MLS first kick 24 hours away – but clubs remain busy adding and subtracting

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For all we soccer geeks, this 72-hour off-season for Major League Soccer is about the best thing this side of free wi-fi.

OK, it was a little longer than 72 hours – but not much.

From last kick of 2012 MLS Cup until Saturday’s first kick of 2013, a mere three months has gone by. (For clubs and players, the down time was somewhere between six and 10 weeks, depending on when they bombed out of the post-season picture; preseason practices began around Jan. 18 for most clubs.)

For those of us who find a little more pep in our step once MLS regular season passing and trapping begins anew, the freshly compressed off-season time frame is a whole lot of awesome. It does, however, add some element of difficulty as clubs go through the off-season paces of roster fortification.

MORE: full roster of PST previews and predictions for MLS)

The league’s shortest off-season yet has made it more difficult for teams to get their rosters set within a more ideal time frame.

Thus, quite a few clubs continue to make significant roster moves, still adding and trimming, continuing to create the best possible personnel assembly, never mind that first kick is now about 24 hours away.

We find this, for instance, in Seattle, where the Sounders continue to finalize plans on importing Obafemi Martins into Century Link Field.   “We are on the verge of finalising everything and it should be another step in my career,” Martins told BBC Sport.

We told you this morning about Portland Timbers adding English league veteran Frédéric Piquionne, who will not be available for the Timbers opener Sunday against New York.

Of course, there are all kinds of comings and goings in Toronto, where the makeover will apparently stretch into … well, hard to say how long. Just yesterday, Torsten Frings announced his retirement, subtracting one of the club’s most experienced men.

And if you believe the reports today, Welsh international Robert Earnshaw is on his way to BMO Field. (Earnshaw is pictured above.) (FYI, the wise Bobby McMahon from Fox Soccer Report calls Earnshaw the “poor man’s Robbie Keane.” Brilliant.

Elsewhere, some late preseason signings are just now signing up, such as Andrew Driver in Houston, who made his first Dynamo practice just this very morning.

More moves are certainly on the way. Remember, whereas the international transfer window closed Jan. 30 in many parts of the world, it remains open in MLS through May 6. Plus, players out of contract may move into MLS at any time.

VIDEO: Tunisia equalizes on controversial penalty kick

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England centerback Kyle Walker put his arm up to halt the forward progress of Fakhreddine Ben Youssef. Unfortunately for Walker, Ben Youssef was in the box and Walker’s elbow caught Ben Youssef’s face.

Referee Wilmar Roldan quickly whistled for a penalty kick and despite the protests from a half-dozen of England players and a check from the VAR, the called stood. Ferjani Sassi’stepped up to the spot and found the lower-left corner, just barely beating Jordan Pickford to tie the game in the 35th minute.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news

How will England respond?

VIDEO: Captain Kane puts England on the board early

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It may be the easiest goal-scoring opportunity Harry Kane‘s ever had in an international competition, and he finished it as easy as you’d like.

Kane side-footed home after Tunisia goalkeeper Mouez Hassen made a terrific save on John Stone’s header off a corner, but the save was directed right into a wide-open Kane who was standing ready inside the six yard box. The 11th minute goal will surely settle some of the Three Lions’ nerves as they open their World Cup bid in Russia.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news

After slow start, Belgium takes care of business against feisty Panama

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All it took was one goal to bring Belgium to life.

Following a frustrating first 45 minutes, in which Belgium put a pair of shots into the side netting and forced saves from Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, Dries Mertens 47th minute goal opened the floodgates, as Belgium went on to defeat Panama, 3-0, Monday afternoon in Sochi.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

But Panama never made it easy for the Belgians. From the opening whistle the CONCACAF nation showed its incredible spirit, chasing down Belgium all across the field and making life incredibly difficult for Belgium attackers Romelu Lukaku, Mertens and Eden Hazard. Hazard was hacked down all over the field, and while he did earn fouls and a few yellow cards were issued to Panamanian players, it was enough to get in Hazard’s head.

Two minutes into the second half, everything changed. A wonderstrike from Mertens opened the game, and forced Panama to attack and try and tie the match, which gave Hazard, de Bruyne and Lukaku more space to operate.

In the heat and humidity of the Sochi summer, Panama’s veteran defense began to tire, allowing de Bruyne the space to deliver a terrific assist to Lukaku in the box, putting Belgium up 2-0 in the 69th minute.

 

Six minutes later, Lukaku was put through on the break, chipping over Penedo to confirm the victory.

With the win, Belgium moves to the top of Group G. Up next for Belgium is Tunisia on Saturday, while Panama takes on England on Sunday.

VIDEO: de Bruyne delivers gorgeous assist on Lukaku goal

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It took a little bit of patience, but Romelu Lukaku finally got on the scoresheet at the 2018 World Cup, thanks to a delicious assist from crosstown club rival Kevin De Bruyne.

The Manchester City playmaker delivered a spectacular outside-of-the-boot cross into the box, where Lukaku’s head met it and guided it towards the far post for Belgium’s second goal of the day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news