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No surprises as Major League Soccer announces Best XI

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A little more on this year’s MLS Best XI (which Steve linked you to earlier).

For the first time in 10 years, Major League Soccer’s Best XI has three forwards.

For the first time in 10 years, the team has three forwards, even if a number of the team’s midfielders saw time farther up the field during the 2012 season. But positions have always been a loose thing when it comes to recognizing the season’s best. If there’s any flexibility to be had, you can guarantee a player’s going to be pushed into midfield.

Among the players to make this year’s team, there were no real surprises. Each player that was announced by Don Garber had been discussed among your favorite analysts. Every name appeared among the selections made by your three favorite Pro Soccer Talk content hamsters.

So while there’s sure to be debate about the selections (well, the non-Wondo ones), none of this year’s best XI should surprise anybody:

Goalkeeper

Jimmy Nielsen, Sporting Kansas City

This spot seemed allocated to Nielsen early in the campaign, with Kansas City’s hot start and great defensive record (fewest goals allowed in MLS) giving Nielsen a pole position he never conceded.

PST’s picks: Nielsen (N. Davis); Andy Gruenebaum (S. Davis, Farley)

Defense

Victor Bernardez, San Jose Earthquakes
Matt Besler, Sporting Kansas City
Aurelien Collin, Sporting Kansas City

We knew Bernardez and Besler (the league’s Defensive Player of the Year) would be here. Collin was likely, though competition from the likes of Vancouver’s Jay DeMerit and Chicago’ Arne Friedrich made that less of a certainty. Again, no controversy here.

PST’s picks: Gonzalo Segares, Bernardez, Kevin Alston (N. Davis); Bernardez, Besler, Collin, DeMerit (Farley); Bernardez, Besler, DeMerit (S. Davis)

Midfield

Osvaldo Alonso, Seattle Sounders
Landon Donovan, LA Galaxy
Chris Pontius, DC United
Graham Zusi, Sporting Kansas City

It’s an interesting midfield, the only qualm with it being the lack of actual midfielders. Again, that’s the norm around these parts. All of Donovan, Pontius and Zusi saw their fair share of time as forwards, but given the crowded field up top, it’s hard to blame voters for sliding some of the league’s best players into midfield.

PST’s picks: Donovan, Pontius, Dax McCarty, Zusi (N. Davis); Kyle Beckerman, Alonso, Patrice Bernier, Zusi (Farley); Alonso, Zusi, Roger Espinoza, McCarty (S. Davis).

Forwards

Thierry Henry, New York Red Bulls
Robbie Keane, LA Galaxy
Chris Wondolowski, San Jose Earthquakes

It’s only the third time in league history three forwards have made the best XI, the trio combining for 58 goals and 28 assists. Kenny Cooper and Alvaro Saborio also had strong seasons, but it’s difficult to argue anybody should unseat these three.

PST’s picks: Keane, Henry, Wondolowski (N. Davis); Henry, Wondolowski (Farley); Keane, Henry, Wondolowski (S. Davis)

USC wins NCAA women’s soccer national championship

Southern California's Morgan Andrews celebrates after scoring a goal against West Virginia during the first half in the NCAA Women's College Cup soccer final, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016 in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
AP Photo/Tony Avelar
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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Katie Johnson broke a tie in the 75th minute and Southern California won the NCAA women’s soccer title Sunday, beating top-ranked West Virginia 3-1 at Avaya Stadium on Sunday.

The second-seeded Trojans (19-4-2) also won the College Cup in 2007.

The Mountaineers (23-2-2) lost for the first time since a 1-0 setback to Georgetown on Sept. 18. West Virginia had a 17-game unbeaten streak snapped, and allowed three goals for the first all season.

Johnson, who also had the winning goal in USC’s 1-0 semifinal victory over Georgetown on Friday, was wide open in front of the net when Leah Pruitt took a pass up the left sideline, beat defender Easther Mayi Kith, and delivered a perfect cross. Johnson simply rolled the ball into the goal to the right of goalkeeper Rylee Foster.

Johnson scored again off an assist from Nicole Molen in the 87th minute.

The Trojans got on the board just 1:22 into play after Julia Bingham directed a corner kick to the top of the penalty box, where Savannah Levin headed the ball forward to Morgan Andrews, whose header from 5 yards eluded Foster.

West Virginia’s Ashley Lawrence, a member of the 2016 Canadian Olympic team, tied it in the 66th minute when she ripped a shot from the top left corner of the penalty box just inside the near post.

After USC took the 2-1 lead, the Mountaineers nearly drew even in the 81st minute on a shot by Heather Kaleiohi that was stopped on a diving save by goalkeeper Sammy Prudhomme.

The Mountaineers outshot USC 21-8 and held a 9-1 edge in corner kicks.

The Trojans joined North Carolina (21 titles), Notre Dame (3) and Portland (3) as the only multiple winners of the College Cup.

USC won its 126th national team title on the same day its men’s water polo team lost 10-8 to Cal in the NCAA final just 45 miles away in Berkeley.

West Virginia, in its first College Cup final, was hoping to claim its first NCAA title in any sport besides its co-ed rifle team, which has won 18 national titles.

VIDEO: 70-yard volley from Chile is nearly impossible to believe

Alejandro Camargo, Universidad de Concepcion
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His name is Alejandro Camargo, and he scored what might just go down as the best goal of 2016 on Sunday: an impossibly perfect volley from well beyond the halfway line.

[ MORE: PL roundup — Chelsea top Man City; Arsenal, Spurs win big ]

Miguel Pinto is the opposing goalkeeper whose long-range clearance, which covered about 50 yards during the final seconds of Universidad de Concepcion’s clash with O’Higgins in the Chilean first division, was taken off the fly, first-time, by the Argentine midfielder to seal a 3-1 victory for the home side.

[ MORE: Serie A roundup — Roma, AC Milan win, still tied for 2nd ]

“The coach told us Pinto was always playing in advance of his goal, so I closed my eyes and hit it,” Camargo said after the game.

“Hit it and hope” has never looked so good.

Roma fans stay away from derby to protest new security barriers

A view of a huge section of empty seats as Roma fans desert derby in protest over security barriers, during a Serie A soccer match between Lazio and Roma, at the Rome Olympic stadium Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia
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ROME (AP) Roma’s most ardent supporters stayed away from the derby match against Lazio in protest at barriers introduced at the start of last season in their area.

Normally filled with supporters waving huge banners, lighting flares and singing, half of the “curva sud” — southern end — of the Stadio Olimpico was left empty for Sunday’s match.

[ MORE: Serie A roundup — Roma, AC Milan win, still tied for 2nd ]

Three of Roma’s locally born standouts held a meeting with the “ultra” fans during the week. Captain Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi and Alessandro Florenzi asked the supporters to return, and the club itself has also tried to resolve the matter.

But the appeals had no effect.

In contrast, Lazio fans filled the northern end of the stadium as usual.

The plexiglass barriers were put in place by city officials for security reasons.

VIDEO: “Behind The Badge: Watford FC” — Episode 2

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In Episode 2 of Behind the Badge: Watford FC, watch the players’ recovery after a win against Leicester, a look at the club’s one-of-a-kind internship program and a flashback to a memorable moment in Watford’s history.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

To watch past episodes of Behind The Badge, including last season’s edition featuring a look inside Crystal Palace, head over to the full archive by clicking here.

[ MORE: PL roundup — Chelsea top Man City; Arsenal, Spurs win big ]

First episode: Watch full episode, here
Second episode: Above video
Third episode: Sunday, Dec. 11, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Fourth episode: Sunday, Dec. 18, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN