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MLS Preview: Chicago Fire at Montreal Impact

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Was Montreal’s surprising burst of March largesse just a mirage for the Impact, which has suddenly drifted toward a place where more of us expected to find them all along?

This is a toughie to sort out. Under new manager Marco Schallibaum, the Impact had MLS heads on a swivel a month ago, turning to get a closer look as the bunch from Quebec was perfect in its first four. A 1-0 win over New York back on March 23 served to extinguish any remaining doubts; the sophomore MLS side really did look like a player in the Eastern Conference race.

And then April happened.

Actually, the slide (if we’re calling it that) started in late March with a 2-0 loss in Kansas City. But everyone struggles in Kansas City, right?

A 1-1 draw at home against Columbus could also be written off as an odd duck of a result; the match was delayed 24 hours by massive snowfall. Besides, Columbus has proven to be a bugger on the road.

But then came Wednesday’s 2-0 loss at rival Toronto in the Amway Canadian Championship. So it leaves us all to wonder if the early Impact burst was smoke-and-mirrors stuff? Or was that close to the real Impact, with this recent splat of mediocrity sure to be a passing thing, just the inevitable dip over a long season?

Let’s talk after Saturday’s meeting with the Chicago Fire at cozy little Stade Saputo; kickoff on the NBC Sports Network is 4 p.m. ET.

Schallibaum has some lineup juggling to do; this is the club’s second match of a ridiculously busy stretch with six contests in 18 days.

Chicago’s Frank Klopas won’t have the same busy-busy issues, his club well rested and presumably enjoying an uptick of confidence after last week’s 1-0 win at home, venting some of the mounting pressure around the club’s suburban Bridgeview ground. Huge goal, Jeff Larentowicz!

Arne Friedrich, proving to be even more of a defensive giant for the Fire in his ongoing absence, remains injured and unavailable for Chicago. Jalil Anibaba was strong last week in Friedrich’s spot alongside 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year Austin Berry.

Klopas will have to adjust the back line, however, due to Wells Thompson suspension, so a new right back will find the Stade Saputo field.

Montreal will call on back line reinforcements, too, as Matteo Ferrari’s calf strain will keep the veteran defender out a few weeks.

Best matchup to watch in this one: Impact holding midfielder Patrice Bernier (pictured above) remains something of a well-kept MLS secret. He’ll find himself more or less directly matched with Fire attacking midfielder Chris Rolfe, who hasn’t quite had a big 2013. But then again, no one with the Fire really has.

Sydney FC return to winning ways in A-League

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 24:  Goalkeeper Danny Vukovic of Sydney FC makes a save as Bruno Fornaroli of City competes for the ball during the round 21 A-League match between Melbourne City and Sydney FC at AAMI Park on February 24, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
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SYDNEY (AP) Bobo scored twice as Sydney FC rebounded from its first loss in the A-League to beat Melbourne City 3-1 and continue atop the table.

[ MORE: Schmeichel speaks about Ranieri sacking, state of Leicester ]

Sydney’s ambitious attempt to become the first team to end the regular season unbeaten came unstuck last week when it was beaten by Western Sydney Wanderers in a fractious local derby, repercussions of which continued through the week. Wanderers were fined $20,000 by Football Federation Australia after its fans unfurled an obscene banner targeting Sydney coach Graham Arnold.

[ MORE: Chelsea, Everton extend unbeaten run in Saturday’s PL play ]

Sydney raised itself above that controversy on Friday with a comprehensive win over Melbourne City which briefly took it 11 points clear in first place.

Melbourne Victory restored the gap to eight points when it beat defending champion Adelaide United 2-1, and Perth leapfrogged Melbourne City into third place when it dumped the Wanderers 2-0.

Bobo opened Sydney’s scoring with a penalty, but City canceled that out only a minute later.

Sydney went in front again after the break, and Bobo sealed the win, set up by a superb through ball by Milos Ninkovic which highlighted their developing combination.

Midfielder Brandon O’Neil said Sydney was determined to leave behind the contention of their derby loss.

“When it all came out, the FFA and Western Sydney had to deal with it and it did,” O’Neil said. “It brought us together and we spoke about a few things, and nothing changed for us. We want to be premier (champions).”

Melbourne Victory’s win over Adelaide kept it in touch with Sydney with seven regular season rounds remaining.

Wellington kept its faint playoff hopes alive, staying in seventh place with a 2-1 win over Brisbane.

Whitecaps acquire U.S. defender Brek Shea in deal with Orlando City

Toronto FC v Orlando City SC
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With almost a week to go until the Major League Soccer season kicks off, the Vancouver Whitecaps and Orlando City may have pulled off one of the biggest trades of offseason.

[ MORE: MLS negotiating to bring Chicharito to U.S. in 2018 ]

The clubs announced on Saturday that the Whitecaps have acquired U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder/defender Brek Shea in exchange for forward Giles Barnes, who is headed to Orlando City.

“We are excited to welcome Brek to our club and city,” said Whitecaps FC manager Carl Robinson. “Brek is a tall, physical, skilled player and will bring a different dimension to our attack. Brek will join the group in coming days and we anticipate he will be available for selection as early as this Thursday’s Champions League match against New York.”

Shea, 26, began his career in MLS with FC Dallas before heading to England for a brief stint with Stoke City. The U.S. defender made his way back to MLS ahead of Orlando City’s inaugural season in 2015 and started 39 matches in that span.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Meanwhile, Barnes has scored 33 goals since joining MLS in 2012. The 28-year-old forward played with the Houston Dynamo before spending last season with the Whitecaps.

Report: MLS negotiating to bring Chicharito to U.S. in 2018

Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, Bayer Leverkusen & Mexico
AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
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Major League Soccer has attracted some of the world’s biggest stars over recent years and now one of the Mexican national team’s top talents could be heading stateside very soon.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

According to ESPN FC, MLS is currently in negotiations with Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen in an attempt to lure Mexican striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez to the U.S. in the summer of 2018.

Expansion side Los Angeles FC has been heavily linked with Hernandez, with the club making its entrance into MLS in 2018. Additionally, the Los Angeles Galaxy have also been said to have strong ties with Chicharito.

Hernandez, 28, is currently under contract until next summer, and MLS is reportedly seeking a move in 2018 to avoid paying a transfer fee for the El Tri forward.

ESPN FC is also reporting that Chicharito could make around $9 million annually if he does in fact join MLS.

In 2015, Orlando City and the Chicago Fire were both linked with acquiring Hernandez but the Leverkusen forward was insistent upon the fact that he play Champions League football.

PL Sunday: Spurs look to regain second against Stoke

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Although there’s only one match on Sunday’s Premier League docket, the fixture bears great weight for both clubs.

[ MORE: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Tottenham vs. Stoke City — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Spurs have the chance to move back into second place at White Hart Lane as Mauricio Pochettino‘s side are firmly in a battle to finish runners’ up to Chelsea this season. Tottenham currently sit 13 points out of the top spot, however, five clubs are within four points of another in the battle for second. Danny Rose and Erik Lamela remain sidelined due to injuries but Spurs will remain the favorites in the fixture after having won their previous two league meetings.

Stoke enters Sunday having gone unbeaten in five of its last six PL matches and the Potters can enter the top 10 with a victory. Mark Hughes‘ side could be given a big lift with the potential return of Xherdan Shaqiri while Saido Berahino could be in line to earn his first start since joining Stoke. Both players could present massive upside for the Potters, who have struggled to find goals as of late. In their last four matches, Stoke have managed just three finishes, one of which came from an own goal.