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MLS preview: Sounders-Timbers, NYCFC-Galaxy headline Week 24

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Previewing the biggest games across Major League Soccer this weekend…

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New York City FC vs. LA Galaxy — Saturday, 3 p.m. ET (ESPN)

More than $30 million worth of Designated Player stardom will be on the field at Yankee Stadium Saturday afternoon, assuming Robbie Keane returns to action following an orbital fracture suffered in the Galaxy’s 2-2 draw with the New York Red Bulls two weeks ago. Keane said this week he expects to be available and will wear a protective mask. Frank Lampard has scored nine goals in his last 10 appearances, clearing himself of the Worst DP in League History title bestowed upon him earlier this year.

The two sides enter Sunday’s star-studded clash on identical 38-point tallies, with the Galaxy having played two fewer games thus far. NYCFC, however, lead the Eastern Conference by a single point, while the Galaxy trail the Supporters’ Shield- and Western Conference-leading FC Dallas by seven points. The last only time these sides met, the Galaxy throttled the then-expansion side, 5-1 last August. The Galaxy are unbeaten in their last nine league games, which include three straight draws right on the heels of a four-game winning streak (a period in which Keane scored his only three post-EURO 2016 goals).

Philadelphia Union vs. Toronto FC — Saturday, 7 p.m. ET (MLS Live)

TFC were supposed to be here — fighting for the top spot in the East, that is. The Union, however, were not. Yet, here we are, with the two sides separated by just three points ahead of Saturday’s massive top-four battle. The Union (4th in the East) bounced back from a four-game winless skid with a 4-0 thrashing of the New England Revolution last weekend, in which Alejandro Bedoya made his MLS debut and one of the league’s deepest squads was realized.

The Reds (2nd in the East), on the other hand, are unbeaten in their last five, including four straight wins before last weekend’s weather-postponed 1-1 draw with the lowly Houston Dynamo. Surprise: Sebastian Giovinco is back to his best, notching seven goals and four assists in his last five games. That’s certainly one way to snap out of an eight-game goalless skid.

D.C. United vs. New York Red Bulls — Sunday, 3 p.m. ET (ESPN)

With just one win in their last seven games, United’s season is on the line every time they take the field. With just over two months of the regular season remaining, they’re tied with Orlando City SC for the sixth spot in the East, edged into the lead on tiebreakers.

It’s hardly an ideal time to face a side that’s unbeaten in seven, somehow overcoming the loss of an entire defensive unit in the process. Gideon Baah and Dax McCarty have been out for weeks; Damien Perrinelle and Connor Lade, too; Aurelien Collin became the latest defensive standout to wind up on the injury list in a win over the Montreal Impact last weekend. Fortunately for Jesse Marsch and Co., only the Chicago Fire (22) have scored fewer goals this season than the Red Bulls’ Atlantic Cup rivals.

Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers — Sunday, 9:30 p.m. ET (FS1)

Not only is Seattle versus Portland the grandest rivalry in MLS, but Sunday’s meeting is suddenly a hugely important fixture in the playoff race. Left for dead just three weeks ago, the Sounders have won seven points from their last three games, halving their 10-point deficit to the sixth-place side in the West in the process. They also have two games in hand, as well Nicolas Lodeiro, who has established himself as one of the league’s elite playmakers in just three games (1 goal, 3 assists).

Five points is hardly an insurmountable gap with 11 games still to play, none of them more important than Sunday’s. The team they currently trail by five points for that sixth and final playoff place? Portland. That, my friends, is the purest form of poetic coincidence.

Aubameyang: Arsenal coaching change can help “stagnation”

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Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is politely echoing what many Gunners supporters have been saying for some time when it comes to Arsene Wenger leaving the Emirates Stadium set.

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Unai Emery has been tabbed to replace the departing legend, who oversaw a relatively poor sixth place finish in the Premier League this season.

From RMC, translated by Goal.com:

“I think it’s a little bit of a mixed feeling in fact,” Aubameyang said. “On one hand, it’s strange for all the fans that the coach has left. But it’s definitely a fresh start.”

“Since over the last few seasons – you have to tell the truth – the club has stagnated a little bit, I think everyone is actually a little bit excited to see what happens next season.”

The 28-year-old striker scored 10 times for Arsenal since arriving from Borussia Dortmund in January, scoring or assisting in 10 of 13 Premier League matches and bagging braces in two appearances.

