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‘We threw it away’ – With playoffs looming, Atlanta United squanders first crack at MLS history – football news

It was all there for the taking for Atlanta United. Sunday was a chance at a record, it was a chance at a trophy, and it was a chance to solidify a special end to a special regular season.

The 2018 campaign may still be special, trophies will someday come and records have fallen, and probably will fall, at Atlanta’s hands. But Sunday night proved little more than a wasted chance for a team that has wasted so few since joining MLS.

With the Supporters’ Shield and a potential league record for points in a season on the line, Atlanta United fell completely flat on Sunday. The result was a 4-1 loss to a Toronto FC team that, for the first time all season, played like a group that wasn’t yet ready to concede the title of best ever.

The loss was enough to end Atlanta’s Supporters’ Shield hopes and bump the second-year club behind the New York Red Bulls heading into what in all likelihood will be a postseason collision of two of the most thoroughly-dominant teams in the league’s recent history.

But on Sunday, history was in their grasp and, for the first time in what felt like forever, Atlanta slipped up.

“This was the most important game of the year and we didn’t play well enough,” said Tata Martino, who is entering his final days as Atlanta United manager following a recent announcement that he’ll be leaving the club at the end of the season, to MLSsoccer.. “We let all the hard work that we had done until that point go to waste.

“We betrayed ourselves, threw away everything we had worked for this season,” he added. “It’s always a possibility that you can lose away at Toronto, the important thing is the way that we lost it today.”

That “betrayal” started early. Just nine minutes into the match, Atlanta was already up against it as Lucas Janson scored to give TFC the lead. With the Red Bulls lurking just one point behind and facing lowly Orlando City, Atlanta knew a win would likely be the only path to a Supporters’ Shield.

The response wasn’t there.  Marky Delgado scored in the 21st to double Toronto’s lead and all but bury Atlanta’s hopes while late goals from Janson and Sebastian Giovinco were just an exclamation point on what ended up feeling like an Atlanta United collapse. 

“We knew what this game meant for us, in terms of winning the shield and everything that came with it,” goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. “We just didn’t show up.”

“It’s rough at the minute,” he added. “We didn’t expect this from ourselves. There will be some conversations, tough [ones]. We need to make sure we put things right and put this behind us.”

The club can take some solace in the fact that, by and large, the loss shouldn’t impact too much when it comes to the MLS Cup playoffs. Atlanta will still have home-field advantage if the club reaches the MLS Cup final and will still have a coveted first round bye. Aside from a flip-flopped home game in a two-legged clash with the Red Bulls should both sides reach the conference finals, Atlanta’s path to a trophy remains largely the same.

There’s also the record set by the club’s striker, although that loses a bit of its luster given the result. Josef Martinez’s second half penalty kick goal was the striker’s 31st of the season, further adding to the record haul for the Venezuelan while sealing a nine-goal gap between Martinez and Zlatan Ibrahimovic for the Golden Boot. Martinez broke the single-season mark in August with his 28th, but has scored just three in the eight matches since.

Now, Atlanta heads into the postseason carrying a bit of doubt for the first time all year. From the start of the season, the club established itself as the favorite to win MLS Cup. There were mistakes along the way, sure, but from the early days the team had the look of something special.

That look is still there, despite the fact that a little bit of shine was lost on Sunday. Atlanta will host New York CIty FC, the Philadelphia Union or the Columbus Crew on Sunday to kickstart the postseason and the team’s road to the final. 

To get there, they’ll need better than Sunday’s match, one that could prove a blessing if it humbles a team that remains one of the favorites to play into December.

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D.C. United hosts Columbus as full MLS playoff schedule announced – football news

Major League Soccer announced its 2018 playoff schedule on Sunday, following the final round of regular-season matches. 

D.C. United, led by the resurgent Wayne Rooney, earned the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and will host the fifth-seed Columbus Crew on Thursday at Audi Field in a knockout round game. 

Third-seeded New York City FC will host the six-seed Philadelphia Union on Wednesday in the East’s other knockout round match, with the winners of those two games set to face the New York Red Bulls and Atlanta United in the conference semifinals.

In the Western Conference, fourth-seed FC Dallas will host the fifth-seeded Portland Timbers on Wednesday, while third-seed Los Angeles FC hosts sixth-seed Real Salt Lake on Thursday. 

