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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.

Neymar says he’s staying at PSG; rumors “invented by the press”

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Neymar insists he is going nowhere this summer, that he’ll spend (at least) one more season at Paris Saint-Germain, and he intends to bring another handful of trophies back to the French capital in doing so.

[ MORE: PSG in “advanced negotiations” for N’Golo Kante, but must sell first ]

Speaking during a press conference on Friday, his first media availability session since Brazil were eliminated in the 2018 World Cup quarterfinals, the 26-year-old superstar went so far as to say that reports linking him with a move to other European mega-clubs (most notably, Real Madrid) were “invented by the press” — quotes from ESPN:

“Yes, I will stay in Paris. I have a contract with PSG. The speculation? The majority of it is invented by the press.

“I have a contract and people know the objective, the reason why I went to PSG. I want to win with this club and I hope this season will be wonderful.”

While it seems a no-brainer that PSG would want Neymar to stay, there’s unquestionably a case to be made that selling him would give them the financial flexibility needed to address needs elsewhere in the squad. N'Golo Kante, for instance, is reportedly transfer target no. 1 at the Parc des Princes, but sales will have to be made before a fee of that size can be paid, due to financial regulations.

Report: PSG in “advanced negotiations” for Kante, but must sell first

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N'Golo Kante might just be the best midfielder in the world, and he might just be leaving Chelsea for Paris Saint-Germain in the coming days or weeks, as French newspaper Le Parisien has reported that the defending Ligue 1 champions are in “advanced negotiations” over a mega-bucks contract with the World Cup winner.

[ MORE: Neymar says he’s staying at PSG; rumors “invented by the press” ]

The report goes so far as to say that a “provisional contract” has already been agreed. “Provisional,” in this instance, means there has likely been little — if any — contact between the two clubs thus far.

One major sticking point remains: following last summer’s outlandish spending spree, in which they shelled out nearly $500 million to sign Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, PSG are in serious danger of failing to comply with financial regulations set forth by UEFA and could/would be banned from European competition should they fail to achieve compliance.

The likes of Angel Di Maria, Goncalo Guedes, Grzegorz Krychowiak, Jese Rodriguez and Alphonse Areola have had their names floated as possible departures to recoup the necessary funds before paying another fee of (presumably) over $100 million.

[ MORE: Conte to sue Chelsea over how firing was handled ]

After helping the Blues to the Premier League title two seasons ago (and doing the same with Leicester City three campaigns gone by), Kante was powerless in saving Chelsea from themselves in 2017-18. They finished fifth in the PL and failed to qualify for this season’s Champions League.

Given his age — 27 — it’s wholly understandable that Kante would prioritize playing in club soccer’s top competition (while also making even more money) every season going forward. Throw in the fact that uncertainty is the only certainty at Stamford Bridge these days, and trading west London for Paris — where Kante was born — starts to sounds pretty good, pretty quickly.

Reports: Conte to sue Chelsea over how firing was handled

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According to reports in Italy, and backed up by those in England, Antonio Conte is planning to sue Chelsea over the way the club handled his exit this summer.

Chelsea is reportedly planning to pay Conte the rest of his salary in full, but the reports state that the Italian is unhappy how long it took the club to confirm his exit, leaving him unable to secure a job commensurate with his experience level for this coming season.

The 48-year-old is set to receive nearly $12 million as compensation for the final year of his now-terminated contract, but is looking for additional damages given the timing of his departure. Despite the writing clearly on the wall, Conte had weeks of silence from the club, before being pulled back to London to begin pre-season training with the squad for just four days before he was then let go.

Upon his release, Conte released a relatively benign statement thanking the club, the fans, the staff, and the players, but notably did not thank the board or owner Roman Abramovich.

Things between Chelsea and Conte have been testy for some time now. It was reported earlier last month – before Conte was officially let go – that Chelsea was planning to withhold payment of Conte’s remaining salary and sue the Italian for costing the club money for former striker Diego Costa. Costa told the media he received a text message from Conte while on international duty last summer that he was no longer wanted at the club. If true, the club could have argued that Conte botched the situation and cost the club a significant amount of money. However, it seems the club has – for now – decided not to pursue the lawsuit, with reports stating that Conte is set to receive his salary in full.

Sarri hopes to convince Hazard, Courtois in face-to-face meeting

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The coming days and weeks will be immensely tense times for players, coaches, directors and fans of Chelsea alike — but, for no one more so than new Blues boss Maurizio Sarri, who faces the very real prospect of losing arguably his two best players before managing his first game at Stamford Bridge.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup: Pogba wants Juve move, Grealish to Spurs? ]

Forward Eden Hazard has made it pretty clear he’d prefer a move to his yet-unnamed “preferred destination,” and goalkeeper Thibut Courtois has said he’d like to continue playing with Hazard, either in west London or elsewhere. Sarri hopes he’ll have a chance to persuade the Belgian duo to stay another year, or longer, but he doesn’t plan on doing so until they return from their offseason breaks, at which point he can meet with them face to face — quotes from the Guardian:

“Clearly the players you are referring to are very high-level players and I would like to keep them. But a telephone call without looking them in the eye will not give me any certainty.

“I would like to meet these players face to face and talk to them and understand what the best thing is for everyone to do. Before that I would also like a player to come on the pitch for four or five days with me to have a clear idea of what the plan is.”

Given that the Premier League’s transfer window will close before the upcoming season’s opening weekend (Aug. 9), the period of time during which Hazard and Courtois will be available to meet with Sarri, and the amount of time to reinvest and replenish the squad should they leave, will be an extremely narrow window. After finishing third-place at the 2018 World Cup, they could very easily be away until the final 48 or 72 hours of the window.