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Vela’s latest golazo one-upped as LAFC lose late to Portland

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This much is certain about Los Angeles FC: there’s never — ever — a dull moment when Bob Bradley‘s expansion side is on the field.

[ MORE: Toronto FC score late to beat Orlando, get season back on track ]

Not only are the goals plentiful — for both sides (23 scored, 18 conceded in their first 11 games) — but they tend to be of the highest quality — again, for both sides.

Take, for example, Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to the Portland Timbers, a result which extends Portland’s winning streak to five games and sends Giovanni Savarese’s side third in the Western Conference, now just three points behind LAFC (with a game in hand).

LAFC fell 1-0 behind when Cristhian Paredes scored his first MLS goal in the 52nd minute, then a pair of world-class stunners saw the visitors pull level in the 74th and fall behind once again in the 81st.

[ MORE: Chelsea top Man United to win 8th FA Cup | Three things ]

First, the latest bit of curling genius from Carlos Vela…

It’s not the first — and almost certainly won’t be the last — time we’ve seen that exact goal scored by LAFC’s Mexican superstar. Only this time, Vela was immediately upstaged by Samuel Armenteros, who up to that point had been held without a goal in his first two-plus months in MLS. This is one way to formally introduce yourself to the Rose City faithful…

The season of Salah: Liverpool’s Egyptian King

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I’ll admit it. I didn’t see this coming. At all. And even when it kept happening, game after game, it still seemed too good to be true.

I was adamant I would use my vote for the Footballer Writers’ Association Player of the Year on Kevin De Bruyne. I mean, it was all about KDB as he conducted the Manchester City juggernaut throughout their record-breaking season but as the months wore on in the Premier League season, Mohamed Salah kept scoring, and scoring, and scoring.

I had to vote for Salah, and I did, with the new chant (based on the hit “Sit Down” by James) reverberating in my head. He is truly adored by Liverpool’s fans.

“Mo Salah, Mo Salah, running down the wing… Salah, lah, lah, lah, lah, the Egyptian King!”

In a Facebook Live chat from Wembley around the turn of the year, I even took on a friendly wager with Bruce Vail (I owe you that beer, Bruce) that Harry Kane would end the season with more goals than Salah. Kane had a career best 30 in the PL despite a few weeks out with injury, might I add… but Salah finished top with 32. Of course he did.

This has been the year of Salah for club and country and the funny thing is, nobody saw it coming. At all. Let’s not forget, Salah had one very good season at AS Roma in 2016/17 after first being loaned out by Chelsea to Fiorentina and Roma from 2015 as he was deemed surplus to requirements at Stamford Bridge.

I wasn’t the only one who was blindsided and couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing week in, week out in the Premier League.

I vividly remember sitting in the freezing cold of the outdoor press box at Anfield in January as Salah lobbed Ederson from 40 yards out to put Liverpool 4-1 up against Man City, who had yet to be beaten in the PL that season. I smiled, everyone smiled, but then I looked around to my left and sat behind me was “King” Kenny Dalglish with the biggest smile of all as he punched the air with delight and celebrated alongside several Liverpool greats.

The Liverpool great has seen the likes of Robbie Fowler, Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez rival his legendary status with the Kop and this man Salah has the potential to be a true God among Liverpool fans, if he isn’t already.

Salah’s sensational season took everyone by surprise as the Egyptian winger transformed his game under Jurgen Klopp and has become a global superstar over the last nine months at Liverpool. His clinical finishing, rapid counter attacks and incredible dribbling ability combining perfectly with Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino up top.

In his debut season at Anfield he has scored 44 goals in all competitions with one game to go (a bit of a humdinger, the UEFA Champions League final against Real Madrid on May 26) and set a new Premier League record for the most goals (32) scored in a 38-game season. I also remember being sat at Man City’s Etihad Stadium early in the season and watching Salah squander several chances as he started the season in slightly wasteful fashion. About that…

The joint-record for the most goals in a PL season held by Alan Shearer, Luis Suarez and Cristiano Ronaldo (31) tumbled under Salah’s brilliance and Shearer told PremierLeague.com that this wil be known as Salah’s season.

