Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP

MLS Conference Final preview: Rematch spoilers?

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There’s an MLS Cup Final rematch on the cards if you play the favorites for this week’s conference finals.

Seattle beat Toronto in last season’s Cup final via penalty kicks, and Brian Schmetzer could again match wits with Greg Vanney come 4 p.m. ET on Dec. 9 in Ontario.

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The finals begin Tuesday with a doubleheader of sorts, scheduled 90 minutes apart in Columbus and Houston.

Toronto FC vs. Columbus Crew
First leg — 8 p.m. ET Tuesday in Ohio
Second leg — 7:30 p.m. ET Nov. 29 in Ontario

The Trillium Cup rivals meet with a lot more on the line, and the subplots are many. Toronto FC is aiming to win its first MLS Cup title after a record-breaking season lifting the Supporters’ Shield. The Crew is being held hostage by its owner who’s done his level best to engineer a move to Austin come 2019, and the players are giving their fans on-field thrills to go with #SaveTheCrew protests.

There’s a terrific chance for Columbus to pull ahead in leg one as it did against New York City FC, as the Reds will be without suspended stars Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore.

The Crew are led by the wizardry of Justin Meram (Iraq) and the finishing of Norwegian striker Ola Kamara. Then there’s rejuvenated and/or ageless playmaker Federico Higuain, and young USMNT backstop Zack Steffen.

Managers Greg Vanney and Gregg Berhalter are both capable of sublime tactics, and how Tuesday looks may go beyond the missing stars if Vanney is able to trump his Columbus counterpart.

Seattle Sounders vs. Houston Dynamo
First leg — 9:30 p.m. ET Tuesday in Texas
Second leg — 10:30 p.m. ET Nov. 29 in Washington

Clint Dempsey’s defiant comeback tour rolls on. One year after he was relegated to street clothes champagne celebrator in Canada, Dempsey is rollicking through MLS with his heart surgery a poignant but distant memory.

Dempsey scored twice in the conference semifinal defeat of Vancouver, the lone two goals, and has been no worse for the wear despite an injury to key attack partner Jordan Morris. On the season, he’s nabbed 14 goals and 4 assists.

“Deuce” joins Nicolas Lodeiro and Cristian Roldan as key pieces in trying to deconstruct Wilmer Cabrera’s Dynamo, who are trying to add a second title to the city’s trophy haul following a difficult summer for Houston.

Houston has its band together for this critical time of year, with no Gold Cup or CONCACAF World Cup qualifying to deprive them of Alberth Elis or Erick Torres. Can it knock off the No. 2 seed after handing top-seeded Portland its demise?

Lukaku working to shed extra muscle he put on for World Cup

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Romelu Lukaku has found it difficult to replicate his international form at club level since returning to Manchester United from the 2018 World Cup, but Belgium’s superstar no. 9 is confident he’s worked out the main reason why: he came back carrying too much muscle.

[ MORE: Chelsea hand Man City a first loss | Liverpool win to go top of PL ]

After scoring four goals in six appearances in Russia, Lukaku has netted just six times in 15 appearances in the Premier League and has received considerable criticism with the Red Devils slumping to their current sixth-place standing in the league table.

In preparation for the World Cup, the 25-year-old says he packed on a few extra pounds of muscle to better stand up to the international game’s highly physical nature. Once he returned to Manchester, though, he quickly realized that all that extra weight would be hugely detrimental in the fast-paced, end-to-end PL. It’s taken some time and effort, but it sounds like Lukaku is just about where he would like to be again — quotes from the Guardian:

“In the Premier League, I cannot play with the same amount of muscle as international football. That was something that when I came back I knew straight away — ‘Nah, I cannot play in this style like this.’ I had to lose muscle basically. So you just stay out of the gym, drink a lot of water, and a lot of vegetables and fish, and it helps.”

