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Everton vs. Liverpool, Inter Milan vs. AC Milan, Bundesliga and MLS: Weekend soccer viewers guide

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The soccer deities are being kind to us this weekend, as the international break ends and club soccer returns across the globe with a buffet of brilliant matches. So many, in fact, that our viewing plans might benefit from a little structure. From the Premier League to MLS, from Serie A to the Bundesliga, there’s plenty of top action and enough of it to melt your DVR and/or internet connection.

Stream new episodes of ESPN FC Monday-Friday on ESPN+
Stream Bundesliga all season long on ESPN+Serie A on ESPN+: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)MLS on ESPN+: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)

So we decided to welcome back league play with a neat guide to the best matches in the soccer universe over the next two days.

Let’s feast.

Jump to: Saturday | Sunday


Saturday

CELTIC vs. RANGERS
7:30 a.m. ET (Scottish Premiership)

Both teams come into the first Old Firm derby of the season with near perfect records: Rangers (who have a growing injury list) sit at the top of the league with eight wins and two draws, Celtic are second with eight wins and one draw. So Saturday’s clash between the two sides of Glasgow will go some way to giving us a solid indication of where the balance of power will lie this season.

It’s a crying shame the game will be played behind closed doors due to COVID-19 protocols, but it should be a fascinating tug-of-war as the two sides have alternated victories in their past six meetings. Keep an eye on two prolific strikers: Rangers’ Alfredo Morales and Celtic’s Odsonne Edouard (who has scored six against Rangers). It’s also going to be a timely test of Rangers’ watertight defence (the best in the Scottish Premiership) against Celtic’s potent attack (they have the best shot conversion rate). — Tom Hamilton

EVERTON vs. LIVERPOOL
7:30 a.m. ET (English Premier League)

The Merseyside derby has been sadly moribund in recent years given Liverpool’s dominance — Everton haven’t beaten their rivals in a decade — but this weekend might be the Toffees’ best chance in all that time to finally get back in the win column. The Blues, under genius manager (and magnificently eyebrowed) Carlo Ancelotti, are perfect so far this season and boast an all-star attack: James Rodriguez arrived this summer to knit things together, Dominic Calvert-Lewin has scored six league goals in four matches and Allan (a former Liverpool transfer target) is the steel needed in attack.

– Ogden: Everton are primed to end futile decade vs. Liverpool
– Connelly: How far can Everton go?

The Reds have been simmering rather than on full boil in 2020 despite clinching that first league title in 30 years, but don’t expect them to let subpar form, the emotional aftershocks of their previous league game (a 7-2 hammering at Aston Villa) or a string of health concerns following some positive COVID-19 tests derail them for the short trip across Stanley Park. Mohamed Salah is quietly having a good season, and all the talent is still in place from last season’s runaway procession to the title. — James Tyler

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1:48

Adriano Del Monte explains why Napoli will appeal the penalties levied against them.

NAPOLI vs. ATALANTA
9 a.m. ET (Italian Serie A)

Expect this Serie A clash to be one of the most thrilling and easy-on-the-eye games this weekend, in any league. The two sides meet in Naples with lots to offer: Napoli are always difficult to crack at home, and Atalanta are scoring for fun and have three wins from as many matches.

Napoli vs. Atalanta: Stream LIVE on ESPN+

Napoli’s renaissance under Gennaro Gattuso is gaining traction, with Hirving Lozano finding some of his best form, but they come into this off the back of a bizarre situation: they did not travel to Turin for their match against Juventus on Oct. 4 due to an issue over COVID-19 restrictions, and after some discussion, they were awarded a 3-0 defeat. They need to park that turbulence fast, though, as Atalanta will be ready to pounce.

Connelly: Atalanta have the best attacks in soccer right now

Gian Piero Gasperini’s men routed Cagliari 5-2 last time out, and already have a 4-1 win over Lazio to their name. They will be looking to continue their free-scoring run on Saturday with Papu Gomez key. They’re one of the sharpest, most entertaining attacking teams anywhere and will test Kalidou Koulibaly & Co. to the fullest. — Tom Hamilton

FC AUGSBURG vs. RB LEIPZIG
9:30 a.m. ET (German Bundesliga)

ESPN’s own Derek Rae has a deeper dive on Augsburg, one of the more unlikely unbeaten teams across Europe right now, but it’s a testament to their Herculean work rate — they cover more ground per game than any other Bundesliga team — that they’re sharing a slice of the league lead right now.

