ProSoccerTalk’s Award conversations: Major League Soccer’s Rookie of the Year

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Three soccer brains are clearly better than one. So Richard Farley, Noah Davis and I huddled virtually to sort out our ProSoccerTalk picks for Major League Soccer awards.

(MORE: Our Coach of the Year conversation and choice)

Steve Davis: I plan to have a quick gavel on this one. Because anybody who can’t see that Chicago Fire’s Austin Berry is the obvious choice loses his automatic entry into the next ProSoccerTalk skeeball tournament; you’ll have to go through qualifying rounds.

Just kidding, guys. You are free to tell I’m off my meds on this one:

I do like Berry, although the Fire’s late-season semi-collapse makes me feel less wonderful about it.

Richard Farley: I don’t want to take anything away from Berry or FC Dallas’ Matt Hedges (or whomever comes up in this conversation), but this award has seen better years, right?

Steve Davis: Probably. Or are we all just being “attacker” snobs? These things just seem more exciting when the young swashbucklers are scoring goals and not being all stingy and preventing them. I dunno, maybe I’m just being too soft here. The weather has me worried about Noah up in New York.

Noah Davis: Neither of them really have any of that wow factor, do they? Vancouver’s Darren Mattocks certainly does, but not the consistency you need to win this award. It’s too bad New York’s Ryan Meara got hurt; he was a lot of fun.

Steve Davis: Right? Curse you, Ryan Meara! If you had kept the injury bug away, we could all be at Happy Hour by now. Obvious choice. But here we are, still getting this one sorted out. I hope you’re happy with yourself, young man!

Richard Farley: Yeah. And he would have added some variety to the debate. Now I feel like D.C. United’s Nick DeLeon is the man we have to leverage to break up the two center backs. Feels like reaching.

Steve Davis:  DeLeon? Fast start, fast finish, but fairly soft in the middle.

Richard Farley: The attack snob point is a good (if sharp and painful) one. There’s also an element of like-for-like here that makes this a bit dull. Though Berry and Hedges have both been good, I don’t see much to recommend the UNC man over the Louisville alum. Since they’re at the same position, the comparison is pretty straight-forward. There isn’t much grey area beyond your interpretation of their play. We’re not comparing a goal scorer to a goal stopper, trying to measure how much of one makes up for the other.

Steve Davis: Hedges is a talent, but he makes a fair amount of positional mistakes. He probably wasn’t quite ready — not that it was his fault that both Dallas CBs spent much of the year injured. In all honesty, if Hedges had Arne Friedrich sitting next to him to provide tutelage and direction, this conversation might be a lot different.

Noah Davis: I have DeLeon really far ahead in the Rookie of the Year hair comp.

Richard Farley: Now I’m worried about Noah, too.

Steve Davis: You guys with pretty hair … you’re so damn smug! I’m punching my chad for Austin Berry. You boys?

Noah Davis:  I’ll be different and take DeLeon, but it’s an intentionally hanging chad.

Richard Farley: With a better explanation than I could have given myself, that’s why Berry’s at the top (or, as it’s laid out, far left) of my ballot.

Steve Davis: It has nothing to do with the neat-o Austin Berry cereal box gambit cooked up by the Fire’s PR staff, but it looks like Berry gets the goods.

Our pick: Chicago Fire center back Austin Berry 

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday