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MLS Snapshots: TFC’s lead restored to 9 as NYCFC, CHI falter

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Toronto FC 4-0 San Jose Earthquakes

The game in 100 words (or less): TFC have taken all the excitement out of the final days and weeks of the regular season… with two months of the regular season still to go. Saturday’s 4-0 victory, their fifth straight win, over San Jose not only sent a(nother) clear message to the rest of the league that 1) they’re hellbent on MLS Cup vengeance, and 2) they might just be the best team in league history, but also re-established Greg Vanney’s side’s nine-point lead atop the Eastern Conference and in the Supporters’ Shield race (with thanks to results elsewhere — see below). Jozy Altidore bagged a pair of second-half goal, doubling and tripling the lead established by league-leading assist man Victor Vazquez. Jonathan Osorio competed the scoring with TFC’s third in 21 minutes to start the second half. Sebastian Giovinco left the contest at halftime with tightness in his quad.

[ MORE: MLS Power Rankings — Week 26 | Weekend preview ]

Three moments that mattered

26′ — Vazquez fills an empty net after Tarbell’s blunder — Andrew Tarbell made every effort imaginable in an attempt to get a touch on Steven Beitashour’s cross, but the second-year ‘keeper only wound up looking a fool as Vazquez bagged his sixth goal of the season (to go with 14 assists).

48′ — Altidore slots home for 2-0 — Goals don’t come much easier than this one, for which all Altidore had to do was not send his shot 20 rows into the stands, and he’d make it an even dozen on the season. (Scratch that earlier note — 15 assists for Vazquez)

64′ — Altidore heads past Tarbell for 3-0 — So it’s a baker’s dozen for Altidore, and four goals in TFC’s last three games.

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Man of the match: Victor Vazquez

Goalscorers: Vazquez (26′), Altidore (48′, 64′), Osorio (66′)


New York City FC 0-1 Portland Timbers

The game in 100 words (or less): Three short days after cutting TFC’s lead to six points, NYCFC crashed and burned their own Shield dreams as they lost at Yankee Stadium for just the second time all season, falling to Portland, 1-0. Diego Valeri scored the game’s only goal and made a bit of history in the process (see below). The victory pushes Caleb Porter’s side two points clear of the Seattle Sounders for the Western Conference’s top spot (though Seattle now have two games in hand). Portland become the first West side to reach a dozen wins on the season, and extend their current unbeaten run to four games (three wins). TFC are the only side to beat Portland in the Timbers’ last eight games.

[ MORE: MLS Power Rankings — Week 26 | Weekend preview ]

Three moments that mattered

44′ — Valeri hammers past Johnson for 1-0 — No one pressured Valeri and he fired past Sean Johnson to give himself a goal in seven straight games, which ties the Argentine for the all-time record in MLS history.

47′ — Brilliant nearly scores from his stomach — Frederic Brilliant so nearly scored the weirdest goal of the 2017 season, a pool-ball tap-in from his belly, but the Frenchman couldn’t quite hit the corner pocket.

84′ — Johnson makes a spectacular save to keep NYCFC in it — This is just absolutely ridiculous from Johnson, who’ll very likely ride this one to Save of the Year glory.

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Man of the match: Diego Valeri

Goalscorers: Valeri (44′)


Chicago Fire 1-1 New York Red Bulls

The game in 100 words (or less): Chicago’s tailspin might very well be over, but Veljko Paunovic’s side still dropped a pair of points at home on Saturday, in a 1-1 draw with New York. After putting a four-game losing skid to bed last weekend, Chicago were made to scrap their way to a point against a side four points (and two spot) below them in the East. Now 14 points back of TFC (they were the only side within three of the Reds a month and a half ago) and five back of NYCFC for second, the dreaded knockout round is looking a likelier destination everyday for Chicago. Two positives for Chicago: a loss would have meant just one point stood between themselves and New York (and three from falling out of the top-four, thus the right to host the knockout round game), and Nemanja Nikolic scored his first goal since July 1, a stretch of 10 games without the Hungarian finding the back of the net.

[ MORE: MLS Power Rankings — Week 26 | Weekend preview ]

Three Two moments that mattered

8′ — BWP’s in the right place at the right time, and it’s 1-0 — That describes, what, roughly 80 percent of BWP’s goal in MLS. That’s not a slight on the Englishman, because always popping up in the right spot is 99 percent skill and 1 percent luck.

66′ — Nikolic breaks his drought, makes it 1-1 — Nikolic gets the goal, but Michael de Leeuw should get all the attention for this delicate touch. As the ball came falling out of the sky, the Dutchman so carefully laid it across the face of goal and gifted Nikolic a chance he couldn’t miss.

