AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Three award-sized questions as MLS heads down the stretch

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Watching Giovani Dos Santos run a clinic for the LA Galaxy on Sunday, I was struck by the thought, “Wow, this guy is on MVP level if not for Sebastian Giovinco”.

The more I thought about it, the more I wanted a second award, because it’s just that unfair. There have been so many strong performances in Major League Soccer this year, the sort of seasons that make you realize what this league could look like once owners are allowed to spend what they please.

[ MORE: DC United seek permanent Acosta move ]

Here’s the thing, though: With Giovinco out for approximately a month, you have to think that the door just might be open for Dos Santos if the Mexican star is going to keep doing what he did this week (2 goals, 1 assist on Weds., 2 goals, 2 assists on Sunday).

And he’s feeling quite good, from MLSSoccer.com:

“I feel like I am in the best moment of my career,” dos Santos said. “I’ve never felt this way. I feel very good, my finishing is good. The team is doing good. So I feel great right now.”

But can he lift MVP from Giovinco? That’s just one question we have as the season continues its home stretch.

1) Who will win the Golden Boot?

Dos Santos’ four-goal week pulls him into a three-way tie for fourth in the race for the Golden Boot.

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)
(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Bradley Wright-Phillips has 18 goals and David Villa has 17 goals a piece, one ahead of the injured Giovinco. Dos Santos, Fanendo Adi, and Ignacio Piatti have 14, while Cyle Larin and Dom Dwyer have 13.

Larin and Piatti have one more game remaining than the others.

Dallas hasn’t kept a clean sheet in five tries, and Dos Santos faces them twice still, as well as a date with Houston (six goals in last two, no clean sheet since July 23).

Once BWP gets past stingy Toronto next week, the Red Bulls striker gets Montreal twice, as well as Columbus and Philly. Piatti also has a favorable schedule. Adi’s… not so much thanks to two matches versus Tim Howard and the Rapids.

BWP – Tor, Mtl, Phi, Crew, Mtl
Villa – Dal, Chi, Hou, DC, Crew
GDS – KC, Sea, Dal, Hou, Dal
Adi – Phi, Hou, Col, Col, Van
Piatti – NE, RBNY, SJ, Orl, Tor, NE
Larin – Crew, DC, Tor, Mtl, Phi, DC
Dwyer – LA, SJ, NE, RSL, SJ

If you asked us to bet, and Giovinco doesn’t come back early, we’d guess:

  1. Villa
  2. BWP
  3. Dos Santos

2) Who has a legit shout at the Landon Donovan MVP Award?

Besides Donovan? We kid.

The vote has always been favorable to goal scorers, and Giovinco deserves to still lead the race unless the aforementioned GDS explosion keeps firing into October.

Outside of the names mentioned in the Golden Boot section of this post, we’ll toss in two more: Sacha Kljestan and Osvaldo Alonso.

The first is fairly obvious: Kljestan’s 15 assists and five goals scream out, but watching RBNY shows just how important he is to the attack.

(Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

But the 30-year-old Alonso has no logical thought of winning the award, but has been a complete marvel for the underperforming Sounders. His one goal and 4 assists don’t show his import in possession/build-up and defense.

Kaka and Frank Lampard have also been game changers, but will end the season having played in around half their teams’ matches.

Right now it’s still Giovinco’s award, but GDS has a strong chance. Villa probably should be evaluated as well, but the presence of Lampard and Andrea Pirlo could detract from his “value” vote. And who knows what we’d be talking about if Lampard had played the whole season (12 goals in 17 games)?

3) How about Coach of the Year?

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The turnarounds at Colorado, Real Salt Lake and Philadelphia lend to the causes of Pablo Mastroeni, Jeff Cassar, and Jim Curtin, but we have to think it’ll be headed back to New York.

While Jesse Marsch has done exceptional for the Red Bulls, no coach has even won back-to-back honors.

And Patrick Vieira, even with the riches of talent bestowed on him, has done incredibly well despite a postage stamp sized pitch and the fact that this is his first rodeo as a senior manager.

