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Major League Soccer Week in Review – Round 24

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Clint Dempsey was re-introduced into MLS, Landon Donovan nailed a hat trick and Federico Higuain scored an absolutely gorgeous goal in Week 24. Let’s get into it …

source:  Clint Dempsey’s debut

Now that U.S. international is on the field, maybe we can set aside the debates about whether he can make Seattle a league contender and whether he represents the most significant MLS signing to date. For awhile, maybe we can just debate his actual play on the field. Here’s how Dempsey say things as he played almost an hour Saturday in Seattle’s 2-1 win over Toronto FC.

“I’m not there yet,’ he said, “but I was happy with the touches that I got tonight and the work that I put in and the chances I created. Hopefully those start falling for me in the games to come.”

By the way, don’t read too much into Seattle’s win; Sigi Schmid’s team was seriously hanging on at the end, and that was against one of the league’s worst teams.

Landon Donovan’s hat trick

Mark this one down under “Performance of the Weekend.” The U.S. international doubled his 2013 goals output in a single evening, scoring all three for the LA Galaxy in a riveting 3-3 draw at FC Dallas. Blas Perez hit two for FCD in the back-and-fourth contest.

United’s youngsters

Speaking of “league’s worst teams:” United lost once again, but it wasn’t exactly an exercise in futility. Coming off a mid-week U.S. Open Cup win, Ben Olsen fielded a D.C. United lineup that averaged 22.6 years old, according to The Washington Post. That is ridiculously young.

Montreal keeps sliding

The Impact lost in Chicago – The Fire won without Mike Magee, and how about that! – and has now claimed victory in just one of its last eight matches (a 1-4-3 record during that stretch). That’s not great in an Eastern Conference where eight teams remain realistically alive for five playoffs spots. Then again, that’s nothing compared to the West …

Ridiculous playoff race in the West

Three points currently separates second place from seventh in the Western Conference. Yes, the final 10 rounds will be something else.

Busy week … and not just for league play

This time of year is stacked and packed with matches – and not always just for league play. There are all those friendlies to play, the matches that tend to make extra cash for clubs. There were two U.S. Open Cup matches, both of which were all-MLS matchups. (D.C. United will play at Real Salt Lake later this year for the tournament’s 100th title.) And three MLS clubs got into CONCACAF Champions League action during the week.

Conor Casey to the rescue

While young striker Jack McInerney, who was so prolific earlier this year, has lost his way toward goal lately, former Colorado Rapids man Conor Casey is enjoying a career renaissance. Casey is 11 years older than McInerney, but they are now matched for team lead with nine goals each. Casey supplied both goals as his team downed D.C. United at PPL Park on Saturday.

Meanwhile, we suggest the league create a new award for the big fellow – or perhaps modify an existing one.

The Reo-Coker effect

Nigel Reo-Coker probably not getting sufficient credit for Vancouver’s push into playoff positioning (currently second in the standings). His drive from midfield (and sometimes from right back) has pushed Martin Rennie’s team out of the average zone and into something starting to resemble an MLS contender. The Englishman’s sum contributions don’t always show up in the box score, but did on Saturday when he collected two assists in a win over San Jose.

New Crew owner says “What a night.”

Anthony Precourt, having recently purchased the Columbus Crew from Hunt Sports Group, was in his new stadium for a win that kept his new team’s pulse beating in the playoff race. “We had a great crowd tonight, we loved seeing that,” he said. “The energy in the stadium was fantastic. We’ve got to have that every time, the players responded.”

Best goal

Would you just look at what that wily ol’ Federico Higuain did to poor Luis Robles, the New York Red Bulls goalkeeper who wandered just a wee bit too far off his line as the Crew playmaker led a fast-moving attack. What Crew manager Robert Warzycha said about the beauty: “If you score goals like the second one … that’s why we come to the stadium. That’s why we’re coaching, that’s why we’re playing: because you’re looking for goals like that.”

