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MLS Cup 2016 roundtable: Key topics ahead of Toronto vs. Seattle

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Ahead of the 2016 MLS Cup final this Saturday in Toronto, the PST crew take a look at the key issues as Toronto FC host Seattle Sounders FC with both clubs not only searching for their first MLS Cup trophy but also competing in their first-ever final.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

With over 35,000 expected at BMO Field in freezing conditions, everything is set up for one of the most exciting MLS Cup finals in recent history.

Can Toronto’s Designated Players lead them to glory and help them become the first Canadian team to win the title? Will Seattle finally reward its incredibly loyal fans by finishing off its miraculous run to the final with a win?

All that and more is answered, right here.


It’s here, MLS Cup 2016 in freezing conditions in Toronto… What are you most looking forward to about this game and why?

Joe Prince-Wright: The atmosphere. Watching the games in Toronto, the crowd really has been a 12th man and bought into this team. The stadium renovations have helped massively and turned Toronto into one of the most intimidating places to play in MLS. You can guarantee whatever the weather TFC’s fans will be out in full force and doing their best to roar their team on to victory. Something special is happening in the soccer scene in Toronto.

Nick Mendola: A new champion, and a few fantastic story lines: Does USMNT bragging rights goes to Bradley/Jozy or Morris? Is Nicolas Lodeiro able to “out-Seba” Giovinco? Can hardly wait.

Matt Reed: I’m looking to see how the Sounders handle the two-headed monster of Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore. For a long portion of the season teams only had to worry about Giovinco, which was a nightmare in itself, but now you throw in an in-form Altidore and that increases the challenge for the Sounders backline significantly.

Compared to other MLS Cup finals in recent years, is there extra excitement around this? Two well-supported teams with star names and fairly new to MLS.

Joe: I’m going to go out on a limb and say this could be one of the best finals ever. It’s safe to say defending isn’t the strength of either team (at least in the playoffs) and we could see a straight shootout, just like Toronto’s stunning Eastern Conference final win against Montreal. If you add the crazy crowd, the big name DPs and the fact that these two clubs have yet to win an MLS Cup, it’s a recipe for one heck of gameday.

Nick: I think this game had danger of being overlooked and under hyped before the Toronto-Montreal final at BMO. It was impossible to miss, and people will tune in for the atmosphere and the stars. Could be — and this is saying a lot — a watershed moment for MLS.

Matt: I think the fact that not only has neither team ever won a cup but couple that with the reality that they’ve each never played in a final prior to Saturday makes it all the more enticing of a matchup. Despite the frigid temperatures it could very well be one of the most highly anticipated finals we’ve seen when you consider the stars involved the game (Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco, Jordan Morris, Jozy Altidore, etc.).

Seattle has reached its first MLS Cup against all the odds. Does anyone have the sense their name is written on this trophy?

Joe: Sort of. When Sigi Schmid was fired and Brian Schmetzer was hired, nobody thought this would happen. I think most of the Seattle organization, their fans and even the players are a little bit stunned they’ve made it to MLS Cup. When you compare this team to others they’ve had in recent years, it’s not as good individually plus injuries to Clint Dempsey and others this campaign have been very disruptive. Somehow, they’ve made it to MLS Cup and these dream runs happen for a reason. Soccer works in mysterious ways.

Nick: I wouldn’t want to bet this game, mostly because Seattle is coming across the country and that’s been a recipe for struggle for almost every MLS side this year. Have to think Toronto is favored, fate or not (especially since fate is better known as the arrival of Nicolas Lodeiro!).

Matt: It just seems like 2016 is the year of the Sounders. Both clubs have had superb seasons and have their own unique storylines heading into the match, but when you consider the fact that the Sounders looked dead in the water halfway through the season, made a coaching change and are playing without arguably their most influential player (Clint Dempsey) it really looks like this team will have their fate sealed in the biggest way possible on Saturday night.

What will be the key battle in this game?

Joe: I think Seattle’s defense staying firm and not allowing Morris to latch on to balls from Lodeiro in behind. With the home crowd roaring them on, it would be quite easy for Toronto to go at it early on and leave themselves exposed defensively. If Justin Morrow, Drew Moor et al. can use their vast experience in MLS wisely, and regain their top form from the regular season, TFC will have a great chance of winning.

Nick: Seattle’s veteran back line against Giovinco and Altidore.

Matt: Nicolas Lodeiro has been the game changer for the Sounders since joining over the summer and Morris definitely can’t do this all by himself. I think the Uruguayan will need to be on top of his game against the talented Toronto back line and if he can work some of his magic, particularly finding Morris, then the Sounders will have a solid chance to take home the cup.