Augsburg vs. RB Leipzig: Stream LIVE on ESPN+

Alongside them up there? RB Leipzig, a team that draws plenty of criticism for its construction but is must-see TV for neutrals. Losing Timo Werner to Chelsea has done little to dampen Leipzig’s gusto in attack, with new signing Hwang Hee-Chan already in the goals alongside Yussuf Poulsen and Emil Forsberg. With U.S. international Tyler Adams pulling the strings in midfield with Marcel Sabitzer, expect the energy drink XI to keep rolling. — James Tyler

TSG HOFFENHEIM vs. BORUSSIA DORTMUND
9:30 a.m. ET (German Bundesliga)

Having smashed Bayern Munich 4-1 in their second league game and then losing 2-1 to Eintracht Frankfurt 2-1 a week later, it’s hard to judge exactly which version of Hoffenheim will turn up on Saturday as they entertain an equally unpredictable Borussia Dortmund, who hammered Freiberg and lost to Augsburg this term.

Hoffenheim vs. Dortmund: Stream LIVE on ESPN+

One thing’s certain: Erling Haaland, fresh off his midweek hat trick for Norway, will be looking to add to his frankly ridiculous goal tally as one of Europe’s most prolific strikers. Then throw in Gio Reyna, Jadon Sancho and the impressive youngster Jude Bellingham, and you have a Dortmund team packed with youth looking to continue their charge to a first Bundesliga title since 2012. But Hoffenheim are building nicely under Sebastian Hoeneß with Andrej Kramaric top of the goal-scorer standings with six goals in three games. Plus their new loan signing from Tottenham, Ryan Sessegnon, will be hopeful of some game time. — Tom Hamilton

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1:04

Stewart Robson explains why Inter Milan are the favorites vs. AC Milan in the Milan derby this weekend.

INTER MILAN vs. AC MILAN
12 p.m. ET (Italian Serie A)

It’s been a while since both sides of Milan were in form. After routinely contending for (and winning) domestic honours, they’re more known for their endless rebuilds than their successes in the modern era. But 2020 might be the year that sees a house reformed in full: under Antonio Conte, who won league titles with Juventus and Chelsea, Inter have been a tough proposition at home and on the continent, as shown by their Europa League runners-up medals at the end of the 2019-20 season. Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku have picked up where they left off last season in attack, with three Serie A goals each already, and new signing Achraf Hakimi has proved very adaptable on the right flank in Conte’s system.

Inter Milan vs. AC Milan: Stream LIVE on ESPN+

AC Milan, meanwhile, pipped their rivals to the signing of Sandro Tonali this summer — Tonali is regarded as Italy’s next great midfielder — and boast some guy named Zlatan Ibrahimovic up front, who continues to defy time by banging in goals at the ripe old age of 39. They’re also one of two teams in Serie A yet to drop a point (alongside Atalanta) and while they’ve not really faced stern opposition yet, this will be the most robust test yet of the Rossoneri project.

Both of last season’s meetings went Inter’s way — a 2-0 win in September 2019 was followed by a 4-2 win in February, in which Milan raced to a 2-0 lead only to concede four after half-time — but this weekend’s clash is anyone’s guess. — James Tyler

ARMINIA BIELEFELD vs. BAYERN MUNICH
12:30 p.m. ET (German Bundesliga)

Over lunch, why not enjoy this classic David vs. Goliath clash?

Arminia Bielefeld are back in the big league for the first time since 2009 and have a win, draw and loss to their name so far. Their annual budget of €22m would pay for a quarter of Bayern defender Lucas Hernandez’s transfer fee, and while it’s a crying shame the Bielefeld faithful will not be there to witness their team taking on the Champions League holders, Bayern Munich will face a team anchored on teamwork, running and a collective desire to continue punching above their weight.