Those two winners will move on to the conference semifinal, where Sporting Kansas City and the Seattle Sounders await. 

The conference semifinals will take place over two legs, with games Nov. 4, Nov. 8 and Nov. 11.

Winners of the conference semifinals will face off in the two-leg conference finals on Nov. 25 and Nov. 29. Those two winners of those ties will take part in MLS Cup on Dec. 8, at the home of the team with the better regular season record. 

For the full MLS playoff bracket, click HERE. 

 

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VIDEO: Davies delivers double in final Whitecaps game before joining Bayern Munich – football news

Alphonso Davies gave Vancouver Whitecaps fans something to remember him by – and something for Bayern Munich to salivate over.

The teenage Canada international suited up for the final time for the Whitecaps on Sunday as the Canadian side closed out their 2018 MLS campaign at home against Cascadia rivals the Portland Timbers.

Davies has already agreed to a move to join the Bundesliga champions this winter for an initial fee of $13 million (£10m/€11m), an MLS record that could eventually rise to $19m.

In his MLS finale, and just days ahead of his 18th birthday, the teenager showed the skill that made him such a valued commodity.

With the game scoreless in the 28th minute, Davies picked up the ball around the midfield line and went on an impressive run through the Portland half, beating one defender and then turning Timbers defender Bill Tuiloma the wrong way before launching a rocket from the edge of the area to give the Whitecaps a 1-0 lead.

Things got even better for Davies just three minutes later.

In the 31st minute, a cross in the area was not well dealt with by Marco Farfan, who brought it down and did not see Davies approaching from behind.

Davies picked the defender’s pocket, and Tuiloma could not get over in time to stop the Whitecaps star from beating Jeff Attinella for the second time on the day.

While a hat trick would have been an even sweeter way to go out, Davies will just have to settle for the brace and the winner, as the Whitecaps held on for a 2-1 victory.

The goals brought Davies’ total on the season to eight, to go along with nine assists in 31 MLS games for the teenager in his third campaign for the Whitecaps.

He will now head over to Germany, where he will join Bayern Munich in January, though head coach Niko Kovac had previously mentioned the possibility of Davies training with the club earlier.

With Davies turning 18 on November 2, and the Whitecaps season finished, the teenager may be in Germany sooner rather than later.

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New York Red Bulls win MLS Supporters’ Shield with record-setting points haul – football news

The New York Red Bulls won the 2018 MLS Supporters’ Shield on Sunday, clinching the best record in the regular season.

Derrick Etienne Jr. scored the only goal against Orlando City at Red Bull Arena, giving his side a 1-0 victory. 

The Red Bulls entered the day one point behind Atlanta United for the top spot, and they got some help to clinch the Shield. 

Already eliminated from playoff contention after a miserable year, reigning champion Toronto FC downed Atlanta United 3-1, which allowed the Red Bulls to leapfrog the Five Stripes for the top spot in the league.

When all was said and done the Red Bulls had clinched their third Supporters Shield trophy, all of which have been won in the past six years (2013, 2015, 2018). 

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With a record of 22 wins, seven losses and five draws, the Red Bulls have sealed the largest points haul ever in an MLS season (71), breaking the record Toronto FC set last year (69). 

The Red Bulls also set an MLS record for most wins in a season with their 22 victories. 

Both New York and Atlanta had already clinched byes in the Eastern Conference playoffs, and the two teams will await the winners of the knockout round games in the Conference semifinals. 

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Playoff places, seeding & Supporters’ Shield up for grabs on final day of MLS – football news

Eleven Major League Soccer matches will kick off simultaneously on Sunday, and every single one will have playoff implications riding on the result.

Some, like San Jose’s visit to Seattle, have only modest implications, while others, like Los Angeles FC’s trip to face Sporting Kansas City, will determine the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

Then you have the Columbus Crew and LA Galaxy, two teams that can secure playoff spots with victories on Sunday. The Crew have stumbled late in the season, but face a very reasonable task, needing to beat Minnesota United to ensure their place in the postseason. The Galaxy also face a winnable home game against a Houston Dynamo side playing out the string.

