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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.)

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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)

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

Top Premier League storylines: Week 13

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Yes, Jose Mourinho is back in the Premier League and, sure, both Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manuel Pellegrini are in managerial hot seats, but is there any match more intriguing than Man City and Chelsea squaring off with the knowledge that a bad outcome could see them double digits out of first?

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ] 

Below we take a look at the key storylines to keep an eye on across the PL this weekend.


The Jose Mourinho Era begins against a familiar foe

  • West Ham v. Tottenham Hotspur — Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN

Manuel Pellegrini and Jose Mourinho have matched wits many times, which could help the former in his bid to get ready for a rankled Spurs side to kickstart the Premier League weekend.

Mourinho has only matched up with six managers more than Pellegrini in his career, and boasts a 7W-3D-4L record. Can he quickly get Spurs put together for a visit to a desperate Irons side.


Chelsea, Man City put slim title hopes on the line

  • Manchester City v. Chelsea — Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC

Both Pep Guardiola‘s City and Frank Lampard‘s Chelsea have lost to Liverpool, meaning their chances to directly affect the Reds’ title hopes are limited. Matches like this one are the ones that get the Reds salivating, in fact, knowing that only one team can snare three points.

City enters the day nine points back of first and a point behind Chelsea and Leicester City. The Top Four race sure looks clear cut right now — the chasing pack is eight points behind fourth — but failure to win on Saturday will likely leave either side double-digit points back of first.


Knock off the Red Devils? Wilder things have happened

  • Sheffield United v. Manchester United — Sunday, 11:30 p.m. ET, on NBCSN

Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder has the newly-promoted side in fifth place on the table, one point better than his celebrated visitors. The Blades will sit no worse than five points back of the Top Four if they can beat Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s Red Devils, adding another big name to a season of results which already includes a defeat of Arsenal and draws against Chelsea and Spurs. United is still without Paul Pogba and now will also miss Scott McTominay. Another upset brewing?


Reds hope to get back to business as usual in title fight

  • Crystal Palace v. Liverpool — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

A week removed from a glitzy show against Man City, Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds now visit a Palace side who is probably getting sick of facing the Premier League’s best. Roy Hodgson‘s table rise has been stunted by a four-match winless run that includes 2-0 losses to Man City, Leicester City, and Chelsea to go with a 2-2 draw against Arsenal.

A Liverpool win will boost it clearer of Man City and/or Chelsea, as the Reds seek a double-digit lead on the field (Second-place Leicester City is away to Brighton and Hove Albion).


Arsenal looks to right wobbly league ship versus slumping Saints

  • Arsenal v. Southampton — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSN

Unai Emery‘s Gunners may be doing fine in the Europa League, but they’ve taken just two points from 12 since an Oct. 6 defeat of Bourrnemouth at the Emirates Stadium. Saints only win since mid-September in any competition is a 4-0 demolition of rivals Portsmouth. If Arsenal cannot get right here, well…

The 2 Robbies break down Tottenham’s big switch from Poch to Mou

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Maybe you saw the firing of Mauricio Pochettino coming, and maybe you even though Jose Mourinho could be in the running to take his place, but the whole thing happening in rapid fire fashion calls for something different.

Call it an emergency podcast for The 2 Robbies.

[ MORE: Ederson back in training ]

Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle respond to the shocking and divisive news coming from North London earlier this week.

Tottenham Hotspur sacked Pochettino and quickly replaced him with The Special One. This episode also includes some of Jose’s first words as the new Spurs Head Coach.

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Pochettino leaves emotional whiteboard message to Spurs

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Mauricio Pochettino and his backroom staff have left Tottenham Hotspur, but not without fond words for the North London set.

Pochettino’s backroom staff was also dismissed, with assistant Jesus Perez and coaches Miguel D’Agostino and Antoni Jimenez leaving to make room for Jose Mourinho’s crew.

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

And Perez wanted to make sure that the world knew the final words Pochettino left for his players, something that has Tottenham supporters even more emotional.

It also surely plays as a political piece which will increase the villain status of Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, who’s been under fire for not helping Pochettino by selling players who did not want to be in North London.

Even Mourinho heaped praise on his predecessor.

“Mauricio, for the work he did, this club will be always his home,” Mourinho said. “He can come when he wants. When he misses the players, when he misses the people he work with. The door is always open for him. He will find happiness again. He will find a great club again. He will have a great future.”

Get your tissues, Spurs fans.