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Top Five clubs that could crush Toronto’s MLS Cup hopes

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It’s no secret that Toronto FC are far-and-away the favorite to win its first MLS Cup, one year after falling to Seattle Sounders in penalty kicks.

TFC has scooped up 11 more points than its nearest competitor, New York City FC, has a plus-37 goal differential, is unbeaten at home, and boasts more road points than 10 teams have acquired at home. Almost every major betting has them as somewhere between 2:1 and 3:1 odds to win the title despite the MLS Cup Playoffs being a massive crapshoot based on form.

[ MORE: Toronto wins big w/o Jozy, Seba ]

Consider this: Toronto hasn’t even played in a one-goal match since Aug. 5, and has not lost since July 1.

As it stands, the Reds will likely wrap up the Supporters’ Shield this week ahead of a first-round playoff bye. The MLS playoff dynamics mean TFC will face a Conference Semifinal opponent who will be playing its third and fourth matches within a 10-day span.

At the risk of being too certain, it’s hard to imagine any team handling TFC over two legs. Ranking any team’s chances to knock them off almost certainly weighs in the favor of Western Conference clubs, who will have the be better than the Reds over just 90 minutes. Seeing as that will come in the cold confines of BMO Field, perhaps that should also weigh into the discussion.

Without further ado, the five teams with the best chance to ruin TFC’s dream of a treble (the Reds already have a Canadian Championship in tow).

5. Atlanta United — Tata Martino’s men have the offensive firepower to spring an upset and are constructed in a similar manner to TFC. Greg Garza and other outside threats will force TFC’s wily wing backs to respect the threat.

4.  Seattle Sounders — May have been No. 1 were it not for the injury to Jordan Morris. The fact is that even though Seattle was outplayed in last year’s final, the Sounders can bring ghosts with them to BMO Field.

3. New York City FC — City has two keys to their upset hopes. First, their opponent before TFC will likely be a Chicago team who is not racing to the finish line while the Reds will almost certainly face a team in form. The second is David Villa, who is maybe the best player in MLS history and, along with his manager, knows a thing or two about big games.

2. Vancouver Whitecaps — An All-Canadian Final would be hard for Don Garber to promote with a straight-face, but could be an amazing 90 minutes of soccer. The ‘Caps would have already navigated a rivarly-ridden road to Ontario, and Carl Robinson knows the ins and outs of Toronto. This would be a beauty. A beauty!

1. Sporting KC — If there is a manager in MLS more fit to match wits with Greg Vanney than Martino, it’s Peter Vermes. KC is a complete team with depth that will neither be scared of cold weather nor a boisterous stadium.

Vancouver adds versatile Juarez, formerly of Monterrey, Celtic

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Efrain Juarez is bringing his game to Major League Soccer.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 39-times capped Mexico veteran has inked a deal with the Vancouver Whitecaps, joining a strengthened unit which came within a point of winning the West last season.

Juarez, 29, was unveiled as a midfielder by the ‘Caps, though he’s primarily played right back in his club career. He’s played at Celtic, Real Zaragoza, Club America, Monterrey, and Pumas.

Last capped by El Tri in 2012, Juarez has played every position except goal, center attacking mid, and center forward in his career (picture a ‘U’ on the pitch).

“I’m so happy and excited for this new stage in my career,” Juarez said. “It’s an opportunity for me to keep growing in a new league and to be a part of an amazing club in Vancouver. From the moment they showed interest me, Carl Robinson and the Whitecaps staff have made me feel very important. I promise to put all my effort into this club and do my best to help us achieve our goals.”

VIDEO: Asensio goal ends Real Madrid’s winless run

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Marco Asensio’s eighth goal of the season and second of this Copa del Rey put an end to an unlikely Real Madrid winless run in a 1-0 victory at Leganes.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 21-year-old darted in front of a defender to volley home from in-tight, giving Real Madrid a first leg lead in the tournament quarterfinals.

