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MLS roundup: ATL’s unbeaten run at 7; TFC implode vs. Chicago

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A roundup of, plus a few quick thoughts about, all of Saturday’s action from Week 9 of the 2018 MLS season…

[ MORE: Other MLS Things — The Archive ]

Atlanta United 4-1 Montreal ImpactFULL HIGHLIGHTS

The Atlanta United buzzsaw couldn’t be runner smoother, as Tata Martino’s side improved to seven games unbeaten (six wins) with a 4-1 comeback victory over Montreal on Saturday. After going a goal behind in the 13th minute, Atlanta initially struggled to string together passes and create even a handful of half-chances. The same was true for 10 or 15 minutes of the second half before Miguel Almiron found his footing and started to take over.

The Paraguayan, like most of his teammates, finishes games stronger than he starts them, and Saturday’s two-goal performance was more of the same from the 24-year-old (he’s got 6 goals and 4 assists after eight games — he’ll be a finalist for MVP, if he sticks around past the summer transfer window). There comes a moment in just about every Atlanta game, when you can practically see their opponents’ will to continue fighting the unrelenting press and wave after wave of attacks leave their bodies, to a man. To that point, 13 of Atlanta’s league-leading 21 goals this season have been scored after the 60-minute mark.

On Saturday, Almiron netted in the 70th and 84th minute, with a pair of fantastic free kicks coming from Kevin Kratz shortly after each of Almiron’s goals.

Toronto FC 2-2 Chicago FireFULL HIGHLIGHTS

TFC returned home and responded to their CONCACAF Champions League heartbreak in the most encouraging of ways… for a brief period, which saw the Reds build a 2-0 lead after 22 minutes (Jonathan Osorio and Victor Vazquez), only to cough it up in the game’s final 25 minutes and lose a pair of much-needed points. In truth, they were quite fortunate to escape with the solitary point they managed to hold onto.

Bastian Schweinsteiger had his penalty kick effort saved by Alex Bono in the 38th minute, but the German superstar finally beat Bono in the 69th minute. Still, Greg Vanney’s side clung to its narrow lead until the final minute of stoppage time, when Alan Gordon swept home a bouncing, un-cleared ball inside TFC’s penalty area.

It’s completely understandable — and borderline expected — that TFC would come out with a sense of urgency and desperation before rapidly fading down the stretch. In that sense, the coming week will be a massive relief as it represents the season’s first period of normalcy — the chance return to a more manageable one-game routine in the coming weeks.

LA Galaxy 2-3 New York Red BullsFULL HIGHLIGHTS

Where in the world do we start with this game? There are so many ways to approach it.

There’s the obvious: the Galaxy fell 2-0 behind after failing to show up for the game’s opening 45 minutes, then came roaring back courtesy of Ola Kamara and Giovani dos Santos, then threw it all away again very late on, and lost 3-2. For the brief 10-minute period midway through the second half, Sigi Schmid’s side even looked as though they had spent all week preparing to play on Saturday.

There’s also the up-and-down performances of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who was little more than a passenger for the entirety of the first half, before dropping a dime to Kamara and kickstarting LA’s comeback in the 59th minute.

Finally, there’s the dead horse (here and here): VAR remains an unmitigated dumpster fire. The threshold of a “clear and obvious error” continues to befuddle not only the league’s referees in their application of the video-review system, but also the league’s fans in their understanding why referees do and don’t utilize the tool. For example, New York were awarded a penalty in the 84th minute after the ball appeared to have struck the arm of Dave Romney. Upon viewing the television broadcast’s replay, the ball appeared to have hit Romney much higher on his arm (perhaps even his shoulder) than first viewing indicated. Allen Chapman didn’t review the call on the field, and Alejandro Romero scored the game-winning goal with six minutes of regular time remaining.