Here ‘tis:

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MLS Snapshots: Montreal, DC strengthen playoff bids; TFC draws Orlando (video)

Montreal Impact midfielder Ignacio Piatti, center, is congratulated by teammate Matteo Mancosu (21) following a goal against the San Jose Earthquakes during the first half of a soccer game, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016 in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)
Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP
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For most of Wednesday’s trio of Major League Soccer matches we had a paucity of goals, Montreal’s potent attack the only thing assuring it wasn’t zero.

[ MORE: Tata chooses Atlanta United ]

But the final half hours in two of our three matches proved fruitful for the box scores.

Montreal Impact 3-1 San Jose Earthquakes

With Didier Drogba resting, the Impact still managed to strengthen their playoff plans while crushing San Jose’s hopes for the second season. Dominic Odoro buried a rebound early before MVP hopeful Ignacio Piatti made it 2-0 before halftime. Piatti later helped Johan Venegas put the game away late.

Chris Wondolowski scored his 11th goal of the season to pull San Jose within a goal with just under a half-hour to play, his 120th in MLS has him 25 behind Landon Donovan of the LA Galaxy for the all-time record.

The loss leaves San Jose seven points shy of a playoff spot with four matches to play.

Toronto FC 0-0 Orlando City

There were chances, sure: Michael Bradley looped a gorgeous pass that Jonathan Osorio somehow hit over the net from inside the six, and Cyle Larin was denied by a diving Alex Bono at the other end.

Two yellow cards to Tosaint Rickets in a 14-minute span left TFC down a man for the final 20 minutes, but the Reds held on for a point at home. Orlando is now five points shy of the East’s final playoff spot, while Toronto used its game-in-hand to pull ahead of New York Red Bulls and New York City FC for the top spot in the East.

DC United 3-0 Columbus Crew

This one saw the chances evenly distributed but the ball mostly with the visitors. Fortunately for DC’s playoff hopes, Lloyd Sam’s third goal of the season opened up a 1-0 lead in the 71st minute off a slick feed from Luciano Acosta. Lamar Neagle had a classy finish to make it 2-0, then assisted Alvaro Saborio to end this game and Columbus’ playoff hopes.

Tata Martino on choosing Atlanta: Project “worth more than money”

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JUNE 26: Gerardo Martino of Argentina clls out against Chile during the Copa America Centenario Championship match at MetLife Stadium on June 26, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Chile defeated Argentina 4-2 in penalty kicks. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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Paraguay.

Newell’s Old Boys.

Barcelona.

Argentina.

Atlanta United.

That’s the career path for new Atlanta boss Tata Martino, announced Wednesday as the first manager in United history.

[ MORE: Why is Walcott on fire? | Wenger on MiB pod ]

It’s a fascinating hire for the club and its league, Major League Soccer, as United prepares to debut in 2017.

And it’s also interesting on account of the coach. The 53-year-old Argentine remains in his prime, a three-time Copa America runner-up who was organizing Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi and company just three years ago.

Timothy Pratt filed a report on the hiring for the New York Times on Wednesday, one that speaks to Martino’s excitement at helping start a club from the ground up. The coach is excited to aid technical director and USMNT legend Carlos Bocanegra in guiding players from youth on up, similar to what Oscar Pareja has done at FC Dallas.

From NYTimes.com:

Martino underlined the importance of youth player development at his new club “based on how I became a player at Newell’s.” The club is known for grooming players, including a young Lionel Messi, who played for Martino with Barcelona and Argentina. “Working with the youth teams is fundamental for me, no matter where in the world I’m coaching,” he said.

“But the proposal they’re offering me — to install my style of play and build from the ground up — is worth more than money,” he said.

That’s the kinda hire that should be high-fived. Let’s see how it plays out.

Europa League: Mourinho says targeted Man Utd must win; Saints shorthanded

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24:  Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United makes his way to the tunnel after the final whistle  during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Old Trafford on September 24, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Europa League goes into its second day of group play with the onus on the biggest club in the tournament to pick up a win.

Don’t believe us? Ask Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho.

