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MLS preview: Prepare for the rare, 11-game midweek slate

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When the 2017 Gold Cup set to kick off on Friday, Major League Soccer will go into hibernation mode for two weeks — but not before a full round of midweek games with so many of the league’s stars already away on international duty.

[ MORE: Dwyer, Acosta power USMNT to win over Ghana | Three things ]

Portland Timbers vs. Chicago Fire — Wednesday, 10:30 p.m. ET

The Timbers are winless in four and have just two wins from their last 11 games, while the Fire have dropped all of four points in nearly the same length of time (10 games). Chicago’s Nemanja Nikolic (16 goals, four ahead of second-place Erick Torres) is running away with the 2017 Golden Boot after scoring two more in a 4-0 thrashing of Vancouver on the weekend. For the first time since July 2005, Chicago sit atop the league table.

Don’t expect to see: David Guzman (int’l duty), Liam Ridgewell (injury), Diego Chara (injury), Dax McCarty (int’l duty), Bastian Schweinsteiger (injury)

Sporting Kansas City vs. Philadelphia Union — Thursday, 8:30 p.m. ET

No team has been hit as hard by the combination of international call-ups and injuries as Sporting KC, who’ll be without arguably their four best players this season when the Union visit Children’s Mercy Park on Thursday. Peter Vermes’ side managed a 1-1 draw with Portland on the weekend, but they lost star winger Gerso Fernandes, who’s set miss a few weeks after separating his shoulder and suffering structural damage, in the process. Sporting’s home unbeaten streak in MLS play reached 18 games with the result, which bodes well against a Philadelphia side with just one win away from home this season.

Don’t expect to see: Dom Dwyer (int’l duty), Matt Besler (int’l duty), Graham Zusi (int’l duty), Gerso Fernandes (injury), Alejandro Bedoya (int’l duty), Andre Blake (int’l duty)

FC Dallas vs. D.C. United — Tuesday, 8:30 p.m. ET

The FC Dallas of the 2017 season’s first half was largely unspectacular in the absence of Mauro Diaz. Now, fully recovered from the achilles injury which cost him the 2016 playoffs and the first three months of 2017, Diaz showed in FCD’s 3-1 victory over then-first-place Toronto FC that he’s still the same game-changing playmaker he’s always been. Already one of the deepest teams in the league, FCD would have gotten by without Diaz’s return and finished first or second in the Western Conference anyway. But, with the Argentine magician back in the fold, a second-half sprint to the top of the table is almost certainly in order for Oscar Pareja’s side.

Don’t expect to see: Kellyn Acosta (int’l duty), Matt Hedges (int’l duty), Walker Zimmerman (injury), Patrick Mullins (injury)

Full MLS schedule

Tuesday

Atlanta United vs. San Jose Earthquakes — 7 p.m. ET
Minnesota United vs. Columbus Crew SC — 7 p.m. ET
Colorado Rapids vs. Seattle Sounders — 9 p.m. ET
LA Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake — 10:30 p.m. ET

Wednesday

New England Revolution vs. New York Red Bulls — 7:30 p.m. ET
Orlando City SC vs. Toronto FC — 7:30 p.m. ET
Houston Dynamo vs. Montreal Impact — 8:30 p.m. ET
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. New York City FC — 10 p.m. ET

El Salvador players face bans after biting USMNT’s Altidore, Gonzalez

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While the USMNT booked its place into the Gold Cup final on Saturday night, the team’s quarterfinal opponent was punished for the actions of some of its players.

[ MORE: Player ratings from USMNT’s 2-0 win over Costa Rica ]

The U.S. knocked off El Salvador, 2-0, on Wednesday night, but it was the malice committed by the losers that proved to be so disappointing to watch.

Americans Jozy Altidore and Omar Gonzalez were each bit by El Salvadoran players during the match, with both incidents going unnoticed during live action by the referees.

Henry Romero was given a six-match international ban, while Darwin Ceren of the San Jose Earthquakes was handed a three-match suspension for his role.

According to CONCACAF, the duo will only have to sit out “official matches,” and with El Salvador out of the running for qualification into next summer’s World Cup, the Central Americans will have some down time.

Three takeaways from the USMNT’s win over Costa Rica

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For the first time since 2013, the USMNT will have the opportunity to lay it all on the line in an attempt to hoist the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

[ MORE: Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica in Gold Cup semis ]

This summer’s competition has been a unique one for manager Bruce Arena and his side, with a large host of players seeing time in the tournament as the second-term boss looks to establish his roster heading into next summer’s World Cup.

[ MORE: Player ratings from USMNT’s semifinal victory ]

Arena and Co. made its move into the Gold Cup final on Saturday night after disposing of Costa Rica behind a pair of second-half finishes from Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey.

The U.S. will now move on to face either Mexico or Jamaica in Wednesday night’s finale, but first, here’s a look at three takeaways from the Stars and Stripes’ victory on Saturday.

Dempsey continues as lead contributor in U.S. attack

Outside of Christian Pulisic, who wasn’t selected for this month’s Gold Cup, there isn’t a more consistent and threatening goalscorer than Clint Dempsey for the USMNT.

The Seattle Sounders veteran was directly involved in both goals last night, with the second — a finish of his own — putting Dempsey on level terms as U.S. Soccer’s all-time leading scorer with Landon Donovan.

Albeit at 34 years of age and likely on the back nine of his career, Dempsey has proven time and time again just how critical his usage and production can be for the Stars and Stripes. Even if Dempsey doesn’t see as much time moving forward with the likes of Pulisic earning starting minutes, the Texas-native is more than deserving of a rotational role within the squad.

Altidore still proving his worth up front

Jozy Altidore opened the scoring for the U.S. on Saturday night, and it was his brilliant, probing run through the Costa Rica backline that freed himself up for Dempsey to pick out his long-time compatriot inside the Ticos area.

The Toronto FC striker has always been scrutinizes on the international level, despite being one of the national team’s go-to threats in the attacking third.

Although Jordan Morris and Dom Dwyer each displayed well during the group stage of the competition, Altidore is the veteran of the group. He’s played at two World Cups and is currently the team’s second active leading scorer all-time, only trailing Dempsey.

Mexico may be only true threat to USMNT

Assuming Mexico is able to dispatch of Jamaica on Sunday and reach another Gold Cup final, it’s difficult to imagine a situation more perfect than a USA-Mexico conclusion. Forget the storied rivalry for a second and consider what this tournament means to both sides.

Yes, there’s a trophy on the line. However, this edition of the Gold Cup is way more important to both programs’ long-term growth, most notably next summer’s World Cup in Russia.

Mexico didn’t bring any of its regulars to this tournament, after many had played the month prior at the FIFA Confederations Cup, but even El Tri’s backups have held up well against their CONCACAF competition.

El Tri has allowed just one goal in four matches thus far, and Jamaica’s attack hasn’t exactly proven to be an offensive juggernaut, so it shouldn’t come as a shock if Mexico does set up a date with the U.S.

Saturday MLS roundup: Revs outlast Galaxy in wild affair and more

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While the U.S. Men’s National Team took center stage in their CONCACAF Gold Cup win on Saturday night, there was still a full MLS docket as well.

[ MORE: Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica, into Gold Cup final ]

David Villa and NYCFC kicked off a busy day of MLS action with a vital 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire, closing the gap between the two sides near the top of the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, East leaders Toronto FC earned a 1-1 draw against the Colorado Rapids at BMO Field.

Minnesota United’s first-year struggles continued on the afternoon after suffering a 3-0 defeat at home against the New York Red Bulls, who have now scored eight goals in their last two outings.

The day’s most exciting match came at Gillette Stadium though, as the New England Revolution narrowly defeated the LA Galaxy, 4-3, behind a pair of second-half finishes from Teal Bunbury.

Here’s a full look back at Saturday’s MLS scoreboard.