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Man of the match: Sacha Kljestan

Goalscorers: Wright-Phillips (8′), Nikolic (66′)

Courtois to join Hazard in Chelsea exit?

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Chelsea may have a new manager in charge after Antonio Conte was finally fired, but the uncertainty at Stamford Bridge doesn’t end there.

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Less than 24 hours after Eden Hazard hinted at a move to Real Madrid and that his time at Chelsea could be up, his countryman and close friend, Thibaut Courtois, is saying something similar.

Courtois, 26, won the Golden Glove award at the 2018 World Cup as the best goalkeeper in the tournament as he helped Belgium to third-place with some stunning saves, especially against Japan and Brazil in the knockout rounds.

Yet Courtois, who has often been linked with a move to Real Madrid, had the following to say when talking about his future via the London Evening Standard.

“Wherever I go, Hazard must come along. We will not let each other go. We’ll see. Now first vacation. And agree with my entourage in between.” Courtois said. “Now I’m going to talk to my manager to see what the possibilities are. All options are open to me. Also stay at Chelsea, yes. People always complain that players do not comply with their contracts, but maybe I will. I do not think they will keep someone with my qualities on the bench, even if I do not sign. But maybe that’s possible because I like being in London.”

What does Courtois mean by that “even if I do not sign” comment?

He has just one year left on his current deal at Chelsea and talks haven’t progressed in quite some time, with the Belgian goalkeeper seemingly not happy with the contract offer on the table. 2

Via the Daily Mirror, Courtois said “what was on the table obviously is different than what I can have” when it comes to Chelsea’s contract offer.

Is he worth over $330,000 per week? Quite possibly. Alongside David De Gea and Manuel Neuer, neither of whom shone at the World Cup, Courtois is among the top three goalkeepers on the planet. He may now be the top after his star performances for Belgium this summer and he knows that has strengthened his hand in negotiations with Chelsea.

Courtois loved his two years on loan at Atletico Madrid as a Chelsea youngster and both of his children live in the Spanish capital, so returning to Madrid would obviously make sense for him on a personal level.

Intriguing times at Chelsea as the Belgian boys could both be swapping London for Madrid.

Croatia fears World Cup chance may never come again

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MOSCOW (AP) The rain hid Croatia’s tears.

After Luka Modric collected his Golden Ball award in a downpour, he shared an emotional embrace with Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, both wearing the country’s red-and-white checkered uniform.

Croatia knows Sunday’s 4-2 loss to France in the World Cup final was a chance that may not come again anytime soon.

“We were so close and we played the best soccer. We deserved more,” said Modric, who at 32 may have played in his last World Cup match.

Croatia’s first golden generation lost to France in the 1998 World Cup semifinals, and its second went one better. Besides Modric, goalkeeper Danijel Subasic will be 38 at the next World Cup in Qatar, midfielder Ivan Rakitic will be 34 and forward Mario Mandzukic will be 36.

“I wish we are now 24, everyone and Luka especially,” Croatia defender Dejan Lovren said. “There is a time when something needs to end.”

Among a crowd of men in dark suits on the World Cup podium, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, Grabar-Kitarovic’s team shirt showed her passion for Croatia, a country of barely 4 million people.

While some of the players shed tears on the field, fans at home celebrated in the thousands despite the loss.

“Overall, we’ve been better,” Lovren said, critical of the way France played. “They did it the other way. They didn’t play football. They waited for their chances and they scored. They had their own tactic and you need to respect that. They played the tournament like that every game.”

Croatia went down with the same grit that had taken it through three extra-time matches, all won after conceding the opening goal. When Ivan Perisic scored in the 28th minute after Mario Mandzukic’s own-goal had given France the lead, Croatia looked ready to do it again.

Then came a penalty, called after a video review, which Antoine Griezmann converted.

Trailing 2-1, Croatia conceded two more goals but kept fighting. Mandzukic then took advantage of a goalkeeping error to make it 4-2, becoming the first player to score for both teams in a World Cup final.

“When you want to be the best then you need to win, simple as that,” said Lovren, who lost the Champions League final with Liverpool in May. “It’s not easy to accept that. It’s something that I will carry for my life.”

James Ellingworth is at https://twitter.com/jellingworth

More AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

VIDEO: Juventus unveil Cristiano Ronaldo

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Things are pretty crazy in Turin right now.

Cristiano Ronaldo has been unveiled as a Juventus player after his record $120 million transfer from Real Madrid, the largest few ever paid by Juve or any Italian club in history.

[ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule

The five-time World Player of the Year causes  a stir wherever he goes but this was something else.

Ronaldo, 33, signed autographs and posed for photos with fans as thousands turned out to see him arrive in Italy.

The Portuguese star last played on June 30 against Uruguay, as Portugal lost 2-1 and crashed out of the World Cup at the last 16 stage.

Juve are heading on a U.S. tour this summer and their first game is on July 25 against Bayern Munich in Philadelphia, before they play Benfica, the MLS All-Stars and his former club, Real Madrid.

Take a look below at some of the scenes from Ronaldo’s unveiling at the fourth club of his career after his spells at Sporting Lisbon, Manchester United and Real Madrid.


With flags, song, pride, French celebrate unifying victory

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PARIS (AP) It was a victory for all of France and the home crowd did it justice, pouring into Paris’ Champs-Elysees Avenue by the tens of thousands to celebrate in an explosion of joy.

France’s 4-2 win over Croatia in the World Cup final in Moscow on Sunday marked the second time in 20 years that France has won the World Cup, and came at a time when the people feel needy.

“It represents enormous things,” said Goffrey Hamsik, dressed in a hat resembling a rooster – the French national symbol – and a shirt with the No. 10 for Kylian Mpappe, the 19-year-old breakout star who hails from the Paris suburb of Bondy.

“We’ve had lots of problems in France these past years,” he said, recalling deadly terror attacks. “This is good for the morale … Here, we are all united. We mix. There is no religion, there is nothing, and that’s what feels good.”

Troublemakers marred some of the festivities at the top of the Champs-Elysees, breaking the window of a major store, throwing bottles, temporary barriers and even a bicycle at riot police as the celebrations wound down close to midnight. Police responded with water cannon and tear gas. BFM-TV reported that the store was pillaged.

Earlier, people wrapped in flags and dressed in crazy hats, and one man spotted totally nude except for the Tricolor, marched down the avenue where France displayed its military might a day earlier for Bastille Day.

Revelers set off smoke bombs in the national colors – blue, white and red – obscuring Napoleon’s triumphal arch. People climbed atop every newspaper kiosk and bus stop in the area to wave flags and lead the crowds below in cheers. The national anthem, the Marseillaise, rang out, cars honked horns and cherry bombs cracks.

A young man sprayed a fire extinguisher on the crowd on a late hot afternoon.

Hundreds of police in riot gear were discretely lined up on side streets to monitor revelers. Typically, celebrations in France end up with some broken shop windows and other destruction, and Sunday was no exception. Tear gas was lobbed at one point on the Champs-Elysees. About 4,000 police watched over the fan zone – packed to its 90,000 capacity – during the match, then moved to the Champs-Elysees and neighboring streets.

As night fell, The Eiffel Tower flashed 1998-2018 to mark France’s two World Cup titles.

The Arc de Triomphe was awash in the national colors, lit with the rooster, the faces of the winning team and the words “Proud to be Blue,” or French.

The celebrations were spread across the nation.

For all the crazy antics – and some revelers who got out of control – a sense of patriotism and unity was almost visceral.

Antoine Griezmann, the France striker who scored one of the goal’s Sunday, told a news conference two days before the final, televised on BFM TV, that pride in country is in short supply.

“We say it so little … We should be proud to be French,” Griezmann said.

Mahmoud Bourassi was among those taking a longer-term view and he had some sobering thoughts about France’s run to the title and the festivities it has sparked.

Bourassi runs a youth center in Bondy – Mbappe’s home that was among those scarred by riots in 2005 that exposed the fissures of France that have yet to heal – and he knows the teenage star of the tournament.

“All this euphoria and effervescence, it’s positive but it’s emotional and ephemeral,” he said ahead of France’s win. Bourassi said sports is a “catalyst to bring people and nations together.”

But, he added, it must be built on.

“What we’re seeing is magic, exceptional. But what are we going to do with it tomorrow?”

That is a question for President Emmanuel Macron, who was in Moscow celebrating with the team on victory night, and will receive the squad more formally on Monday at the presidential Elysee Palace.

Revelers celebrated the moment.

“We’re happy. It took 20 years … It’s the pride of the nation. It unites everyone. It federates,” Frederique Pourquet said as she and her friend left the Champs-Elysees.

The win “shows that the French people are consolidated and the work of all France,” said Omar Bzi.

Hajar Maghnaoui, of Asnieres, north of Paris, said “It’s a way to bring the French people together, and also the world.”

John Leicester in Moscow contributed to this report.