The league’s two best teams won’t be facing each other on the field, but they’ll be competing all the same when Atlanta United and the New York Red Bulls take the field with the Supporters’ Shield in their sights. Both teams could break the MLS records for points in a season, but only Atlanta can grab the shield and top seed in the MLS playoffs with a win.

Here are the key things to watch for this weekend in MLS:


More than playoffs on the line for Crew, Berhalter


Gregg Berhalter Columbus Crew MLS

Columbus Crew fans will have their first chance to cheer their team on since news came out that new owners had emerged to help potentially keep the Crew in Columbus. Those fans will converge on MAPFRE Stadium hoping to urge the Crew on as they try to save their season.

A win over Minnesota United ensures a playoff place for the Crew, while a a draw or loss would open the door for the Montreal Impact to leapfrog them in the East standings with a win at New England.

The Crew have hit a slump at the worst possible time, managing just one win in six matches to slide from fourth place to trying desperately to hold on to sixth place.

That late-season slide has also thrust Gregg Berhalter into the spotlight. Berhalter has been the frontrunner for the U.S. national team head coach position for months, but that candidacy will look highly questionable if the Crew fail to reach the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. Luckily for the Crew, they are facing a Minnesota United side that has the worst road record in MLS (1-13-2).


Can NYCFC stop the Union and halt slide?


David Villa NYCFC 05132018

When Domenec Torrent replaced Patrick Vieira as New York City FC head coach during the summer, he began his MLS tenure winning five of six matches, and looked like the ideal replacement for Vieira.

Things have turned sour since that promising start, with NYCFC having won just two of its past 12 matches. That slide has led to NYCFC going from contending for a top two spot in the East to now being in jeopardy of sliding all the way to fifth and playing on the road in a knockout round match.

NYCFC can still salvage its hold on third place in the East, but must beat a Philadelphia Union side that is 7-2-2 in their past 11 matches. The Union are coming off a 1-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls, but they gave the Red Bulls a tough test and will head to Yankee Stadium with the confidence gleaned from settling a new team record for points in a season.

If the Union beat NYCFC, they would secure third place in the East and would host a knockout round match. A loss could drop the Union all the way to sixth place, meaning a road trip for their first playoff match.


Sporting KC and LAFC battle for first in West


Johnny Russell Sporting KC 10272018

Sporting Kansas City and Los Angeles FC have both been building serious momentum in recent months, and now will square off with the top seed in the West playoffs in their sights.

Sporting KC has marched to first place in the West with an 8-2-2 record down the stretch, capped by last week’s big road win at FC Dallas. Up next is a home match against an LAFC squad that has turned on its own hot streak, suffering just one lost in its past 10 matches. Bob Bradley’s squad has coped with the departure of central defender Laurent Ciman, The LAFC defense has held its own, but the attack has been the driving force behind the expansion team’s surge.

A road win would give LAFC the top seed in the West, while a draw or loss would likely force LAFC into third place, and a knockout round match, unless FC Dallas stumbles against the Colorado Rapids.


Galaxy must be careful with dangerous Dynamo


Zlatan Ibrahimovic MLS LA Galaxy 04142018

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s heroics have been a big reason for the LA Galaxy’s climb back into the playoff race, but it has been the improvement of the Galaxy’s defense that has pushed them to the brink of a return to the playoffs.

The Galaxy have gone four straight matches without allowing multiple goals, surrendering just two goals during a 3-0-1 surge that has them on the verge of snatching sixth place and a playoff berth away from Real Salt Lake. Interim head coach Dom Kinnear has helped solidify things defensively, settling on the American center back tandem of David Romney and Daniel Steres, with Jonathan Dos Santos and Sebastian Lletget working in central midfield.

The Galaxy must defeat the Dynamo on Sunday and on the surface that seems a simple enough task. The Dynamo haven’t won a road game since May, and have nothing to play for. That said, Houston still has a dangerous attack and has scored multiple goals in three of its past four matches.

The attacking trio of Mauro Manotas, Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto will be a handful for the Galaxy to handle, but their defensive improvements and recent attacking form should give the Galaxy a very good chance of holding off the Dynamo and securing their place in the playoffs.


