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MLS schedule fails teams once again in playoff push

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With the Major League Soccer season drawing to a close, most teams would like to lean on their veterans and most experienced players to carry them into the postseason. That will be difficult next week, when World Cup qualifying kicks off again, and the MLS schedule continues despite it.

While most leagues in the world — at least the top leagues, a group that MLS considers itself to be part — take some time off, eight league games will be played between Oct. 9 and 16. The U.S. takes on Jamaica on Oct. 11 and Panama on Oct. 15.

Head coach Jürgen Klinsmann is prepared to call players in regardless of their club’s desires to keep them for important games.

“I see the MLS schedule, but it makes no difference to us,” Klinsmann told media before the U.S. Open Cup final on Tuesday. “This is World Cup qualifiers. We will call up who we need to.”

As he should.

The onus falls on the league to make sure its teams have their most important and most entertaining players for some of the biggest games of the year. The Cascadia Cup game between Seattle Sounders FC and the Portland Timbers, for example, will likely be far less compelling without the plethora of national team players on each side.

Seattle’s Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans are in the running for U.S. call-ups, and Portland’s Donovan Ricketts, Ryan Johnson and Alvas Powell could play for Jamaica in the upcoming CONCACAF matches.

In recent years, the debate over the MLS calendar has raged, particularly as the league has moved from a balanced to an unbalanced schedule. Instead of keeping the traditional format of every team playing every other team twice and taking FIFA dates off, the league introduced a strange system in which every team plays three games against conference opponents and one against non-conference foes.

The U.S. is a big country, but even nations such as Russia find a way to take those dates off an have every team play home and away against each opponent. Vancouver, B.C., to Washington, New England or New York is quite the trek, but it is not dissimilar to making the trip from Krasnodar to Tomsk in Russia.

If MLS wants to be in the top 10 leagues in the world, as is its stated goal, then accommodating international games and adapting a more traditional calendar will be vital.

FA Cup: Kane’s hat trick sees Spurs sail past Fulham, into QF

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 19:  Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur (R) celebrates with team mate Dele Alli as he scores their third goal and completes his hat trick during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur at Craven Cottage on February 19, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Tottenham Hotspur have done plenty to frustrate and confound their supporters in recent weeks — their Premier League title race has all but officially gone, and they’ve got some work to do in their Europa League round-of-32 tie — but Mauricio Pochettino‘s side is now just 270 minutes from lifting the club’s first major trophy since 2008.

[ MORE: FA Cup roundup — Premier League sides underwhelm in 5th round ]

A 3-0 victory away to Championship side Fulham on Sunday sends Tottenham through to the quarterfinals of the FA Cup, where they’ll join the likes of Lincoln City and Millwall — as well as PL leaders Chelsea, and possibly Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United.

Harry Kane bagged all three of Spurs goals — the first two of which were created courtesy of delightful wide service from Christian Eriksen — the first a simple tap-in from six yards out in the 16th minute; the second a slightly more difficult, waist-high redirect from inside 10 yards not long after halftime. The hat trick was complete on 73 minutes, when Kane raced in behind the Fulham defense and fired past Marcus Bettinelli at the near post.

[ MORE: Fifth-division Lincoln City shock PL side Burnley in FA Cup ]

Elsewhere in the FA Cup

Burnley 0-1 Lincoln City — RECAP | REACTION
Huddersfield Town 0-0 Manchester City
Middlesbrough 3-2 Oxford United
Millwall 1-0 Leicester City
Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-2 Chelsea

Sunday’s FA Cup schedule

Blackburn Rovers vs. Manchester United — 11:15 a.m. ET

Monday’s FA Cup schedule

Sutton United vs. Arsenal — 2:55 p.m. ET

VIDEO: David Villa given red card via MLS’s video replay

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David Villa was sent off following the use of video replay during New York City FC’s preseason game against the Houston Dynamo on Saturday.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Villa, the reigning league MVP, was initially shown a yellow card by referee Nima Saghafi for a slap to the face of Dynamo defender A.J. DeLaGarza (the incident begins at the 36:50 mark of the above video). Following a review of video evidence (Video Assistant Referee — VAR), which MLS has implemented on a trial basis this preseason, Saghafi correctly changed Villa’s booking to a straight red card.

