Perry Kitchen; Michael Bradley

Toronto FC 1-0 DC United: Jermain Defoe strikes again in home-opening win

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Jermain Defoe’s third goal in two MLS matches broke a scoreless deadlock and brought the BMO Field crowd to life as Toronto FC improved to 2-0 on the season with a 1-0 win over DC United.

The match was played on a sloppy pitch not quite ready for the season, and the play largely matched the surface. Defoe was one of several players to impress in creation but not finish before his goal, which came in combination with fellow TFC DPs Gilberto and Michael Bradley.

Bradley found his form in the final half-hour, perhaps further-awakened by having to play with a bandage on the back of his head after a tete-a-tete with Davy Arnaud that sent the latter player to the bench for a substitution.

The game’s beginning was met by much applause from an enthusiastic sell-out crowd of 22,591. DC United won a corner kick as the clock struck 1:00 after both teams took turns with a rough pitch, even for this part in the season. The short corner led to nothing and Defoe met an MLS-style rough foul as he attempted to break up the right side with the ball.

TFC then controlled the flow, finding danger through Alvaro Rey. A neat move by Doneil Henry sprung a chance inside the 18, but Defoe’s header failed wide (due in large part to the outside-shoulder rub he was receiving in the box).

Unfortunately, the field was the story for much of the early goings-on. Fabian Espindola’s long free kick even met trouble with footing, as he flashed the high drive into Cesar’s hands. Another chance was muddled, this time for TFC, when a bit of individual magic from Rey ended up slogging between Bradley’s feet before Gilberto shot wild from outside the 18.

Bit of humor in the 18th minute, as a Bradley’s path with the ball went through head referee Silviu Petrescu and Bradley chose to plow through the man in yellow, knocking him into the slop. The collision allowed a defender to catch up to and foul Bradley, but the free kick went to DCU keeper Bill Hamid.

Defoe looked set to find goal No. 3 on the season 20 minutes in, but his right-footed shot was blocked by Hamid before Bradley put the rebound wide. Henry darted forward to feed Defoe three minutes later, but Hamid was able to thwart the Englishman.

As the half passed 30 minutes, DC United began to find possession and offense, with Espindola and Nick DeLeon carrying the threat.

TFC found a great chance in the 35th minute, but Rey’s open, curling effort from the right of Hamid sailed wide and over.

Defoe didn’t find much more luck in the 42nd minute as his left-footed flick from just outside the six beat Hamid but not the goal post. Defoe followed the ball to the post but couldn’t stop it from going out for a goal kick.

Halftime had the eggs on the scoreboard, but the chances were firmly in Toronto’s favor. It made it all the more maddening for the home crowd, who could’ve easily been up a pair of goals were it not for missed chances and Hamid.

And Defoe nearly broke the deadlock (again) in the 48th minute when he found a loose ball in the box but his low shot bounded wide.

Bradley really struggled with his restarts, which were scattershot and, at times, head-scratching, until Defoe’s relentless effort led to a free kick in the 57th minute. This time, Bradley’s laser forced Hamid to punch clear, but the rebound found no Reds in the area.

That was the appetizer, as Bradley found a piece of brilliant passing in the 60th minute, looping the ball into the box where Gilberto fought for the ball, which was cleared into the path of Defoe. He found his third of the year with a no-doubted from just left of the spot and it was 1-0 Toronto FC.

Gilberto came off moments later for TFC hero Dwayne De Rosario.

The heads of Bradley and Davy Arnaud when the TFC midfielder missed the ball and found Arnaud’s face, delaying the match in the 65th minute.

Defoe turned playmaker with a tidy little-look turn for De Rosario in the 76th minute, who fought some rough bounces before forcing Hamid to push the ball out for a corner. It was cleared by DeLeon.

A young pitch invader nearly invalidated a late Defoe breakaway (put over the bar anyway).

Match ball: Captain Steven Caldwell was quite steady in the back for the home side.

Match fall: Eddie Johnson was mostly invisible, but that comes chicken-and-egg with very little effective service from his DC United midfield.

Keep it here for reaction from the locker rooms after the match.

LINEUPS

Toronto FC: Cesar; Caldwell (c), Henry, Morrow, Bloom; Bradley, Osorio, Goncalves, Rey (Orr, 83′); Gilberto (De Rosario, 63′), Defoe

Goals: Defoe (60)

DC United: Hamid; Parke, Fernandez (Doyle, 83′), Franklin, Boswell (c); Arnaud (Porter, 66′), DeLeon, Silva, Kitchen; Johnson, Espindola

AFCON wrap: Tunisia joins Senegal in knockout rounds (video)

Tunisia's Wahbi Khazri smiles during a press conference in Libreville, Gabon, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, ahead of their African Cup of Nations Group B soccer match against Zimbabwe. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
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Half of the field is set for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations knockout rounds, as Group B completed his final day of group play on Monday in Gabon.

[ FIFA: World Cup draw date at Kremlin ]

Senegal will move onto play Cameroon on Saturday, while Tunisia will take on Burkina Faso.

Senegal 2-2 Algeria

Leicester City’s Islam Slimani scored twice, but it wasn’t enough to get Algeria into the knockout rounds of AFCON.

