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MLS 3 Things: Resurgent Zardes, Toronto up, New England down

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A busy Saturday in Major League Soccer sees three interesting results bolstering the story lines of the final few months of the season.

[ MORE: Unstoppable Josef | Zlatan, too ]

1) Imagine a world with the reigning champs as your reward for finishing first.

With 14 matches to play, Toronto FC has Jozy Altidore back in the fold and has pulled to within eight points of the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot after a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire on Saturday.

Sebastian Giovinco looks like Sebastian Giovinco in scoring another outstanding goal, just his fifth of the season, while Jonathan Osorio also scored in the win.

Before you watch Seba’s goal, picture you’ve won the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Now picture TFC as your semifinal reward.

2) New England is well and truly slumping

Brad Friedel‘s Revs are slipping after losing a third-straight league match, and New England has gained a solitary point since the calendar turned to July following a 2-0 loss at Red Bull Arena.

Fourth through ninth in the East are separated by nine points, and New England is very much in that mix now. Friedel is certainly at the most trying time of his tenure.

Second half goals from Bradley Wright-Phillips and Daniel Royer did the trick for RBNY, who have claimed 15 of the last 18 points available to them (The lone blemish is the Hudson River Derby).

The Red Bulls are now 8-1-1 at home this season, while New England is 1-4-4 away from Foxboro.

3) Gyasi Zardes’ return to form is surprising and wonderful

Columbus has its second win since May 19, and will be feeling much better about itself following a 3-2 comeback win over Orlando City which included a pair of equalizers.

One of those came in the 88th minute, as Gyasi Zardes completed his brace by converting a penalty won by new arrival Patrick Mullins.

The Crew won late via a rare Wil Trapp goal — the USMNT midfielder has just two in 161 matches — but let’s focus on Zardes.

Zardes’ 13th goal of the season continues an amazing turnaround under striker whisperer Gregg Berhalter. It’s Zardes’ second double-digit season, and his first since 2014. He is firmly in frame for another USMNT look, this time as a center forward, but first there’s plenty to like about the big man.

U.S. Open Cup wrap: Louisville ousts Revs, DC dodges “Cupset”

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Three of eight Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup fourth round matches are complete following Tuesday night action involving USL and MLS competition.

[ MORE: World Cup stadium guide ]

Louisville City 3-2 New England Revolution

The USL hosts overcame a fifth minute concession and 26th minute own goal with a pair of equalizers, and took hold of its “Cupset” with a Brian Ownby 62nd minute marker.

Mark Segbers opened the scoring for New England before Oscar Jimenez leveled the tie. An own goal put Brad Friedel‘s men back on top, but Cameron Lancaster made it 2-2 in the 37th minute.

But Ownby’s goal, well, it was befitting of a big moment in the nascent life of Lou City.

DC United 1-1 North Carolina FC (NCFC wins in PKs)

Ian Harkes scored an Open Cup goal for the second successive season, but his first half goal was met in the second by Marios Lomis seven minutes from stoppage time.

The match went to penalty kicks after 120 minutes were in the books. David Ousted stopped NC’s second effort and the visitors his the cross bar with their fourth shot. Harkes then sent his chance to clinch it wide of the frame, but Bruno Miranda netted the fifth effort.

Philadelphia Union 5-0 Richmond Kickers

Philly built a 4-0 halftime lead, cruising to a win on the strength of five goal scorers: Jack Elliott, David Accam, Anthony Fontana, Marcus Epps, and Jay Simpson.

The Union lost consecutive finals in 2014 and 2015, and move on to another quarterfinal round.

Five honored with National Soccer Hall of Fame status

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Don Garber, Brad Friedel, Cindy Parlow Cone, Tiffeny Milbrett, and Robert Contiguglia have been announced in this year’s class of the National Soccer Hall of Fame.

The induction will occur Oct. 20 as part of Hall of Fame weekend in Dallas, with FC Dallas facing Sporting KC.

[ MORE: Who will replace Zidane? ]

Friedel is the current coach of New England Revolution, who are off to a surprising start. The longtime Blackburn Rovers goalkeeper was capped 82 times by the USMNT in a playing career which also included time with Liverpool, Galatasaray, Aston Villa, Tottenham Hotspur, and Columbus Crew.

