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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.

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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

Galaxy land World Cup veteran Gonzalez for back line

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Off to a flying start and boasting one of the best strikers in the history of the game, the LA Galaxy are reinforcing their back end in style.

LA has allowed five goals in six matches, although its schedule has been rather forgiving.

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Now Guillermo Barros Schelotto has added a force to his back line in the form of Costa Rican national team center back Giancarlo Gonzalez.

They almost worked together when Schelotto was hired by Palermo but could not get the appropriate paper work to land the gig full-time. From MLSSoccer.com:

“I was with [Schelotto and his staff, all now with LA] a couple of months, so that, of course, also had a play in my decision to come here,” Gonzalez said. “I know their work and I know they’re going to provide me a good environment to grow.”

Gonzalez left Columbus following an outstanding World Cup in 2014, and has spent time at Palermo and Bologna in Serie A. The 76-times capped Costa Rican has appeared in two World Cups in addition to making 12 league appearances this season.

Could Bale have a future at Real Madrid?

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It’s hardly a secret that Zinedine Zidane and Gareth Bale didn’t exactly see eye to eye by the end of last season, shortly before Zidane’s departure.

Now with Zidane back, questions are being asked, could Bale be allowed to leave, or offered to clubs at a cut-rate fee? If Bale’s agent Jonathan Barnett is correct, the Welshman isn’t going anywhere.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

In an interview with the BBC, Barnett said that despite some of the optics, Bale is actually happy in Madrid. He also said that Bale wants to stay in Madrid, despite the return of Zidane earlier this week to managing the side.

“Yes, why not?,” Barnett told the BBC. “He wants to play all his career for Real Madrid and if it does not work out, we will talk again. He will talk with Mr Zidane, take it from there and then see at the end of the season.”

Zidane’s frustrations with Bale began due to Bale’s extensive injuries, especially when he tried to rush back from them too soon, according to Spanish publication AS. After limping off with another calf injury in April 2016, Bale didn’t play again until the UEFA Champions League final that year, nearly two months later.

Bale was further marginalized as Zidane went away from the 4-3-3 with Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo in favor of a more balanced 4-4-2, with left Bale on the bench. But Bale was still struggling with injuries and even when starting, he wasn’t able to live up to expectations in terms of goals scored or assists created.

In a separate report on the BBC from Spanish football journalist Guillem Balague, Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy offered to sign Bale on a one-year loan move, but having not offered to take enough of Bale’s massive salary on-board, the offer never officially made its way to Real Madrid. In addition, with Zidane (and Ronaldo) gone, Bale had a chance to prove himself and the doubters wrong.

Unfortunately for him, it’s been another forgettable season with Los Blancos. The 29-year-old Welshman has just 10 goals in 28 games between La Liga and the UEFA Champions League, as Real Madrid looks set to miss out on a domestic or European title for the first time in many years.

If Bale is to depart Real Madrid for a fresh new start, he’ll have to take a drastic pay cut. However, he could become a regular starter for just about any Premier League team. If Bale however would rather stay at Madrid, he can enjoy earning some huge money, but he’ll continue to play a side role instead of be the main man.

Honest Alexis Sanchez on why Mourinho struggled at Man United

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Alexis Sanchez didn’t beat about the bush when discussing why Jose Mourinho’s time at Manchester United ended abruptly.

Sanchez, 30, spoke with the BBC alongside Ander Herrera before United’s FA Cup last 16 clash at Chelsea on Monday.

Speaking to Spanish reporter Guillem Balague, the Chilean forward gave his extremely honest opinion on why it went wrong for Mourinho.

“I’ll tell you personally. I say things as they are and in my opinion, Mourinho is one of the best coaches in the world. In the way that he coaches, how he studies videos, the way he goes about things,” Sanchez said. “But, then within the group there was that feeling that you were in the team then out. Sometimes I didn’t play, then I did, then I didn’t and as a player you lose confidence, each player lost their confidence, do you understand?

“And then an atmosphere was created that was very… confusing. Sometimes I’m playing well and I score a goal and he took me off. And I’d say ‘I love football, I love football.’ I’ve played football since I was five and if I have the ball taken away from me, it’s as if I love my joy.”

In a nutshell: Mourinho changed the players around too much, didn’t explain what he was doing and sucked the confidence out of every single Manchester United player.

Sanchez is saying what we were all thinking and perhaps this kind of honesty will allow the Chilean to move on from the worst period in his career so far.

He has struggled massively at United since Mourinho signed him from Arsenal last January — Sanchez has scored five goals in 37 appearances in all competitions for the Red Devils —  and those struggles have got even worse under new caretaker boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

However, the former Arsenal star now has a huge opportunity to play regularly as both Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial are out injured for a few weeks. Sanchez now has a chance to show he can deliver on a consistent basis but after so many months either injured, or battling back to fitness after a lack of game time, there is a long road ahead for Sanchez.

Sanchez speaks about Man United struggles

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Alexis Sanchez has been a bit-part player this season at Manchester United under two different managers, and it’s beginning to take its toll.

The 30-year-old Chilean admitted in an interview with BBC’s Guillem Balague that the lack of playing time at Old Trafford is sapping his enjoyment of the game, and his inconsistent time on the pitch is feeding his poor form.

“I’m a player that, if I’m not in contact with the ball, I lose that spark,” Sanchez said, “and sometimes I want to play in every game. You’re in, you’re out, and I’m used to playing.

“It’s not an excuse because if I go on for 10, 20 minutes, I have to perform because that’s what I’m here for, to make a difference. I would like to have brought more joy to the club. Yes, it worries me because I believe in my abilities as a player, I want to show it.”

Sanchez has made 14 Premier League appearances for Manchester United this season, with just six of those coming from the opening whistle. A hamstring injury at the start of December is a major culprit of his lack of playing time this season, but so has been a lack of the creativity that he showed at times during his time at Arsenal. Sanchez has just one goal and three assists in 615 Premier League minutes this season, far below what the team likely expected he would provide.

“Within the group there was that feeling that you were in the team, then out,” Sanchez said of the squad’s waning confidence in Jose Mourinho before he was fired. “Sometimes I didn’t play, then I did, then I didn’t and as a player you lose confidence. I’ve played football since I was five and if I have the ball taken away from me, it’s as if I lose my joy.”

With 12 matches remaining in the Premier League and a tight battle for the Champions League places under way, Sanchez will have plenty of opportunities to make his mark, but he will need to prove he deserves a spot in the lineup moving forward.