Then again this could come down to whether New York finishes blue or red, or a nod to the trio of above-mentioned coaches who’ve engineered better than expected seasons. Still, we’re guessing on Vieira.

USMNT learns Nations League dates, says no October friendlies

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CONCACAF’s summer is going to be red-hot as its top sides will scrap multiple times on the road to World Cup qualifying.

In other words, we might see the USMNT meet Mexico twice in a month.

The USMNT, Mexico, Honduras, and Costa Rica are among the group of sides waiting to see who advances from the postponed first stage of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. The final round of World Cup qualifying had already been postponed.

It was revealed Tuesday that the quartet will now play the first ever CONCACAF Nations League Finals in June, three months behind schedule and just before the 2021 Gold Cup.

[ MORE: How 7 Americans fared in Bundesliga Wk 1 ]

The Gold Cup was previously postponed to June 10 – July 1 and the draw is set for Monday.

The Nations League semifinals see No. 1 seed Mexico against No. 4 Costa Rica and the No. 2 Catrachos of Honduras meeting the third-seeded USMNT.

A U.S. Soccer Federation release said the move is to put the focus on first stage of qualifying (It also gives all of the participants more time to figure out the pandemic atmosphere if it, as anticipated, reaches into a second year dramatically affecting sporting competitions):

This official competition Finals event will take place in a centralized location in the United States in June 2021. Concacaf will now work with our stakeholders to finalize the location and specific dates for this competition.

Playing this competition in June 2021 will enable the First Round of the Concacaf Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup, which involve 30 Concacaf Member Associations, to take center stage in March 2021.

Concacaf remains in discussions with FIFA to agree a new schedule for the Concacaf Qualifiers which retains the current format.

[ WATCH: Gooch’s solo goal for Sunderland ]

U.S. Soccer also announced that it will not play any matches or train in the October international break, aiming for a November return. That means Christian Pulisic will have even more time to find top form for Chelsea.

General manager Brian McBride says Gregg Berhalter’s group may have an additional December camp with its January camp, which is great news for MLS players hoping to cement their statuses in Berhalter’s mind while the European talent continues to play overseas.

“After extensive conversations about holding a men’s national team camp in October, we ultimately determined the unique challenges created by COVID-19 as it relates to hosting international opponents and getting our players together wouldn’t allow us to move forward,” men’s team general manager Brian McBride said, via the Associated Press. “While we won’t have the team together in this upcoming window, we are making considerable progress for November.”

West Ham manager Moyes, two players test positive for COVID-19

West Ham COVID-19
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West Ham United’s preparations for Tuesday’s League Cup match against Hull City were rocked by positive COVID-19 tests for three members of the first team.

Irons boss David Moyes, center back Issa Diop and midfielder Josh Cullen all were informed of positive coronavirus tests before the match. All were sent home and said to be asymptomatic.

[ LIVE: Follow League Cup scores ]

The match went on with assistant manager Alan Irvine taking the reigns.

Diop is by far the most significant name on that list when it comes to West Ham’s competitive fortunes (Yes, we know Moyes in the manager).

West Ham stressed that it’s been vigilant when it comes to COVID-19:

The Club’s measures and protocols around COVID-19 remain stringent. This included offering to test the Hull City team ahead of tonight’s fixture – an offer which they opted not to accept.

Diop went the distance in both of West Ham’s PL matches this season, while Cullen has not featured for Moyes. The Irons lost 2-0 to Newcastle and 2-1 to Arsenal.

Champions League qualifying: How to watch, start times, odds

UEFA Champions League qualifying
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The 12 clubs remaining in the race for the final UEFA Champions League group stage slots will be pared down to six in the next eight days.

There are American connections to two of the six ties.

Former USMNT midfielder Jesse Marsch manages Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg toward the next round, while Molde right back Henry Wingo came up with the Seattle Sounders.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Salzburg are significant favorites to advance over two legs, odds accentuated by Maccabi Tel-Aviv’s seven players absent due to positive COVID-19 tests.

Marsch had previously said he did not want to go to Israel due to COVID-19 concerns, calling it “dangerous,” but has accepted the task at hand.

