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MLS: Battling for playoff seeding or a berth, it’s desperation season

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With five weeks to go, the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs field is beginning to take shape. Realistically, there are just two spots — one in each conference — still up for grabs…

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Playoff positioning

New York City FC v. San Jose Earthquakes — Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET

For NYCFC, home-field advantage through the Eastern Conference final is on the line. Domenec Torrent’s side sits three points clear of second-place Philadelphia and six up on Atlanta, who have a game in hand. Unbeaten in their last six games (five wins), NYCFC appear to be peaking at precisely the right point in the season. San Jose’s up-and-down season has led them to this point: two points above the playoff cut line with precious little security given the Western Conference’s general volatility.

Portland Timbers v. D.C. United — Sunday, 3:30 p.m. ET

Portland’s dramatic 2-1 victory over Sporting KC last weekend put Gio Savarese’s side on the right side of the playoff cut line, but only be a point. Riding back-to-back victories against fellow playoff hopefuls, the Timbers could end the weekend anywhere from second place to eighth place. DCU, on the other hand, desperately need to break out of their worst run of results all season. Ben Olsen’s side has won just two of their last eight games (five losses) and is in real danger of finishing fifth or lower, meaning no home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs, in the Eastern Conference.

Minnesota United v. Real Salt Lake — Sunday, 5:30 p.m. ET

Speaking of desperate needs, Minnesota must bounce back from a disastrous 2-0 defeat in Houston on Wednesday, otherwise they could be the team that finds itself suddenly in eighth come weekend’s end. Adrian Heath’s side has just one win from its last four games and has shown signs of running out of gas in recent weeks. Losing the U.S. Open Cup in heartbreaking fashion won’t have helped their psyche one bit, and now they have to right the ship against second-place RSL, who could fall as far as seventh if everything goes against them this weekend.

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Playoff places

LA Galaxy v. Sporting Kansas City — Sunday, 10 p.m. ET

The weekend’s final game pits perhaps the league’s two most desperate teams against one another. The Galaxy sit just a point outside the West’s seventh and final playoff place, but Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s side has been anything but convincing in recent weeks with just one win from their last eight games (five losses). To miss the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the roster, would be one of the biggest failures in recent memory. And then there’s Sporting KC, who are six points out of seventh and have to run the table in their final five games just to have a chance of reaching the playoffs for the ninth straight year (second-longest active streak, behind Seattle).

Mexico recall stars for USMNT, Argentina friendlies

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After a summer off for many of Mexico’s established stars, Gerardo “Tata” Martino has recalled plenty of big names for friendlies against the USA and Argentina.

Javier Hernandez, Hector Herrera and Hirving Lozano all return to the El Tri squad, as Hector Moreno and Jesus Corona are also recalled after Tata selected a youthful side which won the Gold Cup this summer.

Mexico play the USMNT at MetLife Stadium on Friday, Sept. 6 and then Argentina on Tuesday, Sept. 10 in San Antonio, Texas.

Recalling these huge names just shows the incredible depth Mexico have right now, as Mexico’s “B squad” beat a largely full strength USMNT in the Gold Cup final in Chicago in July.

Wolves’ Raul Jimenez is in the squad once again after leading the line this summer.

Below is the squad in full.

Goalkeepers: Guillermo Ochoa (America), Jonathan Orozco (Santos Laguna), Hugo Gonzalez (Necaxa), Rodolfo Cota (Leon)

Defenders: Luis Rodriguez (Tigres), Fernando Navarro (Leon), Jorge Sanchez (America), Carlos Salcedo (Tigres), Diego Reyes (Tigres), Cesar Montes (Monterrey), Hector Moreno (Al-Gharafa), Nestor Araujo (Celta de Vigo), Jesus Gallardo (Monterrey), Miguel Layun (Monterrey), Edson Alvarez (Ajax)

Midfielders: Hector Herrera (Atletico Madrid), Jonathan dos Santos (LA Galaxy), Carlos Rodriguez (Monterrey), Andres Guardado (Real Betis), Erick Gutierrez (PSV), Luis Montes (Leon), Jesus Corona (Porto), Roberto Alvarado (Cruz Azul), Orbelin Pineda (Cruz Azul), Marco Fabian (Philadelphia Union)

Forwards: Uriel Antuna (LA Galaxy), Raul Jimenez (Wolves), Alexis Vega (Chivas), Javier Hernandez (West Ham United), Rodolfo Pizarro (Monterrey), Hirving Lozano (Napoli)

Report: PSG reject wild offer from Real Madrid for Neymar

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A report from L’Equipe claims that Paris Saint-Germain have rejected a monster offer from Real Madrid for Neymar.

