MLS returns this week for the 2020 season and some of the biggest names in league history are back too.

Former New York Red Bulls superstar Thierry Henry is the new head coach at Montreal Impact, while LA Galaxy great David Beckham is introducing expansion franchise Inter Miami.

However, Galaxy have lost the league's latest superstar after Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored 53 goals in two seasons, returned to Milan.

Both Los Angeles clubs are still plotting big seasons, and champions Seattle Sounders look well set for a title defence.

We pose five key questions heading into the new campaign.
 

Can Chicharito follow in Zlatan's footsteps?

The biggest departure of the offseason was followed by the most significant arrival. Javier Hernandez has long been linked with a move to MLS, and Galaxy secured the signing of the ex-Manchester United striker as Ibrahimovic's replacement.

Hernandez does not have the same global appeal as Ibrahimovic, but he may ultimately prove a better fit at Dignity Health Sports Park.

While Ibrahimovic competed for the MLS Golden Boot, Galaxy continued to fall well short of team titles, playing a direct style that suited their talisman but not the rest of their squad. Cristian Pavon and company should now thrive alongside Hernandez.
 

Are Supporters' Shield holders LAFC one-season wonders?

Galaxy did not need to look far for evidence of what could be achieved by a team all pulling in one direction, with Hernandez's Mexico team-mate Carlos Vela leading Los Angeles FC to a dominant record-breaking Supporters' Shield success.

Bob Bradley's LAFC were a joy to watch, but Shield winners have struggled in recent years to maintain standards - Toronto FC providing the most striking example as they slumped from first in 2017 to 19th a year later.

Defender Walker Zimmerman has departed, striker Adama Diomande is starting the season injured, and LAFC suddenly could have their work cut out in 2020.
 

Could Seattle finally provide a serious title defence?

It is not just the Shield that has proven tricky to retain. Not since Galaxy in 2011 and 2012 have a team won MLS Cup two years on the bounce.

Seattle have played Toronto in three of the past four finals, winning twice, and yet there is a decent argument Sounders have not been the best team in the league at any point over this stretch. That should be about to change - despite the disappointment of Thursday's CONCACAF Champions League exit.

The defence has been restructured over the past 12 months, with retired centre-back Chad Marshall a big miss, but there is real depth in midfield and attack. Joao Paulo is an exciting addition, while Jordan Morris is in the form of his career as Seattle aim to build on their second title.
 

Will Henry bounce back from his Monaco misery?

Henry turned Red Bulls into contenders in the twilight of his playing career, but his coaching exploits have not been quite so successful to date. The Arsenal legend lasted just 20 matches in his first senior role with Monaco, losing 11 times and conceding 36 goals.

There was still excitement in Montreal as Henry arrived at Impact, though, with the club in need of a boost. They have missed the playoffs in each of the past three seasons.

But this is no simple second job for Henry as he aims to prove Monaco was a disappointing one-off. Montreal have lost veteran captain Ignacio Piatti and are short in several areas.
 

Do Inter and Nashville look more like Atlanta or Cincinnati?

Beckham's Inter are not the only expansion franchise in 2020, as Nashville also make their debut. The league has swollen from 20 teams in 2016 to 26 today, and there are therefore plenty of examples to consider as they arrive in MLS.

The Miami outfit look to have taken heed of the ambitious Atlanta United, champions in their second season. For Tata Martino, Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez, read Diego Alonso, Rodolfo Pizarro and Matias Pellegrini.

Nashville's spending has been more modest, trading within the league, but that does not necessarily mean they will follow miserable 2019 basement side FC Cincinnati. Nashville at least look solid.

Australia strolled to back-to-back victories at the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup as a potent opening partnership between Alyssa Healy and Beth Mooney helped beat Bangladesh by 86 runs.

Healy’s return to form continued as she made a carefree 83 to hit the top of the tournament’s run-scoring charts, ably supported by Mooney who ended unbeaten on 81.

