The “Relegation Bowl” is set for kickoff: D.C. United vs. Toronto FC


This is “naughty me” at work, stirring up a stink among the set convinced that Major League Soccer will only be taken seriously once the concept of relegation-promotion is put to good and proper use.

Believe me, MLS has many laps to go before finishing this race – but relegation-promotion is not the rocket fuel that will propel things substantially faster.

It is simply unlikely to ever happen here; TV contracts being what they are, modern ownership being what it is, the domestic sports world simply may not allow it. At the very least, we are a decade-plus from anything that looks like relegation promotion.

But …

The match kicking off shortly at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., certainly is a case where relegation would pay off. Because if there was ever to be a “relegation six-pointer” in Major League Soccer, this bad boy would surely be it.

Toronto is 9th in the Eastern Conference standings; D.C. United is 10th. These are the only team in the East currently not relevant in playoff talk – a darn shame considering how tightly packed things are among the eight that are relevant.

As it is, there is no compelling reason for many folks beyond these two markets to care about what happens tonight at RFK, other perhaps than the subplot of United’s attack being led by two for Reds, Dwayne De Rosario and Luis Silva (pictured). Silva’s bright performance at RFK surely has Toronto fans wondering, “Uh, remind us why we let that guy go?”

There’s also Ryan Nelson, TFC’s coach, returning to the stadium where he made his MLS bones.

Otherwise, just hold out for better games tonight. Of course, that would be a little different if top-flight survival was on the line. See … me being naughty again. Consider yourself agitated.

FYI, the “Relegation Bowl” headline was inspired by my friends at Black and Red United and Waking the Red. (And apologies for getting the TFC blog’s name wrong last week.)

The lineups are here.

Zlatan confirms Manchester United departure

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic has confirmed myriad reports he’s leaving Manchester United with a perfectly-Zlatan Instagram message.

Ibrahimovic is expected to join the LA Galaxy next week.

[ MORE: MLS All Stars vs. Juventus ]

The words aren’t too important, but Ibrahimovic posted an old graphic of him in Greek god garb, arm-wrestling a devil. So he’s got that going for him, which is nice.

The living Swedish legend, 36, has been limited to seven appearances, one start, and one goal in returning from a season-ending knee injury, but finishes his Manchester United tenure with an impressive 29 goals and 10 assists in 53 games (deduct the seven and one for peak impressiveness).

Bale breaks Wales scoring record

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Gareth Bale has now unquestionably written his name into Wales history.

The 28-year-old Real Madrid scored a hat-trick for Wales in its 6-0 demolition of China, taking his overall tally to 29 goals, breaking Ian Rush’s record.

“It is right up there, maybe as the best,” Bale told reporters after the game. “I suppose when I was a little boy I never dreamed of being a record-breaker for Wales. It is a massive honor. I was not thinking about it, but now it has come it’s an incredible honor and one of the best things I’ve achieved in my career. On a personal note it’s great to break the record, but I could not have done it without my team-mates.”

Bale was unable to carry Wales to the 2018 World Cup, but he first became a National Team legend by helping take Wales to the Euro 2016 semifinals, scoring three goals along the way.

Here’s a look at Bale’s record-breaking goal.

Sporting KC giving away creative “Bike Opara” bobblehead

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In his ninth Major League Soccer season, Ike Opara has scored just a dozen regular season goals.

He’s known more for his physicality in the backline, for creating space for teammates on set pieces, or heading balls on to teammates with slightly more fleeter feet.

But in June 2017, it all came together for Opara in a magical moment, where he beat an offside trap from the LA Galaxy and scored an insane bicycle kick for Sporting Kansas City.

Now, to honor Opara’s ridiculous goal, Sporting KC has announced the first 10,000 fans through the gates at Children’s Mercy Park on March 31 will get a “Bike Ike” bobblehead, with him in flight kicking the ball towards goal over his shoulder.

You’ve gotta love the creativity and fun the Sporting KC marketing department is having. Hopefully, Opara can give the team another memorable goal in 2018.

Van Dijk named new Netherlands captain

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Virgil Van Dijk has had a pretty decent last three months since moving to Liverpool, and the towering defender earned a new personal achievement on Thursday.

Van Dijk was named the newest captain of the Netherlands National Team, where he’ll play under former manager Ronald Koeman. Van Dijk’s first game as captain will be against the nation where he currently plies his trade, England, on Friday.

“I am very happy with it, it is a great honor to be the captain of your country,” van Dijk said at a pre-match press conference Thursday. “Everyone knows that Koeman gave me the chance at Southampton, I am very grateful to him. This is very special.”

Van Dijk’s commanding presence in the Liverpool backline and previous stops at Southampton and Celtic make him an obvious choice for captain, taking the place of the now-retired Arjen Robben. At just 26-years old, van Dijk could carry the armband for a half dozen years if he keeps up his strong form.