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MLS (afternoon) roundup: TFC make it 6 in a row; Meram bags hat trick

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The 10th MLS Saturday of 2017 is nearly halfway complete. A quick roundup of the day’s early games…

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Toronto FC 3-2 Minnesota United

Don’t look now, but TFC are sprinting away from the rest of the pack in the Eastern Conference. Saturday’s victory over Minnesota, a back-and-forth affair that saw the visitors twice come back to level terms, pushes Greg Vanney’s side to 25 points, six clear of everyone else in the East (TFC have played three more games than third-place Orlando City SC, who are on 18 points). The most impressive part: they’ve won six straight games, including five in a just-completed 15-day period that saw a number of key players rested at various points.

It was anything but pretty on Saturday, but the Reds will take all three points and a day or two of rest now, thank you very much. Sebastian Giovinco opened the scoring, from the penalty spot, in the 20th minute, a lead which they held until the 52nd minute, when Kevin Molino equalized for the Loons. Just two minutes later, though, Christian Ramirez bundled the ball into his own net for a 2-1 TFC lead.

Molino would pull Minnesota level once again, this time putting home the rebound from his own missed penalty kick, but Jozy Altidore, who replaced Giovinco in the 44th minute, would not be denied in his efforts to set up Tosaint Ricketts for the game-winning goal in the 77th minute.


Montreal Impact 2-3 Columbus Crew SC

Justin Meram is a star, and it’s time that everyone realizes and accepts it. After bagging his first career hat trick on Saturday, Meram’s 2017 numbers are as follows: seven goals and four assists, from 11 games. He’s just one away from a new career-high goals tally, and currently on pace to fall just short of his single-season high in assists (13).

Each and every one of the goals were pivotal, by the way, as the 28-year-old Iraqi international put Columbus 2-0 before the half-hour mark before bagging the game-winner in the first minute of second-half stoppage time. Defending — particularly on set pieces — remains a gigantic problem for Gregg Berhalter’s side, but they sit second in the East regardless.


Colorado Rapids 3-0 San Jose Earthquakes

On today’s edition of MLS Makes No Sense Whatsoever… we have Colorado, who haven’t won since the opening day of the season — who, in fact, have won just a single point in their seven games since opening day — crushing fifth-place San Jose, 3-0.

Shkelzen Gashi bagged himself a brace (29th and 56th minutes) either side of Dominique Badji’s goal in the 35th minute, and just like that Colorado are level with Philadelphia Union (for the time being) as the sides with the worst point totals (7 from 9 games) in MLS.

Tonight’s MLS schedule

D.C. United vs. Philadelphia Union — 7 p.m. ET
Orlando City SC vs. Sporting Kansas City — 7 p.m. ET
New England Revolution vs. Real Salt Lake — 7:30 p.m. ET
Chicago Fire vs. Seattle Sounders — 9 p.m. ET

Sunday’s MLS schedule

Portland Timbers vs. Atlanta United — 4 p.m. ET
New York Red Bulls vs. LA Galaxy — 6 p.m. ET
FC Dallas vs. New York City FC — 8 p.m. ET

Zouma signs new Chelsea contract, is immediately loaned to Stoke City

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Kurt Zouma‘s long-term future is secure at Chelsea, but his short-term future will be away from Stamford Bridge.

The France international centerback signed a new six-year contract with Chelsea and was promptly sent out on a season-long loan to Stoke City. Zouma made just three starts and nine total appearances last season as he came back from a torn ACL suffered in February 2016.

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“It is fantastic Kurt has chosen to commit his future to Chelsea,” Chelsea technical director Michael Emenalo said in a statement. “He has shown his talent since joining us three years ago, and has returned from a serious injury with a fantastic attitude.

“Now he has the opportunity to play regularly in the Premier League and we will be monitoring his progress closely while he is at Stoke.”

The move to Stoke will give Zouma a new experience, playing for a mid-table side in the Premier League, and it will be interesting to see where he fits in at centerback, battling with American Geoff Cameron and Englishman Ryan Shawcross.

Even with John Terry leaving the club, Zouma was likely to be second-choice in the back three for Chelsea and if he wants to make France’s squad for the 2018 World Cup, he’ll have to play regularly.

 

 

 

Morata signs five-year contract at Chelsea

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Chelsea FC will have another Spanish international leading the front line, with Diego Costa likely on his way out of town.

The club announced that Alvaro Morata has completed a transfer from Real Madrid, signing a five-year contract at Stamford Bridge. The BBC reports the transfer fee at nearly $78 million.

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“I am so happy to be here,” Morata said in a statement. “It’s an incredible emotion to be part of this big club. I am looking to work hard, score as many goals as I can and to win as many trophies as possible.”

Morata emerged as an option to replace Costa after Romelu Lukaku decided on joining Manchester United over his former club Chelsea. Morata, who was a Manchester United target at first, then turned his sights on London after becoming disillusioned in Madrid, playing second-fiddle to Karim Benzema.

Despite not being first-choice up top, Morata scored 15 goals in 26 La Liga games and another three in the UEFA Champions League, which Real Madrid went on to win over Morata’s former club Juventus. Morata started for Juventus the last time the club had been in the Champions League final.

Despite being just 24, Morata is emerging as one of the world’s top forwards. He has nine goals in 19 games for the Spanish National Team and now is the right time for him to experience the challenge of the Premier League, where the games come thick and fast and the pace of the game is a step up from what he’s experienced in Spain and Italy.

However, the tactical knowledge he’s learned in both places should help him in England, where he can position himself between the opposing centerbacks.

 

Report: Neymar tells Barcelona teammates he’s off to PSG

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Brazilian star Neymar isn’t keeping his future plans under wraps, at least when it comes to his current club teammates.

According to a report in French newspaper Le Parisien, Neymar has started telling his Barcelona teammates that he’s intends to join Paris Saint-Germain. Spanish publication Marca meanwhile is reporting that Neymar’s teammates are trying to persuade him to stay in Catalonia for the season.

The Le Parisien report adds that certain officials at Barcelona believe the transfer is imminent and are resigned to losing one of their stars this summer. The report also said that it was a “decisive step” that Neymar was on board with the deal, going along with his father and agent.

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Rumors intensified over the past few days as reports emerged in Spain that Neymar had agreed on a contract with PSG, and all that was awaiting was PSG exercising Neymar’s release clause, worth nearly $260 million (€222 million). On paper, PSG’s Qatari owners can probably afford that tremendous sum but it still remains to be seen whether PSG will see this move over the line.

Should Neymar move, it would break transfer records for the price of the deal as well as shock the world, as Neymar seemed settled and happy in Barcelona playing alongside the likes of fellow South Americans Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.

Neymar and Barcelona are currently in New York training ahead of the club’s friendly match in the International Champions Cup against Juventus Saturday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

Liverpool complete signing of Hull’s Robertson

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Liverpool has added to its defensive depth with the signing of one of Scotland’s bright young stars.

The club announced the signing of left back Andy Robertson for a reported $10.4 million, which can rise to $13 million with add-on clauses.

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Robertson made 33 appearances for Hull City last season in the Premier League, scoring a goal and assisting on two others. While Robertson is joining Liverpool, midfielder Kevin Stewart is heading the opposite direction, joining the Championship club for a reported $5.2 million.

Robertson will likely compete with Alberto Moreno for the starting left back position, and with Liverpool competing in the Premier League plus three cup competitions, depth at every position will be crucial when injuries and fatigue sets in.