Supporters’ Shield still up for grabs


Atlanta United Toronto FC MLS 10222018

Toronto FC shattered the MLS record for points in a season a year ago, and on Sunday the reigning MLS champion will do its best to keep Atlanta United from breaking that record at BMO Field.

Atlanta United can secure the Supporters’ Shield with a victory in Toronto, but must do so without injured star Miguel Almiron. The Five Stripes will take on a TFC side finishing up a forgettable season, but with the weapons to play the spoiler role perfectly. Jozy Altidore is out, but Sebastian Giovinco will lead a TFC attack that will try to give their fans a consolation win to close out the season.

A TFC victory could also wind up being a dream gift for the New York Red Bulls, who are poised to snatch the Supporters’ Shield away from Atlanta United if TFC can pull the upset. The Red Bulls face lowly Orlando City, and will look to add to their league-best total of 13 home wins. The Lions have shown they can play the spoiler, knocking off the Columbus Crew last week, but beating the struggling Crew at home is a far different task than trying to become the first road team to win at Red Bull Arena since July.

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Rooney: I won’t go on loan to Europe this winter – football news

D.C. United striker Wayne Rooney has confirmed that he will not go on loan to a European club this winter.

Rooney has been in fine form for United since joining the club in July, tallying 12 goals and seven assists to help United to a huge midseason turnaround. 

The 33-year-old’s double last weekend helped DCU clinch a playoff berth with one game remaining in the season, after the club won just two of its first 14 matches. 

Several MLS stars have gone on loan in Europe during the offseason in the past, including David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey. 

But the former Manchester United star confirmed in an interview with ESPN FC that he will not be following in their footsteps. 

“No. I think I committed myself to D.C. And that’s why I’m going to give everything to D.C. In the offseason I’ll stay here for a lot of that time with my children in school. I’ll go back during Christmas to see some family and friends,” Rooney said. 

“I’m committed to D.C. and I don’t think it’d be right for me to fly back and forth to play on loan with another team.”

Article continues below

Rooney also confirmed he was not interested in a return to England duty should Gareth Southgate show interest. 

“I think [England] are doing fantastic. It was the right time for me to retire with the group of young players. It was the right time to let them come in and flourish in the team. I have no regrets over it,” Rooney said. 

“I think the players have stood up and done really well. Hopefully they can go one step further in the next international tournament and get to a final.”

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MLS expansion: Ranking the remaining potential markets – football news

Major League Soccer expansion has seen the league grow in ways few could have imagined 15 years ago, when contraction forced the league to shrink to 10 teams, leaving its future in doubt. There are no longer questions about whether the league will survive. Those have been replaced with questions of how much more can the league grow.

The 23-team league will expand to 24 in 2019 with the arrival of Cincinnati’s expansion team, followed by Miami and Nashville in 2020. If a bid to keep the rights to the Columbus Crew in the hands of local ownership goes through — thus saving the Crew, and helping MLS avoid a PR nightmare — then current Crew owner Anthony Precourt will be awarded a new team in Austin, Texas, set to begin play in 2021.

That would leave one remaining expansion slot open before MLS reaches its self-imposed limit of 28 teams. Given how many strong expansion candidate markets are still left, it’s tough to see MLS sticking to its 28-team limit over the long term, but what is clear is that the league’s 14-year expansion march will be put on hold once the 28th team is chosen. 

That could set up a major battle for the 28th slot, with several candidates capable of putting together bids strong enough to merit inclusion. GBP Sports takes a look at the leading markets still in the running for that 28th spot – and potential entry beyond the 28-team mark – ranked in order of their chances of being selected by MLS:


1. SACRAMENTO


Sacramento MLS Expansion 2

Three years ago Sacramento had the feel of a city with everything falling into place for an MLS expansion bid, but it has been forced to stand by and watch Nashville and Cincinnati jump ahead, leaving the California capital feeling much less like a sure bet even though it has everything MLS has asked for in a bid.

Sacramento’s bid offers support from local government, an approved downtown stadium plan and even a successful and well-supported USL team owned by the expansion group. What the bid doesn’t have is a deep-pocketed lead investor with the financial muscle to convince MLS to choose Sacramento. If a billionaire investor, or a big-money consortium, is found to boost Sacramento, it will become all but impossible for MLS to say no.


