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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…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

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.

PSG signs American defender Alana Cook from Stanford

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PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain’s women’s team has signed American defender Alana Cook from Stanford University.

The 21-year-old Cook, who was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, has signed until June 2022. She was named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year this season for her performances with Stanford and has represented the U.S. at Under-20 level.

[ MORE: Atlanta signs Watford teen ]

She played 93 games and scored five goals for Stanford.

PSG’s women’s team is second in the French first division and sits two points behind five-time European champion Lyon after 15 rounds.

Cook says “I really wanted to play in a European club and to play against the best teams in the world.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

MLS notes: Zimmerman spurns Europe, Vazquez sold, DC youngster in remission

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Let’s sweep up some good, somewhat-expected, and wonderful news from around Major League Soccer.

DC United defender and Maryland product Chris Odoi-Atsem announced that he is in remission after a fight with Stage Two Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

[ MORE: Atlanta signs Watford teen ]

Odoi-Atsem was expected to undergo four months of chemotherapy, and the announcement comes just under three months into the journey.

At 23, Odoi-Atsem hopes to rejoin the team after his final round of chemo later this month. He was the 12th overall draft pick in 2017.

Another defender is extending his stay in Los Angeles.

USMNT center back Walker Zimmerman was a huge part of LAFC’s success as an expansion club following his arrival from FC Dallas, and was reportedly ready to test the waters of European soccer with interest from the Premier League, Ligue 1, and the Bundesliga.

But Bob Bradley pushed the right buttons and LAFC will have its 25-year-old mainstay back in the fold via a Targeted Allocation Money contract running through the 2022 season.

Finally, one of the key pieces to Toronto FC’s 2017 MLS Cup triumph is on his way out of Ontario.

Victor Vazquez is going to be sold to an unnamed Qatari club, pending a physical according to TSN’s Kristian Jack.

The 32-year-old scored posted 18 goals and 15 primary assists for TFC.

Transfer rumor roundup: Pellegrini to Man Utd? Dabbur wants Liverpool

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As Arsenal might be losing its head of recruitment, other Premier League movers and shakers are looking to bring big names to the Top Four fight.

If Northern Ireland is the hub for transfer movement, January is going to be a wild ride for one of the Premier League’s flagship clubs.

[ MORE: Atlanta signs Watford teen ]

The Belfast Telegraph is reporting that Manchester United is pursuing young Roma midfielder Lorenzo Pellegrini in addition to the whispers linking the club to former Liverpool wizard Philippe Coutinho.

Pellegrini, 22, has two goals and six assists for Roma this season, having become a regular call-up for Italy. He reportedly has a $35 million release clause in his contract, though he is cup-tied in the Champions League (Roma next faces Porto).

His 2.6 key passes per game lead Roma and only AC Milan’s Suso and Atalanta’s Alejandro Gomez average more across Serie A. Pellegrini is second on Roma in crosses with 1.5.

How does $115 million sound for an elite 27-year-old defender? That’s what Napoli would reportedly accept from Real Madrid to bring Kalidou Koulibaly west to Spain.

The report, which also links Real with interest in Roma’s Kostas Manolas and Porto’s Eder Miliato, says United remains interested in the player despite the exit of admirer Jose Mourinho.

Anything more than $97 million, the fee Liverpool paid for Virgil Van Dijk, would break the world transfer record for a defender.

Meanwhile, Israeli striker Munas Dabbur is angling to bring his 20-goal season to Anfield.

Reports that Dabbur has turned down a move to Valencia in the hopes of joining Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino at Liverpool.

The Red Bull Salzburg striker has scored half of his 20 goals in the Champions League and Europa League, and has 11 Israel caps.

The cost for Dabbur is said to be $28 million, but is there any guarantee Dabbur can produce at a level that would demand playing time. Divock Origi has three goals in six matches and can hardly get time for the Reds, and Daniel Sturridge has only found 576 minutes in the first half of the season.

Arsenal to reportedly lose head of recruitment Mislintat

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The man expected to usher in an era of exciting new young talent at Arsenal may be leaving the club after less than 14 months.

Arsenal head of recruitment Sven Mislintat, 46, has been hailed as the man who discovered Christian Pulisic and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang while at Borussia Dortmund.

[ MORE: Atlanta signs Watford teen ]

Well-connected reporter Raphael Honigstein says Mislintat is frustrated by a change in recruitment policy since Ivan Gazidis left the Emirates Stadium. Gazidis hired Mislintat to use analytics and stats to find diamonds, whereas new head of football Raul Sanllehi prefers to work his own network for players.

Mislintat is considered the key to bringing in Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi, as well as clear connections like former BVB center back Sokratis Papastathopolous.

His departure would be a shot across the bow of an organization which enjoyed stability under Gazidis and Arsene Wenger for years.