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First Kick 2017: Sounders open title defense in HOU; ATL, MNU debuts

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The 2016 MLS season came to a close 11 short days ago, and already it’s (almost) time for the 2017 schedule to be released.

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On Wednesday, MLS gave us just enough to whet our palates and tide us over through the holidays before the release of the full schedule sometime shortly (hopefully) after the New Year — dates, times and opponents for the home openers of all 22 teams.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Julian Green makes permanent move away from Bayern ]

The season will kick off in Portland, Friday, March 3, when Minnesota United make their MLS debut away to the Timbers. Fellow MLS newcomers Atlanta United will debut two days later, Sunday, March 5, at home (Bobby Dodd Stadium, home of Georgia Tech football) against the New York Red Bulls. Orlando City SC will open their brand new stadium in downtown Orlando the same day.

[ MORE: Offseason needs for the Western Conference | Eastern Conference ]

The Seattle Sounders’ MLS Cup defense will begin with a trip to Houston, where they’ll take on Wilmer Cabrera’s new-look Dynamo. As they have done each of the past two seasons, Toronto FC will begin their season with an extended road trip, this time less than a month long, making their home debut against Sporting Kansas City on March 31.

WEEK 1

Friday, March 3, 2017 — Portland Timbers vs. Minnesota United FC (Providence Park)

Saturday, March 4, 2017
Columbus Crew SC vs. Chicago Fire (MAPFRE Stadium)
LA Galaxy vs. FC Dallas (StubHub Center)
Real Salt Lake vs. Toronto FC (Rio Tinto Stadium)
Colorado Rapids vs. New England Revolution (Dick’s Sporting Goods Park)
D.C. United vs. Sporting Kansas City (RFK Stadium)
Houston Dynamo vs. Seattle Sounders FC (BBVA Compass Stadium)
San Jose Earthquakes vs. Montreal Impact (Avaya Stadium)

Sunday, March 5, 2017 

Orlando City SC vs. New York City FC (Orlando City SC Stadium)
Atlanta United vs. New York Red Bulls (Bobby Dodd Stadium)
Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs. Philadelphia Union (BC Place)

WEEK 2

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Chicago Fire vs. Real Salt Lake (Toyota Park)
New England Revolution vs. Orlando City SC (Gillette Stadium)
New York Red Bulls vs. Colorado Rapids (Red Bull Arena)
Philadelphia Union vs. Toronto FC (Talen Energy Stadium)
Montreal Impact vs. Seattle Sounders FC (Olympic Stadium)
Sporting Kansas City vs. FC Dallas (Children’s Mercy Park)

Sunday, March 12, 2017

New York City FC vs. D.C. United (Yankee Stadium)
Minnesota United FC vs. Atlanta United (TCF Bank Stadium)

WEEK 3

Saturday, March 18, 2017 — FC Dallas vs. New England Revolution (Toyota Stadium)

Sunday, March 19, 2017 — Seattle Sounders FC vs. New York Red Bulls (CenturyLink Field)

WEEK 5

Friday, March 31, 2017 — Toronto FC vs. Sporting Kansas City (BMO Field)

Landon Donovan unveiled by Club Leon

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Landon Donovan was unveiled to Club Leon fans at Estadio Leon on Monday night.

The former USMNT star and longtime LA Galaxy forward came out of retirement for the second time to sign with the Liga MX side this past weekend. Leon finished 7th in the Apertura table, losing to Tigres in the first round of the playoffs. They currently have a perfect six points through the first two Clausura matches, sitting second in the table with a +3 goal differential.

Fans were allowed into the stadium for free, and they packed the lower stand on one end, waving USA flags and holding large “L” and “D” cutouts, and the fans faced a massive board on the field that read “I DON’T BELIEVE IN WALLS.” Chants of “U-S-A” rang out through the stadium before the unveiling.

ESPN reporter Tom Marshall pointed out that the last time the club had such a large event to welcome a player, it was in January of 2013 when the club brought Mexico captain Rafa Marquez in from the New York Red Bulls.