2. SAN DIEGO


San Diego MLS Landon Donovan Expansion

Long-considered a strong soccer market, but one without an ownership group to bring an MLS team, San Diego has jumped into the expansion race and has quickly become a top contender.

Featuring U.S. national team legend Landon Donovan as a figurehead, the San Diego bid has the strength of a market known for supporting soccer, both in terms of high television ratings and as evidenced by the local support for nearby Liga MX side Club Tijuana. San Diego is still smarting from the loss of an NFL team, and local voters in November will have a chance to approve a deal to secure the land to help build an MLS stadium and mixed-use project. If the Soccer City measure is approved, it could push San Diego into the top spot on this list, making it extremely difficult for MLS to say no. That being said, if the stadium vote doesn’t pass, it would be a big blow, and could lead to San Diego plummeting on this list.

Read more on San Diego’s expansion bid right here


3. ST. LOUIS


A market once thought dead as an expansion option, St. Louis has been revived after the recent emergence of a new expansion group with the financial muscle to push the mid-western city back into a prime contender position.

A group made up of family members of the founder of car rental powerhouse Enterprise have joined forces with Jim Kavanaugh, part-owner of USL side St. Louis FC and a member of the group that tried to bring MLS to St. Louis in 2017 only to have a stadium measure defeated by a public vote. The new expansion group is focused on a stadium project that wouldn’t require public funding, which is a game-changing development. Though it’s still too early to tell where the new St. Louis bid stands, it is no secret that MLS has long viewed St. Louis as an important market due to the historical significance of one of the country’s longest-serving soccer hotbeds. If this new group can make the stadium deal happen, St. Louis can jump into the top spot on this list.


4. DETROIT


Detroit MLS Expansion Ford Field

Once considered a front-runner for an expansion team, Detroit’s group has undergone some setbacks that have taken the steam out of the once-booming bid.

A finalist for an expansion spot when MLS chose to award teams to Nashville and Cincinnati, Detroit lost momentum after changing its plans for a stadium, going from building a new soccer-specific stadium to playing in Ford Field. Detroit’s bid endured another recent setback with the revelation that a proposed retractable roof for Ford Field isn’t a viable option . That news could signal the death of Detroit’s chance of making it into the current round of expansion, especially with St. Louis’ re-emergence.


5. PHOENIX


Phoenix MLS Expansion Stadium

Considered a bit of a long shot, the owners of USL side Phoenix Rising have been working hard to build an enticing expansion project for MLS to consider and has ticked several boxes. It has a diverse and high-profile list of owners and a star player driving interest in Didier Drogba, who is wrapping up his illustrious playing career with one final playoff run. Phoenix also has a stadium project lined up.

What’s working against Phoenix? It doesn’t have much in the way of professional soccer history, though it has drawn large crowds to the area to see the U.S. and Mexican national teams. It is a large market, the largest among the current expansion contenders, but it’s also a market loaded with professional sports, meaning more competition for dollars and eyeballs. Right now Phoenix feels like the third option among Western candidates, but if Sacramento can’t find a big-money owner and San Diego can’t get its stadium project measure passed, then Phoenix could be in position to capitalize.


6. RALEIGH


The more established of the two North Carolina-based expansion possibilities, Raleigh’s bid is led by Steve Malick, owner of USL outfit North Carolina FC, who also owns an NWSL team and has strong ties with MLS. 

The Raleigh bid doesn’t have the financial muscle of some others and its stadium project is still a work in progress, but Malick is a respected figure in American soccer circles, giving the city a much better chance than you would expect.


7. TAMPA


When David Beckham’s Miami expansion team begins play it will leave just one  market that has lost an MLS team and not gotten it back in the form of Tampa. MLS commissioner Don Garber made bringing MLS back to Miami a priority, but hasn’t been as publicly driven to bring MLS back to Tampa more than 15 years after the Mutiny were contracted.

The recent sale of the Tampa Bay Rowdies to the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team should improve the market’s chances of gaining an MLS expansion team, but the fact that the Southeast has recently added Orlando City, Atlanta United and will soon add Miami leaves Tampa low on this list as MLS focuses its attention on other parts of the country.