More importantly, perhaps, it gives struggling Real a boost in morale after draws with Celta Vigo and Numancia, and a loss to Villarreal.

Real is home to Deportivo de la Coruna in La Liga before hosting Leganes in the second leg.

Hopeful Newcastle buyer Staveley: Offer still on the table

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Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley is probably happy that his for-sale club is away this weekend, even though his side’s up against Manchester City.

[ MORE: Top PL storylines — Week 24  ]

That’s because hopeful buyer Amanda Staveley has responded to claims that her hopeful takeover of the team won’t be happening any time soon.

Talks had stalled, said Tuesday reports, much to the chagrin of an #AshleyOut brigade that at times can make Arsenal’s #WengerOut brigade look like a yard full of happy puppies.

A “source” had said, “Attempts to reach a deal have proved to be exhaustive, frustrating and a complete waste of time,” but Staveley shot back on Thursday to reignite the fire. From the BBC, taken from The Times:

“Our bid remains on the table. This is an investment, but it has to be a long-term investment. Newcastle would be run as a business, but we want it to be a successful, thriving business that is an absolutely integral part of the city.”

She also said that popular manager Rafa Benitez is integral to her interest in the team, and that fact combined with her insistence that an offer remains on the table will have many Newcastle fans seething with current ownership (and there have been protests for years). It’s Ashley’s move now.

2018 MLS Mock Draft: LAFC, Galaxy hold the keys

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Major League Soccer’s latest batch of hopeful rookies learn the next steps of their professional careers beginning Friday with the first two rounds of the MLS SuperDraft.

There are several intriguing prospects, including accomplished Stanford center back Tomas Hilliard-Arce and dangerous Michigan winger Francis Atuahene.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

An MLS mock draft is always tricky given the wildly varying opinions on players from the college game. This year, it’s even trickier as clubs without picks and some with multiple first round picks may be looking to move up and down even more than the norm.

Here’s how we think the draft could play out:

  1. LAFC – Tomas Hilliard-Arce, CB, Stanford
  2. LA Galaxy – Jon Bakero, FW, Wake Forest
  3. DC United – Francis Atuahene, FW, Michigan
  4. Montreal – Joao Moutinho, LB, Akron
  5. Minnesota – Wyatt Omsberg, CB, Dartmouth
  6. Orlando City – Ema Twumasi, FW, Wake Forest
  7. Montreal – Chris Mueller, FW, Wisconsin
  8. New England – Mo Adams, MF, Syracuse
  9. New England – Chris Lema, MF, Georgetown
  10. Real Salt Lake – Justin Fiddes, LB, Washington
  11. FC Dallas – Marcelo Acuna, FW, Virginia Tech
  12. San Jose – Brandon Bye, RB, Western Michigan
  13. Sporting KC – Ed Opoku, FW, Virginia
  14. Atlanta – Alex Roldan, MF, Seattle
  15. Chicago – Mason Toye, FW, Indiana
  16. New York Red Bulls – Alan Winn, MF, North Carolina
  17. Vancouver – Tristan Blackmon, RB, Pacific
  18. Sporting KC – Jon Gallagher, FW, Notre Dame
  19. New York City FC – Daniel Musovski, FW, UNLV
  20. Houston – Mo Thiaw, FW, Louisville
  21. Columbus – Brian White, FW, Duke
  22. Seattle – Tim Kubel, MF, Louisville
  23. Toronto FC – Oliver Shannon, MF, Clemson

There are a few players to keep an eye on for the later rounds that I won’t project for the first round due almost exclusively to first person bias (Some I’ve seen play in college, others at other levels). Afonso Pinheiro from Albany produced like crazy until this season, and Bowling Green defender Alexis Souahy has a skill set that could really transmit to the MLS level.

Mac Steeves (Providence) is a prototypical big body scorer, while Evansville’s heady Ian McGrath has a flair for the absurd and can play almost every position up the center of the pitch. Charleston’s Thomas Vancaeyezeele was a D-2 monster and is probably worth a shot earlier than people suspect.