Sri Lanka gave them a fright three days earlier but there were no such scares for the hosts as Bangladesh only managed 103 for nine in reply and Meg Lanning’s side climbed to second in Group A.

Healy began with bristling intent, peeling three boundaries from Jahanara Alam’s opening over as Bangladesh’s seven-strong off-side field failed to foil the opener.

Salma Khatun opted to take pace off the ball with five overs of spin in the Powerplay but Healy rocked back and cleared long-on to take the score to 53 without loss from the first six overs.

The keeper-batter made it look easy as she struck sixes over long-off and then midwicket from Khadiza Tul Kubra, bringing up a brutal 26-ball fifty.

Mooney turned over the strike before showing her own strength down the ground with three boundaries in as many overs, helping bring up the first T20I century partnership for the openers.

Their first reprieve came when Rumana Ahmed beat Mooney’s bat and Nigar Sultana Joty was ponderous in whipping off the bails, saving the batter’s skin.

Mooney reverse swept for four to take the stand to 122, Australia’s highest partnership for the first wicket in T20Is.

The breakthrough finally came when Healy sliced to point off Salma, departing for 83 from 53 balls.

Ashleigh Gardner had licence to swing and did just that in the penultimate over, carting Salma for three boundaries in her 22 from nine balls.

The final two overs went for 30 runs and Australia rose to 189 for one from their 20 overs, their second-highest total at the Women’s T20 World Cup.

Bangladesh’s reply began with Murshida Khatun (8) lofting Megan Schutt down the ground at the start of the fourth over but departed two balls later as Jess Jonassen took a fine catch pedalling back at mid-on.

Sanjida Islam toe-ended to the third man boundary from her first ball and was comprehensively bowled by Schutt on her second as an eventful over ended with the score 23 for two.

Annabel Sutherland’s first T20 World Cup spell yielded a maiden wicket as Sanjida was strangled down the leg side for three, with the score on 26 for three.

The youngster was punished for straying down leg soon after by Fargana Hoque Pinky, who built a handy partnership for the fourth wicket with keeper-batter Nigar Sultana.

Nigar stroked Nicola Carey through the covers for four when Lanning turned to spin, and Sutherland leaked more runs as Fargana stroked two boundaries from an over that cost 13.

Nigar and Fargana, who struck Carey for a handsome off-drive, assembled Bangladesh’s second fifty partnership at the T20 World Cup, and it ended on exactly 50 when Nigar skied one to Lanning off Carey on 19.

Rumana made a sprightly 13 from 12 balls but picked out Wareham on the midwicket fence to make it 95 for five and Schutt had her third when Fargana’s top-edge was gleefully caught by Healy.

Three wickets in three balls rounded it off - Jonassen clean bowling Jahanara before Salma and Khadija were run out in successive balls.

 

Scores in brief

 

Australia beat Bangladesh by 86 runs, Manuka Oval, Canberra

 

Australia 189-1, 20 overs (Alyssa Healy 83, Beth Mooney 81 not out; Salma Khatun 1-39)

Bangladesh 103-9, 20 overs (Fargana Hoque Pinky 36; Megan Schutt 3-21, Jess Jonassen 2-17)

Jamaica’s sports minister Olivia Grange said she is heartbroken over the news of the killing of two Jamaican sportsmen on Wednesday.

The Jamaica Football Federation (JFF), the Kingston and St. Andrew Football Association (KSAFA) have released statements of condolence in the wake of the tragic death of former national football player Irvino English.

Jamaica’s Lesgar Murdock prevailed in a down-to-the-wire battle to win High Overall and First Grandmaster of the Open Division at the 2020 Florida Open Pistol Shooting Tournament held recently at the Universal Shooting Academy in Frostproof, Florida.

MLS side Real Salt Lake have announced the signing of former Italy international Giuseppe Rossi.

