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Three things: NYCFC flying with Villa, Medina at the helm

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Week 2 of the 2018 MLS season is in the books, and New York City are one of just four teams with six points following Sunday’s 2-1 victory over the LA Galaxy.

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Earlier today, I advocated against making any judgments whatsoever about the MLS season before the calendar reads May or June. Barely two hours later, I’m ready to ignore my own advice and tell you that NYCFC are very, very good — largely based upon the entirety of 2017, but also the way they’ve kicked off the 2018 season…

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Medina lessens the blow of losing Harrison

Jack Harrison was, in so many ways, a perfect complement to David Villa, in that he was only slightly less aggressive and quick to transition than the legendary Spaniard. He was an abundant source of secondary goals — a must-have for every team, even ones with a Villa-caliber spearhead.

Everyone was, understandably, unsure how NYCFC would replace Harrison’s final-third production following his transfer to Manchester City. It was a big ask for 20-year-old Paraguayan attacker Jesus Medina to walk straight into an established squad and immediately shoulder the load as Villa’s primary running mate. Through two games, Medina has surpassed expectations by miles and miles.

He scored a goal against Sporting Kansas City last week, and was instrumental in setting up both goals against LA. On the first, it was Medina who got the ball wide right, held up play ever so slightly to allow Villa to move ahead of him, and finally slotted the perfectly timed and weighted through ball to the top of the six-yard box. Villa’s shot was saved, but the rebound came to Anton Tinnerholm, who smashed his left-footed shot off the underside of the crossbar and in.

On the second, it was Medina, alongside Ben Sweat, who chased a bouncing ball deep inside NYCFC’s half and eventually won possession, then turned on the jets as he glided around one defender before playing the pass to present itself, a simple square ball to Sweat at the top of the box. Again, Sweat’s shot was saved, but the rebound fell to Villa with an empty net to mark his 100th MLS appearance with a game-winner.

Medina will probably come up short of Harrison’s numbers in the goals column — maybe even for assists, too — but it’s already very clear that he’s got a brilliant soccer mind when it comes to so many of the little things: his movement off the ball, how to time his runs to maximize the space he creates for others, and a willingness to play within the confines of his own strengths and weakness. For a 20-year-old player of any age, he’s been off-the-charts impressive.

Injuries, ineffectiveness, indifference

We’re only two weeks into the season, and LA have already lost superstar attacker Romain Alessandrini to a hamstring injury last week, starting center back Michael Ciani to an injury of his own on Sunday, and supposed-to-be-star Giovani dos Santos to a complete loss of form and ability, and/or an overwhelming sense of indifference. Dos Santos was subbed off at halftime of Sunday’s game, replaced by Servando Carrasco, a defensive midfielder.

Why would Sigi Schmid do that to his most expensive and centerpiece Designated Player, you ask?

Considering LA have considerably curtailed their free-spending tendencies in recent seasons, it’s not at all outside the realm of possibility that they could look to move on from Dos Santos’ contract, which pays him $5.5 million per year, should he continue in this vein of form.

Yes, we’re going to keep talking about VAR

… until MLS and the Professional Referee Organization gets its head on straight. If you missed it yesterday, I ranted at greater length about Baldomero Toledo and Co.’s refusal to even consult the video review available to him after Los Angeles FC scored what will likely be the most egregiously offside goal this season (since, you know, VAR is in place to correct these kind of mistakes).

On Sunday, barely a day later, another instance where VAR could have fixed a potentially “clear and obvious error” occurred in the 85th minute, with LA trailing 2-1 and threatening to equalize, when Ashley Cole was shown a second yellow card for tripping Villa as he prepared to run into 50 yards of open field.

First things first, yellow cards — not even a second yellow — aren’t reviewable within the guidelines set forth by MLS (goals, penalties, straight red cards and mistake identity). Considering a second yellow has the exact same impact as a straight red, which is to effectively end LA’s comeback bid when Cole appears to have made no contact with Villa, it should be reviewable all the same.

These are simple matters of common sense that, were MLS serious about using VAR as a tool to improve the level of refereeing, could be fixed overnight. They started using VAR roughly two-thirds of the way into the season last year, so what’s an amendment to the guidelines after fewer than two dozen game this year?

Report: Liverpool agrees to terms for Roma keeper Alisson

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Liverpool has been in search of a new first-choice goalkeeper for several months, and now it appears that Jurgen Klopp and his side have their man.