Elsewhere in MLS

New England Revolution 1-0 Sporting Kansas City — HIGHLIGHTS
Philadelphia Union 3-2 D.C. United — HIGHLIGHTS
Columbus Crew SC 2-1 San Jose Earthquakes — HIGHLIGHTS
Minnesota United 2-1 Houston Dynamo — HIGHLIGHTS

MLS roundup: ATL roll past Galaxy; RSL survive 10-man Rapids

Photo credit: Real Salt Lake / @RealSaltLake
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A roundup of, plus a few quick thoughts about, all of Saturday’s action from around MLS…

[ MORE: Other MLS Things — The Archive ]

LA Galaxy 0-2 Atlanta UnitedFULL HIGHLIGHTS

Two teams with fantastic attacking talent but very little in terms of a strong, controlling midfield presence — you’d expect a game like that to be wide open with plenty of chances at both ends of the field, and you’d have been right about Atlanta’s 2-0 victory over LA (at least for the opening 45 minutes. The stark difference between the two sides on Saturday? Atlanta’s ability to turn shooting chances into scoring chances, and LA’s inability to do so.

In truth, the chance resulting in the Five Stripes’ opening goal, which also turned out to be the winner, was the scrappiest once of the bunch.

Miguel Almiron was sensational on the night — constantly on the ball in dangerous areas, constantly gliding past one and two white shirts, constantly winning free kicks (and a penalty) in those dangerous areas. Since suffering a 4-0 defeat on opening day, Tata Martino’s side is unbeaten in their last six games (five wins) and moved to within a point of Eastern Conference- and Supporters’ Shield-leading New York City FC.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic was rendered completely ineffective and he — dare I say it — was little more than a passenger for the vast majority of Saturday’s game. Jonathan dos Santos picked up an injury during warmups, forcing Baggio Husidic into the starting lineup, and that did LA no favors when it came time to slow Atlanta’s momentum through the center of the field (which was the entire game).

Columbus Crew SC 2-2 New England RevolutionFULL HIGHLIGHTS

If you had New England sitting above Columbus in the standings at any point this season, let alone after eight weeks, please proceed to the cash-out window immediately. Brad Friedel‘s bunch has played some pretty passable, if unexciting, soccer thus far and have picked up points in five of their seven games played. They’ve even won four points from their first three games away from home, which is two-thirds of the way to matching last season’s paltry haul of six.

Saturday’s 2-2 draw in Columbus saw the Revs come from behind twice to secure a well-earned and deserved point. Cristian Penilla has flown under the radar with regard to impact signings of the offseason — the Ecuadorian has two goals, including the stoppage-time equalizer on Saturday, and four assists in his first seven MLS games — and Diego Fagundez appears to have finally been handed the keys to the Revs’ attack with Lee Nguyen banished to the periphery (but still not traded away).

Real Salt Lake 3-0 Colorado RapidsFULL HIGHLIGHTS

Tim Howard was sent off after 20 minutes for handling the ball outside his penalty area — how great is that multi-million-dollar contract looking now? — yet Colorado so nearly held on for an away point against their Rocky Mountain Cup rivals. Alas, RSL scored three times in the final eight minutes of regular and stoppage time, helping the final score to match the lopsided nature of the preceding 60 minutes:

29 shots (10 on target), compared to just 12 (o on target) for Colorado; nearly 71 percent of possession; 571 passes, to just 228. The lopsidedness goes on and on.

Albert Rusnak scored a stunning free kick to complete the scoring, but was still upstaged by Damir Kreilach’s first MLS goal which came just three minutes earlier.

RSL have alternated wins and losses in each of their last six times out, which spells bad news for a suddenly important Friday night trip to Vancouver to face a Whitecaps side that 1) they beat at home earlier this month, and 2) has lost three straight, by a combined score of 10-1.

Elsewhere in MLS

Sporting KC 6-0 Vancouver Whitecaps — FULL RECAP
Montreal Impact 3-5 Los Angeles FC — FULL RECAP
Houston Dynamo 5-1 Toronto FC
Orlando City SC 3-2 San Jose Earthquakes
FC Dallas 2-0 Philadelphia Union

USMNT-Paraguay preview: Youth served in Carolina

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Three: That’s how many USMNT players on the squad for Tuesday’s international friendly against Paraguay were with the team for the side’s 1-0 Copa America Centenario win over the visitors.

