Photo credit: Toronto FC / @torontofc

MLS Snapshots: TFC’s lead restored to 9 as NYCFC, CHI falter

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Toronto FC 4-0 San Jose Earthquakes

The game in 100 words (or less): TFC have taken all the excitement out of the final days and weeks of the regular season… with two months of the regular season still to go. Saturday’s 4-0 victory, their fifth straight win, over San Jose not only sent a(nother) clear message to the rest of the league that 1) they’re hellbent on MLS Cup vengeance, and 2) they might just be the best team in league history, but also re-established Greg Vanney’s side’s nine-point lead atop the Eastern Conference and in the Supporters’ Shield race (with thanks to results elsewhere — see below). Jozy Altidore bagged a pair of second-half goal, doubling and tripling the lead established by league-leading assist man Victor Vazquez. Jonathan Osorio competed the scoring with TFC’s third in 21 minutes to start the second half. Sebastian Giovinco left the contest at halftime with tightness in his quad.

[ MORE: MLS Power Rankings — Week 26 | Weekend preview ]

Three moments that mattered

26′ — Vazquez fills an empty net after Tarbell’s blunder — Andrew Tarbell made every effort imaginable in an attempt to get a touch on Steven Beitashour’s cross, but the second-year ‘keeper only wound up looking a fool as Vazquez bagged his sixth goal of the season (to go with 14 assists).

48′ — Altidore slots home for 2-0 — Goals don’t come much easier than this one, for which all Altidore had to do was not send his shot 20 rows into the stands, and he’d make it an even dozen on the season. (Scratch that earlier note — 15 assists for Vazquez)

64′ — Altidore heads past Tarbell for 3-0 — So it’s a baker’s dozen for Altidore, and four goals in TFC’s last three games.

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Man of the match: Victor Vazquez

Goalscorers: Vazquez (26′), Altidore (48′, 64′), Osorio (66′)

New York City FC 0-1 Portland Timbers

The game in 100 words (or less): Three short days after cutting TFC’s lead to six points, NYCFC crashed and burned their own Shield dreams as they lost at Yankee Stadium for just the second time all season, falling to Portland, 1-0. Diego Valeri scored the game’s only goal and made a bit of history in the process (see below). The victory pushes Caleb Porter’s side two points clear of the Seattle Sounders for the Western Conference’s top spot (though Seattle now have two games in hand). Portland become the first West side to reach a dozen wins on the season, and extend their current unbeaten run to four games (three wins). TFC are the only side to beat Portland in the Timbers’ last eight games.

[ MORE: MLS Power Rankings — Week 26 | Weekend preview ]

Three moments that mattered

44′ — Valeri hammers past Johnson for 1-0 — No one pressured Valeri and he fired past Sean Johnson to give himself a goal in seven straight games, which ties the Argentine for the all-time record in MLS history.

47′ — Brilliant nearly scores from his stomach — Frederic Brilliant so nearly scored the weirdest goal of the 2017 season, a pool-ball tap-in from his belly, but the Frenchman couldn’t quite hit the corner pocket.

84′ — Johnson makes a spectacular save to keep NYCFC in it — This is just absolutely ridiculous from Johnson, who’ll very likely ride this one to Save of the Year glory.

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

Man of the match: Diego Valeri

Goalscorers: Valeri (44′)

Chicago Fire 1-1 New York Red Bulls

The game in 100 words (or less): Chicago’s tailspin might very well be over, but Veljko Paunovic’s side still dropped a pair of points at home on Saturday, in a 1-1 draw with New York. After putting a four-game losing skid to bed last weekend, Chicago were made to scrap their way to a point against a side four points (and two spot) below them in the East. Now 14 points back of TFC (they were the only side within three of the Reds a month and a half ago) and five back of NYCFC for second, the dreaded knockout round is looking a likelier destination everyday for Chicago. Two positives for Chicago: a loss would have meant just one point stood between themselves and New York (and three from falling out of the top-four, thus the right to host the knockout round game), and Nemanja Nikolic scored his first goal since July 1, a stretch of 10 games without the Hungarian finding the back of the net.

[ MORE: MLS Power Rankings — Week 26 | Weekend preview ]

Three Two moments that mattered

8′ — BWP’s in the right place at the right time, and it’s 1-0 — That describes, what, roughly 80 percent of BWP’s goal in MLS. That’s not a slight on the Englishman, because always popping up in the right spot is 99 percent skill and 1 percent luck.

66′ — Nikolic breaks his drought, makes it 1-1 — Nikolic gets the goal, but Michael de Leeuw should get all the attention for this delicate touch. As the ball came falling out of the sky, the Dutchman so carefully laid it across the face of goal and gifted Nikolic a chance he couldn’t miss.

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

Man of the match: Sacha Kljestan

Goalscorers: Wright-Phillips (8′), Nikolic (66′)

Ailing LA Galaxy could miss as many as 10 players this weekend

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We’re less than a month into the new Major League Soccer season, and one club is already left scrambling to find players for its next match.

[ MORE: A deeper look at the USMNT roster ]

Between injuries, international call ups and a suspension, the LA Galaxy could be without as many as 10 players this weekend.

Ola Kamara, Romain Alessandrini and Giovani dos Santos are among the notable names likely to be absent for Saturday’s match against the Vancouver Whitecaps, but seven more players could be left unavailable for Sigi Schmid’s squad.

