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MLS at Week 8: Lone unbeaten sides clash in Dallas

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While many of the usual suspects remain in playoff positions after the first several weeks of the MLS season, 2017 has kicked off with quite a few surprises.

As it stands, three non-playoff teams from a season ago and an expansion side sit inside the top 6 in the Eastern Conference, while the Houston Dynamo and San Jose Earthquakes continue to impress in a congested Western Conference.

[ MORE: MLS Power Rankings — Week 7 ]

Toronto FC vs. Chicago Fire – 7:30 p.m. ET Friday

Can we talk about how good Bastian Schweinsteiger has been? On paper, it looked like a pointless move for the Fire after acquiring Dax McCarty in the offseason and boasting a fairly strong attack but the German international has been everything Veljko Paunovic could have hoped for since arriving in the Midwest. The Fire are unbeaten in three and have scored six goals in that span, while only allowing two goals. Toronto finally dropped a decision last week against the Crew, but there shouldn’t be great cause for concern from last season’s runners’ up.

Philadelphia Union vs. Montreal Impact – 1 p.m. ET Saturday

Jim Curtin and his side are running dangerously close to having wholesale changes arrive in Chester. Four consecutive losses have the Union sitting bottom in all of MLS with two points and the team’s lack of finishing has proved to be a massive cause for concern. The Impact haven’t been much better to start, but last week’s effort against Atlanta should give Montreal supporters a glimmer of hope.

Houston Dynamo vs. San Jose Earthquakes – 3:55 p.m. ET Saturday

Two of the more surprising sides in 2017 will meet at BBVA Compass Stadium on Saturday, and that provides fans the opportunity to get a closer look at Erick “Cubo” Torres. The league leader in goals (6) is finally living up to the hype, and if the Mexican international can continue to produce up front then the Dynamo will be a very hard out as the season rolls on. Elsewhere, the Quakes are unbeaten in three with three straight draws against quality opposition. Dominic Kinnear will want to turn those ties into wins but it’s been a very strong start for the two-time MLS Cup winners.

Portland Timbers vs. Vancouver Whitecaps – 4 p.m. ET Saturday

For the first time all season, the Timbers failed to score last weekend against Sporting KC. The Whitecaps will look to contain the rampant Portland attack but that’s easy said than done. Carl Robinson’s Whitecaps earned an important win over the Sounders last week and now Vancouver can earn back-to-back Cascadia victories on Saturday in the Pacific Northwest.

New England Revolution vs. D.C. United – 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday

D.C. finally came back down to earth against rivals New York Red Bulls, but there’s been better play from Ben Olsen’s group over recent weeks. The Revs have been up and down to say the least and with both clubs sitting on the outside of the top 6 Saturday’s meeting could play an important role later in the season.

New York Red Bulls vs. Columbus Crew – 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday

The Red Bulls snapped a four-match winless run against D.C. but the Crew present a much bigger challenge with the East leaders coming to Harrison. After missing the postseason in 2016, it was only a matter of time for Greg Berhalter’s side to return to form given the club’s talent. Plus, you’ve got two of the league’s best strikers in Bradley Wright-Phillips and Ola Kamara matching up.

FC Dallas vs. Sporting KC – 8 p.m. ET Saturday

Saturday night’s clash in Dallas is intriguing for several reasons, most notably because of the fact that these two sides are the only unbeatens remaining in MLS through seven weeks. Both clubs continue to play stingy defense, while their attacks aren’t producing as much as either team would like.

Real Salt Lake vs. Atlanta United – 9:30 p.m. ET Saturday

Outside of maybe Portland, Atlanta has been the most exciting team to watch over the first seven weeks. Tata Martino’s boys have found the back of the net 14 times and once they get Josef Martinez back into the fold, the expansion side will be that much more dangerous. RSL has picked up its play recently with back-to-back wins over the Whitecaps and Rapids, but Atlanta will pose a bit of a bigger threat.

New York City FC vs. Orlando City – 1:30 p.m. ET Sunday

When these two clubs met on opening weekend it turned out to be quite the wild affair. If anyone thought that Kaka could go down injured in the opening 10 minutes and Orlando would still come away victorious, whoever said that was probably lying. Now, the Lions have several other injury woes, although there’s a chance that the Brazilian could play on Sunday afternoon. NYCFC is coming off an important win over D.C. United last week but Patrick Vieira’s group will have to cope without a key defender as Ronald Matarrita is sidelined with an ankle injury.

LA Galaxy at Seattle Sounders – 4 p.m. ET Sunday

Six points in six matches isn’t exactly what the Sounders had in mind after hoisting MLS Cup five months ago, but if we learned anything from the Cascadia side in 2016 then there shouldn’t be cause for panic. For the Galaxy, Romain Alessandrini has lived up to the billing early with the newcomer netting four goals and adding two assists in the first month-plus of the season.

Minnesota United vs. Colorado Rapids – 6 p.m. ET Sunday

The bottom sides out West meet in the weekend’s final matchup, and each club could really learn something from the other. While Minnesota has managed to score at a solid pace over recent weeks, the Loons have struggled mightily out of the back, allowing a league-high 24 goals in seven matches. Meanwhile, Pablo Mastroeni’s side continues to search for goals and its defense remains the strongest aspect of the Rapids squad.

