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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)

Pulisic impressing Lampard with early preseason start

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Christian Pulisic has already shown his dedication to new club Chelsea by joining the club’s preseason tour of Japan earlier than expected, and it has made an impression on new manager Frank Lampard.

The USMNT star linked up with the squad just over a week after the Gold Cup final loss to Mexico, cutting short a vacation with his family to get as much time with his new Blues teammates and coaching staff as possible before the upcoming Premier League season. That has seen Lampard sing his praises, an important step in earning playing time amid a crowded but wide-open first-team Blues squad.

“Christian joins us on Tuesday when we get there,” Lampard said of Pulisic’s plans to join up with the squad in Japan, where they are headed after topping St. Patrick’s Athletic in Dublin, Ireland. “He is flying in separately as he has had short break but fair play, he wanted to get there quickly which I appreciate.”

“It is a huge move for him to a big club and he is a top young player who will only go one way. It was important we start the season as well as we can. I know we have injuries but we will need him. I have not met him, I have spoken to him, but it is a good impression.”

It’s a good thing that Pulisic is looking to make a mark on his new boss, because his competition is doing the same. Willian, who picked up a knock in the Copa America and did not play in the final against Peru, was not expected to make the trip to Japan at all, but is now set to link up with the squad.

Pulisic has been hard at work even during his post-Gold Cup week off, with his father posting a video of them training together on Twitter.

Chelsea is preparing for life without Eden Hazard, and Pulisic is certainly a big part of that. He will compete for time with Willian, Pedro, Lucas Piazon, and the currently injured Callum Hudson-Odoi, although the latter is potentially departing with Bayern Munich heavily interested.

Five things Lampard should focus on at Chelsea

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Frank Lampard has returned home to take charge of Chelsea, but what should be his top priorities at Stamford Bridge?

Super Frank no doubt has a longggg to-do list…

Lampard, 41, knows he will be given a little extra time compared to most given his legendary status as their all-time leading goalscorer and winning every trophy possible during his glittering 13-year career in west London.

But he must hit the ground running at his former club as Chelsea negotiate a 12-month transfer ban, the loss of Eden Hazard and all the while try to challenge for trophies domestically and in Europe, while at the very least finish in the Premier League’s top four.

Here’s a look at what Lampard should focus on.


Use club legend status sparingly

Lampard is called Super Frank by everyone connected with Chelsea for a reason. He won every major trophy possible during his incredible career at Stamford Bridge and nobody has scored more goals than him in the famous blue shirt.

He knows that he can’t rely on his legendary status as a player. And he shouldn’t if he wants to be successful.

“My playing career is over. I am now in a position to work really hard to be successful in,” Lampard said. “I don’t want to take credit for my playing career. It should last five minutes. I should be judged on what I do here going forward.”

That is the correct way to approach this. At times Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been a little too keen to bring up past achievements at United and relate them to his current role as the head coach. Lampard shouldn’t make that same mistake. His legendary status at Chelsea will be intact however his stint as manager turns out, but he must be careful to not harp on about the glory years too much.


Replace Hazard’s influence

Lampard has said it will be a team approach in replacing Hazard’s goals and assists, as the Belgian star departed for Real Madrid earlier this summer.

Willian, Pedro, Christian Pulisic, Ross Barkley, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi will be tasked with creating and scoring more goals, while Olivier Giroud and Tammy Abraham will both be key as the central striker to making this Hazard-less Chelsea attack tick. That is the right approach to take for Chelsea. Hazard scored 16 times in the PL last season, but Willian and Pedro scored just 11 PL goals combined. They have to do better, and others have to step up too.

Chelsea’s new manager was right to state that losing Hazard is a blow but he didn’t seem overly bothered about something that happened when he wasn’t at the club and he couldn’t control. Let’s hope Lampard doesn’t start rolling out the ‘well, we lost Hazard over the summer’ line when Chelsea have a few poor results in December…


Promote youth team players sensibly

There is a strong feeling that Lampard will usher in plenty of young players right away, but that could be a bad move.

Chelsea still have a lot of very talented experience players. N’Golo Kante, David Luiz, Cesar Azpilicueta and Willian are key members of this squad and it should remain that way. But under Lampard the likes of Mason Mount, Loftus-Cheek, Hudson-Odoi, Abraham and Fikayo Tomori will all be given chances to develop into first team players.

“Part of my job now is to develop the great young players we have here,” Lampard has noted.

But he knows that he needs his entire squad, many of whom he played with like Luiz, Azpilicueta and Willian, to buy-in to what he’s doing right away if this is going to go well in Year One.

“I want players that whether you are 18 years of age or 32 years of age, you feel like Chelsea is your club,” Lampard said. “My idea is to work with the best squad and to get the most out of them and be as competitive as we can be.”

Promoting youngsters for the sake of it helps nobody. Doing it sensibly while still being brave enough to chuck them in at the deep end must be Lampard’s mindset. He knows that his squad will be stretched to the limits and youngsters will play a big role this season, even if they don’t play the starring roles many expect.


Be strong enough to implement his philosophy

Lampard has played with some of the players he now manages and that does create an odd dynamic.

It is something which could get in the way of him being brave enough to stamp his authority on the dressing room. Yes, what he has achieved as a player will earn him plenty of respect from Chelsea’s squad but after a few poor results we will see what kind of character he is as a head coach. And we all know Chelsea’s dressing room is extremely strong when it comes to trying to impact the future of a manager.

With the experience of just one year as a manager, Lampard has to be strong enough to stand his ground and stick to his playing philosophy, as he did at Derby with a flexible 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 with a midfield diamond formations.

