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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.

Late VAR call hands NYCFC valuable victory over Revs (video)

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The game in 200 words (or less):  There are zero doubts about it: Saturday’s officiating at Yankee Stadium highly influenced NYCFC’s 2-1 win over New England Revolution. For instance, Bruce Arena’s meltdown in front of the fourth official in the dying seconds of the game was a testament to role the referees played. Just nine minutes in, the Revs played with 10 players, following a direct red card to defender Antonio Delamea after video review. Of course, like in any game, there was clearly a superior team on the field, regardless of what the scoreline indicated. That team throughout the course of the game was the home side, who eventually separated themselves from the visitors following the substitution of Jesus Medina. The Paraguayan scored two goals, but his second takes us back to square one: officiating and video review. Well into extra time, the home side were awarded a penalty following video review. Medina converted from the penalty spot, lifting NYCFC atop the Eastern Conference table, while delivering another low blow to the Revs’ playoff hopes.

Three moments that mattered

2′ — Caicedo wastes no time to score  — It’s been a slow year for Juan Caicedo. This, however, will serve his confidence well.

70′ — Medina makes an instant impact off the bench  — Despite a positive game from Maxi Moralez, NYCFC needed someone to step up and score. Jesus Medina did just that 10 minutes after taking the field.

96′ — VAR saves the day for the home side — The sequence leading up to Medina’s second goal will be a talking point all weekend.

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Man of the match: Jesus Medina

Goalscorers: Caicedo (2′), Medina (70′), Medina (96′)

Bruce Arena builds front office staff as Onalfo joins Revolution

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The New England Revolution announced on Sunday that the club hired Curt Onalfo as technical director, with Richie Williams brought on as assistant coach.

Onalfo, a 49-year-old Sao Paulo, Brazil native, has been a coach in the United States since 2000 when he joined D.C. United as an assistant. Since, he has spent time with Sporting Kansas City, the LA Galaxy and the U.S. Youth National Team, leading both MLS clubs for a time and taking charge of the U.S. U-20 and U-23 sides. He will report directly to Bruce Arena, who was named Sporting Director and Head Coach on May 14.

Arena is familiar with Onalfo from his first stint with the USMNT and more recently with the Galaxy, where Onalfo served as an assistant until Arena left to take the USMNT job in late 2016 and Onalfo was named his successor. Most recently, Onalfo was out in Poland with Tab Ramos and the U-20 side at the World Cup.

“I am very pleased to add Curt to our technical staff as we continue to build the soccer organization in New England,” Arena said in the official club release. “Having worked with Curt for many years, I know his vast knowledge and experience in the game will make him an immediate asset to the club.”

Williams, meanwhile, left his job as head coach of USL club Loudoun United FC to take the position with the Revolution. He has previously been with Arena as an assistant with the USMNT during Arena’s second stint and with the New York Red Bulls before that. During his playing days, Williams made 20 appearances for the USMNT and played for Arena with D.C. United and the national team, and even as far back as in college at Virginia, where Arena spent 27 years as head coach.

“Richie and I have a relationship that dates back nearly 30 years, and I have the utmost confidence that he will bring the same energy, enthusiasm, and expertise of the game to the Revolution that he has throughout each stop of his coaching and playing career,” Arena said in the release.

As he plans to rebuild Revs, Arena ‘proud’ of second USMNT stint

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Bruce Arena has accepted the challenge of rebuilding the New England Revolution, though the legendary American coach is still being quizzed about his last gig.

Speaking Thursday after his appointment as Revs boss, Arena was asked about rebounding from the United States men’s national team’s terrible failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

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It was always going to happen, and his quotes were always going to grab headlines. Arena, for his part, did not disappoint.

“I was actually proud of the job I did in 2017,” Arena said. “We had a great group of players and they worked real hard and we fell short. That’s life, unfortunately. Sometimes people don’t understand that. We played 18 games and lost two of them in 2017. Overall, I think it was a positive experience.”

The Yanks lost two of their final four games in the Hex, gaining just four points. The first loss was at home to Costa Rica and the second was to already-eliminated Trinidad and Tobago’s B Team.

“Certainly, I’m as disappointed as anybody in that failure. I don’t define that as my legacy, personally. I know others do. I’m working and trying to be as good as I can be. I’m 67 years old in a country where the president is in his 70s. His likely competition in the next election is 70-something, so I’m the young kid on the block. Did I have to do this? No. But I love coaching, I love the sport, I love the challenge in building the game in this country; it’s something I’ve done for 40 years and it’s not easy to walk away from. It’s something that’s very important for me and that’s why I’m here today.”

So anyway…

New England fired Brad Friedel last week with the club five points outside the playoff picture, and Arena says the team’s goal is to get back into the postseason discussion.

The Revs have allowed the most goals in Major League Soccer this season, and missed the playoffs by nine points last season. Arena will bring league nous to New England, and he does have weapons in the form of Carles Gil and Juan Agudelo, but success will take time and added talent.

He’s Back: Revs hire Bruce Arena as head coach, sporting director

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One of the most decorated coaches in MLS history is back in the league.

The New England Revolution announced that it had hired legendary coach Bruce Arena as its new head coach and sporting director. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed, but Arena is starting as coach with immediate effect. The news of Arena’s appointment came one day after the Revolution announced it was parting ways with general manager Michael Burns, and less than a week since former coach Brad Friedel was let go with a record of 12-21-13.

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Friedel was appointed ahead of the 2018 season with the hopes of turning around a Revolution side that made a deep run in the MLS playoffs in 2014, but had struggled in the years since. However, with a 3-8-2 record this season, Arena will have his hands full in trying to get this squad to improve through the next five months of the season.

“Bruce is one of the most successful coaches in American soccer history, and we feel his commitment to excellence, track record of winning championships in Major League Soccer, as well as his success at the international level, makes him the best person to bring the Revolution back to MLS Cup contention,” Revolution and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in a statement. “We have known Bruce dating back to the advent of MLS, and we have full confidence that he will raise the level of our club to the standard we all expect and demand.”

As most of the world moves to an American sports model, with separate sporting directors/general managers and head coaches working in tandem, it is interesting to see Arena still with the influence and reputational strength to occupy both positions. In the past, Arena and the LA Galaxy’s ownership group with AEG worked in tandem to sign big stars and MLS standouts, and it’s possible that Arena sees that type of relationship happening again.

The move from the Krafts to fire both Burns and Friedel could be a changing of the tides. The Revs, still playing in the cavernous Gillette Stadium, still feel like an MLS 1.0 team, while Atlanta United, the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers and Sporting KC, to use a few examples, all feel like they’re living in the 2019 version of the league. To this point, the Revs have just one Designated Player signed, former Aston Villa midfielder Carles Gil, and the team relies quite a bit on once-promising prospects that haven’t really panned out as stars; Teal Bunbury, Juan Agudelo and Scott Caldwell all come to mind.

Is the appointment of Arena a sign that the Kraft family is as ambitious as Arthur Blank or Merrit Paulson? That the Revs will start to spend big to keep up with the giants of MLS? Or is it a big signing in name only, with Arena not receiving the funds and support he was likely promised to take a rebuilding job like this. Only time will tell.