What a breakthrough year for unheralded MLS strikers

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If we look at last year’s top goal scorers in Major League Soccer, it really was a case of the “usual suspects.”

The top six were Chris Wondolowski, Kenny Cooper, Alvaro Saborio, Robbie Keane and Thierry Henry and Eddie Johnson. That’s kind of a who’s who of known goal producers around MLS.

Furthermore, they were men with big stores of “been there, done that.” Cooper and Johnson were 28 to end last season. “Wondo” was a year older, 29. Henry, Keane and Saborio were already into their 30s.

More to the point here, at least four of them would have been circled as preseason favorites for the 2012 scoring title. Johnson and Cooper may have been slight surprises considering their career detours (or outright derailment in Johnson’s case). But given their histories of production and the fact that both remained in a striker’s career sweet spot (late 20s), their presence among the goal-scoring elite could hardly be called much of a surprise.

But look at the top goal-getters of 2013; this is no list of usual suspects!

These guys are talented, yes, but they are all breakout players in their own ways:

Jack McInerney, Philadelphia (First in MLS, 10 goals) – given last year’s late assault, this isn’t a 100 percent jaw-dropper. But you show me someone who thought “Jack Mac” would have a league-leading 10 goals by early June, I will show you someone who needs to be on the next plane for Vegas, because they are in possession of an actual, working model crystal ball.

Marco Di Vaio, Montreal (Second, 9 goals) – The Impact striker’s first year in MLS was good (5 goals in 17 matches), but it was “nice wine” good, not “$90-bottle champagne good.” So seeing Di Vaio (pictured) hit nine times in 12 matches this year is a real eye opener.

Claudio Bieler, Sporting Kansas City (Tied for third, 7 goals) – This is exactly why Sporting Kansas City imported the veteran Argentine striker this year. But we have seen plenty of strikers utterly fail to get anywhere close to good return on the Designated Player dollar. With DP strikers, we’ve learned to believe it when we see it.

Mike Magee, Chicago Fire (Tied for third, 7 goals) – The just-traded Chicago attacker hit his first for the Fire, adding to the six Magee struck for the Galaxy. So, clearly all the magic wasn’t left back at the Home Depot Center. (And it’s not even October or November yet; Magee tends to save his best for the stretch and for the post-season.)

Thierry Henry, New York Red Bulls (Tied for fifth, 6 goals) – Here’s the “outlier” of the list. Everyone paying attention expected to see the graceful Red Bull hit man up among the leaders.

 Dominic Oduro, Columbus Crew (Tied for fifth, 6 goals) – The man did have 12 goals for Chicago in that breakout 2011 season. Then again, Oduro has averaged just 4.5 goals over his other six MLS seasons, so 2011 looked like the anomaly. If he keeps this up, we’ll need to give that a re-think.

Chelsea issue injury update on Christian Pulisic

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Christian Pulisic is in contention to play against Manchester City on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

Chelsea boss Frank Lampard spoke to the media and was asked about Pulisic’s availability.

Speaking ahead of Chelsea’s trip to the Etihad Stadium, Lampard confirmed he has been back in training.

“He didn’t go and we had full on communication with the States, manager Gregg Berhalter and their medical team,” Lampard said. “They want their players for top games. He [Pulisic] had a problem going into Palace. He has trained again this midweek. He is in contention to play.”

Pulisic, 21, injured his right hip when scoring Chelsea’s second goal in the 2-0 win against Crystal Palace before the international break.

The American winger missed the international break as the USMNT’s two wins against Canada and Cuba, as they reached the CONCACAF Nations League finals without him.

For Chelsea he will be keen to pick up his sensational form over the last month as he’s scored five goals in his last three Premier League games for the Blues.

With Callum Hudson-Odoi picking up a hamstring issue over the international break, it seems highly likely that Pulisic will start once again for Chelsea in their biggest game of the season so far.

They travel to Man City looking for a seventh-straight Premier League win as they currently sit one place and one point ahead of Pep Guardiola‘s side.

Mohamed Salah an injury doubt for Liverpool

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Mohamed Salah is an injury doubt for Liverpool’s trip to Crystal Palace on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

Salah, 27, has been struggling with a right ankle injury over the last six weeks and he has been subbed off in his last three Premier League appearances for Liverpool as well as missing their draw at Man United last month.

