Podcast: Colorado Rapids, Orlando City & Premier League relegation battle

In this week’s MLSGB Podcast, Zack Walford sits down with Louis East and Jamie Ives to discuss the Colorado Rapids’ fine start, Orlando City’s form and the Premier League’s relegation battle with just three weeks to go.

Be sure to comment below, or get in touch on Twitter: @MLSGB_

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Podcast: FC Dallas, Toronto FC & Premier League title race discussed

In this week’s MLSGB Podcast, Zack Walford sits down with Jamie Ives and Louis East to discuss FC Dallas’ early form which has seen them climb to the top of the Supporters’ Shield standings, before moving onto talk about Toronto FC’s start over in the Eastern Conference.

Then, the team look at the Premier League title race with just four weeks to go as Leicester and Tottenham battle it out for a historic first Premier League title.

Be sure to comment below with your thoughts, or get in touch on Twitter: @MLSGB_

MLS Preview and Prediction: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Houston Dynamo

Competition: Major League Soccer Fixture: Vancouver Whitecaps Vs. Houston Dynamo

Venue: BC Place – Saturday, March 26 – 23:00 ET (03:00 GMT)

Match Odds: Vancouver Whitecaps 3/4 – Draw 13/5 – Houston Dynamo 15/4

Match Preview

Vancouver Whitecaps welcome Houston Dynamo to BC Place on Saturday night looking to get their second win of the season against their Western Conference rivals. The Dynamo will be looking to get a third victory in four matches after a fine start to the campaign.

The Whitecaps sit in unfamiliar territory in ninth place after three weeks. They will rue missed chances from their opening games, particularly in the loss to Montreal on opening weekend, and need to pick back up now.

Of the three fixtures played, Seattle Sounders would of looked, on paper at least, as the toughest   opening game but they overcame Sigi Schmid’s men by a 2-1 scoreline last week.

Seattle Sounders vs Vancouver Whitecaps 2016

Pedro Morales netted two penalties in that victory, taking his tally to three for the season – with all goals coming from the spot.

Vancouver now have back-to-back home games and they must make them count as they try to climb the table or questions will start to be asked of their credentials.

Houston Dynamo are the league’s top scorers with eleven goals so far – the most of any MLS team after three games in history. Will Bruin is a man in form at the moment with three goals to his name and is the league’s joint top scorer.

MLS: New York Red Bulls vs. Houston Dynamo Bruin

They will consider themselves unfortunate that they lost against the New York Red Bulls 4-3 last Saturday, having been 3-1 up, but they must now show their resilience by bouncing back here.

Owen Coyle will be satisfied with the start the Dynamo have made to their campaign and they could still have many more surprises up their sleeve as the season unfolds.

Team News

Vancouver Whitecaps have a few players on international duty with Marco Carducci, Kendall Waston, Tim Parker, Christian Dean, Blas Perez, Christian Bolanos and Marco Bustos all away with their national teams. A calf strain keeps Russell Teibert out of the clash.

Houston Dynamo will likely be without captain Giles Barnes, who is struggling with a hamstring injury. Cristian Maidana has a concussion ruling him out, while Tyler Deric is also out with an abdominal injury. Oscar Boniek Garcia is away on international duty as is Erick Torres.

Key Points

Vancouver Whitecaps’ form: L/L/W

Houston Dynamo’s form: W/W/L

Key Stat: Houston Dynamo have never won at BC place.

Key Player: Pedro Morales – The Vancouver captain has three goals already this season. He is a leader on the pitch and is so vital to this Whitecaps side that need to start putting wins on the board. The Chilean has plenty about his game and will want to keep up the impressive form for the Whitecaps against their Western Conference rivals.

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Score Prediction 

Vancouver Whitecaps 1-1 Houston Dynamo – Both teams are more than capable of scoring goals, there is no doubt about it. A draw would likely be a fair result because of the international break, causing disruptions for the hosts as they have several internationals in their side. It would be seen as a good point if Dynamo get anything from it and they will expect to in what could be a tight affair.

Podcast: Portland, Columbus & Southampton discussed

In this week’s MLSGB Podcast Zack Walford talks to Jamie Ives and Louis East about Week 3’s MLS action, with focus on the Portland Timbers and Columbus Crew’s disappointing starts.

The team then look at Southampton FC and ask whether they have enough to secure European football next term.

As always, comment below or get in touch on Twitter with your thoughts.

Premier League Preview and Prediction: Swansea vs Aston Villa

Competition: Premier League – Swansea City vs. Aston Villa

Venue: Liberty Stadium, Saturday 19 March – 13:30 ET (17:30 GMT –  Live on Sky Sports)

Match Odds: Swansea City 8/13 Draw 13/5 Aston Villa 19/4

Match Preview

Swansea City host bottom-placed Aston Villa in this weekend’s Saturday evening fixture, in a game Swansea need to win to all but secure their Premier League status for next season. For Villa it’s also a must-win match or they could potentially be 13 points from safety.

