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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.

German federation explains review of players who honored George Floyd

George Floyd tributes in soccer
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BERLIN — The German soccer federation has defended its decision to assess whether four young Bundesliga players who made gestures in solidarity with George Floyd over the weekend must face sanctions.

The DFB also said on Monday that Jadon Sancho’s booking for removing his jersey to reveal a T-shirt with the demand “Justice for George Floyd” had nothing to do with the message — rather, the yellow card was issued because the 20-year-old England forward broke a rule that says players who celebrate goals by taking off their jerseys or lifting them over their heads must be booked for “unsporting behavior.”

Borussia Dortmund teammate Achraf Hakimi, 21, who displayed the same message after scoring in the same game on Sunday, was not booked because he did not lift his jersey over his head.

The DFB control committee is looking into their gestures and those made by Schalke’s 21-year-old American midfielder Weston McKennie and Borussia Monchengladbach’s 22-year-old French forward Marcus Thuram to see if the four players broke laws that prohibit players from displaying “political, religious or personal slogans.”

McKennie was the first to make a statement when he wore an armband with the handwritten message “Justice for George” around his left arm on Saturday.

Thuram on Sunday took a knee after scoring in Borussia Monchengladbach’s win over Union Berlin.

Sancho and Hakimi followed suit later Sunday.

Floyd, a handcuffed black man, died on Monday after a white Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee for several minutes on his neck. Three other officers were also at the scene. Chauvin has been charged with murder and all four were fired.

DFB president Fritz Keller on Monday showed his respect and understanding for McKennie, Thuram, Sancho and Hakimi’s gestures.

“If people are discriminated against on the basis of their skin color, it is unbearable. If they die because of their skin color, then I am deeply distraught,” Keller said in a DFB statement. “The victims of racism need all of us to show solidarity.”

Keller referred to meetings with victims of discrimination and representatives of organizations that have faced anti-Semetic, anti-Muslim or racist hostility, and said the DFB and German soccer was showing its clear rejection of all forms of racism, discrimination and violence.

Keller also praised both male and female players for taking a stand and showing their solidarity.

“I’m proud of them. I can completely understand the actions from the weekend. Nobody can be indifferent to what happened in the United States,” Keller said.

Former Mainz forward Anthony Ujah was just given a warning by the DFB in 2014 in regard to the ban on political statements when he displayed a T-shirt with Eric Garner’s name and the words “can’t breathe” and “justice,” in reference to Garner’s death after a police officer placed him in what appeared to be a chokehold.

Now playing for Union Berlin, Ujah on Thursday tweeted a picture of his protest from the time, but with Floyd’s name typed above in bold.

Floyd also said “I can’t breathe” before he died.

“If the DFB’s control committee wants to investigate, then I have to ask myself if we all have the same values,” Union sporting director Oliver Ruhnert said. “It’s about a global issue here: The no to racism.”

Leipzig doubles up Koln behind Werner’s 25th

Koln v. Leipzig recap and video highlights
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Timo Werner hit 25 goals for the first time in his Bundesliga career and Christopher Nkunku continued his fine season as RB Leipzig overcame hosts Koln 4-2 in a Monday thriller.

Leipzig moves third with the win, moving onto 58, after Patrik Schick scored his ninth goal in 18 league matches to open the contest. Dani Olmo also scored for the victorious visitors.

[ Bundesliga: Fixtures, box scores ]

Jhon Cordoba and Anthony Modeste scored for Koln, whose top six hopes take a big hit. The Billy Goats remain 11th and are now closer to the drop zone than sixth.

Only Robert Lewandowski of Bayern Munich has scored more league goals (29) than Werner.

[ MORE: Sancho honors George Floyd after scoring ]

A great early save from Timo Horn on Timo Werner preceded Koln’s opener.

Elvis Rexhbecaj timed his run well and knifed to the near post, where he shot through the legs of Leipzig goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi.

The ball hit the post and skittered into the box and Gulacsi could only get a piece of Cordoba’s left-footed attempt.

Leipzig leveled when Upamecano dribbled up the heart of the pitch before finding Man City loanee Angelino on the left for a perfect cross and Schick header. Angelino had an exceptional day on the left flank.

Leipzig took its lead in the 38th minute with a deft finish from Nkunku, who took Konrad Laimer’s perfect feed and popped it over a charging Horn for 2-1.

Werner finished off a lightning counter as Gulacsi collected a free kick and hit a perfect punt to the league’s second-leading scorer.

That was far from the end of the fun.

Modeste hit an absolute hammer to make it 3-2, but Leipzig restored the two-goal advantage when Olmo hit a seeing-eye shot through the traffic to cap three goals in seven minutes between the two sides.

French striker Modeste won a penalty that was denied by VAR with under 20 minutes to play, he then missed wide after beating the keeping one 1v1 break with four minutes to play.

Americans Abroad: American midfielder Tyler Adams continued his streak of playing in every Leipzig match since the break when he came off the bench just before the hour mark.

Adams hit 94 percent of his 18 passes, drawing three fouls, making an interception, and winning three of four duels.

Reports: Messi to stay at Barcelona as exit clause expires

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Lionel Messi is going to spend at least one more year with Barcelona.

The world’s best player had an exit clause in his contract that allowed him to leave without a transfer fee, but that expired at Midnight according to Marca.com.

Messi has 19 goals and 12 assists in just 22 La Liga appearances this season, one of just four players in Europe’s top five leagues to collect double-digit goals and assists (Jadon Sancho, Serge Gnabry, Alassane Plea).

It had been reported since November that Messi would not exercise his option to leave the club, but there were numerous reasons to think he might rethink things given problems at Barcelona.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

There been chaos in the board room and players including Messi were angry to be thrown under the proverbial bus when Ernesto Valverde was fired early this year.

Notably, he called Barcelona “home” but noted “weird things happening” at the Camp Nou.

And there were, with the club denying accusations it used an outside firm to slander current and former players on social media. The club saw six board members resign in April.

Wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall for the calls that headed to his reps from clubs across the world?

Major League Soccer releases statement on murder of George Floyd

MLS statement on George Floyd
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Major League Soccer released a statement Monday expressing grief at the death of George Floyd, saying it stands “united with the black community through our country.”

Floyd, an African American man, was killed Monday in Minneapolis, Minn., and there have been widespread protests across the United States.

[ MORE: MLS owners threaten lockout ]

A video showed former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, putting his knee on George Floyd’s neck for more than 8 1/2 minutes. Chauvin was arrested last Friday and charged with murder, authorities confirmed.

Tributes to Floyd stood out across the soccer world this weekend, where Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho and Achraf Hakimi revealed messages of support on their jerseys.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Elsewhere, USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie wore an armband saying ‘Justice for George’ and Borussia Monchengladbach’s Marcus Thuram took a knee after he scored in the Bundesliga. Stars for Liverpool and Manchester United made public statements Monday as well.

Here is the full statement.

The entire Major League Soccer family is deeply saddened and horrified by the senseless murder of George Floyd.

We stand united with the black community throughout our country and share in the pain, anger and frustration.

We hear you.

We see you.

We support you.

We are committed to use our voices and the platform of our League, our Clubs and our players to continue to champion equality and social justice.