Rossi, 33, has been a free agent since he left Genoa at the end of the 2017-18 season.

The former Manchester United, Villarreal and Fiorentina striker escaped a ban in 2018 after testing positive for dorzolamide.

Rossi and his legal team insisted the banned substance, which is commonly found in eye drops, was consumed accidentally.

Despite being cleared to return to the pitch, it is only now that Rossi has found a club with RSL moving to bring him in on Thursday.

"It feels great to now be a part of Real Salt Lake," Rossi said. "I can't wait to step onto the pitch and help RSL achieve all the goals we've set this year.

"For me, MLS has been growing every year and has produced an exciting product. I'm lucky enough to have RSL be my first contact in the league during this process.

"The club's respect and kindness towards me is something I appreciate immensely. I can't wait to see and meet the fans and immerse myself in the RSL culture. Along with the rest of the team, I can't wait to begin this season and enjoy the journey together."

RSL finished third in the Western Conference last season and open their new campaign away to Orlando City on Saturday.

"It's amazing to have a player of [Rossi's] skills in and around the guys," RSL head coach Freddy Juarez told the club's official website.  

"It's a guy that can change the game at any given moment and he's seen it all and done it all so he gives the team confidence.

"Beyond his skills, he takes the time to talk and spend time with the young guys. It goes a long way when your peers can lead you and hold high standards."

Shikha Pandey held her nerve at the last to help India become the first team into the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup 2020 semi-finals with a tense three-run victory over New Zealand.

Having held India at 133 for eight, the White Ferns would have fancied their chances in Melbourne having not failed to chase a sub-140 T20I target since October 2013.

But they were thwarted with the bat, their star-studded top-order of Sophie Devine, Rachel Priest and Suzie Bates all falling within nine overs, as Amelia’s Kerr’s stunning late cameo proved not enough to prevent defeat.

The tense Junction Oval win means India are guaranteed a spot in the last four, with the battle for the final qualifying spot in Group A heating up.

Another impressive outing from Shafali Verma (46) set India on their way but a fine spell of bowling from New Zealand’s own teenage talent Kerr stopped her from dominating, the 19-year-old leg-spinner taking the innings-changing wicket to finish with figures of two for 21.

Smriti Mandhana, who missed the win over Bangladesh due to viral fever, saw her comeback cut short as she was dismissed for 11 by Lea Tahuhu in the third over, the opener chopping onto her stumps.

But once again Verma stepped up, the 16-year-old smashing back-to-back sixes to steer India to 49 for one in the Powerplay.

Tanya Bhatia, in at three, soon followed Verma’s lead, taking India beyond 60 but she perished for 23 when Kerr caught her at point off Rosemary Mair. The same duo combined again to dismiss Jemimah Rodrigues for ten.

Verma was twice given a lifeline as chances were squandered in the field, Maddy Green dropping an opportunity at long on before Tahuhu spilled at mid-wicket.

Harmanpreet Kaur’s disappointing form continued as the India captain was caught and bowled by Leigh Kasperek for one - her third single-figure score in the tournament.

Hayley Jensen made amends for her side’s earlier errors by catching Verma at cover off Kerr for 46, before the spinner trapped Veda Krishnamurthy lbw for six.

Chasing 134, Priest’s time in the middle was short-lived as her aerial option backfired, Radha Yadav holding on at mid-wicket off Pandey to remove the opener for 12.

And the White Ferns’ start to the innings went from bad to worse when the Bates-Devine partnership fell after four overs, the former handing Deepti Sharma her 50th T20I wicket.

Before long Poonam Yadav struck with her spin, dismissing Devine after the skipper mistimed her full toss to point.

The fourth-wicket pair of Green (24) and Katey Martin (25) cautiously plodded on, putting on a 43-run partnership before the former was caught behind by Bhatia off Rajeshwari Gayakwad.

Two overs later and Martin was gone, Rodrigues with the catch on the mid-wicket boundary off Radha Yadav.