Kamara was the latest player to be named to his respective national team, with the striker being called up to Norway on Monday.

Meanwhile, both Giovani and Jonathan dos Santos have earned call ups to Mexico, and Emrah Klimenta has been selected by Montenegro for its next friendlies against Cyprus and Turkey.

Both Dos Santos brothers are battling injuries of their own, so they may not feature for El Tri, but that won’t necessarily help the Galaxy either as they are kept sidelined.

Of the ten players possibly missing the Whitecaps match, five of them (Michael Ciani, Cole, Gio dos Santos, J. dos Santos and Kamara) started in the Galaxy’s last game — a 2-1 loss to New York City FC.

Report: Chelsea, Real Madrid could make sensational swap

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Real Madrid’s interest in a certain Chelsea star has been well-noted for some time, and with the World Cup nearing this summer, Los Blancos may finally be able to get their man.

[ MORE: Brazil to play Austria in final World Cup tune-up ]

Eden Hazard has long been a Madrid target, and with the Belgium international seemingly more and more interested by a move away from Stamford Bridge, the veteran attacker could see himself join Real after the World Cup in Russia.

According to Spanish outlet Diario Gol, Real could secure a move for Hazard this summer, while sending young attacker Marco Asensio to Chelsea.

While hypothetical at this point, the move makes sense for both clubs, particularly from a Blues perspective as they look for young attacking players.

The 22-year-old Asensio has been seeking regular minutes at Madrid, and with Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale regularly included in the starting squad, that has been nearly impossible for the Spanish international.

Meanwhile, Real would be gaining another incredibly talented attacking piece to go along with Ronaldo and Bale, although the latter has been linked with a move away from the Santiago Bernabeu for some time.

Real has also been strongly linked with a move for Paris Saint-Germain winger Neymar, who has spent less than a season in France.

It’s a ways away from happening, but a front three of Hazard, Ronaldo and Neymar would certainly make El Clasico even more intriguing than usual, with Real facing off against a Barcelona squad that currently boasts Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho.

Andrija Novakovich: “It’s a good feeling” to earn USMNT call up

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As the U.S. Men’s National Team continues its transition towards qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, a new face has emerged for the Stars and Stripes ahead of its upcoming friendly against Paraguay.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Kekuta Manneh to roster ahead of Paraguay friendly ]

Striker Andrija Novakovich earned his first call up on Sunday when U.S. manager Dave Sarachan named the Telstar player in his squad, which will play the South American side on March 27 in Cary, North Carolina.

The 21-year-old forward has been nothing short of brilliant in his first season with the Dutch second-division club, scoring 18 league goals for Telstar — who sit fourth in the Eerste Divisie.

“It’s a good feeling to get the call-up and hopefully it will be a very good experience,” Novakovich said. “They [the U.S. national team] sent the club and myself an email saying that I was on the preliminary roster and we were just waiting, and then this week I got another email saying I was on the final roster.

“I called my Mum right away and she’s proud, she’s happy.

“I’m just there for the experience — of course I want to play, of course I want to get the opportunity and hopefully that will happen, It’s an honour to be called up and I’m very proud and very happy.”

Novakovich, a Wisconsin native, is currently on loan at Telstar from English Championship side Reading.

The young USMNT player moved to England back in 2014 to join Reading’s academy, despite originally planning on playing for Marquette University following high school.

Despite this being his first senior-team call up, Novakovich is familiar with the U.S. national team setup. Novakovich has previously represented the Under-17, U-18 and U-20 national teams.

Lionel Messi suggests 2018 will be his final World Cup

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Lionel Messi’s track record as a professional has encompassed just about every imaginable accolade, but one that has eluded he and his Argentina national teammates is winning the World Cup.

[ MORE: Kekuta Manneh added to USMNT squad ahead of Paraguay friendly ]

The Barcelona star has played a significant role for the Albiceleste since debuting for Argentina back in 2005, and even helped guide the South American power to the 2014 World Cup final, however, harsh criticism from local media could push Messi and many of his teammates towards not returning to the national team.

This wouldn’t be the first time Messi has contemplated international retirement, though.

Following the 2016 Copa America Centenario final — which resulted in a Chilean victory over Messi’s Argentina — the Blaugrana attacker announced his retirement from the Albiceleste. While he has since returned to the international scene, it appears Messi is once again considering a halt from representing Argentina.

“It’s just the feeling that this group of players has. It seems that having reached three straight finals didn’t mean anything,” Messi told La Cornisa TV. “Obviously, we depend on results and unfortunately, we reached three finals and we didn’t win them.

“A lot was said about us. The criticisms hurt back then. But the demand is going to be there for this group to get it done. We think that if we don’t do it, we are going to get a lot more [criticism] and we are not going to have another possibility.”

Argentina has fallen in three consecutive major finals dating back to 2014, including two Copa America competitions and the World Cup.

Messi says these shortcomings have weighed heavily on him, and that winning a World Cup is still the one goal that has left him hungry.

“I’ve cried many times for lost finals,” the Barca forward said. “I cried for not being able to fulfill the dream of our nation. My desire is the same as every Argentine, which is to lift the World Cup.”

He continued: “To win a World Cup is not easy. It doesn’t happen often. The last time we did things well but due to minor details we didn’t get it done. We are very enthusiastic and eager to lift the cup for our country. I hope God helps us and it happens.”

Messi has scored 61 international goals in his international career for Argentina, the most of any player from his native country.