MLS Impact Toronto FC Soccer

Have the Toronto FC team we all expected finally arrived?

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It has taken almost five months, but Toronto FC have finally turned up.

They recorded back to back wins for the first-time since July 14, 2012 this weekend with a 1-0 win over New England building on last weekends 2-1 victory over Columbus.

That’s right, it has been almost a year since Toronto had consecutive wins in league play. That’s how bad its been.

You have to respect TFC’s fans for keeping the faith after what has been a mostly torrid 12 months. But now Ryan Nelsen’s new look side may have turned the corner. Just maybe.

Toronto won three on the spin last July, before their terrible slump continued for the rest of the 2012 season. That was a brief mirage in a desert of discontent for Toronto’s fans.

However this time, things are different.

Bringing in Nelsen as a rookie manager so close to the start of the season, Toronto were always going to struggle in the first half of the 2013 campaign. Perhaps they’ve done worse than many thought, but Nelsen’s side are getting their act together. Fast.

Personally I expected them to be a hard team to beat this season. And for the most part that’s been true. Look at how many games they’ve either lost or drawn after giving up last minute goals. They were close to winning plenty of games — I don’t need to remind TFC fans that — because the fighting spirit is there, just not the luck. But Nelsen’s a fighter and his team now mirrors his staunch defensive attitude.

(MORE: Toronto FC’s roster improving, but is it enough?)

In 20 games Toronto has only allowed more than two goals on two occasions, and that was in back-to-back matches in July when a 3-3 tie with Montreal was followed by a 3-0 spanking by Sporting KC. They have the ninth best defense in MLS and have conceded 29 goals so far.

One of the main reasons for the mini revival: that nasty streak is back. Matias Laba, whose first goal since joining TFC was the game-winner on Sunday vs. New England, has made a huge difference in midfield. His bite in the tackle and range of passing is exactly what Nelsen needed. And the old head of Steven Caldwell in central defense has proved a masterful addition, which has brought out the best in the clubs young defenders who lineup next to the 32-year-old Scotsman.

I expected Toronto to be a hard-nosed defensive team, that doesn’t give up many goals and doesn’t thrill the neutral. Ryan Nelsen’s men are delivering that, finally. And now that they seem to have their house in order, can they possibly sneak into the playoff spots in the East? They’re 13 points off fifth-placed Houston. That’s a huge ask. But with this new-found mettle and habit of not losing games or giving up goals, Toronto will certainly be a much different team in the second half of the season.

The Toronto team I expected has finally arrived. Welcome.

EFL Cup Final preview: Saints aim to deny Manchester United, Mourinho

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 28:  Vincent Kompany of Manchester City and team mate Pablo Zabaleta celebrate victory with the trophy after the Capital One Cup Final match between Liverpool and Manchester City at Wembley Stadium on February 28, 2016 in London, England. Manchester City win 3-1 on penalties.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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With the Community Shield in tow, Jose Mourinho aims for his first full tournament trophy as Manchester United boss when his Red Devils meet Southampton at 11:30 a.m. EDT Sunday.

Wembley Stadium is the venue for the EFL Cup Final, a trophy United has claimed four times. The last one came in 2010, as the Red Devils clinched their third League Cup in five seasons.

[ JPW: Southampton comes full circle ]

Sunday marks Southampton’s first final since 1979, when Saints fell 3-2 to Nottingham Forest.

Saints continue to make due without Virgil Van Dijk and Charlie Austin, but newcomers Manolo Gabbiadini, Sofiane Boufal, and Martin Caceres could all feature on Friday.

Gabbiadini almost certainly will, and he’s been a difference maker for Saints since arriving from Napoli. The 25-year-old has three goals in two Premier League matches.

[ MORE: Projected lineups for EFL Cup final ] 

United will not have Henrikh Mkhitaryan back after the Armenian midfielder limped off the pitch midweek, but fellow walking wounded star Michael Carrick will be back for the Red Devils. Wayne Rooney, Ander Herrera, and Eric Bailly will be available.

The Red Devils won the FA Cup last season and the league in 2012-13. Mourinho has three League Cups from his time at Chelsea.

But Antonio Valencia says that United has to act like this is a chance for a new era. From ManUtd.com:

“We have to forget about the fact that we might have won there three, four or five times,” he added. “We have to put that to one side. This is another final, and a totally different story. We cannot afford to make one single mistake, this is a final and we cannot lose our concentration for even one minute.”

Saints will be underdogs for this one, but this trophy isn’t alien to avoiding the hands of the big boys as we’ve seen with Birmingham City, Middlesbrough, and Swansea City since the turn of the century.

Claudio Ranieri issues classy goodbye to Leicester City

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Claudio Ranieri has issued a statement on his somewhat surprising firing from Leicester City, less than 10 months after winning the Premier League title.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Swans preview ]

The Italian manager with a knack of word play pulls on the heart-strings in discussing his exit from Leicester, a club he did not plan to leave any time soon.

From the Leicester Mercury:

Yesterday my dream died.

After the euphoria of last season and being crowned Premier League champions all I dreamed of was staying with Leicester city, the club I love, for always.

Sadly, this was not to be.

He went on to thank his family, Leicester City, saving the kindest words for the Foxes’ supporters.

No one can ever take away what we together have achieved, and I hope you think about it and smile every day the way I always will.

It has been a pleasure and an honour to be a champion with all of you.

No surprise to read class from Claudio. Read the full statement here.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Swansea City

SWANSEA, WALES - SEPTEMBER 11:  Chelsea manager Antonio Conte battles to get the ball back with Cesar Apilicueta (r) from Swansea forward Modou Barrow during the Premier League match between Swansea City and Chelsea at Liberty Stadium on September 11, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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  • Chelsea leads all-time 14W-11D-7L
  • Sides drew 2-2 in September
  • Swans unbeaten vs Blues since Jan ’15

Premier League leaders Chelsea face a resurgent Swansea City side which has given it fits (Watch live at 10 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Blues have dropped points in two of their last three Premier League matches, and also have two draws and a loss to Swans in the past three match-ups.

Swansea has won three of four in Premier League play, the lone setback a 2-1 loss to Manchester City. New manager Paul Clement has led Swans from deep in the relegation zone to four points clear of the drop zone.

To succeed, Swans will have to avoid conceding often and early. According to Chelsea’s club statistician:

Conte’s players have scored the opening goal more times than any other Premier League team this season (19) and have yet to lose (16 wins, three draws).

What they’re saying

Antonio Conte on former Chelsea assistant Clement“He has had a great impact on the team. Also, with the transfer window, they reinforced the team, and we must pay great attention. If you watch their games against Liverpool, against Man City, you understand the difficulty of the game. I am sure my players understand this. They have worked very well to face them in the right way.”

Clement on staring down Chelsea“I have said to the players that yes we have put ourselves in a good position, but how hard are we willing to work to make sure we continue to improve? How much do we want to avoid suffering at the end of the season? Because unless we keep winning games and progressing up the table, we are going to find ourselves in a position where we need, say, four points from the last two games of the season.”

Prediction

Stamford Bridge will be the difference here, as Chelsea keeps it tight against Swans. 2-0.

PREVIEW: Tottenham Hotspur’s “To Dare Is To Do”

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The latest Premier League Download makes its debut on Sunday, as we dive deep into Tottenham Hotspur.

With a brand new stadium under construction and a solid look at perennial top-end pushes, Spurs are among the more intriguing stories in the Premier League.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League Picks ]

Spurs host Stoke City on Sunday at 8:30 a.m. EDT on NBCSN, and “Tottenham Hotspur: To Dare Is To Do” debuts at 11 a.m. EDT, right after the match.