“When you’re looking to one of your players to do something different, do something special, more often than not it’s been Mo Salah,” Shearer said. “This season people will remember Salah and the impact that he had in his first season at Liverpool. No one has been able to stop him.”

Salah, still just 25 years old, has the perfect conditions around him to replicate this season too. Seriously.

Even though the hardest few months are probably coming up for him as he tries to reinvent his game slightly (after a World Cup with Egypt no less) and get used to two or three defenders marking him every time he has the ball next season, he’s playing for the perfect manager, with the perfect blend of players at the perfect club for how he wants to play.

Plus, aside from his playing ability, it’s the human factor of Salah which stands out and makes his story so lovable.

He’s the humble lad from the town of Nagrig in rural Egypt who plays with a smile on his face and a spring in his delicately permed hair.

Speaking about Salah in a speech written for the FWA awards evening last week, Klopp lauded his top goalscorer.

“The fact you have voted for him as your player of the season reflects that you have witnessed his incredible quality as a footballer. But it’s his qualities as a person that should not be overlooked,” Klopp said. “I read and hear about him being a wonderful role model for Egypt, North Africa, for the wider Arabic world and for Muslims. This, of course, is true, but he is a role model full stop.”

It’s not just on the club stage that Salah has burst onto the scene. It has been almost a perfect storm as the season of Salah reaches its climax.

With one more game of the season for Liverpool the biggest of them all, the UCL final against Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid, Salah not only has the chance to etch his name into Liverpool folklore but hammer home his bid to win the Ballon d’Or in 2018 and wrestle it away from Lionel Messi and Ronaldo.

At the same time as Salah’s fame with Liverpool is skyrocketing, he’s also become a hero in his homeland of Egypt, scoring the goal which took the Pharaohs to their first World Cup finals since 1990.

Like Messi and Ronaldo, Salah has the hopes of a soccer-mad nation resting on his shoulders this summer in Russia. If Salah leads Egypt to the latter stages of the World Cup, he is ready to take over from Ronaldo and Messi. That’s how good he’s been this season.

The man who saw him first emerge as a teenage talent in Egypt was former USMNT head coach Bob Bradley, who coached the Egyptian national team from 2011-13 as they just missed out on making the 2014 World Cup amid huge unrest in the North African nation. The Port Said massacre saw the domestic league suspended in 2012 and Salah, along with plenty of his Egyptian teammates, ended up heading overseas as a pathway to FC Basel in Switzerland was created.

Bradley knew back then that Salah had it in him and said as much in a recent interview with Yahoo Sports.

“When the league stopped, we had to start to put together camps and friendly matches because Olympic qualifying was that June,” Bradley said.“Immediately when we brought him in, you could see how special he was: Incredible quickness, speed, power, explosiveness. He improved at every camp. He took ideas really well. You could tell he was determined to get better.”

And that’s now what Salah must do. Get better. If he can.

The Egyptian King may never replicate this historic season and if he doesn’t, that’s fine. Liverpool’s fans and neutrals across the globe will never forget the season of Salah. Only the likes of Messi, Ronaldo, Suarez and Neymar have been able to replicate other-worldly form on a yearly basis over the last decade.

But if Salah does manage to replicate this, then he will truly enter the highest soccer pantheon.

Whatever happens, Egypt and Liverpool has a new King.

The best (and worst) valued MLS players

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Sometimes it’s difficult to remember all the rules and regulations that Major League Soccer has implemented, particularly when it comes to TAM and GAM, but one area that has become more transparent over the years is player contracts, courtesy of the league’s Players Union.

The MLS PA once again released its list of contracts for every active player in the league, as well as several free agents, earlier this week, which made us think: which players are the best and worst values based on their current salaries?

Pro Soccer Talk took a deeper look at each team’s current crop of players, and picked the 10 best and 10 worst contracts.

So, here we go.

