Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP

Is MLS MVP a three-horse race at the All-Star “break”?

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With the 2016 MLS All-Star Game set to be played Thursday night (versus Arsenal, at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, Calif.), it got me thinking about the race for this year’s Most Valuable Player award. (If MLS is going to continue holding the All-Star Game every year — and they are — it should include an actual break, as is the case in all other America sports.)

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While the field is a small one at this point of the campaign, it’s also much closer than it was last year, when Sebastian Giovinco took home the honor in an absolute landslide of a vote.

Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC

The reigning MVP is on pace for something of a come-down in his second season in MLS, but when you put up 22 goals and 16 assists in your debut campaign, can you really expect to replicate that kind of production from one year to the next? Still, 11 goals (on the most shots in the league – 124) and 7 assists through 20 games (Giovinco has played in 19) has him on pace for 18 goals and 12 assists. Of course, when you consider he snapped a skid of eight games without a goal with a hat trick Saturday night, and that he’s unlikely to endure such a slump through the final 14 games, 18 and 12 should be considered the proverbial floor.

TFC have scored just 25 goals this season, and Giovinco has scored or assisted 18 of them (72 percent).

As for TFC’s present standing and how that impacts Giovinco’s MVP candidacy, fifth place through 20 games is a disappointment considering this was to be “the year” where they were less of a collection of talent, and more a functional team. Of course, injuries (and national team call-ups) have robbed the Reds of Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Will Johnson for lengthy periods already. That TFC find themselves presently a playoff team, and a measly six points back of the Eastern Conference’s top spot with two games in hand, should benefit Giovinco’s case more than hurt it.

David Villa, New York City FC

This one’s pretty simple: NYCFC weren’t supposed to be anywhere near the top spot of the East this season, yet that’s where they find themselves at the break, and Villa has spearheaded their unlikely run by scoring 13 goals (most in MLS – on 117 shots – 46 more than the next-closest player) and one assist through 22 games (Villa has played in 21). The question is this, though: will Patrick Vieira’s side still be there come the end of the season? So much of Villa’s claim to MVP is that he’s been the best player on one of the best (and certainly most surprising) teams in MLS this year.

If they’re to fall back into the pack (they’re just two points clear of the New York Red Bulls following Sunday’s 4-1 derby disaster, and only four points from fourth), Villa will quickly fall from MVP candidate to “the best best player on a subpar team.”

New York City FC forward David Villa, left, and New York City FC defender Chris Wingert celebrate Villa's early goal during the first half of the match between New York City FC and Toronto FC, Sunday, July 12, 2015, at Yankee Stadium in New York. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)
(AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)

Ignacio Piatti, Montreal Impact

The Impact have, for my money, the most complete roster in the Eastern Conference. Didier Drogba is arguably the most dominant goal-scoring force MLS has ever seen (8 goals in 12 appearances this season; 11 in 11 last year), and the depth in midfield and defense is unparalleled, yet Piatti has been the unrivaled star through the first 20 games of the season (he has played in 18). His 12 goals and 5 assists are rivaled only by Giovinco’s numbers, and he’s been a far more consistent contributor than the Italian (never more than three games without a goal, while playing as a non-forward, unlike Giovinco).

The knock on Piatti has always been his inability to stay healthy and approach a pace of 30 appearances in a single season. Finally consistently healthy in 2016, he’s taken his short-term production and replicated that same kind of output over 90 percent of his team’s games this season. If he can reach 30 games played this year, Piatti has the best chance of stopping Giovinco from becoming the first back-to-back MVP winner in league history.

Montreal Impact's Ignacio Piatti, left, of Argentina, scores a goal as Vancouver Whitecaps' Kendall Waston, of Costa Rica, defends during first half MLS soccer action, in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Sunday, March 6, 2016. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
(Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)

On the fringe, with a chance to catch the leaders: Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls – 5 goals, 12 assists), Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers – 9 goals, 5 assists)

Bournemouth – Tottenham, Everton – Southampton: Stream, how to watch

Bournemouth - Tottenham
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Bournemouth – Tottenham and Everton – Southampton take place on Thursday as the Cherries need the win to try and save themselves from relegation, while Spurs need to stay in the top four hunt. (Watch live at 1pm ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth have been awful since the restart, losing all four games, and are in deep trouble in the bottom three with a very tough run of games to end the season.

Jose Mourinho and Tottenham beat Everton 1-0 last time out and they are still in the hunt to finish in fifth place, which could be a Champions League spot.

BOURNEMOUTH – TOTTENHAM STREAM LIVE

EVERTON – SOUTHAMPTON STREAM LIVE

As for the other early game on Thursday, Everton host Southampton with just one point and one place between them. Everton sit in 11th on 44 points, while Saints are in 12th on 43 points after their shock win against Man City last weekend.

Here’s a look at the team news for the two games at 1pm ET.


Team news

Bournemouth bring back Callum Wilson as he returns from suspension, while Dan Gosling comes back into the midfield.

Tottenham bring Jan Vertonghen into central defense to replace the injured Dier, while Steven Bergwijn and Erik Lamela come into the starting lineup with Heung-min Son on the bench.

Everton bring Anthony Gordon and Yerry Mina into the team with Gylfi Sigurdsson on the bench and Mason Holgate out injured.

Ralph Hasenhuttl names the same Southampton team which beat Manchester City on Sunday, while Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is fit enough for a place on the bench.


 

Odds and ends (Full matchweek odds)

DraftKings have Tottenham (-157) as the heavy favorites at Bournemouth (+425) with the tie at +310. Anything other than a big Spurs win would be surprising but we all know the Cherries have a few shocks up their sleeves.

