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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 

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.