Photo credit: Sporting Kansas City / @SportingKC

MLS roundup: SKC, VAN get huge road wins; RBNY trim the gap

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Between now and the end of the regular season, with every game comes a bit of added pressure of consequence as the MLS playoff race is officially underway…

[ MORE: Austin MLS stadium vote delayed until next week ]

Los Angeles FC 0-2 Sporting Kansas CityFULL HIGHLIGHTS

“Six-pointers” don’t get much more obvious than Saturday’s matchup between LAFC and Sporting KC, two sides who entered the weekend in fourth and third place, respectively, with the same points total (36) and numbers of wins (10). Thanks to results elsewhere, the winner would climb into second place — just three points back of Western Conference leaders FC Dallas — and the loser would tumble to fifth place, suddenly just three points clear of the wrong side of the playoff cut line.

Sporting got goals from Gerso Fernandes and Ilie Sanchez (penalty kick) either side of halftime to hand the expansion side its first-ever loss at Banc of California Stadium. After fighting through an injury crisis for the better part of the last two months, Peter Vermes’ side is nearly 100 percent healthy at the right time of the season — Felipe Gutierrez and Johnny Russell returned from injuries; Roger Espinoza returned from suspension; and Krisztian Nemeth returned to KC in a trade this week. The West is far from over.

Portland Timbers 1-2 Vancouver WhitecapsFULL HIGHLIGHTS

Speaking of the West being a jumbled mess, Portland’s home loss to Vancouver means the Timbers dropped from second to third, and just four points now separate third and sixth place. Most notably, their unbeaten run of 15 games is no more, and at the hands of a Cascadia rival. The Whitecaps, meanwhile, moved to within two points of sixth-place Real Salt Lake after extending their current run to three games without defeat (two wins).

Kei Kamara (14th minute) and Cristian Techera (43rd) gave the visitors a 2-0 halftime lead, and though Diego Valeri converted a penalty kick in the 71st minute, Carl Robinson’s side left Providence Park with all three points.

Chicago Fire 0-1 New York Red BullsFULL HIGHLIGHTS

Bradley Wright-Phillips scored the only goal (the 101st of his MLS career) in a drab affair (13 total shots, 4 on target) at Toyota Park. A win is a win, though, and this particular win moves Chris Armas’s side to within one point of Atlanta United (48), leaders in the Supporters’ Shield race. The Red Bulls have a game in hand on the Five Stripes.

Elsewhere in MLS action

LA Galaxy 2-2 Minnesota United — HIGHLIGHTS
Columbus Crew SC 1-0 Houston Dynamo — HIGHLIGHTS
New England Revolution 2-3 Philadelphia Union — HIGHLIGHTS
Real Salt Lake 1-1 Montreal Impact — HIGHLIGHTS
Colorado Rapids 2-1 San Jose Earthquakes — HIGHLIGHTS

FOLLOW LIVE: West contenders LAFC, SKC face off; POR vs. VAN

Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images
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As August begins to fly by and September pokes its head over the horizon, the realization that the playoff race has begun in MLS grows clearer and clearer.

[ MORE: Austin MLS stadium vote delayed until next week ]

Saturday’s two biggest games feature four sides from the Western Conference, where the jockeying for playoff position has already begun. Take, for instance, Sporting Kansas City and Los Angeles FC, who after 22 games each find themselves level on 36 points in third and fourth place, respectively, tied with 10 wins and separated by just two in the goal-differential column. Peter Vermes’ and Bob Bradley‘s sides face off on Saturday (10:30 p.m. ET) at Banc of California Stadium. The winner could apply real pressure, if not leapfrog, the team just one point ahead of them in second place. Krisztian Nemeth is expected to make his re-debut for Sporting KC, as a center forward, after he was re-acquired in a trade on Monday.

That team just so happens to be the Portland Timbers, who have one of their Cascadia rivals, the Vancouver Whitecaps, visiting Providence Park tonight. More so than the other three, Vancouver find themselves fighting for their playoff lives, as they’d be watching from home if the postseason began today. The gap between seventh-place Vancouver and sixth-place Real Salt Lake is currently four points. On the other side, the 11 p.m. ET kickoff represents a massive opportunity for the Timbers to make good on one of the two games in hand they currently possess over first-place FC Dallas. A win would cut the gap to just two points.

