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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Sky Blue’s Sam Kerr named NWSL league MVP for 2017

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CHICAGO (AP) Sky Blue FC forward Sam Kerr has been named the National Women’s Soccer League’s Most Valuable Player for this season.

Kerr, a standout on the Australian national team, had a league-record 17 goals and became the league’s fifth Golden Boot winner to also be named MVP.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

She became the first NWSL player to score four goals in a game on Aug. 19 against the Seattle Reign. Kerr rallied Sky Blue from a 3-goal deficit to beat the Reign 5-4.

Kerr’s award was announced Friday. The league had earlier announced the season’s other award winners: North Carolina’s Abby Dahlkemper was named Defender of the Year, teammate Ashley Hatch was named Rookie of the Year, Portland’s Adrianna Franch was named Goalkeeper of the Year and the Thorns’ Mark Parsons was named Coach of the Year.

The Mendy Effect: Pep praises injured back

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Full back Benjamin Mendy cost Pep Guardiola and Manchester City $68 million, but perhaps he’ll be just as valuable as a very expensive sports psychologist.

The “Shark Team” member was amusing on social media even before his ACL injury sent him to the sidelines until at least April, but he’s become a must-follow Twitter fixture with his in-game messages (See some of his work below).

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

City faces Burnley at 10 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

It’s fairly clear his act has translated in private, too, as apparently Mendy is just as good in group messages (Let us in, Pep. We won’t tell anyone). From ManCity.com:

“Usually, players who are out for a long time with injury are sad. They sometimes train apart and feel isolated.

“Mendy decided to be present. He is communicating on social media, WhatsApp and he calls his teammates and messages me. He is going to be so important outside the pitch because people like him make the atmosphere much better.”

It’s not surprising for anyone who’s been following the former Le Havre, Marseille and Monaco man.

Keep in mind, these Tweets below are from the last few days alone!

Ozil to Manchester United?!? Wenger reacts to gossip

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Sometimes, even the biggest Arsene Wenger detractors have to feel for the guy.

Coming off a thrilling late win in Serbia, one that saw Olivier Giroud cap off a team goal straight out of the creative Wenger playbook, the manager should’ve been discussing how to stretch those good vibes into this weekend’s visit to Goodison Park.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

Yet no. Instead of talking about how the Gunners would respect the struggling Toffees, Wenger had to address speculation from several outlets claiming Mesut Ozil would move to Manchester United, perhaps as soon as January.

Feeling it? No, no Wenger was not feeling it. From Arsenal.com:

“We have to deal with all kinds of speculation when the players are at the end of their contracts. On the other hand, to be professional is to give 100 per cent as long as you are somewhere. For the rest, we came out many times and said that’s the situation. It [the media] can come out tomorrow and say that he extends his contract here. It will be exactly the same, it will not change anything. When you play the next game, commit 100 per cent. … When a player plays for Arsenal Football Club, his commitment cannot be linked with the length of his contract, it has just to be linked with the responsibility and the ambition he has to win the football game.”
Of course most big clubs have to deal with such drama on a year-to-year basis and, yes, having Ozil and Alexis Sanchez still in town was completely avoidable. But the idea that Ozil could leave, for free, to Manchester United? We’re sure Gooners the world over will be thrilled with the gossip.

MLS Decision Day preview: Much at stake

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Four teams can claim a Western Conference second round berth, while four more can earn a valuable first-round bye in the East.

Yep, there’s plenty to play for beyond the West’s final playoff spot Sunday during Major League Soccer’s Decision Day, when every team will take the pitch for 4 p.m. ET kickoffs.

[ MORE: Conte feels pressure ]

Here’s what we do know regarding the playoffs:

  1. Supporters’ Shield winning Toronto FC gets a first round bye, while No. 6 seed New York Red Bulls are headed to the road for a first round playoff
  2. New England, Montreal, Philadelphia, Orlando, DC, Minnesota, Colorado, and LA will not make the playoffs
  3. Full stop.

So, yes, this will be fun.

First, let’s look at the Eastern Conference Standings ahead of Sunday’s extravaganza:

Eastern Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Toronto FC 33 20 8 5 72 35 37 13-3-1 7-5-4 68
x – New York City FC 33 16 8 9 54 41 13 10-4-2 6-4-7 56
x – Chicago 33 16 7 10 61 44 17 12-3-2 4-4-8 55
x – Atlanta 33 15 9 9 68 38 30 11-2-3 4-7-6 54
x – Columbus 33 16 5 12 51 47 4 12-2-3 4-3-9 53
x – New York 33 13 8 12 51 46 5 9-6-2 4-2-10 47

— New York City FC controls its bye destiny, though Columbus could join them on 56 points and would pass them on tiebreakers (wins).

— If that happens, Chicago could claim the second bye with a win or draw in Houston (The Fire owns the goal differential tiebreaker).

— If New York City and Chicago lose or draw, Atlanta could finish second with a home win over TFC.

— Columbus can finish second with a win and non-wins for Chicago and Atlanta.

Western Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
x – Vancouver 33 15 7 11 49 47 2 9-5-3 6-2-8 52
x – Portland 33 14 8 11 58 49 9 10-4-2 4-4-9 50
x – Seattle 33 13 11 9 49 39 10 10-5-1 3-6-8 50
x – Sporting KC 33 12 13 8 39 27 12 10-6-1 2-7-7 49
x – Houston 33 12 11 10 54 45 9 11-4-1 1-7-9 47
San Jose 33 12 7 14 36 58 -22 9-5-2 3-2-12 43
FC Dallas 33 10 13 10 43 47 -4 7-7-2 3-6-8 43
Real Salt Lake 33 12 6 15 47 54 -7 8-4-4 4-2-11 42

Byes

— Vancouver finishes first with a win or draw at Portland. The ‘Caps could finish as low as third with a loss to Portland and a Seattle win versus Colorado.

— Portland finishes first — and wins the Cascadia Cup — with a win over visiting Vancouver.

— Seattle can claim a first round bye with a win over visiting Colorado and a Vancouver win over Portland.

— Sporting KC can finish second with a win at Real Salt Lake and non-wins for Portland and Seattle.

Final playoff spot

— San Jose claims the sixth seed with a home win over Minnesota. They can also finish sixth with a draw joined by non-wins for FC Dallas at home to LA and Real Salt Lake at home versus SKC.

— FC Dallas claims the sixth seed with a win over LA and a San Jose draw or loss versus Minnesota. FCD gets sixth with a draw, and a San Jose loss coupled with a RSL loss or draw versus SKC.

—  Real Salt Lake gets sixth with a win over SKC, and non-wins from San Jose and Dallas. RSL could also get sixth with a draw and losses for San Jose and Dallas.

(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

Schedule
FC Dallas vs. LA Galaxy
DC United vs. New York Red Bulls
San Jose vs. Minnesota United
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting KC
Houston vs. Chicago
Seattle vs. Colorado
Philadelphia vs. Orlando City
Portland vs. Vancouver
Montreal vs. New England
New York City vs. Columbus
Atlanta vs. Toronto

Predictions

— NYCFC hangs on for a draw against Columbus, earning a bye, leaving Chicago to host New York Red Bulls and Atlanta off to Columbus for the first round of the playoffs (We have Toronto beating Atlanta on Sunday).

— Vancouver and Portland draw, while Seattle beats Colorado. The ‘Caps and Sounders get byes, while Seattle takes back the Cascadia Cup.

— San Jose beats Minnesota, gaining the West’s sixth seed. The Quakes head to Portland for the first round, while SKC hosts Houston.