Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press via AP

NYCFC hold off 10-man TFC to make Shield race even tighter

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The game in 200 words (or less): In a battle of two teams chock-full of stars, the marquee names made the greatest impact — for better and for worse — in a battle of Eastern Conference titans on Sunday. New York City FC topped Toronto FC, 3-2 at Yankee Stadium, on the back of goals scored by established superstar David Villa and rapidly rising star Ismael Tajouri-Shradi (twice). On the other side, Sebastian Giovinco and Victor Vazquez got the goals for TFC, but it was another of the Reds’ highly paid stars, Jozy Altidore, who will go down as the goat for his 11th-minute red card. Altidore, seemingly frustrated after Alexander Callens won a midfield battle between the two players, kicked out at the NYCFC defender with the ball already out of play. Referee Chico Grajeda made the only correct decision, showing Altidore the red card for violent conduct. NYCFC’s victory returns them to level footing (47 points) with the New York Red Bulls (though, still behind on tiebreakers) for second place in the East, one point back of first-place Atlanta United. TFC, the defending champions with largely the exact same roster as last season, sit ninth, now seven points back of the sixth and final playoff place after Montreal and Philadelphia picked up points on Saturday.

[ VIDEO: USMNT’s Weah scores first Ligue 1 goal in goofy fashion ]

Three Four moments that mattered

11′ — Altidore’s petulance earns him an early shower — Frustrations are becoming very, very visible in Toronto.

15′ — Villa makes it 1-0 minutes later — It doesn’t matter if Anton Tinnerholm hit his shot 90 degrees into the wrong direction (he was still credited with the assist), because Villa clean up the mess and go it alone.

27′ — Giovinco finishes some slick build-up for 1-1 — Up a man or down a man, it doesn’t really affect the brilliance that is Sebastian Giovinco. Michael Bradley and Vazquez weren’t bad in quickly progressing the ball either, and the Atomic Ant made a pretty difficult finish look easy.

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88′ — Tajouri-Shradi smashes a volley for the winner — From nothing, to something, very quickly.

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Man of the match: Ismael Tajouri-Shradi

Goalscorers: Villa (15′), Giovinco (27′), Tajouri-Shradi (36′, 88′), Vazquez (51′)

ATLUTD, TFC each blow a lead, settle for testy 2-2 draw

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The game in 100 words (or less more): Atlanta United versus Toronto FC is a playoff matchup the world must witness in 2018. The former is (just about) inarguably the best team in MLS, and the latter is still the defending champions slowly (and finally) awakening from their slumber. Tata Martino’s side came into the weekend with a four-point lead in the Supporters’ Shield race (with barely double-digit games remaining), and nearly grew it to seven (before New York City FC face Vancouver Whitecaps later on Saturday), but ultimately settled for a draw after conceding a stoppage-time equalizer (Tosaint Ricketts) to drop a pair of points. Josef Martinez (26 goals) scored twice more — his sixth multi-goal game of 2018 — to move to within one of tying the single-season MLS record (Bradley Wright-Phillips, Chris Wondolowski and Roy Lassiter). Atlanta, who have lost just once since mid-May, held TFC to just five shots (two on target, both goals) over 90 minutes — to Atlanta’s 22 and seven. Up 1-0 at halftime (Sebastian Giovinco), TFC would have moved to within two points of the sixth and final playoff place in the Eastern Conference with a win, but could now finish the weekend as many as seven points back, depending on what New England Revolution and Montreal Impact do. It is no longer “early.”

[ MORE: Beckham’s MLS team hires sporting director away from Atlanta ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

45+1′  — Giovinco coolly finishes past Guzan for 1-0 — Jozy Altidore‘s absence absolutely devastated TFC for much of this season, as his hold-up and playmaking abilities couldn’t be replaced. It looks like the easiest part of the below passage, but neither the cross from Auro nor the finish from Giovinco are possible without Altidore’s patience, vision and perfectly weight ball for the overlapping full back.

51′ — Martinez wins, converts a penalty to make it 1-1 — Every instance of contact is now a foul. There is no point to video review in MLS, because the league’s referees either 1) don’t know how to use it properly, or 2) refuse to use it.

67′ — Martinez heads home for 2-1 — His diving antics aside, Martinez is an absolute joy to watch. He’s relentless, he’s brilliant with his movement and timing of runs, he’s always in the exact spot defenders don’t want him to be. He’s also got an embarrassment of chance-creating talent around him. Hector Villalba, for instance would be the best attacker for a number of MLS teams. In Atlanta, it’s Oh yeah, they have Villalba, too. That seems unfair.

90+1′ — Ricketts bundles home a late equalizer — All-out attacking is the only way Atlanta know to play, and every now and then it costs them dearly. Like, for instance, when they get caught on the counter with a one-goal lead in second-half stoppage time. Self-inflicted wounds, to be sure.

90+5′ — Mavinga sees red, will miss a few games — Chris Mavinga, clearly frustrated (and perhaps provoked) lost his head just as the final whistle was blown. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez was the recipient of a forceful hand to the face — and fell to the ground like a 500-pound sack of potatoes, of course. Mavinga will get a two- or three-game suspension, and Jozy Altidore might have to answer a few questions about placing his hand around the neck/throat of Miguel Almiron, who was part of the events which set the above in motion, as the two walked off the field. Again, if we could get these two teams to face each other in November, that would be fantastic.

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Man of the match: Josef Martinez

Goalscorers: Giovinco (45+1′), Martinez (53′ – PK, 67′), Ricketts (90+1′)

MLS preview: TFC, Seattle running out of time; Rooney vs. ATL

Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
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Week 21 of the 2018 MLS season features 10 games on Saturday (nine) and Sunday (one). Here’s a few key storylines to keep an eye on…

[ MORE: Miami City Commission sends Beckham stadium to Nov. ballot ]

Jozy’s back, but is it too late?