Full MLS schedule

Columbus Crew vs. Houston Dynamo — 7:30 p.m. ET
New England Revolution vs. Chicago Fire — 7:30 p.m. ET
Chicago Fire vs. New York Red Bulls — 8:30 p.m. ET
Colorado Rapids vs. San Jose Earthquakes — 9 p.m. ET
Real Salt Lake vs. Montreal Impact — 10 p.m. ET
Los Angeles FC vs. Sporting Kansas City — 10:30 p.m. ET
LA Galaxy vs. Minnesota United — 10:30 p.m. ET
Portland Timbers vs. Vancouver Whitecaps — 11 p.m. ET

After Alphonso Davies’ move to Bayern, what next for MLS?

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This is a watershed moment for Major League Soccer.

Alphonso Davies securing a record transfer fee for an MLS player ($13.5 million initially, which could rise to $22.5 million) and moving to German giants Bayern Munich as a 17-year-old with braces turned plenty of heads around the globe as to the potential talent currently being developed in the U.S. and Canada.

But what now for MLS? What direction will Davies’ transfer take the league in?

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage

First of all, Davies is a generational talent. We’re talking in the same bracket as Christian Pulisic for the USMNT right now, or the likes of Dwayne de Rosario and Landon Donovan before him. Davies is destined for great things and his mixture of skill with raw power and pace as a teenager is extremely rare. Now, he has the chance to become a global superstar at Bayern. It won’t be easy but he has the opportunity to take his game to a whole new level in Bavaria.

Unearthing talents on Davies’ level regularly is going to be tough, if not near impossible, but the level of youngsters coming through and starring in MLS is now at a level where clubs across Europe are cherrypicking them. Due to the relative small transfer fees, a stronger physical development in some respects and a bigger upsides in terms of development when they arrive in Europe, the interest in young MLS talent is now at unprecedented levels.

MLS has never really been a selling league with only a handful of players making the league substantial transfer fees over the past two decades, with much of the focus on veteran stars arriving into the league with little spent in transfer funds. That trend is changing with the likes of Barco and Miguel Almiron at Atlanta United, but the internal development of young players is the most intriguing aspect.

That is something which Davies’s transfer highlighted. He may not burst onto the scene with Bayern for a few years, but he has been given the best possible chance for success due to the way the Whitecaps have handled him, and will continue to do so, ahead of his move to Germany at the end of the current MLS season.

But this is where MLS now needs to cash in and make the most of the millions of dollars the league and owners have poured into development academies in recent years. There will always be room for the Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s, Wayne Rooney‘s and David Beckham’s to join the league and enhance its reputation on another level.

Yet it seems like the biggest shift in the next few years will be keeping hold of kids emerging from MLS academies.

If they’re going to increasingly lose talents like Davies to top European clubs, rather than losing them as youngsters in the academy system, they need to be compensated fairly. The plan has to be to then reinvest that cash into academies and let that trickle down to the grassroots, as it did in Davies’ case with his club team, the Edmonton Strikers, to receive some of the transfer fee for being a key part in his development.

MLS’ young stars being sold will continue, relentlessly, as European clubs realize that youngsters getting significant minutes at the senior level as teenagers will benefit their development and ready them for the gauntlet of Europe’s elite leagues. And that should, in turn, entice MLS clubs to give more teenagers opportunities in their first teams as they know that financially it will be hugely beneficial, as well as from a sporting perspective, as long as they’re good enough.

Tyler Adams, who is set to move to RB Leipzig from the New York Red Bulls, is the perfect example of how MLS academies can develop talent, nurture it and then hand over the keys for a fee.

There is, of course, a different way of doing things as you have Pulisic at Borussia Dortmund since the age of 16 and FC Dallas academy product Weston McKennie followed him to Germany at Schalke. 18-year-old Josh Sargent is at Werder Bremen. Keaton Parkes is at Benfica. Erik Palmer-Brown joined Man City from Sporting Kansas City.