Donovan will don the number 20 for Club Leon.

Report: Rimando to return to RSL

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USMNT veteran and current MLS free agent Nick Rimando will reportedly return to Real Salt Lake for a 12th season with the club, according to a report by Goal.com’s Ives Galarcep.

The report states he received interest on the free agent market from both Los Angeles clubs, but the 38-year-old will return to the club he has made 350 appearances for.

Rimando came to Real Salt Lake from D.C. United in 2006, and has made at least 24 league appearances in every single season since. He has also made 22 playoff appearances for the club across eight playoff campaigns.

He last received a USMNT cap in January of 2017 in a friendly against Serbia, but was part of the 2018 World Cup qualification squad throughout 2017 backing up Tim Howard. Overall, Rimando has played 22 times for the US national team, with 14 goals conceded and nine clean sheets.

The report also states that Kyle Beckerman will return to Rio Tinto Stadium, with the veteran also testing the free agent waters but deciding to re-sign. The pair will be two of just four players left on the roster from the 2009 MLS Cup winning team.

Report: Aubameyang hands in transfer request at Dortmund

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According to German publication Bild, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has handed a transfer request to the Borussia Dortmund hierarchy.

Arsenal is the latest club linked with the Gabonese striker, with reports earlier this month of a deal to send Aubameyang to China. He has reportedly asked to leave Dortmund multiple times this January, and has been turned down thus far, and it’s causing problems. Aubameyang was suspended by the club for one match for missing a meeting last week, a match that ended in a goalless draw with Wolfsburg.

[ MORE: Man United, Chelsea battle for Alexis Sanchez ]

“We had a very heated discussion,” said Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc after the suspension was announced. “He hasn’t behaved like this for years, he’s always been very professional. What has happened is very tolerable, there will be some fines, too. It’s not necessary to talk about a transfer, but it’s clear that things can’t continue like this because some important things are in jeopardy, and that there is tension inside the squad.”

The price tag, according to recent reports, would be around $76 million, and he would be purchased with money from the likely outgoing transfer of Alexis Sanchez.

Arsenal transfer guru Sven Mislintat is reportedly driving the deal, having signed Aubameyang at Dortmund during his days as a scout from Westfalinstadion. However, there is buzz among the British media that Arsene Wenger is unimpressed by Aubameyang’s recent insubordination and has expressed his concerns.

Emre Can says new Liverpool contract still a possibility

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Liverpool midfielder Emre Can is out of contract this summer, but says he could still sign back on at Anfield despite heavy rumors of his departure.

Still just 24 years old, the German came over from Bayer Leverkusen in the summer of 2014 and has improved in each of his four years at Liverpool, flourishing under Jurgen Klopp as a strong passer and versatile player who can be used in midfield or defense. With that, he has reportedly turned down a number of new contract offers, and Juventus is reportedly in the lead to sign him to a free transfer.

[ MORE: Arsenal should follow Liverpool’s rebuilding example ]

Can is eligible to sign a pre-contract agreement with anyone from now until the end of the season, but he says that doesn’t mean he will leave.

“My agent is looking after everything but I am here until the summer,” Can said. “I haven’t signed anything with anyone. I am talking with everyone. Of course I am talking with Liverpool. Why not? I still have a contract here. It is an amazing club. What can I say? My agent does the rest. I just concentrate on the scene, on my performance and the football. I will give everything for this team.”

The loss of Philippe Coutinho this winter is an obvious blow to the Reds, but an argument could be made that the loss of Can would hurt just as much if not more, as stout defensive midfielders are hard to come by. However, the arrival of Naby Kieta this summer could ease the blow of the German’s potential departure. Should Can stay, partnering with Keita in midfield could prove masterful as Liverpool looks to continue building towards a title challenge. Currently, Can has paired with Giorgino Wijnaldum in Liverpool’s midfield in recent weeks, and the club is on a five-match win streak that has seen them shoot into third place in the Premier League table.