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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.)

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

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)

Bayern signs Odriozola on loan from Real Madrid

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MUNICH (AP) Bayern Munich signed Spain right back Alvaro Odriozola on loan from Real Madrid on Wednesday to help ease its defensive worries after a spate of injuries.

[ MORE: Eriksen holds talks with Levy; Inter “still confident” ]

The Bavarian powerhouse said the 24-year-old Odriozola signed a deal to the end of the season after successfully passing a medical examination.

“We decided to fulfill our head coach Hansi Flick’s wish to strengthen the defense and decided for Alvaro Odriozola,” Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said. “We’re very happy with the transfer and thank the management at Real Madrid for the very friendly and cooperative talks.”

Bayern defenders Niklas Sule, Lucas Hernandez and Javi Martinez are out with injuries and 23-year-old Benjamin Pavard — a center back — had been filling in at right back. Odriozola’s arrival will free the French player to return to his usual position.

[ MORE: Cavani “will go to Atletico Madrid” if PSG let him leave ]

Madrid paid a reported $33 million to sign Odriozola from Real Sociedad in 2018, but the winger has barely played since. He made only four league appearances this season, with Dani Carvajal preferred at right back.

Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane gave the go-ahead for Odriozola’s transfer on Tuesday. Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao were also reportedly interested.

Odriozola has one goal in four appearances for Spain.

Bayern is hoping to claw back a four-point deficit on Bundesliga leader Leipzig to claim a record-extending eighth straight title.

Eriksen holds talks with Levy; Inter ‘still confident in this deal’

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Christian Eriksen met with chairman Daniel Levy on Tuesday in his latest attempt to secure his Tottenham Hotspur exit during the January transfer window, according to a report from Sky Sports.

[ MORE: Levy reportedly met with Real Madrid about Gareth Bale ]

Eriksen already has a pre-contract agreement with Inter Milan in place, but the Danish playmaker and the Serie A club are hopeful of completing the signing this month. Inter submitted a $14.5-million bid (plus bonuses) for Eriksen earlier this week, but Levy is said to be holding out for his $22-million valuation, fully guaranteed, of the player.

Eriksen’s agent is also expected to meet with Levy following Wednesday’s Premier League clash with Norwich City (Watch live, 2:30 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold) in yet another attempt to broker a deal between the two clubs.

[ MORE: Cavani “will go to Atletico Madrid” if PSG let him leave ]

Inter Milan chief executive Giuseppe Marotta remains optimistic that an agreement can be reached this month, as he told Sky Italia, “We’re waiting and we’re still confident in this deal.”

In the Mixed Zone: Chelsea v. Arsenal

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LONDON — To make sure you have every angle covered for the marquee Premier League games, our new feature “In the Mixed Zone” will take you behind-the-scenes and into the tunnel areas to hear from the star players moments after their magic has decided games or drama has ensued.

[ MORE: In the Mixed Zone ]

The idea is to set the scene of being inside the tunnel area in Old Trafford, by the dugouts at Stamford Bridge and in the swanky new players area in Tottenham Hotspur’s stadium as Premier League stars walk out of the dressing room and break down the game with media members around the world.

We will tell you what they are saying and the kind of antics going on amid the hubbub of the mixed zone as players from both teams have their say on the 90-plus minutes of action we’ve just witnessed.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Here’s the scene from pitch side at Stamford Bridge in the hour or so after the full time whistle blew between Chelsea and Arsenal, as their crazy end-to-end clash ended in a 2-2 draw after late drama, red cards and superb solo goals.

Safe to say one set of players were more keen to stop and chat with us than the other, as Arsenal’s players must have a secret exit…


10:30 p.m. (local time): Mixed Zone opens on the side of the pitch at Stamford Bridge, just in front of the dugouts as a flimsy advertizing board is put up. Chelsea’s players are warming down in the background. With Pedro, Batshuayi, Alonso and Mount running sprints up and down the pitch on a chilly west London night. To be fair, I may join them. Cannot feel my hands after two hours or so sat outside tapping away at a laptop…

10:35: Reece James is the first player to walk the mixed zone, walking a little gingerly and dodging behind the sponsorship boards as he is looking sheepish. The young defender, dressed in a tracksuit, missed the game through injury but Frank Lampard confirmed it was nothing serious.

