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MLS Conference Finalists cheat sheet

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Four teams remain in the chase for the 2017 MLS Cup, from Supporters’ Shield winning Toronto down to the team with the 10th most points in the regular season, the Houston Dynamo.

For those who haven’t been watching too closely this season, here’s what you need to know about the semifinalists.

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Toronto FC

Regular season: 1st in East (20W-5L-9T)
Overall: 1st
Playoffs so far: Advanced past Red Bulls 2-2 on away goals
Last season: Lost MLS Cup Final to Seattle

Leading scorer: Sebastian Giovinco (17), Jozy Altidore (15)
In-form player: Goalkeeper Alex Bono
Secret weapon: Victor Vazquez — The Spaniard and ex-Barcelona prospect was the Belgian Professional Footballer of the Year in 2015, and has nine goals and 10 assists in his first MLS season,

Record vs. Seattle: Won 1-0 in Washington
Record vs. Houston: Won 2-0 at home
Record vs. Columbus: Won home and away; Lost away

The big question: Will MLS find enough evidence against the Red Bulls to reverse Jozy Altidore’s suspension for the weekend’s tunnel fracas? If not, TFC will not have its top two scorers for leg one.

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Houston Dynamo

Regular season: 5th in West
Overall: 10th
Playoffs so far: Defeatied Sporting KC, then Portland
Last season: Missed playoffs

Leading scorer: Erick Torres (14), Mauro Manotas and Alberth Elis (10)
In-form player: Elis — four goals in last seven matches
Secret weapon: Juan Cabezas — The Colombia defensive midfielder averages 3.7 tackles and 2.1 interceptions per game.

Record vs. Toronto: Lost 2-0 in Canada
Record vs. Seattle: Lost 1-0 at Seattle, Won 2-1 at home
Record vs. Columbus: Won 3-1 at home

The big question: Can backup backstop Joe Willis do the job with Tyler Deric suspended after a domestic arrest?

(Photo credit: Houston Dynamo / @HoustonDynamo)

Columbus Crew

Regular season: 5th in East (16W-12L-6T)
Overall: 5th
Playoffs so far: Defeated Atlanta, then New York City FC
Last season: Missed playoffs

Leading scorer: Ola Kamara (19), Justin Meram (14)
In-form player: Artur — The 21-year-old center mid does the little things well, humming on a consistent motor.
Secret weapon: Pedro Santos — Gets into dangerous places, and knows how to draw a foul.

Record vs. Toronto: Won at home, Lost home and away
Record vs. Houston: Lost 3-1 in Texas
Record vs. Seattle: Won 3-0 at home

The big question: Can the Crew continue to rise above the furor and buzz of owner Anthony Precourt’s horribly-timed relocation discussion? (EDIT: Twitter user CG Hudson pointed out that there is rarely a good time for a relocation discussion, and that’s spot on).

(AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

Seattle Sounders

Regular season: 2nd in West (14W-9L-11T)
Overall: 7th
Playoffs so far: Beat Vancouver 2-0 in quarterfinals
Last season: MLS Cup champion

Leading scorers: Clint Dempsey (14), Will Bruin (11)
In-form player: Dempsey
Secret weapon: Cristian Roldan — The University of Washington product has always good defensively, but has seen his goals rise from zero to four to six in his first three seasons.

Record vs. Toronto: Lost 1-0 at home
Record vs. Houston: Won 1-0 at home, Lost 2-1 in Texas
Record vs. Columbus: Lost 3-0 in Columbus

The big question: Can Seattle become the first back-to-back MLS Cup winners since the Galaxy in 2011-12?

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Report: Bristol City offers $4m for USMNT GK Steffen

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Championship side Bristol City has lodged a $4 million bid for Columbus Crew and USMNT goalkeeper Zack Steffen, according to MLS insider Sam Stejskal.

Viewed as a potential long-term American No. 1 for his country, Steffen has thrived at Columbus since returning from a stint at Freiburg in Germany.

[ USMNT: More accolades for Pulisic ]

Stejskal reached Columbus coach Gregg Berhalter, who said multiple teams are interested in Steffen but did not confirm the Bristol City bid. Berhalter said, “We want to be a place where we get players and we develop them and we help them advance in their careers, wherever that may be.”

Steffen, 23, starred at Maryland before making the move abroad. He’s proven a fantastic young pro with a knack for stopping penalty kicks.

Bristol City finished 11th in the Championship last season with 30-year-old goalkeeper Frank Fielding, who had played 153 league matches for the club since 2013 and led the club to promotion from League One in 2015.

