Joel Lindpere vs. Mehdi Ballouchy for Red Bulls? (And insight on practice theory vs. reality)

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I always giggle inside when managers talk about arranging a practice environment so that two hopefuls are competing with the ferocity of wounded badgers for every spot.

It’s fine in theory. You want players mashing the gas pedal at each workout, looking sharp, thinking sharp, being sharp. A “best practices” doctrine for practice would include a hard-edged mano-a-mano at each position, surely helping create the ultimate desired effect.

But when the rubber of the theory meets the reality of the road, this stuff only goes so far. Because one man is usually far more talented than the other – also known as “life in a salary capped universe.”

In L.A. for instance, Adam Cristman can out-work, out-hustle, out-shoot and generally out-perform Robbie Keane over a week of practices for the Los Angeles Galaxy – but we all know who starts come Saturday.

Now and again, the universe does come together, and this best-case scenario works perfectly. It’s happening right now at Red Bull Arena, where Mehdi Ballouchy and Joel Lindpere (pictured) are locked in pitched battle over the left-sided spot for Hans Backe’s high-flying Red Bulls.

Backe says Lindpere has responded perfectly to last week’s benching, putting all his Estonian want-to into this week’s sessions. So we’ll see who gets the assignment Saturday against San Jose.

My take: Backe will go with Ballouchy again – but it won’t last.

No one has ever doubted Ballouchy’s technical ability. That’s why he was the No. 2 overall pick (by Real Salt Lake) back in 2006. But his frustrating inability to impact matches is why the Moroccan-born attacker is already at his third MLS address – having never truly locked down a starting role at any.

His defense is OK at best; the tracking is unreliable and the tackling gets sloppy and foul-prone. More than that, his indecision or lack of aggressive action in the final third marginalizes all that technical passing, shooting and attacking ability.

Lindpere, on the other hand, is chalk full of will and industry. He’s had a bad time so far in 2012, not looking a thing like a force of facility and disruption that fans in Harrison have come to know and love. But a benching will probably shake the shackles, whatever they are. He is what he is – and at 30 years old, he surely hasn’t lost it.

Ballouchy is what he is, too. One rather impressive day against a static and disinterested Columbus Crew was one thing. Going forward? Well, unless Ballouchy has finally found his MLS feet, Lindpere will be back at old left-sided home before you know it.

2-year doping ban upheld for Finland, CSKA Moscow player

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) The Court of Arbitration for Sport has upheld a two-year ban for CSKA Moscow midfielder Roman Eremenko for a positive test for cocaine.

[ MORE: Morata signs five-year contract at Chelsea ]

CAS says the ban imposed by UEFA was “appropriate” and dismissed the Finland international’s appeal.

[ MORE: Vertonghen says Spurs need to “level up” like rest of PL contenders ]

The ban will expire on Oct. 5, 2018, when Eremenko will be 31.

Eremenko tested positive after playing in a Champions League game for CSKA Moscow against Bayer Leverkusen last September. The 2-2 result was not affected despite Eremenko scoring CSKA’s second goal.

Born in Moscow, Eremenko grew up in Finland and has represented its national team 73 times.

Webb says De Jong would have been sent off with video review

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NEW YORK (AP) Howard Webb says he would have given Dutch midfielder Nigel De Jong a red card in the 2010 World Cup final if a video assistant referee had been in place.

The retired English referee showed De Jong a yellow card in the 28th minute for his karate kick into the chest of Spain’s Xabi Alonso. Hired in March to oversee video technology for professional soccer in the U.S. and Canada, Webb held a media seminar Friday ahead of its Aug. 5 launch in Major League Soccer.

Webb says: “Yes, it was a clear red card. It was a clear and obvious error on my part not to send the player off, and VAR would have been able to recommend a review to me, and I would have been able to make the right call.”

Now 46, Webb was a Premier League referee from 2003-14. He worked the Champions League and World Cup finals in 2010, became director of referees at the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, and started in March as manager of video assistant referee operations for the Professional Referee Organization.

MLS Snapshot: Orlando City 0-1 Atlanta United (video)

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The game in 100 words (or less): Friday night’s effort at Orlando City Stadium wasn’t the prettiest for either side but Atlanta United will gladly take three points from the fixture as the Central Florida venue proved to be a fortress once more. The Lions were far superior in their attacking threats throughout the match, testing USMNT and Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan on multiple occasions. However, it was Hector Villalba that proved to be the difference when he blasted a long-distance effort to beat Joe Bendik in the 86th minute. Atlanta extends its unbeaten streak to four matches with Friday’s decision, keeping Tata Martino’s side in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, while Orlando City moves into fifth.

Three moments that mattered

36′ — Guzan stands tall, denies Rivas — Carlos Rivas thought he scorched this one (and he did…), but Brad Guzan acted like it was nothing as he held his ground to make the stop.

39′ — Spector gets ripped off by Guzan — The U.S. goalkeeper is at it again… What a save!

86′ — Villalba unleashes stunner to propel Atlanta — Sometimes it just takes one good hit as a striker.

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Man of the match: Brad Guzan

Goalscorers: Hector Villalba (86′)

Report: Man City adding Mendy to continue backline restoration

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Fresh off of completing a record deal to help bolster the club’s back line this summer, Manchester City is back at it with the Premier League season looming.

[ MORE: Alvaro Morata signs five-year contract at Chelsea ]

The Citizens are reportedly on the brink of signing Monaco left back Benjamin Mendy to yet another world-record fee — which will total over $67 million.

Confirmation of the deal has yet to be announced by either team, but L’Equipe is reporting that the Citizens are hot on the 23-year-old’s trail in adding to their pricy back four.

Manager Pep Guardiola and Man City have not been shy readjusting their defensive unit over the past year, adding expensive first-team choices John Stones and Kyle Walker.