Bradley, short-handed Toronto give Columbus loss number one (video)

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Major League Soccer’s final perfect side has fallen, with a hamstrung Toronto FC overcoming the absences of Jermain Defoe, Jonathan Osorio, and Steven Caldwell to take a somewhat surprising 2-0 result out of Columbus. Then again, with Michael Bradley in tow, perhaps the result shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The U.S. international, coming off a big night on Wednesday against Mexico, is starting to make the league his own, helping his team overcome its slew of absences to claim its third win of the season.

Granted, his team did take some its lumps last Saturday at Real Salt Lake, but quietly, Bradley was still very good at Rio Tinto. This week, against a second straight tough challenge, Bradley took matters into his own hands early, going five-hole in the 11th minute on Steve Clark for his first goal since returning to Major League Soccer.

From there forward, the match reportedly played out as you would expect a Crew-TFC game where the Reds claim an early goal. The Crew dominated possession but often saw a Bradley-led midfield create chances and get into transition. As the game went on and Toronto became more conservative, Columbus was able to push its guest toward its own goal, yet Júlio César was still relatively untested. Despite some late pressure, a punch on a Bernardo Añor direct kick may have been the Brazilian’s biggest test of the match.

Late, after Ryan Nelsen had brought on reinforcements, TFC sprung the counter that sealed the game. Set up by Álvaro Rey, Issey Nakajima-Farran scored his first Major League Soccer goal in the 85th minute, giving the Reds their 2-0 result.

Given how these teams matched up and who was missing for Toronto, the result is a bit of an eye-opener. Columbus should have been expected to use their numbers and skill in midfield to take a better, earlier control of play. But in the rare case early goals don’t change matches, great players do. On Saturday, Toronto had both.

They also had a steady performance from their understudies in central defense. With Caldwell and Doniel Henry both out, Bradley Orr and rookie Nick Hagglund started in the middle, levying Toronto with a potential weakness. But that weakness never materialized. Instead, one week after conceding three times in Utah, Toronto kept its second clean sheet of the year, going joint-top of the Eastern Conference in the process.

Henry, Aguero discuss playing up top under Pep

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One great striker got another one to open up on an up-and-down year at Manchester City.

Thierry Henry — one of the greatest of all-time, it must be said — sat down with Sergio Aguero ahead of Thursday’s Manchester Derby at the Etihad Stadium, and asked the Argentine about Pep Guardiola, Gabriel Jesus, and more.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

At times, it’s a fascinating discussion on playing lone striker. Even apart from the obligatory questions regarding Jesus’ arrival at City, Henry and Aguero speak their craft in a manner you don’t see too often.

That’s helped by the fact that Henry played for Guardiola at Barcelona, and can relate to the positional demands of Man City’s boss. Consider this exchange, from Sky Sports:

HENRY: When I was at Arsenal, I played up front and if I wanted to drift out to the left, I could. But when I got to Barca, I had to stay out wide and press. Sometimes doing that can be hard.

AGUERO: The thing I’ve found the hardest has been getting into my head the fact that I have to press the centre-back and the goalkeeper in matches. That’s what Pep asks me to do. It may not be a big deal, but in terms of processing it, the two of us speak a lot. He knows what I’m like.

I’ve been gradually learning and adapting to that style of pressing over the last few months. The first thing he taught me was how to press and how to do it well. Obviously there are times when I might drift out of position or I might press in an area where I’m not supposed to be, which might make it hard for the wingers or midfielders.

In the game itself, I may not realise because I’m so immersed and you can’t stop yourself. I’ve learnt a lot from him in terms of zones. He asks me to play as a No 9 and to stay in that position. I often drift out wide during matches and he looks at me and says, “If there’s a player out wide who wants to cross it in, who’s in there? Nobody.”

HENRY: I know all about that, believe you me.

I love this, because it shows how difficult it is for an elite striker to adapt his mentality. Both Henry and Aguero found world-celebrated success by playing in a certain fashion, and Guardiola understood that and still demanded a change. Earlier this season, the manager somewhat famously spoke of improving Aguero.

Aguero has been linked with Real Madrid given the tumult at City.

PHOTO: Liverpool unveils 125th anniversary kit for next season

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Liverpool rolled out its 125th anniversary kit, featuring a special crest to celebrate the occasion.

The Liver bird has 1892 on one side and 2017 on the other, with “125 YEARS” spelled out underneath the club’s emblem.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

The red shirt with a gold crest has a white V-neck and white at the ends of the sleeves. The goalkeeper kit is green.

The jersey will be available on May 19, and was announced last month.

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Jara’s goal lifts Pachuca to CONCACAF Champions League crown

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Hirving Lozano’s dipping shot rebounded into the path of Franco Jara, who scored the goal that won Pachuca its fifth CONCACAF Championship early Thursday morning.

The Argentine’s goal was the only one of the win over UANL Tigres, and gave Pachuca its first continental title since 2009-10. USMNT veteran Omar Gonzalez played for the winners, while Jose Torres started for Tigres.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

Major League Soccer teams were eliminated in the semifinals, with FC Dallas falling to Pachuca and Vancouver Whitecaps losing to Tigres.

Beginning with the 2017-18 tournament, qualified MLS and Liga MX teams will not enter the tournament until the Round of 16. The entire tournament will be held in the same calendar year.

USMNT: Brooks out with hip strain; World Cup qualifiers loom

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John Brooks is out of Hertha Berlin’s lineup “for the time being” after scans revealed a hip strain suffered in this weekend’s win over Wolfsburg.

That’s all Hertha has said, and that makes it hard to imagine whether American fans should be a little concerned or very concerned ahead of the USMNT’s World Cup qualifiers against Mexico, and Trinidad and Tobago in early June.

Brooks was unavailable for two weeks with an adductor strain in September, missing a month before returning to the starting lineup.

The U.S. center back pool isn’t teeming after Brooks and Geoff Cameron. Matt Besler, Tim Ream, Omar Gonzalez, and Walker Zimmerman were called up for the last World Cup qualifiers, and Gonzalez struggled but is a Bruce Arena favorite from their time in L.A.