As for the game at Goodison, Everton have a great all-time home record against Southampton and the Toffees are the favorites (+100) but Southampton (+270) have been in sensational form away from home for most of this season. The draw at +255 looks very interesting.


How to watch Bournemouth – Tottenham stream, start time

Kickoff: 1 pm ET Wednesday
TV Channel: NBCSN
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

How to watch all Premier League games

Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

MLS: Black Lives Matter protests; Nashville out due to COVID; Orlando, Philly win

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The MLS is Back tournament kicked off in Orlando, Florida over the last 24 hours and the headlines have been centered around the moving Blacks Lives Matter protests, Nashville SC leaving due to COVID-19 cases and wins for Orlando and Philadelphia.

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First up, the Black Lives Matter protests on Wednesday evening before the Orlando City SC v. Inter Miami CF game lasted for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

That was the length of time police officer Derek Chauvin had his knee on the neck of George Floyd.

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Players from all teams got together to lead the protests, as the Black Players for Change in MLS group organized the show of solidarity for the movement.

The other main headline off the pitch is that first-year MLS team Nashville SC is heading home after nine players tested positive for COVID-19.

Reports had surfaced from The Athletic about multiple cases within the squad ahead of their arrival in Orlando and MLS commissioner Don Garber said late Wednesday a decision would be made on Nashville’s involvement in the tournament.

Sources have told ProSoccerTalk that Nashville are out of the tournament, although official confirmation has yet to arrive. If confirmed, as expected, then the tournament will now consist of 24 teams after FC Dallas were also unable to compete. Chicago would move from Group A to Group B so that all groups have four teams for the tournament.

On the pitch, the first-ever meeting between Orlando City SC and Inter Miami saw the tournament hosts win 2-1 thanks to a late winner from captain Nani. Juan Agudelo had given Miami the lead but Chris Mueller equalized off Nani’s cross before the Portuguese legend secured the win.

The first early morning game took place on Thursday as the Philadelphia Union beat New York City FC 1-0 thanks to a fine strike from captain Alejandro Bedoya. Union goalkeeper Andre Blake made a string of fine saves to deny NYCFC.

Before the game the Union players all wore the names of Black people who have been killed by police on the back of their jerseys rather than their own surnames as a moving tribute to their memory.

Transfer news: Havertz to Chelsea; Ozil to MLS

Kai Havertz to Chelsea
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In the latest transfer news the latest update on Kai Havertz to Chelsea has arrived, while Mesut Ozil could be heading to MLS.

[ MORE: New PL TV schedule ]

Starting in west London, Kai Havertz, 21, has reportedly said he wants to join Chelsea and has handed in a transfer request to Bayer Leverkusen.

The German attacker is valued at $113 million by Leverkusen and although that transfer fee may be a little high for Chelsea, it is clear that Havertz will be worth it.

Per multiple reports, Havertz wants to join new signings Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech in reshaping the Chelsea attack and is ready to hand in a transfer request to make it happen.

Frank Lampard has revealed his admiration for Havertz and if Chelsea can pull this deal off, their attack is set. The big problem for Chelsea is in defense as they continue to make silly mistakes at the back but with Werner and Ziyech arriving, plus Havertz on the way and Christian Pulisic in fine form, this Chelsea attack will be lethal next season.

Mesut Ozil to MLS
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Heading to north London, Mesut Ozil could be heading to MLS according to a report from The Sun.

Ozil, 31, has one year left on his huge contract at Arsenal but continues to be on the outside looking in when it comes to Mikel Arteta’s plans.

According to the report, Ozil will see out the remaining year of his contract at Arsenal and will then move to either MLS or Turkey. He has told close friends those are the two places he wants to play next.

Could we see Ozil in MLS next summer? I could.

His talent is undoubted but his career is fizzling out at Arsenal and in the Premier League. He earns over $440,000 per week and can’t even get off the bench for the Gunners.

Premier League will be part of Peacock’s July 15 launch

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The Premier League will air on July 15 as part of the launch of Peacock, as NBCUniversal’s new streaming service will arrive with plenty of PL action.

[ MORE: New PL TV schedule

Premier League action on Wednesday, July 15 will be free to all fans with our studio shows, games and analysis being aired commercial free. How about that!?

The marquee game on July 15 is Arsenal hosting Liverpool (start time, 3:15pm ET) and we will be on air from 12-6pm ET with four games, reaction, analysis and much more.

ACCESS PEACOCK FOR FREE

Our studio host Rebecca Lowe explains exactly how it will all work and how you can sign up, with more details about Peacock on the link above.

Here are more details on how it will all go down on July 15:


On July 15, Peacock will be the exclusive home for all free NBC Sports’ Premier League coverage featuring four matches – including newly-crowned champions Liverpool visiting Arsenal at 3:15 p.m. ET – and the full complement of studio programming including prematch, halftime and postgame.

In addition, NBC Sports’ six hours of coverage, beginning at Noon ET, on July 15 will be presented without commercial interruption.

To get fans ready, Peacock will celebrate “Premier League Day” across social channels tomorrow, Thursday, July 9. Follow Peacock on InstagramTwitter and Facebook for top plays, celebrations and games for fans.

Following is the July 15 schedule for free NBC Sports’ Premier League coverage on Peacock (all times ET, subject to change):

Date Time (ET) Match
Wed., July 15 Noon Premier League Live
Wed., July 15 1 p.m. Burnley v. Wolverhampton Wanderers
Wed., July 15 1 p.m. Manchester City v. Bournemouth
Wed., July 15 1 p.m. Newcastle v. Tottenham
Wed., July 15 3:15 p.m. Arsenal v. Liverpool
Wed., July 15 5:15 p.m. Goal Zone