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MLS Cup Final preview: The storylines

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Sunday brings us a familiar title bout, as the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC will meet in Washington in bids for their second MLS Cup title.

The first two finals took place in Canada, with Seattle outlasting TFC via penalty kicks in the 2016 final before Jozy Altidore and Victor Vazquez struck to lead the Reds to a 2-0 win a year later.

[ RECAPS: Man Utd 3-0 Partizan | Wolves 1-0 Slovan Bratislava ]

Sunday will be the 702nd days since the two sides squared off in 2017, and this time Seattle will have a sold out CenturyLink Field buzzing for the “three-match.”

Some things to watch:

— Like the regular season, please? While TFC and Seattle played two pretty cagey finals, they staged a 3-2 thriller earlier this season. Jozy Altidore and Will Bruin had it 1-1 at half in the same venue as Sunday’s final before three goals in six second half minutes allowed for a nutty win for the Sounders.

— Will Jozy play? It’s the subplot that seems unlikely but could turn this game from having a heavy favorite in Seattle to holding heavy drama. Altidore said it would take a “miracle” for him to play, but Seattle thinks the forward is playing mind games.

— USMNT v. USMNT: On one side, Toronto FC has Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley as American stars who returned home after adventures abroad. On the other you’ll find Jordan Morris and Cristian Roldan, who so far have resisted that temptation. The Reds also have Omar Gonzalez, so the bragging rights are there for the taking.

— Can Toronto hold onto the ball? TFC is one of a handful of teams to hold more than 50 percent possession both home and away, but Seattle’s midfield can be a collection of menaces. How disruptive will the Sounders be?

— Playmakers at volume: Each side has a supreme playmaker, capable of the sublime. In a cagey affair like this one, it’s fair to say that the abilities of Nicolas Lodeiro (Seattle) and Alejandro Pozuelo (Toronto) to unlock defenses from distance may make the difference.

— Goalkeepers on different paths to hero roles: Stefan Frei came over from Europe through U.S. college soccer to have a good enough career that some MLS fans fantasize about him repping the USMNT. Quentin Westberg made his name in France before coming to Toronto and taking the No. 1 shirt from Alex Bono. Both have been and can be outstanding. It’s safe to say either is capable of being the Man of the Match.

— How big of an upset would it be if Toronto won? Well, it wasn’t too long ago that the Reds were the best team in Major League Soccer, and Alejandro Pozuelo isn’t a massive drop in quality from Sebastian Giovinco, but right now it looks like TFC will either not have Jozy Altidore or not have a full-strength Jozy Altidore. If the Reds manufacture a win without him, then Greg Vanney should get a lifetime contract.

Premier League player Power Rankings

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Our latest Premier League player Power Rankings see plenty of players remaining in the upper echelons.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Matchweek 12 was wild, with players from Liverpool, Chelsea and Leicester City continuing to dominate our top 20. The likes of Ciaran Clark, John Lundstram and Dwight McNeil were so close to cracking the top 20…

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League. If they didn’t play in the last matchweek, they aren’t getting in this list!

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections.


1.  Christian Pulisic (Chelsea) – Up 2
2. Jamie Vardy (Leicester) – Up 2
3. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – Down 2
4. Tammy Abraham (Chelsea) – Down 2
5. Wilfried Ndidi (Leicester) – New entry
6. Caglar Soyuncu (Leicester) – Up 1
7.  Fabinho (Liverpool) – New entry
8. Andy Robertson (Liverpool) – Down 2
9. Virgil Van Dijk (Liverpool) – Up 6
10. Willian (Chelsea) – Up 6
11. Gerard Deulofeu (Watford) – New entry
12. Raul Jimenez (Wolves) – Down 7
13. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City) – Even
14. Youri Tielemans (Leicester) – Even
15. James Maddison (Leicester) – New entry
16. Marcus Rashford (Man United) – Down 4
17. Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool) – Up 2
18. Fernandinho (Man City) – New entry
19. Matteo Kovacic (Chelsea) – New entry
20. Richarlison (Everton) – New entry

U.S. teenager Matteo Ritaccio signs pro deal with Liverpool

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Another American making waves at a Premier League giant?

Maybe.

Matteo Ritaccio, who just turned 18 years old, has signed his first professional contract with Liverpool.

