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MLS Cup 2016 roundtable: Key topics ahead of Toronto vs. Seattle

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Ahead of the 2016 MLS Cup final this Saturday in Toronto, the PST crew take a look at the key issues as Toronto FC host Seattle Sounders FC with both clubs not only searching for their first MLS Cup trophy but also competing in their first-ever final.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

With over 35,000 expected at BMO Field in freezing conditions, everything is set up for one of the most exciting MLS Cup finals in recent history.

Can Toronto’s Designated Players lead them to glory and help them become the first Canadian team to win the title? Will Seattle finally reward its incredibly loyal fans by finishing off its miraculous run to the final with a win?

All that and more is answered, right here.


It’s here, MLS Cup 2016 in freezing conditions in Toronto… What are you most looking forward to about this game and why?

Joe Prince-Wright: The atmosphere. Watching the games in Toronto, the crowd really has been a 12th man and bought into this team. The stadium renovations have helped massively and turned Toronto into one of the most intimidating places to play in MLS. You can guarantee whatever the weather TFC’s fans will be out in full force and doing their best to roar their team on to victory. Something special is happening in the soccer scene in Toronto.

Nick Mendola: A new champion, and a few fantastic story lines: Does USMNT bragging rights goes to Bradley/Jozy or Morris? Is Nicolas Lodeiro able to “out-Seba” Giovinco? Can hardly wait.

Matt Reed: I’m looking to see how the Sounders handle the two-headed monster of Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore. For a long portion of the season teams only had to worry about Giovinco, which was a nightmare in itself, but now you throw in an in-form Altidore and that increases the challenge for the Sounders backline significantly.

Compared to other MLS Cup finals in recent years, is there extra excitement around this? Two well-supported teams with star names and fairly new to MLS.

Joe: I’m going to go out on a limb and say this could be one of the best finals ever. It’s safe to say defending isn’t the strength of either team (at least in the playoffs) and we could see a straight shootout, just like Toronto’s stunning Eastern Conference final win against Montreal. If you add the crazy crowd, the big name DPs and the fact that these two clubs have yet to win an MLS Cup, it’s a recipe for one heck of gameday.

Nick: I think this game had danger of being overlooked and under hyped before the Toronto-Montreal final at BMO. It was impossible to miss, and people will tune in for the atmosphere and the stars. Could be — and this is saying a lot — a watershed moment for MLS.

Matt: I think the fact that not only has neither team ever won a cup but couple that with the reality that they’ve each never played in a final prior to Saturday makes it all the more enticing of a matchup. Despite the frigid temperatures it could very well be one of the most highly anticipated finals we’ve seen when you consider the stars involved the game (Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco, Jordan Morris, Jozy Altidore, etc.).

Seattle has reached its first MLS Cup against all the odds. Does anyone have the sense their name is written on this trophy?

Joe: Sort of. When Sigi Schmid was fired and Brian Schmetzer was hired, nobody thought this would happen. I think most of the Seattle organization, their fans and even the players are a little bit stunned they’ve made it to MLS Cup. When you compare this team to others they’ve had in recent years, it’s not as good individually plus injuries to Clint Dempsey and others this campaign have been very disruptive. Somehow, they’ve made it to MLS Cup and these dream runs happen for a reason. Soccer works in mysterious ways.

Nick: I wouldn’t want to bet this game, mostly because Seattle is coming across the country and that’s been a recipe for struggle for almost every MLS side this year. Have to think Toronto is favored, fate or not (especially since fate is better known as the arrival of Nicolas Lodeiro!).

Matt: It just seems like 2016 is the year of the Sounders. Both clubs have had superb seasons and have their own unique storylines heading into the match, but when you consider the fact that the Sounders looked dead in the water halfway through the season, made a coaching change and are playing without arguably their most influential player (Clint Dempsey) it really looks like this team will have their fate sealed in the biggest way possible on Saturday night.

What will be the key battle in this game?

Joe: I think Seattle’s defense staying firm and not allowing Morris to latch on to balls from Lodeiro in behind. With the home crowd roaring them on, it would be quite easy for Toronto to go at it early on and leave themselves exposed defensively. If Justin Morrow, Drew Moor et al. can use their vast experience in MLS wisely, and regain their top form from the regular season, TFC will have a great chance of winning.

Nick: Seattle’s veteran back line against Giovinco and Altidore.

Matt: Nicolas Lodeiro has been the game changer for the Sounders since joining over the summer and Morris definitely can’t do this all by himself. I think the Uruguayan will need to be on top of his game against the talented Toronto back line and if he can work some of his magic, particularly finding Morris, then the Sounders will have a solid chance to take home the cup.

If you had to pick one striker right now, would you have Jordan Morris or Jozy Altidore?