“Yesterday he trained,” Klopp revealed. “He trained the whole time since he was here, but only the things we wanted him to do. Today is another important session to see how it looks and we can make the decision. It’s not that it got worse but it’s still kind of there, that’s the problem. We have to be sensible with things like this. But I didn’t make the decision. If I would have made a decision, I probably wouldn’t have told you now, but it’s true I have to see the session today.”

Andy Robertson and Joe Gomez are also injury doubts and late calls will be made on the duo, while Roberto Firmino, Fabinho, Alisson and Georginio Wijnaldum were all in international action and have only just returned to Liverpool’s Melwood training base.

“From the others, I cannot say 100 per cent, I don’t know 100 per cent,” Klopp said. “Today is a very important session to judge that, especially with the players who came back late.”

When it comes to Salah, he didn’t feature for Egypt during the international break and Liverpool have given him a special program to follow to build up the strength in his ankle.

The Egyptian winger has scored in recent home wins against Tottenham and Man City but his performance levels haven’t been as explosive as last season and that’s because he’s nursing this ankle injury. At some point Klopp needs to give him a rest, and with the busy festive season creeping ever closer, it seems like Liverpool’s boss is ready to rotate his squad a little more as they play in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday against Napoli.

Main takeaways from MLS contract deadline day

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Major League Soccer saw a lot of big names in the news as “Contract Deadline Day” played out across the U.S. and Canada.

— The New York Red Bulls watched two all-timers walk out the door, as Bradley Wright-Phillips did not get a new contract and the club declined its option on Luis Robles (STORY).

— Not a player move, but Austin FC announced the hiring of former NYCFC sporting director Claudio Reyna to the same position.

[ MORE: PST’s talk 1v1 with Reyna earlier this season ]

— Toronto FC is yet to reach a deal to keep Michael Bradley in town, but remains in contract talks with its captain. The same is true for Nicolas Benezet, while Drew Moor is out-of-contract.

— And that’s also what’s happening in Portland with Diego Valeri, the longtime star in talks with the team despite not having his option picked up.

Chicago Fire announced a new branding initiative, changing its logo from a classic crest to something else and dropping the SC for an FC. Like Columbus before them, everyone will still call them the fire and ignore the SC, FC, or whatever see. It’s what happens when you take a formal nickname.

The club also cut ties with playmakers Nico Gaitan and Aleksandar Katai.

— Minnesota United remains in talks to bring back Reading loanee and reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year winner Vito Mannone, and that means longtime backstop Bobby Shuttleworth will hit the open market.

— Orlando declined its option on Dillon Powers, and also let the clock run out on the contract of one-time megastar Sacha Kljestan.

— Real Salt Lake did not reach an agreement with Kyle Beckerman on a new deal, though MLSSoccer.com thinks he’s still in the mix.

— New England is letting Juan Agudelo walk into free agency.

— Atlanta United exercised the contract option for Julian Gressel, but he’s being badly underpaid and the club needs to find salary room for a proper new deal.

— Thierry Henry is keeping his two brightest attacker, with Ignacio Piatti getting another year at the club and Saphir Taider seeing his loan from Bologna made permanent.

— The Philadelphia Union did not exercise their option on Marco Fabian, and are letting Haris Medunjanin leave without a new deal.

— Roman Torres did not see his option exercised by the Sounders, and Kim Kee-hee is also leaving the club.

— Sporting KC waves goodbye to Seth Sinovic, Krisztian Nemeth, Benny Feilhaber, and Gedion Zelalem.

Brazilian player Taison banned in Ukraine for response to racism

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) Brazilian player Taison has been banned for one game for his reaction to racist abuse in a Ukrainian league game.

The Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder showed his middle finger to Dynamo Kyiv fans who had abused him with monkey chants and kicked the ball into the stands during a game Nov. 10. Taison was shown a red card.

[ MORE: Mou says Spurs can win the PL next season ]

The Ukrainian Football Association ordered Taison to serve a one-game ban plus a suspended two-game ban.

Dynamo has been fined 500,000 hryvnyas ($20,000) and ordered to play one game behind closed doors. Another one-game sanction is suspended.

World players’ union FIFPro says “sanctioning a victim of racial abuse is beyond comprehension and it plays into the hands of those who promote this kind of disgraceful behavior.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports