that because I never answer these kind of questions. Thiago Alcantara is a really good player, like a lot of other players out there I like a lot but that’s all I have to say about that,” Klopp said.

Okay, so pretty not committal from Klopp there.

When it comes to his central midfield options, he left out Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum and started Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and there was a step up in intensity when Henderson and Wijnaldum came on for the final 30 minutes.

Keita did provide the assists for Sadio Mane’s goal and Klopp is hopeful the Guinea midfielder can stay fit and be a big player for the rest of this season and beyond.

“Naby is a top player. A top player. It was a difficult game today and he was really good,” Klopp told ProSoccerTalk. “He helped us a lot. Not only with the goal. You could always play the pass to him, he always offers, he was in smart positions. I liked his game a lot today. It is a good example of how good he can be and this was by far not his best game but it was good. I am just happy when a player is in a shape like this and can perform like this because we play in three days again which is tough, and in three days later we play again. It is tough for everyone. You need to find solutions for the different moments and today Naby was a super solution.”

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

ProSoccerTalk also took the time to ask Klopp about timeouts, and if he is a fan of the new cooling breaks which take place midway through each half due to the Premier League being played in the summer months.

Safe to say Klopp is a fan of getting to talk to his players a little more during games.

“It is like a timeout and I’ve wished for it for 20 years, pretty much, but nobody listened, obviously,” Klopp laughed. “Now we have a drinks break and I like it a lot. If people think you only need a drinks break when it is like 40 degrees outside, then of course England it is not a country where you need a drinks break very often. Especially in the north west and north east. It is important to just have that because it was a strange period for the players and we didn’t know exactly how the boys would react, nobody could know that. I really like the opportunity to talk. In the moment the refs whistle it starts and the players, it takes about 30 seconds and the players are around. You don’t have a lot of time to talk to the players as they really go there for a drink but you can give information, we all have the same chance in the same moments, all of the different coaches, so that is good and fair. I like it.”

VIDEO: Che Adams scores amazing long-range goal

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Che Adams has waited all season long for his first Premier League goal and when it arrived, it did so in some style.

Adams, 23, arrived from Birmingham City last summer for $18.7 million and in his first Premier League season he’s worked so hard but hit the woodwork and come close on several occasions.

I’m sure this goal was worth the wait for Adams who scored a few in preseason and was a started ahead of Danny Ings at the beginning of the season but has been out of the lineup and this was his first league start since Dec. 28.

SOUTHAMPTON – MAN CITY STREAM LIVE

Early on at St Mary’s Adams lobbed Ederson from 40 yards out as Southampton’s players mobbed him and they celebrated his sublime strike in style.

Ralph Hasenhuttl has huge faith in Che Adams and it is now easy to understand why as Ings, Shane Long and Michael Obafemi have been given plenty of chances and now Adams has taken his with both hands. His partnership with Ings will be intriguing to watch in the final weeks of the 2019-20 season as Southampton try and push for a top 10 finish.

Check out this special Che Adams goal in the video below.

Sleepy Liverpool edge past Aston Villa

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Liverpool – Aston Villa wasn’t a classic, but the Reds won for the first time since they were crowned champions to keep their chase for plenty of Premier League records on track.

[ MORE: New PL TV schedule ]

Sadio Mane and Curtis Jones scored the goals to give Liverpool a 2-0 win as they have now won 24 consecutive wins at home, with the new Premier League champions winning all 17 of their home games so far this season.

LIVERPOOL – ASTON VILLA: FULL REPLAY

With the win they now have 89 points for the season and with five games to go they can still beat Man City’s record for most wins, points and the biggest winning-margin in Premier League history. Aston Villa remain in deep relegation trouble and are one point from safety with five games left.


Three things we learned

1. Late subs make the difference: Henderson, Wijnaldum and Firmino arrived for the final 30 minutes and made a huge difference as Liverpool struck twice in the final 20 minutes to seal a win. Jurgen Klopp’s side looked a bit disjointed but did what they had to do as they put their defeat at Man City behind them.

