MLS Preview: Seattle Sounders vs. Toronto FC

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On Saturday, two USMNT stars will be pitted against one another, with Seattle’s Clint Dempsey facing off against Toronto’s new acquisition, Michael Bradley as the two sides go head-to-head at CenturyLink Field (Watch live on NBCSN, 4:30 p.m. ET and online via Live Extra).

Seattle will be looking for a second straight win to start off their season. Last week, the Sounders had to wait until injury time before they were finally able to break down Sporting KC. Substitute Clint Dempsey saw his header rebound off the crossbar and Chad Barrett pounced, putting in the winner.

It’s Toronto’s first match of the season, and they’ll be hoping that a revamped squad gives them enough of a boost to overcome Seattle – and its 12th man present at all home games. At least six new players could feature in the visitors’ starting lineup. Bradley Orr, Justin Morrow, and Jackson are all expected to be in coach Ryan Nelsen’s plans. Dwayne De Rosario could get his (re)debut. Jermain Defoe could start. And of course, there’s Bradley.

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The extra week of rest certainly benefited Toronto, particularly since Bradley had been nursing a foot injury. However, the midfielder may not get as many minutes as fans would like, as Nelsen is concerned about the poor turf in Seattle. The visitors will be without new forward Gilberto, however, who didn’t make the trip due to injury.

As for Seattle, well, it’s nearly certain that Dempsey will be more than a mere substitute this time around. The hosts will be hoping he gives their offense a boost, as Kenny Cooper and Obafemi Martins looked rather ineffectual last time around. And, of course, Stefan Frei will be in goal to face his former side, with Sigi Schmid confirming that he’s the Sounders’ first-choice keeper.

What they’re saying

Seattle GM Adrian Hanauer on Clint Dempsey: My expectations are that he’s going to win a bunch of games. That’s all he can do. I don’t really care if he scores goals or makes assists, as long as he helps us win games. Having him be here from the first game of the year is going to be a big benefit. I expect Clint to be a big part of a winning team this year.

Ryan Nelsen on the problem with Michael Bradley: “The problem with Michael is kind of stopping him from doing stuff, he’s so keen and so eager, over-keen and over-eager, which is why he’s such a good player. It’s more holding him back and pulling on the reigns is my biggest problem with Michael.”

Prediction

Seattle claim another three points. Toronto have made some smart acquisitions in the offseason, but they may not have all gelled together just yet. At least, not enough for them to defeat the Sounders. Besides, Frei is going to be pulling on some otherworldly strengths to make sure his former side don’t put any balls in the back of the net.

VIDEO: Portugal lead Iran at HT; Spain 1-1 Morocco

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We’re through the first 45 minutes of Monday’s Group B finales at the 2018 World Cup, and things are happening. A quick rundown…

[ SCENARIOS: Who needs what, to finish where, in final round of group games ]

Andres Iniesta and Sergio Ramos combined to commit a disastrous gaffe at midfield, resulting in a goal for Khalid Boutaib in the 14th minute. At this point, Spain would have finished second, behind Portugal, and headed to the far more difficult side of the knockout bracket.

Five minutes later, it was Iniesta who, with a little help from some slightly lesser geniuses, unlocked the Moroccan defense to set up Isco for an emphatic finish. La Furia Roja moved back to the top of the group, on goals scored.

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

In the afternoon’s other game, Portugal and Iran appeared destined for a 0-0 scoreline at halftime, until Ricardo Quaresma unleashed a stunning, outside-of-the-foot curler from outside the box to beat the goalkeeper and put Portugal ahead — both on the day, and in the table. As things currently stand, Portugal would win the group and Spain would finish second.

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 4

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In the fourth episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England players have been preparing for their next match in an unusual way, Argentina has a huge meltdown, and more.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

Click play on the video above to watch the fourth episode in full.

Atlanta leads way with six All-Star Fan XI selections

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It may be hard to believe with all the World Cup festivities going on, but the Major League Soccer season is nearly halfway over.

[ MORE: Toronto FC’s 2018 has been far from their cup-winning 2017 ]

And that means it’s almost All-Star time.

The MLS All-Stars will continue their recent tradition of facing a European superpower in August, with Juventus being welcomed to the United States in early August.

But, which players from MLS will we see in action?

Last season’s expansion sweetheart Atlanta United leads the way in the fan voting with six players from the Eastern Conference side voted into the Fan XI, including attackers Miguel Almiron, Ezequiel Barco, Darlington Nagbe and Josef Martinez.

Goalkeeper Brad Guzan and defender/captain Michael Parkhurst also made the team from Atlanta.

In all, only five clubs were represented based on the Fan XI, with the LA Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Los Angeles FC’s Carlos Vela and Laurent Ciman, Sporting KC’s Graham Zusi and Portland Timbers star Diego Valeri each rounding out the squad.


Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United)

Defenders: Michael Parkhurst (Atlanta United), Laurent Ciman (Los Angeles Football Club), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Miguel Almirón (Atlanta United), Ezequiel Barco (Atlanta United), Darlington Nagbe (Atlanta United), Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers)

Forwards: Josef Martínez (Atlanta United), Zlatan Ibrahimović (LA Galaxy), Carlos Vela (Los Angeles Football Club – EA SPORTS™ “More Than a Vote” Challenge)

Saudi Arabia steals late win over Egypt in Group A finale

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Saudi Arabia pulled off a late 2-1 win against Egypt on Monday in their Group A finale, as the two nations ended their 2018 World Cup run in the group stage.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

Salem Al Sawsari scored in the fifth minute of second half stoppage time to give the Saudis a late winner in the match, as the attacker struck the post in the dying moments before the ball crossed the line.

The Pharaohs took the lead in the 22nd minute, after a tremendous run from Mohamed Salah and lob over the Saudi Arabia goalkeeper.

Salah has two goals at the World Cup for Egypt, who were already eliminated heading into Monday’s match.

Saudi Arabia was granted a chance to equalize prior to halftime, however, goalkeeper Essam El Hadary brilliantly stopped Hattan Bahebri’s penalty kick in the 41st minute to preserve the Egypt advantage.

El Hadary became the oldest player in World Cup history to appear in a match at the age of 45.

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

The Egypt keeper wasn’t as lucky the second time around though, with Salmon Al Faraj converting a penalty kick in the 51st minute.

Saudi Arabia finishes group play in third place on three points, while Egypt goes winless in its three matches.