If you had to pick one striker right now, would you have Jordan Morris or Jozy Altidore?

Joe: I’m going to go with Altidore, but only just. The way he is right now, you sense he will score every time he steps on the pitch. He has done that throughout the playoffs and he finally seems fully fit and has his confidence back. It feels like Altidore’s time to shine. Morris’ time to be the main man in MLS and for the USMNT will come in the future.

Nick: Altidore. His motivation is high and his experience better. Morris is more of a 1b choice than 2, though!

Matt: I love what Morris has done this season but have to pick Altidore here. He’s been on fire since early August and playing with Giovinco certainly makes it a lot easier to shine when you don’t have defenders solely zoning in on you.

So, if TFC wins MLS Cup, do you think they can build a dynasty like DC United back in the day and LA Galaxy in recent years?

Joe: That have a great chance. Greg Vanney hasn’t got enough credit for the balance he has brought to this team and if they can continue to add to the squad wisely, their three DPs will be around for the next three to four years.

Nick: It’s possible. The key players/Dps are young enough, that’s for sure. But Toronto also has given the league a bit of a blueprint for making the playoffs.

Matt: Toronto has to be one of the most, if not the most, complete squads in MLS right now. The moves the club made during the offseason were spot on, starting with Will Johnson, Drew Moor and Steven Beitashour. Then the attack has two of the most deadly strikers in all of MLS. In short, yes, I think this team is here to stay.

And if Toronto does win, will Michael Bradley be applauded for his decision to leave Europe to lead this squad?

Joe: I think Bradley has come under some unjust criticism in recent months. If you dissect his form for Toronto this season, he’s been one of the main reasons they’re in MLS Cup. Sure, he’s had a few bad displays for the USMNT but it’s not like anybody else around him has excelled either for the USA. He wanted to lead a team to glory and he’s on the cusp of doing so. I respect that.

Nick: I doubt it. The excitement of his arrival and ability to see him each week has been seriously tarnished (for now) by the disappointing performance of the USMNT. He’ll be rightly celebrated as a champion, but I’m doubting too many outside of Toronto will say, “Yeah, NOW it was worth it.”

Matt: I’m not sure Bradley will be applauded because he’s certainly received criticism over his move back to the states but he’s definitely played an integral role in the Toronto midfield. I think it’s easy to get lost in the Giovinco hype and looking at the talent in the backline, but Bradley has been stellar this season controlling the midfield.

We can’t not mention Sebastian Giovinco. If he plays the hero role (highly likely) and TFC wins, will he go down as the best-ever DP in MLS history?

Joe: Apart from Robbie Keane, which other DP has had a bigger impact than Giovinco in MLS history? I’m struggling to answer that. If he wins MLS Cup, I think he will sit alongside Keane as the best ever.

Nick: Yes.

Matt: I’m not sure Giovinco automatically becomes the best with just one title but he’s easily a top 5 DP. If Toronto builds this into a dynasty I think it’ll be easier to justify the Italian being considered the best of all-time over a Robbie Keane.

Finally, not letting you go without a score prediction. Who wins it?

Joe: Toronto to win 2-1. Somehow, I had a major epiphany in March during our preseason picks in the roundtable chat and I predicted Toronto to beat Seattle 2-1 in MLS Cup final. So, I’m sticking with that.

Nick: Toronto, 2-1.

Matt: The Sounders have defied all odds to get to this point but I think Toronto takes it 3-2 on their home field.

Americans Abroad: Johnson, Yedlin register starts; Miazga injured in FA Cup bout

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After last weekend served as the year’s best weekend yet for Americans abroad, positive activity was scarce this time around.

Fabian Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin returned to their respective team’s starting lineups, but neither them or any other American abroad managed to put the ball in the back of the net.

To make matters worse, Matt Miazga left Reading’s match on Saturday with an apparent ankle injury.

Here is a list of several other USMNT affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) abroad this weekend.

FA Cup

DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle — Yedlin was back on Steve Bruce‘s starting lineup on Saturday. The fullback played all 90 minutes in Newcastle’s draw with Oxford United.

Duane Holmes, Derby County — Holmes remianed on the bench in Derby’s 0-0 draw with Northampton Town on Friday.

Matt Miazga, Reading (loan from Chelsea) — The 24-year-old captain started and played 66 minutes before exiting the field with an apparent ankle injury against Cardiff City on Saturday.