That looked to be game done and dusted but Kerr (34) defied Poonam’s heroics to set up a nerve-wracking finale, striking 18 in the penultimate over.

But she couldn’t muster a final-ball six as the White Ferns agonisingly missed out, suffering their first defeat of this Women’s T20 World Cup.

 

Scores in brief

 

India beat New Zealand by three runs, Junction Oval, Melbourne

 

India 133-8, 20 overs (Shafali Verma 46; Amelia Kerr 2-21, Rosemary Mair 2-27)

New Zealand 130-6, 20 overs (Amelia Kerr 34 not out, Katey Martin 25; Shikha Pandey 1-21)

Former Reggae Boy and Waterhouse midfielder, Irvino English, was killed in a drive-by shooting in Waterhouse on Wednesday night.

Tigres UANL goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman scored a dramatic late goal in a CONCACAF Champions League win over Alianza on Wednesday.

Leading 3-2 at home but staring at an exit on the away goals rule, Tigres UANL needed some heroics deep in additional time.

Up for a set-piece, Guzman incredibly headed in an Eduardo Vargas free-kick to give Tigres a 4-2 victory and 5-4 aggregate win, sending them into the quarter-finals.

The 34-year-old goalkeeper was unmarked when he met Vargas' delivery in the 94th minute midweek.

Enner Valencia's opener and an Andre-Pierre Gignac brace had put Tigres in control before Juan Carlos Portillo Leal's double for Alianza.

Tigres, who have made a slow start to the Liga MX Clausura season, will face New York City in the last eight.

The 25th edition of MLS gets underway on Saturday and it promises to be the biggest season yet.

David Beckham's Inter Miami and fellow expansion club Nashville SC will enter the league, which will increase to 26 teams.

Seattle Sounders are the defending champions, record-breaking Los Angeles FC will look to go all the way this year after falling short last term, while Arsenal and Barcelona legend Thierry Henry is at the helm of Montreal Impact.

With the season set to kick off, here is a selection of the best Opta facts related to MLS.

 

- Only one of the last eight teams to debut in MLS have won their inaugural match, dating back to Portland Timbers in 2011 (LAFC 1-0 Seattle in 2018). Orlando City and New York City drew against each other in both teams' inaugural match in 2015, while the other five teams that joined the league in that time lost their opening match.

- Of MLS' last nine new teams, only one have failed to score in their inaugural match in the competition. Montreal lost 2-0 to Vancouver Whitecaps in 2012.

- Of the 14 teams to play their inaugural MLS match on the road, only two have managed to win; including Los Angeles in 2018 (also Chicago Fire in 1998, at Miami Fusion). Two more managed draws while 10 of the 14 teams that started on the road lost their inaugural match.

- The last six MLS expansion clubs scored in their first away match in the league dating back to 2015. Five of the teams scored one goal while Atlanta United scored six against fellow newcomers Minnesota United in 2017.

- The last three reigning MLS Cup winners lost the opening match of the following season, including Seattle's 2-1 defeat at Houston Dynamo in 2017 after reigning supreme in 2016.

- LAFC equalled the all-time record for goals scored in a single MLS season last campaign (85 – level with LA Galaxy in 1998). Their striker Carlos Vela also broke the record for single-season goals in MLS history; scoring 34 and beating Josef Martinez's record haul of 31 from 2018.

- Atlanta star Martinez has scored a goal against all 23 of the opposition teams that he has faced in regular-season MLS matches – Nashville will be the 24th different opponent he has played against in the competition.

- New York City's 177 points and 50 wins are both second-most over the past three MLS regular campaigns, both behind Atlanta (182 points and 54 wins). NYC are the only team that have won at least 16 regular-season matches in each of the past three MLS campaigns.

- Last season was the 10th straight in which New York Red Bulls qualified for the MLS postseason. The Red Bulls' 10 successive play-off appearance represent the second-longest active run (Seattle – 11) and the longest in the history of the Eastern Conference.