Swansea will be pleased that they have picked up six points from their last three matches, picking up wins at the Emirates against Arsenal and beating fellow strugglers Norwich City to ease relegation fears.

Last week’s defeat away at Bournemouth was disappointing but shouldn’t act as too much of a distraction as they still scored two goals and continued to show courage throughout.

The Swans have only picked up five wins at the Liberty this season – an amount supporters will be unhappy with, but the fans are still firmly behind their team after what has been a tough campaign.

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Head coach Francesco Guidolin is expected to be back in the dugout having missed the last few matches with a chest infection. Alan Curtis has done well in the Italian’s absence and deserves further credit for the job he’s done this year.

Aston Villa might as well be thinking about playing in the Championship next season. They have been woeful all season and haven’t been able to produce anywhere near enough quality to stay up.

The West Midlands club have been in turmoil since the second week of the season and three wins is just not good enough at all for any team in the top division.

Upcoming fixtures don’t come easy for Villa with Chelsea to visit next week before they welcome Bournemouth to Villa Park. More off-field problems saw Chief Executive Tom Fox resign on Thursday afternoon.

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Remi Garde still believes he can keep the team in the Premier League but it seems like he’s fighting a lost cause. They just don’t seem up for the fight. But if they have belief they could just pull off the most miraculous escape.

A win here could just trigger something special if the Villains get it. But that’s a tall order.

The reverse fixture was the final match in charge for former manager Tim Sherwood. A late Andre Ayew goal condemned Villa to a 2-1 defeat at Villa Park back October.

Team News

Swansea will be without Andre Ayew as he recovers from an ankle injury. Jefferson Montero could be welcomed back to the side after recovering from illness, while Madou Barrow is a doubt.

Aston Villa are set to welcome back Carlos Sanchez, though Adama Traore and Jack Grealish are still some way off from returning from their injuries. Micah Richards will hope to start but may have to settle for a place on the substitutes bench once again.

Key Points

Swansea City last five: L/L/W/W/L

Aston Villa last five: L/L/L/L/L

Key Stat: Since Swansea got promoted to the Premier League, they have only lost once to Aston Villa and are looking for a fifth-straight win against the Villains.

Key Player: Gylfi Sigurdsson – The Icelandic midfielder has got nine Premier League goals this season and is the Swans’ top scorer. He is deadly on the ball at set pieces and finds the back of the net often. He is key to unlocking this poor Villa defence and is more than capable of creating chances for his team mates.

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Score Prediction

Swansea City 3-0 Aston Villa – Swansea should see this one out with relative ease. They have the home crowd behind them against a Villa side that constantly leaks goals but also fail to score them. Anything other than a home win would go down as a major disappointment for the hosts.

Podcast: Houston Dynamo, Philadelphia Union & Crystal Palace discussed

In this week’s MLSGB Podcast, Zack Walford sits down with Louis East and Lewis Addley to reflect on Week 2’s MLS action, in which Houston Dynamo and Philadelphia Union picked up impressive wins.

The team will then look at Premier League side Crystal Palace and their recent struggles, with relegation starting to look like a real possibility.

Be sure to comment below or get in touch on Twitter with your thoughts.

Podcast: MLS opening weekend, NYCFC’s defensive woes & West Ham discussed

In this week’s MLSGB Podcast, Zack Walford sits down with Louis East and Jamie Ives to look back at an incredible opening weekend of MLS action as the 2016 campaign got off to a flyer.

The team will discuss whether New York City FC should be deeply worried about their defensive struggles, despite winning on Sunday, and will finish with a look at in-form Premier League side West Ham United, who are chasing a top four spot.

Be sure to comment below, or get in touch on Twitter with your views on the topics discussed.

Premier League Preview and Prediction: Watford vs Leicester City

Competition: Premier League – Watford FC Vs. Leicester City FC

Venue: Vicarage Road – Saturday, March 5 – 17:30 GMT (12:30 ET)

Match Odds: Watford 2/1 – Draw 23/10 – Leicester City 7/5

Match Preview

Watford host Premier League leaders Leicester City on Saturday evening, in a crucial fixture for the visitors at the top of the table.

Leicester could be behind Tottenham by the time this one kicks off, so the Foxes will be looking for all three points in what looks a tough game.

Watford have struggled in recent weeks, having picked up just one league win in their last five, and have fallen out of the top half as a result. But they are a tough side to break down and are only three points from getting back into the top ten, which is testament to how solid they’ve been this season.

Quique Sanchez Flores’s side come into this one off the back of the 1-0 defeat at Manchester United on Wednesday night. They were unlucky to lose that match late on but home comforts will increase their chances of success this time around.

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Striking duo Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney have mustered up just one goal at home since the turn of the year. So they need to find their feet if Watford are to recapture their form during the final stretch of the campaign.

Leicester City played out a 2-2 draw with West Brom on Tuesday night, which at the time didn’t seem great, but results on Wednesday suggest the point was certainly a valuable one, as their title rivals failed to deliver. Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester City all lost and so the Foxes remain at the top of the table heading into the weekend.

