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Rafa Marquez, Erick “Cubo” Torres included on Mexico preliminary Gold Cup squad

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The Mexican National Team can’t seem to move on from the Rafa Marquez era.

The 38-year-old centerback was named by the Mexican Football Federation to El Tri’s 40-man preliminary squad for the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup. If he plays, it would be the fifth time he has played in a Gold Cup.

[ STREAM: Watch El Tri matches live ]

Most of the squad consists of players based in Mexico’s Liga MX, with the top stars of the league as well as Mexico’s European-based players all called in for the Confederations Cup roster in Russia this month. The lone exception to the Liga MX party is the Houston Dynamo’s Erick “Cubo” Torres, who has 10 goals in 14 games with 12 starts so far this season, good for second-best in the league.

Notable inclusions in the preliminary squad are Tigres’ Jurgen Damm, who has been long linked to a move to England and Pachuca’s Hirving Lozano. Orbelin Pineda, one of Chivas’ breakout stars this past season who led the club to the Clausura title, is also in the squad and has been rumored to be a Valencia target.

While the squad isn’t made up of the top players, it should serve as a great chance for the Mexico National Team staff and its coach Juan Carlos Osorio to evaluate the player pool ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Mexico is hoping to improve on its Round of 16 exit from the 2014 World Cup.

Here’s a look at the Mexico preliminary Gold Cup squad:

Goalkeepers

1- Moisés Muñoz / Chiapas
2- Jesús Corona / Cruz Azul
3- Miguel Fraga / Atlas
4- Jonathan Orozco / Santos
5- Rodolfo Cota / Chivas

Defenders

6- Raúl López / Pachuca
7- Luis Rodríguez / Tigres
8- Rodrigo Salinas / Toluca
9- Jorge Torres Nilo / Tigres
10- Alejandro Mayorga / Chivas
11- Jesús Molina / Monterrey
12- Oswaldo Alanís / Chivas
13-Carlos Vargas / Tijuana
14- Hedgardo Marín / Chivas
15- Hugo Ayala / Tigres
16- César Montes / Monterrey
17- Luis Reyes / Atlas
18- Néstor Araujo / Santos
19- Rafael Márquez / Atlas
20- Jair Pereira / Chivas

Midfielders

21- Jesús Gallardo / Pumas
22- Edson Álvarez / América
23- Jorge Hernández / Pachuca
24- Jesús Dueñas / Tigres
25- Rodolfo Pizarro / Chivas
26- Javier Salas / Atlas
27- Jesús Isijara / Necaxa
28- Javier López / Chivas
29- Walter Sandoval / Santos

Forwards

30- Orbelín Pineda / Chivas
31- Erick Gutiérrez / Pachuca
32- Elías Hernández / León
33- Jurgen Damm / Tigres
34- Martín Barragán / Atlas
35- Oribe Peralta / América
36- Erick Torres / Houston Dynamo
37- Alan Pulido / Chivas
38- Hirving Lozano / Pachuca
39- Ángel Sepúlveda / Querétaro
40- Ángel Zaldívar / Chivas

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday