Quality backup goalkeepers: extravagance or necessity?

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Is a high-quality backup goalkeeper an extravagance in Major League Soccer?

Most of us may discuss and debate this leisurely, over cold ones with friends while trying desperately to remember that adorable server’s name. It’s just a hypothetical for us.

But for MLS decision makers this is a significant, real-world choice – with possible employment consequences. And them’s big consequences.

Toronto FC has a choice to make once Stefan Frei returns from a broken leg. Word comes that the choice may already have been made, as The Sun out of Canada says Aron Winter and crew were looking to move Frei, who was expendable because Milos Kocic developed apace and held steady in starting assignments.

Toronto, like so many other sides, has real needs around the field. So, can they afford to keep a potential starter on the bench when other needs are pressing? Making the right call could mean the difference in playoffs or no playoffs – and job or no job.

The five teams that may have such a “luxury,” if you consider it so:

Toronto FC – Kocic was in goal for the side’s one shining moment in 2012, the massive march win at Los Angeles. He’s been strong enough since then, which is why Frei may be on the outs.

Columbus – It’s getting harder to remember a time when William Hesmer wasn’t the No. 1 around Crew Stadium. But Andy Gruenebaum has never disappointed when forced by injury into duty. Gruenebaum is 29, hardly old for a goalkeeper. Kevin Hartman, 37, remains one of the league’s best, and Kasey Keller just hung ‘em up at 41. So Gruenebaum has time to latch onto a starting assignment somewhere.

D.C. United – This is a little out of nowhere, because the sample for second-year man Joe Willis remains tiny (just four matches this year, after three last year). But the 23-year-old sure looks up for a starting job somewhere. Would United consider making a move considering they have two promising ‘keeper prospects in Willis and U.S. under-23 Bill Hamid? (Not to mention young Andrew Dykstra, formerly a starter in Chicago.)

Chicago Fire – Everyone assumed the No. 1 shirt at Toyota Park was solid property of Sean Johnson, a quality up-and-comer who already has time with the U.S. national team, plus 41 career starts for the Fire. But along comes Paolo Tornaghi (pictured) – and the young Italian isn’t bad at all. Johnson is back from his time with the Olympic team, but it looks like Tornaghi is Frank Klopas’ man for now.

New England – Matt Reis has been the trusty incumbent for so long around Gillette Stadium, there has never been much need to discuss importing a young buck to push competition. For the last couple of years Bobby Shuttleworth has been backup, and a Shuttleworth appearance has generally not meant any significant dropoff in goal guarding quality. You wonder how many teams might be happy with Shuttleworth, 24, as a starter?

Bayern Munich activates clause to make Coman permanent

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Bayern Munich has announced its decision to make Kingsley Coman’s loan from Juventus a permanent move.

Coman, 20, operates as a right wing and striker, and can also play on the left. He’s made 40 Bundesliga appearances with six goals and six assists over two seasons for Bayern.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

It’s a $24 million option, and will bind Coman to Bayern through the 2019-20 season.

From FCBayern.com:

“Kingsley Coman is a crucial player for the future of our team, so we’ve decided to exercise the option,” commented Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge: “Kingsley is a promising player with great potential. We’re convinced he’ll help us in the coming years.”

Coman, Renato Sanches, and Joshua Kimmich are all under the age of 22.

Mourinho has chance to make major statement in Manchester Derby

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The betting market says Man City is more than even money to beat Manchester United, and wagering on the latter to win Thursday’s derby match is a longer shot than the Red Devils finishing in the Top Four (an achievement to be sure).

The worth of those metrics is debatable, but allows a sincere thought: Given their thin depth and the road challenge, a win for Jose Mourinho would be as impressive as almost anything Manchester United has accomplished this season.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

Maybe that’s obvious to many of us, but a twirl through the spheres of United supporter social media shows something different. Many Red Devils are confident of their teams’ fortunes in Thursday’s Manchester Derby, with one even predicting a 3-1 win in a comment on the NBC Sports Soccer Facebook page.

That could be an outlier, sure, but shows the demands Manchester United supporters place on their big spending club. United won’t have Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, two of the best players in the world, and it’s not as if the club has had time to adjust to their absences. No one has played more minutes for United than Pogba and Ibrahimovic this season.

United is also without Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo, and Phil Jones at the heart of their defense as it attempts to shut down Sergio Aguero and/or Gabriel JesusDavid Silva is a doubt for City, who also may not have John Stones, but Guardiola has options.

How Mourinho attacks — or doesn’t attack — City, and how Guardiola sets up his XI, will be interesting leading into the match, because parking the bus lacks its usual luster given the center back carnage. Will Mourinho trot out Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera in a bid to clog the midfield? Will he run Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford as a strike pair?

The answers to these questions and the unlikely event of a United road win may end up shining all over Thursday. And while that win would wind up being overshadowed by United’s finish on the Premier League table and UEFA Europa League, there’s little doubt it would stake a serious claim for Mourinho’s time at United being on the rise.

Henry, Aguero discuss playing up top under Pep

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One great striker got another one to open up on an up-and-down year at Manchester City.

Thierry Henry — one of the greatest of all-time, it must be said — sat down with Sergio Aguero ahead of Thursday’s Manchester Derby at the Etihad Stadium, and asked the Argentine about Pep Guardiola, Gabriel Jesus, and more.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

At times, it’s a fascinating discussion on playing lone striker. Even apart from the obligatory questions regarding Jesus’ arrival at City, Henry and Aguero speak their craft in a manner you don’t see too often.

That’s helped by the fact that Henry played for Guardiola at Barcelona, and can relate to the positional demands of Man City’s boss. Consider this exchange, from Sky Sports:

HENRY: When I was at Arsenal, I played up front and if I wanted to drift out to the left, I could. But when I got to Barca, I had to stay out wide and press. Sometimes doing that can be hard.

AGUERO: The thing I’ve found the hardest has been getting into my head the fact that I have to press the centre-back and the goalkeeper in matches. That’s what Pep asks me to do. It may not be a big deal, but in terms of processing it, the two of us speak a lot. He knows what I’m like.

I’ve been gradually learning and adapting to that style of pressing over the last few months. The first thing he taught me was how to press and how to do it well. Obviously there are times when I might drift out of position or I might press in an area where I’m not supposed to be, which might make it hard for the wingers or midfielders.

In the game itself, I may not realise because I’m so immersed and you can’t stop yourself. I’ve learnt a lot from him in terms of zones. He asks me to play as a No 9 and to stay in that position. I often drift out wide during matches and he looks at me and says, “If there’s a player out wide who wants to cross it in, who’s in there? Nobody.”

HENRY: I know all about that, believe you me.

I love this, because it shows how difficult it is for an elite striker to adapt his mentality. Both Henry and Aguero found world-celebrated success by playing in a certain fashion, and Guardiola understood that and still demanded a change. Earlier this season, the manager somewhat famously spoke of improving Aguero.

Aguero has been linked with Real Madrid given the tumult at City.

PHOTO: Liverpool unveils 125th anniversary kit for next season

Liverpoolfc.com
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Liverpool rolled out its 125th anniversary kit, featuring a special crest to celebrate the occasion.

The Liver bird has 1892 on one side and 2017 on the other, with “125 YEARS” spelled out underneath the club’s emblem.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

The red shirt with a gold crest has a white V-neck and white at the ends of the sleeves. The goalkeeper kit is green.

The jersey will be available on May 19, and was announced last month.

liverpoolfc.com