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Plata’s Return Brings Back Bad Memories for TFC



The Reds are winning. On the whole, they’re respectable. And there have been few player revolts.

Other than the odd Heritage Night at BMO Field, the Reds — in large part — have moved on from the past.

On Wednesday night, though, Toronto FC supporters will be reminded of trying times when the Reds host Joao Plata-led Salt Lake City.

A lot has changed since Plata was drafted by then-TFC head coach Aron Winter in 2011. But Plata’s mid-season exit a year later remains one of the all-time bizarre moments in Toronto FC’s history.

The Ecuadoran attacker disappeared — literally — midway through the 2012 season. He cleaned out his locker and packed his bags as puzzled media watched on following a match that campaign.

To this day, Paul Mariner, who had replaced Winter as coach that season, claims the details are foggy. At the time, though, TFC’s English manager was visibly perturbed at Plata’s show of disobedience.

Despite TFC’s repeated denials, the 20-year-old Plata made his way to LDU Quito (Ecuador). He didn’t necessarily want out of Major League Soccer. Just Toronto.

He left TFC with no goals, no assists in his final season, and was eventually traded to Salt Lake City for a second-round pick that TFC used to draft Edwin Rivas, who’s no longer with the Reds.

Since then, Plata has scored 27 times and added 25 assists in 77 starts at RSL. He’s basically Giovinco Lite.

And he’s leading a Salt Lake attack that’s riding high after winning in Philadelphia on Sunday night.

“They’re a very good attacking team,” said TFC coach Greg Vanney, adding that RSL’s Javier Morales and Burrito Martinez are also attackers to be feared.

“Then there’s Plata. People here have seen Plata and he has really thrived since getting into Salt Lake. He scored a great goal (in Philly).”

Plata’s long-distance curler Sunday night will undoubtedly be up for MLS Goal of the Year. For those who haven’t watched him since his unceremonious exit, he’s added that element to his game.

At one time in his career, Plata was defined by his pace. Not anymore.

Salt Lake boasts a number of offensive threats capable of hurting teams when given space anywhere in the attacking half.

“They’re active, they’re busy, they’re very fluid,” Vanney said. “They will show up in different areas of the field … What they do isn’t set or clearcut, but they have four guys who are very dangerous and very fluid.”

It would be five, but TFC will catch something of a reprieve with Armenian international Yura Movsisyan injured. From a defensive standpoint, though, TFC’s rearguard will be tested more than it was three days ago.

Of course, the same can be said of RSL’s defensive unit, which is a fraction of what it once was. Aaron Maund and Jamison Olave are an odd centreback pairing that Sebastian Giovinco should have his way with.

Salt Lake hasn’t looked resolute defensively since Nat Borchers left and Chris Schuler ran into injury problems. As a result, they’ve become a perennial mid-table club in the Western Conference.

“Where I think they’re vulnerable is defensively,” Vanney said. “For all their attacking abilities, they tend to think attack first, defend second. If we can be responsible with the ball and pick our moments to try and transition and attack fast and use other moments to be responsible with the ball and move it and be active and keep the tempo high. We’ll force their four guys who are good attackers to defend a bit.”

As for the Reds, they haven’t had many defensive issues — well, other than in San Jose — this season.

Toronto FC matched its single-season shutout record (eight) with a 3-0 win over Columbus earlier this week. It also has conceded the least number of goals (23) in the Eastern Conference this season, leading to belief in and around the Kia Training Ground that the Reds are capable of making a run.

And finally suppressing the few memories that continue to pop up.



Jay Chapman (TFC) vs. Kyle Beckerman (RSL)

Toronto FC’s young midfielder is holding his own against some of the top guys in the league. On Wednesday, Chapman, 22, will tangle with U.S. World Cup veteran Kyle Beckerman, who’s regarded as one of the top holding midfielders in Major League Soccer history. Can Chapman put in another performance beyond his years?


-Michael Bradley was back in training on Tuesday. While he’ll miss Wednesday night’s match, Bradley is questionable for Saturday.

-Benoit Cheyrou will miss a second straight match with a hamstring injury suffered in training last week.

-A win will see TFC (30) climb into sole possession of second place in the East, with a game in hand on New York City (36).

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Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020



Every year, a raft of exciting new players come onto the scene across all of the major US sports. With the MLS season getting underway and the NFL and MLB drafts not too far away, now is a great time to look at the young sports stars that could have a very bright future ahead of them, and the ones that are already proving they are destined for greatness.

Theo Bair (MLS)

This MLS season is looking like it could be one of the best yet, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team adding some extra dazzle to the league. Whilst Beckham might be able to attract a lot of new players to his MLS team, there are a lot of young stars on their way through such as Theo Bair at Vancouver Whitecaps. Bair has already made an impact on the first team and after impressing at under-20 and under-23 level for the national team, he has made two appearances for the senior team, well before his 21st birthday. This year could see Bair make a real name for himself in the MLS.

Source: Pixabay

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB)

Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr has one MLB season under his belt but it looks like the best is still yet to come from him at the Blue Jays. He was heavily backed to take the league by storm but he failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him. Without the pressure of being the top-ranked prospect, this season could see Guerrero play with some weight lifted off his shoulders. He has been working very hard on his fitness over the offseason, something that his manager Montoyo has been quick to comment upon.

Baseball by andrewmalone, on Flickr

Baseball” (CC BY 2.0) by andrewmalone

Connor McDavid (NHL)

McDavid has already established him as a top hockey player but at 23, he has the potential to go on to do so much more. The player was born in Ontario and was the first overall draft pick, showing how much expectation was already on him at that stage but he has gone on to prove that he is one of the best players in the NHL. McDavid could go on to be one the NHL’s best-ever hockey players and this season could be the year that he shows the world, not just the NHL.