“After the World Cup, I think I really was a bit tired. But, you know, I had the same thing in 2014 after the World Cup when I came back to Everton, I was really in a slump after the World Cup. So now I think I am in a decent level again and ready to go again. I knew this. Me and the [United] medical staff, we did like a lot of tests to see what was the problem. I had a hamstring injury, which is something that never happens to me.”

“We are doing more prevention in the gym and I am trying to do speed bursts in training and that’s the most essential”

Things are certainly looking up for Lukaku as he’s scored twice in Man United’s last three PL games — the first time he’s managed to do so since tallying in back-to-back fixtures at the start of September.

Burnley’s Mee defends tackle that broke Joe Gomez’s leg

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Joe Gomez is expected to miss the next six weeks after suffering a broken leg during Liverpool’s 3-1 victory over Burnley on Wednesday, but there was absolutely nothing wrong with the tackle which resulted in the injury, according to Clarets defender Ben Mee.

[ MORE: Chelsea hand Man City a first loss | Liverpool win to go top of PL ]

Mee, who tackled the ball away from the Liverpool defender halfway through the first half, took the opportunity this weekend to defend his tackle, calling it “unfortunate” and saying that strong challenges are “part of the game” — quotes from the BBC:

“I don’t think anything was wrong with my tackle personally. You can’t take tackles out of the game.”

“I’ve seen Liverpool make tackles and get the crowd up and things like that. For me, you can play fair, but you can also play hard as well.

“We’re at the bottom of the table and we need to get out of it, so we’re obviously going to work our socks off to win games. It was just unfortunate and I send my best wishes to him.”

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp seemed to side with Mee’s version of events following the game earlier this week, calling it “the cleanest” tackle made by a Burnley player all game — a clear reference to what he felt was a highly physical outing by the Clarets. Burnley boss Sean Dyche called it a “fantastic tackle.”

Serie A: AC Milan frustrated by results, missing out on Zlatan

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MILAN (AP) AC Milan’s problems in front of goal show no signs of abating and it has been forced to admit defeat in its attempts to bring back Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Milan was held at home to a 0-0 draw by Torino in Serie A on Sunday. The Rossoneri have scored just three goals in their past four league matches, and only three of the other sides in the top 10 in Serie A have scored fewer than Milan’s tally of 24 in 15 rounds.

Milan had been trying to bring back the 37-year-old Ibrahimovic on loan from the Los Angeles Galaxy. The former Sweden international scored more than 50 goals for Milan in his two seasons at the club, 2010-12.

“He gave his word to Galaxy that he would stay if they satisfied his conditions and they did so,” sporting director Leonardo said. “It would have been a really lovely story because it would have given a significant weight to the team.

“We can’t deny that both parties thought of it but it will not be possible.”

Patrick Cutrone should have snatched the win for Milan with four minutes remaining on Sunday but he fired wide of the right post when one-on-one with Torino goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu.

The 20-year-old Cutrone put his head in his hands in dismay, while other Milan players were also visibly shocked at the miss.

Milan’s teenage goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma pulled off a stunning save in the fifth minute to keep out Iago Falque’s header from close range.

“I’ve had a really difficult year but I’m much more calm now,” said Donnraumma, who has faced criticism recently following several poor performances.

Milan remained fourth, three points behind Inter Milan, which lost at league leader Juventus on Friday. Milan is a point ahead of Lazio, which drew 2-2 at home to Sampdoria on Saturday.

Torino also remained in the fight for the final Champions League place, and is four points behind Milan.

The 2 Robbies: Chelsea top Man City; Liverpool go top

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe discuss what was perhaps a title-defining weekend which saw Chelsea hand Manchester City their first defeat of the season with a 2-0 victory at Stamford Bridge (4:30) and Liverpool beat up on Bournemouth with a 4-0 win at Vitality Stadium to go top of the Premier League table (22:15). Plus, thoughts on wins for Tottenham Hotspur (31:50), Manchester United (39:25) and Arsenal (47:55) before the midweek Champions League fixtures.

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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