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Need to Know: Sounders, MNUFC quickest out of the gate

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While we’re already through two jam-packed MLS Saturdays in 2019, it’s still far too early to make any sweeping judgments about this or that, so we’re prepared to ride the fence a little longer as we observe and discuss a few major talking points…

[ MORE: What did we learn on a wild Premier League Saturday? (video) ]

Fear The Loons

For a two-hour period of time Saturday night, the single-table MLS standings read as follows:

If you spent more than 15 minutes watching Minnesota United at any point during their first two seasons in MLS, you’re probably convinced that the above image is a cheeky photoshop. Not the case, because the Loons won their second straight game to start the 2019 season on Saturday, 3-0 away to the hapless San Jose Earthquakes, and were briefly the only team in the league with six points (more on the team that later joined them in a moment).

Given the fact they’ve played perhaps the two worst teams in the Western Conference — if not the entire league — it’s tough to say just how much better Minnesota are than they were in the last two years, but the fact remains: they’ve beaten a pair of worst-in-the-conference/league candidates, so it’s no longer them. Head coach Adrian Heath is convinced the roster is lightyears ahead of where it was, and that point is nigh impossible to argue.

Fear The Sounders More

The Seattle Sounders leapfrogged Minnesota before the night was over, and Brian Schmetzer’s side looked downright terrifying in doing so — for the first 15 minutes, at least. After racing out to a 2-0 advantage in the 8th minute, Seattle never really got out of second gear the rest of the way, mostly because they didn’t have to.

It almost feels like, after going to MLS Cup in back-to-back seasons and having very little of an offseason as a result, Seattle looks fully rested and re-energized after bowing out a full month earlier than they had recently done. Starting quick has never been a strength of the Sounders, but they’re already flying out of the gate to start 2019.

Houston is a problem

Speaking of sides that have impressed on this very young season, the Houston Dynamo have looked more than solid while juggling CONCACAF Champions League and start of the MLS regular season, reaching the quarterfinals of CCL and picking up a very deserved and hard-fought first league victory on Saturday.

The three points didn’t come easily for Wilmer Cabrera’s side, as they fell behind in the 34th minute — on the Montreal Impact’s only shot on target for the entire game — before responding almost immediately, courtesy of Memo Rodriguez just two minutes later.

Cabrera opted to rotate half of his potent attacking quartet, dropping Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto to the bench while leaving Mauro Manotas and Tomas Martinez in the lineup. The gamble paid off, as it was Quioto who set up Manotas’ 86th-minute winner.

Manotas has to be the least heralded 19-goal scorer (last season) in league history, and he’s got two in two games to begin the current campaign. If you’re looking for an under-the-radar pick for the Golden Boot, or throwing out darkhorse candidates for best most complete forward in the league, you could do a lot worse than the 23-year-old Colombian.

Full MLS scoreboard

Chicago Fire 1-1 Orlando City SC
New England Revolution 0-2 Columbus Crew SC
FC Dallas 2-0 LA Galaxy
Houston Dynamo 2-1 Montreal Impact
Real Salt Lake 1-0 Vancouver Whitecaps
San Jose Earthquakes 0-3 Minnesota United
Seattle Sounders 2-0 Colorado Rapids

Atletico Madrid roster for MLS All-Star Game includes Felix

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Major League Soccer fans will get a good luck at one of the hottest prospects in world soccer when the MLS All Stars take on Atletico Madrid in next week’s MLS All Star Game.

Joao Felix, the $142 million 19-year-old, is among the roster announced by Diego Simeone for the match.

[ MORE: Newcastle in for $28M Saint-Maximin ]

Felix scored 20 times with 11 assists in 40 matches for Benfica before moving to Atleti in the summer. Those numbers include a hat trick against Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League quarterfinals first leg.

The other stars will be there, too, provided no transfers happen in the interim. Koke, Thomas Lemar, Diego Costa, and Saul Niguez are in the squad.

New Atleti defender Kieran Trippier and longtime El Tri hero Hector Herrera will also be sure to help drive attendance in Orlando City.

