MLS News
Jozy Altidore's Recovery Helps Spark Toronto FC's March Up Standings
MLS News
Friday, 26 August 2016 07:53

Toronto FC was always going to be one of the main players in the race for the Supporters' Shield and Eastern Conference in Major League Soccer, but the club has elevated its status in those competitions lately with the reintroduction of Jozy Altidore to the starting XI. 

The United States men's national team forward has been plagued by hamstring injuries at the worst times on the international level as he has missed parts of three major tournaments in the last three years. He also missed a good chunk of time for Toronto this season. 

Since returning to the pitch as a substitute on July 23, the 26-year-old designated player has shown how much of an impact player he can be in the stretch run for the Reds. 

Altidore has found the back of the net in five of his last six games, including one in each of his last four contests. All of that success is coming as he still works his way back to full fitness. 

"It’s just getting the minutes and the legs under you," Altidore told reporters after Toronto's win on Saturday against Philadelphia. "I think cardio-wise I’m OK. It’s just getting the legs in the humidity and keeping them turning. It’s a tough time to come back in the summer. It’s not easy on the legs, but I’m feeling good." 

Altidore's physical hold-up play brings a different element to the Toronto attack that also contains Sebastian Giovinco, who is tied for the lead in the Golden Boot race alongside David Villa of New York City FC. 

Marking Giovinco's speed and ability on the ball was already a tough task for opponents. Now they have to deal with Altidore's bruising style of play in the final two months of the regular season. 

The return of Altidore only helps how manager Greg Vanney sets up his squad and tactically works his way through matches. 

It’s huge for us.  Jozy’s a big part of our team and you know he provides us with a outlet. He’s obviously a guy in front of goal who can create opportunities for himself when he plays big.

He’s also our target if we get out wide and we have to serve because of the size in front of goal.   And I think he draws attention that allows Sebastian to find a little bit of extra space on the field and I think they’re doing a great job of finding each other and combining with each other.

He’s massive and he’s probably underrated in terms of the amount of defensive work he gives.  As a striker, he does a lot of work and he’s responsible. He’s always looking for ways he can help the team. 

The chemistry with Giovinco that was there before Altidore's injury absence is coming back quickly as Toronto continues to surge up the Eastern Conference table. 

"Even before, I thought the best moments we had was our first season together when we first started," Altidore said. "I thought that was when we were at our best. But we’re getting back to it. And Seba’s Seba. He’s gonna be great. It’s easy to play with a great player like him." 

With their win against Orlando City on Wednesday, the Reds are now on top of the Eastern Conference with 43 points, two points ahead of second-place NYCFC. Toronto's last two victories have come on the road, which the club sees as key despite a good amount of home games on the back end of the schedule. 

"For us, we know we have the home games, but it’s important that we don’t rely on the home games at the end," Vanney said. 

Six of Toronto's final eight contests will be played at home. The Reds started their season on the road for eight games as construction finished at BMO Field. 

Now that they have an advantage during the closing stages of the regular season, the Reds have postseason home games in mind. They also could challenge for the Supporters' Shield if they pick up enough points. They are only two points behind FC Dallas in that competition. 

"We want to give our fans a home playoff game that they can attend, many of them if possible," Vanney said. "But our regular-season priority is to get into a home playoff position and obviously winning the East would be our No. 1 goal." 

Altidore and the entire Toronto squad have motivation driving them to reach the top spot in the league. Toronto made the playoffs for the first time in 2015, but the trip into the postseason didn't last long as Montreal eliminated the club at Stade Saputo in the opening round. 

"That’s our motivation, to take steps each year we’re here," Altidore said. "Last year we made the playoffs. This year the goal is obviously to win a championship but we gotta get a playoff game at home and got to get fans to buy into what we’re doing here. That’s key to us." 

If Altidore continues to find the back of the net and Giovinco keeps up at his current scoring pace, Toronto has a great chance of hoisting the MLS Cup in December. 

 

Joe Tansey covers MLS for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @JTansey90.

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 

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MLS Player Rankings: BWP Takes Top Spot; Altidore, Dempsey Move into Top 10
MLS News
Tuesday, 23 August 2016 09:03

It's a great time to be a top scorer in Major League Soccer.

As the race for the Golden Boot heats up, some of the league's best in front of goal are stringing together terrific performances entering the stretch run of the regular season. 

Few players have been as hot in the final third as Bradley Wright-Phillips has over the last month. Thanks to his goal-scoring prowess, the New York Red Bulls forward is the latest No. 1 in our weekly MLS Player Rankings. 

Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey, who have surged up the scoring charts of late, make their return to the list of the top 20 in-form players in MLS this week as well. 

Our player rankings take into account the last four performances from a certain player, with the most recent one holding more stock. 

Continue reading to see who joined some of the league's top strikers in our Week 24 edition of the Bleacher Report MLS Player Rankings. 

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MLS Team of the Week: Dempsey, Roldan Shine for Surging Sounders
MLS News
Monday, 22 August 2016 09:34

The last three days of play in Major League Soccer produced a plethora of unexpected results that set up the league's playoff races for more drama than expected. 

After wins by Seattle, Chicago, Columbus and Houston, the biggest gap between sixth and 10th place in the league is eight points between Portland and Houston in the Western Conference. 

The Sounders stole the headlines for their victory over rival Portland to close out the weekend. The two sides meet in a week's time and another win could land Seattle a spot above the red line, which is something no one expected to see when Sigi Schmid was fired. 

Chicago and Columbus also added intrigue to the Eastern Conference race. The Fire, who were already written off by many, are not out of the postseason race by any stretch of the imagination as they sit six points back of sixth-place D.C., while the once-struggling Crew are all of a sudden five points back.

All three of the biggest winners from Week 24 in MLS have a pair of players in our latest Bleacher Report MLS Team of the Week.

Continue reading to see who joined the likes of Clint Dempsey and David Accam in our best XI from the weekend. 

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Healthy Frank Lampard Revelling in Life Under Patrick Vieira at NYCFC
MLS News
Friday, 19 August 2016 08:08

Frank Lampard had to wait longer than expected to show off his talents in a New York City FC shirt. 

But ever since moving back to full fitness, the 38-year-old midfielder has been one of the best players in Major League Soccer. 

The former Chelsea and West Ham United man admitted his long injury break, which came with plenty of criticism that he was one of the worst signings in league history because of his inactivity, was frustrating to sit through because he wanted to please the fans of the second-year club. 

“It was frustrating," Lampard told Bleacher Report. "I’m not the only player to get frustrated when being injured. It was tough and it was a difficult injury that probably wasn’t as well-documented out loud than what it was behind the scenes and I knew I was going to be out for a while.

"It didn’t come across, so it was probably frustrating that I couldn’t get out and do my thing on the pitch to show people what I could do.  I just tried to keep a calm head so when I did get fully fit, I could help the team. I wouldn’t call it a relief to be back, it was just something I really wanted to show what I came here for." 

Since returning to the starting lineup on June 18, Lampard has scored nine goals, including a hat-trick on July 30 against the Colorado Rapids.

Lampard's form in front of the net isn't the only thing he's attributed to NYCFC's spot atop the Eastern Conference standings entering Saturday's home clash with the LA Galaxy. 

"I think more than anything it’s a combination of hard work from preseason," Lampard said. "We obviously had a tough first year. From the first day of Patrick (Vieira) and his staff coming in, they’ve worked really hard with the squad every day.

"Results don’t come overnight and in the last couple months there’s been a bit of click in the way we play and as a team the way we’re moving the ball and we’re playing some really good football, scoring goals, winning games and getting the consistency is a combination of what we’ve been putting through since January."

Lampard's relationship with first-year manager Patrick Vieira has been important to his success at the club. Vieira took over in the offseason for Jason Kreis, who led City to an eighth-place finish with 37 points. NYCFC already have eclipsed that total as they lead the East with 38 points, one point ahead of the star-studded Toronto FC. 

