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Five incoming MLS players who provide litmus tests

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Even with a name like Pogba in the running, it will not make the list of most intriguing MLS transfers so far this offseason (and there may be more to come, especially with Toronto FC holding a Designated Player spot and reportedly chasing a star in the Belgian top flight).

Though Paul’s older brother Florentin is an intriguing center back addition for champions Atlanta United — he’s a season-and-a-half removed from a very good Ligue 1 campaign for Saint-Etienne — he’s not close to the five players leaping to the front of our minds.

[ MORE: Rice chooses England ]

That list was made trickier to assemble this week when Philadelphia signed Mexican playmaker Marco Fabian from Eintracht Frankfurt. Where will he meet our list, if anywhere?

So we added another qualifier to our list, and that’s whether the player’s standing and form provide us any sort of litmus test for the current state of MLS.

There have been outlandish talents like Pity Martinez and rising international midfielders like Hwang In-Boem before, but the gentlemen below could help teach us some things.

Also, we’re going to cheat and include six players, on five teams. It’s our list.

Fabian, Philadelphia Union —  If there ever was a case to be made for an automatic game-changer, it’s Fabian. The Mexican 29-year-old is two seasons removed from significant playing time with Eintracht Frankfurt, but his first season was very good — 7 goals, 4 assists — and he’s scored against Germany and Iceland in the last two years for El Tri. If he doesn’t control games, MLS has progressed even more than we suspected.

Carles Gil, New England Revolution — One day, La Liga players coming to MLS won’t be that big of a deal, and we’ll find out how accelerated that timeline has come in part through the play of Gil. The right winger and La Liga regular until this year has been with Deportivo de la Coruna’s second team all year. Is Brad Friedel the man to help Gil finally meet his potential head-on?

Terrence Boyd, Toronto FC — Boyd is one of the toughest-to-digest stories for American soccer, mostly because for a time it seemed he could be the next true USMNT star striker. But his time in the Bundesliga was cut by injuries, and he’s been unable to brand himself a regular 2.Bundesliga starter. It’s a rebirth story, but how quickly will he refind his footing? And is he a 10-goal contributor, which should be the minimum expectation, or a guy who can dominate a game?

Allan Cruz and Manu Ledezma, FC Cincinnati — The 22-year-old Cruz is one of the rising stars for Costa Rica, scoring against Peru in November after staring his first 7 appearances for Los Ticos. He’s moving from one of the biggest clubs in an inferior league to another CONCACAF testing ground.

As for Ledezma, the well-traveled 30-year-old Argentine absolutely tortured USL defenses last season, with 16 goals and 16 assists in 31 league games. The prior season, he bagged 10 goals with six assists in 19 NASL appearances with the New York Cosmos. MLS is a step-up, but not enough to deter optimism that the former Middlesbrough man cannot be a significant factor for manager Alan Koch.

Alexandru Mitrita, New York City FC — Here’s another litmus test for the league, in a different way. Mitrita left the Romanian first tier — UEFA coefficient 26th — got some good experience in Italy’s top two tiers with Pescara, and came home to light his domestic league on fire. The next step here is an interesting one for both the development of a player and a league. Mitrita wasn’t a star in Italy, just productive. He’s on fire in Romania. We’ll guess it’s a little bit of the former, at least to start. He’s just 24, and will continue to improve.

Watch Live: Sheffield United v. Crystal Palace

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Sheffield United host Crystal Palace at Bramall Lane on Sunrday (Watch live, 9 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Blades fans will enjoy their first home game back in the Premier League.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE

Chris Wilder, the lifelong United fan who is now their manager, will be emotional and fans of the Yorkshire club will create a heated atmosphere for opponents to visit this season.

In team news Sheffield United are unchanged from the team which drew at Bournemouth last week, with club captain Billy Sharp on the bench.

Crystal Palace bring in star man Wilfried Zaha who starts up top


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Zidane says Bale will stay at Real Madrid

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Gareth Bale is staying at Real Madrid.

The Welshman was not wanted by manager Zinedine Zidane, who stated that publicly on many occasions over the summer.

But Bale started and grabbed an assist as 10-man Real beat Celta Vigo 3-1 in their La Liga opener on Saturday and it seems like Zidane is ready to brush all of this Bale talk under the carpet.

“He’s going to stay and we all have to think of that as a positive thing,” Zidane said. “The injury to Eden Hazard was bad luck for us but it didn’t change the plans we had for Bale in this game. Gareth and everyone else here is going to show this shirt the respect it deserves.”