From Austrian publication Kronen Zeitung:

“The moment UEFA said we were going to play in Tel Aviv, it wasn’t a problem for me. Maccabi has a great team. We are not naive. We understand that we have to fight tomorrow.”

At 3:10 in some sportsbooks, Marsch’s men are the only club favored to win the first leg away. Salzburg is led by Dominik Szoboszlai and Patson Daka, who’ve helped the team thrive despite the sales of several stars including Erling Haaland and Takumi Minamino.

Molde has a much tougher test with Hungarian side Ferencvaros, who knocked off Celtic. That tie could go either way, while Slavia Prague and Olympiakos are respectively noticeable favorites to beat Midtjylland and Omonia Nicosia.

Dynamo Kiev will be expected to outlast Gent over two legs, while it would be a minor upset if PAOK takes down Krasnodar.


How to watch the UEFA Champions League qualifying playoff round

Kickoff: 3 pm ET Tuesday and Wednesday
Stream: CBS All-Access (subscription required)


UEFA Champions League playoff round matches

All 12 legs will kickoff at 3 pm ET between Tuesday and Sept. 30.

Tuesday

Maccabi Tel-Aviv v. Red Bull Salzburg
Slavia Prague v Midtjylland
Krasnodar v PAOK

Wednesday

Gent v Dynamo Kiev
Molde v Ferencvaros
Olympiakos v Omonia

Sept. 29

Ferencvaros v Molde
Dynamo Kiev v Gent
Omonia v Olympiakos

Sept. 30

Midtjylland v Slavia Prague
PAOK v Krasnodar
Red Bull Salzburg v Maccabi Tel-Aviv

Edouard Mendy to Chelsea: What does it mean for Kepa, Blues’ defense?

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Edouard Mendy to Chelsea: What does it mean for Kepa Arrizabalaga and how much does it improve the Chelsea defense?

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]   

Frank Lampard has confirmed that goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, 28, has arrived from Rennes in a $28 million deal and the Senegalese international will provide ‘competition’ to Kepa.

“Competition is a regular thing. We have brought Mendy in for that competition. It’s in everyone’s hands to get into the squad,” Lampard said. “I think it is the hardest position, because of the individual nature of it. I have to be sympathetic to that point. Last year I changed a few times, it’s a different thought process. We are always striving for the best performance.”

Is anyone buying that?

A couple of high-profile mistakes in Chelsea’s opening two games of the Premier League season has highlighted Kepa’s poor form and Chelsea have moved fast to bring in Mendy.

What does this mean for Kepa Arrizabalaga?

As the ProSoccerTalk lads discuss in the video above, this is probably the end, or at the very least the beginning of the end, for Kepa at Chelsea. Kepa has never really settled at Chelsea and over the last two seasons he hasn’t backed up being the most expensive goalkeeper in the world.

That transfer fee was a little false, as Chelsea were backed into a corner after losing Thibaut Courtois to Real Madrid and paid Kepa’s release clause of $91.1 million to Athletic Bilbao. But they still paid it and even if the fee was half of that, eyebrows would have been raised. Kepa, 25, has failed to command his box, looked nervous with the ball at his feet and shots from outside the box have also given him plenty of problems. Not a great combo for a goalkeeper.

Chelsea may look to loan him out but there’s no doubt that after being dropped for veteran Willy Caballero at the end of last season, the writing was on the wall and Kepa is on borrowed time at Stamford Bridge.

Does Edouard Mendy to Chelsea improve their defense right away?

Not right away, but it will help. His impressive ability to come for crosses and his towering six-foot six-inch frame should provide some stability and confidence from the defenders around him but the way Chelsea play suggests their defensive issues will remain.

Frank Lampard loves to attack and it’s fun to watch. Well, unless you’re a goalkeeper or defender for the Blues. Mendy is one part of the jigsaw and so too is Thiago Silva who will add a calm head and his experience to a youthful defense, and Ben Chilwell at left back will also improve their defensive outlook.

Lampard loves to attack, though, and we must admit that without N’Golo Kante in front of a oft-changed back four, things will be tough. Mendy’s arrival should help settle things down and help Chelsea improve at the back but Lampard needs his center backs to stand tall in the coming weeks and months.