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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.

Spurs’ Kane scores from midfield to beat Juve

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Harry Kane lobbed Wojciech Szczesny from nearly 50 yards to send Tottenham Hotspur past Juventus early Sunday morning.

Maybe he wanted to embarrass a former North London Derby rival, or perhaps he just wanted to avoid penalties.

The goal was made more remarkable by Kane’s blast radius including two men marking him near the Juve part of the center circle.

[ MORE: Where will Bale go? ]

It was an entertaining International Champions Cup match on Sunday morning, with goalkeepers Hugo Lloris and Gianluigi Buffon plenty busy.

Tanguy Ndombele came off the bench to assist and impress for Spurs and Matthijs de Ligt making his Juve debut as a sub.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain scored for Juve, and the latter probably should’ve won it with a dragged shot in the 83rd minute.

Spurs goals came courtesy of Erik Lamela, who tapped in a rebound of a bullet shot from 17-year-old Ryan Parrott, and Moura.

The Brazilian was fed into the box by a sweet Ndombele pass moments after the new Spurs midfielder subbed into the match.

Here is Ronaldo’s goal.

Bale leaving Real Madrid; Where to?

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Gareth Bale is not going to play for Real Madrid this season. The jersey he will pull onto his body remains a mystery.

Real manager Zinedine Zidane said that “it’d be better” for the club and player if he was sold tomorrow, claiming it’s nothing personal but that Bale is simply not in his plans.

[ MORE: Watford chasing Sarr ]

Bale’s agent Jonathan Barnett poured gasoline on those comments by blasting the French legend as “a disgrace,” saying the player and agent are “working on” an exit.

From Marca.com:

“Zidane is a disgrace,” Barnett told AFP. “He shows no respect for a player that has done so much for Real Madrid.”

Obviously it’s far from disgraceful for Zidane to publicly admit that a massive player and personality may no longer fit the bill, and Barnett’s harsh words are more than agent talk: He wants a higher fee than will come from Real saying, “He’s 10000000000% available.”

Barnett does represent Jesse Lingard and Luke Shaw, and there are so many reasons to think the Welshman could move to Manchester United. A return to Spurs is obviously romantic, but the club’s wage structure would be a concern to deeming this a fit.

Bale wasn’t fantastic last season, posting eight goals and three assists in under 1800 La Liga minutes and adding three goals and two assists in under 500 Champions League minutes (In fact, he was the 14th ranked player in UCL advanced stats according to Who Scored).

He is not far removed from monster campaigns with Real, and it’s no surprise that his production would drop off in a world without Cristiano Ronaldo around him (and vice versa, to a lesser degree).

There are a lot of reasons to wonder whether Mauricio Pochettino and Daniel Levy would consider what it takes to bring Bale to town. It would instantly and realistically elevate the discussion about whether Spurs could seriously rival Liverpool and Man City for a Premier League title while adding Champions League mettle as well.

The idea of Bale playing with Harry Kane the way he worked with Ronaldo and Karim Benzema is electric, though the prospective move took a hit by Zidane’s lack of love for Christian Eriksen.

Bayern Munich is another potential avenue for Bale, as is the Chinese Super League.

But we wonder if the 30-year-old would sign up for massive David Beckham wages at Inter Miami with a loan to a Champions League side for a season ahead of the Super Becks’ opening campaign in MLS. What better way to engender some fan interest amongst Floridians and Manchester United fans than a nice loan? We’re sure Zlatan brought some Red Devils’ eyes to LA, for what it’s worth. Spurs would work here, too, as would any side hopeful of expanding their American imprint.

Maybe Bale isn’t ready for that step. He’d surely prefer adding to his four Champions League titles and probably likes the idea of doing some bigger things for Wales, but there’s a lot of dough in America and really it’s not going to cost him his place with the Welsh side (though concerns about competition would be legit).

Russian fans clash with baton-wielding police at stadium

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MOSCOW (AP) Russian soccer fans have criticized what they consider heavy-handed policing after clashes at a league game.

Video footage posted online shows police in riot gear beating Spartak Moscow fans on the stadium concourse after a game Saturday with FC Rostov, including two who have fallen to the ground. Fans have alleged they were kept tightly packed in the corridor after the game and then attacked by police with batons.

[ VIDEO: Nketiah leads Arsenal win ]

The Russian Football Union has told the Sport-Express newspaper that it is calling for an investigation and that “this kind of situation should not be repeated at stadiums.”

The Russian Premier League says in a statement that it is satisfied police acted correctly and accused Spartak fans of trying to free fellow supporters arrested earlier over allegations of throwing pyrotechnics.

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Watford chasing Rennes, Senegal star Sarr

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Watford may capture one of the rising stars of the game.

Ismaila Sarr would cost the Hornets a club transfer record fee, and Sky Sports says that Watford and Rennes are about $10 million apart.

The Ligue 1 side reportedly wants $34 million for the Senegal national team right wing.

[ VIDEO: Nketiah leads Arsenal win ]

Sarr, 21, scored a goal and an assist in Senegal’s run to the Africa Cup of Nations final, playing opposite Sadio Mane of Liverpool.

He posted 13 goals with 14 assists last season between Ligue 1, the French Cup, and the Europa League. He was the lone Rennes player to score against Arsenal in the UEL Round of 16.

Watford has held onto Abdoulaye Doucoure and Dodi Lukebakio this offseason. Lukebakio is also a 21-year-old right wing, and had a sensational loan season with Fortuna Dusseldorf in 2019-20.