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MLS preview: Prepare for the rare, 11-game midweek slate

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When the 2017 Gold Cup set to kick off on Friday, Major League Soccer will go into hibernation mode for two weeks — but not before a full round of midweek games with so many of the league’s stars already away on international duty.

[ MORE: Dwyer, Acosta power USMNT to win over Ghana | Three things ]

Portland Timbers vs. Chicago Fire — Wednesday, 10:30 p.m. ET

The Timbers are winless in four and have just two wins from their last 11 games, while the Fire have dropped all of four points in nearly the same length of time (10 games). Chicago’s Nemanja Nikolic (16 goals, four ahead of second-place Erick Torres) is running away with the 2017 Golden Boot after scoring two more in a 4-0 thrashing of Vancouver on the weekend. For the first time since July 2005, Chicago sit atop the league table.

Don’t expect to see: David Guzman (int’l duty), Liam Ridgewell (injury), Diego Chara (injury), Dax McCarty (int’l duty), Bastian Schweinsteiger (injury)

Sporting Kansas City vs. Philadelphia Union — Thursday, 8:30 p.m. ET

No team has been hit as hard by the combination of international call-ups and injuries as Sporting KC, who’ll be without arguably their four best players this season when the Union visit Children’s Mercy Park on Thursday. Peter Vermes’ side managed a 1-1 draw with Portland on the weekend, but they lost star winger Gerso Fernandes, who’s set miss a few weeks after separating his shoulder and suffering structural damage, in the process. Sporting’s home unbeaten streak in MLS play reached 18 games with the result, which bodes well against a Philadelphia side with just one win away from home this season.

Don’t expect to see: Dom Dwyer (int’l duty), Matt Besler (int’l duty), Graham Zusi (int’l duty), Gerso Fernandes (injury), Alejandro Bedoya (int’l duty), Andre Blake (int’l duty)

FC Dallas vs. D.C. United — Tuesday, 8:30 p.m. ET

The FC Dallas of the 2017 season’s first half was largely unspectacular in the absence of Mauro Diaz. Now, fully recovered from the achilles injury which cost him the 2016 playoffs and the first three months of 2017, Diaz showed in FCD’s 3-1 victory over then-first-place Toronto FC that he’s still the same game-changing playmaker he’s always been. Already one of the deepest teams in the league, FCD would have gotten by without Diaz’s return and finished first or second in the Western Conference anyway. But, with the Argentine magician back in the fold, a second-half sprint to the top of the table is almost certainly in order for Oscar Pareja’s side.

Don’t expect to see: Kellyn Acosta (int’l duty), Matt Hedges (int’l duty), Walker Zimmerman (injury), Patrick Mullins (injury)

Full MLS schedule

Tuesday

Atlanta United vs. San Jose Earthquakes — 7 p.m. ET
Minnesota United vs. Columbus Crew SC — 7 p.m. ET
Colorado Rapids vs. Seattle Sounders — 9 p.m. ET
LA Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake — 10:30 p.m. ET

Wednesday

New England Revolution vs. New York Red Bulls — 7:30 p.m. ET
Orlando City SC vs. Toronto FC — 7:30 p.m. ET
Houston Dynamo vs. Montreal Impact — 8:30 p.m. ET
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. New York City FC — 10 p.m. ET

Carlos Vela scored a celestial goal. We are blessed to have seen it

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Carlos Vela is making all other spectacular individual MLS seasons look run of the mill.

I mean, look at the gumption on this guy.

[ VIDEO: Rooney sent off, Kamara scores golazo ]

The Cancun-born playmaker left the San Jose Earthquakes back line on the beach with a soft shoe routine to give LAFC its third goal in a 4-0 win on Thursday

Vela, 30, now has 25 goals and 11 assists in 25 league matches for LAFC this season. He added two goals and an assist in Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup play.

But this one, yeah, this one takes the cake.

First, there’s Vela’s non-chalant dummy before picking up the pass.

Then, there’s Florian Jungwirth’s body language during and after his being cooked with a nutmeg. That’s an entire mood.

