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MLS at mid-season: Staff discussion on Coach, Newcomer of Year

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Richard, Noah and I continue our MLS at mid-season discussion.

We covered MVP and Rookie of the Year earlier.

Fortified with snacks, on we go …

Steve Davis: I have to say, Coach of the Year is turning out be the hardest choice since I had to pick between the nerdy-adorable girl and the drill teamer as my U2 concert date in high school.

I’d say Ben Olsen deserves some Coach o’ Year thought. So does Frank Yallop, clearly. But Martin Rennie is killing it at BC Place. And good heavens, Miss Sakamoto, Hans Backe’s team is almost beautiful, never mind that his locker room doubles as a triage staging area.

Richard Farley: I think Robert Warzycha deserves some consideration, too. His team’s tied for the best GAA, though the pace they play at probably has something to do with that (as does some awesome play from his goalkeeper). Still, it’s not like he has a ton to work with there.

That said, I like Olsen. He’s making us forget all the questions that surrounded D.C. coming into the season. He’s got the defense under control, he’s dealt with the lack of production from some big ticket items, and look at what he’s gotten out of Pontius and Santos?

That said, I feel like I’m underselling Rennie a bit. And aren’t I supposed to be the West Coast guy?

Noah Davis: I’ll take up the Rennie torch. The Whitecaps were terrible last year, finishing 18th out of, you know, 18, giving up 55 goals while scoring a league-low 35. Fast forward, and they are third in the Western Conference, sixth overall, and well-positioned for the playoffs. BC Place (5-1-3) is a fortress. There’s some turnover in the roster, but not that much. Rennie deserves credit for building a band of castoffs, misfits, goofballs, and, yes, genuine talents into a formidable squad. (As does director of soccer operations, Tom Soehn, for the changes he’s made and the picks he’s selected. Darren Mattocks is looking more and more like a superstar in the making.) If Rennie can successfully incorporate DP Barry Robson into the mix, he has my vote.

Steve Davis: Ok, Bruce Arena it is. Let’s move on.

I can’t remember, is Breakout Player an award? Well, we’re no slave to The Man … by gosh, let’s make it one. Power to the ProSoccerTalk people! I’ll take Michael Farfan from Philly.

Noah Davis: I’ll take Andy Gruenebaum. Guy deserves a trip to Philly.

Steve Davis: Maybe All-Stars coach Ben Olsen will make him a “coach’s choice” and bring him in a couple of weeks.

Hmmm. I’m getting weird looks from Richard, which either means I’m getting too much orange Cheeto substance on our official ballots or he wants to move on to Newcomer of the Year. Or that he is super PO’ed about my Bruce Arena funny.

source: Getty Images

Steve Davis: So … Newcomer of the Year: I suppose we have to leave some room for consideration over Alessandro Nesta, Barry Robson, Oscar Boniek Garcia and other summer signings. But I’m measuring up Victor Bernardez for a ProSoccerTalk Newcomer of the Year t-shirt. San Jose “D” is a such a lesser beast without him.

This is where Merritt Paulson stalks us on Twitter with talk of Kris Boyd’s huge second-half ahead, but we’ll see.

Richard Farley: Kris Boyd’s got to be a whole different discussion, but Bernardez? My notes from Tuesday game were crazy. I have this shorthand I use for effective headers: H+. Within 30 minutes, Bernardez had 6-7 H+’s by his name (going up against Boyd, incidentally). I said to my running mate, “Troy Perkins needs to start avoiding Bernardez.” I wish I’d been more clever.

Alright, Steve. As long as you put a bunch of “H+” stickers down those sleeves like they’re Ohio State buckeyes, I’m on board with Bernardez being back on top come game 34 …

Either him or Frank Lampard. I mean, why would a guy want to stay with a team he just helped lead to a Champions League?

Steve Davis: Well, Noah just said something about rehearsal for his Pearl Jam cover band starting early and went running out of the room.  …

So, I’ll see if I can get Hans Backe on the phone to fill out the rest of Noah’s ballot. Or, maybe we’ll just put down New England’s Saer Sene (8 goals, 15 games … not bad) for him and table the last discussions until tomorrow.

Richard, please text Noah and ask him to think up some choices for Defender of the Year, Goalkeeper of the Year and maybe some wild cards, like biggest disappointment or favorite Honduran or something.

AEK Athens beats Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) AEK Athens defeated Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0 in an ill-tempered game on Sunday that saw 12 yellow cards and two dismissals.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win of season ]

Astrit Ajdarevic scored the only goal in the 34th minute with a free kick that deflected off Olympiakos defender Manuel da Costa.

Olympiakos’ athletic director Francois Modesto was sent to the stands for protesting about the lead-up to AEK’s goal. His team’s central defender Alberto Botia was dismissed after a second yellow card in the 75th for pulling an advancing AEK forward’s jersey.

Despite the defeat, its second of the season, Olympiakos has a 10-point cushion over second-place Panionios, which beat 10-man Iraklis 1-0.

PAOK, a 4-0 winner over Veria, remains in third place, one point ahead of Panathinaikos, which beat Asteras 5-0 on Saturday. AEK is joint fifth with Xanthi.