Bielefeld vs. Bayern Munich: Stream LIVE on ESPN+

For Bayern Munich, they head to Bielefeld after a bizarre start to the season that saw them lose heavily at Hoffenheim and then need an injury-time penalty from free-scoring Robert Lewandowski to down Hertha Berlin 4-3 in round three. They were busy over the final days of the transfer window, so expect to see a couple of new signings make their first steps for the reigning Bundesliga champions, but this is a potential trap game for Hansi Flick’s men as they have still find their form in the new season after winning the league and Champions League in 2019-20. — Tom Hamilton

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0:53

Mark Ogden backs Arsenal to snatch a point vs. Manchester City at the Etihad.

MAN CITY vs. ARSENAL
12:30 p.m. ET (English Premier League)

Mikel Arteta cut his teeth as a coach alongside Pep Guardiola at Man City, but he has been building something impressive and very much in his own image since taking the Arsenal job last December. The Gunners are no longer the harmless punchline they were considered under other managers post-Arsene Wenger, with three wins from four league games this season and a hard-fought defeat at Liverpool on Sept. 28.

The partnership of Alexandre Lacazette (three league goals) and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is working nicely, the addition of Willian has had the desired effect on the wings, and new signing Thomas “The Octopus” Partey, brought in from Atletico Madrid on deadline day, should be the missing piece in midfield. (Fans are hoping to see him debut this weekend.)

Premier League debuts: When will Partey play for Arsenal?

As for Man City, their defensive struggles continue to undermine their attacking brilliance: a 1-1 draw vs. Leeds United before the international break could easily have been another defeat to go with the 5-2 hammering they suffered against Leicester City at the end of September. Ruben Dias, one of their two new center-backs brought in over the summer, has a lot of work on his hands to keep the machine from breaking down again.

Expect a high-scoring affair but City should still have the power and prowess to rattle Arsenal where it hurts. — James Tyler

REAL MADRID vs. CADIZ
12:30 p.m. ET (Spanish Primera Division)

This is the kind of game you’d expect the defending La Liga champions to win at a canter, but Real Madrid have looked anything but reliable so far this season. Yes, they’re top of the table with three wins and one draw, but none of their results was especially convincing: a 0-0 snooze at Real Sociedad in their opener was followed by a come-from-behind win at Real Betis, capped by a Sergio Ramos penalty, a 1-0 home win in their Bernabeu opener vs. Valladolid and a 2-0 win at Levante clinched only in injury time by Karim Benzema.

Lowe: La Liga kept Messi, but talent lost is a concern

Eden Hazard has yet to play a game this season due to more injury issues, the midfield combination with Casemiro, Luka Modric and Fede Valverde isn’t as sharp, and there’s a vulnerability that bold teams can exploit. Yet this is their first league game against Cadiz since their last time in the top flight back in 2005-06, and Saturday has the makings of “back to business” for Zinedine Zidane & Co. if we’re honest. — James Tyler

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0:44

Mark Ogden doesn’t foresee a change in Man United’s recent form and expects a “tough game” at St. James’ Park.

NEWCASTLE vs. MAN UNITED
3 p.m. ET (English Premier League)

Newcastle vs. Man United has a bit of a throwback feel to their title battles in the 1990s — Kevin Keegan might never live this rant down given how his Magpies side quickly lost their grip on the title race and watched Sir Alex Ferguson & Co. claim yet another trophy — and it might feel especially retro given how flawed both teams are heading into this match.

Man United’s transfer struggles have fans braced for the worst
– Ogden: Solskjaer must drop Pogba, De Gea to save his job

Weirdly, Newcastle look a little more polished at present, with new striker Callum Wilson scoring twice before the break against Burnley and looking like the perfect foil for Joelinton, who already looks better in 2020 than he did in black and white all of last season. As for Man United, they’re 16th with two woeful defeats in three league games so far — and a 6-1 home defeat to Tottenham ringing in their ears — a patchwork defense likely given Harry Maguire’s form, and no Anthony Martial up front following his red card in the aforementioned disaster vs. Spurs.

