The final nine rounds of play will tell all in this one, especially as one of my top three choices has just turned up injured and will miss one match, possibly a second.
1. Sporting Kansas City’s Matt Besler
Whereas some center backs will have nights of dominance mixed with nights of wobble, Besler (pictured) is as steady as the most loyal high school sweetheart. He never looks rattled back there, never seems to have a bad match. Plus, Besler’s confidence keeps growing, in MLS and in international waters.
Fellow KC center back Aurelien Collin adds a lesser stable element along the club’s back line, but so long as Besler is around, things always seem under control in the whole.
2. New England’s Jose Goncalves
Who knew that the Portuguese veteran would become one of the most important off-season additions around MLS? Goncalves is providing the stabilizer arm that Jay Heaps’ team lacked in the back last year. And don’t underestimate his influence on rookie Andrew Farrell, who is starting along the right.
New England’s defense is third in goals allowed, with 23 conceded in 24 matches.
3. New York Red Bulls Jamison Olave
Yes, Olave has suffered the odd rickety performance here and there. But on his game, no MLS center back is more dominant. The guy is so big that it’s easy to forget how fast he is. And all that speed helps cover for mistakes made by the Red Bulls outside backs – and there are several of those each match.
We’ll know more about how valuable the veteran Colombian is to New York this week, as Olave sits out injured. He may miss a second game with a quad tear picked up last weekend.
Brussels could potentially lose Euro 2020 slot over stadium doubts
Belgian FIFA Council member Michel D’Hooghe expressed his sincere doubts about a new stadium at the crux of the winning Brussels bid for Euro 2020.
According to D’Hooghe, there are serious political hangups with the construction, even if Anderlecht decides to fill the stadium after the tournament. Anderlecht currently plays at Constant Vanden Stock Stadium, which also hosted the 1972 Euro semifinal between Hungary and Soviet Union. The club pulled out of its initial agreement to fill the new stadium back in February due to the political disputes.
“If they want to build it they have to start building very soon, and there I have severe doubts,” D’Hooghe said to the Associated Press during an anti-doping summit in Switzerland. “Even if Anderlecht would say `We go there,’ there remains the political problem.”
“The organizers (in Brussels) still hope that there will be a solution. It is not impossible. The problem is you cannot start building today.”
Euro 2020 is set to be a one-time cross-contential tournament. UEFA selected Brussels back in 2014 as one of 13 host cities. Cardiff is one city that was not chosen, but could fill in, the AP points out, as they host the Champions League final this coming summer at Millennium Stadium, built in 1999 for the Rugby World Cup. A number of French cities were also rejected due to the country hosting in 2016.
The proposed Brussels stadium would hold 60,000 fans and be built in Grimbergen, just north of Brussels. The current stadium at that site, King Baudouin Stadium, can hold 50,000, but lacks the modern facilities for hosting a tournament, including broadcast facilities and suites.
The game in 100 words (or less): Toronto FC had too much firepower for defensively challenged Houston, and the hosts carved up the Dynamo for a 2-0 win north of the border. Giovinco was creative and flashy if not sharp, and Jozy Altidore was the benefactor as the American bagged both goals. After an early spell of Houston possession off the opening whistle, Toronto dominated from start to finish, with the midfield bossing the game.
Three moments that mattered
16′ – Raheem Edwards on the ball out wide, he burst into the box and – seeing Giovinco draw 2 defenders in an offside position – he cut back for Altidore who finished cooly from the spot. Too easy for the opener.
32′– Jozy doubled his lead as he played an absolutely brilliant one-two with Giovinco. The Italian popped it over the top as Altidore slipped through the line, and the USMNT star had the simplest of finishes.
Juventus is still in firm control of the Serie A title race, but they were dealt a slight setback as Atalanta secured a 2-2 draw with a dramatic 89th minute equalizer in Bergamo.
Dani Alves had given Juventus the lead in the 83rd minute on a header after a brilliant far-post cross by Miralem Pjanic, but Remo Freuler answered late as he grabbed a point.
The goal came on a fortunate bounce as Pjanic and substitute Stephen Lichtensteiner got tangled up on the ball and failed to clear, and the ball squirted to Freuler who suddenly found himself free in front of Gianluigi Buffon. The Juventus keeper came off his line to smother the chance, but he failed to completely collect, and the ball again popped free. Freuler followed up the loose ball, and with a trio of Juventus defenders flying in, the 25-year-old Swiss attacker knocked it in.