Bobby Wood “ran his socks off,” DeAndre Yedlin took two silly yellow cards, and Darlington Nagbe was an unused sub for Jurgen Klinsmann’s men on that night in Philadelphia.

[ MORE: How will USMNT line up? ]

Paraguay boss Gustavo Morinigo wasn’t there either — both clubs have changed bosses since then, with Dave Sarachan now the USMNT interim boss following Bruce Arena’s World Cup qualifying failure — but could use five starters from that match.

So there are few easy predictions other than unfamiliarity and perhaps youthful exuberance. On neutral soil, in fact, Paraguay would probably be favored to ruin Sarachan’s unbeaten run as American bench boss.

For the record, the Yanks are little better than even money to win the match in Cary, North Carolina.

Levante full back Shaq Moore could start for the U.S., having broken through for the La Liga side late last year. He told ESPN that American supporters have reason to be intrigued by the youthful roster

“Fans should feel excited — not just about me, but about the new crop of players coming through. It’s tough knowing there is no World Cup [this summer], but I think we have good things coming in the future,” Moore said.

Plenty of other youngsters will be on show, and one Paraguay star getting American eyes will be Atlanta United’s Miguel Almiron. The 21-year-old has is yet to score a senior goal for his country in 11 caps, a striking difference from his 10 goals and 10 assists in 35 appearances for the MLS side (It should come as no surprise that scoring on Chile and Argentina is more challenging than making plays against league competition in many parts of the world).

The U.S. is 3-2-2 all-time against Paraguay. Kickoff from Cary is expected shortly after 7:30 p.m. ET Tuesday.

Independiente rejects Atlanta United’s $12 million bid for Barco, wants $24 million

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If or when Atlanta United signs Ezequiel Barco, it will seemingly shatter the Major League Soccer transfer record.

According to multiple reports in Argentina, Independiente executive Pablo Moyano told Fox Sports Argentina radio that the club had rejected a $12 million bid from Atlanta United for the 18-year-old starlet Barco, and it wouldn’t settle for less than $24 million.

Moyano’s reasoning for the statement came from Barco’s performance in the Maracana last week, where he scored a penalty kick and led Independiente to the Copa Sudamericana title, the club’s first continental title since winning the same competition in 2010. Barco scored also in the Sudamericana semifinal against Libertad.

[READ: Liverpool’s Boxing Day Blowout]

It’s been reported that Barco has asked the club to accept Atlanta United’s offer so it may be a matter of when the deal becomes official rather than if, but we can be sure that the bid will rise above $12 million. Perhaps the clubs will meet in the middle at $18 million, but it will break the transfer record broken by Atlanta United just last year signing Miguel Almiron, who came with a reported $8 million fee.

MVP favorites Valeri, Villa headline 2017 MLS Best XI

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All five Major League Soccer MVP finalists — Diego Valeri, David Villa, Nemanja Nikolic, Sebastian Giovinco and Miguel Almiron — have been named to the 2017 Best XI squad.

[ MORE: F.O.M.O., and a USMNT-less 2018 World Cup draw ]

The attacking talent doesn’t stop there, as the above quintet is joined by Toronto FC midfielder Victor Vazquez and Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez.

Tim Melia and Ike Opara, who were previously named Goalkeeper of the Year and Defender of the Year, respectively, for their parts in leading Sporting Kansas City to the best defensive record in 2017, were chosen alongside Kendall Waston and Justin Morrow of the Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC, respectively.

Yes, that is indeed a rarely-seen 3-3-4 formation which very closely borders on being a 3-0-7. My personal ballot, which features a defensive midfield-type and was submitted on Oct. 22, reads as follows:

Goalkeeper: Tim Melia

Defenders: Ike Opara, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Kendall Waston

Midfielders: Diego Valeri, Ignacio Piatti, Victor Vazquez, Cristian Roldan

Forwards: David Villa, Nemanja Nikolic, Josef Martinez

Reserves (not on ballot): Alex Bono, Chris Mavinga, Sacha Kljestan, C.J. Sapong