Toronto FC's Jermain Defoe scores from the penalty spot against San Jose Earthquakes during first half MLS action in Toronto on Saturday June 7, 2014. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young)

MLS Snapshot: Toronto FC 1-0 San Jose Earthquakes

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One game, 100 words or less: Without Chris Wondolowski in the team, San Jose couldn’t afford to give up an opening goal to a TFC that relishes the opportunity to revert to it shell. While that’s not exactly what happened in the wake of Jermain Defoe’s opening goal, the Earthquakes were still made to pay for Alan Gordon’s early foul, one that struck Nick Hagglund and drew the attention of Fatis Bazakos. Defoe’s 26th minute conversation into the left of goal was all TFC needed to win its third in four.

Three moments that mattered:

1. 23′ – Are we sure he isn’t a right back? – In his first season out of Xavier, Hagglund has impressed in the middle when called up to replace Steven Caldwell or Doneil Henry. He’s made casual fans forget Toronto has Gale Agbossoumonde. On Saturday, however, the 21-year-old was called on to play right back. Twenty-three minutes in, he almost came good with his first Major League Soccer goal, trapping a ball swung to his side before volleying a 17-yard shot toward Jon Busch. The San Jose keeper kept the ball out, but very early on, Hagglung showed he wasn’t miscast in his new role.

2. 26′ – Gordon gives Toronto its shot – TFC’s corner from the left would have been innocuous enough had Gordon kept Hagglund on his back. Or not flailed his right arm toward the rookie’s face. Or just stood there and did nothing while the ball floated over this head. Instead, the forward’s arm gave Bazakos no reasonable choice. Ultimately, it cost his team the game.

source: AP
Toronto FC’s Jermain Defoe scores from the penalty spot against San Jose Earthquakes during first half in Toronto. (Source: AP)

3. 66′ – Did Goodson get lucky? – In the 66th minute, a long ball seemingly headed over the San Jose defense was batted down by the recovering Clarence Goodson, who received a yellow card for his troubles. The question is, with nobody but the goalkeeper behind him, whether the San Jose center back prevented an obvious goal scoring opportunity. Ryan Nelsen argued the point to the fourth official, but the counter point: The foul seemed to play into the “last man” fallacy rather than reflect an actual chance. To the extent it was an opportunity, it wasn’t an obvious one.

Three lessons going forward:

1. Toronto can get points without Bradley – This lesson didn’t start tonight. It started when Michael Bradley left for U.S. men’s national team camp. Since his departure, Toronto has 10 points in four games. The team had nine point in its previous seven.

2. The Reds may not need Gilberto – TFC fans are split. Some espouse the Brazilian Designated Players’ all-around virtues. Others focus on that goals column: 0. Today the 25-year-old injured his left thigh in warm ups and had to be pulled from the starting lineup. To the extent that TFC’s attack has beats, it didn’t miss one.

3. Sam Cronin still doesn’t fit in San Jose’s midfield – It’s sad to say this about a player who’s been so influential int eh past, but Sam Cronin just doesn’t fit with this year’s team. The hypothesis was played out after Khari Stephenson and Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi became the team’s regular starters, and it was verified when Cronin looked redundant to the Frenchman for much of Saturday’s game. The sooner Stephenson returns to health, the better for Mark Watson.

Where that leaves them

  • Toronto: 6-4-1, fourth the the East, unbeaten in four
  • San Jose: 4-5-4, two points our of fifth in the West, 3-2-0 in its last five

Dempsey returns to training after second heart procedure

SAN JOSE, CA - JULY 28:  Clint Dempsey #2 of MLS All-Stars chases after the ball up field against the Arsenal FC during the second half of the AT&T MLS All-Star Game at Avaya Stadium on July 28, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
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Many were concerned about USMNT and Seattle Sounders attacker Clint Dempsey‘s future when he underwent a pair of heart procedures in 2016.

The 33-year-old Dempsey took another step to allay those fears when he hit the pitch for Seattle’s first day of preseason camp.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

The Sounders won the 2016 MLS Cup despite the absence of Dempsey, and his return would further strengthen the side. General manager Garth Lagerwey said Dempsey won’t be rushed, but could be nearing a return.