- New Impact manager Henry took charge of Monaco in Ligue 1 last season between October 2018 and January 2019. During his 12 league games in charge, he won just twice (17 per cent); which was the worst win ratio of every Monaco head coach to take charge of five-plus top-flight games in their history.

- Colorado Rapids have missed the play-offs in three successive MLS seasons for the first time since 2007-2009. They have collected just 106 points over the past three MLS campaigns, only Orlando City (104) have collected fewer among the teams that have been in the league for each season since 2017.

- 85 of LA Galaxy recruit Javier Hernandez's 89 goals within the big five European leagues during his career came from inside the box (96 per cent), including each of the past 30 of these strikes.

Goals from Captain Jody Brown, Lacey Murray and Marlee Fray spurred Jamaica to a 3-1 victory over Canada in the CONCACAF Women's U20 World Cup qualifying championship in the Dominican Republic on Wednesday.

David Beckham revealed there were times he thought Inter Miami "might not happen" as the franchise prepare for their opening MLS game.

Under the guidance of head coach Diego Alonso, Inter Miami begin their campaign with a trip to Los Angeles to face LAFC on Sunday.

Former Manchester United, Real Madrid and England star Beckham, a co-owner of the new team, had dreamt of launching an MLS team after playing for LA Galaxy, but the 44-year-old was still surprised by the difficulties.

"It has been a long journey," Beckham told a news conference on Wednesday, via the BBC.

"There was never a moment when I said I would walk away but there were moments when I thought this might not happen.

"I have always loved a challenge. I didn't realise how big a challenge this was going to be, even down to putting tiles in the showers."

Nashville will also enter MLS in 2020 and recent expansion teams LAFC and Atlanta United have made a huge impact.

Atlanta were MLS Cup champions in 2018 and have made the play-offs in each of their first three seasons, while LAFC reached the postseason in their first two campaigns.

"Kicking the first ball this weekend is going to be success for me," said Beckham, who teamed up with Jorge Mas in 2017.

"But I didn't want to be in partnership with someone who was in it for a vanity project. I want my children to be able to say, 'My dad built this club'."

West Indies captain Kieron Pollard said that while he could pinpoint a great many things his side got wrong during a one-sided affair against Sri Lanka at Hambantota on Wednesday, he would not go into the business of scapegoating but would talk to his team about what transpired.

Sri Lanka won the game by 161 runs but more importantly, the hosts now hold an unassailable 2-0 lead in their three-match ODI series.

The hosts benefitted from centuries of 127  and 119 from opener Avishka Fernando and Kusal Mendis respectively, the pair helping them to a mammoth 345-8 from their 50 overs. The West Indies did not get close, as only Shai Hope, 51, and Roston Chase, 31, offered any resistance.

The visitors would end on 184 all out against the bowling of Wanindu Hasaranga, 3-30, Lakshan Sandakan, 3-57, and Nuwan Pradeep, 2-37. There was also a wicket for Angelo Matthews, 1-20.

But Pollard did point out that things could have been different had he not dropped Mendis early in the innings and maybe, the series would now be different.

"It was the start we were looking forward to, getting two wickets early. But I put the catch of Kusal Mendis down, otherwise they would have been three down,” said Pollard.

In addition, Pollard believes his side did not have faith in the plans they made.

“We didn't stick to our plans long enough. I don't think we were up to the international standard today. Well bowled to them and well played to them,” he said.

Pollard will now look toward the final game of the series to see if the West Indies can win one.

“We weren't there in all three departments today. We can pinpoint a lot of things but I don't want to go into a lot of details. We'll do that as a team. I cop this one on the chin and we move on to Kandy."

A number of World Champions from the 2019 World Championships in Doha are reportedly being lined up for the Jamaica International Invitational set for May 2, 2020.

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