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MLS Starting 11: Ten-plus story lines to follow this season

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Major League Soccer’s 18th season is full of the usual plot and subplot. Here are the top stories to follow as the games begin today – with all teams pointed toward a spot in MLS Cup in December.

11. Top newcomers – There’s no David Beckham in this year’s crop of foreign MLS imports, but there are plenty of second-tier namey names, such as Portland Timbers center back Mikaël Silvestre, the former French international who spent so many good years at Manchester United. Nigel Reo-Coker, new to Vancouver, put in the EPL years, too. Claudio Bieler wants to be the prolific striker sorely missed in Kansas City lately. Argentine playmaker Diego Valeri has Portland abuzz. Longtime Tottenham man Carlo Cudicini is guarding goal for the champs in Los Angeles.  And we’re all waiting to see if Nigerian striker Obafemi Martins will arrive into Seattle, as now expected.

10. Portland Timbers and Caleb Porter – No club will look more different stylistically than the men from Jeld-Wen Field, where the teeming Timbers Army (pictured) will see a bunch that plays nothing like last year’s direct-attack pack under Scotsman John Spencer. Caleb Porter, one of the bright, young minds of U.S. coaching, will have the ball on the ground and, according to plan, an attacking mindset. Truly, watching what Porter can make of this team – with a roster that’s been rebuilt, now armed with more technical proficiency and a little less “getting stuck in-ness” – will be one of the truly intriguing, ongoing narratives.

9. Andrew Farrell and other rookies – We love rookies because they are the future. And the league’s top draft pick, New England defender Andrew Farrell has “future” stamped all over him. Along with generally following his progress, the subplot here is watching where Revs coach Jay Heaps plays the versatile University of Louisville man on the field.

8. World Cup qualifying – Strung throughout most of the regular season will be international biggies in World Cup qualifying and in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. That means two things: occasional interruptions in the league goings-on for some players, and; individual performance in league matches will be assessed in part with an eye toward getting the international call-ups.

7. Chivas USA – What to make of this club, which once tried to become a tool of development for the Chivas mother club back in Mexico, based around cultivating Latin players. It was a disaster, and Chivas USA adjusted. Now under new management, Chivas USA will once again … wait for it … attempt to become a tool of development for the Chivas mother club back in Mexico, based around cultivating Latin players. Yes, this will be absolutely fascinating. With a roster full of players that few in our parts know much about, even the savviest, most observant MLS executives will tell you privately they have zero idea what to expect from Chivas USA. It could be a train wreck. Or Chivas could take the league by storm. Or it could land at any point in between.

6. Kansas City’s final push: No club has won more regular season matches over the past season and a half than Sporting KC, and no MLS club plays a more high-pressure system, which makes Peter Vermes’ side a cracker to watch. But a smidge of pressure has crept into the SKC effort after crashing out of the playoffs two years running to Houston. Can Vermes’ side concoct a final push past the sticking point?

(MORE: full roster of ProSoccerTalk’s MLS preseason previews and predictions)

5. Attendance and TV numbers – Gone are the days when this was critical, akin to cautiously watching the readouts on hospital room monitoring equipment. We’re past that … but not “there” yet. At 18,807 fans a game in 2012, average MLS attendance is up 17 percent over the last three years. TV numbers are climbing steadily, although still nothing to sing and dance about.  It’s soccer. In this country.  Which means there is always work ahead. And it’s always a story worth covering.

source: Getty Images

4. “Wonder Wondo,” on the hunt for another 27 – Doubt this guy at your own peril at this point. Reigning Golden Boot holder Chris Wondolowski (pictured right) keeps proving everyone wrong, following up on a great two years of scoring with a league record-tying 27 goals last year. The preseason was wrought with injuries for the 2012 Supporters Shield winners, so a slow start could potentially stall momentum on another record chase.

3. The 2013 rebuilds – Toronto FC’s latest makeover (in an alarming series of them) is starting slower than anyone around BMO Field would like. Philadelphia has a wonderful cast of young talent still under construction (although minus Freddy Adu). New England and Montreal are somewhere between “there” and “getting there.” So is Colorado, another one not quite in rebuilding mode but not far from it. Even trusty old Western Conference work horse Real Salt Lake went through a rare mini-makeover. (Portland’s high-profile re-set was discussed above.)

2. Landon Donovan: The LA Galaxy and U.S. national team leading scorer will be back in late March and (presumably) back on the field by mid- to late-April. He’ll be fit – because Donovan has always been fit, and mostly injury free – but we’ll have to see if the Galaxy’s dynamic attacker brings the full backpack of motivation. That’s certainly not guaranteed.

1. Galaxy quest for three-peat – No club has won three in a row. Manager Bruce Arena has the league’s top center back (Omar Gonzalez) and perhaps the best striker (Robbie Keane). They’ll have one of the league’s top midfielders if Donovan returns at “Full Donovan.” Plus, given the aggressive ownership, we can all be sure that another name brand Designated Player will be en route to the Home Depot Center by this summer, replacing David Beckham’s spot now that his cultured right foot is spraying the passes at Paris Saint-Germain.

Sam Allardyce fired as England manager after 67 days

England international soccer team manager Sam Allardyce, centre, his assistant Sammy Lee, left, and FA chief executive Martin Glenn, right, applaud during the launch event of UEFA Euro 2020 and the unveiling of the tournament brand and the London host city logo at City Hall, in London, Wednesday Sept. 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
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After one game as England manager, Sam Allardyce has a 100 percent record and that’s how it will remain.

Forever.

On Tuesday the English FA confirmed that Allardyce, 61, has been fired as England’s manager just 67 days in charge.