8. CHARLOTTE


Long considered a distant second to Raleigh as a potential MLS expansion market, Charlotte has received a boost since billionaire David Tepper expressed his interest in bringing an MLS team to Bank of America Stadium Tepper recently purchased the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and has been very vocal about wanting to add an MLS team.

It will take more than one excited billionaire to make Charlotte jump ahead of Raleigh, let alone all the other teams on this list, but we need only look at how quickly Nashville went from long shot to MLS expansion team to know we can’t rule out Charlotte.


9. INDIANAPOLIS


The recent twists and turns in MLS expansion haven’t helped Indianapolis very much. FC Cincinnati’s impending move to MLS, coupled with the likely saving of the Columbus Crew, means the Midwest isn’t the priority it once was as MLS tries to put together its expansion plan.

Article continues below

Indianapolis already had a weak bid by comparison to others on this list, with a soccer-specific stadium looking like a long shot, but Cincinnati’s jump to MLS has likely left Indy out in the cold.


10. SAN ANTONIO


When MLS went public with its support for Anthony Precourt to secure a team in Austin, Texas, it felt like a death blow to San Antonio’s chances of securing an MLS expansion team. That’s definitely how San Antonio politicians have taken it, and while the city’s mayor may not have given up on the pursuit , it is going to take a lot to revive San Antonio’s chances.

For starters, Precourt’s Austin push will have to fall apart. If that were to happen, the next step would be trying to repair the damaged relationships caused by Austin’s jump into the expansion conversation. Even then, San Antonio still feels like the longest of long shots.

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D.C. United earns playoff spot, Supporters’ Shield still up for grabs – football news

D.C. United booked their tickets to the MLS Playoffs with a win on Sunday afternoon.

Ben Olsen’s side entered Sunday knowing that a win would complete their late-season surge to the postseason, and they got just that with a 3-1 victory over NYCFC.

Wayne Rooney scored in the eighth minute to put his side ahead, finishing a Luciano Acosta assist following a winding run from the Argentinian playmaker.

Just 16 minutes later, Acosta scored a goal of his own, curling in a shot past Sean Johnson to give the home side a 2-0 lead it would never relinquish.

Rooney added another in the second half, scoring from the penalty spot to emphatically lock up a playoff berth despite a consolation finish from David Villa.

With the win, United seals a spot in the postseason while the Montreal Impact and Columbus Crew will wait until the final week to decide the sixth and final spot.

Atlanta United moved one step closer to the Supporters’ Shield with a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire.

Gerardo “Tata” Martino’s side were led by an early Franco Escobar finish and a Johan Kappelhoff own goal.

With the victory, Atlanta can lock up the Supporters’ Shield next weekend with a win over Toronto FC in their season finale.

The New York Red Bulls, meanwhile, are the only other team still in that hunt as they sit one point behind Atlanta following a 1-0 triumph over the Philadelphia Union.

Alejandro “Kaku” Romero Gamarra was the lone scorer on the day, keeping the Red Bulls in the hunt for the league’s top regular season prize. 

Two teams are still alive for the one remaining playoff spot in the East, with the Columbus Crew two points clear of the Montreal Impact heading into the final week of the season. 

While the Crew fell to a 2-1 loss against lowly Orlando City in a match that would have secured a postseason spot, the Impact managed to close the gap with a 2-0 win over Toronto FC. 

Columbus can lock up a playoff spot with a win over Minnesota United next week, but anything short of that will make things very interesting, with the Impact taking on the New England Revolution in their finale. 

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Playoff spots on the line in the penultimate week of the MLS season – football news

Major League Soccer likes to promote the final day of the regular season as Decision Day, but we could see all 12 playoff spots secured after this weekend’s action, a full week ahead of time.

Seven teams are alive for the four unclaimed playoff spots, and two of those teams would require some serious late collapses to lose out on the postseason.

The Columbus Crew and Portland Timbers are comfortably above the playoff lines, with the Crew needing just one win or two draws to ensure a return to the postseason. The Timbers need just a draw in either of their two matches to secure a berth, but Giovanni Savarese’s side has its sights set on trying to pass rival Seattle in the standings to earn home-field in a potential Cascadia Derby playoff clash.