Man United’s issue is never one of talent, but of mindset: can Ole Gunnar Solskjaer rally his demoralized bunch to an away win at St. James’ Park? A monumental effort from Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba is needed to lift them out of the doldrums. — James Tyler

GETAFE vs. BARCELONA
3 p.m. ET (Spanish Primera Division)

The Ronald Koeman era has begun in Barcelona with two wins, a draw and one new signing in U.S. right-back Sergino Dest. So it’s evolution over revolution, but of course any Barcelona match revolves around their talismanic, diminutive forward, Leo Messi. With Luis Suarez now departed, he’s their main man up front — that said, take the opportunity to watch the outstanding teenager, Ansu Fati, in action. And it’ll be fascinating to see how Koeman copes with a frantic fixture schedule that sees Barcelona open their Champions League campaign the following Tuesday before the first clasico of the season, against rivals Real Madrid, the following Saturday. Dest will likely start at left-back with Junior Firpo and Jordi Alba both absent.

– Notebook: Barca keeping tabs on U.S. talent?
What’s happened in soccer since Messi’s 2004 Barca debut
– Messi and Barcelona: How they fell out and what’s next

For Getafe, they have two wins from four in La Liga and will hope to fare far better than their round 4 whitewash 3-0 defeat at Real Sociedad. Keep an eye on their left winger Marc Cucurella, who lines up against his former club having joined Getafe in June. — Tom Hamilton

MONTREAL IMPACT vs. INTER MIAMI CF
7 p.m. ET (Major League Soccer)

The last time Thierry Henry and Gonzalo Higuain went up against each other was Nov. 29, 2009, when Henry’s Barcelona edged Higuain’s Real Madrid 1-0 thanks to a goal by Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Now Henry is a manager desperately trying to keep his Montreal Impact side above the playoff line, while Higuain’s Inter Miami attempt to climb back in the race.

Montreal vs. Inter Miami: Stream LIVE on ESPN+

Miami has been the hotter team of late, now unbeaten in three while the Impact have won just once in their past eight matches. They’ll also be hoping for the sibling connection with Higuain’s brother, Federico, himself a longtime fixture in MLS, to keep pulling this squad in the right direction. — Jeff Carlisle

Sunday

SHEFFIELD UNITED vs. FULHAM
7 a.m. ET (English Premier League)

Both Sheffield United and Fulham will be hoping to get their campaigns back on track after making stuttering starts to the 2020-21 season. Sheff United were magnificent last term and will continue building under Chris Wilder this season around, but are still looking to find that same level of form. Oliver Burke looks a class acquisition and Rhian Brewster could make his debut for the Blades, having moved from Liverpool for £23m in the last-gasp hours of the transfer window.

For Fulham — who still lean heavily on U.S. center-back Tim Ream to anchor their defence — they are searching for their first points of the season having played four matches, scored just three goals and shipped 11. They have new loan signings Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Ademola Lookman available and will look to their new defensive acquisition, Joachim Andersen, to bolster their back four. But this should be an entertaining scrap with plenty of chances and, hopefully, goals. — Tom Hamilton

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1:13

Alanna Kennedy explains how Tottenham Hotspur were able to persuade her to join the club on loan.

TOTTENHAM vs. ARSENAL
11:30 a.m. ET (Women’s Super League)

Arsenal and Tottenham go head-to-head for the second time in three weeks in Sunday’s Women’s Super League north London derby with the teams coming to the game with very different run ups. Arsenal are top of the WSL table with four wins from four while Spurs are ninth and have yet to record a win. The last meeting between the two sides saw Arsenal come away with a 4-0 win thanks to a Jordan Nobbs screamer and a Lisa Evans hattrick.

– McNamee: Spurs ready for revenge in North London

However, the scoreline doesn’t reflect what was actually a closely fought contest for the first 70 minutes and Spurs will be optimistic that a number of injuries to key Arsenal players such as Evans, Nobbs and Jill Roord will help them get the upper hand.

Spurs’ big summer signing Alex Morgan could make her debut for her new team, but with no minutes under her belt since giving birth to her first child back in May, it would be a big ask for the USWNT star. — Kathleen McNamee

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1:38

Jose Mourinho refuses to be drawn on when Gareth Bale could make his debut for Tottenham.

