10-in-2: New England puts up another five-spot, routs the Union

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Two weeks, 10 goals, and the inevitable conversation: Is the New England Revolution now the best team in Major League Soccer? Over the last two weeks, the Revs certainly have been, following up a 5-0 win over the Seattle Sounders with today’s 5-3 rout of Philadelphia. The question is: How sustainable are these results?

Let’s set that aside for now and talk about the contrast between this result and Wednesday’s, when Philadelphia was able to take a 2-1 win out of Sporting Park in Kansas City. Before that game, John Hackworth’s side was seen as one of the worst in the league, but after a road win over the defending champs, the potential we noticed in the season’s first weeks was again shining through. Maybe the Union weren’t as bad as we thought.

source: AP
Lee Nguyen (R), pictured with Patrick Mullins, was one of three New England players to register a goal and an assist against the Revolution (Diego Fegundez, Chris Tierney). (Photo: AP Photos.)

On Saturday, the defense gave us reason to think otherwise. An early goal was surrendered when Austin Berry overran A.J. Soares. Diego Fagundez doubled the lead in the middle of the half. A scorching hit from Vincent Nogueira pulled one goal back, but then the second half onslaught: Lee Nguyen getting the best of Raymon Gaddis and Berry; Chris Tierney’s fine but too easy direct kick; Patrick Mullins scoring in his third straight. Though the Union would add a second through Sheanon Williams late, this game felt almost as lopsided as the Seattle result. Sébastien Le Toux’s late penalty conversation was practically irrelevant.

Given we’ve seen a New England outburst two weeks in a row (against teams at the opposite ends of the MLS spectrum), focusing on what Philadelphia couldn’t do should probably wait until we figure out why Nee England has been so successful. Better yet, why are the Revs all of a sudden so successful? After a slow start to the season and a series of ground out results, how has this team been able to put up 10 goals in the last two games of this surprise four-match winning streak?

Though there’s been a shuffle at the back, the big changes seem to be in the middle and up top. Lee Nguyen, dangerous throughout the season, has gone from effective to imposing, potentially striking a more potent balance with Daigo Kobayashi then he did with Kelyn Rowe. Whereas there was a sense of Maverick and Iceman when the emerging UCLA talent was in midfield, Kobayashi may be a better Goose.

Up top, getting Teal Bunbury wide, Patrick Mullins in, and Saer Sene out has completely balanced the attack. Rather than starting a player who is only effective cutting into the middle, New England has somebody who seems capable of playing (or, willing to play) wide. Combining with better balance via Kobayashi and stronger striker play from Mullins, that means more space for Nguyen, more chances to play direct, and players who can better take advantage of opportunities in transition.

At least, that’s one theory. The extent to which it’s true may determine whether this run is sustainable. If there really is a method to this madness (and 10 goals in two weeks is sure madness), New England is a true contender. If this is just a strong streak that will fade this summer, it’s still gotten New England to the top of the East. With this attacking talent, Jay Heaps may come up with another trick before the season’s out.

Albanian federation denounces “extremist acts” of their fans in Italy

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s soccer federation has strongly denounced the incident that halted the World Cup Group G qualifier with Italy for nearly nine minutes on Friday.

During the match, which was won by Italy, 2-0, a group calling itself Illyrian Elite threw flares onto the pitch.

“Such totally extremist actions from the grouping Illyrian Elite have nothing to do with the excellent Albanian fans” who were distinguished in the EURO 2016 finals in France for their friendship and camaraderie in their festivities, the statement added.

The federation said an coach Gianni De Biasi also was “upset by the flares,” adding that during five years he has been in charge “I’ve seen something that’s never happened before.”

USMNT: 4 players, including Brooks, Lletget, released; Arriola added

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Hours after his side’s 6-0 thrashing of Honduras to resuscitate dreams of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, Bruce Arena announced on Saturday five changes to the U.S. national team roster ahead of Tuesday’s qualifier against Panama.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

John Brooks (sinus infection), Sebastian Lletget (foot), Jordan Morris (knee) and Michael Orozco (knee) were all released back to their club teams, while Club Tijuana midfielder Paul Arriola was added to the squad.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Brooks dealt with the sinus infection throughout USMNT camp this past week, as Morris did his knee injury which he picked up last weekend. Lletget left Friday’s win over Honduras in the 18th minute and will undergo further tests to determine the severity of his injury; he was seen leaving the stadium on crutches and wearing a walking boot.

The USMNT’s roster for Tuesday’s qualifier in Panama City, Panama, now stands at 23 players, and reads as follows:

Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Rapinoe won’t back down on social issues despite U.S. Soccer policy

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Megan Rapinoe recently earned her spot back in the U.S. Women’s National Team squad ahead of next month’s friendlies against Russia, but the veteran won’t remain silent when it comes to her stance on the social climate of America.

[ MORE: Looking back on USMNT’s big win over Honduras ]

The 31-year-old was scrutinized for joining NFL player Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when they knelt during their respective sporting events, along with dozens of other athletes across the United States.

While Rapinoe admits that the form of protest is up for discussion, she also states that social inequality issues in the U.S. go far beyond that.

“What has surprised me the most, especially post-election, is that people are still sort of arguing against it. It’s really obvious that we have very serious inequality in this country across many different spectrums,” Rapinoe told the Guardian. “Yes, we can talk about the form of protest, or the way it’s done, or this or that. But it’s still not really the conversation that I think we desperately need to have more of in this country.”

A few weeks back, U.S. Soccer announced that it now requires all players that represent the Stars and Stripes to stand when the national anthem is played, and Rapinoe has agreed to do such.

While her days of kneeling on the pitch are in the past, Rapinoe believes she wouldn’t do anything different because she was simply trying to spark discussion amongst the American people.

“I don’t think there’s any perfect way to protest. I think if there was something else being done, something else would have been said about it. I can’t look back and say that I would have done this different, this different or this different.

“I can sleep at night knowing that I genuinely tried to have a really important conversation, or at least tried to open it up. I think I came to it with an open mind, an open heart and tried to get as many people to talk about it as I could.”

Report: Chelsea planning Hazard, Courtois pay raises

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Eden Hazard has returned to his old self under Antonio Conte this season, and now Chelsea is hoping to lock down their star attacker.

[ MORE: Lukaku says decision has been made on Everton future ]

According to the Mirror, the Premier League leaders are planning on offering up a pay raise to Hazard, who has 11 league goals this season for the Blues.

Hazard signed a nearly $250,000 per week deal two seasons ago, but the Belgium international will likely rake in significantly more under the reported deal as Chelsea hopes to keep the 26-year-old away from Spanish giants Real Madrid and others.

The Mirror is also reporting that goalkeeper and Hazard’s Belgian teammate Thibaut Courtois is likely to be handed a raise is salary as well.

The shot-stopper is set be handed a deal roughly in the range of what Hazard is currently making after allowing just 21 goals in 28 PL matches this season.