PSG drops points against Toulouse days after massive UCL win

PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 14:  Julian Draxler of Paris Saint-Germain looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Paris Saint-Germain and FC Barcelona at Parc des Princes on February 14, 2017 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Just days after its massive (and somewhat unexpected) beatdown of Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain failed to close the gap on league leaders Monaco.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win ]

PSG settled for a 0-0 draw on Sunday at the Parc des Princes against eighth-place Toulouse, leaving the Parisian side three points behind Monaco through 26 rounds of action.

[ MORE: Bielsa returns to Ligue 1 with Lille ]

Despite holding the visitors to just three shots (one on target), Toulouse managed to contain a rampant PSG attack, which posted four goals midweek in their rout of the Blaugrana.

PSG’s first strong chance came in the 14th minute when Lucas Moura’s effort was saved in the bottom corner by goalkeeper Alban Lafont.

Meanwhile, Edinson Cavani may have had the game’s best opportunity to break the deadlock when the Uruguayan attacker struck the post from inside the penalty area.

Unai Emery’s group will be back in action on Feb. 26 when PSG travels to Dimitri Payet and Marseille.

Wenger worried over Sutton’s pitch heading Monday’s clash

SUTTON, GREATER LONDON - FEBRUARY 16:  Pundits Paul Merson (4L) and Matt Le Tissier (2L) take part in a training session alongside Paul Doswell manager of Sutton United (L) and players during a Sutton United FA Cup media day on February 16, 2017 at the Borough Sports Ground in Sutton, Greater London. Sutton United are due to face Arsenal in the Emirates FA Cup Fifth round on 20 February.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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The story of Monday’s encounter between Arsenal and fifth-division Sutton United will be whether the minnows can overcome the mighty Gunners.

[ MORE: Mourinho pleased with United’s “attitude” against Blackburn ]

However, Arsene Wenger already fears a bigger challenge within the game, one that concerns his players’ safety.

Sutton’s 5,000-seat Gander Green Lane features an artificial surface, which is largely uncommon for English and most European venues regardless of club standing.

“First of all the pitch. Secondly their enthusiasm. Thirdly that we are not ready mentally for a big fight and think subconsciously that it doesn’t matter,” Wenger said ahead of Monday’s FA Cup meeting in South London.

In preparation for their meeting with the U’s, Wenger had his side train on their own indoor artificial field on Friday.

“Look, ideally we would like to play on a normal pitch. Competition is as well to deal with what you face, and we’ll face an unusual pitch and we’ll have to deal with it,” he said.

“We practice inside [on Friday] because we have an artificial pitch. It’s not the same as it’s a dry pitch, and at Sutton I’ve heard that’s a wet pitch, they water it before the game. So it will be much quicker than what we have.”

Leipzig beats ‘Gladbach 2-1, cuts Bayern’s Bundesliga lead

Leipzig's scorer Willi Orban, center, and his teammates celebrate their side's 2nd goal during the German Bundesliga soccer match between RB Leipzig and Hertha BSC Berlin in Leipzig, Germany, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
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BERLIN (AP) Leipzig held on for a 2-1 win at Borussia Moenchengladbach to cut Bayern Munich’s lead in the Bundesliga to five points on Sunday.

[ MORE: Messi rescues Barca, Pescara wins second Serie A match ]

Emil Forsberg scored one and set up another for the promoted side to end its two-game losing streak and stay on course for Champions League qualification with its 14th win of the season.

[ MORE: Bielsa makes Ligue 1 return, joins Lille as new manager ]

`Gladbach `keeper Yann Sommer pulled off a brilliant fingertip save to deny Marcel Sabitzer early on, but he was powerless to stop Forsberg from breaking the deadlock after half an hour played.

Sabitzer and Timo Werner played their way through the static `Gladbach defense and Werner laid the ball off for the Sweden midfielder to fire inside the bottom left corner.

The home side was given a lifeline when Marvin Compper brought down Lars Stindl and referee Felix Zwayer pointed to the spot, but Peter Gulacsi saved Thorgan Hazard‘s penalty before the break.

More poor defending allowed Werner grab the second 10 minutes after the break, firing inside the far post after Forsberg played him through.

Jannik Vestergaard pulled one back with a powerful header from a corner to set up an exciting finale. However, six minutes of injury time were not enough for an equalizer.

Leipzig had kicked off to a chorus of whistles from the home fans, who then mostly stayed silent till the 19th minute in protest against the visiting side. Huge banners in the north stand said “Traditional club since 1900” – an apparent protest against Leipzig, founded in 2009 when Austrian energy-drink billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz rebranded a fifth-tier team with his company’s livery before financing its steady promotion through the lower leagues.

COLOGNE 1, SCHALKE 1

Cologne stopped Schalke’s progress but the point was enough for the visiting side to overtake `Gladbach on goal difference in 10th.

Alessandro Schoepf got the visitors off to a flying start in the second minute with the help of the left post, and Leon Goretzka hit the post after half an hour with the home side still struggling to get into the game.

But Anthony Modeste equalized before the break with a fine strike inside the far post, and might even have scored again just minutes later, when his hesitation allowed Benedikt Hoewedes get back and clear.

Guido Burgstaller came closest to a winner for Schalke in the second half, his shot just wide of the far post after beating the goalkeeper.