2. Solid Villa need more cutting edge: David Luiz, Tyrone Mings and Jack Grealish looked really good and Villa were solid up until Liverpool scored. Defensively they’ve looked better since the restart but they have to find more cutting edge. They face Man United, Crystal Palace, Everton, Arsenal and West Ham in their final five games and it will likely come down to the finale to see if they stay in the Premier League. Villa have to be more attacking in their final games of the season to try and keep themselves up.

3. Records still in sight: Liverpool can get records for the most points, wins and the biggest winning margin in Premier League history and that has to be their aim. This superb season could peter out but Klopp and his side will want to show everybody that the record suggests that are better than Man City in 2017-18 and are the best team we’ve ever seen in the PL. These tight wins all season long have pushed them towards greatness.

Man of the Match

Douglas Luiz – Was everywhere in midfield for Aston Villa and his bite in the tackle set the tone for a dogged display from every single Villa player. They will need more of that from Luiz in the final games of the season to drag themselves out of the bottom three.


A slow start to the match saw Liverpool create a few chances with both Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane eager to get on the ball.

Douglas Luiz had a volley on goal which was straight at Alisson as the game struggled to come to life in the first half with Salah’s weak effort denied by Pepe Reina at the near post.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

In the second half the intensity failed to increase as Grealish had a shot saved by Alisson but the flagged was raised for offside.

Anwar El Ghazi then forced Alisson into a save at his near post as Grealish led a counter attack with Liverpool caught napping.

Liverpool made a triple substitution for the final 30 minutes as Jordan Henderson, Roberto Firmino and Georginio Wijnaldum came on to try and spark the champions into life.

Virgil van Dijk blocked a shot from Grealish as Villa looked more dangerous but then succumbed to a moment of quality.

Naby Keita picked out Mane at the back post and his finish came off the underside of the bar and in.

Substitute Jones then jumped off the bench and finished off Robertson’s cross after Salah nodded it down into his path. It was Jones’ first Premier League goal and sealed a 24th consecutive home win in the league for the champions.

Grealish went close late on but Alisson saved as Villa really missed a chance to pick up a bonus point in their relegation battle and Liverpool made them pay.

Southampton – Man City stream: How to watch, odds, team news

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Southampton – Manchester City ends the Sunday action in the Premier League (start time, 2pm ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) as the Saints aim to stun a sauntering City side.

Fresh from their 4-0 thumping of newly-crowned champions Liverpool on Thursday, Pep Guardiola’s Man City will be full of confidence as they head to St Mary’s.

SOUTHAMPTON – MANCHESTER CITY LIVE STREAM

That said, Ralph Hasenhuttl’s Southampton should be fresher as they’ve had a full week to prepare for this clash, compared to just over 48 hours for Man City.

Team news

Jack Stephens and Moussa Djenepo return from suspension for Southampton with Stephens starting and Djenepo on the bench, while Danny Ings once again leads the line as he battles to win the Golden Boot and has Che Adams alongside him this time.

As for Man City, Guardiola make a host of changes from the team which beat Liverpool as Kevin de Bruyne, Rodri, Ilkay Gundogan and Phil Foden all start on the bench with Fernandinho back from his suspension.

Odds and ends (full matchweek odds)

Look, Man City, whoever they put out as their starting lineup, are always going to be the favorites. Given Southampton’s shaky season defensively, a point would be a massive result for Saints as they aim to push for a top 10 finish in the final weeks.

This line reflects that Man City are the heavy, heavy favorites: (+850) Southampton v. Man City (-335), Tie: +475

Prediction

Ings could score a couple and Southampton have nothing to fear as they are safe from relegation and are focused on pushing for a top 10 finish. This should be an open, entertaining game but Man City’s attack will have too much for the Saints. 3-1 to Man City.