Wayne Rooney has helped D.C. United complete an incredible climb from last place in the East to a playoff position, but it will take one more win to ensure a return to the postseason for D.C. for the first time since 2015. D.C. is four points clear of Montreal for the final playoff spot in the East, and could still make a late run for a home playoff game if it can continue its torrid form.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is hoping to help the LA Galaxy to a similar late-season run into the playoffs, but the Galaxy will need some help to get to the postseason. The Galaxy must win both of their remaining games and hope that Real Salt Lake doesn’t beat Portland this weekend in its final regular season match.

There is plenty more on the line this weekend, from the Supporters’ Shield, to home-field advantage in the knockout rounds, as well as the precious first-round byes now in play in the Western Conference. Adding to the suspense is the fact all Eastern Conference matches will be played at the same time on Sunday, with the full slate of Western Conference matches taking place two hours later.

Here are the key things to watch for this weekend in MLS:


D.C. United eyeing more than a playoff spot


Wayne Rooney D.C. United MLS 2018

When Wayne Rooney arrived in MLS three months ago, few would have envisioned the English star helping D.C. climb all the way into a playoff spot. An 11-4-3 record since Rooney’s arrival has not only helped D.C. climb into a playoff position, but now there’s a chance the club could move as high as fourth place in the East.

Unbeaten in eight matches, D.C. United faces a struggling New York City FC side that has just one win in eight, and suddenly has a shaky hold on third place in the East. A loss to D.C. United could leave NYCFC heading into its season finale against the Philadelphia Union needing a result to ensure a home playoff game in the knockout round. There is even a worst-case scenario that could see NYCFC fall all the way to sixth place by the end of the regular season, if the Union, Columbus Crew and D.C. United win out.

The Montreal Impact need two wins and with have to hope that D.C. doesn’t win either of its remaining matches to sneak into the playoffs, but given how well D.C. United is playing right now, it’s tough to see Ben Olsen’s side slowing down.


RSL’s kids hoping to deny Zlatan’s Galaxy


Real Salt Lake is the only MLS team that won’t be playing on the final day, meaning its trip to Portland on Sunday is its final chance to ensure a playoff berth. A win would lock up RSL’s postseason berth, but beating the Timbers at Providence Park is no easy task, certainly not for an RSL side that has been terrible on the road this season (3-10-3).

If the Timbers beat RSL, or even earn a draw, that suddenly gives life to the Galaxy, currently four points behind RSL for the final playoff spot. The Galaxy have winnable games remaining against Minnesota United and the Houston Dynamo, and have racked up seven points in their past three matches.

Ibrahimovic is expected to make his first start of the season on artificial turf. The Swedish star has avoided playing on fake grass in all but one instance this year, even skipping the MLS All-Star Game in the process, in order to keep from having to risk re-injuring his surgically-repaired right knee. He has recorded at least one goal or assist in six straight matches, and the Galaxy are going to need him to ensure a win against a Loons side that has been much better at home than on the road.


West powers FC Dallas and Sporting KC collide


The top two teams in the Western Conference square off, and things are so tight atop the West that the loser of the match could find itself tumbling multiple spots in the standings.

FC Dallas has held onto first place since the summer, but a loss to Sporting KC could see Oscar Pareja’s men slip all the way to third, out of the spots with first-round byes. Sporting KC will try to become just the second visiting team to win at Toyota Stadium this year, knowing that a loss could drop SKC as far as fourth place. With a trip to lowly Colorado waiting at the end of the season, FC Dallas surely knows that a win on Sunday would all but ensure the top seed in the West, and Dallas should have an edge against a Sporting KC side that is coming off a mid-week trip to Vancouver (albeit a match SKC won).

Los Angeles FC will be hoping to capitalize on whatever outcome takes place at Toyota Stadium. If Bob Bradley’s squad can beat the Vancouver Whitecaps at home, as expected, then the expansion team would be guaranteed to move into one of the top two spots in the West, and could even jump into first place if FCD and SKC tie.

Making things even more interesting is the fact LAFC travels to Sporting KC for the regular season finale.


Supporters’ Shield race a tight one


Josef Martinez Atlanta United MLS August 6 2018

Atlanta United has the edge in the Supporters’ Shield race heading into the final two weekends, but it is far from a straightforward path to the second-year team’s first piece of silverware. 

