Monday, August 3, 2015

Seven Hot Matches

Featuring a conspiracy theory, a prophet and a Group of Death.

Seven Hot Matches

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Chicago Fire at Sporting Kansas City

8:30 p.m. Friday (NBC Sports Network)

Major League Soccer’s two biggest games this weekend will both be featured on national television. The first is headlined by the top two teams in the Eastern Conference. Sporting Kansas City needs to win this game to keep up its pursuit of the top overall seed in the MLS Cup Playoffs, while Chicago can jump over its Midwestern rival with a road win.

Fire forward Chris Rolfe has scored seven goals in his last nine games, including two in a come-from-behind win over Columbus last weekend. Kansas City, meanwhile, boasts a dynamic three-forward line and a basketball-style pressing defense. Something will have to give. 

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Chelsea at Arsenal

7:30 a.m. Saturday (ESPN2)

Although it was nearly a year ago, Chelsea fans likely haven’t forgotten Arsenal’s wild 5-3 win at Stamford Bridge last season. The latest meeting of these longtime London rivals is likely to be just as wide-open, as both teams are stacked with attacking stars. 

Chelsea’s Oscar is the newest one-name Brazilian wonder. He drew the world’s attention last week with a spectacular goal against Juventus in the Champions League. Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla has won the World Cup and two straight European Championships with Spain. He’s a perfect fit for the Gunners’ free-flowing offense. 

United States under-17 women vs. North Korea

7:45 a.m. Saturday (ESPN3.com)

The U.S. needs a win in its final group stage game at the FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup in order to advance to the knockout round. Whether or not the teenagers on the field fully grasp the political side of this game, the stakes on the field are plenty high enough to keep Albertin Montoya’s team focused.

So far, the U.S. has played a scoreless draw with France and routed Gambia 6-0. They’re tied with North Korea in first place on four points. France is in third with two points from two draws. If the U.S. ties North Korea, they’d probably top France on goal difference, as it’s a six-goal margin right now. But better safe than sorry.

Barcelona at Sevilla 

3:55 p.m. Saturday (beIN Sport) 

Barcelona’s unbeaten start to the season continues, with five wins in five games so far. Real Madrid is already eight points off the pace, and there’s talk that the Spanish league title race could already be over. There’s a long way to go, but when Lionel Messi is firing on all cylinders the blaugrana are almost impossible to contain.

Seattle Sounders at Vancouver Whitecaps

9:30 p.m. Saturday (NBC Sports Network)

Those of you who like a good conspiracy theory will enjoy the tale that's brewing in the Pacific Northwest. A segment of Vancouver’s fan base has been wondering aloud lately whether MLS’ referees are trying to keep the Whitecaps from becoming the first Canadian team to ever make the playoffs.

But Vancouver’s real problem might be the big-money deals it made for Designated Players Kenny Miller and Barry Robson earlier this year. Both Scotsmen have failed to live up to their billing. Meanwhile, rookie forward Darren Mattocks continues to torch opposing defenses in his limited time on the field.

If the Whitecaps want to calm their nervous fans, beating their fiercest rival on home turf would be a very good place to start.

Siena at Lazio

8:55 a.m. Sunday (beIN Sport) 

It’s been 12 years since Lazio last won Serie A, and three years since the team won a trophy of any kind. But thanks to a player nicknamed "The Prophet," that drought could end soon.

Brazilian midfielder Hernanaes is one of the most entertaining players in Italy right now, and has scored three goals through five games this season. His partnership with German forward Miroslav Klose might just bring deliverance to the sky-blue half of soccer-mad Rome.

Borussia Dortmund at Manchester City

2:30 p.m. Tuesday (Fox Soccer Channel) 

Both of these teams are part of the UEFA Champions League’s group of death, along with Real Madrid and Ajax of Amsterdam. All four teams involved won their domestic leagues last season. Real has been the dominant team so far, which means this game could go a long way towards deciding which team will come in second.

Man City may be amoung Europe’s biggest spenders, but Dortmund won’t be intimidated. The reigning German champions are driven by a core of young stars, most notably dynamic midfielders Mario Gotze and Marco Reus. It will test City’s nerves as much as their talent to keep Dortmund’s attack quiet.

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