Eric Lichaj, Hull City — The Tigers’ defender started and played 90 minutes in Hull’s 2-1 loss to Chelsea.

Geoff Cameron, QPR — The 34-year-old defender stayed on the bench in QPR’s 2-1 loss to Sheffield Wednesday on Friday.

Tim Ream, Fulham — Ream played the final six minutes in Fulham’s 4-0 loss to Manchester City on Sunday.

Ligue 1

Timothy Weah, Lille — Weah didn’t feature on the field or on Lille’s bench this weekend.

Theoson Jordan-Siebatcheu, Rennes — Jordon-Siebatcheu watched Rennes draw 1-1 with Nice from the bench.

Eredivisie

Haji Wright, VVV-Venlo — Wright remained on the bench in Venlo’s 2-1 win over RKC Waalwijk on Sunday.

Sergino Dest, Ajax — Dest started and played 90 minutes in Ajax’s 2-1 defeat to Groningen.

Desevio Payne, FC Emmen — The U-23 MNT fullback didn’t dress for FC Emmen on Sunday.

Bundesliga

Timmy Chandler, Eintracht Frankfurt — The fullback played 89 minutes in Frankfurt’s 2-0 win over RB Leipzig on Saturday.

Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig — Adams started and played 71 minutes for Leipzig.

Weston McKennie, Schalke — McKennie is back and running, playing 10 minutes for Schalke in their 5-0 loss to Bayern Munich.

Zack Steffen, Fortuna Dusseldorf — Steffen is inactive with an injury.

Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf — Morales started and played 90 minutes in Fortuna’s 3-0 loss to Bayer Leverkusen.

Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen  The 19-year-old started and played 66 minutes in Werder Bremen’s 3-0 loss to Hoffenheim.

Fabian Johnson, Borussia Mönchengladbach — Johnson made his way back into Mönchengladbach’s starting cast, playing 87 minutes on Sunday.

Honorable Mentions

Alex Mendez, Jong Ajax — Mendez played all 90 minutes and registered an assist in Jong Ajax’s 3-3 draw with  NEC Nijmegen.

Mexicans Abroad: Vela starts preseason with a bang; Davila continues to shine in A-League

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It took Carlos Vela 10 minutes to prove that he didn’t lose a step over Major League Soccer’s lengthy offseason.

Vela, 30, started his third preseason in grandiose fashion, scoring a trademark left-footed curler against Uruguayan giants Peñarol. The Mexican winger, who scored a league-record 34 goals in 31 matches, inspired LAFC’s 2-0 win at the Banc of California Stadium.

Thousands of miles away, an old friend of Vela, Ulises Davila, delivered the good for his club once again. The Chivas academy product scored a goal and provided an assist in Wellington Phoenix’s 2-1 win over Newcastle Jets.

Here is a list of several other Mexico national team affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) outside of Mexico this weekend.


Premier League

Raul Jimenez, Wolverhampton Wanderers —  Jimenez and Wolves did not feature this weekend, but they did on Thursday, and the Mexican shined then. Jimenez scored his 11th goal of the season in Wolves’ 2-1 loss to leaders Liverpool, equalling Harry Kane‘s and Sadio Mane’s count. Thhe goal, itself, was a masterpiece:

La Liga

Hector Herrera, Atletico Madrid — Herrera took the field in the 62nd minute for Angel Correa and completed 25 passes in Atletico’s 0-0 draw with Leganes.

Andres Guardado, Real Betis —  Guardado started but left the field 34 minutes in after picking up an injury. Betis dropped three points after losing to Getafe 1-0.

Diego Lainez, Real Betis — The 19-year-old was not called up to Betis’ bench on Sunday. 

Nestor Araujo, Celta Vigo — Araujo started and played 90 minutes in Celta’s draw with Eibar on Sunday.

Serie A

Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Napoli —  With reports linking the frenetic winger to Everton, Lozano continues lack playing minutes with Napoli. The 24-year-old was on Genaro Gattuso’s bench on Sunday, but was not substituted on in Napoli’s 2-1 win over Juventus.

Primeira Liga

Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, FC Porto — Tecatito started and played all 90 minutes in Porto’s 1-0 loss to Braga in the Taca da Liga final. It was reported that the 27-year-old’s home in Portugal was burglarized during the match.

Eredivisie

Erick Gutierrez, PSV Eindhoven —  Gutierrez earned his first minutes of competitive playing time of the year on Sunday. The midfielder played the final eight minutes of PSV’s draw with FC Twente on Sunday.