Chuba Hubbard (College Football)

The Oklahoma State Cowboys running back has been making the headlines for several years now. He continues to improve and grab more attention for his impressive stats and performances. He was close to being a sprinter and nearly made the Canadian Olympic team before switching over to football. He is passing up the 2020 NFL draft to play his senior season at Cowboys. He should give them a good chance of winning the College Football Championship, though they’re trailing at the seventh spot in the latest American football odds at +2400.00, with Clemson as the current betting favorites.

2020 will definitely be a very exciting time with some of these young stars looking to breakthrough in their respective sports and show the world what they are capable of.

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Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby – and looking to break the Curse of Apollo



Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby with early favourite Justify after watching the race from his sofa in Southern California last year.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s ability to produce Derby contenders year after year is an enviable feat and why his absence a year ago stood out. It was just his second since 2009 and occurred because his lone candidate got hurt.

Baffert will saddle Justify and 30-to-1 shot Solomini in Saturday’s Derby.

Justify is one of the greenest colts Baffert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a combined 19 lengths. If Justify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a two-year-old.

“The thing about the Kentucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just happens. You can’t force it,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some really good horses.”

Baffert’s four victories are tied for second-most in Derby history. He’s finished second three times, too, including in 2012 with Bodemeister, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.

Like Justify, Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old. He set a blistering pace and led the Derby until the final 150 yards when I’ll Have Another overtook him to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

Magnum Moon, the 6-to-1 third choice, also is unbeaten and didn’t run as a two-year-old.

“It’s going to happen,” Baffert said, referring to the curse being broken. “Whether it happens this year or whatever, but it will happen because Bodemeister almost got away with it. But I don’t really worry about that.”

Baffert almost had a third starter this year until McKinzie developed a hind-end issue that knocked him off the Derby trail.

“When McKinzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I really think McKinzie would probably be second choice here. We’d really have a 1-2 here.”

Justify cleared the biggest pre-Derby hurdle by drawing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to position him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solomini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.

Baffert turned 65 in January, making him eligible for Medicare and retirement at most other jobs. However, he entertains no such thoughts.

“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” the white-haired trainer said. “I’m constantly meeting people. They’re sending me horses. If you don’t have success, you’re not going to get those opportunities.”

After a successful run in the quarter horse ranks, Baffert switched to thoroughbreds. He started with one horse.

“After 25 years, I’m finally getting horses that I don’t have to buy,” he said. “The big guys are sending me horses.”

None was bigger than American Pharoah in 2015. The colt swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

Baffert has compared Justify to American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and big stride. Still, Justify has yet to encounter the kind of traffic the Derby’s 20-horse stampede creates and the talent as he’ll run against on Saturday.

“I’d rather have a really talented horse than one who’s seasoned and just on par with the rest of them,” Baffert said.

Early on, Baffert knew Justify had the goods.

“The first time I worked him at Santa Anita, I knew he was a really good horse,” he said. “The track was really deep that morning, and he went around there effortlessly. His first race, he ran incredibly and showed how special he was.”

That kind of intuition is what separates Baffert from his rivals, fellow Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.

“Bob’s got a great feel for it,” he said.

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Matthews ready to return to Maple Leafs lineup after missing a month



NASHVILLE — The hurtin’ tune that Auston Matthews has been singing for the past four weeks finally can be put in the remainder bin in Music City.

The Maple Leafs’ top centre on Wednesday declared himself set to return to the lineup after recovering from a right shoulder injury.

Wonderful timing, of course, considering the Leafs will take on the No. 1 club in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday night.

“In my mind, I think I’m ready to go and taking it as I’m getting ready to play (Thursday),” Matthews said after resuming his normal role, between William Nylander and Zach Hyman, during practice at Bridgestone Arena.

“It felt good, nice to get in all the reps and everything. (Wednesday) was a good step forward in that process, going through the line rushes.”

It seemed probable that the Leafs also will have defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the past five games as he recovered from an illness, against Nashville. Zaitsev was paired with Jake Gardiner, his regular partner, at practice.

For Matthews, it has been 10 games as a spectator with his latest injury, his third of the 2017-18 regular season after he missed four games in November with a back issue and then sat for six in December because of a concussion.

Thursday will mark four weeks since Matthews was hurt when he was sandwiched by the New York Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech in a game at the Air Canada Centre.

A major bonus for Matthews in his recovery has been the fact he has been able to skate though much of his recuperation. That was not the case when he was out with his previous two injuries.

It’s worth noting that Matthews scored two goals versus the Montreal Canadiens upon returning on Nov. 18 from his back injury; in his first two games upon coming back from a concussion, he scored a goal in each.

Mike Babcock said a final decision on the participation of Matthews and Zaitsev against the Predators would be made on Thursday morning, but the Leafs coach was talking as though it would be a rubber stamp.

“This is going to be the best opportunity for (Matthews) because he has been able to skate and compete,” Babcock said. “The other times he was not able to do anything.

“To get him back … it’s still going to be going way faster than he has been practising, so there is going to be an adjustment period, but he’s a good player and he will figure it out.”

Defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t think Matthews will take long to find his footing. Rielly missed six games in late January/early February with an arm injury, so knows what Matthews could be feeling.

“You’re nervous and you just want to get back into it,” Rielly said. “You play your first shift a bit hesitant, but after that it’s important you get back to yourself.

“It’s never easy, but Auston is one of those guys that I will imagine it won’t take long for him to get back into a rhythm.”

And there’s the trickle-down effect through the forward lines with Matthews in uniform.

“Guys are used to playing with certain players and when everyone is healthy, I think you get better chemistry throughout the entire lineup,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “Certain guys don’t have to play with different guys constantly and it’s just more of a set group, so I think it’s going to help us.”

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