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Twenty-Three thoughts from Week 9 in MLS

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Major League Soccer is well into its season, and we return to the Twenty-Three as we also try to ease the gut-punching pain of Toronto FC’s loss in the CONCACAF Champions League Final.

[ MORE: Real Madrid-Bayern preview ]

Apparently, they haven’t overcome it, either…

Atlanta United
Beat Montreal, 4-1

Miguel Almiron is a special, special talent; The 24-year-old is building off his incredible debut season by blowing up the league to the tune of six goals and five assists in eight outings. Feel fortunate he’s amongst our time zones for a while.

Chicago Fire
Drew at Toronto, 2-2

Bastian Schweinsteiger had a penalty kick saved by Alex Bono, but a found a way past the Syracuse backstop as the Fire rebounded from a 2-0 deficit at BMO Field to keep their CONCACAF Champions League wounds exposed to the elements.

What’s troubling about Chicago’s inconsistent start is just one clean sheet through seven matches; Yes, scoring is up, but Veljko Paunovic needs to sort out his back line even if Fernando Torres winds up coming to Illinois.

Colorado Rapids
Lost to Orlando City, 2-1

The Rapids have been hurt by having five of their first seven matches on the road, but don’t let that be an excuse for poor passing. Colorado has to do better with the ball, connecting on a paltry 73.8 percent of their passes. That happens when you’re chasing games and goals (and away from home, no doubt), but still… find a way.

No one wants to see the Rapids on their schedule, their 22 yellow cards tied for a league high and 15.1 fouls per game also pacing the field. Colorado only has two players with multiple goals (Dominique Badji has five and Joe Mason two).

Columbus Crew
Beat San Jose, 2-1

Only KC and NYCFC have had more of the ball than Gregg Berhalter’s men, and now they are back to turning that 55 percent possession into goals. The Crew have four goals in two matches after scoring just once on a three-match losing streak.

FC Dallas
Lost at NYCFC, 3-1

Oscar Pareja’s men fall from the rank of the unbeaten in just their second away match of the season. FCD has been remarkably good at winning 50-50 battles, and would’ve fared better than a two-goal loss had they not wasted a handful of very good chances.

DC United
Lost at Philadelphia, 3-2

Only Vancouver is averaging fewer shots per game than DC’s 8.7, and the Black-and-Red was out shot a stunning 23-4. You’re not going to hit that 50 percent success rate too often, and to burn it in a 3-2 loss is almost funny.

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Houston Dynamo
Lost at Minnesota, 2-1

We knew Houston’s attack would go as Romell Quioto, Alberth Elis, and Mauro Manotas went, but we’re positive the trio was expecting a bit more help than its received so far. They’ve combined for nine goals and six assists, the rest of the team has six and four.

[ MORE: MLS Things — The Archive ]

LAFC
Beat Seattle, 1-0

Just three teams are averaging better than two points per game, and Bob Bradley‘s LAFC is among the trio following a stoppage time win at their shiny new home. We should’ve known they’d win…. they never lost at home.

LA Galaxy
Lost to New York Red Bulls, 3-2

Sigi Schmid’s men are woefully inconsistent, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic just may lose his mind soon (and certainly deserves some of the blame this week).

But if he’s going to keep making otherworldly passes like this, we’re going to keep watching. Look closely at how he reacts to hitting this bit of gorgeousness… he knew. He knew.

Minnesota United
Beat Houston, 2-1

Rasmus Schuller. The 26-year-old Finnish midfielder leads the league in tackles per game with six, and rebounded from his worst match of the season to post nine in a 2-1 win over Houston that moved the Loons into seventh. Schuller’s also second in the league in fouls committed (2.9) and has been dribbled past a good amount, but credit plenty of that to activity.

Montreal Impact
Lost at Atlanta, 4-1

The Impact have allowed 16 goals in four-straight losses, quite a change from the vibes after Remi Garde won consecutive 1-0 decisions over Toronto and Seattle (no easy wins!). Despite the score line this weekend, the Impact led late before falling apart. Troubling times. Spare a thought for Victor Cabrera, who has a league-best 5.1 interceptions a game and probably would appreciate not having to make so many.

New England Revolution
Beat Sporting KC, 1-0

Brad Friedel is defying all doubters in his first senior managerial gig, with one loss in seven outings following an opening day setback. The latest, a 1-0 win over Sporting KC, is among the more impressive.

New York City FC
Beat FC Dallas, 3-1

Atlanta might be on pace for the East’s top spot, but did the Five Stripes have an international legend score his 400th goal this weekend, huh? David Villa, everybody.

New York Red Bulls
Won at LA Galaxy, 3-2

Of the players who really matter to Jesse Marsch’s unit, only Bradley Wright-Phillips (33) is older than 25. RBNY keeps pumping out solid performances from players who made their names in the academy (Kyle Duncan, now on IR), in college ball (Florian Valot of Rider, then grown in USL), or both (Sean Davis and Alex Muyl). Model.

What’s another fine sign of Marsch’s brilliance? New York has five goals off set piece plays, a league-best figure. Here’s a worrying number though: While the Red Bulls are playing the fourth-fewest long balls per game, and they are connecting on a league-worst 70.4 passing.

