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MLS Snapshots: Fire in 1st; FCD coast past TFC; SKC extend streak

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Sporting Kansas City 1-1 Portland Timbers

The game in 100 words (or less): Sporting KC extended their home unbeaten streak in MLS play to 18 games with a 1-1 draw against the Portland Timbers on Saturday, but only just by the skin of their teeth. The visitors controlled and dominated in every aspect for the game’s opening 55 minutes and held a 1-0 lead before Sporting came to life just before the hour mark. Diego Valeri fired Portland ahead with a long-range striker in the 26th minute, but Daniel Salloi’s first MLS goal pulled the home side level after 60 minutes. Tim Melia saved his third penalty kick (he’s faced only four) of the season in the 75th minute, denying Valeri after Fanendo Adi won the spot kick in controversial fashion.

Sporting were far from their best, playing without Matt Besler, Graham Zusi and Dom Dwyer (international duty), on the day that their lead in the Western Conference was cut from five points down to three.

[ MORE: Saturday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Three moments that mattered

26′ — Valeri’s blast from distance makes it 1-0 — No one stepped to Valeri as he approached the 18-yard box (due in large part to Sebastian Blanco‘s full-sprint run to occupy Kevin Ellis), and the Argentine playmaker-turned-sniper made them pay.

60′ — Espinoza sets up Salloi for 1-1 — Everything about Salloi’s equalizer — from Roger Espinoza‘s pass, to Salloi’s first touch and finish — is perfect.

74′ — Melia denies Valeri from the spot — Adi threw himself to the ground and won Portland a penalty with just over 15 minutes left in the game, but the ball simply refused to lie, as Melia atoned for his “mistake” and stood tall as Valeri hit his penalty down the middle and into the goalkeeper’s waiting hands.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Tim Melia

Goalscorers: Valeri (26′), Salloi (60′)


FC Dallas 3-1 Toronto FC

The game in 100 words (or less): The first half of the 2017 season was about one thing for FC Dallas: biding their time until Mauro Diaz returned to full fitness and form after rupturing his achilles last October. Through their first 15 games (before Diaz returned to the starting lineup last weekend), Oscar Pareja’s side managed to tread water and hold onto a top-three place in the Western Conference throughout. On Saturday, making his second start of the season, Diaz was unleashed, and FCD’s sky-high potential was unlocked. Hosting league-leading Toronto FC, the Hoops found themselves 2-0 ahead after 21 minutes (a brace from Roland Lamah, the second of two set up by Diaz), were pegged back by Marco Delgado in the 56th minute, and sealed the victory courtesy of Maximiliano Urruti’s 10th goal of the season in the 78th minute. The win moves FCD, who have two games in hand, to within three points of Sporting KC at the top of the West. TFC, meanwhile, relinquish their hold on the East and league’s top spot, due to results elsewhere.

[ MORE: Saturday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Three moments that mattered

5′ — Lamah pokes it past Bono for 1-0 — Maynor Figueroa released Urruti into the channel, and Urruti cut it back for Lamah who arrived in the nick of time to poke it past Alex Bono.

21′ — Lamah reels in Diaz’s through ball to make it 2-0 — The brilliance that is Mauro Diaz, on full display.

78′ — Barrios feed Urruti for 3-1 — Totally stretched while chasing an equalizer, TFC were caught out and Michael Barrios set up Urruti, with ease, to put the game out of reach.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Roland Lamah

Goalscorers: Lamah (5′, 21′), Delgado (56′), Urruti (78′)


Chicago Fire 4-0 Vancouver Whitecaps

The game in 100 words (or less): The only way to describe Chicago’s current standing as the first-place team in MLS is as rarified air, or unfamiliar territory.

Saturday’s 4-0 thrashing demolition destruction of Vancouver was but the latest in a string of impressive results, spurred on by a string of star performances by newcomer Nemanja Nikolic, who’s presently miles and miles ahead of everyone else in the Golden Boot and MVP races. Nikolic scored two more on Saturday, four minutes apart before the clock read 20:00, taking his 2017 tally to 16 (David Villa and Erick Torres are second, with 11 each). Nikolic turned provider on Chicago’s fourth, setting up Michael de Leeuw to complete the rout. The most impressive part? Dax McCarty and David Accam were away on international duty, and Bastian Schweinsteiger left the game after 43 mintues with an injury.

[ MORE: Saturday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Three moments that mattered

14′ — Nikolic slams home Polster’s cross for an early lead — Matt Polster’s future is undoubtedly as a right back. A central midfielder up until last season, the 24-year-old still has the patience and vision required to excel in his former position, and showed it off in picking out Nikolic for the opener.

18′ — Nikolic slots past Ousted for 2-0 — Right down Main Street this time, Chicago create scoring chances from every level and every area of the field.

25′ — Alvarez volley’s Polster’s cross for 3-0 — See again: Polster, Matt, above. Arturo Alvarez does incredibly well with the finish, and it was “game over” after 25 minutes.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Nemanja Nikolic

Goalscorers: Nikolic (14′, 18′), Alvarez (25′), De Leeuw (84′)

Reports: Alli unlikely to play in England’s second Group G match

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The Three Lions may not have taken all good news away from the team’s 2-1 win over Tunisia in their World Cup opener.

[ MORE: Russia races past Egypt, likely en route to next round ]

Several reports are suggesting that England will likely be without Tottenham playmaker Dele Alli in their second Group G match against Panama on Sunday.

Alli was forced out of England’s opener with a thigh strain, which gave manager Gareth Southgate the decision to put in Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

There isn’t a timetable for the 22-year-old’s return to the pitch, but his absence will definitely present a major question for Southgate heading into the rest of group play.

Without Alli in the starting XI, it’ll likely be between Loftus-Cheek and Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard to fill the role where Alli normally sits.

In the case of Lingard, who started against Tunisia, the England boss would have to bring in another starter if Southgate opts to have the Red Devils attacker sit in as the number 10.

Report: Newcastle activates $12m release clause of ex-Arsenal youth

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Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.

The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.

Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.

Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.

Like the move for Newcastle?

Lukaku pens inspiring post on hard-scrabble upbringing

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Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.

The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.

From The Players’ Tribune:

There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.

Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.

West Ham signs club record center back from Toulouse

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West Ham has reportedly set a club record with its latest signing under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Issa Diop is the player, the 21-year-old Toulouse captain and center back costing the Irons around $29 million.

[ MORE: Arsenal signs Leno ]

Diop scored three goals with an assist and eight yellow cards in 31 Ligue 1 matches this season, giving the young defender 95 apps, six goals, three assists, and 23 yellows since debuting with the senior team at 18.

Capped by France at every level below the senior team, Diop’s 2.2 interceptions per game ranked sixth in Ligue 1.

Toulose finished 18th in Ligue 1, but won its promotion/relegation playoff to stay in the French top flight.

From WHUFC.com:

“I am very happy to sign for such a historic, English club, and I hope to show my best here. I am a very ambitious player and West Ham is a very ambitious club, as we’ve seen with the appointment of the new coach. I hope to help the team win lots of games and make the fans happy.”