The biggest stumbling block for video replay in soccer is, undoubtedly, the length of time each video-assisted decision would require to be made. From the moment Villa made contact with DeLaGarza’s face, to the time Saghafi re-enters the field of play and shows Villa his red card, 2 minutes and 33 seconds has passed. From the initial incident to the restart of play, 3 minutes and 43 seconds.

[ MORE: U.S. U-20s lose to 10-man Panama in opener of WCQ ]

That might not sound like a ton of time, but when you consider that’s time that will have to be added on in stoppage time, the typical three or four minutes quickly balloons to seven or eight minutes. The fact that a referee’s decision was corrected is a huge win, and proof that the use of video replay can and will help referee’s make game-altering decisions; the process by which that happens, though, still needs expedited.

Update: This post previously misidentified Villa as the first MLS player to be sent off via the use of VAR. Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Chara was shown a red card via the use of VAR earlier in the preseason.

Ranieri criticizes Leicester for lacking “desire and heart”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18:  Claudio Ranieri, Manager of Leicester City looks dejected during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Millwall and Leicester City at The Den on February 18, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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LONDON (AP) Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri criticized his players for lacking “desire and heart” in a 1-0 loss at third-tier Millwall in the FA Cup fifth round on Saturday, the latest setback for the stuttering English champion.

[ MORE: FA Cup roundup — Premier League sides underwhelm in 5th round ]

Leicester, which is one point above the relegation zone in a woeful defense of its Premier League title, is without a victory in its last eight matches.

Millwall played most of the second half with 10 men and won thanks to a 90th-minute goal.

“I want to speak again with the players and say we have to fight every match,” an animated Ranieri said. “Who wants to fight? Tell me. I need the soldiers, I need the gladiators.

[ MORE: Fifth-division Lincoln City shock PL side Burnley in FA Cup ]

“It is strange because last season we won for this, to be more determined than the opponent and play with more heart than the opponent. We could also lose but we would fight every match. I want to see this, the fight until the end.”

Leicester’s next match is against Sevilla in the first leg of the Champions League last 16 on Wednesday.

FOLLOW LIVE: Spurs, Man United away in FA Cup 5th round

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United celebrates after scoring his third and his sides third goal during the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 first leg match between Manchester United and AS Saint-Etienne at Old Trafford on February 16, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Saturday’s FA Cup fifth-rounders served up the biggest Cupset of them all — fifth-division side Lincoln City knocking off Burnley of the Premier League — as well as two moderately shocking results — Leicester City losing to 10-man Millwall (League One) and Manchester City drawing 0-0 with Huddersfield Town (Championship).

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Sunday’s FA Cup 5th-rounders ]

On Sunday, two more of the PL’s big boys hope to avoid upsets and reach the quarterfinals of the 2016-17 tournament. First up, Tottenham Hotspur visit Fulham’s Craven Cottage in a renewed London derby, followed by Manchester United’s trip to Blackburn Rovers’ Ewood Park. For live scores and updates, hit the above link, or click right here.

Saturday’s FA Cup results

Burnley 0-1 Lincoln City — RECAP | REACTION
Huddersfield 0-0 Manchester City
Millwall 1-0 Leicester City
Middlesbrough 3-0 Oxford United
Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-2 Chelsea

Sunday’s FA Cup schedule

Fulham vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 9 a.m. ET
Blackburn Rovers vs. Manchester United — 11:15 a.m. ET

Monday’s FA Cup schedule

Sutton United vs. Arsenal — 2:55 p.m. ET