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MLS Cup: Five key questions on Seattle Sounders vs Toronto FC

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Despite the emergence and rise of the Atlanta United’s and LAFC’s of the world, MLS is going to complete its first MLS Cup trilogy in front of a sold-out CenturyLink Field on Sunday, as the Seattle Sounders take on Toronto FC for the third time in four years.

Make no mistakes, however, the stakes remain high – perhaps higher than ever before – as both sides look to add a second star above their crest. With the financial and quality bar consistently being raised across the board, this may be the first and last MLS Cup trilogy for a pair of decades.

So, who will win it? Will Jozy Altidore even make the visitor’s 18? Pro Soccer Talk answers some of the most pressing questions ahead of the highly-anticipated final.

Will Jozy Altidore take the field for Toronto? 

Let it be clear: Even if Altidore was ready to go, Toronto are still in Yakima, Washington looking in. Now, without the striker in the equation entirely, things start going from bitter to sour instantaneously for the Reds.

Which begs the question: where does Altidore’s health stand less than 24 hours away from the final?

“I got on the field yesterday, it felt good going through the motions and set-ups,” Altidore told reporters on Saturday. “It felt good. Today is another day to push it more and try to make myself available. This is it, the last day before the game. See how it reacts, put it under a little more stress.”

And according to coach Greg Vanney, Toronto are preparing for an MLS Cup with the 30-year-old healthy and ready to go – not 100 percent, just healthy enough to see some minutes on the field.

“We were able to get him through training yesterday, he was okay coming out of it,” Vanney said. “This morning we did as much as we felt we could do. If he comes out of it okay tonight, we’ll see what kind of role — if any — he can play tomorrow. He’s battled through this injury, I’m still hopeful that tomorrow when he gets up and feels great. If there’s nothing really wrong with him, we’ll try and make use of him as much as possible. I’m encouraged with the steps he’s been able to take so far.”

So, it sounds like it won’t take a miracle after all for Altidore to feature in the biggest game of the season. Or maybe the miracle already occurred.

Now is there enough pixie dust on the striker for him to step up and make a difference like the one he did against Seattle on a blistering cold night in Toronto back in 2017?

Is CenturyLink Field’s atmosphere going to outshine last year’s venue?  

Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium was loud in last year’s final, and the record-breaking 73,019 spectators in attendance had everything to do with it.

On Sunday, the attendance won’t be up to par to last year’s, but if CenturyLink Field has been known for something over the past 17 years, it’s the decibels and seismic activity it can generate. 69,000 are expected for the final, with the strong majority boasting Sounders blue, rave green, and cascade shale.

The Sounders already put on a spectacle at home throughout the regular season. With anxiety, thrill and excitement that finals bring to them by association, expect a couple of tremors in Seattle, if the Sounders deliver in emphatic fashion.

Raul Ruidiaz or Alejandro Pozuelo: Who needs to step up more? 

With Toronto being the unapologetic underdog, instinctually, one would immediately turn and point at Pozuelo.

After all, the least one can ask for in that position is for your best player to live up to the billing in the most meaningful game of the season. Espcially with Altidore’s participation still in doubt, there are more reasons to pile the pressure on Pozuelo, who has scored two goals in Toronto’s playoff run.

After taking the league and Seattle by storm, doesn’t Ruidiaz have a world of business to finish, though?

“It would be very special,” Ruidiaz said of winning MLS Cup against Toronto. “It would be my second title overseas. I won a championship in Chile. I think when you arrive at a club you always have the desire to give the team the biggest joy, which is a star (above the crest) for the team.

“I’m a small step away from that and from achieving what we we all want, which is to give a moment of joy to a city and club that deserve it.”

Long story short, he does.

Like Pozuelo for Toronto, Ruidiaz is one of Seattle’s most lucrative investments ever. His impact on and off the field has been invaluable for a team that was desperately trying to fill the shoes of Clint Dempsey. He’s elevated teammates Nico Lodeiro and Jordan Morris. They’ve gotten everything from it besides the cup, the star above the crest.

Ultimately, it’s a world of choice. But keep in mind that one player is encouraged to be at his best, while the other is expected to deliver for a city ready to see its team lift the cup at home.

What will another MLS Cup mean for either team? 

Only five teams have two or more MLS Cups, but that will change by the time Allen Chapman blows the final whistle.

Another piece of silverware for Seattle would expand their total count to seven, while Toronto can add a ninth to their trophy case. There are no doubts that both teams are embodiment of historical success in their respective countries.

As the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., how do you pump the brakes on being MLS’ highest payroll spenders with a fresh, second star above the crest in a market that has showcased true, organic hunger for not only the sport in general, but for the Toronto FC?