“To be honest, I think we have to win,” Mourinho said at his pre-match press conference. “If we don’t win, I would say we’d have to win all the last four matches, which is difficult, so I think it is very important that we win this game.”

[ MORE: Wenger excited at Arsenal’s chances ]

United fell 1-0 at Feyenoord to open the group stage, and now hosts Ukrainian side Zorya Luhansk at 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday. He knows its the equivalent of a massive Cup match for the visitors.

“The Europa League is a competition Man United isn’t normally in, so when these teams have a giant like Man United in front of them, it’s a huge moment for them and they come to the game with incredible motivation.”

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will start for United, as there’s a chance that Anthony Martial will rejoin the side. Henrikh Mkhitaryan is out, and Wayne Rooney (back) and Luke Shaw (illness) may not play.

The other Premier League side in play is Southampton, as the Saints take a long flight to Israel for a 3:05 p.m. ET kickoff against Hapoel Be’er Sheva.

[ MORE: Why is Walcott on fire? | Wenger on MiB pod ]

Saints handled Sparta Prague at home, and now face the Camels, who went to Inter Milan and won. Southampton is without Charlie Austin, Jose Fonte, Ryan Bertrand, and Steven Davis.

Should be a very decent match from Turner Stadium in Be’er Sheva.

Elsewhere

all times ET

Mainz at Gabala — 11 a.m.
Young Boys at Astana — 11 a.m.
Osmanlispor at Zurich — 1 p.m.
Red Bull Salzburg at Schalke — 1 p.m.
PAOK at Liberec — 1 p.m.
Qarabag at Fiorentina — 1 p.m.
Villarreal at Steaua Bucuresti — 1 p.m.
Nice at Krasnodar — 1 p.m.
Standard Liege at Ajax — 1 p.m.
Braga at Shakhtar Donetsk — 1 p.m.
Panathinaikos at Celta Vigo — 1 p.m.
Inter Milan at Sparta Prague — 1 p.m.
Konyaspor at Gent — 1 p.m.
Sassuolo at Genk — 3:05 p.m.
Zorya at Manchester United — 3:05 p.m.
Anderlecht at Saint-Etienne — 3:05 p.m.
Apoel Nicosia at Olympiacos — 3:05 p.m.
Maccabi Tel-Aviv at Dundalk — 3:05 p.m.
Feyenoord at Fenerbahce — 3:05 p.m.
Rapid Wien at Athletic Bilbao — 3:05 p.m.
Viktoria Plzen at Austria Wien — 3:05 p.m.
AZ Alkmaar at Zenit Saint-Petersburg — 3:05 p.m.
Astra Giurgiu at AS Roma — 3:05 p.m.

Wenger after UCL win: This year’s Arsenal has “interesting potential”

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 28:  Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal looks on during the UEFA Champions League group A match between Arsenal FC and FC Basel 1893 at the Emirates Stadium on September 28, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is growing in confidence when it comes to his Gunners’ chances in England and Europe, and it’s not hard to see why.

Four days after Arsenal battered Chelsea 3-0 in Premier League action, the Gunners went out and handled FC Basel in the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Why is Walcott on fire? | Wenger on MiB pod ]

Theo Walcott scored both goals in the 2-0 win, and there could’ve been so many more. Arsenal was fast, deliberate, creative, and dangerous. The finishing was not ideal, but the promise was massive.

Perhaps more important, the Gunners posted a third-straight clean sheet and have allowed just four goals in eight matches since the 4-3 loss to Liverpool that opened the PL season.

And Wenger acknowledges that his side can do big things, provided it doesn’t get too full of itself after solid performances. From Arsenal.com:

“It looks like the team has interesting potential. We have to be ambitious and, as you know, keep our feet on the ground to continue to develop. We know exactly how we want to play football and we have to continue to stick to that and get better at it. That demands big focus and some leadership inside the squad. It also requires humility.”

Arsenal has a very winnable run in the Premier League, and could be right there with Manchester City by the end of October. And with a winnable UCL group, who knows what the Gunners could do with a decent knockout round draw?