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MLS roundup: Red Bulls, Orlando, Atlanta all win big

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A full slate of Major League Soccer games came our way on Champions League final day, so if you missed any of the action while Liverpool secured the European crown. There was plenty of movement made, with the Eastern Conference getting a new leader for a short time and the West seeing a number of playoff teams go down.

Atlanta United 2-0 Chicago Fire

Josef Martinez is back to scoring in bunches and the defending champions was back on top of the Eastern Conference – for a short time – as they beat Chicago 2-0. Martinez scored his second brace in a row, giving the Venezuelan six goals in his last five games and into double digits on the full league season with 10.

The clean sheet is also the second straight for the club and eighth on the year, helping to bounce back from a two-game losing streak to temporarily claim the top spot in the conference (D.C. United since jumped back on top, but Atlanta closed the gap to just one point). Frank De Boer‘s back line looks to be gaining traction, conceding just three goals over the last nine matches.

NY Red Bulls 4-0 Real Salt Lake

RSL’s road woes continue as they were trounced at Red Bull Arena. The game was 0-0 at the break, but a 58th minute own-goal broke the deadlock and it got out of hand as Daniel Royer doubled the lead a minute later, Michael Murillo made it three on a deflection, and Omir Fernandez capped it off with seven minutes to go.

The win leaves New York unbeaten in five and pushed them to fourth in the Eastern Conference, three points off the leaders.

Montreal Impact 0-3 Orlando City

Orlando City went on the road and got a massive win over a playoff team as they got all three in the first half and held on from there. Nani opened the scoring from the spot for his 100th career goal, while Tesho Akindele tapped in at the back post past the half-hour mark for the second and Will Johnson’s diving header capped off a beautiful flowing move for the third minutes before the break.

The win broke a 4-game duck against the Impact for Orlando City and avenged a 3-1 loss at home earlier in the season. Montreal managed just a single shot on target out of its nine total efforts, without Ignacio Piatti for the first time in what will be a long injury layoff.

D.C. United 1-1 San Jose Earthquakes

D.C. United maintained its spot atop the Eastern Conference, but the gap is now just a single point as the home side was forced to come from behind to secure a draw against San Jose. Chris Wondolowski can’t stop scoring after setting the career MLS goalscoring record, bagging a goal for the third straight match with his 37th minute header, assisted by USMNT call-up Nick Lima.

That forced D.C. to play from behind, and they earned a draw on Luciano Acosta’s 67th minute equalizer, with the 25-year-old pouncing on a save spilled by Daniel Vega. There were 36 total shots ripped off by the two teams combined and 12 of them on target, but the two goalkeepers combined for 10 saves.

Columbus Crew 2-2 NYCFC

The home side blew a pair of leads in a 2-2 draw with NYCFC. Gyasi Zardes struck from the spot in the 28th minute, and again Columbus took the lead in the 61st minute when Pedro Santos was left all alone at the far post. It wasn’t enough though, as Valentin Castellanos blasted a long-distance rip to equalize with 14 minutes to go.

The draw spoiled Zack Steffan’s sendoff with Columbus with the goalkeeper headed to U.S. national team duty before departing on a transfer to Manchester City. It also kept Columbus from moving into a playoff position, potentially jumping three teams with a win.

Houston Dynamo 1-1 Sporting KC

Two goals six minutes apart shared the spoils in Houston as the Dynamo fail to keep pace with the Western Conference leaders. Sporting KC jumped in front in the 63rd minute as Yohan Croizet chipped a charging Joe Willis on the break to open the scoring. Houston pulled back level in the 69th minute with a fabulous volley that found the top corner, but they were unable to finish the full comeback.

That left Houston in fourth in the West, three back of third-placed Seattle and four behind the second-placed LA Galaxy. Sporting KC also missed a big opportunity to pull closer to the playoff positions, currently in 10th with 15 points. Kansas City has just one league win since late March, leaving them four points back of a playoff spot.

Colorado Rapids 3-1 FC Cincinnati

The Rapids shook off a 72nd minute visiting equalizer to claim a critical victory and pull two points from dragging themselves off the bottom of the East, beating fellow basement-dwellers FC Cincinnati 3-1.

With the hosts holding a 1-0 lead, Kekuta Manneh came off the bench to level the score in the 72nd minute, but that lasted just a single minute as Colorado went back in front via Nicolas Mezquida. The winning goal came from a tight angle to the right, with the shot clattering off the hands of goalkeeper Spencer Richey. Diego Rubio put the game away with eight minutes remaining with a header off a corner. Cincinnati would have pulled off the bottom of the East with a win, but instead it’s Colorado who earns the spoils to pull within two points of Portland.

FC Dallas 2-0 Seattle Sounders

A pair of own-goals five minutes apart has FC Dallas up 2-0 at the break. The first came off Xavier Arreaga as Ryan Hollingshead delivered a header in the 33rd minute, and soon after Brad Smith deposited one into his own net on a Michael Barrios cross.

Portland Timbers 0-0 LAFC

The late Saturday night start is just under way at Providence Park.

Leicester City’s Rodgers: ‘Good news’ on Vardy injury

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Brendan Rodgers says there’s good news when it comes to the injury suffered by Jamie Vardy in Leicester City’s 4-1 blowout of West Ham United on Wednesday.

Vardy hurt his glute in the win, temporarily returning to the match after treatment from the trainer but ultimately subbing off before halftime.

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“It wasn’t his hamstring, so that’s good news for us,” Rodgers said, via The Leicester Mercury.

