Major League Soccer Week in Review – Round 23

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The matches faded into the background just a bit in Round 23 as Clint Dempsey’s arrival into Seattle absolutely dominated the news. But, they did play the games just the same. So …

The Big News

Clint Dempsey’s arrival became the big fire that sucked every bit of oxygen from the MLS room. We’ll be peeling back the layers on this talker for days or weeks going forward. For now, we’ve talked about how this might impact the U.S. national team, where this ranks in MLS signings, whether Deuce dropping into CenturyLink makes the Sounders an MLS contender and why this move makes sense personally for Dempsey.

Some other big news

If the weekend had not been all about Dempsey, chatter around MLS grounds would have been about the other big news of MLS last week: that the league would grow to 24 teams by 2020. So said commissioner Don Garber, speaking during halftime of last week’s MLS All-Star game in Kansas City.

Rocky Mountain Cup moves to Denver

The Rocky Mountain Cup may not match the marketing push and the pub of some other rivalry trophies, but it sure matters the world to Colorado and Real Salt Lake. That’s why the Rapids looked quite pleased with a draw at home (usually not much to celebrate) Saturday against RSL.

After a 2-2 draw at DSG Park, the Rapids hold the cup for the first time in seven years.

The returning U.S. national team men

No team benefitted more than Real Salt Lake as several U.S. national team men got back into their teams following CONCACAF Gold Cup success. Yes, Jason Kreis’ team had to hand over the Rocky Mountain Cup, and that was surely a bummer. But they did pull a point out of stormy DSG Park (where the match was suspended for an hour by lightning). And  that would not have happened without midfielder Kyle Beckerman and  goalkeeper Nick Rimando. Beckerman had an early assist in addition to his usual solid body of midfield work, and a couple of Rimando’s eight saves were real blinders, right at the end Saturday.

Seattle’s other strikers aren’t done yet

Dempsey’s arrival won’t necessarily squeeze one of the current starting strikers from Seattle’s lineup; the Texas native’s famous versatility gives manager Sigi Schmid several tactical options and the ability to get all three men on the field together.

Still, who could blame Obafemi Martins and Eddie Johnson for having a point to prove? Both scored early Saturday as the Sounders won comfortably over down-and-out Dallas, 3-0 at a CenturyLink Field that had even more buzz-buzz than usual.

Clarence Goodson returns to MLS

Goodson made his professional bones at FC Dallas before moving to Europe for five years. Back into MLS, Goodson debuted for San Jose in a 2-0 win over Chivas USA, partnering with Victor Bernardez and forming the kind of defensive shield you would expect. Chivas put just one shot on target all night.

Former U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra, now with Chivas, was shown a straight red in this one. You can watch it here.

Mike Magee scores. Again.

If that looks familiar, well, it is. We’ll just cut and paste each week as the Chicago Fire striker keeps making his team look absolutely brilliant for the May trade that has changed the season fortunes around Toyota Park. His second half strike Saturday at PPL Park was the game-winner over Philadelphia as Chicago won for only the second time away from home this year, creeping a little closer still to a playoff position.

Magee has a league-leading 14 goals.

The weekend’s big upset:

D.C. United won its third this year, beating Montreal as Luis Silva scored a third goal in three game for his new team. Uh, remind us why Toronto gave this exciting young man away?

The weekend’s top goals

There were several good goals, although maybe not some great one. But these two counter attack goals were important in close matches, both demonstrating good work back to front. The first is from New York’s 3-2 upset win at Kansas City, where early, aggressive decisions from goalkeeper Luis Robles (who picked up the rare goalkeeper assist!) and Jonny Steele made this goal happen:

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And this one is from Portland, where Ryan Johnson clinically takes advantage of Vancouver’s shoddy marking as he finishes Diego Valeri’s skillful set-up:

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MLS playoff scenarios heading into the final weekend

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Time certainly has flown by, and just like that the MLS Cup playoffs are well within sight.

While the Eastern Conference is all locked up in terms of which teams will be in the postseason, seeding can change drastically on the final weekend.