10:38: One of just a few Arsenal players to walk through the mixed zone (seriously, have they borrowed Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak!?) Rob Holding has a big smile on his face as he says hello. A late sub, Holding spent a ridiculous amount of time warming up on the sidelines as it looked like he would come on in the first half but Granit Xhaka played very well at center back.

10:42: Next up is current Chelsea striker (for how much longer?) and former Arsenal star Olivier Giroud. Asked about a reported move to Inter Milan and if this was his last time on the pitch at Stamford Bridge, Giroud laughed when journalists said “Arrivederci” to him. Giroud won’t speak about a move to Inter Milan, which is understandable as he didn’t make it onto the pitch. But maybe with Tammy Abraham picking up a knock he won’t be allowed to head to Milan after all…

10:45: Talking of Milan, Andreas Christensen looked very moody and magnificent as he strode past the media like it was a catwalk in the famed fashion capital of Italy and the world. A tough night for the young Danish center back once again, as Chelsea’s fans were very nervous every time he got on the ball and the Blues were guilty of giving up possession cheaply at the back.

10:48: Robert Pires has been seen gliding around the press areas as he works for French TV. Imagine him on the wing for this Arsenal side! My word, that man could open a can of beans with his left foot…

10:51: With a lull in the players walking through, we popped into the press conference room to hear from Mikel Arteta. Sporting a lovely turtleneck sweater, Arteta was beaming when asked about the character of his young side as they played for over 60 minutes with 10 men and looked the more likely to win it late on. Arteta singled out Bakayo Saka, Granit Xhaka, Hector Bellerin, Alexandre Lacazette and Gabriel Martinelli for special praise but admitted his entire team showed the desire he is asking for as they look to turn things around.

“The togetherness and leadership they showed today, this is what I wanted to see. It’s very important for the development. We are in the a process and are going in the right direction but I think tonight is a special night for everybody,” Arteta told BBC’s Match of the Day. Right on, Mikel, right on.

Arsenal skipper Hector Bellerin, who was lauded by the away fans after his late left foot swinger grabbed them a point, talks about their progress under Arteta in touch circumstances with so many players injured and out of position: “The second half had been very tough for the team. You could see the spirit in the team. I am very proud and the manager I’m sure is very happy with how we responded with 10 men.”

BTW, Bellerin’s cockney/Spanish accent is absolutely amazing. That is all.

10:54: Croatian midfielder Mateo Kovacic strolls through as he rolls a suitcase. One journalist is clearly a fan but is upset he doesn’t stop often: ‘Mateo is such a nice guy but he never stops to talk. The worst thing about it? He speaks five languages, so he could speak to every media member here!’ If I was Kovacic I’d be showing off my incredible linguistic skills. Shortly after him is little N’Golo Kante, who slipped to allow Arsenal to make it 1-1. Kante, shy as ever, had his head down as he rolled his miniature suitcase alongside the side of the pitch.

10:55: Oh, this is very interesting. Tammy Abraham limps out of the tunnel area and hobbles along the side of the pitch. He took a late whack and has been icing his right leg. “Tammy, you can’t get injured!” jokes one journalist as he intimates that Abraham is their only real option up top. “Mate, don’t, I know, I know” is his reply with half a laugh and half a grimace.

10:57: David Luiz, usually a shoe in to stop and talk, didn’t stop and that was understandable. His return to Chelsea saw him sent off but his team rallied to pick up a draw as TV cameras showed him in agony late in the game, watching the action on the smallest TV in history in the tunnel area. It was Luiz’s fault for giving away a penalty kick as he brought down Abraham as he tried to make up for Mustafi’s error. But there was mutual respect in the mixed zone because Luiz is one of the good guys who always stops. He will stop next time, for sure, we hope…

10:59: Okay, a quick pop back into the press conference room as the final few stragglers come out. Frank Lampard is up and looks like Christmas has just been canceled. He questions Chelsea’s game management after going 2-1 up late on and bemoans their lack of creativity in the final third. When then ask him for an injury update on USMNT star Christian Pulisic and if he thinks the Pennsylvanian Messi would have made a different to unlock this Arsenal defense.

