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Sounders’ Stefan Frei returns to site of his famous moment

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TUKWILA, Wash. (AP) Stefan Frei would like to make one thing perfectly clear before the Seattle Sounders set foot again in Toronto.

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He would prefer it if someone else on the Sounders roster becomes the MVP of the MLS Cup final this time.

“I would really prefer it if one of our strikers became MVP this year,” Seattle’s starting goalkeeper said with a chuckle.

Frei will return to the scene of his greatest professional moment Saturday when the Sounders face Toronto in the championship match trying to become the fourth team in MLS history to win consecutive league titles.

A year ago, Frei made one of the most stunning saves in the history of MLS championship matches, changing directions and leaping in desperation to get his left hand on Jozy Altidore‘s attempted header in extra time that seemed destined for the top corner of the goal. It was the save Seattle needed to get to penalty kicks, where Frei made another save on Michael Bradley and Roman Torres eventually won the title for the Sounders with his made penalty in the sixth round.

But it’s the save on Altidore that everyone remembers and is certain to be shown repeatedly prior to Saturday’s rematch.

“I’m going to try and do the same thing as last year and at some point really zone out you guys and social media and just focus on the game,” Frei said.

While last year’s game will get a lot of the attention this week, it’s the defensive performance in this year’s playoff run that deserves the focus. Seattle has yet to allow a goal in four postseason games. The Sounders haven’t allowed a goal since a 2-0 loss to Philadelphia on Oct. 1. That’s a span of six full games since a shot got past Frei or backup Tyler Miller. Miller started the first leg of the West finals against Houston while Frei was slowed by a leg injury.

In the postseason, the Sounders have not allowed a goal since the first leg of the 2016 West finals, the longest postseason shutout streak in MLS history.

“It builds confidence throughout the squad when you have someone like Stef in goal,” Seattle forward Will Bruin said. “He’s going to make a big save when needed.”

For Frei, the final in Toronto will be the conclusion of nearly two non-stop seasons of soccer. It started in February 2016 when Seattle opened its training camp. Between the length of last year’s MLS season and being called into the U.S. national team training camp last January, Frei only had a few weeks of rest in between last year’s championship match and the start of preparations for this season.

But this has arguably been his finest season in MLS. Frei led the league with 13 shutouts in the regular season. In a sign of how much Seattle has improved defensively, he was forced to save just 84 shots in the regular season, the fewest of his four seasons with Seattle.

Frei made it a point to appreciate the atmosphere and celebration after Seattle beat Houston to clinch the Western Conference title last week. A year ago, all Seattle celebrations came away from home. When the final whistle blew last Thursday, Frei climbed on the crossbar of his goal in front of Seattle’s most rabid supporters and pumped his fists in celebration. While the championship match will again be in Toronto, at least part of this run was shared with the fans at home.

“It was awesome. I wish I could have given everybody in the stadium a hug,” Frei said. “We were so fortunate to get on that run last year and capture two trophies, but unfortunately both of them were away from home. So this last weekend when we had a chance to win one at home was amazing.”

Puel insists Chelsea hasn’t inquired about goalkeeper Schmeichel

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Chelsea could very be in the market for a goalkeeper over the summer, but Leicester City’s manager insists that their number one isn’t being targeted by the Blues; or at least not yet.

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With the Blues likely set to lose Belgium international Thibaut Courtois to Real Madrid, new manager Maurizio Sarri would have to look elsewhere to solidify the team’s goalkeeping situation.

One player that has drawn significant interest after a strong World Cup performance for Denmark is Leicester’s Kasper Schmeichel, who played a big role in the Foxes’ 2015/16 Premier League title.

Although Schmeichel would be a viable replacement for Courtois at Stamford Bridge, Leicester boss Claude Puel says Chelsea hasn’t expressed its interest to this point.

“No, there is no problem with this,” the Frenchman told Sky Sports. “There is a lot of speculation at this moment, it is normal.

“I think he [Ward] can bring more competition to the squad and more possibilities. It is a good thing to have competition between players in the squad to develop desire.

“It gives good focus and concentration.”

