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MLS Draft warnings, caveats and context: Looking at those 2010 top selections

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Denizens of the American sports scene recognize the imprecise nature of drafting college talent. Clearly it’s more art than science – otherwise, we would not have the notorious Jordan Oversight to consider:

Michael Jordan was selected No. 3 in the 1984 draft, but went on to more or less rule the kingdom with Chicago, claiming six NBA championships and 10 scoring titles as perhaps the game’s all-time all-timer. Ahem … No. 3.

So if elements as studied, filtered and fretted over as the NBA draft or the NFL draft cannot be folded into something more predictable, does the lesser known world of domestic soccer draft eligibles really stand a chance?

We don’t have to go much further than 2010, exactly three years ago, to see the imperfection at work. (Today is the exact anniversary of the 2010 MLS draft, so it seemed handy to start here.)

The top three picks were Danny Mwanga (pictured),Tony Tchani and Ike Opara. If you built a team around those three today – a forward, a midfielder and a defender now ostensibly be growing into their veteran leadership years – you might have something that looked like Toronto FC last year.

Note, if you will, that Toronto FC is picking first in 2013. There’s a reason: TFC was awful in 2012.

This is not to pick on Mwanga, Tchani and Opara, each of whom has struggled for reasons not entirely of their own creation. None of them are bad players – but they are walking, talking illustrations of the difficulty inherent in this process. Because they simply have not been what we might have reasonably expected of the top draft trio; shouldn’t one of the top three draft picks be strutting into star territory?

Rather, the trio’s combined average starts over three MLS seasons stands at an underwhelming 12.

Tchani launched his pro career in New York before moving to Toronto and then Columbus; all totaled he has 45 starts in three seasons.

New York was a tough place to start, as then-manager Hans Backe quickly assessed that products of the American system “are just missing something,” he once told me, unable to place exactly what, but probably referring to that extra little sixth sense of the game. It is probably the same something that Jurgen Klinsmann famously assessed was missing when Ghana dismissed the United States from World Cup 2010.

(MORE: a quickie MLS draft primer)

Backe once, somewhat infamously, I suppose, imposed a temporary rule in practice demanding that Tchani passed balls forward rather than backward or laterally. Clearly, the manager was something this side of impressed.

Tchani was traded to Toronto, where almost no one succeeds. Since then he’s moved to Columbus, where the central midfielder is a polarizing figure for fans around Crew Stadium. Again, he’s not a bad player – he’s just not storming the castles of success, either.

Opara has started even few games over three years (22), although some of that is down to injury misfortune. Either way, San Jose just let him go, and Opara – once seen as a shoe-in as the next great U.S. center back – now hopes to provide depth along Sporting Kansas City’s back line.

The circumstances around Mwanga, who has 42 starts, are even more muddy and tangled.  He was the Union’s original draft pick, taken No. 1 by the expansion club that day in Philadelphia – coincidentally, the draft was held right there in Philly. And he looked like a “can’t miss” type.

Well, he missed. Or the system missed. Or his deteriorating relationship with former Union manager Peter Nowak missed. Or something.

Bottom line here:  when a “can’t miss” No. 1 overall draft pick moves to Portland for Jorge Perlaza and allocation money, something has gone badly wrong.

Or, maybe we just say it again: it’s all more art than science.

By the way, the Nos. 4 and 5 draft picks that day in 2010, Teal Bunbury and Zach Loyd, have combined for seven full international appearances. That’s seven more than the combined number for the three men chosen above them with far greater acclaim on draft day exactly three years ago.

Three things we learned from Leicester’s huge win vs. Man City

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Leicester City beat Manchester City 3-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, with the Foxes extending their lead at the top to six points.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

They are now the legitimate favorites to win the Premier League title this season. Think about that for a second.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League table ] 

Here’s a look at what we learned from what could prove to be a pivotal moment in the title race.

LEICESTER’S CLINIC IN COUNTERING

They do it pretty much every game but nobody can handle it. Nobody. I’m talking about Leicester’s ridiculously efficient counter-attack. At the home of the title favorites — well at least until before this clash — Leicester struck early in both halves and never looked back. Ranieri’s side played like men without any pressure on their shoulders and at this point of this season they have none. Favorites for relegation ahead of this campaign, they now sit 13 points ahead of fifth-placed Manchester United as failure to qualify for the UEFA Champions League would now be hugely disappointing. How they’ve got there is by getting in-behind teams early and often. Whenever Marc Albrighton, N'Golo Kante or Riyad Mahrez got the ball their first instinct is to clip it over the top for Jamie Vardy or Shinji Okazaki to run onto.

