Knee injury to sideline Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva for two months

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Sunday’s visit from Aston Villa provided another hint at how important Lucas Leiva is to Liverpool, with the Reds struggling to control the middle of the park with only Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson in midfield. Unfortunately, having suffered a knee injury after coming off the bench, Leiva’s now set to be sidelined until March, the 27-year-old having damaged his right MCL.

According to various reports (this one from The Independent), Lucas is scheduled to miss six to eight weeks, an absence that would leave the Brazilian sidelined until March 18, at the latest. During that time, Liverpool’s most notable games will be against Everton (Jan. 28), Arsenal (Feb. 8), and at Manchester United (Mar. 15). Should he take the full eight weeks to recover, Leiva will miss eight league games, with Liverpool also still alive in the FA Cup.

Given Liverpool’s lack of options in defensive midfield, Leiva’s absence could be a major blow to the team’s Champions League hopes, particularly in the face of a Merseyside Derby next week. Already hard-pressed to protect an injury-stricken and exploitable defense, the fourth place Reds will have to find another player to protect Martin Skrtel and Kolo Touré, with Leiva the only player who has regularly been used in the defensive midfielder’s role. With Everton averaging 55 percent possession (sixth in the Premier League), Liverpool’s midfielders will be challenged to get the ball away from their rivals.

Against Aston Villa, captain Steven Gerrard averaged a slightly deeper position than Jordan Henderson, position that led contributed to a two-goal deficit after 36 minutes. The team soon changed their approach, bringing on Leiva for Philippe Coutinho at halftime. In the 66th minute, after Leiva suffered his injury, Joe Allen was brought on.

Without a true holder, Liverpool may be forced to stick with that three-man midfield over the next two months, the extra man in the middle helping to offset the absence Leiva’s defensive. Though neither Allen nor Henderson are traditional holders, they may be able to do enough work around Gerrard to mitigate their captain’s short comings, allowing the England international to settle into the distributor’s role some have speculated as his future.

More than anything, Liverpool may not have a lot of options. Any two-man midfield selected from Allen, Gerrard, and Henderson is going to be outplayed by three-man units or pairs from better teams. Given Brendan Rodgers’ stylistic preferences and the deficiencies Liverpool has along the back, that’s not something that can happen if the Reds expect to win games. Perhaps the Reds can go out and get another midfielder over the next 10 days, but with Leiva coming back in March, it’s difficult to justify a major expenditure.

Regardless, Liverpool needs to win the midfield battle to play the style Rodgers wants. Without Leiva, they’ll have to think of a new way to do so.

MLS Snapshot: Chicago Fire 1-3 Toronto FC (video)

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The game in 100 words (or less): Greg Vanney and Toronto keep on doing their thing, and the Canadian side is yet another step closer to achieving MLS glory. TFC picked up its 50th point of the season on Saturday night after comfortably handling the Chicago Fire, who have cooled off significantly as of late in the Eastern Conference. The Fire are now nine points behind the East leaders and are losers of four of their last five matches.

Three moments that mattered

54′ — Accam, Fire level it up — Toronto really does manage to get contributions from everybody…

64′ — Hasler nets first MLS goal — Toronto really does manage to get contributions from all of their players…

90′ — Giovinco says goodnight to Chicago — That’s 12 goals on the season for Sebastian Giovinco and the TFC striker continues to help his side push towards the top seed in the East and MLS.

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Man of the match: Sebastian Giovinco

Goalscorers: Marco Delgado (14′), David Accam (54′), Nick Hasler (63′), Sebastian Giovinco (90′)

Video: Watts gifts D.C. United own goal for the ages

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Not many things have gone right for either side involved in 2017, but D.C. United was the recipient of a gift early on against the Colorado Rapids on Saturday night.

[ MORE: Piatti brace lifts Impact to fourth win in a row; Orlando, Crew draw ]

In the 27th minute, Rapids center back Jared Watts received the ball at the back, before making a routine back pass to USMNT goalkeeper Tim Howard

Or at least, it should have been a routine back pass.

Instead, Watts’ pass was well off target and too strong for Howard to reach and landed in the back of the Rapids goal. 1-0 in favor of D.C.

Reminder: Both these teams sit at the bottom of their respective conferences on points.

MLS Snapshot: Piatti brace lifts Impact | Crew, Orlando City draw

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP
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The game in 100 words (or less): The Montreal Impact have proven to be a second-half of the season team the last several years, and that form appears to be holding true once more. Mauro Biello’s side won its fourth straight match on Saturday, while Ignacio Piatti continues to show he’s one of the most deadly scorers in the league. Meanwhile, RSL’s six-match unbeaten run is snapped north of the border, leaving the Western Conference side three points out of sixth place.

Three four moments that mattered

11′ — Piatti nets his first of the night — The Impact made this attack look so easy, and Ignacio Piatti simply won’t miss a chance like this one.

26′ — Evan Bush left motionless as RSL equalize — Luis Silva took matters into his own hands, and boy did he connect with this effort!

29′ — Impact punish poor RSL defense — Guess who? Piatti has his second of the evening.

47′ — Hosts begin to pile it on — Anthony Jackson-Hamel played provider in the first two goals, so it’s only fair he got one of his own.

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Man of the match: Ignacio Piatti

Goalscorers: Ignacio Piatti (11′, 29′), Luis Silva (26′), Anthony Jackson-Hamel (47′)


The game in 100 words (or less): Orlando City and the Crew settled for a point apiece on Saturday night, but for the former the club is running out of opportunities to pick up points in the playoff race. Giles Barnes pulled a goal back for the hosts after Lalas Abubakar netted his first MLS goal for the Crew, but Orlando couldn’t find a second. The Lions played up a man for the final 13 minutes, following Harrison Afful’s dismissal.

Three moments that mattered

35′ — Abubakar knocks in first MLS goal — Orlando City’s defensive woes are certainly notable as well, but for Lalas Abubakar this is a quality way to open his scoring account in MLS.

67′ — Barnes knots it up at 1-1 — The veteran MLS forward picked up his second goal of the season.

77′ — VAR used for red card decision — The video monitor came into play briefly in the second half, and Harrison Afful was sent off the pitch early after the referee viewed the defender’s elbow to the head of Yoshi Yotun.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Zack Steffen

Goalscorers: Lalas Abubakar (35′), Giles Barnes (67′)

Atlanta United fans pack 20,000 into new stadium for training session

AP Photo/John Raoux
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Atlanta United is currently in the midst of a three-match road trip in MLS play, but that didn’t stop the club from unveiling its new home venue to a massive crowd of supporters on Saturday.

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Over 20,000 fans of the Eastern Conference expansion side filed into Mercedes-Benz Stadium to watch Gerardo Martino’s side train on Saturday as Atlanta prepares to finish out its road trip against D.C. United and the Philadelphia Union.

Atlanta will open up home play at their new stadium on September 10 when they host FC Dallas. The club will have the benefit of playing eight of its final 10 regular season matches in front of its Georgia fan base.

The first-year MLS side will share the stadium with the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL.

Here are some sights from the training session