MLS Preview: Chicago Fire at Montreal Impact

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Was Montreal’s surprising burst of March largesse just a mirage for the Impact, which has suddenly drifted toward a place where more of us expected to find them all along?

This is a toughie to sort out. Under new manager Marco Schallibaum, the Impact had MLS heads on a swivel a month ago, turning to get a closer look as the bunch from Quebec was perfect in its first four. A 1-0 win over New York back on March 23 served to extinguish any remaining doubts; the sophomore MLS side really did look like a player in the Eastern Conference race.

And then April happened.

Actually, the slide (if we’re calling it that) started in late March with a 2-0 loss in Kansas City. But everyone struggles in Kansas City, right?

A 1-1 draw at home against Columbus could also be written off as an odd duck of a result; the match was delayed 24 hours by massive snowfall. Besides, Columbus has proven to be a bugger on the road.

But then came Wednesday’s 2-0 loss at rival Toronto in the Amway Canadian Championship. So it leaves us all to wonder if the early Impact burst was smoke-and-mirrors stuff? Or was that close to the real Impact, with this recent splat of mediocrity sure to be a passing thing, just the inevitable dip over a long season?

Let’s talk after Saturday’s meeting with the Chicago Fire at cozy little Stade Saputo; kickoff on the NBC Sports Network is 4 p.m. ET.

Schallibaum has some lineup juggling to do; this is the club’s second match of a ridiculously busy stretch with six contests in 18 days.

Chicago’s Frank Klopas won’t have the same busy-busy issues, his club well rested and presumably enjoying an uptick of confidence after last week’s 1-0 win at home, venting some of the mounting pressure around the club’s suburban Bridgeview ground. Huge goal, Jeff Larentowicz!

Arne Friedrich, proving to be even more of a defensive giant for the Fire in his ongoing absence, remains injured and unavailable for Chicago. Jalil Anibaba was strong last week in Friedrich’s spot alongside 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year Austin Berry.

Klopas will have to adjust the back line, however, due to Wells Thompson suspension, so a new right back will find the Stade Saputo field.

Montreal will call on back line reinforcements, too, as Matteo Ferrari’s calf strain will keep the veteran defender out a few weeks.

Best matchup to watch in this one: Impact holding midfielder Patrice Bernier (pictured above) remains something of a well-kept MLS secret. He’ll find himself more or less directly matched with Fire attacking midfielder Chris Rolfe, who hasn’t quite had a big 2013. But then again, no one with the Fire really has.

Euro 2020 Roundup: France thrashes Moldova, Portugal fails to score

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France showed on Friday that it hasn’t lost its mojo, as it tore apart Moldova on the road, 4-1, in its Euro 2020 qualifying opener.

Antoine Griezmann, Raphael Varane, Olivier Giroud and Kylian Mbappe all scored in the win for France, which jumps well ahead in the Group H standings. For Giroud, it tied him for third in all-time scoring for Les Bleus.

Elsewhere, Portugal suffered a surprising result in a scoreless draw with Ukraine. The defending European champions failed to score, despite starting Bernardo Silva and Cristiano Ronaldo up top. It’s the third straight time that Portugal has started off a qualification campaign without a win.

Here’s a look at the other scores around Euro 2020 qualifying on Friday:

Bulgaria 1-1 Montenegro

Albania 0-2 Turkey

Andorra 0-2 Iceland

Luxembourg 2-1 Lithuania

Indicted UCLA men’s soccer coach, former USMNT defender resigns

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LOS ANGELES (AP) UCLA men’s soccer coach Jorge Salcedo has resigned in the wake of his indictment in the college admissions scandal.

School spokeswoman Liza David said Friday that Salcedo quit after being on leave since the charges became public last week.

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Salcedo appeared in court last week after he was accused of taking payments totaling $200,000 in exchange for helping one male and one female applicant gain admission to UCLA under the false pretense that they were soccer recruits when they didn’t play competitive soccer.

He was one of nearly 50 people charged in the scandal that involved prestigious schools like Yale, Stanford, Southern California and Georgetown.

UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero said in a statement Friday that the school is conducting an internal review of the student-athlete admissions process.