It’s been nearly three months since Jozy Altidore last appeared for Toronto FC, and not much has changed with regard to the Reds’ place in the standings: they at south of the playoff line then (after going all-in on the CONCACAF Champions League), and they remain there ahead of Saturday’s trip to Chicago. Greg Vanney’s defending champions currently sit 11 points back of sixth place with 15 games left to play.

As for Altidore, he was hugely important in TFC’s run to the CCL final, but it would be a massive oversimplification to say his absence has been the only — or main, even — cause for struggles this season. In fact, it’s been injuries up and down the entire squad (every center back on the roster, multiple midfielders and playmakers, as well as Altidore). Finally, after months of walking wounded, nearly everyone is back and available for selection. TFC’s charge up the stands begins, presumably, soon.

Rooney makes DCU better, but by how much?

As I opined following his D.C. United debut last weekend, Wayne Rooney was quite good during the opening 32 minutes of his MLS career. That was against the Vancouver Whitecaps, one of the slowest playing teams in the entire league, though. On Saturday, Rooney and Co., will come up against something not so dissimilar to European quality and competition in Atlanta United.

There’s the level on competition to consider as Rooney continues on in his MLS journey, but also this: against Vancouver, there was very little flash or attempt at end product from Rooney, which was fine considering he quickly and smartly facilitated play and opened the field up for others to make and score the goals. The questions are: for how long is he happy to be a simple cog in the machine, and are United getting their money’s worth if that’s Rooney’s regular contribution?

What about Seattle?

Just like Toronto, the Seattle Sounders currently find themselves 11 points back of sixth place (though they do have one more game still to play). Just like Toronto, injuries have completely ruined the Sounders’ 2018 season. Just like Toronto, they have been to back-to-back MLS Cups, and won one. Just like Toronto, they can’t really miss the playoffs, can they?

Now, though, Raul Ruidiaz has been added for some much-needed firepower up top (the Peruvian is a back-to-back Golden Boot winner in Liga MX), Gustav Svensson is back from the World Cup, and Nicolas Lodeiro has shown signs of coming out of his slumber in recent weeks. Just like Toronto, Brian Schmetzer’s men have no choice but to begin their playoff chase on Saturday, when Vancouver comes to town.

Full weekend schedule

Atlanta United vs. D.C. United — 3:30 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders vs. Vancouver Whitecaps — 4 p.m. ET
Chicago Fire vs. Toronto FC — 7 p.m. ET
Philadelphia Union vs. LA Galaxy — 7 p.m. ET
New York Red Bulls vs. New England Revolution — 7 p.m. ET
Columbus Crew SC vs. Orlando City SC — 7:30 p.m. ET
Houston Dynamo vs. FC Dallas — 9 p.m. ET
Real Salt Lake vs. Colorado Rapids — 10 p.m. ET
Portland Timbers vs. Montreal Impact — 11 p.m. ET
Minnesota United vs. Los Angeles FC — 7 p.m. ET (Sunday)

Sarachan: Bradley, Altidore, others should be part of next cycle

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United States men’s national team coach Dave Sarachan is hoping to stay on with the team once a permanent manager is appointed, and hopes he’s not the only holdover from the previous set-up.

Bruce Arena’s former assistant is unbeaten as interim boss following a 3-0 defeat of Bolivia on Monday, one achieved with a very young team and goals from Tim Weah, Walker Zimmerman, and Josh Sargent.

[ USMNT-BOLIVIA: Player ratings | 3 things ]

The Yanks added Bobby Wood, DeAndre Yedlin, and five others for the next week’s matches in Europe. And those familiar names likely won’t be the only ones once a new cycle of World Cup qualifying resumes for the USMNT.

Here’s Sarachan, speaking to Yahoo before Monday’s friendly.

“Guys like Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, and I could name a few others, will absolutely still be in the mix,” he says. “They’ve been unfairly criticized. Leaving them out for these games is not a reflection of [whether] I feel they’re going to be a part of the next cycle.”

While both Bradley and Altidore have taken a lot of grief for the USMNT’s failure to qualify for Russia, some deserved, there should be little question their experience and expertise is more than enough to keep them in the picture.

It’s simply a matter of whether they can accept the idea of not being automatic starters if Josh Sargent, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, and Tim Weah continue to track as top young players.

As for Sarachan, he’s done an admirable job in a trying position so far. The only minor qualms with his work involve some missed opportunities to cap some called-up young players late in previous friendlies, but he had no problems achieving that objective on Monday.

Given how the players have reacted to him, it’d be wise to keep Sarachan involved in some capacity. Heck, you never know when you’ll need an interim boss again (I know, I know…).

Jozy Altidore sidelined four to six weeks following foot surgery

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Toronto FC’s difficult start to the 2018 MLS season has come as a result of several factors, but injuries continue to be a resounding contributor for the defending league champions.

[ MORE: D.C. United in “serious talks” with Wayne Rooney ]

On Tuesday, the club announced that striker Jozy Altidore will be sidelined four to six weeks after undergoing foot surgery to remove bone fragments from the afflicted area.

Altidore has scored twice in his three league appearances for TFC this season, while also helping the Canadian side reach the CONCACAF Champions League final — where Greg Vanney’s side fell to Chivas Guadalajara.

The U.S. Men’s National Team striker is coming off of his best MLS season in 2017, where Altidore recorded 17 goals and six assists as Toronto FC went on to win MLS Cup.

Given the current timetable for Altidore’s return, the 28-year-old could miss all three of the USMNT’s upcoming international friendlies with the injury setback.

The U.S. will face Bolivia on May 28 in Chester, PA before taking on Ireland and France on June 2 and June 9, respectively.