“Hopeful” Commisso extends deadline for $500m NASL restoration

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New York Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso tells ProSoccerTalk that he has extended his deadline in regards to his $500 million investment offer to fund a resurgent North American Soccer League.

Why? Well, for one, Commisso feels that progress is being made, so much so that he’s willing to characterize his outlook as “hopeful.”

“There’s been a lot of back-and-forth, they basically said they can’t get everything done by the 31st and they need more time and that’s the reason why we changed the deadline,” Commisso said.

U.S. Soccer told the NASL it could not meet prior to the June 13 vote regarding 2026 World Cup hosting. In extending his deadline to May 31, Commisso is asking for a few commitments from U.S. Soccer.

Commisso wants U.S. Soccer to commit to a board meeting with a “yes or no” vote no later than June 29, and wants U.S. Soccer to provide a list of prerequisite actions needed to have such a decision on his proposal at said meeting. And he wants a commitment from U.S. Soccer to stick to the timeline.

So what’s the impetus for Commisso’s hopeful nature?

“They’ve showed some good faith and I’m willing to move if they’re willing to do X, Y, and Z. It’s a moving thing and I’m being flexible to their asks and to see at what point and time they’re going to come up with something else.”

Commisso said his deadlines have not been about putting pressure on USSF, rather the many things he’d have to do to get the NASL back on the field by March 2019 for a season with a minimum of 10 teams, which would be sanctioned as D-2.

Additionally, the 10-year runway would include D-1 sanctioning in 2020 with a minimum of 14 teams, a minimum of 10,000-seat stadia, a minimum of three time zones represented, as well as a plan to introduce promotion and relegation in said top flight.

He’d also need multi-team ownership to start, but said that would be solved by independent ownership at the end of the 10-year runway, if not sooner, with all teams meeting the current Professional League Standards for D-1.

“I’m asking for the 10 years, let’s be clear,” Commisso said. “If you read our original letters, we’ve always asked for the ability of multi-ownership. We put out a chart that goes back all the way to 1996 that shows the transition from 1996 to 2011, that during those periods there were certain owners with multi-teams. In 2003, three guys owned the entire league, so that’s what I’m asking for.”

Commisso said that, like the MLS build-up in the late 1990s and early 2000s, there would be safeguards in place to maintain sporting integrity, and that his full 2019 roster of clubs would be finalized by Sept. 20, with the NASL’s league ops fully restored by New Year’s Eve. There’s also an ask of commitment from USSF to address governance issues by February 2019.

The $250 million he’s investing is joined by $50 million each from Miami FC owner Riccardo Silva and Jacksonville Armada owner Robert Palmer, plus help from “leading Wall Street banks.”

The NASL has already identified 12 potential clubs, 11 of which are in metropolitan areas with populations above one million. The investment would go to building modular soccer-specific stadia in some markets, and his league would put an emphasis on youth development and domestic players.

“I’m hopeful that the leadership of U.S. Soccer sees in the largest investment ever proposed by a single individual for the benefit of American soccer getting this through as quickly as possible.”

Italy coach Mancini leaves door open for Gianluigi Buffon

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FLORENCE, Italy (AP) Italy coach Roberto Mancini says former captain Gianluigi Buffon will still be considered if he wants to return to the national team.

Buffon retired from international soccer in November after Italy lost a World Cup playoff to Sweden, but he recently returned for friendlies.

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Mancini says “(Buffon) wants to continue playing football … Everyone who will play and will be among the best can be considered for the national team.”

Buffon is expected to bid the national team goodbye for good in another friendly on June 4 against the Netherlands at Allianz Stadium. However, at a news conference last week to announce his departure from Juventus, Buffon insisted he had made the last of his 176 appearances for his country.

Champions League Final to return to Istanbul

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Here’s a bit of news which will put smiles on Liverpool supporters’ faces ahead of the weekend’s big UEFA Champions League Final against Real Madrid.

The UEFA Champions League Final is headed back to Istanbul, the city known for boasting perhaps the most celebrated moment in Liverpool history.

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Istanbul’s Ataturk Olympic Stadium will host the 2020 UCL Final, 15 years after the Reds rallied from a 3-0 halftime deficit to defeat AC Milan in penalty kicks.

The 2019 final will be held in Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, home of Atletico Madrid.