Real are said to have offered $110 million for Neymar, plus James Rodriguez, Gareth Bale and Keylor Navas. Why would PSG turn this down!?

Another report from Guillem Balague says that new Real signing Luka Jovic is wanted by PSG as a part of the deal, along with Navas and one other player, plus cash.

Expect this to rumble on in the coming days.

Neymar, 27, doesn’t want to be in the French capital anymore and both Real and Barcelona are pushing hard to sign the Brazilian superstar ahead of the European transfer window closing on Sept. 2.

The deal which PSG just rejected is likely to be the best one they will receive. Bale and James would start for PSG and freshen up their forward line, as Edinson Cavani looks likely to be on his way out in the next 12 months. While Navas will compete to be their starting goalkeeper right away.

Of course, the wages of three players compared to one would be something PSG have to factor into this deal, but most of the $110 million transfer fee could go towards the salaries and Neymar earns close to $1.1 million a week at PSG anyway, so getting him off the wage bill will be a relief.

PSG don’t appear to want to sell the wantaway star, but why should they keep him? PSG’s fans have turned against Neymar as he has made his intentions clear not only over the summer but at the end of last season as several incidents off the pitch led to his suspension from the domestic and European scene to start this season.

Injuries haven’t been kind to Neymar since his arrival at PSG for a world-record $246 million fee in the summer of 2017, but he hasn’t endeared himself to their fans at all.

Barcelona, Bayern Munich agree deal to loan Coutinho

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Barcelona and Bayern Munich are nearing the completion of a loan deal that will see midfielder Philippe Coutinho move from Spain to Germany, according to a Barcelona spokesperson on Friday.

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Barcelona spokesperson Guillermo Amor confirmed the progress of negotiations on Friday:

“We can confirm that there is an agreement in principle for the loan of Coutinho to Bayern and we just have to finalize the deal”

According to Mundo Deportivo and Sport, Bayern will pay between $16 million and $22 million for this season’s loan, with an option to make the deal permanent for $133 million. Coutinho was left out of Barcelona’s squad for Friday’s La Liga opener against Athletic Bilbao.

Barcelona have spent the entire summer shopping Coutinho to most of the biggest clubs across Europe, desperate to unburden themselves of the 27-year-old Brazilian’s lucrative contract and recoup a sizable chunk of the (up to) $192 million they paid to acquire him from Liverpool barely 18 months ago. Tottenham Hotspur were briefly linked with Coutinho prior to the English transfer window closing on Aug. 8, but those reports were quickly shot down.

Without Rooney, DC United manages to outlast Galaxy (video)

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The game in 200 words (or less): D.C. United were without star Wayne Rooney, who recently announced he’ll be joining Derby County as a player-coach in January, but they managed to eek out three points, defeating the Los Angeles Galaxy 2-1 in front of a packed Audi Field. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, however, did feature in the matchup, and he was overwhelmingly occupied. The Swede posted 14 shots, setting a new MLS record for most shots in a match. When all was said and done, though, Zlatan failed to score, and the Galaxy suffered a third-straight loss. Surely, Guillermo Barros Schelotto was expecting more from new signing, Cristian Pavon. And maybe from his team’s finishing, too.

Three moments that mattered

28′ — Arriola as cool and composed as ever before —

Rooney-less, someone needed to step up for United. Arriola proved to be that someone early on with a simple, delicate finish.

48′ — Alvarez levels things out  —

What Zlatan and Pavon failed to do, Alvarez did: score. It was a well-placed ball, too.

73′ — Rodriguez saves the day for the Red-and-Black  —

The set of saves from David Bingham are a highlight in and of itself. Rodriguez’s finish, though, makes the sequence makes it all that much better, and earned D.C. United three points at home.

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