[ MORE: Schedule for PL giants on U.S. tours ]

The Reds reportedly have a deal in the place for Roma shot-stopper Alisson in excess of $84 million, which would make the 25-year-old the most expensive goalkeeper in football history.

Chelsea had also been viewed as a potential landing spot for the budding star in net, however, it seems likely that Liverpool has beaten their Premier League rivals for the player.

The previous transfer record for a keeper came 17 years ago when Italy legend Gianluigi Buffon completed a $69 million move from Parma to Juventus.

Alisson started in all five of Brazil’s World Cup matches this summer in Russia, including the team’s 2-1 defeat to Belgium that knocked the Selecao out of the competition in the quarterfinals.

He managed to keep three clean sheets in the tournament.

The move for Alisson will likely spell the end for Loris Karius at Anfield, after starting 33 matches in all competitions last season for the Reds, including the team’s UEFA Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid.

Iceland coach steps down after 7 years in charge

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REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) The coach that led Iceland to its first World Cup has stepped down.

The Icelandic Football Association says Heimir Hallgrimsson has decided to leave at his own request, ending seven years in the role.

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Hallgrimsson was the co-coach with Lars Lagerback of Sweden at the European Championship in 2016, when Iceland reached the quarterfinals after beating England.

After Lagerback left, Hallgrimsson assumed sole control of the national team, which became the least populous team to ever play at a World Cup. Iceland drew with Argentina in its opening group game but failed to advance to the knockout stage.

Hellgrimsson is a part-time dentist.

Report: Real Madrid close to Courtois, Hazard deals

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According to radio network RMC Sport in France, Real Madrid has an agreement with Chelsea for the transfer of Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

The report states that Courtois would cost Los Blancos $41 million, and the transfer is imminent. That would be significantly cheaper than Liverpool’s widely reported bid for Roma goalkeeper Alisson, who is supposedly costing the Reds $81 million, which would be a record for a goalkeeper.

This could likely be attributed to the player’s contracts, with Courtois’s set to run out at the end of the coming season, while Alisson’s contract at Roma is good through the summer of 2021.

Courtois has been at Chelsea since 2011 when he arrived from Belgian club Genk, but spent the first few years out on loan at Atletico Madrid in Spain. He won the Golden Glove at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the award for the top goalkeeper in the tournament.

Meanwhile, the same RMC Sport report states that Real Madrid is close to an agreement for Courtois’s Chelsea teammate and Belgian countryman Eden Hazard. The 27-year-old has spent six years at Stamford Bridge since his move from Lille, and has heavily been speculated to be Real Madrid’s preferred replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo.

Both players are currently on holiday at different vacation destinations inSpain following the conclusion of the 2018 World Cup.

Cazorla returns to field for first time in almost 2 years

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Arsenal fan favorite Santi Cazorla saw his time with the Gunners come to an unceremonious end this summer. He had struggled for almost three full seasons with an ankle injury that continued to baffle doctors.

At one time, it got so bad that doctors told him he was lucky to walk again. Now, Cazorla is doing much more than walking.

The 33-year-old Spaniard, who is training with his old club Villarreal this summer after the expiry of his Arsenal contract, returned to the field for the first time in 636 days when he entered in the 67th minute of Villarreal’s friendly against Segunda B side Hercules.

Beaming with a massive smile, Cazorla received a hearty reception from the home Villarreal fans at the Mini Estadi on his enterance to the match. The match eventually ended in a 1-1 draw.

Cazorla posted on Twitter a week ago to say how happy he was to “feel like a footballer again” while training with Villarreal and said while there’s “much more work ahead” he has “more enthusiasm than ever.”

The Spaniard made 180 appearances for Arsenal across all competitions during his six-year stint in the Premier League, providing fluid creativity at the front of the Gunners’ attack, but the last three seasons were a nightmare. First a knee injury kept him out nearly the entire second half of the 2015/16 season, and then he ruptured his Achilles in October of 2016. It was not a standard recovery, eventually requiring a total of eight operations. A nasty infection required more surgery, forcing doctors to graft tendons from his left arm into his foot.

Gunners fans may not see him at The Emirates again, but they will be happy to know Cazorla has crossed a major hurdle in his attempt to return to the field competitively.