[ MORE: Tab Ramos confirms interest in USMNT job ]

Meanwhile, the West sees three clubs vying for one final spot in what has proven to be a very intriguing battle over the last several weeks.

All eyes will be on three teams in the Western Conference as the San Jose Earthquakes, FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake all have an opportunity to move into the sixth spot.

Below, PST takes a look at where clubs can finish in relation to the playoff race.

Eastern Conference

#1 seed: Toronto FC is locked into the top spot

#2 seed: NYCFC — clinches the two seed with a win; Chicago Fire — clinches two with win and NYCFC draw or loss; Atlanta takes two with win plus NYCFC loss/draw and Fire loss/draw

#3 seed: Fire — finishes third with win; NYCFC — takes third with loss to Crew and Fire win; Atlanta — third with win and Fire loss; Crew — finish third with win over NYCFC and don’t overtake NYCFC on GD, plus losses by Fire and Atlanta

#4 seed: NYCFC — fourth with loss to Crew and overtaken on GD, plus Fire win; Fire — finish fourth with loss and Atlanta win, plus NYCFC win or draw; Atlanta — takes fourth with loss and NYCFC/Fire wins; Crew — fourth with win over NYCFC, Fire win and Atlanta loss/draw

#5 seed: Crew — finish fifth with loss/draw; Atlanta — finishes fifth with loss and Crew win; Fire — takes fifth with loss and Atlanta/Crew victories; NYCFC — drops with loss to Crew, Atlanta win and Fire win/draw

#6 seed: New York Red Bulls are locked into sixth spot

Western Conference

#1 seed: Whitecaps — clinch top spot with win; Timbers — finish first with win and Whitecaps loss

#2 seed: Whitecaps — finish second with loss to Timbers; Timbers — second with loss/draw and Sounders/Sporting KC losses; Sounders — finish second with win and Whitecaps win

#3 seed: Timbers — third with loss and Sounders win; Sounders — loss to Rapids and Sporting KC/Dynamo losses; Sporting KC — finish third with win, Sounders loss and Whitecaps/Timbers draw; Dynamo — third with win, Sporting KC loss and Sounders loss

#4 seed: Whitecaps — finish fourth with loss to Timbers, Sounders/Sporting KC wins; Timbers — loss to Whitecaps, plus Sounders/Sporting KC victories; Sounders — finish fourth with loss/draw and Sporting KC win; Sporting KC — fourth with loss and Dynamo loss/draw; Dynamo — finish fourth with win and Sporting KC loss

#5 seed: Timbers — fifth with loss to Whitecaps and Sounders/Sporting KC/Dynamo wins; Sounders — loss to Rapids, plus Sporting KC/Dynamo victories; Dynamo — finish fifth with loss; Sporting KC — fifth place with loss and Dynamo win

#6 seed: San Jose Earthquakes clinch with win; FC Dallas takes sixth with win/draw and Earthquakes loss/draw; Real Salt Lake clinch with win/draw, Earthquakes loss and Dallas loss/draw

The next Pulisic? A 10-year-old American is heading to AS Roma

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With everything that has transpired since last week’s U.S. Men’s National Team debacle, American soccer fans can use a pick-me-up.

What better could there be than perhaps another young star-in-the-making? Dare I say, the next Christian Pulisic?

[ MORE: Bruce Arena is out as USMNT manager ]

Perhaps, but it’s way too early to say that.

His name is Alessandro Cupini, a 10-year-old from Kansas City, Missouri that is about to complete a dream that a soccer player of any age would be thrilled to achieve.

Less than two weeks ago, Cupini and his family announced that the Kansas City Fusion midfielder/striker would be accepting a spot in the AS Roma academy starting in the Spring 2018, after having trained with the club for the better part of two years off and on.

Pro Soccer Talk had the opportunity to speak with Cupini’s father, Eddie, ahead of his son’s big move to Italy.

“This is something that Alessandro has worked really hard for,” Eddie Cupini told PST. “There are times where I tell him that he needs to take a step back and be a normal kid, but he doesn’t have any of that. He’s an incredibly hard-working and driven kid that does more than most people regardless of his age.”

Alessandro — who recently turned 10 years old — isn’t the typically American youngster though, according to his father.