The Long Island native has been playing with their U18 academy side since the summer of 2018, as he holds an Italian passport and was therefore able to make the move to Europe from the USA.

Liverpool detailed how they have worked hard to scout and then secure the signature of Ritaccio, a midfielder.

“He had first been spotted by the Reds as a 13-year-old at a training camp for the US national team, though he also holds an Italian passport. A tough-tackling and exciting player, Ritaccio started the season in fine form for the U18s but his momentum was brought to a halt by a leg injury.”

Ritaccio is a product of the famed youth side BW Gottschee and he impressed Liverpool’s coaches with a fast start to the 2019-20 season before injury struck.

He will be back fit early in January and it will be intriguing to see how he develops.

Jurgen Klopp isn’t afraid to throw plenty of youngsters into the side, as he proved during the recent victory over Arsenal in the League Cup.

Remember the name: Matteo Ritaccio.

Everton’s Moise Kean dropped due to discipline issues

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Everton striker Moise Kean was dropped for the 2-1 win at Southampton on Saturday after being late for a team meeting.

Kean, 19, was not in the Toffees squad for their first Premier League away victory since March and Sky Sports in the UK say that was because the Italian international has been having issues with his timekeeping.

Here’s some more information from our partners at Sky Sports News in the UK:

“The former Juventus forward was late for a team meeting and as a result was left out of the squad for the 2-1 Premier League victory at St Mary’s. Sky Sports News understands it is the second time Kean has been late for a team meeting.”

It is believed the player has apologized to Silva and his teammates for being late, but he does have previous, and not just with Everton. Italy boss Roberto Mancini left Kean out of the Azzurri squad in September after he and Roma’s Nicolo Zaniolo were late for a team meeting at the U21 European Championships in the summer.

Somebody get Kean a new watch, or at least set a few more reminders on his phone!

Kean arrived at Goodison Park for $33 million this summer but has yet to score for the Toffees as Richarlison, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Cenk Tosun have all been preferred to him in the central strikers role.

This is a tough one. Kean is young and adapting to life in a new country, so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, but rules are rules and Silva obviously runs a tight ship.

Southgate on Sterling punishment: ‘We are like a family’

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Gareth Southgate called an impromptu press conference at England’s St. George’s Park training base on Tuesday to discuss one thing.

Raheem Sterling v. Joe Gomez.

[ MORE: Sterling issues public apology ]

According to multiple reports, on Monday the Man City winger was sat in the players’ canteen at England’s training base when Gomez, the first of several Liverpool players to arrive, walked in and was laughing. Sterling then reportedly said “you’re the big man now are you?” and confronted Gomez, trying to grab him around the neck as the two were separated.

This all came after Sterling clashed with Gomez in Liverpool’s 3-1 win over City at Anfield on Sunday, as the England winger was booed heavily by the home fans and also clashed with England teammates Jordan Henderson and Trent-Alexander Arnold during the game.

After a tumultuous 24 hours, Southgate kept calm as he discussed why he had decided to punish Sterling by making him unavailable for the EURO 2020 qualifier against Montenegro on Thursday.

“I love all of my players. We are like a family. The important thing is for a family to communicate and work through problems,” Southgate said. “I don’t expect as a manager to not have to deal with issues. In the end I have to find the right solution for the group. That’s a difficult line, you try to be fair when dealing with all players. I won’t always get that right but I am the manager. Raheem is very important for us but I felt it was the right thing.”

Southgate has been criticized by the likes of Rio Ferdinand and other ex-England players for making the spat public, but others believe he has handled it well and sent a clear message out to the rest of his squad.

Sterling is England’s best player, on current form, so leaving him out is a big call for Southgate. England’s manager is a big fan of Sterling and has praised his ability on the pitch and his maturity off it in recent months.

But Sterling was wrong to go at Gomez and he has since admitted it on social media.

Southgate wanted to nip this in the bud and he is in full control of the situation. What damage this incident, and the way he reacted, does in the long-term remains to be seen. But Southgate is a man who sticks to his principles and he doesn’t want England’s players going at each other due to club matters.

If he sent out a weak message following Sterling’s actions it would have told the rest of the squad it was fine for them to act in a similar manner.