So the 4-3-3 works afterall; What do ya know about that?

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Trashing the 4-3-3 was positively de rigueur last year along some media outposts, “in” like the iPad 3.

The 4-3-3 just won’t work in MLS!  It was painted like a tuxedo and tails; it’s a good look, but you have to be in the right place to pull it off – and Major League Soccer just wasn’t the right place.

Or so the theory went.

Personally, I never bought it. Because the primary base of doubt was always Toronto FC.

I think we can all agree that Toronto has been anywhere from “average” to “bad” to “spectacularly inept” in a vast number of different formations over the years. The 4-3-3? Yeah, the bunch from BMO can stink in that one, too.

And yet, the formation itself was somehow a goat – never mind that Sporting Kansas City was rowing along nicely in a 4-3-3.

Then came Jurgen Klinsmann and his desire to merge the U.S. national team into a more aggressive period. A 4-3-3 formation could be part of it, he said.

Then Caleb Porter added to the tactical-talking skirmish by rolling 4-3-3 with his under-23s. So when the U.S. bid crashed on the CONCACAF rocks, the 4-3-3 detractors yelled “Aha! What did we tell you?”

Meanwhile, Sporting Kansas City is setting league records. Others have embraced the 4-3-3, or its slightly more conservative cousin, the 4-2-3-1. (Same thing, really, but the central triangle is inverted, with two holding midfielders and one creator playing ahead of them.)

Vancouver and Colorado are rocking a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. Jay Heaps hoped to lean in that direction but had to shelve the plans (at least temporarily) when his best passer, Benny Feilhaber, went on the injury shelf.

Bottom line: the best formation is usually one that works for the personnel on hand, an arrangement that best suits the individual strengths of the highest number of players.

But as long as we’re talking about the 4-3-3, let’s hear from a guy who knows what’s what on the Dutch-rooted scheme. That’s John O’Brien, the Californian who left as a teenager to go learn the Ajax way in the Netherlands.

He talked to Soccer America veteran scribe Ridge Mahoney about the kind of players who fit into the 4-3-3. It’s an interesting read, not just for the tactical talk, but for catching up on the man whose career was chopped down way too soon by injury.

Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery, scores in England win

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Jermain Defoe’s friendship with terminally-ill Bradley Lowery has been special to watch unfold, and the Sunderland striker brought his little buddy to Wembley today.

Then he notched a match-winner.

Lowery walked Defoe out onto the field in a replica England kit before Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania, and then Defoe scored his 20th goal for country.

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It was his first since 2013, the last year Defoe was called up for the Three Lions.

Here’s the goal, which was followed by a second-half Jamie Vardy tally as England stayed atop Group F with a 2-0 win over Lithuania.

Two Russian soccer fans stabbed in Serbia

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) Two Russian fans have been hospitalized with serious injuries after being stabbed following a friendly soccer match between Red Star Belgrade and Lokomotiv Moscow.

Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said Sunday police were looking for the knife-wielding perpetrators who attacked a group of Lokomotiv fans in downtown Belgrade late Saturday.

Serbian media reports said the Russian fans were attacked by supporters of Red Star’s rival Partizan Belgrade.

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The match, which Red Star won 2-1, was meant to promote Serbia’s traditional friendship with Russia.

Stefanovic says “nobody should think they could hurt the Serbian-Russian friendship” with such attacks.

Serbia has seen a surge of fan violence inside and outside stadiums. In 2009, a French football fan was fatally beaten in Belgrade.

VIDEO: Gerrard’s juggle and finish leads Liverpool legends past Real Madrid

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Scoring at Anfield doesn’t get old, especially when your name is Steven Gerrard.

The English midfielder was playing in a friendly match between Liverpool and Real Madrid “legends” on Sunday, when he delivered this tasty goal (and assists to Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, and John Aldridge).

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Gerrard redirects a cross over a lunging defender and into a place where he can lash a goal home to put the Reds up 4-0. He dedicated his Man of the Match performance to club legend Ronnie Moran, who died earlier this week.

Real’s comeback came up just short in a 4-3 final, with Fernando Morientes, Ruben de la Red, and Edwin Congo scoring for the visitors.

On a Sunday waiting for the international matches to begin, Gerrard supplies a nice highlight for the rest of us (Extended highlights free on Liverpool’s site).

Ozil bristles at talk of Arsenal selling him

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Mesut Ozil is on international break, and bristling at reports that Arsenal is going to sell him.

The midfielder’s absence from the lineup last week had plenty speculating on his future, even more than usual. His contract expires in 2018, and several reports claimed he’d join Alexis Sanchez as players destined for elsewhere.

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Ozil was not called up by Germany, and has missed four of his last nine Premier League matches. Three of those were for illness, and he missed last week’s loss to West Brom with a hamstring injury.

From Metro:

“And you think Wenger tells the journalist before he tells me? Then I know him differently,” Ozil told German outlet Welt.

“I have a contract until 2018 in London and I feel very comfortable there. We’ll talk soon and then make a decision.”

Metro notes that Ozil also said he wants to win the Champions League, something that can only happen with Arsenal remaining in the Top Four. We suppose you could make snarky inferences from his “comfortable in London” phrasing, but we’ll leave it there.