Next, Vela dribbles around the keeper and allows a slide tackler so glide past him before finishing with aplomb, the magic touch his going near post as if to say, “Can I beat this guy a second time, or do I have to use the easier route?”

Diego Rossi also had a goal and an assist, while Mark-Anthony Kaye continued his strong season with an assist to ex-Fiorentina prospect Joshua Perez. It’s a first MLS goal for the California-born Perez, now 21.

WATCH: Rooney sees red for forearm shiver, Kamara scores golazo

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Midweek MLS provided plenty to talk about on Wednesday, with two red cards and a golazo in one match alone.

The two main talking points from the New York Red Bulls’ 2-1 win over DC United weren’t really part of what led the victors to three points.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

How? Well, one of the world’s marquee names earned a red card via VAR and a returning star scores an absolute stunner, that’s how.

Here’s Ola Kamara’s debut marker for the Black-and-Red, adding to a record which included 49 goals in 97 matches between Columbus and the LA Galaxy before moving to the Chinese Super League for a wildly disappointing time with Shenzhen FC.

All of that is forgotten.

As for the Rooney incident, the Red Bulls already led 1-0 when DC’s star striker went forearm shiver on Cristian Casseres Jr.

It’s the second red of the season for Rooney, who is set for Derby County in January.

Amro Tarek was later sent off for the Red Bulls, who moved ahead of DC in the standings. Kaku and Daniel Royer had RBNY’s goals.

Newcastle takeover could be back on if in holiday relegation battle

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How much do Newcastle United supporters dislike their owner Mike Ashley right now?

Enough that this report is likely to condemn many to hoping their favorite club in the world is in the Bottom 3 come Christmas.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

The Chronicle’s Mark Douglas speculates that Ashley will lower his asking price for the club if it is in a relegation fight come December — something that looks certain after the Steve Bruce-led Magpies got bossed around by promoted Norwich City.

Nothing But Newcastle transcribed Douglas’ chatter from his podcast, in which he says,

“It wouldn’t surprise me if we hear more in December because there are still people sniffing around that football club and if the team are in the bottom three, there’ll be people thinking they can get a bargain out of Mike Ashley again. … He will probably more open to listening to lower offers in January and December which is what happened last December. He was basically saying ‘take it off my hands, you now have to take the risk’'”

This is notable for two reasons. First: the social experiment of wondering how many fans could see themselves rooting for their team to take a major and perilous back step just to see the back of a man they perceive is at the root of their failures (and that perception is widespread in this case).

But second, we can see if this rumor comes true because it’s difficult to imagine Newcastle as comfortably mid table by Christmas.

Fan protests and anger are nothing new, but here’s an effort to show how wobbly Ashley’s reputation is on Tyneside: Fans have taken to selling a black and white striped shirt with player name and number but no sponsor just so they can have a Newcastle jersey that doesn’t put money into Ashley’s pockets. And this is after he broke the club’s transfer record twice in one year.

If we’ve learned anything from the past few seasons, though, it’s that boycotts and anger will spur Ashley into insisting that he’s willing to sell and just conveniently enough it will be before the January transfer window. He “won’t be able to buy any players” with the takeover in play, and talks will hit a wall come late January, when they’ll loan a couple young players from Top Six sides.

Yes he spent significant money on Joelinton, Allen Saint-Maximin, and others this summer, but one decent window doesn’t make a culture. Count us amongst the skeptical, for now.

Messi back in training, could be fit for Betis

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Lionel Messi was back in full training again on Wednesday and may be fit to face Real Betis in the Spanish league on Sunday.

Messi had been training separately from the squad since injuring his right calf in the preseason.

He missed the team’s 1-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao in the league opener on Friday.

Barcelona has not said how long it expects Messi to be sidelined.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

Coach Ernesto Valverde is also dealing with injuries to forwards Luiz Suarez and Ousmane Dembele.

Dembele is certain to miss Sunday’s match at the Camp Nou because of a left thigh injury that should keep him out for about five weeks.

Suarez also isn’t likely to play this weekend because of a muscle injury sustained before halftime of Friday’s game in Bilbao.

Two-time defending champion Barcelona hadn’t loss a league opener in 10 seasons.

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