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MLS Saturday Wrap: What we learned

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MLS is entering the dog days of summer, and some teams are separating themselves from the pack, while others continue to struggle, even at home.

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Here’s a look back at some of Saturday’s MLS action.


Savarino makes a statement for RSL

There’s a lot of talk about Designated Players like Carlos Vela, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney, and for good reason. But one Designated Player people may need to pay more attention to now is Jefferson Savarino.

In just his second game back at Real Salt Lake from the 2019 Copa America with Venezuela, Savarino scored two outstanding goals and set up another as RSL trounced the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Union, 4-0. The Union didn’t do itself any favors defensively, with a ton of communication errors, but Savarino has that clinical finishing touch that teams spend huge money for. Finally in his third season in MLS, he appears to have taken the next step in his development – he’s still only 22-years old – and could lead RSL into a playoff run.

Mike Petke’s squad, with still plenty of season to go, sits in sixth place, tied with FC Dallas on 29 points. Watch out for Savarino to be a difference maker down the stretch this season.


Pozuelo, Altidore come up big for Toronto FC

There’s no doubt that Toronto FC fans are happy to see Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley back with their club.

With goals from Altidore and other Designated Player, Alejandro Pozuelo, TFC knocked off rival Montreal Impact, 2-0 at Stade Saputo, boosting itself back into playoff contention. Toronto FC is currently just above the red line for the playoffs, with 26 points, one ahead of Orlando City SC, which also won on Saturday to stay in the playoff hunt.

It has been a tough couple of months for TFC. Prior to Saturday, TFC had won just one in its last 11 games in all competitions, including six defeats. Even the win, a 3-2 triumph over Atlanta United, could have been a draw if Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez had scored a penalty kick deep into second half stoppage time.

And yet, Altidore’s free kick and Pozuelo’s natural finish could be a sign that this team is looking like a title contender again, ready to shed off the poor form and like a gazelle, race up the standings.


Columbus, Chicago continue to drop points

It’s a rough summer to be a soccer fan in the east-to-central Midwest. Specifically, if you’re a fan of the Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew and FC Cincinnati.

FC Cincinnati won its second-straight game, this time at the expense of the Chicago Fire, though it’s still dead-last in the Eastern Conference standings, tied with Ohio rivals Columbus Crew on 17 points. The Fire themselves aren’t much better, with just 22 points this season, good for 10th place in the conference.

For FC Cincinnati, a rough season may have been expected, especially how the team operated in the offseason. But there was so much hope for the Crew and Fire, which has made 2019 even more deflating. After the fan-led mission to #SaveTheCrew was successful and Caleb Porter – a former MLS Cup winning coach – was hired, it looked like the Crew could really take a step forward this season after all the off-the-field drama from a year ago.

And yet, thanks to a season-ending injury for Federico Higuain and poor performances from Wil Trapp, Gyasi Zardes, Justin Meram (who has since been traded), Pedro Santos and many others, the Crew have been in the doldrums all season. It certainly didn’t help to lose Trapp, Zack Steffan – who was signed by Man City but loaned back for the first half of this season – and Zardes for the month of June, just to see them mostly come off the bench, if at all for the national team.

Chicago, meanwhile, signed coach Veljko Paunovic and Designated Player Bastian Schweinsteiger to new contracts this offseason, and acquired CJ Sapong, David Ousted, Francisco Calvo and the gem, Nicolas Gaitan.

Yet all these individual talents have yet to merge into a cohesive unit under Paunovic, and the Fire are looking once again at missing the playoffs for the seventh time in eight seasons. With Schweinsteiger likely gone after the season, will Paunovic walk as well, unable to turn around this once-proud club for the last 2 seasons?


Top Goals from Saturday

Jefferson Savarino

Jozy Altidore

Fanendo Adi (first league goal with FC Cincinnati)

Free agent players fear being released before season ends

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Out of contract players fear they will be released before the season is concluded, according to a report by The Telegraph.

For the Big Five European leagues, with seasons starting in August and ending in May, most contracts run through June 30. With the coronavirus shutting down leagues across the world and causing the likely extension of most domestic seasons, that timeline is almost certainly pushed back, meaning games could be played later than the expiration of contracts.

While some players who are in the lineup often, such as Chelsea’s Willian, Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen, or Bournemouth’s Ryan Fraser aren’t in danger of being released since they are heavily relied upon by their clubs, many others who are on the fringe could see their contracts terminated before the campaign comes to a close.

The report states that while FIFA cannot change contract law, players are hoping that FIFA will impose temporary sanctions on clubs that release players before the season is up.