Orlando City
Won at Colorado, 2-1

Winners of five-straight, Jason Kreis’ Lions have gotten to know each other. Maybe no one more than Yoshimar Yotun; The Peruvian has a goal or an assist in four of the five wins. Left back Mohamed El-Munir has also been a revelation. The Libyan national teamer is in the mix for a sneaky early season MLS Best XI.

Portland Timbers
BYE

Those ready to heap judgment on Gio Savarese’s tenure as Timbers boss have been dismayed by a pair of wins. We know home cooking matters in MLS, and he’s won both of those so far. Points in four of five, too.

Philadelphia
Beat DC United, 3-2

Ending a run of one goal in five games is good, and the three-goal performance was fit for their second win of the season. Philly isn’t getting star turns from anyone, though Alejandro Bedoya is perhaps quietly having a decent season.

Real Salt Lake
Lost at Vancouver, 2-0

Mike Petke’s men seem a perfectly average MLS side; They’ve won their last three at home, and dropped their last three on the road. But the clean sheet loss means RSL has scored just over a goal per game in a league which is feasting on goalkeepers.

San Jose Earthquakes
Lost at Columbus, 2-1

Consecutive road losses mean Mikael Stahre’s men remain winless since Opening Day. It’s hard to get a read on them, but this stretch against Portland, Minnesota, and Vancouver will tell us a lot.

Seattle Sounders
Lost at LAFC, 1-0

The Sounders have scored in two games despite Nicolas Lodeiro averaging a hardly real 4.2 key passes per game. Those are the only two matches in which they’ve gotten points. They’ve done it without Jordan Morris in the past, but it’s not happening this year. Then again, a lot of Sounders are hurt and there’s a “lost year” vibe coming from much rave green right now.

Sporting KC
Lost at New England, 1-0

The seven-match unbeaten run ends on the road against what is (probably) a pretty decent side, and there’s no shame in that. Our own resident SKC expert says keep an eye on Khiry Shelton. From everything I’ve seen from Urena, this is a lofty and wonderful comparison for the forward.

Toronto FC
Lost CONCACAF Champions League final in PKs
Drew Chicago, 2-2

The MLS Cup Final hangover is a thing, as both TFC and Seattle are worst in the league at .67 points per game. This was a bad week for TFC, who built leads in two very different settings and couldn’t seal the deal. Toronto came back from a quick deficit in the CCL final only to lose in penalty kicks, and then went ahead 2-0 against visiting Chicago before tossing that advantage aside in a draw.

Vancouver Whitecaps
Beat RSL, 2-0

The Caps rebounded from a three-match losing skid punctuated by a 6-0 beatdown against KC to win against the Utah set, but watch this three-match run for a possible hot streak. If Vancouver can topple Minnesota, Houston, and San Jose (only the Loons match is away), it can build some breathing room for the tougher stretches.

Ronaldo not ready for retirement: ‘Age is just a number’

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Cristiano Ronaldo reassured Juventus supporters and his legions of fans worldwide that at 34 he’s not ready for retirement yet.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule

“Age is just a number. It does not mean that at 34, 35, 36 you are at the end of your career,” Ronaldo said at a news conference ahead of Juventus’ Champions League match against Lokomotiv Moscow on Tuesday. “I can show that with my performances, how I play, the way I play, the way I still feel good, sharp, thinking about the game, more mature. This makes the difference.”

In the second season of a four-year deal at Juventus, Ronaldo had sparked concern among his fans when he said in an interview published a few weeks ago that he was starting to enjoy seeing himself “outside of football, so who knows what will happen in the next year or two?”

Ronaldo recently scored his 700th goal as a professional while on international duty with Portugal and has been nominated for a record sixth Ballon d’Or award – which would break his tie of five with Lionel Messi.

But Ronaldo said he’s more interested in winning a treble with Juventus.

“We want to win Serie A, we want to win the Cup, the Champions League,” he said. “Juventus should think big. … We are going to try to win all the trophies, we know it will be difficult, especially the league and the Champions League, but I think it is possible. Everything is possible.

“In terms of individual, I have nothing to say as this is individual. It is not the most important thing,” Ronaldo added. “The most important is the collective awards. If you win the collective awards you have more chance to win the individual awards. … The Golden Ball is for me in second place.”

While retirement may not be on Ronaldo’s mind yet, family time is a big part of his life now.

“To win games, to score goals, to enjoy myself, to arrive home and see my kids happy and say, `Congratulations daddy for scoring a goal.’ That makes me happy,” he said. “This is my motivation to come to train, for the games, to entertain people and the fans with my passion.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/AndrewDampf

Carragher apologizes to Evra over Suarez t-shirts

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Jamie Carragher has apologized to Patrice Evra after Liverpool wore t-shirts in support of Luis Suarez in 2011.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

The day after Suarez was banned for eight games by the English Football Association, who found him guilty of racially abusing Evra, Liverpool’s players put on t-shirts with Suarez on the front and back during their warm up in a Premier League game against Wigan Athletic.