New York City FC 2-1 Chicago Fire (RECAP)
Minnesota United 0-3 New York Red Bulls
D.C. United 1-3 Houston Dynamo
Toronto FC 1-1 Colorado Rapids
Columbus Crew 1-0 Philadelphia Union
Montreal Impact 1-2 FC Dallas
New England Revolution 4-3 LA Galaxy
Real Salt Lake 1-1 Sporting KC

Player ratings from USMNT’s 2-0 win over Costa Rica

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The U.S. national team is headed to the final of the 2017 Gold Cup after knocking off Costa Rica 2-0 on Saturday.

Who stood out for all the right — and wrong — reasons, as Bruce Arena’s side prepares to face either Mexico or Jamaica in Wednesday’s final?

[ RECAP: Super-sub Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica ]

GK — Tim Howard: 7 — Forced to make two saves, the first of which was a hero’s intervention with Marco Ureña racing in one on one. The second came not long before the opening goal, and he did well to spill it no more than a foot or two in front of him. Howard looks at the top of his game, again.

LB — Jorge Villafaña: 6.5 — For the first time all tournament, he got forward with regularity and served the ball into the box. With the entire flank open ahead of him, Villafaña had to fill the void of width. Still, not a ton of quality. Fortunately, he was tested very little in open space.

CB — Matt Besler: 7.5 — Best of the defensive unit, perhaps so much so he’s vaulted himself back into the four-man rotation for the World Cup.

CB — Omar Gonzalez: 6 — Besler stood out as the star, hardly putting a foot wrong all night, thus overshadowing Gonzalez for the most part. Costa Rica opted to build with the ball on the ground, thus negating Gonzalez’s greatest strength, his aerial presence. That said, he wasn’t remotely exposed in the weakest facet of his game, either.

RB — Graham Zusi: 6 — Paul Arriola’s presence ahead of him was immeasurably important. I’m still bullish on Zusi as a right back, with the necessary shading of defensive help. Before you lose your mind, consider the italicized part.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Gold Cup coverage ]

CM — Michael Bradley: 7 — Not his most influential game, but it didn’t need to be. With Kellyn Acosta doing much of the heavy lifting, in terms of covering acreage, Bradley played the part of disciplined organizer slightly deeper in midfield than we’re accustomed to seeing. It’s a role that suits him well, with the right partner ahead of him. His influence on Acosta will also benefit the USMNT for years to come.

CM — Kellyn Acosta: 7 — The kid is (still) alright, even after a couple subpar games during the group stage. As stated above, the partnership matters. Afforded a bit more time and space by the Ticos, Acosta pushed into the final third all night long and provided the extra man to play with possession high up the field.

LM — Darlington Nagbe: 6.5 — He’ll always shade more toward the center of the field, even when played as an out-and-out wide midfielder, and that’s what he did against Costa Rica. It’s nice having that extra man in the middle, but it turns the left wing into a barren wasteland. Take the good with the bad.

RM — Paul Arriola: 6.5 — You may not get a ton of final product from Arriola, but with Zusi playing an out-of-role right back behind him, it’s vitally important that the wide player on that side of the field offers defensive cover from the front. Arriola does so, and gets into (and wins) more than a winger’s fair share of 50-50 challenges. He’s a net positive in a lot of things that don’t show up in boxscores. There’s always a place for a player like that.

[ MORE: Mexico beat Honduras, book their place in semifinals ]

FW — Jozy Altidore: 6.5 — We’ve known this for a while, but Altidore is far more effective playing with a partner up top. His tendency to drop into midfield helps to link play with someone ahead of him. When he’s all by his lonesome, who/what’s he to link?

FW — Jordan Morris: 7 — Piggybacking on the above point about Altidore, Morris is the perfect complement — quick in short bursts, a burner in the open field, and a smart runner of channels on occasion. He was the best player on the field the opening 30 minutes or so. Faded down the stretch, but the strong first half earns him positive marks.

Sub — Clint Dempsey: 9 — An assist and a goal, all in 24 minutes’ work. More on the hero of the day in a bit.

Sub — Gyasi Zardes: N/A — 7 minutes on the field, with little to no real impact on the game.

Sub — Dax McCarty: N/A — 5 minutes off the bench, but he served his purpose in helping to keep possession and put the game to bed.