"To me, he’s been a revelation to the club," Lampard said of Vieira. "We had a tough year last year for so many reasons and unfortunately the manager changed, but with Patrick coming in and what he’s brought to us in terms of his personality and experience, I know he’s an inexperienced manager, but his experience with being a player has set himself up for that." 

Vieira was supportive throughout the difficult process Lampard went through in recovering from his injury. Due to the positive manner in which the manager approached the situation, Lampard feels that his strong play on the pitch is repaying Vieira for his faith early in the season. 

"I’ve found Patrick to be a brilliant person with me," Lampard said. "He’s always been speaking with me, keeping me calm when I was frustrated. I’m very thankful for Patrick, and I want to thank him for my recent form. I want to thank him back by producing on the pitch." 

Not only is Lampard impressed with his new manager, he's thrilled that the play in MLS has lived up to his expectations. 

"I think I had a good understanding of MLS before I came here," Lampard said. "I knew it was a tough league to play in, and it hasn’t disappointed. Teams are very well prepared. There’s a lot of good attacking teams out there. They’re always trying to play positive football so the hard things that have come along are things I completely expected, and the league has been nothing but impressive to me." 

One of Lampard's first matches back was the New York derby with rival New York Red Bulls. The rivalry is becoming one of the fiercest in MLS and eventually it may take over the Seattle Sounders-Portland Timbers clash as the best in the league. 

Despite NYCFC's rough record in the derby, Lampard believes the competitive culture between the two sides is only growing the stature of the sport in one of the biggest cities in the world. 

“I think it’s a healthy rivalry," Lampard said. "We all enjoy rivalries in sport and I think our premise was when we were formed to be the club of the city within the five boroughs and we are that. Of course you have the Red Bulls that are very close. Maybe they’re fighting for fan base. That’s normal. We’re used to that."

"Then it comes down to the club and how you work on and off the pitch in the community," Lampard said. "Even more than that, you have to get results on the field because winning games is always going to grow your fan base. That’s our challenge.

"Red Bulls have been around a while and haven’t been able to win MLS Cup, and we want to within our short-term history really challenge for that.  It’ll be really interesting to see how the rivalry develops over the next few years." 

Lampard arrived in MLS following a stellar Premier League career with West Ham, Chelsea and Manchester City.

During his 13-year stint at Chelsea, which was sandwiched between spells at West Ham and Manchester City, Lampard played alongside plenty of world-class talents. He identified players like Eden Hazard, William Gallas and Ashley Cole as the best he played alongside in west London

Lampard also mentioned the high-quality stars who he took the pitch with at Manchester City, NYCFC and on the international stage with England, including the likes of Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand.

As for his current superstar teammates, Pirlo and David Villa, Lampard has enjoyed playing with them, but although the three former European stars are in the spotlight constantly, the rest of the squad has put in a massive amount of work as well to make 2016 a successful season. 

"It’s great playing with (Pirlo and Villa)," Lampard said. "They’re obviously world-class players and have had fantastic careers and that speaks for itself. I think with David as a striker, it’s great playing with someone who scores goals out of nothing because they win you games. He’s always making the right runs, in the right areas and can finish."

"Pirlo’s very easy to play with because his awareness on the ball is so good. I think we have a nice link on those terms and we understand each other. What we’re doing and how everybody’s performing as a group has been really impressive to me, not just us three but everybody." 

Given the recent form of the player and the club, 2016 could go down as an historic season for NYCFC, and it could give Lampard a chance to leave a legacy in a short time at a club that carries an incredibly high standard for success. 

 

Joe Tansey covers MLS for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @JTansey90.

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 

 

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MLS Player Rankings: Dominant Red Bulls Duo Work Their Way to the Top
MLS News
Tuesday, 16 August 2016 08:22

One of the best attacking duos in Major League Soccer features Sacha Kljestan and Bradley Wright-Phillips of the New York Red Bulls.

In recent weeks, the midfielder and forward have dazzled with their skills in the final third and climbed up the league goal and assist charts, respectively. Thanks to their recent displays for Jesse Marsch's side, both players are high up in the Bleacher Report MLS Player Rankings after Week 23.

Our player rankings take into account the last four performances, with the most recent carrying the most importance.