Carragher and Evra were both analysts for our partners at Sky Sports in the UK on Monday Night Football for the clash between Sheffield United and Arsenal, and discussed the current problems with racism in the game.

“There is no doubt we made a massive mistake; that was obvious,” Carragher said.

Liverpool’s former vice-captain asked Evra how he felt regarding the situation with Suarez, and the former Man United, Juventus and Monaco left back revealed his disgust at the way the situation was handled.

“When I saw it I was like, this is ridiculous. This is unbelievable,” Evra said. You put your own club in danger when you do those things. You always have to support your player because he is from your team but this was after the ban. If it was before and we were waiting for the sanction, I would understand. What message do you send to the world? Supporting someone being banned because he used some racist words.”

Click play on the video above for the full discussion between Carragher and Evra.

Italy women’s team awarded for ’emancipating’ female game

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ROME (AP) The Italy women’s national soccer team was awarded the Foreign Press Association’s Invictus award Monday for promoting and “emancipating” the female game in the country with its run to the World Cup quarterfinals.

[ MORE: Sheffield United beat Arsenal with stellar defensive display (video) ]

Head coach Milena Bertolini and forward Barbara Bonansea were given the award during a ceremony at the Rome-based association.

With soccer dominated by men in Italy and few opportunities for girls, Bertolini recounted how she had to dress up as a boy to play as a kid.

“Now things are changing, thanks to the Italian federation’s school programs,” Bertolini said.

Bertolini and Bonansea lamented that female players are still not considered professionals and therefore are not permitted to earn more than $33,500 per year by Italian law.

“It’s not about the money, it’s a question of rights,” said Bonansea, who also plays for Italian champion Juventus.

[ MORE: Referee officials explain VAR decision on Rashford goal ]

While Italy’s men’s team is a four-time World Cup champion, the women had not played in a World Cup for two decades and entered as a prohibitive underdog during its opening match against Australia in France in June. But the Azzurre came back from a goal down for a 2-1 win courtesy of Bonansea’s two scores , with her second coming in the fifth minute of stoppage time.

“That goal shaped our World Cup, both in terms of results and in terms of promoting women’s soccer in Italy,” Bertolini said. “The strong emotions on the field were transmitted to everyone who was watching. I still get goosebumps now just thinking about that goal.”

The Azzurre went on to win their group then beat China in the first knockout round before losing to eventual finalist the Netherlands.

In a country of 60 million people, a total of more than 20 million spectators watched Italy’s five matches on RAI state TV, setting audience records for women’s soccer game after game.

The Invictus award is dedicated to “promoting the positive effects of sports in terms of integration and emancipation by the vulnerable sections of society.”

UCL preview: Spurs desperate for a win; Man City host Atalanta

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By the end of the week, we’ll be at the halfway point of the UEFA Champions League group stage, and while some Premier League clubs (Manchester City and Liverpool) are currently in rather strong positions, a couple others (Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea) have some serious work to do to rescue their respective campaigns.

[ MORE: Sheffield United beat Arsenal with stellar defensive display (video) ]

Tottenham’s start to the group stage has gone about as poorly as it could have done, considering the positions in which they’ve found themselves early in games. Going from 2-0 up to a 2-2 draw away to Olympiacos was bad enough, but going from 1-0 up to a 7-2 home defeat to Bayern Munich was the real demoralizer.

Now, last year’s UCL runners-up find themselves third in the group with just one point. However, Mauricio Pochettino‘s side is set for a back-to-back home-and-away with (presumed) doormat Red Star Belgrade, beginning Tuesday when the Serbian side visits the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Spurs will continue to be without goalkeeper Hugo Lloris following his dislocated elbow, while midfielders Christian Eriksen and Giovani Lo Celso are back in full training and expected to be available for selection. Tanguay Ndombele was only involved as a second-half sub during Spurs’ draw with last-place Watford over the weekend, so he is likely to return to the starting lineup.

[ MORE: Referee officials explain VAR decision on Rashford goal ]

Man City, meanwhile, are coming off a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace and feeling a renewed sense of PL title contention after Liverpool dropped their first points of the season. While a domestic three-peat is undoubtedly high on the list of priorities for Pep Guardiola‘s side, it’s probably safe to assume that breaking though in the UCL is the main objective for 2019-20. Since Guardiola took over at the Etihad Stadium, City have reached the quarterfinals twice and the round of 16 once. Under the direction of Manuel Pellegrini, City reached the semifinals the season before Guardiola’s arrival.

Outside of long-term knees injuries to Aymeric Laporte and Leroy Sane, City have a clean bill of health.

Tuesday’s full UEFA Champions League schedule

Atletico Madrid v. Bayer Leverkusen — 12:55 p.m. ET
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Dinamo Zagreb — 12:55 p.m. ET

Tottenham Hotspur v. Red Star Belgrade — 3 p.m. ET
Manchester City v. Atalanta — 3 p.m. ET
Galatasaray v. Real Madrid — 3 p.m. ET
Juventus v. Lokomotive Moscow — 3 p.m. ET
Brugge v. Paris Saint-Germain — 3 p.m. ET
Olympiacos v. Bayern Munich