“Yeah, a game like today could have been a good where he would have been helpful for us because he was playing well for a patch. But other people have to stand up in those situations,” Lampard said, as he nodded in realization.

When will Pulisic be back?

Lampard confirmed he is making good progress but will not be fit until after the mid-season player break in February, which means he will miss their FA Cup trip to Hull City this Saturday and their clash at Leicester City on Feb. 1. He may not be back until Feb. 17 when they host Manchester United in the Premier League, which means in total he will have been out for a period of six weeks.

“In terms of when he’s back, it is not going to be a week, it is probably be the other end of the early February break but he is getting better and he isn’t far away,” Lampard added.

11:04: Back outside in the cold, Kurt ‘Happy’ Zouma and Michy Batshuayi walk through together and the former is living up to his name as he is beaming with a massive smile as he says hey. Can’t help but think that Zouma will be back in the Chelsea team for their FA Cup clash against Hull this weekend, and probably the trip to Leicester City next weekend.

11:09: Hear he is, the nicest man in football. Cesar Azpilicueta (Dave, to the Chelsea fans) is smiling and laughing as he emerges from the tunnel. “I’m not speaking to you guys, nothing for you!” he jokes as he looks over to the mixed zone. He does go and have a chat with Chelsea TV as he puts on a comically large set of headphones. Azpilicueta, who put Chelsea 2-1 up late on as it looked like being the winner, then shows off his amazing language skills as he talks to English radio, outlets from the Middle East, then speaks in French to RMC and Canal+ and chats in Spanish to one journalist. He then speak to us about Pulisic and how important it is that he returns to full fitness. In a nutshell, Azpilicueta is an impressive dude.

“Christian is a magnificent player. Since he joined us in the summer he has shown us his potential and we know that he can make the difference at any time. Whenever a player is injured it is not good for a team because we lose potential and I hope to have him back soon,” Azpilicueta said. “After coming to Europe as a young boy to Germany, he came to Chelsea and it is one step forward, playing for Chelsea every game, fighting to win and fighting for trophies. In my role I’ve tried to help in settle into the city and the club. He has a brilliant attitude. Always trying to improve. I am sure he will become bigger and bigger.”

Here he is speaking in French because he can.

11:15: Senior Chelsea officials are then seen ushering guests out and there are plenty of handshakes. Journalists chatter about who it is, maybe a new owner!?

11:16: The flimsy advertizing board is gone. The stadium is pretty much empty. The Mixed Zone is closed as frost descends on freezing London.

Cavani ‘will go to Atletico Madrid’ if PSG let him leave

Photo by Jeroen Meuwsen/Soccrates/Getty Images
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Edinson Cavani has made up his mind and knows which club he will join this month — if Paris Saint-Germain agree to sell, that is — according to the Uruguayan striker’s father.

[ MORE: Chelsea admit they miss Christian Pulisic ]

Cavani has standing offers to join multiple clubs during the January transfer window, most notably from Atletico Madrid and Chelsea, but the most difficult hurdle appears to be convincing PSG to let him go. According to the player’s father, Luis, Atleti is the 32-year-old’s preferred destination — quotes from Sky Sports:

“He wants to join another club in Europe. That would please me that he plays here (at Atletico), yes. (Diego) Simeone wants him now (in January). The head coach of Paris Saint-Germain has also said he needs him to help compete in the Champions League.

“But PSG do not want him to go to Atletico Madrid if he finds an agreement. I think there is a strong chance he will go to Atletico, the option to join the club (Atletico) always remains in June.

“There are lots of other clubs but when you give your word to a team, you respect it. If tomorrow, if he is available and Atletico still want him, I think he will sign. He is a player who needs time to play, and today he only plays four or six minutes per game. PSG are treating him unfairly.”

Chelsea’s desire to acquire a goalscorer of Cavani’s caliber will have only increased following the ankle injury suffered by Tammy Abraham, the Blues’ only consistent option at the position, during Tuesday’s 2-2 draw with Arsenal. The severity of Abraham’s injury is not yet known.