The list of young talents bypassing MLS altogether and heading to Europe is substantial, but MLS are getting a grip on how to nurture talent and get something from it. But which players will follow in Davies’ footsteps and head to Europe from MLS?

Columbus Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen is perhaps next up, with clubs in England sniffing around the USMNT stopper, while perhaps Justen Glad of Real Salt Lake or maybe Jordan Morris from the Seattle Sounders (when he returns from injury) will be the next big talents MLS can sell to Europe and keep the conveyor belt going.

But this isn’t just about U.S. and Canadian internationals. Look at Barco, Miguel Almiron, Julian Gressel and Josef Martinez at Atlanta United. Kaku at the New York Red Bulls. Diego Rossi, Latif Blessing and even Andre Horta at LAFC. Look at Jack Harrison who left NYCFC for Man City. These are players in their early 20s who are primed and ready to be picked off by European clubs for a relatively modest transfer fee and should be ready to contribute right away.

Whatever way you slice this up, that is good for MLS’ future. Yes, the league will lose talented players, but youngsters will start to see the league, and particular clubs like LAFC and Atlanta, as breeding grounds for successful careers at the highest level. Just like the pathways in Europe which sees clubs like Ajax, Southampton and Celtic accept their roles as feeder clubs and make huge transfer fees before unearthing more young talent, MLS can be a cog in the machines of European giants.

The main challenge for MLS will now be to continue to develop good young players and get transfer fees which will keep the wheels turning and help clubs to become profitable.

It’s future has shifted slightly with this Davies transfer highlighting a path the league, and its individual clubs, can follow to deliver not only short-term success but long-term sustainability as well as enhancing the reputation of MLS around the world.

Davies joins Bayern; Fee could reach $22 million

fcbayern.com/en
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It’s the latest in a line of big moments for Major League Soccer, with the Vancouver Whitecaps announcing the sale of the gem of their developmental program: 17-year-old left winger Alphonso Davies.

[ MORE: Brighton breaks transfer record ]

A reported fee that could reach as high as $22 million will send Davies to Bayern Munich, where the Canadian teen will look to build on an MLS season which has already seen him score three goals with six assists in 20 games.

Again, he’s 17. From FCBayern.com:

 “Alphonso Davies is a very big talent,” declared Bayern Sporting Director Hasan Salihamidzic. “At the age of 17, he offers a lot of promise for the future. Alphonso already possesses great ability, which is why a lot of top clubs were keen on him. I’m delighted he’s chosen FC Bayern. I want to thank everyone who worked on this transfer, especially our scouting and legal departments. It was outstanding teamwork.”

Davies will stay with Vancouver through the MLS season, as he cannot sign with Bayern until his 18th birthday (Nov. 2).

Canada will hope that Davies can be their Christian Pulisic or better. The American teen broke into the Borussia Dortmund senior team when he was Davies’ age, scoring in his third and fourth Bundesliga starts.

Of MLS’ major sales to overseas clubs, the top success stories are Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, and Geoff Cameron. None of those successes made their moves at too tender of an age.

Davies has been with Vancouver since he was 15, playing with Edmonton clubs before that. He’s a bonafide league success story scooped up by one of the storied clubs of world football, and carries the potential of both a country and a league over to the Allianz Arena. No pressure.

Canada phenom Davies will sign with Bayern in November

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images
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Vancouver Whitecaps prodigy Alphonso Davies is ready for the next stage of his career, and the platform could hardly get any higher.

Bayern Munich is the destination, according to multiple reports, and the Canadian 17-year-old will stay with the Caps through the rest of the season.

[ MORE: PST speaks with Sane, Mahrez ]

Davies is not eligible to sign for Bayern until his 18th birthday, which is Nov. 2. Reports say the $15 million fee could end up rising to $20m with incentives.

He was 16 when he became the youngest player to represent Canada at the senior level, and has scored thrice in six caps for Les Rouges.

Primarily a left winger, Davies has three goals and six assists over 20 matches in MLS play this season. He had one assist in 20 appearances last season, his first with the senior team.