It’s not just long-ball, it is playing into spaces defender don’t want to go in with a purpose. Vardy and Okazaki’s incredible work rate typified Leicester’s performance at City and with the center back duo consisting of an ageing Martin Demichelis and a battered and bruised Nicolas Otamendi, Leicester had the better of City’s defense all game long. The Foxes struck fast and hard at the heart of City’s defense and made the most of their set piece opportunities with Robert Huth showing his eye for goal.

This fairytale just keeps on getting more believable and now Leicester’s clash at fellow title contenders Arsenal next Sunday, Valentines Day, will be pivotal in proving whether or not the most romantic storyline in recent PL history will have the fairytale ending it deserves.

GUARDIOLA’S SHADOW LOOMS LARGE

City scrapped a 1-0 victory away at Sunderland in midweek but in all fairness they weren’t very good. On Monday Manuel Pellegrini announced he would be leaving this summer and it was also confirmed that Pep Guardiola will be arriving as the new manager at the end of the season. From the very start, the timing seemed odd.

Nobody was really pressing for the news to break, it was already basically accepted that Guardiola would arrive this summer but Pellegrini decided it was time to announce he was leaving. Talking of departures, most of his players should have joined the fans and left the stadium early on Saturday as they didn’t turn up for a key game in the title race. Win and they would’ve been top on goal difference but they look deflated from the start as Pellegrini’s tactics of playing Fabian Delph on the left and Yaya Toure alongside Fernandinho didn’t work. Toure and Delph were both hooked off in the second off and the former didn’t do his defensive work, as we should expect by now, with Kante and Danny Drinkwater dominating the center of midfield.

With Guardiola’s imminent arrival casting a huge shadow over the Etihad it’s only natural for a few of the players to be concerned about their future and feel a little uneasy. That said, they must be professional and are still in with a shout of winning four trophies during Pellegrini’s final months in charge. That said, they let a huge chance to boost their PL title hopes slip and Guardiola will not have been impressed with the lack of drive, spirit and energy omitted. Yes, City have injury problems with Kevin De Bruyne out and Vincent Kompany still struggling back, but the most expensively assembled team in the PL should be able to cope with these absences better. In a few weeks time the decision to announce the managerial switch at a pivotal stage in the season may seem like a very silly one if City don’t win the League Cup, fail in the UEFA Champions League and fall further behind the Foxes. It’s easy to point to Guardiola’s arrival as a determining factor in this loss, but in fact Leicester where better than Man City in every department.

HUTH AN UNSUNG HERO

When Robert Huth joined Leicester City on loan from Stoke City in January last season, the big German center back was no longer a regular for the Potters. The Foxes were starring relegation square on and looked doomed. At around this time last season I received a message from somebody who knew Huth and it read: “Huthy believes they will stay up, he’s certain of it.” That wry smile on my face reading the text turned into a head nod of appreciation after Leicester won seven of its final nine games last season to stay up. “Wow. He was right.” Now, Huth has become the leading man in Leicester’s defense and he put in an incredible display on Saturday at both ends of the pitch.

Huth, 31, swept home Leicester’s opener less than three minutes into the game and then preceded to pretty much block every City shot or cross which came into the box. He then headed home a looping effort after 60 minutes to score his second and Leicester’s third and the towering center back is proving to be one of the best bargains in a team full of incredible buys. Huth was bought for $5 million this summer from Stoke and his goals away at Man City and Tottenham over the past three weeks have helped Leicester knock off two of their title rivals. Scoring crucial goals aside, his first job is to defend and his partnership with Wes Morgan has been one of the less talked about success stories while Vardy, Mahrez and Kante are around. Now, though, Huth’s resurgence has coincided with Leicester’s dramatic rise to the top. I wonder what he’s thinking they’ll achieve this season…

Manchester City 1-3 Leicester City: Foxes on fire, six points clear at top

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  • Huth scores twice
  • City had 4 shots on target
  • Leicester 6 points clear at top

“We’re going to win the league!” was the chant from Leicester’s fans throughout their clash at second-placed Manchester City on Saturday and after this showing they have to be the favorites.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Leicester beat Man City 3-1 and dominated the game from start to finish with Robert Huth scoring less than three minutes into the game and then Riyad Mahrez scoring less than three minutes into the second half. Huth added another on the hour mark and City were stunned by the Foxes as Sergio Aguero’s late header was nothing more than a consolation.

With the win Leicester increased its lead at the top of the table to six points as Claudio Ranieri‘s side have 53 points for the season and go into their clash at Arsenal next week as the favorite to win the Premier League.

