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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)

Chicago Fire to pay $65.5 million to leave suburban stadium

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CHICAGO (AP) The Chicago Fire will pay $65.5 million to leave the suburban Chicago stadium that has been the team’s home for more than a decade.

On Tuesday, the Chicago Tribune reported the team has agreed to pay the community of Bridgeview to break its lease at SeatGeek Stadium, which is approximately 15 miles southwest of downtown Chicago.

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The agreement calls for the Fire to pay $10 million upfront plus $5 million to upgrade existing soccer facilities near the stadium and the $50.5 million balance through 2036. With the agreement, the Fire won’t play their home matches at SeatGeek Stadium beginning next season but will still be allowed to train there and its youth academy will continue to be based in Bridgeview.

A new home for the team has not been announced. The Fire played at Soldier Field in Chicago from 1991 until 2001 and from 2003 through part of the 2006 season.

USMNT’s Holmes injured, Mihailovic re-added to Gold Cup squad

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The hits just keep on coming for the United States men’s national team, as Derby County midfielder Duane Holmes has withdrawn from the Gold Cup roster.

Holmes, 24, earned his first two caps this month but “reaggravated a left quadriceps strain” which hampered the end of his season with the Rams.

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Djordje Mihailovic will take his place. The Chicago Fire midfielder was sent back to Illinois following the tune-up friendlies, but will jet back to the fold before Tuesday’s tournament opener versus Guyana.

The U.S. is painfully thin in terms of creative midfielders, with Tyler Adams (right back, we know), Sebastian Lletget, and now Holmes out of the mix.

They do have that Christian Pulisic cat, though, and we imagine he won’t be out wide much.

USMNT 23-man roster for Gold Cup

Goalkeepers: Sean Johnson, Tyler Miller, Zack Steffen

Defenders: Reggie Cannon, Omar Gonzalez, Nick Lima, Aaron Long, Daniel Lovitz, Matt Miazga, Walker Zimmerman, Tim Ream

Midfielders: Michael Bradley, Weston McKennie, Djordje Mihailovic, Christian Pulisic, Wil Trapp, Cristian Roldan

Forwards: Jozy Altidore, Paul Arriola, Tyler Boyd, Jonathan Lewis, Jordan Morris, Gyasi Zardes.

Chicago Fire in talks to escape stadium lease, move downtown

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BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. (AP) The Chicago Fire have reached a memorandum of understanding with the owner of the MLS team’s stadium that will end the team’s lease.

General Manager Nelson Rodriguez refused to give details of the tentative agreement Wednesday. He pointed out there is no signed agreement between the city of Bridgeview and the team that he is aware of.

Rodriguez said team officials have been in talks with Bridgeview officials for some time on an amended lease. The Fire currently have a lease to play in SeatGeek Stadium though 2036. The stadium was previously named Toyota Park.

Reports have been circulating in recent weeks that plans were for the team to return to Soldier Field in Chicago, where it played until the 2006 season. However, Rodriguez said the team hasn’t been involved in talks about any stadium outside Bridgeview.

Fire come back at home to secure draw with Whitecaps

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The Chicago Fire were on the verge of suffering an embarrassing defeat, but a video assistant referee decision and an expertly-taken penalty helped the Fire earn a point at home.

The Fire drew the Vancouver Whitecaps, 1-1, at SeatGeek Stadium on Friday evening. Yordy Reyna put the Whitecaps up from a very tight angle but Nemanja Nikolic tied the score, firing a strike into the roof of the net.

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In the 53rd minute, Fire goalkeeper David Ousted chased down a cross, but quickly realized he was about to handle the ball outside of the 18-yard box. Instead of kicking the ball out of play, Ousted tried to punch it to a teammate. Instead, it fell right to Reyna, who side-footed it just inside the post.

In the 81st minute, former Toronto FC defender and Canadian National Team player Doneil Henry was judged to have handled the ball in the penalty box. A review with VAR led to the decision. Nikolic stepped up to the spot with his team needing a goal and he smashed a strike in for a goal.

In the game’s final minutes, CJ Sapong nearly scored on a scrum in the box, but Vancouver’s Max Crepeau made a game-saving stop at close range.