EFL Cup second legs preview: Liverpool, Hull City aim for comebacks

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 11:  Divock Origi of Liverpool battles with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (L) and Ryan Bertrand of Southampton during the EFL Cup semi-final first leg match between Southampton and Liverpool at St Mary's Stadium on January 11, 2017 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images
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Manchester United and Southampton are 90 minutes from Wembley Stadium.

Hull City and Liverpool would prefer to change that.

After first legs a fortnight ago, the EFL Cup semifinals play out on Wednesday and Thursday ahead of Feb. 26’s final at Wembley.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

First up is Southampton‘s trip to Liverpool, with the Saints nursing a 1-0 lead from the first leg at St. Mary’s. The Wednesday kickoff sees Saints hoping the Reds’ poor run of form will continue at Anfield. Liverpool has one win 2017, and that was an FA Cup replay victory over Plymouth Argyle.

Southampton boss Claude Puel knows the Reds will be ornery:

“We know Liverpool. They lost against Swansea at home, and I am sure they will want to react against us, but it’s important to keep all of our focus about our play.

“We know they are fantastic, a great team, with great players, but you saw in the first leg we have the ability to produce a strong game against them. It will be important to make a strong game – a perfect game – I think.”

Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United got a terrific result in the first leg at Old Trafford, scoring twice and holding Hull City from scooping up a valuable road goal. Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini scored the goals in the 2-0 win, but the KC Stadium will be rocking on Thursday as the Tigers look to reverse the result.

United midfielder Michael Carrick says the Red Devils will play as if they are starting from scratch:

“It’s definitely not over, we all know that. We are telling ourselves that. I think we’ll be pretty much full strength and will approach the game like it’s a 0-0 and starting from scratch.

“It’s dangerous when you go in there defending a lead to tell yourself this result will do or that result will do, or we can afford to do this or that.”

Report: China tempting TFC’s Giovinco with big offer

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco celebrates his goal against the Philadelphia Union during the first half of an MLS soccer playoff match in Toronto, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Could Sebastian Giovinco’s chances of another MVP award be diminishing?

It wouldn’t be on account of a lack of production, rather massive money coming his way from the Chinese Soccer League.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

Great, and right when we were daydreaming about how Toronto FC’s Italian attacker could run a revenge tour on the folks who somehow left him out of the MVP finalists last year.

Giovinco turns 30 on Thursday.

From The Toronto Sun’s Kurtis Larsson:

“The Chinese club seems to be very interested, but I don’t think it’ll be easy to take him away from Toronto,” Giovinco’s agent, Andrea D’Amico, told the broadcaster.

“We received an important offer from China and we’ll talk to Toronto to decide, along with Sebastian, what to do.”

Giovinco is with Toronto FC for preseason training camp, and both the club and player have shown no interest in moving on from the diminutive winger and 2015 MVP.

But if China comes calling with crazy money, say a $25-30 million transfer fee, shouldn’t TFC think twice? Any figure above $25 million would be more than the sum of the three biggest incoming transfer fees in MLS history (Miguel Almiron, Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe).

AFCON wrap: Ivory Coast bounced, DR Congo wins Group C

Congo's soccer players celebrate after scoring a goal against Togo during the African Cup of Nations Group C soccer match between Congo and Togo at the Stade de Port-Gentil, Gabon, Tuesday Jan. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
AP Photo/Sunday Alamba
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Down went another knockout round mainstay from the Africa Cup of Nations, as the Ivory Coast failed to capture one of the top two spots in Group C.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Morocco 1-0 Ivory Coast

Needing a win to move on, the Ivory Coast fell in its final group match. Rachid Alioui scored a 64th minute goal that meant the Ivory Coast needed two to advance to the quarterfinals. The goals didn’t come, and Morocco will face the Group D winner next.

Togo 1-3 DR Congo

Junior Kabananga, Paul-Jose M’Poku, and Ndombe Mubele scored as the Leopards finished the group stage with an unbeaten record of 2-1. DR Congo will face the runner-up of Group D in the quarterfinals.

Wednesday’s matches

Ghana is through with six points, while Uganda is out. Egypt will go through with a result against Ghana, while Mali needs a win and an Egypt loss to get to tiebreakers.

Egypt vs. Ghana — 2 p.m. ET
Uganda vs. Mali — 2 p.m. ET