After his move to China broke down at the last minute amid conflicting reports blaming Bale and the club for the collapse of the deal, his future at Real has seemed pretty much dead in the water.

Adding in a serious injury to Marco Asensio and Eden Hazard picking up a knock, and all of a sudden Bale is needed again. But for how long?

He was linked with a loan move to Bayern Munich but Philippe Coutinho moved to Bavaria instead, and Bale wasn’t chased by Premier League clubs during the summer due to his huge wage demands. With the transfer window across many European countries closing at the end of this month, he has run out of options to leave a club where the hierarchy and fans don’t want him.

Bale, 30, is now stuck at Real and he has another three years left on his contract. It will be interesting to see how this plays out for the man who has won four Champions League trophies at Real, yet has become the main villain at the Santiago Bernabeu as fans lambast him for playing golf and not learning to speak Spanish fluently during his six years in Spain.

Ibrahimovic scores twice, 10-man Galaxy ties Sounders 2-2

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Carson, Calif. (AP) Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in each half and the LA Galaxy tied the Seattle Sounders 2-2 on Saturday night despite playing nearly the entire match down a man.

The Galaxy’s Daniel Steres was sent off in the sixth minute for the denial of obvious goal opportunity.

Ibrahimovic tied it at 1 for the Galaxy (13-11-2) with a header in the 45th minute. In the 65th minute, he was taken down by Kim Kee-hee while going for a header in the area and converted the penalty, making it 2-1 with his 20th goal of the season.

LA defender Jorgen Skjelvik scored an own goal in the 82nd minute when he inadvertently deflected goalkeeper David Bingham’s attempted clearance into the Galaxy net.

Raul Ruidiaz opened the scoring in the 42nd minute for the Sounders (11-8-7). Harry Shipp hustled to round up a loose ball and fed it to an open Ruidiaz, who slotted it home.

MLS Wrap: What we learned

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Three unanswered goals from FC Dallas to earn a draw, a late Jozy Altidore goal and Chicago cruises past Eastern Conference leaders Philadelphia Union: Saturday’s early slate of games had it all. Here’s what we learned from the busy action.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Montreal, Dallas split points in six-goal thriller

The Montreal Impact, up 3-0 in the 56th minute, probably thought they had the game in the bag. Dallas said, ‘not so fast.’

With three unanswered goals – one of those in stoppage time – Dallas did the unthinkable, stunning the Impact and flying back home with a point that tastes like three.

Dallas, like practically everyone else in the West this season, is dreaming of cracking into the final seven. Whether that happens or not is yet to be seen. What was palpable on Saturday, however, is that Dallas played with a lot of determination on the road and with all the odds against them.


Chicago gets by Philadelphia with ease

The Philadelphia Union are good but not good enough to beat the Chicago Fire, apparently.

It could have been the league’s well-known parity, or the fact that the Union were on the road, but the Fire were able to squeeze out the three points, winning 2-0 with 10 men. Nicolas Gaitan earned a straight red right before halftime.

The Union, a proven side time and time again this season, alternatively, have questions to answer and a set of defects that were unearth Saturday (including finishing) to polish up on. But as they shown several times this season after suffering loses, they’ll bounce back under Jim Curtin.

The Fire (33 points) sit one point behind Montreal, Toronto and Orlando, while Philadelphia (45 points) remain clear leaders in the Eastern Conference.


 

NYCFC too much for Cincinnati 

NYCFC had quite the showing.

With Valentin Castellanos and Heber recording a brace each, Allan Cruz’s goal stood no chance. City, who are now third in the Eastern Conference with 41 points (one behind Atlanta), are clearly in midseason form, while FC Cincinnati is yet to win under Ron Jans.

With a defense that has allowed 61 goals – like the one above – Jans’ rest of the season is looking bleaker than brighter. But then again, it’s with a team he purely adopted. It worth noting that New York’s attack has produced eight goals in the last three games, so maybe that was the determining factor.

 

 


 

Altidore earns last-minute draw for Toronto

Like in many other instances, it was Altidore to the rescue for Toronto FC.

Its goal No. 10 for the 29-year-old goal, making it his fourth season with double digit goals. Jonathan Osorio, too, pitched in a goal in the 42nd minute. 26 games in, this is exactly when Greg Vanney needs his big-time players to step up.

The Columbus Crew, in contrast, can’t catch a break. Once again the superior team, a lack of finishing and defensive concentration make it three-straight draws for the Caleb Porter’s men. With seven games to go and seven points out of playoff contention, even a late run might not be enough for a postseason regular.