In the typical good-bad news situation we usually like to get the bad out of the way first, so that’s where we will start.


WORST CONTRACTS

LA Galaxy attacker Giovani dos Santos ($6 million)

To say that the El Tri forward hasn’t lived up to his billing in MLS is an understatement. His underperformance with the club can be overshadowed a bit by the production of players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ola Kamara and Romain Alessandrini, but Dos Santos’ goal output since the end of 2016 has been at a bare minimum (eight goals).

Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder/defender Brek Shea ($745,000)

It’s fair to make the claim that Shea hasn’t lived up to the hype after leaving Dallas in 2012, and the fact that the Texas-native is currently the second-highest Whitecaps player speaks to that. Deployed primarily as a winger, Shea has scored just 10 goals since returning to MLS in 2015, and has completely fall out of the U.S. Men’s National Team picture.

Philadelphia Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya ($1.2 million)

To put Bedoya’s contract into perspective, the USMNT midfielder earns more than Federico Higuain, Sacha Kljestan and Alberth Elis. It’s been a rocky road for the third-year Union player.

D.C. United’s Zoltan Stieber ($999,000)

The Hungarian has been underwhelming thus far in a D.C. kit despite being the club’s top-earning player. Two goals and two assists since last summer is one of the reasons why D.C. has struggled so mightily.

FC Dallas forward Cristian Colman ($585,000)

Dallas has lost several important players in the attack over the years, but the addition of Colman was supposed to ease the blow for the Western Conference power. Instead, the Paraguayan has three goals to show in 33 appearances for the club.

Montreal Impact forward Matteo Mancosu ($719,000)

The former Bologna man has been underwhelming since joining the Impact, which hasn’t helped the team’s willingness to find a legitimate replacement for Didier Drogba.

Portland Timbers midfielder Lucas Melano ($1 million)

The Argentine player is currently in his native country on loan at Estudiantes, but still bringing in over $1 million. Since joining the Timbers in 2015, Melano has scored just four goals for the Western Conference side.

New York City FC forward Jo Inge Berget ($816,000)

This is another player who is early into their MLS career, but the early signs aren’t very promising for an NYCFC side that has desperately searched for a second front option for the instances when David Villa isn’t available. Berget thrived in Europe, but he has struggled to make an impact in the Bronx.

Real Salt Lake’s Alfredo Ortuno ($1.1 million)

In three appearances this season, Ortuno has zero goals and no shots to speak of. Mike Petke’s side hasn’t had good luck with forwards over recent years, and unless Ortuno picks up his form, it could be another Yura Movsisyan situation.

Colorado Rapids keeper Tim Howard ($2.4 million)

It’s not to say that Howard isn’t still a capable goalkeeper, which he is, but the Rapids severely overspent on a position where you simply don’t have to shell out that sort of money. Goalkeepers like Tim Melia, Luis Robles, Zach Steffen and Stefan Frei could have all four of their contracts combined, and still come up significantly short of Howard’s salary.


BEST CONTRACTS

Atlanta United’s Miguel Almiron & Josef Martinez ($2.2 million, $1.3 million)

We’ll start off with a pair from the same team. It would be shocking if one, if not both, players end up in Europe in the very future, so the fact that these players aren’t even in the top 10 Designated Player salaries is a sign of some very good business from Atlanta. The duo have combined for 41 goals in less than two full seasons with the Five Stripes.

Sporting KC winger Johnny Russell ($699,000)

It’s been a small sample size, but Sporting KC has to be very, very happy with its addition of Russell this winter. Five goals and two assists for the former Derby County midfielder, Russell has brought another creative influence to Peter Vermes’ attack.

NY Red Bulls’ Tyler Adams & Aaron Long ($153,000, $73,000)

In a way, it’s almost unfair to pick just two players from the Red Bulls because manager Jesse Marsch and technical director Dennis Hamlett have done such a tremendous job building this roster. Adams and Long stand out though because of what they have done in controlling the center of the park. For Long, in particular, he’s quickly become one of the best central defenders in MLS, making Matt Miazga an afterthought for Red Bulls supporters.

