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?

Report: Man City, Guardiola to discuss new contract this summer

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Manchester City does not want to let Pep Guardiola start the third year with the club without signing on for longer term.

Guardiola enters the third and final year of his deal in August, and the BBC reports that Man City plans to negotiate a new deal with the Catalan wizard this summer.

[ MORE: Making sense of the PL table ]

This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given City’s outstanding sophomore season under Guardiola.

Unbeaten City has an 11-point lead on the Premier League table after 18 weeks, with one draw and a PL record 16-straight wins. They have 56 goals scored, conceding just 12.

They’ve won five of six UEFA Champions League matches, only losing a match their opposition needed and they did not, 2-1 to Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine. City faces Basel next, and visits Leicester City in the League Cup quarterfinals Wednesday.

Lanzini charged by FA for fooling ref with dive

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Manuel Lanzini dove to earn a penalty in West Ham’s 3-0 win over Stoke City on Saturday at the bet365 Stadium, and he may pay for it.

Lanzini, who also posted an assist in an influential performance, drew the penalty converted by Mark Noble when he hit the deck under minimal contact from Erik Pieters.

[ MORE: Making sense of the PL table ]

He could miss two matches for “successful deception of a match official,” the same penalty given to Everton’s Oumar Niasse for a similar offense.

West Ham pulled out of the drop zone with the win, but has three bottom-half battles coming up over the festive fixtures: Saturday versus Newcastle, Dec. 26 at Bournemouth, and Jan. 2 versus West Brom.

Griezmann backtracks over ‘insensitive’ blackface tweet

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MADRID (AP) Soccer star Antoine Griezmann has apologized for any offense caused after posting an image of himself on social media in blackface as part of an NBA party costume on Sunday.

Griezmann, who is white, was also wearing a wig and holding a basketball in the photo which had “NBA 69 ALLSTARS” on the jersey.

[ MORE: Making sense of the PL table ]

The photo on his official Twitter account was accompanied by the message “80’s Party” followed by basketball and laughing emojis.

One response called the photo a “bad idea” with others urging the France forward to delete the tweet.

Griezmann at first reacted to the criticism by tweeting: “Calm down friends, I’m a fan of the Harlem Globetrotters and of this great era… It’s a tribute.”

He later tweeted an apology to those he had offended.

“I recognize that’s it’s insensitive on my part. If I offended some people I’m sorry,” he wrote.

The 26-year-old Griezmann plays for Spanish team Atletico Madrid but has been linked to a move to Barcelona.

Alex Morgan named CONCACAF Female POY, Navas wins Male POY

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CONCACAF awarded some of its finest players and coaches on Sunday night, and two familiar faces took home the evening’s most notable awards.

[ MORE: Making sense of table in Man City’s world ]

U.S. Women’s National Team forward Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride) and Keylor Navas of Costa Rica and Real Madrid each earned Female and Male Player of the Year honors, after boasting tremendous 2017 seasons.

Morgan who primarily plays for Orlando in the NWSL, was also a member of Lyon, who went on to win the Women’s Champions League this past season.

Navas, on the other hand, played a key role in Real Madrid’s UEFA Champions League run, as well as Los Blancos’ La Liga title.

For Morgan, the award is her third since CONCACAF began handing out its annual awards in 2013. Meanwhile, Navas has now won Male Player of the Year on two occasions.