Continue reading to see which players landed where in our latest MLS Player Rankings. 

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MLS Team of the Week: BWP, Villa, Kaka Headline Week 23's Best
MLS News
Monday, 15 August 2016 10:16

Week 23 in Major League Soccer belonged to some of the top scorers in the league.

Bradley Wright-Phillips, David Villa and Dom Dwyer were among the players who found the back of the net on two occasions over the weekend. 

In addition to a few big performances at the forward position, a good amount of midfielders also put their names on the scoreboard more than once. 

Due to the plethora of solid attacking in Week 23, we set up our Bleacher Report MLS Team of the Week in a 3-4-3 formation.

Continue reading to see who else was named to our best XI from the weekend. 

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Relentless Real Salt Lake Surging Up MLS Western Conference Table
MLS News
Friday, 12 August 2016 02:00

Real Salt Lake manager Jeff Cassar admits he uses the word "relentless" a lot when he speaks with his team. 

Although the results have only started to show the relentless nature of the club, the Claret and Cobalt have stuck to their aggressive mindset for the entire Major League Soccer regular season. 

Cassar uses the term because of how many different players in the RSL starting lineup can hurt opponents on a weekly basis. 

“I use the word relentless a lot when speaking with the team, and you can only be relentless when you have depth and when you can start one way and bring players on to keep exactly what we’re trying to do at the beginning of the game and doing it at the end," Cassar told Bleacher Report.  

That approach has been apparent over the last three matches as RSL beat Philadelphia on the road and produced a fine performance against Chicago at home in Week 22. Between those two victories, the club lost to Toronto FC at BMO Field in a midweek match, but despite the defeat, Cassar believes his side played well. 

“I think for the most part of this year, we’ve been playing very good soccer," Cassar said. "We had some very good performances. We paid the price for some errors earlier in the year, but the Philadelphia win was really able to give us belief in what we’re doing and really spur us on."

"If you rewatch the Toronto game, we had another good performance and on another night, we get three points there," Cassar added. "To be able to regroup with a two-day rest and to be able to put in a good performance against Chicago at home, the group is feeling really good about where we’re at and what we’re doing and how we’re operating and it’s a good feeling to have." 

The reason for the uptick in form is the resurgence of the club's attack led by Joao Plata, Olmes Garcia and 36-year-old midfielder Javier Morales. 

During their rut that started on June 25, the Claret and Cobalt scored just three goals while playing to four draws and two losses. The breakout win in Philadelphia featured fabulous strikes from Plata and Morales as well as Garcia's best performance of the season.

"I think the teams in our league have to respect our ability in the attack," Cassar said. "When you talk about Yura Movsisyan, Olmes (Garcia), Joao (Plata), Juan Martinez, Javier (Morales), Jordan Allen and then young talents like Omar Holness.

"And then on top of that, how we’re bringing in our outside backs, Tony Beltran and Demar Phillips, into the attack, and then adding a midfielder into attack. I think they have to respect what we’re capable of, and what I really like with this group is if teams try to take one thing away from us, then we’re going to beat you a different way and we have the talent to do that." 

Along with Morales, fellow veteran Nick Rimando, 37, has brought the necessary leadership to the squad as they not only surge up the table, but try to erase the memories of a poor 2015 season in which they finished ninth in the Western Conference with 41 points. 

RSL already have 37 points through 24 matches in 2016. Cassar attributes the turnaround to a challenge he received from the front office and himself after the tumultuous 2015. 

“It definitely motivated myself, the staff and our team," he said. "Obviously there had to be a lot of looking in the mirror to start and obviously that starts with me. It needed to be where I could improve and help the team more where I could be a better communicator, better leader, better tactician with our group, with our staff.

"Our general manager, president and owner challenged myself and the staff a lot and I think that was very helpful to myself and the staff getting better in areas we needed to, which then in turn helps the players more.

"I think this year everyone is more familiar, more confident in the formation and with their responsibilities in the formation. On top of that, let’s be fair, we’ve added some very, very good players to our team. And we’ve managed to stay healthy, which is essential in MLS." 