“There are times where I wish Alessandro would take a break and be a kid, but that’s just not in his desire,” Cupini said. “We built him a mini stadium downstairs where he trains basically every day after school. As soon as he gets home from school he’s doing work down there and always looking for other kids to come over to practice with.”

That’s where the comparisons to Pulisic can be worked into the conversation.

Pulisic followed a very similar path to the professional level when he left his hometown of Hershey, Pennsylvania at the age of 16 to sign with Borussia Dortmund. Now, he’s U.S. Soccer’s most promising star as the USMNT looks to rebuild.

“We’re very familiar with Christian’s story, and he’s certainly somebody that Alessandro looks up to,” Cupini said.

Cupini is already on the radar of U.S. Soccer and the Olympic Development Program (ODP), which helps identify young talent in the United States starting at the Under-12 level.

However, because of Cupini’s Italian heritage and his unique opportunity to move to Italy next year, Alessandro could potentially have the chance to represent either the USMNT or the Azzurri in the future.

“It’s a long ways away and we’re taking things slow in that regard,” Cupini said in regards to his son’s international plans. “We’d certainly be willing to explore our options, but I think it would be a real dream and his main goal to play for Italy.”

New Jersey-native and former Italy international Giuseppe Rossi made a similar career choice when it came down to choosing a national team. Despite living in the United States for much of his youth years, Rossi appeared for a number of Italy’s youth teams before holding a stint with the senior side from 2008 to 2014.

Prior to making the announcement that Roma would be where Cupini will ply his trade next year, the young American also had the opportunity to train with Italian academies Empoli and Atalanta.

“My father is from Rome, so for Alessandro to have the opportunity to play for his hometown club it was almost a no-brainer,” Cupini said. “We were very grateful to the other clubs for the chance Alessandro had to train with them, but Roma is a club that is very close to our family.

Leicester City 1-1 West Brom: Mahrez nets first goal of PL season

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The Foxes haven’t had the start to the season that Craig Shakespeare and Co. would have hoped for, but Monday’s performance was certainly a step in the right direction.

[ MORE: Mike Ashley puts Newcastle up for sale ]

Leicester City pulled out a 1-1 draw against West Bromwich Albion at the King Power Stadium, however, the Foxes remain in the bottom three of the Premier League.

Riyad Mahrez had plenty of chances on the day, and he rescued his side with 10 minutes remaining after powering home a strike into the far corner. The goal marks the Algerian’s first of the 2017/18 campaign.

Despite a frustrating opening hour, the visitors led on 63 minutes when Nacer Chadli curled home a brilliant free kick that left Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel stunned.

For the Belgium international, Chadli becomes West Brom’s seventh different goalscorer of the season.

Leicester nearly came out flying in the second stanza whenMahrez had an open chance in the center of the Baggies penalty area, however, the Algerian winger’s left-footed attempt was too high to hit the target.

[ MORE: Liverpool’s Lovren accuses Lukaku of deliberate stamp ]

Mahrez’s chance came just minutes after West Brom keeper Boaz Myhill was nearly sent off after the 34-year-old took out a streaking Jamie Vardy on the edge of the penalty box.

Monday’s result means both clubs have now gone six matches with a win in PL play.

Liverpool’s Lovren accuses Lukaku of deliberate stamp

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Saturday’s titanic clash between Liverpool and Manchester United ended in an uneventful draw, but that didn’t mean the match itself was short on drama.

[ MORE: Mike Ashley puts Newcastle up for sale ]

Reds defender Dejan Lovren wasn’t happy with Romelu Lukaku‘s action after the former made a tackle on the Man United striker during the first half of the 0-0 draw.

The Liverpool center back spoke ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League match against Maribor.

“I made a tackle there and I just felt he was over me and could just move away,” Lovren said in regards to the play in question. “To be honest, my point of view is that he did on purpose.”

Despite his claims of Lukaku’s malice, the FA has already come out and stated that they won’t take any action against the Belgium international.

“It is not my decision,” Lovren continued. “He seemed nervous during the game and maybe that’s why. Normally if you do it, you apologise.

“It happened and it’s over. Nobody can change it.”