Major League Soccer team previews: TORONTO FC

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Each day from now until the beginning of Major League Soccer’s 18th season, we will preview one Eastern Conference team and one from the West. First kick is March 2.

No. 10 in the East is Toronto FC:

Significant additions and subtractions: Ryan Nelsen took over for Paul Mariner (who had taken over just a few months earlier from Aron Winter) in one of the truly bizarre coaching shifts yet seen in MLS. New club president Kevin Payne, the polarizing architect of so much that was good and so much that went wrong previously at D.C. United.

Canadian international Kyle Bekker was the third overall MLS draft pick.

Julio Cesar has moved north from Sporting Kansas City, and may play a significant role in the center of the park.

Strengths: Torsten Frings is a skillful, determined leader who adds valuable versatility – so long as he keeps himself healthy and motivated. The German veteran has only recently returned to Toronto, where he was either in rehabilitation, sorting out personal business or perhaps … well, who knows what? There seemed to be some whispers of discontent, and isn’t that just what this team in high transition needs?

TFC gets a huge boost if goalkeeper Stefan Frei is back to his 2011 form (after missing most of the 2012 season due to injury).

Pressure points: The roster isn’t where it needs to be, even Payne admits it. That’s why he’s been gathering up allocation money for the next move. Or moves. Let’s go with “moves.”

Reading too much into preseason results is always a dangerous thing. That said, it was not been a good preseason for TFC. And then some. Perhaps unfavorable results aren’t a surprise considering the teams’ top two players remain on the mend. And Justin Braun’s injury over the weekend is alarming, especially considering how much of the scoring burden he needed to tote pending Danny Koevermans’ healthy return (which isn’t happening anytime soon).

Cesar is a useful player, but he’s not anything close to Frings in terms of leadership and gumption.

None of these preseason woes would resonate as loudly if not for the club history, for the yawning gap that has always existed between TFC and the field. In a league where over half the teams make the playoffs each year (well over half in some of those seasons), TFC has failed to qualify for all six years of existence. The ongoing organizational flailing has been a huge beat-down for TFC supporters, who once showed up in waves. We see more and more empty seats around BMO Field, which is a doggone shame.

source: Getty Images

Jeremy Hall has a central midfielder? Hmmm. He’s been a right-sided guy through his entire career, and he’s been adequate at best there. It seems like a big stretch to play the man on the inside now – and it probably says something about TFC’s that flagging roster strength at the moment.

Difference maker: It’s Koevermans, but there is a huge asterisk here. The Dutch striker (pictured right), sizable and skillful, looks like a Golden Boot candidate when at his best. He has 17 goals in 26 appearances for the club, which is righteous production. But can he be at his best coming off major knee surgery? He’s not even expected to be on the field until June – and the Reds could be too far behind by then.

Potential breakout player: The club expects big things of Bekker, the third overall pick in January’s draft. He has played in the middle (as Bekker does for Canada) but also on the flanks for Ryan Nelsen’s team.

Bottom line: Given the injury concerns with Frings, Koevermans and Braun, it’s hard to be optimistic, especially over the season’s first 90 days.

England smash six past Panama to reach last 16

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  • Kane has eight goals in his last five games for England
  • Stones scores first two England goals; Lingard nets stunner
  • England qualify for last 16 of World Cup
  • Panama knocked out

England battered Panama 6-1 in Nizhny Novgorod on Sunday, as the Three Lions qualified for the last 16 of the 2018 World Cup with a group game to spare.

John Stones and Harry Kane both scored doubles (with headers and penalty kicks respectively) and Jesse Lingard scored a stunner in a stunning first half performance. Kane then completed his hat trick in the second half as he leads the World Cup in scoring with five goals.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

This marked the first time England had scored four goals in a World Cup game since 1966, while Panama have crashed out of their first-ever World Cup after conceding nine goals and scoring just once through Felipe Baloy’s late consolation.

England now face Belgium in Kaliningrad on Thursday in a clash for the top spot in Group G with both teams winning their opening two group games.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

Early on Panama carved out a few decent chances but Godoy fired over from a great position on the left and soon after England were ahead.

A Kieran Trippier corner from the right found John Stones completely unmarked and the Man City center back headed home his first goal. England’s first three goals at the World Cup had all come from their first eight corner kicks.

Panama responded well to going behind as Barcenas curled a shot just wide of the far post but then the killer second goal arrived for England midway through the first half. Jesse Lingard made a perfectly timed run towards but was then hauled down by Escobar and a penalty kick was awarded.

Kane slammed home the spot kick to make it 2-0 as England were in cruise control.

Harry Maguire nodded a header onto the roof of the net from another set piece opportunity, while Panama occasionally looked dangerous on the break but didn’t have a shot on target in the first half.

