Adrian Cann; Milos Kocic

Are the right center backs finally in place at Toronto FC?

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Show me a successful MLS side and I’ll show you a steady central defensive partnership, two centrally stationed cops on the back line beat – not some semi-stable rotation of three or more guys who can’t quite lock down the role.

Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza may not have toted an equitable share of the load last year for champion, highly competent Los Angeles Galaxy, but the partnership clearly functioned effectively.

Same for Marvell Wynne and Drew Moor with the title-winners from Colorado in 2010, a great balance of experience, know-how, speed and toughness. Other current examples of league-elite partnerships: Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers at Real Salt Lake, Geoff Cameron and Bobby Boswell at Houston and Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin at Sporting Kansas City, although Collin has hit a rough patch lately.

There are exceptions, but those are typically attached to a high-rev, high-quality screening midfielder. In Seattle, for instance, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Patrick Ianni and Jeff Parke have formed a steady and useable trio – but don’t underestimate the value of Osvaldo Alonso (a.k.a. the league’s top midfield ball-winner and destroyer these days) to that three-headed prong.

It all goes the other way, too; show me a team with an inferior central defensive core, I’ll show you a team that’s going nowhere. Best example ever: Toronto FC.

So this Canadian columnist wonders if Aron Winter’s side (sitting at a staggeringly inept 0-9, the worst start for any club in 17 MLS seasons) may finally have found the right center back combo?

He sees good things from Doneil Henry and Adrian Cann (pictured, along with goalkeeper Milos Kocic). My verdict: We’ll see. TFC has forfeited all benefit of the doubt at this point. I’m in “believe it when I see it mode” from here forward regarding TFC.

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.