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MLS Snapshot: Toronto FC 2-2 Chicago Fire

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G4-Wo8lWngc]

One game, 100 words (or less): A strong start for Toronto quickly faded into a game of few chances, one that allowed the visiting Fire to stay close to their favored hosts. With second half equalizers from former Reds Robert Earnshaw and Quincy Amarikwa, Chicago was able to move on from last week’s disastrous results, scavenging a well-earned point on the road with its 2-2 draw.

Goals

Toronto FC: Bakary Soumaré (o.g. 3′), Gilberto (79′)
Chicago: Robert Earnshaw (70′), Quincy Amarikwa (90′)

Three moments that mattered

3′ – Wrong way, Bakary – Toronto came out crisp, its quick passing matching the precise movement that left Chicago chasing the game. In the third minute, that passing put Justin Morrow behind the defense on the left flank, where a cross toward the edge of the six was misplayed by Bakary Soumaré. After two minute, Chicago looked destined for another disappointing result.

70′ – What about Bob – Robert Earnshaw’s first appearance of the season happened to come against his old team, with Chicago’s newest attacker looking to make an an instant on his Fire debut. Minutes after entering the game, the former Red did just that, cutting across goal at the edge of the six to mean a Grant Ward cross. His finish put his team in position to steal an unlikely result.

90′ – Toronto blows it – When Gilberto restored Toronto’s lead in the 79th minute, sanity seemed to be restored, though given how little the Reds had produced going forward (held to two shots on target all day), the 2-1 scoreline was a fortunate one.

In the 90th minute, Quincy Amarikwa snatched that fortune and turned it into failure, converting after a Lovel Palmer cross (and failed Earnshaw bicycle kick) found him at the far post. Forgotten, Amarikwa one-timed his right-footer into the top of Joe Bendik’s net, giving Chicago the 2-2 result.

Lineups

Toronto FC: Joe Bendik; Mark Bloom, Steven Caldwell (Doneil Henry 22′), Nick Hagglund, Justin Morrow (Jackson 58′); Dominic Oduro, Michael Bradley, Collen Warner, Jonathan Osorio; Gilberto, Jermain Defoe (Luke Moore 77′)
Chicago: Sean Johnson; Lovel Palmer, Jeff Larenotwicz, Bakary Soumaré, Gonzalo Segares; Sanna Nyassi (Robert Earnshaw 65′), Razvan Cocis, Matt Watson, Alex; Harry Shipp (Grant Ward 58′), Quincy Amarikwa

Three lessons going forward

1. No switches to flick in Toronto – The Reds talent gives the impression they’re capable of more; that at some point, something will click, and the team will be able to challenge D.C. United and Sporting KC. Perhaps title ambitions are too much, but certainly the Reds should be distinguishing themselves from the rest of the conference.

Today was a reminder: That may not happen. Just like last week in Kansas City, we saw a Toronto team that, at the opening of the game, looked dangerous. But as the game went on, the team waned. By the end, they were outright vulnerable, part of the reason they’ve been caught by Columbus in the Eastern Conference.

2. Fight left in Chicago – Some have written them off, myself included, but as today showed, Chicago’s still capable of playing spoiler. At this point in their playoff push, they needed three points instead of one, but if you forget about their faint postseason hopes, and today’s result was a good one.

3. Not so healthy defense – Ryan Nelsen has had to mix-and-match for most of the season in defense, but with Mark Bloom and Steven Caldwell coming back into the team today, the back four was as healthy as it’d been in months. By the hour-mark today, though, Nelsen had lost Caldwell and Morrow. he’s back to improvising with his back four.

Where this leaves them:

  • Still seven back of D.C. United (for now), Toronto now needs to worry about Columbus, New York, and New England. Missed points at home put their playoff hopes in a new perspective.
  • The point lifts Chicago to eighth in the conference, passing Houston while moving within five points of a playoff spot.

Cantona claims ethnicity played role in Benzema, Ben Arfa France snubs

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 14:  Former Footballer Eric Cantona of France speaks during a press conference at the Shanghai Grand Theatre prior to the  Laureus World Sports Awards  on April 14, 2015 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images for Laureus)
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Eric Cantona has made the headlines again, this time making some bold claims against France national team manager Didier Deschamps.

Cantona, a former Manchester United legend and French international, questioned whether Deschamps excluded Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa from the team due to their North African origins.

[ MORE: Skrtel set to leave Liverpool ]

Speaking to The Guardian, Cantona calls Benzema and Ben Arfa two of France’s best footballers, both of whom will not be playing for the national team this summer.

Benzema is a great player. Ben Arfa is a great player. But Deschamps, he has a really French name. Maybe he is the only one in France to have a truly French name. Nobody in his family mixed with anybody, you know.

So I’m not surprised he used the situation of Benzema not to take him. Especially after [French Prime Minister Manuel Valls] said he should not play for France. And Ben Arfa is maybe the best player in France today. But they have some origins. I am allowed to think about that.

One thing is for sure – Benzema and Ben Arfa are two of the best players in France and will not play the European Championship. And for sure, Benzema and Ben Arfa, their origins are north African. So, the debate is open.