Papakouly Diop and Moussa Sow answered Slimani’s goals, and Senegal enforced its hold on the group it had already clinched after two matches.

Algeria needed a win and help, and looked to get it when Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani carried over their chemistry from the Foxes of England to the Fennecs of Algeria.

Zimbabwe 2-4 Tunisia

Sunderland’s Wahbi Khazri scored of the fourth of Tunisia’s first half goals as the Eagles of Carthage emphatically clinched their knockout round spot. Tunisia lost in the quarterfinals in 2015.

Lille’s Naïm Sliti was also among the goal scorers for Tunisia, with Youssef Msakni (Lekhwiya) and Taha Yassine Khenissi (Esperance de Tunis) also netting markers.

Tendai Ndoro (Orlando Pirates) and Knowledge Musona (Oostende) scored for Zimbabwe.

Three USMNT players leave camp, two with injuries

Kekuta Manneh chases the ball during practice of the U.S. men's national soccer team Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, in Carson, Calif. Manneh has become a U.S. citizen, moving the Vancouver Whitecaps forward closer to eligibility for the men's national team. U.S. Soccer announced Manneh received his citizenship Wednesday, after the opening practice of January training camp under new coach Bruce Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
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Less than a week from Bruce Arena’s second debut as USMNT boss, we know three players who won’t be in the Starting XI.

Injuries have felled FC Dallas duo Kellyn Acosta and Matt Hedges, while Vancouver attacker Kekuta Manneh is leaving the squad to join his ‘Caps teammates for preseason in Wales.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League Playback ]

Acosta has a mild left ankle sprain and Hedges has a mild right knee sprain.

While Manneh may have been a long shot to see significant playing time on Sunday against Serbia or Feb. 4 versus Jamaica, Hedges had a chance to start at center back and Acosta has been capped before as well.

FIFA going to Kremlin for World Cup draw in December

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 25:  Vladimir Putin, President of Russia speaks as FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter looks on during the Preliminary Draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at The Konstantin Palace on July 25, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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ZURICH (AP) FIFA says it will stage the 2018 World Cup draw on Dec. 1 at a Kremlin concert hall in Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been allowing FIFA to use high-profile venues for World Cup ceremonies.

In July 2015, the qualifying program draw was made on the grounds of one of Putin’s official residences, Konstantin Palace near St. Petersburg. The summer was home built at the direction of Peter the Great.

The World Cup in Russia kicks off on June 14 at Luzhniki Stadium in the Russian capital, and returns there for the final on July 15.

Jurgen Klopp discusses Liverpool’s title chances

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool reacts during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Swansea City at Anfield on January 21, 2017 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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It was a disappointing weekend for Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp.

[ MORE: New odds for title contenders ]

The German coach watched on as his side lost 3-2 to Swansea City on Saturday in the Premier League and the Reds fell 10 points behind leaders Chelsea with 16 games to go.

Klopp’s men have only won once in six outings in all competitions in January, and ahead of their EFL Cup semifinal second leg against Southampton at Anfield (they trail 1-0 from the first leg) he was asked if they still have hope of overhauling Chelsea and winning the Premier League.

Speaking to the media, Klopp revealed that his team are good enough to at least be in the top four battle.

“We fight in each game, that’s maybe the most important thing. Then we have to see what happens around,” Klopp said. “Of course, in cup competitions the target is to win the competition. In the Premier League, it’s probably the same but it’s not that easy to plan or whatever. In this case, if Chelsea win all their games – which they pretty much do – there is no chance for any other team. For us, it’s still absolutely important to finish the season as well as possible – whatever that means. We’ll see after the season.

“You can imagine we have the quality to fight for the Champions League, that’s what we should do. If we do this and we are then close enough in the decisive moment of the season, you can still fight for a little bit more. But in this moment, it’s nothing we have to think about or we should think about. We now have two games and then we play Chelsea, so that’s when I’ll think about Chelsea but not how we can get them or whatever. We fight for everything we are able to, that’s all.”

He’s right. Liverpool finishing in the top four this season would be a great achievement at this stage of his project.

Perhaps more worrying for Klopp is that his side may now capitulate and finish outside of the top four for a second-straight season.

There’s no doubting that Liverpool have exceeded the expectations of most people so far in 2016-17 but Klopp’s men faded badly last season to finish in eighth place and with no wins in their last three games in the Premier League the pressure is on.

Without leading scorer Sadio Mane, who is away at the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal, they’ve struggled to break opponents down and their defensive issues came to the fore against Swansea with sloppy mistakes costing them dear.

No team in the top seven has conceded more than Liverpool and with the Reds in fourth place and just four points ahead of sixth-place Manchester United and two points ahead of Manchester City who sit in fifth, all of a sudden they are looking over their shoulders instead of up at Chelsea.

Liverpool has lost momentum.

Boy do they need a big win in the EFL Cup against Southampton on Wednesday to regain some confidence and take that into their next PL clash, which just so happens to be against Chelsea at Anfield on Jan. 31.

Whatever he says publicly, Klopp must know that Liverpool cannot afford to lose to Chelsea. If they do and fall 13 points behind the Blues, the Kop can kiss goodbye to their title hopes for another season.