You don’t, and it’s unlikely that Ali Curtis comes back to the office with a tighter financial proposal. If anything, a win would encourage higher investment all across the board and especially on the first-team, regardless if Michael Bradley’s $6.5 million option is triggered. After all, they can get creative, hence Pozuelo’s sitcom episode-esque arrival.

The same goes for the Sounders.

A second star would generate a soccer buzz unlike any other for the proper and great community of Seattle, while it would also invites majority owner Adrian Hanauer to keep the Sounders within the top six spenders of the league. With Xavier Arreaga likely to be demoted from his Designated Player role in the offseason, there will be room for the Sounders to make an additional splash.

In the end, as it is anywhere in the world of sports, titles bring bragging rights and an influx of cash. Seattle and Toronto will not be the exceptions.

When all is said and done, who will hoist the cup?

Arguably better on all sectors of the field, the 2019 MLS Cup is Seattle’s to lose, there are no ifs, ands or buts about it.

However, when the ball starts rolling on the artificial turf, determination and hunger will quickly weave out the side that holds lower levels of the aforementioned. With over 60,000 chanting to the tune of their crest and colors, it’s unlikely that Toronto will gain the cognitive advantage.

That said, the visitors are outweighed in both departments, and will need to lean on heroic moments like the ones showcased by Nicolas Benezet and Nick DeLeon against Atlanta United. An MLS Cup seems fitting for pure, sacred MLS soccer, no?

Sure, but there have been times in which MLS doesn’t MLS for the sake of just MLSing. The feeling in the air is that Sunday is one of those, which in practice, looks like a physical, choppy and segmented battle in which Seattle will come out on top.

Transfer news: Dembele to Man United; Sarr to Arsenal

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In the latest transfer news Ousmane Dembele has been linked with Manchester United, while Malang Sarr could be heading to Arsenal.

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Starting in Manchester, it has been reported by multiple outlets that Manchester United want Ousmane Dembele to arrive as a right-winger. With Jadon Sancho set to stay at Borussia Dortmund for at least another season, Dembele could be a cheaper and more available option as his form and fitness has been a big problem for Barcelona.

Dembele, 23, joined Barca from Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2017 as Neymar’s replacement but he’s never really settled at the Nou Camp and has been unlucky with injuries. Reports are saying that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants a right winger, center back and center forward. Dembele has two years left on his contract at Barcelona but quite why Man United want to sign a new winger is baffling.

Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood are stars in attack, while Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes are pulling the strings underneath them. With Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata, Daniel James and Odion Ighalo in reserve too, attacking options is not something Solskjaer is short of. That said, Lingard could leave, James has stalled a little and Ighalo’s loan ends in January 2021, so a few gaps could open up.

Dembele will be a lot cheaper than Sancho and if he can put his injuries to one side, there’s clearly a very good attacking player there. It seems worth a gamble, especially as Dortmund want over $130 million for Sancho.

Malang Sarr to Arsenal
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Heading to north London, Arsenal have been linked with a sensible deal, for once, as the Gunners could sign free agent Malang Sarr.

The Nice defender, 21, has let his contract run out and a report from Marca says that the Gunners have made an approach for the young French center back. RB Leipzig are also interested in Sarr, who played 16 times for Patrick Vieria’s side in Ligue 1 this season as they finished in fifth place.

We know that Arsenal may not have a lot of cash to spend and Mikel Arteta’s side look unlikely to qualify for the Champions League. William Saliba will boost Arsenal’s defensive options for next season, while Calum Chambers, Rob Holding, Sokratis, David Luiz, Pablo Mari and Shkodran Mustafi are still around too.

There’s no way Arsenal can have that many center backs at the club and there will surely be an almighty clear out this summer with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang potentially leaving, Matteo Guendouzi on the outs and Alexandre Lacazette possibly leaving too.

Sarr would be a bargain buy and Arsenal certainly need to keep solidifying their defensive unit as they have the attacking weapons to hurt anyone.

NBC Sports Premier League schedule

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The new NBC Sports Premier League schedule for the 2019-20 season has been released, with time and dates for the upcoming matchweeks confirmed and here’s how you can watch it all live on TV in the USA.

[ WATCH: Premier League video ] 

With games spread out across multiple days and many in separate time slots, there are lots of changes to your regular schedule as the league returns on June 17 after being suspended on March 13 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Games will be played in empty stadiums and at home venues.

The full TV schedule for the games this month are below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com, the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold and the new Peacock streaming service from NBC.

Below is the new schedule for the Premier League on NBC Sports from June 17 to July 22 , as we will release the dates and times for the final matchweek of the 2019-20 season when they become available and how to watch them in the USA.