Some have openly questioned whether the Championship is a clear upgrade from MLS — don’t count this typer in that group — but this does seem like win-win for Columbus and Steffen if the player wants the move. The Championship has been good for the development of several American players including Tim Ream, DeAndre Yedlin (on loan from a Premier League club), and Lynden Gooch.

USMNT’s $72m Pulisic amongst Top 8 U-21 values in world

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USMNT and Borussia Dortmund star Christian Pulisic is among the most valuable U21 players in the world, according to a new study.

Pulisic’s value of $71.7m is eighth-highest in the world, and he is the first American to be named to the list.

[ MORE: Adam takes shot at Shaqiri ]

The group SoccerEx uses data driven by Prime Time Sport’s Football Value Index, and it has issued U21 value reports for about a half decade. Previous winners are Dele Alli, Anthony Martial, Leroy Sane, and Raheem Sterling.

The report deals with players born after Jan. 1, 1997, and claims to account for “personal attributes and pitch performances, using player’s current personal information and the performance of both current season and the previous one.”

That does answer the question of whether being American and carrying interest from a massive country might bump up the value a bit, though there’s little doubt Pulisic is a star (though media value is just a small part of their formula).

It comes as little surprise that PSG’s Kylian Mbappe is No. 1, coming off an amazing season for club and country which could see him win the Ballon d’Or.

Pulisic is ahead of Top 20 players Cenzig Under (Roma), Patrick Cutrone (AC Milan), Vinicius Jr (Real Madrid), and Premier Leaguers Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool) and Ryan Sessegnon (Fulham).

The seven ahead of Pulisic: Gianluigi Donnarumma (7, AC Milan), Federico Chiesa (Fiorentina), Malcom (Bordeaux), Gabriel Jesus (Man City), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), and Mbappe.

This is not meant to be the latest in an eternal list of shouts at the USMNT, but imagine how high Pulisic could’ve ranked had he been able to take the stage at the World Cup in Russia.

Real Salt Lake coach Mike Petke suspended, fined

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NEW YORK (AP) Real Salt Lake coach Mike Petke has been suspended an additional game and fined $10,000 by Major League Soccer for on-field misconduct during a game against Minnesota United.

[ MORE: Alisson on the brink of joining PL giants Liverpool ]

The suspension announced Wednesday follows an automatic one-game game ban for being ejected from the Utah club’s 3-1 road loss Saturday night.

Petke was fined for abusive and profane language directed at officials, uncontrollable behavior when he was ejected and public criticism of officials during a postgame press conference. Real Salt Lake also was fined $10,000 fine for social media posts.

Petke will miss games Saturday night against Colorado and July 28 against San Jose.

Adam takes shot at Shaqiri as example of Stoke rot

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Xherdan Shaqiri has left relegated Stoke City for the greener Premier League pastures of Liverpool, labeling it a move in search of silverware.

Former teammate Charlie Adam thinks that’s pretty rich.

[ MORE: Alisson on the brink of joining PL giants Liverpool ]

The 32-year-old Adam, a former Red himself, says Shaqiri was among the group of players he criticized for shrinking in big moments and not caring enough about the relegation fight.

Here’s what Adam said in May:

“I’ll be honest for the supporters, I think some players have been getting away with murder for a long time and it’s difficult for supporters. It’s not just one or two, I think there are four or five that could be counted.”

Offensively, Shaqiri had the best season of his career. The 26-year-old Swiss international scored eight goals in the Premier League, but was absent from the score sheet from March 3-April 28. Stoke collected just four points during that eight-match span, all draws.

But Shaqiri did score Stoke’s lone goal in the match which saw them officially relegated, a 2-1 loss to Crystal Palace in which there’s no question the stakes were incredibly high.

Asked about Shaqiri on Thursday, Adam did not hold back.

“Was he one of them? Oh, definitely. When the chips are down you look at your big players, you want your big players to bring magic in one moment in the season, and at times we felt like the so-called big players in the squad never turned up for us and never performed.

“Yeah, everybody else could help, but for all the plaudits to so-called bigger players we getting from certain members of the management staff last season – they weren’t producing.”

Shaqiri scored in three-straight February matches, of which Stoke won exactly zero, and pitched in seven assists this season. Huh.

While we don’t know what his attitude was like around the Potteries, it’s very difficult to consider labeling his season a big reason for Stoke’s downfall.

He’s an easy man to scapegoat now, being out the door, but Shaqiri had a decent season for sure. Adam is a strong servant of Stoke, but played in less than a dozen games. This truly seems like the wrong messenger picking the wrong target, though it could help build a bit of momentum for a new season.