High-profile players out of contract who could be impacted include Chelsea’s Olivier Giroud, Liverpool’s Nathaniel Clyne, and Manchester United’s Timothy Fosu-Mensah.

Sports lawyer Nick De Marco of Blackstone Chambers told Sky Sports that it’s likely players will be under no obligation to stay with their clubs beyond the date of their current contract, but some may wish to even if they aren’t playing to continue earning a paycheck.

“Legally, they cannot be forced to continue to play for the club,” De Marco told Sky Sports News. “Nobody can force them to do so; FIFA, the FA, the club or anybody else. If they want to walk away, that’s a matter for them but it will really be a matter of whether, financially, that makes sense for them.”

“If you’re a lower league club, financially stressed, you won’t be wanting to pay players beyond June 30,” De Marco said. “So, a one-size-fits-all solution isn’t going to work. It’s going to depend on each case. The key is going to be agreements.”

Infantino warns against restarting games too early

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FIFA president Gianni Infantino has cautioned leagues on restarting too early from the coronavirus shutdown, citing continued health concerns.

Bundesliga teams have already returned to training as they gear up for a possible May return, while Premier League clubs are hoping for a return to play in June. Both leagues have detailed that for the foreseeable future, games will be played behind closed doors to keep from masses of people spreading the virus.

Still, Infantino is cautious of these plans, hoping that leagues take public health seriously.

“No match, no competition, no league is worth risking a single human life,” Infantino said. “It’s better to wait a little bit longer than to take risks.”

“I cannot stress this enough,” he told Fifa’s 211 member associations on Friday. “Our first priority, our principle, the one we will use for our competitions and encourage everyone to follow, is that health comes first. Everyone in the world should have this very clear in their mind.”

Most leagues are are on hold as the world copes with the COVID-19 pandemic. Discussions are taking place about when to restart, and all involve playing behind closed doors first as a return to action in front of fans would likely require a vaccine before that many individuals can safely convene in a group environment.

“It would be more than irresponsible to force competitions to resume if things are not 100% safe,” said Infantino. “If football manages to have a discussion where everyone contributes positively, and keeps in mind the global interest over the individual one, I am convinced our future can be better than our past, and we will be better prepared for the times ahead.”

WATCH LIVE: The 2 Robbies on Lunch Talk Live

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe are two guests who will appear on the show Lunch Talk Live hosted by Mike Tirico.

[ WATCH LIVE: Lunch Talk Live on NBCSports.com ]

NBC Sports’ new daily sports talk show, Lunch Talk Live focuses on the current state of the sports world and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, providing guests with a platform to discuss the state of sports, voice their personal stories, and detail how they are adapting their daily lives during this challenging time.

The two Robbies will join other guests Luke Kuechly, Rich Eisen, Tony Dungy, Michele Tafoya, Paul Azinger, and Dan Hicks.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Gabriel to Chelsea, Kante to Real Madrid

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Chelsea is all over the transfer news today.

According to an ESPN report, Chelsea has tabbed 22-year-old Lille center-back Gabriel Magalhaes as one of their top targets this coming transfer window. The Brazilian has been a regular in the Lille lineup this season, making 24 league appearances and helping the squad to the league’s fourth-best defensive record.

The report states that both sides are “optimistic of a deal” with Chelsea ready to pay the $37 million fee.

With transfer targets are identified at Stamford Bridge, it seems the club has also figured out some sort of strategy regarding transfers out. A report by 90min states that while Chelsea is more than happy with N’Golo Kante, roster congestion may allow them to be flexible with his status at the club.

With Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic developing a solid partnership during Kante’s extended injury struggles this season, plus the return of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, the availability of Ross Barkley, and the emergence of young Billy Gilmour, Kante is expendable. The report states that while Chelsea is not looking to shop the Frenchman, Real Madrid has held longtime interest and Los Blancos are likely to explore that likelihood in the upcoming transfer window.

Kante has three years left on his deal, and while Chelsea is under no hurry to sell, he will be 32 years old by the time his deal expires so any longer and the midfielder’s value is sure to begin falling.

A familiar name with Premier League transfer rumors is Portuguese midfielder William Carvalho. Linked with PL clubs for years, the Real Betis man is now connected with Leicester City as well as French side Monaco, according to the Leicester Mercury which cites unnamed reports in Portugal. The 28-year-old has 59 caps for Portugal, including a starting role in the side’s Euro 2016 title. He would reportedly cost around $25 million with three years still remaining on his Real Betis contract.