RSL added Movsisyan in the offseason and Martinez during the 2015 summer window. One of the biggest additions to the squad has come in defense as academy product Justen Glad, 19, has thrived at center-back alongside Aaron Maund. Glad is playing himself onto the United States men's national team radar. 

“I think he’s improving each and every day," Cassar said. "I’m never one to say what his ceiling is. That is completely up to Justen, but in every situation and every team he’s played for, he’s come through.

"Whether it’s when he was with our academy team when they were winning national championships or when he’d come up for reserve games years ago. He always stepped up to the challenge and now that he’s with the first team and the under-20 national team, and every time he gets opportunities, he performs at an extremely high level." 

The next challenge ahead for RSL comes on Sunday as they make a rare appearance in the national spotlight against the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field. Although more eyes will be on the club than usual, RSL are just focusing on bettering themselves game by game. 

“To be fair, we really just try to go about our business and do it in the way Real Salt Lake does," Cassar said. "We want to come out and be aggressive whether we’re home or away. We want to stick hard to our game plan and belief in how we want to play against teams.  We want to do that whether we’re home or away.

"I think you can look back on this year and I think we have the second most away wins in the entire league and we’re undefeated at home right now. We have an aggressive mindset in our style of play and we believe we can go anywhere and get the result we want." 

That aggressive mindset will be key for RSL heading into the closing stages of the regular season as the Western Conference presents a new challenge every week. 

“We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves," Cassar said. "We have to make sure we’re concentrating on ourselves. How we can improve each week and also focusing on the opponent ahead of us.

"If we start watching the tables too much, then our focus isn't where it should be. We need to just concentrate on ourselves and the rest will take care of itself." 

 

Joe Tansey covers MLS for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @JTansey90. 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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MLS Player Rankings: Magnificent Giovinco Claims Top Spot
MLS News
Tuesday, 09 August 2016 07:36

All everyone wanted to talk about after Week 22 in Major League Soccer was the masterful display put on by Sebastian Giovinco at BMO Field on Saturday. 

The same feeling has been echoed after countless other weekends since the Atomic Ant joined Toronto FC at the start of the 2015 regular season. 

Outside of Giovinco, there were plenty of other star performances in our Bleacher Report MLS Player Rankings. 

Our player rankings take into account the last four showings from individuals, with the most recent performance carrying most importance. 

Continue reading to see who fell where behind Giovinco in the Bleacher Report MLS Player Rankings after Week 22.

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MLS Team of the Week: Hat-Trick Heroes Giovinco, Dempsey Headline Week 22's Best
MLS News
Monday, 08 August 2016 03:19

The two hat-tricks scored in Major League Soccer in Week 22 carried different meanings for the clubs of Sebastian Giovinco and Clint Dempsey. 

Giovinco's three-goal performance at BMO Field moved Toronto FC even closer to the top spot in the Eastern Conference, while Dempsey's breakout showing handed the Sounders hope that a late run at the postseason is possible. 

Two of Dempsey's teammates also join him on the list of Week 22's best players because of their work moving forward. 

To accommodate the two stellar forwards and one of Dempsey's teammates, we aligned our MLS Team of the Week in a 4-3-3 formation.

Continue reading to see who else joined the hat-trick heroes in the latest Bleacher Report MLS Team of the Week. 

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Toronto's Sebastian Giovinco Nets Brilliant Hat-Trick in 4-1 Win vs. New England
MLS News
Sunday, 07 August 2016 04:11

Take a bow, Sebastian Giovinco.

The reigning MLS MVP was at it again on Saturday night, scoring a hat-trick as his Toronto FC strolled to a 4-1 win over the New England Revolution at BMO Field.

The ex-Juventus man was almost unplayable throughout the evening, as Toronto moved to within a point of Eastern Conference leaders New York City FC.

Giovinco's first goal was a beauty, struck with the outside of his boot:

And his second wasn't too bad, either:

Teal Bunbury and Jozy Altidore rounded out the scoring after the Italian forward had added a third from the penalty spot:

Back-to-back MVP titles, anyone?

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