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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FIFA worried about government interference in Spain

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Concerned about the independence of the Spanish soccer federation, FIFA said Friday it will send a delegation to the country to investigate government meddling.

FIFA said in a statement written in Spanish that it had recently sent a letter to the federation “expressing our concern for the situation that the federation is going through and reminding (its officials) that, according to the Statutes of FIFA, all member federations must manage their affairs independently and assure that there is no interference by third parties.”

Spanish newspaper El Pais reported earlier Friday that the FIFA letter warned of a possible suspension because of the government’s push to hold elections following the arrest of federation president Angel Maria Villar in July on suspicion of corruption.

[ PL PREVIEW: Chelsea vs. Southampton ]

According to El Pais, FIFA is concerned that the government’s interest in federation elections could be considered outside meddling and break its rules. If the national federation were to be suspended, Spain’s team would not be allowed to play at next year’s World Cup.

FIFA’s statement made no mention of a suspension or other punitive measures.

But the scare was big enough for Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to say that Spain will not miss soccer’s biggest event.

“I am sure that Spain will go to the World Cup in Russia and that it will win it,” Rajoy said at a news conference in Brussels.

FIFA added in its statement that “in the coming days” it will send a delegation, which will include representatives from UEFA, to Madrid to “observe and analyze the situation” of the Spanish soccer federation.

The federation said in a separate statement that its interim president, Juan Luis Larrea, had spoken with FIFA and UEFA officials at the World Cup draw on Dec. 1 and that he had passed on their “enormous concern” to Spain’s minister of education, culture and sport.

The Spanish federation said it was waiting for the ministry to set a date for a meeting.

Spanish police arrested Villar, his son, and two other soccer officials in July on suspicion of improper management, misappropriation of funds, corruption and falsifying documents.

Villar was replaced by Larrea, the body’s treasurer for three decades. Critics of Villar argue that elections are needed to make a clean start for the institution that has been tarnished by the scandal.

Newcastle linked with targets as Benitez begins transfer quest

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Newcastle United’s players have canceled their Christmas party, as manager Rafa Benitez admits he’s working on January gifts for the St. James’ Park set.

The Magpies have one point from their last eight matches, and face Arsenal, West Ham, and Manchester City in the run-up to the New Year, closing off a run of five matches in 16 days with Brighton and Stoke.

[ PL PREVIEW: Man City vs. Spurs ]

Benitez says he’s begun talks with managing director Lee Charnley about the January window. The team is expected to make moves whether Mike Ashley completes a reported sale of the team or not. From Sky Sports:

“At this time it is just to talk about ideas,” he said. “You might say ‘I would like to sign this player’ and someone will say ‘£40m’ – maybe it is not realistic.

“The main thing, we had this conversation, then we have to move forward quickly. I don’t know the details but at least we were talking about that. We have to progress and it is so obvious that we have to improve things.”

Newcastle has been linked with a number of notable names a few weeks from the start of the January market, including Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere, prolific Besiktas striker Cenk Tosun, as well as Liverpool’s Danny Ings and Manchester United’s Luke Shaw.

Premier League Preview: Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace

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  • Leicester leads all-time 26W-18D-23L
  • Foxes 3W-1D vs. Eagles since Oct. 2015
  • Palace won at Leicester in Feb. 2015

The Claude Puel revolution at Leicester City has the Foxes surging up the Premier League table, and Saturday’s visitors from Crystal Palace are making moves of their own (Watch live Saturday at 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Leicester has won four-straight matches, the latest a 4-1 beatdown of Southampton at St. Mary’s, and returns to King Power Stadium with a chance to make a dent on the five-point deficit between the Foxes and the Top Four.

 

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

After beginning the season 0-7, Crystal Palace has claimed 14 of 30 points to move from 20th to 18th on the table. Roy Hodgson’s men have two wins and four draws in their last six matches.

What they’re saying

Leicester’s Harry Maguire on the task at hand:

Palace’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek on his high-flying loan spell from Chelsea: “It’s what you aspire to be when you’re younger. Right now it’s a case of trying to improve as much as I can and to keep the performances up. As long as I’m enjoying it I think I’ll do well, so I’m really happy. The experience of playing week in week out and the physical side of things, getting my body used to playing games – sometimes three in a week – has been a massive thing for me, especially when I haven’t played for two years regularly. That was one of the main reasons I wanted to get away from Chelsea, to play regular football, get my body used to it, get more robust and I think once you have that then it’s a platform to play better.”

Prediction

This could be a fun one, with names like Zaha, Townsend, Loftus-Cheek, Vardy, Mahrez, and Gray ready to bless the match with pace and creativity. Goals have come in bunches when Leicester’s on the pitch, and we’ll call it 2-1 to the Foxes.

RBNY’s Grella heads to Columbus (through Colorado)

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Mike Grella didn’t get to pick No. 20 of the MLS Re-Entry Draft, but that didn’t stop Columbus from getting their hands on the New York Red Bulls veteran.

Colorado selected Grella with the third overall pick, then sent him to Columbus for a second round pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft.

[ MLS: Ousted “blacklisted” by MLS? ]

The only other pick was made by Minnesota United, who took Tyrone Mears from Atlanta United.

Grella, 30, is a well-traveled Duke product who has played in England and Denmark. He scored 18 times with 13 assists in 89 matches for the Red Bulls, but missed most of the 2017 season with a pair of knee injuries.

It’s a good gamble for the Crew, and an extra draft pick for 2019. Second-round picks have become long odds to make MLS rosters, with Tommy McNamara and Aaron Long the last impact players to come out of the round. That was in 2014, and both needed changes of scenery before hitting their MLS strides.