The draw was deserving for Atalanta, who had controlled the game for much of the first half, and went ahead just seconds before the break on a goal by Andrea Conti. Atalanta outshot Juventus 7-4 in the first half, 3-1 on shots on target. Juventus took over control in the second half, and got back on level terms just five minutes after the break as Juventus loanee Leonardo Spinazzola put one in his own net.
Alves’ goal put Juventus in front, but that lead only lasted six minutes. Juventus goes nine points clear at the top of the Serie A table with the draw, but Roma has the chance to cut that to six if they can beat Lazio at home on Sunday.
Week 8 in MLS action could teach fans a lot about clubs with plenty to prove.
With questions still abound regarding teams like NYCFC, New England, Seattle, Portland, and New York Red Bulls, all those teams have a chance to make statements regarding their potential strength this season.
In addition, struggling teams such as Los Angeles, Minnesota, and Montreal all have opportunities for much-needed points against arguably weaker opposition.
Let’s take a look at the weekend slate chronologically:
Toronto FC vs. Houston Dynamo 7:30 p.m. ET Friday
Toronto got a pair from Giovinco last time out, and sitting near the bottom of the crowded East mid-tier, they need points fast to avoid finding themselves in a hole behind the top of the table. There’s goals in this one, with Houston defensively challenged and Cubo Torres on fire to start the year.
Montreal Impact vs. Vancouver Whitecaps
3:00 p.m. ET Saturday
An all-Canadian clash actually serves as a vitally important match for both clubs. With each side near the bottom of their conference standings, they both need a result badly to jump-start the campaign. A draw does nobody any good here moving forward.
Orlando City vs. Colorado Rapids
4:00 p.m. ET Saturday
The Lions are one of 2017’s surprises, and Cyle Larin is on an absolute tear. Unfortunately, so far, anyone who shuts down Larin shuts down Orlando City. That said, good luck to Colorado shutting down an early MLS Golden Boot challenger.
NY Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire
7:30 p.m. ET Saturday
New York has seen bumps on the early-season road, but overall remains a strong Supporter’s Shield contender. They face a big test against another strong Eastern Conference side, and a win here would make it three straight, all over good competition. Chicago is reeling after its defeat to Toronto, out-shot 9-1, but has another chance to pick up a road win before heading back home.
Columbus Crew vs. NYCFC
7:30 p.m. ET Saturday
Columbus has been poor on the road, but they return home to Mapfre Stadium to take on a strong NYCFC side. This game could potentially teach us a lot about whoever comes out on top, as both look to build separation from the rest of the pack in the East. Both have lost two of three, but both still appear strong up front, and three points in this game could prove to be a marquee win to point to later in the season.
Minnesota United vs. San Jose Earthquakes
8:00 p.m. ET Saturday
Minnesota United, owners of one of the worst starts to the season, has shown signs of life. Can they keep it going against another team struggling for points?
FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers
8:00 p.m. ET Saturday
This is a marquee matchup, and with FC Dallas unbeaten so far, represents a huge test but also a huge opportunity for Portland to announce itself as a true top contender in the West. They’re top of the table, but have played at least one more game than most teams just below them. Can the Timbers find a way through the strong Dallas D?
Sporting KC vs. Real Salt Lake
8:30 p.m. ET Saturday
A big rivalry game with big table implications, Sporting KC has the unfortunate luck of catching RSL after hiring Mike Petke and not before. This should be a fun one.
Seattle Sounders vs. New England Revolution
10:00 p.m. ET Saturday
We still don’t know exactly what New England is. For every step forward they’ve taken one back, and for every setback they’ve had they’ve found a way through. This is a fantastic test. There are plenty of excuses for a potential loss with the team going cross-country to face one of the league’s best attacks, but a result could be a true statement.
LA Galaxy vs. Philadelphia Union
10:30 p.m. ET Saturday
With Philadelphia struggling and now traveling a long way, this should be a chance for the Galaxy to turn things around. Should be.
Atlanta United vs. D.C. United
3:00 p.m. ET Sunday
Atlanta is back home for the first time in over a month. They have slipped a bit since the torrid start, but still appear a dangerous club. D.C. will have its work cut out.