Miguel Almiron is sidelined by injury, as is Hector Villalba, leaving the Five Stripes without two of their most dangerous weapons. The Chicago Fire have been atrocious on the road this year and aren’t likely to be able to stop Atlanta’s attack, even short-handed, though Ezequiel Barco and Julian Gressel will need to provide Josef Martinez with some service to ensure Atlanta United maintains its one-point lead on the New York Red Bulls in the Supporters’ Shield race.

The Red Bulls have to assume Atlanta is going to win at home, making the trip to Philadelphia a must-win to keep the club’s hopes of a third Supporters’ Shield in six seasons alive. The Union are standing in the way, and are riding a 7-1-2 run in their past 10 matches. They have also made things tough for the Red Bulls, who have managed to win just one of their past four meetings against the Union. While that may be the case, the Red Bulls have had the look of a championship team in recent weeks, and will be looking to send a message to a Union side they could very well wind up seeing again in the playoffs.


Wondo Watch


Chris Wondolowski San Jose Earthquakes MLS 2018

Article continues below

The San Jose Earthquakes and Colorado Rapids have been two of the worst teams in MLS this season, but there could still be historical significance when they square off at Avaya Stadium, what with Chris Wondoloski needing two goals to break Landon Donovan’s record for career MLS goals.

Wondolowski’s hunt for the record has been the lone bright spot in San Jose’s abysmal season — at least until Matias Almeyda’s hiring as head coach for 2019 — and interim coach Steve Ralston has made sure to give Wondolowski his chance to make a real run at the record.

The Earthquakes have lost six straight, but Wondolowski has scored goals in his past two matches to give him 10 on the season and a chance of catching Donovan. He didn’t start against the Red Bulls, but you have to think Ralston will start him against a Rapids side that has had one of the league’s worst defenses this year. The Earthquakes close out the season with a trip to Seattle, which has allowed the fewest goals in the league this year, meaning Sunday will be Wondolowski’s most realistic chance to catch or potentially pass Donovan and become the new MLS goal-scoring king. 

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‘Mourinho’s critics are jealous’ – Ibrahimovic backs under-fire Man Utd boss – football news

Zlatan Ibrahimovic believes criticism of Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho has become “personal”, with those quick to write the Portuguese off merely jealous of his achievements.

A proven winner throughout a distinguished coaching career, the man at the Old Trafford helm has faced some uncomfortable questions this season.

With his side struggling for consistency and talk of dressing room divides providing an unwelcome distraction, Mourinho is having to fight fires on and off the field.

He has offered no indication that he will be running away from those challenges, with there a desire on his part to oversee a reversal in fortune.

Ibrahimovic, who has worked with the Portuguese at Inter and United, believes Mourinho remains the right man for the job, telling Sky Sports: “Everybody criticises Mourinho and I don’t think it’s because of the results, it’s because of the character, because of the way he is.

“I see myself a little bit in that situation because we have our vision, we have our confidence, we believe in things, we say certain things in our own way and of course we get the blame.

“We get criticised more when it’s not going good. But when it’s going good and we win, the satisfaction is bigger than the other ones.

“We are ourselves, we believe in what we do and we do it until the end. That is what is going on there.

“Some critics I feel are personal. Some critics are exaggerating. Some because of the one he is, other ones are jealousy.

“All of this is part of the circle, so Mourinho has to just keep being himself, stand up for what he is doing, stand up for who he is and continue.

“He is there because he did it his own way, because he is who he is and won’t change for nobody. I am the same. The people out there who think they are perfect, they are the biggest problem.”

Wayne Rooney D.C. United MLS 2018

Ibrahimovic has also saluted another man with strong ties to United, with the Red Devils’ all-time leading goalscorer currently shining away from Old Trafford.

Wayne Rooney joined the MLS ranks at D.C. United over the summer and has helped to fire them into play-off contention.

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Ibrahimovic, who is also in America with the LA Galaxy, said of the former England international: “I think so far he did fantastic, he changed the team he came to and they have done good results.

“Before he came it was different results, but he has been playing good and scoring goals and he shows that he is Rooney.

“I don’t need to describe Rooney. Everybody knows Rooney and they know his quality, so it’s only for him to play the games and perform.”

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