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MLS (afternoon) roundup: NYCFC dominate, disappoint; ATL keep rolling

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The third MLS Saturday of 2017 is one-third of the way complete. A quick roundup of the day’s early games…

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New York City FC 1-1 Montreal Impact

To reiterate: Rodney Wallace is a heavy for to be named under-the-radar signing of the season. After a year in Brazil, Wallace is back in MLS (he was one of Portland Timbers’ best players during their 2015 MLS Cup run), and looking every bit the perfect complement to David Villa and Maxi Moralez in NYCFC’s trident of attacking terror. On Saturday, Wallace bagged his second goal in as many games (to go with an assist last week as well), in the process putting the home side 1-0 up just before halftime. A lot like Wallace leading up to his loose-ball finish, NYCFC are absolutely relentless along all levels of the field when playing on the tiny Yankee Stadium field.

That relentlessness has revealed an old problem (figuratively and literally) turned new problem: Andrea Pirlo is exposed and left for dead anytime an opponent breaks the high press. They’re also still really suspect at the back, which was best exhibited when Dominic Oduro pulled Montreal back to level terms with just over 20 minutes left to play.

It’s extremely clear, just 37 games into his NYCFC tenure that 1) Patrick Vieira is a very, very good coach; 2) he’s not long for MLS, as a number of forward-thinking European clubs will come calling sooner rather than later.

[ MORE: Five things to watch in MLS — Week 3 ]

Atlanta United 4-0 Chicago Fire

Here’s the thing about Atlanta: you think you know, but you have no idea whether or not they’re #actually good. Just hear me out. Yes, they’ve scored 11 goals in their first three MLS games (conceded just three), and that’s really good. We’ve also seem them capitulate in the final 20 minutes while protecting a 1-0 lead, and lose 2-1. Last week, their 6-1 thrashing of Minnesota United, who look every bit the worst team in MLS history, was played in a literal blizzard. On Saturday, Gerardo Martino’s side walloped the Chicago Fire at Bobby Dodd Stadium, to the tune of 4-0, but did so with a man advantage for 79 minutes. In terms of sheer entertainment value, they’re the best team in MLS.

Anyway, here’s the (awesome) goals, scored by Josef Martinez (two) and Hector Villalba, on Saturday, which is what you’re really here to see.

[ MORE: Arena names 24 to senior roster ahead of WCQs next week ]

Vancouver Whitecaps 0-2 Toronto FC

A summation Toronto FC’s opening three games of 2017: I have no thoughts. A 0-0 draw with Real Salt Lake saw next to nothing happen for 90 minutes; last week’s 2-2 draw with the Philadelphia Union was back-and-forth with so little time between the sides trading goals that neither side stood out in any way; Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Vancouver was impressive in that winning on the road is always an accomplishment in MLS, though Brek Shea‘s 70th-minute red card was the beginning of the end for the home side. Victor Vazquez and Jozy Altidore bagged goals four minutes apart not long after Shea departed.

TFC were without Sebastian Giovinco, it should be said, so any points won should be largely considered a bonus come the end of the season.

MLS Snapshot: FCD lose 2nd in a row; Fire win 4th straight

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The game in 100 words (or less): After starting the 2017 season nine games without a loss, FC Dallas, the longest-lasting unbeaten team in MLS, has lost two straight. Saturday saw their unbeaten start come to an end, against the San Jose Earthquakes, just as Wednesday’s trip to Toyota Stadium saw Oscar Pareja’s side drop all three points to the Chicago Fire. All three of the game’s goals were scored during the opening nine minutes, as FCD fought back from 1-0, but couldn’t find a second equalizer on the night. Nemanja Nikolic bagged the opener, his 11th goal in 13 games to extend his lead in the Golden Boot race to two, in the 3rd minute. Roland Lamah brought FCD back to level terms three minutes later, but David Accam restored the home side’s advantage after three more minutes. Nikolic had every opportunity in the world to take his goals tally to a dozen during second-half stoppage time, but Chris Seitz denied the Hungarian international from the penalty spot. For the first time since Sept. 2012, Chicago have won four straight league games, and sit just two points back of Eastern Conference-leading Toronto FC (26 points).

[ WATCH: Chicharito-to-MLS in doubt due to $10M contract demands ]

Three moments that mattered

3′ — Nikolic redirects past Seitz for 1-0 — Nikolic ran 15 yards straight ahead without a single FCD player picking him up or impeding his path to the near post, and they paid for it.

6′ — Lamah taps it in to make it 1-1 right away — Lamah has been quite the disappointment since arriving in Dallas this winter, but he happened to eb in the right place at the right time in this one, as a failed clearance fell to the five-times-capped Belgian international for an easy tap-in, and his first MLS goal.