Everton announce lifetime ban for fan involved in altercation with Lyon player

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On a night when UEFA unveiled a new campaign for respect, there wasn’t enough of it shown both on and off the field.

Everton has followed up on UEFA opening up disciplinary proceedings against them by banning a fan from Everton matches after the fan was seen to punch at an Olympique Lyon player in the second half of Lyon’s 2-1 win at Goodison Park.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

“Club Officials have reviewed the footage of an incident that occurred in the 64th minute of the game against Olympique Lyonnais where supporters towards the front of the lower Gwladys Street End became involved in a confrontation between players,” Everton said in a statement. “We have identified one individual whom action will now be taken against. This will include a ban from attending future Everton fixtures and the Club registering a formal complaint with Merseyside Police.”

The video below shows a fan – amazingly, holding onto a small boy in one arm – throwing some punches at Lyon players after a fracas on the field.

The punch and ban is yet another dark moment for Everton, which has just one point from its first three Europa League matches and sits in 16th place in the Premier League with eight points from eight games.

Russia glad to welcome Blatter, Platini as World Cup guests

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MOSCOW (AP) President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov says Russia “would be glad” to see banned former soccer leaders Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini in Russia next year at the World Cup.

Though banned from soccer duty for six and four years, respectively, Blatter and Platini were the presidents of FIFA and UEFA when Russia won the 2018 hosting contest seven years ago.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

FIFA ethics rules allow Blatter and Platini to attend games but not engage in official soccer business.

Blatter publicly accepted Putin’s World Cup invitation in March 2016, before his ban for financial wrongdoing with Platini was upheld on appeal.

Peskov says Friday, “Putin has a long and, you may say, friendly relationship with Blatter. He knows Platini well, too.”

Rapinoe, Morgan, Ertz lift US past South Korea, 3-1

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) Alex Morgan scored in a fourth straight game, Julie Ertz scored for the fourth time in five games, and the United States women beat South Korea 3-1 on Thursday night.

Megan Rapinoe added her 34th international goal and her 42nd assist.

Having assisted on Ertz’s diving header in the first half, Rapinoe scored on a penalty kick she drew in the 49th minute when pounced on a loose ball about 12 yards in front of the goal and was tripped by Ji Sohyun.

[ MORE: MLS schedule ]

Han Chaerin scored her first international goal in her South Korea debut to make it 2-1 just before the end of the first half.

U.S. forward Mallory Pugh had to leave the game late in the first half with a right hamstring injury. There was no immediate word on the severity of her injury after she was helped off the field by trainers.

Meanwhile, Carli Lloyd returned from a nine-week absence because of ankle injury, entering the game as a substitute in the 77th minute.

Midfielder Andi Sullivan started for the U.S. about 11 months after having reconstructive knee surgery. Her third minute shot narrowly missed the far post from about 18 yards. She was substituted out, as planned, at halftime.

South Korea began the game in a defensive posture and the U.S. maintained a decisive edge in possession, forcing Kang Gaae to make several sprawling saves before breaking though on Ertz goal in the 24th minute

Ertz dove in front of two defenders to redirect Rapinoe’s hard, low corner kick between the legs of Kang as the goal keeper tried to respond at the near post.

Morgan scored in the 40th minute, using her right foot to settle Kelley O’Hara’s bouncing pass from the end line, then pivoting and whipping her left foot through the ball from point-blank range. The goal was the 28-year-old Morgan’s 78th for the national squad.

Han scored against the run of play with a hard shot from about 25 yards that sailed beyond U.S. goal keeper Alyssa Naher’s reach before dipping under the cross bar.

Lloyd’s introduction drew an enthusiastic response from nearly 10,000 spectators in the Superdome. The two-time FIFA World Player of the Year missed a pair of U.S. exhibition wins over New Zealand last month because of an Aug. 13 ankle sprain in a National Women’s Soccer League match.

Forward Tobin Heath, who has an ankle injury, and defender Taylor Smith, who has an injured shoulder, were not in the lineup and are not expected to play in a second friendly scheduled between South Korea and the U.S. on Sunday in Cary, North Carolina.

Both women were hurt in the NWSL championship match.

UEFA charge Roma after racist chanting witnessed

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AS Roma and its fans could face severe penalties after alleged racist chants were hurled in the direction of Chelsea’s Antonio Rudiger.

It appears via broadcast footage from Chelsea’s 3-3 UEFA Champions League draw with Roma at Stamford Bridge this week that after shepherding a ball out of play, Rudiger was subjected to monkey noises and other racist abuse from the away end where the AS Roma fans were congregated.

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In the past, UEFA has ordered either partial or full closures of stadiums and announced fines to the clubs, though it doesn’t seem to have stamped out the problem of racist chanting in Europe.

Hopefully, UEFA will investigate this fully and ban the individuals who allegedly committed the chants.

Rudiger signed for Chelsea this past summer for a reported $44.8 million.