Allardyce was at the center of a sensational undercover investigation by The Telegraph which was released on Monday and key figures of the English FA were locked in meetings at Wembley Stadium all day with many reports stating that Allardyce offered to resign.

He wasn’t given the chance as the English FA released a statement which confirmed Allardyce’s departure as well as the appointment of Gareth Southgate as caretaker boss for the upcoming 2018 World Cup qualifiers next week and the rest of their games in 2018.

The FA can confirm that Sam Allardyce has left his position as England manager. Allardyce’s conduct, as reported today, was inappropriate of the England manager. He accepts he made a significant error of judgement and has apologised. However, due to the serious nature of his actions, The FA and Allardyce have mutually agreed to terminate his contract with immediate effect.

This is not a decision that was taken lightly but The FA’s priority is to protect the wider interests of the game and maintain the highest standards of conduct in football. The manager of the England men’s senior team is a position which must demonstrate strong leadership and show respect for the integrity of the game at all times.

Gareth Southgate will take charge of the men’s senior team for the next four matches against Malta, Slovenia, Scotland and Spain whilst The FA begins its search for the new England manager. The FA wishes Sam well in the future.

The former Sunderland, West Ham, Newcastle and Bolton manager had previously described the England job as his “dream” but it has turned into a nightmare after being fired in hugely controversial circumstances.

He also released a statement via the FA’s website on Tuesday.

Further to recent events, The FA and I have mutually agreed to part company. It was a great honor for me to be appointed back in July and I am deeply disappointed at this outcome. This afternoon, I met with Greg Clarke and Martin Glenn and offered a sincere and wholehearted apology for my actions.

Although it was made clear during the recorded conversations that any proposed arrangements would need The FA’s full approval, I recognize I made some comments which have caused embarrassment. As part of today’s meeting, I was asked to clarify what I said and the context in which the conversations took place. I have co-operated fully in this regard. I also regret my comments with regard to other individuals.

In video clips released by the Telegraph, Allardyce was seen meeting with fictitious businessmen and discussing how to get around rules of third-party ownership (TPO) of players. He was also seen negotiating a fee of over $518,000 for becoming an ambassador for the company he believed to be from the Far East.

When asked about TPO — which was banned by the English FA in 2008 and by FIFA in 2015 — and ways to get around the current system, Allardyce replied to the businessmen that it was “not a problem” and revealed he knew agents who are “doing it all the time.”

Allardyce was also seen criticizing former England boss Roy Hodgson and assistant manager Gary Neville, and his employers at the FA among others, with the whole episode causing the England manager huge embarrassment.

 

England will now start their search for a new permanent manager, while The Telegraph has promised more information will be released in the coming days as they say their 10-month investigation into the murkier side of English soccer has also “unearthed widespread evidence of bribery and corruption in British football.”

LIVE – UCL group stage: Leicester-Porto, Spurs-CSKA; Real, BVB clash

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 17:  Islam Slimani of Leicester City celebrates scoring his sides second goal with his team mates during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Burnley at The King Power Stadium on September 17, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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The second round of UEFA Champions League group stage games kick off on Tuesday and both Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur is in action.

[ MORE: UCL schedule ]

Leicester welcomes the UCL for the first time in their history, as they host FC Porto at the King Power Stadium with the Portuguese giants set to be their toughest test in group play. Claudio Ranieri‘s side beat Club Brugge 3-0 away from home in their opening Group G game and if they topple Porto then they’ll have a great chance of advancing to the UCL knockout rounds.

As for Spurs, they’re in a tighter spot after losing their opening Group E game to AS Monaco at Wembley. Mauricio Pochettino has plenty of injury problems with Harry Kane, Mousa Dembele, Danny Rose and Eric Dier all out for the long trip to CSKA Moscow. Nothing but a win will do against the Russian champions, as Spurs aim to get back on track.

Elsewhere some tasty clashes see Borussia Dortmund host Real Madrid at the Westfalenstadion, as the reigning champions go up against the German giants. It will be quite the atmosphere in Dortmund.

All matches kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET, and you can follow all the action live as it happens by clicking on the link above.


Tuesday’s UCL matches

Sporting Lisbon vs. Legia Warsaw
Sevilla vs. Lyon
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Juventus
CSKA Moscow vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Borussia Dortmund vs. Real Madrid
Monaco vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Copenhagen vs. Club Brugge
Leicester City vs. Porto

Makeshift bomb explodes on Cypriot referee’s car

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 24:  Referee Mark Clattenburg shows a red card to Per Mertesacker of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Chelsea at Emirates Stadium on January 24, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) The Cyprus Football Association has condemned a bomb attack against the car of a top referee, calling it a blight on the island’s footballing family and society in general.

[ MORE: Allardyce in big trouble ]

The association says it stands by referee Georgios Nicolaou and urges police to track down and bring the culprits of Tuesday’s pre-dawn bombing to justice.

Police say the explosion occurred while the car was parked outside the 41-year-old’s home in the Larnaca area. The front of the car sustained extensive damage.

A string of attacks against the property of Cypriot referees have occurred in the past two years.

The most recent previous attack took place in March 2015 against the car of another referee that was set ablaze after being doused with flammable liquid.

VIDEO: Top Premier League goals – Matchday 6

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We were spoiled with stunning strikes in Macthday 6 of the Premier League.

[ MORE: What now for Chelsea? ]

From Philippe Coutinho‘s stunner to Junior Stanislas‘ powerful drive and Demarai Gray‘s delicious strike, there was no shortage of top notch goals.

Watch the best of the bunch in the video above and let us know which was your favorite in the comments section below.