9′ — Accam cuts inside to make it 2-1 just as quickly — At some point, Accam will be properly rated by the wider MLS audience, as he’s been Chicago’s best player for two full seasons, and has only hit a new high with capable attackers all around him.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Dax McCarty

Goalscorers: Nikolic (3′), Lamah (6′), Accam (9′)

Report: Chicharito-to-MLS in doubt due to contract demands

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While Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez has the feel of the player most clearly destined to play in MLS since Thierry Henry, we might have to wait a little while longer before the 28-year-old Mexican international ditches Europe in favor of a return to North America.

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According to a report from ESPN FC on Thursday, Hernandez is seeking an annual salary “way north of $10 million,” which would shatter the current record contract for an MLS player (Kaka — $7.2 million per year).

Hernandez has one more season left on his contract with Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen. During the summer of 2018 he’ll be available for any club in the world to sign on a free transfer. With Los Angeles FC, the team Hernandez has reportedly been negotiating with for months now, set to debut in MLS in March 2018, chances are they’d like the centerpiece of their squad (and the largest annual investment in MLS history) to be involved on opening day, thus a fee will be required, very likely pushing the club’s total investment (salary plus fee) into the neighborhood of $50 million.

[ WATCH: Giovani dos Santos’ jaw-dropping volley vs. MIN ]

You can see pretty quickly why LAFC might balk at such demands.

With that said, 1) LAFC shouldn’t be surprised by this recent development, given Hernandez’s otherworldly allure within the LA market; 2) to piggyback on no. 1, a player should be paid every cent he’s worth to the club, on and off the field, and there might not be a player in the entire world (this side Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo) who’d make LAFC a bigger hit in LA from day one.

Enrique “more than satisfied” with Barca tenure, eyes one more trophy

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MADRID (AP) Luis Enrique is finally saying goodbye to Barcelona, with one last chance at a trophy.

The Luis Enrique era in Barcelona ends after the Copa del Rey final against Alaves on Saturday, when the coach could cap his three-year stint with a ninth trophy out of a possible 13.

It would be a fitting farewell for him nearly three months after his surprise announcement that he was leaving.

“It would be a special title,” Luis Enrique said.

The former Barcelona midfielder has won nearly everything as the coach, since replacing Gerard Martino in 2014.

He led the team to the treble of the Spanish league, Copa del Rey, and Champions League in 2015. He achieved the league-Copa double in 2016, and began this season with the Spanish Super Cup title, their only trophy so far.

It hasn’t been Luis Enrique’s best season with Barcelona, which was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, and lost the Spanish league to Real Madrid last weekend.

“I’m happy and more than satisfied for all the years that I’ve enjoyed with this club,” the 47-year-old Luis Enrique said.

He announced in March he was leaving so he could get some rest.

“I came here to be a leader and I’ve been one. I’m leaving when I think it’s the best time to do it.”

His other titles included the 2015 European Super Cup and the 2015 Club World Cup.

Barcelona has yet to lose a Copa del Rey home-and-away series since he took over, a run of 12 straight triumphs.

“We are all thankful for these three years (with Luis Enrique),” captain Andres Iniesta said. “We have to win one last title to finish the best possible way.”

Barcelona has been in the Copa final in seven of the last nine seasons, including the last four. It has won it a record 28 times, including the last two.

Alaves will be playing in the final of a major tournament for only the second time in its 96-year history. The other was the UEFA Cup 16 years ago, when it lost to Liverpool 5-4 in extra time.

Alaves’ only winner’s trophy is for Spain’s second division. It was a promoted club in Spain’s top division this season after 10 years in the lower divisions, including four in the third tier. It finished ninth in the Liga.

Alaves enters the Copa final boosted from having beaten Barcelona 2-1 at Camp Nou at the beginning of the season.

The coach touted to replace Luis Enrique at Barcelona is Ernesto Valverde, who left Athletic Bilbao this week. An official announcement is expected next week.

Marco Silva leaves Hull; Premier League clubs lining up

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Marco Silva came to the Premier League, he saw the PL, but he didn’t conquer the PL — at least, not yet.

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It was announced on Thursday that the 39-year-old Portuguese manager, who took over last-place Hull City in January, has left the club after succumbing to relegation from the PL. Silva, whose stock rose quickly during his brief stay in England, signed a contract that ran only through the end of the season should they be relegated, thus he’s not sure on options these days. Hull would have undoubtedly welcomed him back for a run at promotion from the Championship next season.

As recently as Wednesday, Silva was expected to be named the new boss at Porto, though various reports stated that talks between the manager and club had broken down.

[ MORE: Terry “couldn’t care less” about criticism of his farewell ]

Watford and Crystal Palace, both of whom are manager-less after Walter Mazzarri was fired and Sam Allardyce resigned, respectively, are said to be extremely interested in Silva’s services.