Premier League: How to watch, schedule in USA (all times EST)

Matchday 29

Wednesday, June 17: Aston Villa 0-0 Sheffield United
Wednesday, June 17: Man City 3-0 Arsenal

Matchday 30

Friday, June 19: Norwich 0-3 Southampton
Friday, June 19: Tottenham 1-1 Man United
Saturday, June 20: Watford 1-1 Leicester
Saturday, June 20: Brighton 2-1 Arsenal
Saturday, June 20: West Ham 0-2 Wolves
Saturday, June 20: Bournemouth 0-2 Crystal Palace
Sunday, June 21: Newcastle 3-0 Sheffield United
Sunday, June 21: Aston Villa 1-2 Chelsea
Sunday, June 21: Everton 0-0 Liverpool
Monday, June 22: Man City 5-0 Burnley

Matchday 31

Tuesday, June 23: Leicester 0-0 Brighton
Tuesday, June 23: Tottenham 2-0 West Ham
Wednesday, June 24: Man United 3-0 Sheffield United
Wednesday, June 24: Newcastle 1-1 Aston Villa
Wednesday, June 24: Norwich 0-1 Everton
Wednesday, June 24: Wolves 1-0 Bournemouth
Wednesday, June 24: Liverpool 4-0 Palace
Thursday, June 25: Southampton 0-2 Arsenal
Thursday, June 25: Burnley 1-0 Watford
Thursday, June 25: Chelsea 2-1 Man City

Matchday 32

Saturday, June 27: Aston Villa 0-1 Wolves
Sunday, June 28: Watford 1-3 Southampton
Monday, June 29: Crystal Palace 0-1 Burnley
Tuesday, June 30: Brighton 0-3 Man United
Wednesday, July 1: Everton 2-1 Leicester
Wednesday, July 1: Bournemouth 1-4 Newcastle
Wednesday, July 1: Arsenal 4-0 Norwich
Wednesday, July 1: West Ham 3-2 Chelsea
Thursday, July 2: Sheffield United 3-1 Tottenham
Thursday, July 2: Man City 4-0 Liverpool

Matchday 33

Saturday, July 4: Norwich City 0-1 Brighton
Saturday, July 4: Leicester 3-0 Crystal Palace
Saturday, July 4: Man United 5-2 Bournemouth
Saturday, July 4: Wolves 0-2 Arsenal
Saturday, July 4: Chelsea 3-0 Watford
Sunday, July 5: Burnley 1-1 Sheffield United
Sunday, July 5: Newcastle United 2-2 West Ham
Sunday, July 5: Liverpool 2-0 Aston Villa
Sunday, July 5: Southampton 1-0 Man City
Monday, July 6: Tottenham 1-0 Everton

Matchday 34

Tuesday, July 7: Crystal Palace 2-3 Chelsea
Tuesday, July 7: Watford 2-1 Norwich City
Tuesday, July 7: Arsenal 1-1 Leicester City
Wednesday, July 8: Man City 5-0 Newcastle
Wednesday, July 8: Sheffield United 1-0 Wolves
Wednesday, July 8: West Ham 0-1 Burnley
Wednesday, July 8: Brighton 1-3 Liverpool
Thursday, July 9: Bournemouth 0-0 Tottenham
Thursday, July 9: Everton 1-1 Southampton
Thursday, July 9: Aston Villa 0-3 Manchester United

Matchday 35

Saturday, July 11: Norwich City v. West Ham, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN
Saturday, July 11: Watford v. Newcastle United, 7:30 a.m. ET, Gold/Peacock
Saturday, July 11: Liverpool v. Burnley, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN
Saturday, July 11: Sheffield United v. Chelsea, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC
Saturday, July 11: Brighton v. Manchester City, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Sunday, July 12: Wolves v. Everton, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN
Sunday, July 12: Aston Villa v. Crystal Palace, 9:15 a.m. ET, NBCSN
Sunday, July 12: Tottenham v. Arsenal, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN
Sunday, July 12: Bournemouth v. Leicester City, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Monday, July 13: Man United v. Southampton, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN

Matchday 36

Tuesday, July 14: Chelsea v. Norwich, 3:15 p.m. ET
Wednesday, July 15: Burnley v. Wolves, 1 p.m. ET
Wednesday, July 15: Man City v. Bournemouth, 1 p.m. ET
Wednesday, July 15: Newcastle v. Tottenham, 1 p.m. ET
Wednesday, July 15: Arsenal v. Liverpool, 3:15 p.m. ET
Thursday, July 16: Everton v. Aston Villa, 1 p.m. ET
Thursday, July 16: Leicester v Sheffield United, 1 p.m. ET
Thursday, July 16: Crystal Palace v. Man United, 3:15 p.m. ET
Thursday, July 16: Southampton v. Brighton, 3:15 p.m. ET
Friday, July 17: West Ham v. Watford, 3 p.m. ET