Asked during his opening press conference about his relative inexperience in management, Lampard gave a quite brilliant answer.

“I presumed that question would come quite early,” Lampard said. “I thought about it a lot. It’s an obvious question and I understand. In one year in management, you get the Chelsea job which doesn’t come around very often. Football is littered with stories of inexperienced managers who do spectacularly well and some who don’t, as well as experienced managers who do well or don’t. What I do believe in is that I played under a lot of fantastic managers and tried to glean whatever I could from them, and that stands me in good stead. I know a lot about this club but I have to prove it. I believe in myself and I have to show I am ready to manage this club. Be it with one year experience or 10 years of experience.”


Keep expectations realistic

Lampard said Chelsea should be “there or thereabouts” in terms of winning the Premier League title and although he says the board haven’t set a minimum target of finishing in the top four, he knows that it is expected.

Keeping realism is key for Lampard this season.

“There are variables, we know about the transfer ban and that Man City and Liverpool pulled away last year. We all have to be realistic about that,” Lampard said. “We should never stop trying to be there, as Chelsea, we are working to try to be there. It is important we start this season competitive and wanting to win.”

At Chelsea it has always been important to be successful and win trophies, and even if you are able to do that it wouldn’t guarantee you a long-term job.

With other factors impacting Lampard’s first few years in charge, he will get a little extra leeway. Even if he doesn’t want it.

“I am a realist. The last thing I want to do is ask for any favors going into something,” Lampard said. “As a manager you understand very quickly that you have to be successful.”

Reports: Lampard to be confirmed as Chelsea manager Thursday

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It appears only the official club announcement on its website and multiple social media platforms is all that stands between Frank Lampard becoming Chelsea’s new manager.

Multiple outlets in England reported Wednesday evening that Lampard arrived at Stamford Bridge late in the afternoon to put the finishing touches on his contract. He likely also took part in a photo shoot and interviews that are all expected to be released on Thursday. One report claimed that Lampard’s announcement as manager was delayed because Facebook and Instagram were experiencing technical difficulties on Wednesday, although it’s not clear that that was the the case.

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The move has seemed inevitable since Derby County officially granted Chelsea the right to speak with Lampard about the Blues open managerial position.

As Chelsea is about to kick off its preseason training, it’s been without a coach since Mid-June, when Maurizio Sarri left the club to take the Juventus job.

Lampard comes with just one season of managerial experience, his last season at Derby where he led them to the Championship Playoff Final, but he wasn’t able to see his side promoted to the Premier League.

The Guardian reports that Lampard has received assurances he will be given time to mold the squad to his liking, especially with an expected transfer ban to be in place this summer. The ban, issued by FIFA and currently being litigated in the Court for Arbitration of Sport, could potentially last through June 2020.

The hiring of Lampard is a big departure from the more recent trend of hiring experienced managers, with Sarri, Antonio Conte, Rafa Benitez and Carlo Ancelotti all bringing tears of experience with them.

However, Lampard’s preferred high-pressing style he displayed with Derby could fit with a younger Chelsea squad were expected to see this season, as older players like Willian and Pedro could leave entering the final years of their contracts.

Lampard will be given time and trust by the fans, but it remains to be seen how they’ll feel if Chelsea is sitting in tenth place after the first three months of the season, for example.

Copa America Roundup: Suarez misses and Peru advances to semifinals

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Luis Suarez, the hero for many years for Uruguay in international tournaments, ended up making the key mistake that sent his team home.

Along with a great save from Peru goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, Suarez’s miss in the penalty kick shootout and five-straight makes from Peru led the La Blanquirroja over Uruguay, 5-4 on penalty kicks to advance to the 2019 Copa America semifinals. Despite all the attacking talent on the field, the match was deadlocked at 0-0 after 90 minutes, leading to a penalty kick shootout.

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Edison Flores of Morelia in Liga MX scored the game-winning penalty kick with a strike right down the middle, one that Fernando Muslera dived away from and couldn’t adjust his leg to block it. Suarez was captured by video after the final penalty kick in tears on the field, his dream of another Copa America title crushed by his own mistake.

Suarez and his strike-partner Edinson Cavani will rue the chances they had earlier in the match to score, as Peru’s defense was in the “bend, but don’t break” mode. Midway through the first half, Suarez dribbled through a string of Peruvian defenders in the box before centering the ball. Cavani met it at the edge of the six yard box but couldn’t get the shot on a bouncing ball down, going over the bar.

Uruguayan midfielder Georgian De Arrascaeta, just two minutes later in the 29th minute, had a goal disallowed because the man who passed it to him, Nahitan Nandez, was offside when he received the ball initially.

In the second half, Suarez found his veteran teammate Diego Godin but he also missed on his shot in the box, blasting it over Gallese’s goal. Soon after, Uruguay had another goal disallowed after Cavani was ruled offside before scoring a terrific curling effort.

Uruguay had a third goal called back, this time from Suarez as he was just a step offside past the Peru backline.

Uruguay went first in the penalty kick shootout and paid for it, as Suarez missed on his strike to the left side of the net, leading to a mid-section save by Gallese. Cavani, Cristhian Stuani, Rodrigo Betancur and Lucas Torreira all scored for Uruguay, but Peru made all five of its shots. It started with Paolo Guerrero, the Seattle SOunders Raul Ruidiaz and former Orlando City midfielder Yoshimar Yotum. Luis Advincula scored past Muslera with a terrific shot into the corner before Flores sent Peru to the semifinals.

Up next, Peru faces Chile on Wednesday in Porto Alegre, joining Brazil v. Argentina as the other Copa America semifinal.