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′)

3 things we learned from busy MLS Saturday night

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1) FC Dallas is king of the West

FC Dallas has had road issues of late. Sporting KC is rock solid at home.

Not tonight.

The top team in the Western Conference asserted its dominance with a 3-1 victory, marked by a moment of brilliance from Michael Barrios 23 minutes in. And then another 62 minutes in. And then another 74 minutes in.

The defense bunkered in from there. Matt Hedges is playing at the top of his game, and had another fantastic night. FC Dallas didn’t have a clean sheet this month until tonight, and they earned it…until they didn’t. That’s when Dallas stepped up. With the game level shortly after halftime, Barrios got his second of the game and second of the season on an lol from Tim Meila, and his third/third on a turn and shoot. The second half wasn’t always pretty, but it got the job done, and that’s what the best teams do. With its road woes shut down – temporarily, at least – the team to beat is clear.

2) Josef Martinez showing no signs of stopping

The Venezuelan is having one of the most historic seasons in MLS seasons, plain and simple, full-stop. Now with 24 goals in 23 matches after another brace in a 2-1 win for Atlanta over Montreal on the road, Martinez is scoring in every way possible.

On his first tonight, he smartly backed off a tempting through-ball knowing he was offside, drifting back while a teammate chased. Sure enough, he returned to a legal position and snuck behind the center-backs with a brilliant little step back at the moment the cross was delivered, and easily dispatched the chance. It was the perfect display of superior striker senses, understanding not only his position on the field relative to everyone else, but how to anticipate opponent movement to be in the proper place.

His second goal was as messy as they come, tapping home a scrum in the Montreal box after hilariously poor defending from the hosts. It was one of those that makes you think “of course it’s that guy again…of course.” When a guy is having such a stunning year, there’s plenty of talent and always just a little luck. With just three goals needed to tie the single season goalscoring record and 11 matches to do it, this season feels like the Martinez Show.

3) Is Toronto FC back? Can they make a run?

Toronto FC is back, right? A 3-0 clobbering of the Chicago Fire has Sebastian Giovinco and company at 22 points, and the Italian grabbed a goal alongside Jozy Altidore and Jonathan Osorio to put the Canadian club clean through. With the result, they’ve won two straight, both against Chicago and by a combined 5-1 score. It’s tough to get a bead on if they’re truly put together given both results have come against the same opponent, but just six points back of a playoff spot, they’re most certainly not out of it should things turn around for real.

“We’ve got four in a row now,” Gregory van der Wiel said after the game, referencing the pair of MLS results bracketed in between two Canadian Cup wins against Ottawa FC. “The team is in a good way.” They are…if it’s for real.

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.

NY Red Bulls top Toronto FC 1-0 after Giovinco penalty miss

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Toronto FC hasn’t seen many breaks go their way this season. So, when trailing the NY Red Bulls 1-0 at home with 12 minutes to go, a VAR review awarded Toronto a questionable penalty, it looked like their luck might finally be turning.

Sebastian Giovinco stepped up to the spot in the 78th minute with a chance to draw level, and watched helplessly as his decent effort was acrobatically saved by Luis Robles.

Despite 13 shots on goal, including eight on target, Toronto slumped to its second straight defeat thanks to Alex Bono’s early mistake, with Giovinco unable to rescue a result late. A speculative effort in the 4th minute from Kemar Lawrence squirted past Bono after fumbling the save, and that was all the NY Red Bulls needed to pick up all three points.

New York didn’t look terribly comfortable for much of the second half, and Toronto threatened on numerous occasions. Jordon Hamilton tried to chip Robles just a few minutes after the break, and Giovinco nearly played Jonathan Osorio in on the hour mark, but neither chance came off. Finally, with 12 minutes remaining, their chance came. On a scramble in the box, Red Bulls defender Tim Parker fell next to the ball, and replay showed he pushed the ball away with his right hand. It wasn’t initially given, but VAR spotted the slight touch, and a penalty was awarded, which Giovinco hit to his left and Robles guessed right, diving and parrying the effort away.

For all the Italian has done with Toronto, Giovinco has struggled from the spot his entire MLS career, and yet Greg Vanney keeps shuffling him out there. Giovinco has missed three of his five penalties this season alone, and last year he missed two of three.

The loss drops Toronto all the way to 10th in the East on just 15 points after 16 matches, eight points behind a playoff spot. RBNY, meanwhile, jumps to second in the Eastern Conference with 32 points, five points back of Atlanta United with two fewer games played.