Matchday 37

Saturday, July 18: Norwich City v. Burnley, 12:30 p.m. ET
Sunday, July 19: Bournemouth v. Southampton, 9 a.m. ET
Sunday, July 19: Tottenham v. Leicester, 11 a.m. ET
Monday, July 20: Brighton v. Newcastle, 1 p.m. ET
Monday, July 20: Sheffield United v. Everton, 1 p.m. ET
Monday, July 20: Wolves v. Crystal Palace, 3:15 p.m. ET
Tuesday, July 21: Watford v. Man City, 1 p.m. ET
Tuesday, July 21: Aston Villa v. Arsenal, 3:15 p.m. ET
Wednesday, July 22: Man United v. West Ham, 1 p.m. ET
Wednesday, July 22: Liverpool v. Chelsea, 3:15 p.m. ET

Tottenham – Arsenal preview: How to watch, start time, stream, prediction

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Tottenham – Arsenal preview: The north London derby should be a beauty on Sunday (start time, 11:30am ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as Spurs and Arsenal both need a win to keep alive any faint hopes of qualifying for the Champions League.

Spurs are struggling with Jose Mourinho complaining about VAR on an almost daily basis and if they lose to Arsenal, their Champions League hopes will be over. Harry Kane will be hoping to be the hero once again in the NLD.

Arsenal and Mikel Arteta are battling away and have been decent since the restart with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scoring goals, Bukayo Saka a threat and the duo of Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos building a great partnership in midfield.

TOTTENHAM – ARSENAL STREAM LIVE

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Tottenham – Arsenal on Sunday.

Tottenham – Arsenal stream
Start time: 11:30am ET, Sunday
TV channel: NBCSN
Stream online: Via NBCSports.com


Team news

Dele Alli could return for Tottenham as Mourinho is hopeful he can recover from a hamstring injury, while Eric Dier is serving the second game of his four-game suspension.

Arsenal are without Calum Chambers, Bernd Leno, Pablo Mari and Gabriel Martinelli, while Eddie Nkeitah starts a three-game ban after his red card against Leicester City as Arsenal failed with their appeal. Mesut Ozil is being assessed due to back soreness.


What they’re saying

Jose Mourinho on what is at stake in the NLD: A”t this moment we are both in a very similar situation. It’s not that incredible emotion that we’re fighting for something really big, more than to finish above you, or not finish above you. It’s missing that. It’s not a match that is going to decide big things. But it probably decides the only thing we can fight for, both of us. I don’t think realistically we’re fighting for a Champions League position – one-point difference, four matches to go, one between us, then the remaining three – which are of course still important – it’s a big match for the table. The fans have a special feeling for this match, so the players on the pitch have to fight for them.”

Mikel Arteta on what Mourinho brings to Spurs: “They have had some ups and downs but overall you can clearly see what he wants to bring to the club. He manages the energy, the momentum and establishes a really strong culture in every football club. As well, he makes sure that he wins and he’s won in every single club that he’s been at. Obviously the situation and the timing when he arrived is different than starting a new project right from the summer, but I’m sure he will be successful because he always finds the right way to do it. It will take him a bit of time but I’m sure he will do it… I think in a long period they’ve had a lot of injuries so he hasn’t had the chance to be consistent with his team and that’s a big disadvantage that they have. I know that he’s done it and I know people that have worked with him and he always find a way to be successful and I’m sure he’ll do it again. That’s probably one of the reasons that they have brought Jose in, because of his experience in dealing with those situations and having that extra edge to become a winning team.”


Odds and ends (full matchweek odds)

The betting couldn’t be closer as the hosts are the slight favorites with Tottenham (+160) to Arsenal (+170), while the draw looks pretty attractive at +240.


Prediction

I fancy Arsenal to win this. They have a tougher defensive unit under Arteta and their attacking weapons are looking good too. Tottenham aren’t playing well at all and I think that Arteta will get one over Mourinho to keep their faint Premier League hopes alive. 2-1 to Arsenal.

Man City get date for UEFA ban verdict

Manchester City UEFA verdict
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Manchester City will get the verdict on Monday in its appeal against a two-year ban from UEFA competitions.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport on Friday set the date to publish the ruling from its panel of three judges.

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The urgent verdict from a hearing held on June 8-10 by video link will likely have few details of the judges’ reasons and evidence heard. A full written verdict typically takes months to prepare.

UEFA punished Man City in February for “serious breaches” of rules monitoring club finances and failing to cooperate with investigators.

The allegations included that City, owned by Abu Dhabi’s royal family, misled UEFA over several years to meet financial integrity rules required to enter the Champions League.

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UEFA-appointed experts opened their investigation after leaked club emails and documents were published by German magazine Der Spiegel in November 2018. They were obtained by a hacker from Portugal.

UEFA had previously signed off on City’s submitted accounts since 2014. That year, UEFA fined City 20 million euros ($22.6 million) of its Champions League prize money in a first wave of assessments of European clubs’ finances.

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