The full roster is here.

Leagues Cup preview: MLS gets its next shot at Liga MX

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It’s not a typo; The s is very real.

The Leagues Cup — not the League Cup — is the new competition pitting Major League Soccer sides against some of the top sides from Mexico’s Liga MX.

The tournament has been expanded before it’s even seen a ball kicked in competition, as the second edition with go from eight to 16 teams.

[ MORE: Newcastle in for $28M Saint-Maximin ]

For now, though, we’ve got four American and four Mexican sides meeting over the next two months in a bid for North American supremacy not unlike a CONCACAF Champions League stripped of all the minnows.

Much like the CCL, the Mexican sides will be expected to triumph, even with all of the quarterfinals being staged in the United States.

Chicago Fire hosts Cruz Azul on Tuesday, followed by the LA Galaxy’s visit from Club Tijuana.

Wednesday will see the Houston Dynamo host Club America, and Tigres UANL at Real Salt Lake.

The winners meet Aug. 20, while the final will be played Sept. 18 in Las Vegas.

There’s a lot of promise in this, and it gives MLS another chance to make some statements about the distance between it and Liga MX. The Mexican sides have flat out dominated the CCL, and it’s not difficult to make the same prediction for this tournament.

But, like many tournaments, it also gives success-starved clubs a chance to give their fans something big and their players a tonic. For Bastian Schweinsteiger‘s Chicago, for one, it’s a huge opportunity. And for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the Galaxy, it’s a look toward another piece of silverware for one of the world’s biggest trophy cases.

USMNT prospect Ledezma earns praise from van Nistelrooy

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Even for talents of the highest levels with top soccer education, sometimes a kid’s gotta learn how to eat.

Richard “Richie” Ledezma, 18, is in the midst of his first year at Eredivisie side PSV Eindhoven, a spot which beckoned after a five-match, one-goal season in the USL with Real Monarchs of the USL.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

Ledezma starred for U.S. U-20 team at the World Cup after his first half-season with PSV, which saw him play with the U-19s while trying to lose some weight.

From Goal.com:

“PSV help me with my nutrition, with my food and how I eat. It’s the quantity of food you eat, I guess,” he added. “Because I came a little chubby, when I got here, I guess. They all called me ‘fatty’ and stuff, so I was like, cool, you know? So no more McDonald’s.”

Goal’s James Westwood had a wide-ranging interview with Ledezma and also spoke with soccer royalty: longtime Real Madrid and Manchester United scorer Ruud van Nistelrooy was Ledezma’s coach with the U-19s.

“He’s making a difference in midfield with very quick-thinking passes, movement, can score a goal, play people in, he’s creating chances for the whole team.”

That’s not just good praise from a legend, but a solid sign for fans of the United States men’s national team. A proper No. 10 or playmaking midfielder could allow Gregg Berhalter or another future USMNT coach to use Christian Pulisic on the wings.

Ledezma has some work to do before he breaks into the first team of the Dutch runners-up, who have signed former Stoke City man Ibrahim Afellay and has Gaston Pereiro in the fold as well.

Newcastle reportedly in for $28M mercurial Nice attacker

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L’Equipe says that Newcastle United have returned to Nice in the hopes of landing Allan Saint-Maximin.

The Ligue 1 outfit wants $28 million for the playmaker, who could team up with Miguel Almiron and (maybe) Joelinton to give the Magpies a much-improved attack.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

Saint-Maximin, 22, has 10 goals and 10 assists across his last two seasons with Nice, and played everywhere in attack for Patrick Vieira: both wings, center forward, second striker, attacking mid… even some left and right midfield.

The player, however, has been a headache for Vieira at times, with the manager saying Saint-Maximin believes that he has enough talent to reach the highest level without the required amount of work.

That said, the youngster’s skill set is electric. He’s a March birth date, too, so a relatively young 22. That $28 million would be another transfer record broken for Newcastle, assuming it happens ahead of the Joelinton move.

Or… as Newcastle fan knows, neither could go through.