“I understand and share the outrage that this news has sparked,” Guerrero said. “The behavior described in the allegations is disturbing and unacceptable.”

Salcedo, a former UCLA All-American and national champion, was the second-longest tenured head coach in program history. During his 15 years, the Bruins made two appearances in the national championship game. Prior to his coaching career, Salcedo played professionally in Mexico and the U.S. He played in the LA Galaxy’s inaugural season, also featuring for the Columbus Crew, Chicago Fire and Tampa Bay Mutiny. He went on to record three caps for the U.S. Men’s National Team.

Assistants Matt Taylor and Phil Marfuggi have taken over the men’s team.

Salcedo is scheduled to appear in federal court Monday in Boston, where the charges originated.

Atlanta’s Martinez scores as Venezuela shocks Argentina

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It was supposed to be Lionel Messi’s big night in his return to the Argentine National Team after a nine month break. Instead, it may have reminded him why he left in the first place.

Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez scored a second-half penalty, Newcastle United’s Salomon Robson opened the scoring and the Vinotino of Venezuela shocked Argentina, 3-1 in a friendly match played at the Wanda Metropolitana in Madrid. For all the starpower of both sides, MLS was represented, as Martinez’s club teammate Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez started for Argentina alongside Messi.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The result was another blow to coach Lionel Scaloni as he tries to rebuild an aging Albiceleste side with a frail defense. Meanwhile it is a huge boost for Venezuela ahead of this summer’s Copa America in Brazil.

It only took six minutes for Rondon to put Venezuela on the board. Tottenham’s Juan Foyth was unable to deal with the Newcastle striker as a terrific direct pass from leftback Roberto Rosales found its way to Rondon, who provided a calm finish.

Just before halftime, Jhon Murillo curled home a delightful strike to put Venezuela up 2-0. Pity Martínez was substituted at halftime and while Lautaro Martinez pulled a goal back for Argentina, it was not to be Argentina’s night. Foyth again was to blame as he took down Darwin Machis in the box, setting up Josef Martinez to put the final nail in the coffin.

England kicks off Euro 2020 qualification in style

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It’s been nine months since the 2018 World Cup, but England looked as if it picked up where it left off in Russia.

The Three Lions opened their Euro 2020 qualification on the right foot with a 5-0 win over the Czech Republic on Friday at Wembley Stadium. Raheem Sterling carried his terrific form in front of goal into the international game, finishing with a hat trick. Meanwhile, Harry Kane scored once and picked up a hockey assist on England’s opener as he set the play in motion.

[READ: USMNT ratings vs. Ecuador]

It was the kind of performance England fans have longed to see against Europe’s weaker sides, though in the past England had been unable to break those opponents down. On Friday, just about everything went to plan.

In the opening minutes, England set the tone with their attacking 4-3-3 approach, especially with fullbacks Kyle Walker and Ben Chillwell getting up into the attack. Kane unlocked the Czech Republic defense in the 24th minute with a terrific pass to find Jadon Sancho in space in the box, which you can see in the graphic below. Sancho quickly slid a ball across the face of goal that Sterling slid home to put England up 1-0.

Just before halftime, Sterling was involved again as he was bundled down in the penalty box, leading to a penalty kick. Kane stepped up and cooly dispatches the ball in for England’s second.

In the second half, as the Czech Republic tried to push forward, that left space open in behind. Dele Alli slid a ball into the box for Sterling, who’s initial attempt was blocked. However, the ball popped out to his left and Sterling curled a strike home with terrrific poise. Sterling put a bow on his terrific performance with a strike that took a heavy deflection off Ondrej Celustka and found the net.

Less than two years after winning the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, Callum Hudson-Odoi made his England debut replacing Sterling. The debut is significant, as Hudson-Odom hasn’t started a league match yet.

In the 84th minute, a Chelsea connection led to England’s fifth goal. Sancho dribbled through the middle of the field diagonally before finding Hudson-Odoi out left. The youngster cut inside and fired a strike on goal that was saved by Czech goalkeeper Jiri Pavlenka. But the rebound off Pavlenka’s save was somehow put into his own goal by Czech defender and former Chelsea signing Tomas Kalas.