England then scored a third as Lingard curled home a stunner after fine interplay with Raheem Sterling, and soon it was 4-0. A superbly worked free kick saw Stones head home from close distance and soon after it was 5-0. Both Stones and Kane were wrestled in the box by Panamanian defenders and the latter stepped up to smash home his second and England’s fifth as Panama were in tatters.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

After the break England continued to pour forward and Kane soon completed his hat trick.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek‘s shot from distance deflected off Kane’s heel and flew in and moments later he was substituted with his job well and truly done.

Panama had a decent chance to grab a consolation goal but Jordan Pickford flew off his line to close the angle on Murillo, then skipper Roman Torres somehow side-footed wide from a corner late on.

However the consolation did arrive as Baloy finished superbly from a free kick to score Panama’s first-ever goal at a World Cup to at least give their fans something to celebrate in the 6-1 defeat.

VIDEO: Lingard nets stunner as England demolish Panama

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The Three Lions are cruising towards the last 16 of the World Cup.

England led Panama 5-0 in Nizhny Novgorod as the half time whistle blew and Lingard’s curler was the pick of the bunch as Harry Kane and John Stones each had a double with penalty kicks and headers respectively.

Watch Lingard’s stunner in the video below.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

Dempsey scores first goal of season, Sounders tie Fire

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SEATTLE (AP) Clint Dempsey scored his first goal of the season to match the Seattle regular-season career goals record, helping the Sounders tie the Chicago Fire 1-1 on Saturday night.

Dempsey tied the club record for regular-season goals with 47 set by Fredy Montero from 2009-12. It was Dempsey’s 57th goal across all competitions for the Sounders, three away from Montero’s overall mark.

Harry Shipp started the scoring play for the Sounders (3-8-3) midway through the first half, taking the ball up the attacking right side. He sent it ahead to Will Bruin, who took it to the top right corner of the 6-yard box. Bruin tapped the ball across, and Dempsey slid into it, sending his shot into the upper left side.

It was Dempsey’s first goal since last Nov. 30, when he scored in a 3-0 win over Houston in the second leg of the Western Conference final. His last regular-season tally was last Sept. 27 in a 3-0 victory over Vancouver in Seattle.

Chicago (5-7-5) went up 1-0 in the ninth minute. Brandt Bronico backheeled a pass to Aleksander Katai, who took control about 35 yards up from the goal. He dribbled up to the top left of the penalty area restraining arc and fired a shot past Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei to the back right corner for his sixth of the year.

MLS roundup: SKC roar back vs. HOU; FCD hammered by RBNY

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A roundup of, plus a few quick thoughts about, all of Saturday’s action from Week 16 of the 2018 MLS season…

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Sporting Kansas City 3-2 Houston DynamoFULL HIGHLIGHTS

Peter Vermes’ side fell 2-0 behind by halftime, courtesy of a costly error by reigning Defender of the Year Ike Opara in the second minute and a disastrous midfield breakdown in the 45th — both scored by Mauro Manotas. Sporting KC, who entered the weekend level on points with FC Dallas for first in the Western Conference (and four back of Atlanta United in the Supporters’ Shield race), were read the Riot Act at halftime, per Vermes, and responded accordingly.

Daniel Salloi bagged his fifth goal of the season in the 59th minute, and it was one-way traffic favoring Sporting from that point forward. Diego Rubio’s equalizer (assisted by Salloi, also his fifth) didn’t came until the 85th minute — the same minute in which he entered the game as a substitute — and Khiry Shelton’s winner (also assisted by Salloi) came three minutes later.

New York Red Bulls 3-0 FC Dallas — FULL HIGHLIGHTS

Despite playing with 10 men for more than an hour, the Red Bulls hammered the aforementioned side from Dallas to the tune of 3-0 at Red Bull Arena. The defeat snaps a four-game winning streak for FCD, as well as a seven-game unbeaten run dating back to late April.

Bradley Wright-Phillips opened the scoring in the 23rd minute, followed by Aaron Long (now a man down) in the 39th and Kemar Lawrence in the 48th (assisted by Kaku, making the 23-year-old Argentine-turned-Paraguayan the first player to reach 10 assists this season).

Los Angeles FC 2-0 Columbus Crew SC — FULL HIGHLIGHTS

LAFC did their damage early — Laurent Ciman in the 4th minute and Adama Diomande in the 8th — and Bob Bradley‘s side held on for 82 more minutes while limiting Crew SC to just one shot on target and handing Gregg Berhalter’s side a second straight loss and extending their current winless skid to five games. After riding alongside Atlanta atop the East standings a few weeks ago, Columbus have fallen to fourth and trail the Five Stripes by six points.

Elsewhere in MLS

Philadelphia Union 4-0 Vancouver Whitecaps
Orlando City SC 0-2 Montreal Impact
Colorado Rapids 3-2 Minnesota United
Real Salt Lake 1-1 San Jose Earthquakes
Seattle Sounders 1-1 Chicago Fire