Joe: I’m going to go with Altidore, but only just. The way he is right now, you sense he will score every time he steps on the pitch. He has done that throughout the playoffs and he finally seems fully fit and has his confidence back. It feels like Altidore’s time to shine. Morris’ time to be the main man in MLS and for the USMNT will come in the future.

Nick: Altidore. His motivation is high and his experience better. Morris is more of a 1b choice than 2, though!

Matt: I love what Morris has done this season but have to pick Altidore here. He’s been on fire since early August and playing with Giovinco certainly makes it a lot easier to shine when you don’t have defenders solely zoning in on you.

So, if TFC wins MLS Cup, do you think they can build a dynasty like DC United back in the day and LA Galaxy in recent years?

Joe: That have a great chance. Greg Vanney hasn’t got enough credit for the balance he has brought to this team and if they can continue to add to the squad wisely, their three DPs will be around for the next three to four years.

Nick: It’s possible. The key players/Dps are young enough, that’s for sure. But Toronto also has given the league a bit of a blueprint for making the playoffs.

Matt: Toronto has to be one of the most, if not the most, complete squads in MLS right now. The moves the club made during the offseason were spot on, starting with Will Johnson, Drew Moor and Steven Beitashour. Then the attack has two of the most deadly strikers in all of MLS. In short, yes, I think this team is here to stay.

And if Toronto does win, will Michael Bradley be applauded for his decision to leave Europe to lead this squad?

Joe: I think Bradley has come under some unjust criticism in recent months. If you dissect his form for Toronto this season, he’s been one of the main reasons they’re in MLS Cup. Sure, he’s had a few bad displays for the USMNT but it’s not like anybody else around him has excelled either for the USA. He wanted to lead a team to glory and he’s on the cusp of doing so. I respect that.

Nick: I doubt it. The excitement of his arrival and ability to see him each week has been seriously tarnished (for now) by the disappointing performance of the USMNT. He’ll be rightly celebrated as a champion, but I’m doubting too many outside of Toronto will say, “Yeah, NOW it was worth it.”

Matt: I’m not sure Bradley will be applauded because he’s certainly received criticism over his move back to the states but he’s definitely played an integral role in the Toronto midfield. I think it’s easy to get lost in the Giovinco hype and looking at the talent in the backline, but Bradley has been stellar this season controlling the midfield.

We can’t not mention Sebastian Giovinco. If he plays the hero role (highly likely) and TFC wins, will he go down as the best-ever DP in MLS history?

Joe: Apart from Robbie Keane, which other DP has had a bigger impact than Giovinco in MLS history? I’m struggling to answer that. If he wins MLS Cup, I think he will sit alongside Keane as the best ever.

Nick: Yes.

Matt: I’m not sure Giovinco automatically becomes the best with just one title but he’s easily a top 5 DP. If Toronto builds this into a dynasty I think it’ll be easier to justify the Italian being considered the best of all-time over a Robbie Keane.

Finally, not letting you go without a score prediction. Who wins it?

Joe: Toronto to win 2-1. Somehow, I had a major epiphany in March during our preseason picks in the roundtable chat and I predicted Toronto to beat Seattle 2-1 in MLS Cup final. So, I’m sticking with that.

Nick: Toronto, 2-1.

Matt: The Sounders have defied all odds to get to this point but I think Toronto takes it 3-2 on their home field.

PL Preview: Manchester City vs. Newcastle

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  • Newcastle has lost 8 PL away matches in a row
  • Man City last lost at home in PL play to Chelsea in Dec 2016
  • Newcastle has picked up 1 of a possible 30 points vs. PL top half this season

Manchester City has a great chance to rebound from its first loss of the season as they host struggling Newcastle at the Etihad on Saturday, live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC or live online at NBCSports.com.

WATCH LIVE, HERE

The Magpies have picked up their terrible mid-season form of late, but still remain just three points above the drop. They are unbeaten in three, with a win and two draws, and have lost just once in their last five.

Through Newcastle’s losing streak, the Magpies struggled to keep the ball out of their own net, with defensive issues all over the place. They suffered through a nine-game winless run where they conceded 19 goals. However, of late, the roles have reversed, and suddenly they can’t score. In their last four games, they have just two goals.

City, meanwhile, have a few injuries to deal with on the defensive side of things, where they cannot afford them. Fabian Delph went down in the last match and could be out for significant time, along with Vincent Kompany who continues to show his age and history of fitness issues.

INJURIES: Manchester City – OUT: Fabian Delph (knee), Benjamin Mendy (knee). QUESTIONABLE: David Silva (illness), Vincent Kompany (fitness). Newcastle – OUT: Jesus Gamez (ankle). QUESTIONABLE: Dwight Gayle (knock).


What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on build-up of injuries: “In these situations, it always depends on the mentality of the players, if they can make a step forward. If they can they play in positions that are not natural positions and the other guys help them, everything is going well.”

Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez on not having a full squad: “When you have a short blanket, if you pull it to your face, your feet are cold, if you cover your feet, your top half is cold.”

Prediction

Newcastle has been ok of late, but not nearly enough to keep Manchester City out of the back of the net. This could get ugly, with the Citizens looking to rebound from their season’s first loss. 3-0 Man City with the possibility that it could get much worse if Newcastle gives up.

PL Preview: Burnley vs. Manchester United

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  • Burnley has 1 win vs. Man United in last 23 meetings
  • Manchester United has not conceded a goal in 2018
  • Paul Pogba is joint-top of the league with 9 assists

A critical top of the table battle comes our way from Turf Moor (!!) on Saturday as Manchester United travels to Burnley live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

WATCH LIVE, HERE

Since losing at Chelsea back in early November, Manchester United in unbeaten away from home and has won four of the five road matches. Burnley, meanwhile, has lost three matches in a row to start the new year and has not won in Premier League play since December 12th against Stoke City.

The goalscoring form of each team is also in stark contrast. Manchester United has not allowed a goal in any competition in 2018, and last conceded back on Boxing Day in a 2-2 draw with this Burnley side. The Clarets, meanwhile, have just one goal in their last three Premier League games and just three goals in their last six.

INJURIES: Burnley – OUT: Chris Wood (knee), Stephen Ward (knee), Jonathan Walters (knee). QUESTIONABLE: Chris Taylor (ribs). Manchester United – OUT: Daley Blind (undisclosed), Eric Bailly (ankle), Michael Carrick (heart), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (knee). QUESTIONABLE: Marouane Fellaini, Antonio Valencia.

What they’re saying

Burnley manager Sean Dyche on the gap in riches between clubs: “I don’t think any of us are surprised by the gap in the Premier League – I think it’s been there a long time and it’s getting harder year on year since the business model of football has changed.”

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho on focusing despite transfer rumors: “In this moment, [Henrikh] Mkhitaryan our player, [Alexis] Sanchez an Arsenal player and with a match tomorrow, I want to switch off and focus on the most important thing, which is the match.”

Prediction

Burnley may be coming back down to Earth, but they are still a formidable team with great organization, and Manchester United will be once again held to a draw, this time 1-1.

Alexis Sanchez in Arsenal squad, could play vs Crystal Palace

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Ahead of his nearly imminent move away from the Emirates, Alexis Sanchez could make an appearance for Arsenal against Crystal Palace this weekend as he was with the squad at the team hotel on Friday night, according to reports in England.

According to the reports, Arsene Wenger has not decided if he will play Sanchez against Palace or not, as any potential injury could seriously jeopardize any outgoing transfer in the works. However, naming him to the bench and allowing Sanchez to make one last appearance in front of the home fans would be a nice touch before he leaves, likely for Manchester United.

It probably doesn’t help Wenger’s selection that oft-injured Danny Welbeck will miss the match after picking up a muscle problem in training.

Sanchez did not travel with the team to Bournemouth last weekend as Arsenal lost 2-1 in stunning fashion. Sanchez has missed four Premier League games this season, and Arsenal has lost three of them.

The reports state Sanchez trained with the Arsenal first team on Friday, but only because the youth team he trained with the day before had left for a road trip.

Reports: LA Galaxy trades Gyasi Zardes to Columbus for Ola Kamara

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According to a reports by the LA Times and by ESPN, the LA Galaxy have traded US international Gyasi Zardes along with allocation money to the Columbus Crew for striker Ola Kamara.

Both reports state that Columbus will receive $400,000 in guaranteed allocation money in the deal, plus another $100,000 should Kamara score 12 goals next season to trigger the incentive.

Zardes was once a force along the wing for Bruce Arena and the Galaxy, but the 26-year-old has declined heavily in the last two seasons as injuries and poor form have held him to just eight goals over the last two seasons, including just two last campaign. Meanwhile, Kamara has been a star for Columbus in his first two years in Major League Soccer, scoring 16 goals in 2016 before netting another 18 last season, leaving him third in the league in goals scored over those two seasons.

The LA Times report states that Kamara will earn a new contract after the trade, giving him a raise over his current $482,500 yearly salary.

Zardes is an interesting case who shouldn’t be given up on just yet. A homegrown player for the Galaxy, he scored 17 goals in the 2014 season, including on in the MLS Cup Finals as the Galaxy won it all. He earned a seemingly permanent place on the USMNT as a result, and has 37 caps to this date. However, his goalscoring form has since evaporated, leaving him with no more than six goals in an MLS season since, and has just six goals in those 37 caps for the national team.

The Galaxy will need to acquire an additional international roster spot in order to activate Kamara for the season opener on March 4th against Portland, as they have filled up their seven spots as of now.