“He just felt a twinge in his glute, so we just have to wait and see on that in the next day or so. Thankfully his hamstring is okay and he just felt some pain in his glute, so we will have to assess that over the next few days.”

Vardy has a Premier League-best 17 goals, one more than Man City’s Sergio Aguero.

He was replaced by Kelechi Iheanacho, who assisted one of Ayoze Perez’s two goals on the day. Perez’s seven goals are second on Leicester, while James Maddison‘s six are third.

Iheanacho has six goals and three assists in 485 minutes and there’s reason to believe he can feast off Leicester’s playmaking if Vardy needs a match or two to heal.

Whether he can fill Vardy’s shoes in the long-term is a big question, especially as Leicester aims to return for the Champions League.

Transfer rumor roundup: Willian Jose to Spurs, Bournemouth after Croatian CB

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London could get itself another Willian.

Willian Jose, 28, was left out of Real Sociedad’s squad at his request on Wednesday, with the club Tweeting that he’d prefer not to play until his situation is resolved.

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Jose Mourinho said he would not comment on another team’s players, but Willian Jose could help Spurs bridge the gap to Harry Kane‘s return.

Willian Jose has been a double-digit scorer for Real Sociedad in La Liga for the previous three seasons, and is well on his way to another 10-goal campaign. He’s got eight goals in 20 matches this season.

Bournemouth needs defensive help, and is reportedly rivaling Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers for Portuguese giant Toni Borevkovic.

The 22-year-old Croatian has one goal in just over 3000 minutes with the side since arriving from domestic side NK Rudes.

He’s averaging 1.3 interceptions, .9 tackles, and 3.3 clearances per game in league play.

Rio Ave sits seventh in Portugal’s top flight and is managed by former Premier League boss Carlos Carvalhal.

Dropped points in Top Four race point to wild February

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Regardless of whether Wolves end Liverpool’s unbeaten Premier League season on Thursday, there will be five teams within seven points of fourth place heading into Matchweek 25.

Chelsea has 40, a comfortable-enough six-point lead on Manchester United, Spurs, and Wolves (who meet Liverpool at 3 p.m. ET Thursday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com). Sheffield United has 33 points.

February, specifically the next three matchweeks, will see the teams inside that group learn a lot more about their fates, and give Chelsea and Sheffield United big opportunities to cement their places in the Top Four and Seven, respectively.

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In the case of the latter, it’s because the Blades are the only team in the bunch who don’t face a Top Four six-pointer; Chris Wilder‘s men will meet Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, and Brighton, while the others will be beating up each other.

Chelsea’s path is fraught, but a big opportunity. The Blues travel to Leicester City before hosting both Manchester United and Spurs. Nine points there would effectively Top Four-proof Frank Lampard‘s side.

By the way, how’s this for a hot take? If any of Chelsea, Man Utd, or Spurs find their center forward or playmaker help in the window, they’ll have a leg up on their Top Four rivals. And, really, is that extra few million pounds worth the spoils of the Champions League? Yup.

Bruno Fernandes is not (yet) with United, and the Red Devils face Wolves and Chelsea in their next two matches. Spurs have City and Chelsea. Tumult is probable!

A draw with Newcastle and loss at Watford dampened Wolves’ hopes of riding into fourth. Beginning with Thursday’s visit from Liverpool, however, Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men face three of the Top Seven and then a visit from Norwich City. It’s not over.

And don’t entirely rule out Leicester City from dropping into the fray; The Foxes host Chelsea and Man City, and visit Wolves.

One more nod, however improbable: Arsenal sits 10 points back of fourth but meets Burnley, Newcastle, and Everton over those three match weeks. A perfect run could have the Gunners thinking big (Man City is after that, alas).

Matchday 25
Leicester City v. Chelsea
Crystal Palace v. Sheffield United
Manchester United v. Wolves
Spurs v. Man City

Matchday 25
Sheffield United v. Bournemouth
Wolves v. Leicester City
Chelsea v. Manchester United
Aston Villa v. Tottenham Hotspur

Matchday 27
Chelsea v. Tottenham Hotspur
Leicester City v. Man City
Wolves v. Norwich City
Sheffield United v. Brighton
Manchester United v. Watford

Spurs play Wolves the next week, too!

Mourinho: Spurs don’t have attacking depth, but do have ‘family’

Mourinho on Spurs win
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In this “whole new Jose Mourinho” world, the key word is family.

Mourinho said it six times in his post-match presser after Tottenham Hotspur scrapped to a 2-1 defeat of Norwich City on Wednesday in London.

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Spurs had an early lead disappear when Ryan Sessegnon gave away a penalty to Max Aarons, and Teemu Pukki converted it for a 70th-minute deadlock.

Heung-Min Son scored nine minutes later. It was a win that is good for the whole family.

From Football.London:

“It was fantastic what happened after the 1-1, which happens in a difficult moment for us where I look to the bench and I don’t have attacking players to change the game the team is a little bit fatigued, especially Lucas, Son and of course Lamela. I took him off because he was in trouble and he is a player who is coming from very important and long injury, so very difficult.

“How can we change the game? With the family spirit, the family character and desire.”

Mourinho also praised Giovani Lo Celso‘s work on the wing for attack-short Spurs as “a good experience for the family,” and Paulo Gazzaniga‘s support for returned goalkeeper Hugo Lloris as “a good member of the family and he is such a special friend of Hugo.”

I mean, I’m getting the warm and fuzzies.

Clearly, Mourinho is stressing unity and there’s a bit of bunker mentality involved, as the manager mentioned some dicey calls not going their way against Watford, Liverpool, and now Norwich.