TOTTENHAM vs. WEST HAM
11:30 a.m. ET (English Premier League)

Speaking of Tottenham debuts, could this be the weekend we see Gareth Bale making a “debut” again for Tottenham? He was famously persona non grata in Madrid under Zinedine Zidane and finally found a new club this summer; he didn’t just find any club, mind you, but the team that made the Wales international a superstar.

Will his return be a successful one? We might get a first look at him in a Jose Mourinho side this Sunday, despite lingering doubts about his fitness, though Spurs don’t really need him at the moment: Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son & Co. are firing on all cylinders so far this season and famously humbled Man United 6-1 at Old Trafford right before the international break. West Ham are always a mixed bag, as evidenced by a 2-0 home defeat to Newcastle and a 3-0 away win at Leicester already this season, but Jarrod Bowen (three PL goals in 2020-21) will be eager to test Spurs’ rearguard at every opportunity. — James Tyler

COLUMBUS CREW SC vs. NYCFC
6 p.m. ET (Major League Soccer)

Columbus Crew SC vs. NYCFC: Stream LIVE on ESPN+

Two of the better teams in the Eastern Conference square off at MAPRFRE Stadium, though the Crew have been scuffling a bit with a four-game winless streak, including a humbling loss to FC Cincinnati. Injuries to Darlington Nagbe and Lucas Zelarayan have started to cut deep.

After opening the coronavirus-interrupted season with four straight losses, NYCFC eventually found its footing and has gone 7-3-3 since the conclusion of MLS is Back. The loan of Alexander Mitrita to a Saudi Arabian club — done mostly for family reasons — is a blow, but the hope is that midfield dynamo Maxi Moralez will get back on the field soon. — Jeff Carlisle

NEW YORK RED BULLS vs. ORLANDO CITY SC
7 p.m. ET (Major League Soccer)

Red Bulls vs. Orlando City: Stream LIVE on ESPN+

All hail the new kid on the block, 17-year-old Caden Clark, who has scored in each of his first two appearances for the Red Bulls — including a golazo in New York’s 1-1 draw against Toronto. Orlando’s procession to the first postseason appearance in its history continues apace, with the Lions’ unbeaten streak now at 11 games. They’ve done it with a dinged-up lineup as well, though the back line — Ruan in particular — is healing up. — Jeff Carlisle

PORTLAND TIMBERS vs. LAFC
10 p.m. ET (Major League Soccer)

The Timbers had rather stealthily climbed to the top of the Western Conference in recent weeks, only to see their five-game winning streak halted at Real Salt Lake. On the plus side, after searching for years for a dependable forward, manager Gio Savarese now has three in Jeremy Ebobisse, Jarek Niezgoda and Felipe Mora. The trio has combined for 19 goals.

Portland vs. LAFC: Stream LIVE on ESPN+

LAFC have been maddeningly inconsistent all season, due in part to injuries to the likes of Carlos Vela as well as international call-ups. The Black-and-Gold will be looking to rebound from Wednesday’s 2-1 defeat to Vancouver with plenty of jostling for playoff positions to come ahead of early November’s decision day. — Jeff Carlisle

SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES vs. SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC
10:30 p.m. ET (Major League Soccer)

San Jose vs. Seattle: Stream LIVE on ESPN+

San Jose is in a better place than when these two teams last met, a 7-1 thrashing delivered by the Sounders, as four wins out of five have the Quakes back among the playoff places. Getting a win against Seattle will be a massive challenge, however, as the Sounders have been among the best in the West, though a recent 3-1 defeat to LAFC halted their momentum a bit. The loss of Raul Ruidiaz to a positive COVID-19 test cuts deep, but the Sounders still have some lethal attacking weapons in Nico Lodeiro and Jordan Morris. — Jeff Carlisle

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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home

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On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

Stream FC Daily on ESPN+
– 2020 MLS Playoffs: Who’s in, schedule and more
– MLS on ESPN+: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)

Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”

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2:00

Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.

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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment

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The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.

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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls

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With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

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