Edson Alvarez, Ajax — Alvarez dressed but remained on the bench for Ajax on Sunday.

Major League Soccer

Carlos Vela, LAFC – Vela kickstarted LAFC’s 2020 preseason in spectacular fashion. Take a look for yourself:

Jupiler Pro League

Omar Govea, Zulte Waregem — Govea and Zulte were inactive this weekend.

Elsewhere around the globe:

Ulises Davila, Wellington Phoenix – On Thursday, Davila played a tremendous role in Phoenix’s 2-1 win, scoring a goal and adding an assist against Newcastle Jets. Davila is the A-League’s fourth highest scoring this season with 10 goals.

Serie A roundup: Struggling Napoli stun leaders Juventus (video)

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Napoli’s much-needed win against leaders Juventus highlights Sunday’s busy Serie A action.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Napoli 2-1 Juventus

Second-half goals from Piotr Zielinski and Lorenzo Insigne earned Napoli a hard-earned 2-1 win over leaders Juventus in San Paolo. 

Gli Azzurri’s win marks their first in three Serie A bouts and ended the Old lady’s five-game winning streak.

Cristiano Ronaldo managed to extend his goalscoring streak to eight games in the final minutes of the match, but Juventus failed to go six point clear of second best Inter Milan, who drew on Sunday.

Following the game, the visitor’s boss, Maurizio Sarri, was delighted for Napoli, who he managed from 2015 to 2018.

“I am happy for the lads, as I will always be fond of them,” he told Sky Sport Italia. “If you have to lose, I guess I’d rather it be here to help Napoli get out of their current problems. I’d rather they started winning next week, of course.”

“Clearly, the game takes over and you have to detach yourself from everything around that,” he added. “Napoli represented a special moment in my life and it’s always pleasing and emotional to be back here.”

As for Napoli, the home league victory – their first since October – takes loads of pressure from their back. The club, under the guidance of Gennaro Gattuso, had been struggling.

The club stands 10th with 27 points after 21 games, but has a long ways to go, according to Gattuso.

“We beat two good teams now, fine, but we are still in trouble, still a long way back and need to keep pushing,” he said. “I congratulate the lads for the work they’ve done over the last seven days, but we have to keep going like this now, do not let up, focus on Napoli 24 hours a day.”

Up next for Napoli is Sampdoria, while Juventus host Fiorentina.

Elsewhere in Serie A 

Inter Milan 1-1 Cagliari

Parma 2-0 Udinese

Sampdoria 0-0 Sassuolo 

Verona 3-0 Lecce

Roma 1-1 Lazio

La Liga roundup: Nacho header powers Real Madrid to top of table (video)

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Real Madrid’s close win at the Estadio Jose Zorilla to go atop of Spain’s top-flight highlights La Liga’s Sunday action.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Real Valladolid 0-1 Real Madrid

Real Madrid is three points clear at the top of La Liga after Nacho Fernandez’s header in the 78th minute against Real Valladolid on Sunday.

With defending champions Barcelona dropping three, crucial points against Valencia on Saturday, Zinedine Zidane and company take a giant leap in the tight title race. Los Blancos’ 46 points are the most within La Liga with less than a half a season to go.

But even then, the French manager was reluctant to accept that his team did enough against Valladolid to claim league triumph.

“For us, nothing changes,” Zidane said. “We are happy with the victory, the work done having fought until the end, but nothing changes. There are 17 games left and we will continue fighting until the end.

“I don’t want to talk about being champions because there is still a lot left to play. It changes nothing to be leaders, they are three important points but nothing more.

“There are a lot of league games left and it will be difficult for all teams, including us.”

Madrid’s defense shined all 90 minutes, denying the hosts from registering a shot on target and producing the match-winning goal via Nacho.

“Defensively, what we are doing, we are doing well. It is our strength,” Zidane also told reporters. “We defend all and when we lose the ball we recover it very high, and if we keep it we have a good chance of scoring.”

“Nacho scored and that is part of football. We know that we can improve in this aspect,” he added. “Nacho is a professional. When he has to compete he does well. I’m glad for his goal; he doesn’t usually score them but from time-to-time we can also create chances for defenders.”

Debuting for Madrid in 2011, Nacho has made 133 appearances and scored seven goals. His goal on Sunday perhaps the most important, earning his team what is arguably their most crucial league win this season.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Atletico Madrid 0-0 Leganes

Celta Vigo 0-0 Eibar

Getafe 1-0 Real Betis

Real Sociedad 3-0 Mallorca