Colorado Rapids forward Dominique Badji ($168,000)

It’s hard to imagine that Badji has been in MLS for four seasons already, but the Rapids striker has proven to be one of the few consistent attacking pieces for the club. After tallying nine goals in 2017, Badji is alright more than halfway to that total, and should shatter his personal best this season.

Vancouver Whitecaps winger Alphonso Davies ($72,000)

At 17, Davies has the makings of a special talent. The Canada international doesn’t light up the score sheet, but Davies is one of the most exciting wingers in MLS and is the type of player you want out wide to provide great service into the box. Any team would sign up for his contract in a heartbeat.

D.C. United’s Yamil Asad ($520,000)

Asad was often overshadowed in Atlanta last year due to the star power on that squad, and now he’s still a bit under appreciated because of D.C.’s lack of success, but make no mistake that he is one of the top wingers in MLS. D.C. did well to keep him in the U.S., but now Ben Olsen needs to go out and support Asad with more talented players.

Houston Dynamo forward Alberth Elis ($650,000)

The 22-year-old is on pace to break into double-digit goals for his second consecutive season in MLS, and is a natural fit to replace the departed Erick “Cubo’ Torres. Elis played a big role in the Dynamo making the playoffs last season, and he likely will be a driving force again in 2018 if Houston qualifies.

Los Angeles FC defender Laurent Ciman ($661,000)

It was a steal when the expansion side managed to pull him away from the Montreal Impact, and the league’s most consistent center back has proven to be worth every penny for Bob Bradley‘s side. LA FC has dazzled with its many exciting attacking pieces, but Ciman has held down the fort defensively.

Hull City’s Diomande reunites with Bradley in LA (video)

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Adama Diomande is reuniting with the coach who helmed his most successful professional season.

“Adama is a quality goalscorer who brings the experience of playing at a high level in Europe,” said LAFC head coach Bob Bradley. “We believe he will have a strong impact in MLS.”

The Hull City man scored 25 goals in 26 matches for Stabaek when Bradley was the manager in 2015, earning a move to the English side. While at Hull, Diomande scored seven goals in 64 matches between the Premier League and Championship.

He joins fellow transfer deadline day acquisition Lee Nguyen in bolstering an LAFC attack with Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi. The signing comes on the same day that Costa Rican star Marco Urena was lost indefinitely with a facial injury.

Is this an all excuse to show Diomande’s amazing bicycle kick built for two goal with Abel Hernandez from Premier League Opening Day last season?

I’m not saying we’re silently nodding over here, but…

LAFC striker Marco Urena out indefinitely after facial surgery

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LAFC has had plenty of firsts this season. The MLS expansion franchise has been a force to be reckoned with in its inaugural season, sitting second in the Western Conference standings.

Now, the club will have to contend with its first major injury.

Bob Bradley will have some shuffling to do after the club confirmed that Marco Urena will undergo surgery for a facial injury suffered in last weekend’s victory over Seattle Sounders. The injury was first reported by Costa Rican outlet La Nacion.

According to the Nacion report, Urena suffered microfractures under his left eye in a clash with Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei during the 1-0 victory on Sunday. Urena played the entire 90 minutes and was not substituted. According to that same report, immediately after the match, Urena had swelling and numbness in the area which prompted further tests that showed fractures. With the goal of being healthy for the national team’s trip to Russia for the 2018 World Cup, Urena reportedly asked to be operated on as soon as possible.

While MLS reporter Sam Stejskal’s tweet above says there is no timetable for Urena’s return to fitness, the Nacion report claims that it’s possible Urena will not play for LAFC again before the World Cup beings in mid-June. It says that he will continue to maintain his fitness while off the field, and could potentially restart contact drills after four weeks.

Urena has not scored yet this season in seven matches for LAFC, but he has been integral to the club’s solid start. The third pick of the expansion draft this past offseason from the San Jose Earthquakes, Urena has played all but 19 of the 630 possible minutes thus far this season.