[ RELATED: Watch full match replays

The Foxes had a dream start as Mahrez’s free kick from the right was swept home by Huth from close range and inside three minutes Leicester was 1-0 up. The home fans inside the Etihad were stunned.

City responded well to going behind with Raheem Sterling causing problems with his pace, but it could have been 2-0 to Leicester inside 10 minutes. A good ball from Marc Albrighton found Jamie Vardy in-behind but Joe Hart denied him as he rushed off his line, then Nicolas Otamendi denied Shinji Okazaki‘s follow-up.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Leicester continued to look dangerous on the break with City failing to make the most of their superior possession. That said, Silva did roll a shot just wide of the far post which took a nick off a Leicester defender as City turned up the heat. Vardy then beat Otamendi for pace and drilled the ball across goal for Okazaki but he couldn’t get enough on his effort and the ball skipped wide.

City then went close as Pablo Zabaleta was brought down by Christian Fuchs right on the edge of the 18-yard box although replays suggested it was on the line and should have been a penalty kick. From the resulting free kick Aleksandar Kolarov whipped in a great free kick that Huth somehow managed to deflect over his own cross bar.

[ RELATED: Latest Premier League standings ]

Less than three minutes into the second half Leicester went 2-0 up as Kante’s driving run and through ball saw Mahrez skip passed Otamendi easily and he coolly sent Hart the wrong way with a composed finish. 2-0 to the Foxes as their fans were in dreamland. Outgoing Man City boss Manuel Pellegrini was in the middle of a nightmare as his side were all over the place.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

City pushed to get back into the game and substitute Fernando headed downwards but Kasper Schmeichel scrambled the ball away to safety. Terrific stop from the Danish goalkeeper.

At the other end Okazaki saw his effort blocked by Demichelis — even though the ball looked to come off the Japanese striker last — and from the resulting corner the Foxes went 3-0 up as Huth rose highest and headed home majestically. Scenes at the Etihad as the home fans were stunned into silence.

Man City never recovered from the third goal — Hart denied Vardy his first goal of the game and Leicester’s fourth, while the PL’s top scorer also fired into the side-netting late on — and home fans streamed towards the exit way before the final whistle. Those that did missed Aguero’s header which made it 3-1 but that was no more than a consolation even if he had another good chance and Leicester withheld some late pressure.

Ranieri’s side had put in a memorable display as they extended their lead at the top with ease against a lackluster City outfit.

Watch Live, Stream: Spurs-Watford, Liverpool-Sunderland; every 10am ET game

WATFORD, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28:  Erik Lamela (4th R) of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates scoring his team's first goal with his team mates during the Barclays Premier League match between Watford and Tottenham Hotspur at Vicarage Road on December 28, 2015 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Six Premier League games are coming your way at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday, with plenty of tasty matches on the slate involving some of the big boys.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Click on the link above, or the individual links below, to stream every single game live online via Live Extra. Plus, if it’s lineups, stats and a box score you are after, click on the link below.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

So, here is your one-stop streaming shop for every PL game kicking off at 10 a.m. ET.

Saturday, 10 a.m. ET kick offs

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Spurs could move up to second with a win, while the Hornets have won just one of their last seven games.

Liverpool vs. Sunderland – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, USA) – [STREAM]

Jurgen Klopp will not be on the sidelines after going down with appendicitis. The Black Cats desperately need points in their battle against relegation.

Aston Villa vs. Norwich City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

A simply must-win game for Villa if they’re going to get themselves off the foot of the table. The Canaries are hover just two points above the drop zone.

Stoke City vs. Everton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Two teams hoping to make a charge towards the top six clash. Both have plenty of injuries. This will be tight. Will Martinez be getting out his best dance moves at full time?

Swansea City vs. Crystal Palace – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Three games unbeaten for the Swans as they ease relegation fears but they still aren’t out of it. Palace have lost five on the spin and are without a win in seven games.

Newcastle vs. West Brom – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

The Magpies are still in the bottom three and will see this as a must-win. West Brom haven’t won in four and are just above the drop zone.

VIDEO: Mahrez strokes a beauty; Leicester cruising at Man City

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Riyad Mahrez is hot again, and so is Leicester City.

The Algerian playmaker has an assist in three-straight matches, and added his first Premier League goal since a Dec. 19 brace against Everton as the Foxes are cruising at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday morning

[ WATCH LIVE: Man City vs. Leicester City ]

Mahrez makes his move into the box to lash a classy “no look” shot past Joe Hart, and temporarily — at least — keep Leicester six points clear of hosts Manchester City atop the PL table.

Robert Huth has scored on either side of Mahrez’s goal, and it’s 3-0 at the Etihad Stadium.