Cantona’s view doesn’t hold much merit as Deschamps did not even have the option of selecting Benzema, the country’s active leading goalscorer. The Real Madrid striker is suspended by the federation, embroiled in a blackmail sex-tape scandal involving French teammate Mathieu Valbuena, who was also left off the EURO roster.

[ MORE: Three battles that could determine the Champions League final ]

France is an extremely diverse nation with a large North African population, Benzema of Algerian descent and Ben Arfa’s father a former Tunisian international. Both players were born in France and have received prior call-ups under Deschamps, with Cantona’s quite ridiculous comments likely to cause a stir before the EURO.

FA Cup will no longer have quarterfinal replays

HALIFAX, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 09:  The FA Cup is seen prior to the FA Cup First Round match between FC Halifax and Bradford City  on November 9, 2014 in Halifax, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Starting in 2017, the FA Cup will no longer have replays in the quarterfinal round.

The decision was made in an effort to combat the congested English fixture list, which has been a topic of debate for years now.

[ MORE: Lukaku wants out at Everton ]

This season, Manchester United defeated West Ham in a quarterfinal replay before going on to win the competition.

In a statement released by the FA, these changes aim to add drama to the matches while eliminating an extra matchday needed for replays.

The revamped competition will see eight clubs battle it out over one weekend with each tie to be played to a finish on the day, adding to the drama and impact the competition has enjoyed in recent years.

Other new initiatives will be explored to ensure The FA Cup retains its status and appeal. These plans also form part of The FA’s commitment to help ease English football’s congested fixture schedule.

There will still be replays in the earlier rounds of the tournament, which allows lower level clubs the opportunity to earn a nice financial boost should they force a second match at a Premier League ground.

The Premier League is the only top league in Europe that does not take a winter break, a schedule that has been criticized by multiple managers, including Jurgen Klopp.

Judge hears arguments on US women’s team strike rights

HARRISON, NJ - MAY 30:  The United States team poses for a team picture before the match against the South Korea during an international friendly match at Red Bull Arena on May 30, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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CHICAGO — A federal judge in Chicago has heard arguments whether the world champion U.S. women’s soccer team has the right to strike for improved conditions and wages before this year’s Olympics.

Lawyers for the U.S. Soccer Federation told Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman at a Thursday hearing that a no-strike clause is implied in a still-valid 2013 memorandum with players.

[ MORE: All of PST’s USWNT coverage ]

But a lawyer for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association balked at that claim. Jeffrey Kessler said the federation had “screwed up” by not securing a no-strike clause in writing and can’t argue three years later that such a provision is implied.

The union wants the option to strike before the Olympics start in August, but hasn’t said it will. Many players have voiced concern over gender equity in soccer.

Three battles that could determine the Champions League final

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 14:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid CF is tackled by Koke of Atletico Madrid and Mario Suarez of Atletico Madrid during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final First Leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Real Madrid CF at Vicente Calderon Stadium on April 14, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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We’re just two days away from the Champions League final, as Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid prepare to face each other in Milan on Saturday.

The tie is a rematch of the 2014 final when Real Madrid won 4-1 to claim a record tenth Champions League title. Atletico led that match 1-0 in stoppage time, only to concede a late equalizer before collapsing in extra time.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

With Real one of Europe’s best attacking teams and Atleti the best defensive side, two completely different styles of play will clash at the San Siro this weekend. Below, we take a look at a few key matchups that could determine who leaves Milan as champions.

Keylor Navas vs. Jan Oblak

In the Champions League this season, Navas has kept nine clean sheets in ten appearances (tied for the most-ever in a single campaign), while Oblak has kept eight in 12 appearances. Oblak was named to the La Liga Team of the Year after a stellar season for Atleti, and his massive double-save on Thomas Muller’s penalty kick in the semifinals helped Simeone’s men reach Milan. For Navas, the keeper’s strong play is often overshadowed by Real’s attack, but the Costa Rican international has proved massive for the club all season long. In what will surely be an extremely tight match, one big save could prove the difference.

[ MORE: Ranking the Copa America Centenario contenders ]

Luka Modric vs. Gabi 

These may not be two “superstar” names in the sides, but Luka Modric and Gabi may be the most important men on the pitch for Real and Atletico, respectively. When Real goes forward, it starts with Modric in the midfield. The Croatian playmaker is confident in possession and spreads the ball all over the pitch, seemingly always in the right place at the right time. On the other side, Gabi epitomizes what Diego Simeone wants in his Atletico squad. The hard-nosed midfielder sits right in front of the back-line, in charge of clogging up and holes and making sure the rest of his midfield tracks back and keeps shape, which will be vitally important against Real. A product of the Atleti youth system, red and white runs through Gabi’s veins, and having already experienced a loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League final back in 2014, Simeone’s leader on the pitch will want to turn the tides this time around.

(Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

Atleti back-line vs. BBC

When all is said and done, the biggest battle will be between the stout Atleti defense and Real’s potent attack. Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez have become the best center-back pairing in Europe, while Real’s BBC trio of Bale, Benzema, and Cristiano combined for 119 goals in all competitions this season. Atleti have already kept clean sheets in the Champions League against Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but both of those matches were in front of a home crowd at the Vicente Calderon. Expect a few heavy challenges to come in early, as the Atletico defense will look to keep Ronaldo & Co. honest.