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MLS Preview: Atlanta United hosts last season’s MLS champion, and more

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Coming off an exciting All-Star week, week 23 of MLS action resumes with 11 matches, 10 of them taking place on Saturday. Here are some storylines to keep an eye on this weekend…

[READ: Premier League season previews]

Atlanta hosts defending champions

Since Toronto FC fell in the CONCACAF Champions League final at the end of April, the team has been spiraling out of control. Long-term injuries have kept Victor Vasquez, Jozy Altidore, Drew Moor, Chris Mavinga and Eriq Zavalata among others off the field, and the team’s fortunes have suffered. Now, Toronto FC heads into the lion’s den to face the current Supporters Shield leaders.

Josef Martinez is coming off four goals in a week, including one against Juventus in the MLS All-Star game. While Toronto FC has won two-straight games, Atlanta United has four wins in its last five and has one loss in it’s last 11 as the incredible firepower has overcome any defensive liabilities. With Drew Moor still out, can Martinez continue his incredible goal-scoring form?

Can the Loons keep winning?

It appears we need to split the history of Minnesota United in MLS as pre-Darwin Quintero and post the day Quintero signed for the club.

Since joining, Minnesota United has been arguably the hottest team in MLS. with three wins in their last four that including three goals in that same span from Quintero. In fact, when Quintero and Christian Ramirez play together, they average an impressive 1.8 goals per 90 minutes. The duo were shut down though last week against Vancouver, and that’s a tactic the Sounders are likely to try this Saturday when they visit Minnesota.

Seattle meanwhile is beginning to play much better and has won three-straight games, including a six-game unbeaten run. Nico Lodeiro has played a big role, with three goals and four assists in the Sounders’ last 11 games.

Battle of the stars

Bradley Wright-Phillips and the New York Red Bulls host Carlos Vela and LAFC in Sunday’s national TV matchup.

It’s a first matchup between Red Bulls coach Chris Armas and his former coach, Bob Bradley, where the two teamed up for the MLS Cup and U.S. Open Cup double in Chicago. Meanwhile, both teams have been successful in the attack this year. The Red Bulls and LAFC are two of just five teams averaging 1.9 expected goals per game or more, per Opta.

One of the big battles to keep an eye on is Adama Diomande against Aaron Long. The young centerback is returning from a confidence-boosting All-Star game appearance but Diomande has been one of the best strikers in MLS since joining.

Griezmann: Playing for Barcelona is ‘not the easiest’

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Over the summer, Barcelona shelled a whopping $135 million to land Antoine Griezmann from Atletico Madrid.

It was a match made in heaven; the rest was supposed to be history.

Only that hasn’t been the case for the Frenchman in Barcelona.

Despite scoring a brace in his debut at the Camp Nou, Griezmann’s impact and influence on the field has quickly dwindled. In 11 league appearances with the Catalan giants, the 28-year-old has scored four goals and added three assists, signs that the World Cup winner is, in fact, struggling with his new team.

Speaking to Telefoot, Griezmann revealed that playing for Barcelona is not an easy thing to do, but that with hard work, his fortunes will turn around for the best:

“It is hard, I knew it would be, it is not the easiest place. This is a new team, a new club, new tactics, a new position. I have to work, try to understand my team-mates, after they will understand me too and it will work just like that… Critics will always be there. But I am good, I am proud of where I am. Only work pays off. I have to take confidence and it will all come just like that.”

This season, Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde has frequently deployed the Frenchman as a left winger, with the hope that he will link up with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. The positives form such an ideology have yet to be reaped, however. Griezmann is scoring a goal every 224 minutes, a career worst.

The 28-year-old, too, has played in a central role on a couple of occasions, specifically during the absences of Messi and Suarez, but it hasn’t worked out for a player that has made a career from roaming that part of the field.

The building clamor at the Camp Nou is borderline justifiable – mainly because it’s now evident that Griezmann is wrestling with adapting to the expectations and systems in place in Barcelona.

But the high-flying attacker has proven he’s worth the price time and time again, and now he’s on the record saying that he’ll do everything in his power to do so with his new club.

Real Monarchs beat Louisville City to win first ever USL Cup

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Real Monarchs scored three unanswered goals as they routed Louisville City 3-1 at Lynn Stadium to win their first ever USL Cup title.

Noah Powder’s goal in the 66th minute sealed the deal for the visitor’s, adding to the goals scored by defenders Erik Holt and Konrad Plewa in the first half.

Surprisingly enough, it was Lou City who got off to a superb start on Sunday night, though.

Only six minutes after the initial whistle, Lou City’s leading goalscorer, Magnus Rasmussen, scored the game’s first goal, breaking a record for the fastest goal in a USL Cup final.

The defeat brings an end to Lou City’s historic run of consecutive USL Cup-winning seasons.

On July 1, former Real Salt Lake defender, Jamison Olave, took over as the Monarchs interim coach following Martin Vasquez’s unexpected resignation.

Man arrested after English soccer player reports homophobia

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TRANMERE, England — A footballer in England’s third tier reported being subjected to homophobic abuse from the stands, leading to police making one arrest.

Wycombe goalkeeper Ryan Allsop told the referee of the abuse at halftime of the League One soccer game at Tranmere as his team won 2-0.

Tranmere says it is very disappointed to learn of a homophobic comment made.

In a statement, Merseyside Police condemned abhorrent incidents.

Police Chief Inspector Jason Crellin added that “hate crime has no place in our communities, and not least at a showcase sporting event attended and watched by many people.”

Brazil beat Mexico to win U-17 World Cup (video)

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Brazil became Under-17 world champions for a fourth time in dramatic fashion as Lazaro Vinicius Marques’ scored a 93rd-minute winner to edge Mexico 2-1 at Estadio Bezerrão on Sunday.

Brazil’s comeback started in the 84th minute when Kaio Jorge converted from the penalty spot, following VAR’s decision which ruled contact on the tournament’s Golden Ball winner, Gabriel Veron, inside the 18-yard box.

With Brazilian legends Ronaldo and Cafu in attendance, the host’s had the better of chances throughout the first 45 minutes. Without any luck, however, Brazil were unable to get the ball past Eduardo Garcia, instead hitting the bar on several occasions.

Then in the 66th minute, Mexico – winners of the tournament in 2005 and in 2011 – stunned the home crowd when Bronze Ball winner Eugenio Pizzoto’s cross into the box was headed into the back of the net by Bryan Alonso Gonzalez Olivan, breaking the deadlock between two sides that had met in the same game back in 2005.

What was going to be a stunning, underdog victory for El Tri, turned into a heartbreaking night for Marco “Chima” Ruiz and company.

Brazil, on the other hand, are now only one championship away from tying Nigeria’s record of five championships.