Leicester are able to solely focus on the league as they are out of the FA Cup and have no European commitments. They have five more games to play away from home, with tricky trips to Chelsea and Manchester United still to come.

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They do, however, have the best away record in the top flight and will hope to keep that intact with three points on Saturday.

Jamie Vardy is still the league’s top scorer and would love to find the net against Watford again just as in did in the corresponding fixture, which saw the Foxes win 2-1 at the King Power Stadium in November.

Team News

Watford look set to be without Jose Manuel Jurado, Joel Ekstrand and Tommy Hoban as all three are injured. Nathan Ake will hope to return at left-back after missing the defeat at United on Wednesday.

Leicester City will continue to be without key midfielder N’Golo Kante, who suffered a hamstring injury against Arsenal three weeks ago. Andy King is expected to deputise as he did against West Brom. Matty James is also out. Shinji Okazaki will hope to start ahead of Leonardo Ulloa once more.

Key Points

Watford’s last five:  D/L/W/D/L

Leicester City’s last five: W/W/L/W/D

Key Stat: Watford have only lost at home to Leicester once in seven games at Vicarage Road.

Key Player: Troy Deeney – The Hornets captain will be out to inflict damage on a title-chasing Leicester side here. He scored the vital goal in the incredible 2013 playoff semifinal clash between the two and would love to be the man to hurt the Foxes again. Deeney could even get himself into the England national team picture with Wayne Rooney injured.

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Score Prediction 

Watford 1-1 Leicester City – This will be a tough game for title-chasing Leicester as Watford are a tough nut to crack and often shut out opponents very well. The Foxes might need a moment of magic to seal three points but it’s too tight to call, so a score draw is the most likely result.

Exclusive: Graham Zusi hunting trophies with SKC in ‘wide open’ Western Conference

By Louis East and Zack Walford

Sporting Kansas City open their 21st season in MLS at Seattle Sounders on Sunday night in what is a tough opener. But SKC veteran Graham Zusi believes a solid preseason camp has put the team in a strong position to challenge for trophies in 2016.

The 29-year-old playmaker is entering his eighth Major League Soccer campaign with Kansas City and will be looking to continue to shine as one of the team’s brightest stars in 2016.

He is one of the club’s two Designated Players, along with long-time friend and fellow 2009 draft pick, Matt Besler. But Zusi doesn’t think that having a DP tag necessarily brings more pressure, and isn’t interested in personal achievements. He is purely focused on helping his team and his work rate on the field is testament to that.

“I think I put myself under enough pressure,” he tells MLSGB. “I don’t think the motivation comes from anywhere else. I think there’s plenty of motivation, internally and throughout the team.

“All my goals are team-orientated. For me, it’s all about winning trophies together as a team and I’m looking to do more of that this year.”

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Sporting Kansas City endured a tough campaign on their return to the Western Conference last term, but did manage to qualify for the playoffs for the fifth-straight season, before being eliminated on penalties in the knockout round to eventual winners Portland Timbers.

SKC, who lifted the MLS Cup in 2013, need to try and climb above several sides if they are to challenge at the very top of the Western Conference in 2016, following their sixth-placed finish last year.

The West is viewed by most as the more competitive of the two conferences, but Zusi doesn’t think there is one team who stands above the rest and believes it’s anyone’s to win this term.

“I think the West is a very challenging conference. As you saw [last year], it was very tight throughout the whole year and even up until the last week, there’s a whole lot of shifting throughout. There’s really not a standout team or two. It could really be anyone in any given year.”

Audio – Graham Zusi explains how the Western Conference is wide open for anyone to win this year:

SKC fans will certainly hope it is wide open to increase their own chances of success. They looked on track to challenge for the Supporters’ Shield at the midpoint of last season, before an inconsistent end to the campaign saw that challenge fade.

Zusi scored two goals and picked up five assists in 25 regular season appearances last term, taking his total number of goals contributed to 68 in 173 regular season matches.

SKC’s preseason campaign was a good one as the team went unbeaten through six games in preparation for the new season, and the midfielder thinks the team improved steadily over the past few weeks.

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“I thought it went well,” he said. “I thought as a team we got better at every opportunity we could. Each game was an improvement from the one before and training sessions were very good as well. Everyone was focused and determined in each session.

All focus will now be on getting a result at Seattle on Sunday night. Sporting KC didn’t lose to the Sounders in three meetings last term, drawing 0-0 in the only game at CenturyLink Field, and so they will be confident of avoiding defeat in their season opener.

How important is Graham Zusi for Sporting Kansas City? What will SKC achieve this season?

Podcast: DC United, Real Salt Lake and Tottenham discussed

In this week’s MLSGB Podcast, Zack Walford talks to Louis East and Jamie Ives about DC United and Real Salt Lake’s chances in MLS this year as the new season is just four days away.

The team then move on to look at Tottenham’s Premier League title bid and whether or not they have what it takes to go all the way.

As always, comment below with your thoughts, or get in touch on Twitter.