Parlow Cone scored 75 times in 158 USWNT caps, successfully transitioning to a coaching career which includes the 2013 NWSL title for the Portland Thorns.

Milbrett, 45, bagged 100 goals for the USWNT in 206 caps. She scored seven goals across three World Cups.

Contiguglia is a former USSF president who served from 1998-2006, a wildly successful time for the game.

MLSSoccer.com points out that current MLS commissioner Garber was elected in 2016, “but opted to defer his enshrinement” until the new Hall of Fame was completed in Dallas.

MLS cheat sheet: What to watch in four Weds. matches

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There are four Major League Soccer matches on Wednesday, each carrying a different bit of drama.

[ MLS: Ranking the next expansion cities ]


New England Revolution vs. Atlanta United –7:30 p.m. ET

It’s just the second time New England has gone winless in two matches under Brad Friedel. The last time it happened, the Revs responded with an impressive-enough 1-0 win over Sporting KC. Now comes Atlanta, itself stung for two losses in three.

Philadelphia Union vs. Chicago Fire –7:30 p.m. ET

It’s a bit of a separation day for Philly and Chicago, who are both a win or worse shy of sixth place. Bastian Schweinsteiger has been very good for the Fire, but Nemanja Nikolic hasn’t been firing hot.

Philly has allowed just one goal over a three-match unbeaten run, but has the potential departure of its architect, Earnie Stewart, looming overhead.

Real Salt Lake vs. Houston Dynamo –9:30 p.m. ET

Only the Red Bulls have been as prolific as Houston this early season — is this still early season? Is it midseason now?!? — with both sides bagging 26 goals in 11 matches. The Dynamo are also unbeaten in four with three wins in the run, and only Montreal is worse at keeping balls out of the goal than RSL. Goal fest?

LA Galaxy vs. FC Dallas –10:30 p.m. ET

Zlatan Ibrahimovic returns from suspension to find the Galaxy winners of two-straight and facing a Dallas side unbeaten in four. Ibrahimovic hasn’t scored in five matches, with four of those Galaxy losses.

Championship playoff primer: Who’s coming up?

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The story lines for the 2017-18 Football League Championship playoffs are many.

Aston Villa is looking to return to the Premier League, where it was a mainstay for so long, while Fulham competed in the Europa League within the past decade.

[ MORE: Iniesta to Japan? ]

Derby County has been knocking on the door to return to the top flight on a near annual basis, while Middlesbrough is bidding to go one-and-done in the second tier.

So here’s a bit of a cheat sheet ahead of the weekend’s semifinal first legs, as only one of the quartet can joins Wolves and Cardiff City as promoted sides.

Schedule

Derby County vs. Fulham — 2:45 p.m. ET Friday

Middlesbrough vs. Aston Villa — 12:15 p.m. ET Saturday

Fulham vs. Derby County — 2:45 p.m. May 14

Aston Villa vs. Middlesbrough — 2:45 p.m. May 15

Top scorers

Derby County – Matej Vydra, 21 goals

Aston Villa – Lewis Grabban, 20

Fulham – Ryan Sessegnon, 15

Middlesbrough – Britt Assombalonga, 15

History

Last Premier League season
Middlesbrough 2016-17
Aston Villa 2015-16
Fulham 2013-14
Derby County 2007-08

American connections
Fulham has two Americans on its current roster: mainstay defender Tim Ream and young midfielder Luca de la Torre. Some of the U.S. most recognizable names have played for Fulham, including Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra, Brian McBride, and Kasey Keller. Eddie Johnson, Eddie Lewis, and Emerson Hyndman have also played for the team once nicknamed Fulhamerica.

Aston Villa was the long time home of USMNT backstop Brad Guzan, and Eric Lichaj also spent a good period of time in Birmingham. Michael Bradley and Brad Friedel also played for Villa.

Derby County‘s American alums include Benny Feilhaber, Eddie Lewis, and Ian Feuer.

Middlesbrough had Guzan on the squad for its 2016-17 relegation campaign.

Best top flight finish
Aston Villa – 7 top flight titles
Derby County – 2 top flight titles
Middlesbrough – 3rd place in 1913-14
Fulham – 7th place in 2008-09