The Foxes recently brought in young Liverpool keeper Danny Ward, which raised further questions about the future of Schmeichel at Leicester.

FC Dallas, Houston play to 1-1 after scoring early goals

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HOUSTON (AP) FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo each scored early goals in a 1-1 draw Saturday night.

Matt Hedges put Dallas (11-3-6) ahead 47 seconds into the game with his first goal of the season, converting a header off a cross from Santiago Mosquera.

Houston (7-6-6) tied it in the eight on Mauro Manotas’ 10th goal of the season. He scored on a header off Romell Quioto’s cross.

Houston goalkeeper Joe Willis stuffed Roland Lamah‘s penalty kick at the 61st minute to keep the score knotted. Ten minutes later, Lamah missed an open look and sent a short shot high that ricocheted off the top of the post.

In stoppage time, Houston’s Alberth Elis missed high and wide to the right just outside the box.

Houston is unbeaten in four games.

MLS 3 Things: Resurgent Zardes, Toronto up, New England down

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A busy Saturday in Major League Soccer sees three interesting results bolstering the story lines of the final few months of the season.

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1) Imagine a world with the reigning champs as your reward for finishing first.

With 14 matches to play, Toronto FC has Jozy Altidore back in the fold and has pulled to within eight points of the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot after a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire on Saturday.

Sebastian Giovinco looks like Sebastian Giovinco in scoring another outstanding goal, just his fifth of the season, while Jonathan Osorio also scored in the win.

Before you watch Seba’s goal, picture you’ve won the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Now picture TFC as your semifinal reward.

2) New England is well and truly slumping

Brad Friedel‘s Revs are slipping after losing a third-straight league match, and New England has gained a solitary point since the calendar turned to July following a 2-0 loss at Red Bull Arena.

Fourth through ninth in the East are separated by nine points, and New England is very much in that mix now. Friedel is certainly at the most trying time of his tenure.

Second half goals from Bradley Wright-Phillips and Daniel Royer did the trick for RBNY, who have claimed 15 of the last 18 points available to them (The lone blemish is the Hudson River Derby).

The Red Bulls are now 8-1-1 at home this season, while New England is 1-4-4 away from Foxboro.

3) Gyasi Zardes’ return to form is surprising and wonderful

Columbus has its second win since May 19, and will be feeling much better about itself following a 3-2 comeback win over Orlando City which included a pair of equalizers.

One of those came in the 88th minute, as Gyasi Zardes completed his brace by converting a penalty won by new arrival Patrick Mullins.

The Crew won late via a rare Wil Trapp goal — the USMNT midfielder has just two in 161 matches — but let’s focus on Zardes.

Zardes’ 13th goal of the season continues an amazing turnaround under striker whisperer Gregg Berhalter. It’s Zardes’ second double-digit season, and his first since 2014. He is firmly in frame for another USMNT look, this time as a center forward, but first there’s plenty to like about the big man.

Surging Galaxy ride Ibrahimovic magic to 3-1 win (video)

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a man on fire, and the LA Galaxy are rounding into form.

The Galaxy overcame an early deficit in Chester to clobber the Philadelphia Union 3-1 on Saturday behind a goal and an assist from their world-class striker.

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Romain Alessandrini had two assists, while Michael Ciani and Ola Kamara also scored for LA. CJ Sapong scored for Philly, assisted by Borek Dockal.

Unbeaten-in-seven LA moves into fourth in the West with the win, while Philadelphia remains three points back of sixth in the East.

Ibrahimovic has now scored in six of his last seven matches, and has 12 goals and two assists in 21 matches overall.

Let’s start with the assist, which we must’ve seen two dozen times when the big Swede was with Paris Saint-Germain.

Ibrahimovic takes a difficult pass out of the air with absurd touch, then waits for the right time to send an impeccable through ball into the path of Kamara.

As for the goal, you almost feel for Mark McKenzie.

The Union’s Homegrown defender has to choose between Alessandrini darting into his box and allowing Ibrahimovic a lick of space.

He gives it, understandably, then rushes to close down Ibrahimovic.

It wasn’t fast enough. Boom.