Bundesliga review: Kießling’s national team case continues to grow

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What will it take for Stefan Kießling to get a look in the German national team?

The question, one that’s persisted all season, became even more pertinent after the 29-year-old Bayer Leverkusen (far right) forward scored his 15th goal of the season today against visiting Augsburg. With the 2-1 win, Bayer opened a four-point lead on fourth place Eintracht Frankfurt and look a strong bet to return to Champions League after a one-year hiatus. More relevant to Kießling’s nationalmannschaft cause, the Leverkusen No. 9 is now tied with Bayern’s Mario Mandzukic for most goals in this year’s Bundesliga.

It’s the second season in a row Kießling’s hit at least 15 goals. With 12 matches left in the campaign, he’ll likely far exceed last year’s total: 16. At his current pace, Kießling will finish with 23 goals, two-more than the career high 21 that earned him a spot in the national team ahead of South Africa 2010.

Since then, Kießling’s had trouble getting a look from Joachim Löw, a situation that began with a drop in production post-World Cup. That was compounded by a surplus of talent that’s emerged at Germany’s attacking positions. When Kießling drew Löw‘s attention pre-South Africa, players like Marco Reus, Mario Götze, Toni Kroos, and André Schürrle had yet to establish their places in the team (Kroos was selected for the squad, albeit with only four caps headed into the tournament). A poor 2010-11 season cost him his spot, and with talents like Julian Draxler and Lewis Holtby also pressing for places among the national team’s attacking four, Kießling’s career-best form may not be enough to crack the team.

“I don’t care (if Löw was watching),” Kießling said earlier this year. “[A]ll I can do is to perform well.”

Germany’s recent dalliance with some striker-less looks may not help, though Kießling has the talent to play wide as well as in his more customary central position. That may not matter. Löw sees him as a No. 9, a position where the national team boss already has two stable choices: Mario Gomez and Miroslav Klöse. Kießling may have the type of versatility that could prove valuable in Germany’s 4-2-3-1 system, but with the glut of talent at Löw’s disposal (and the huge substitute’s bench you’re allowed in international match), versatility may not count for much.

“Stefan Kiessling has a tremendous quality in front of goal,” Löw said about Kießling’s possible selection. “[H]e was there in 2010 at the World Cup.

“When I [fill] the position … I see Miroslav Klose in a superior form, if he’s healthy – and also Mario Gomez is just a tad bit before Kießling. But Stefan Kießling is Kießling an alternative.”

For whatever reason, that alternative has never been a factor in the national team. Even when the aging Klöse’s struggled with fitness, Kießling hasn’t been called in. Between the coach’s evaluation and the competition for spots,Kießling’ may not improve on his seven caps any time soon – goals be damned. If scoring was enough to impress Löw, Gomez would have locked down a starting spot long ago.

The big beneficiary of all this is Bayer. They have one of the best attackers in Germany all to themselves. They don’t have to share him with the national team. If that means Leverkusen is more likely to return to the world’s top club competition, Sami Hyypïa should be happy Kießling’s undervalued by Löw.

Here’s Kießbling’s Saturday effort, beating his man on a restart to head home Leverkusen’s opening goal:

Elsewhere in Germany

  • Already missing the suspended Robert Lewandowski, Borussia Dortmund played 59 minutes with 10-men after Julian Schieber earned a second yellow card. By that time, Reus had them up 2-0. The German international’s second half goal gave him a hat trick and BVB an easy 3-0 victory over visiting Frankfurt.
  • The win kept Dortmund within 15 points of first place Bayern (I can’t type that without laughing). FCB took care of business on Friday with a 2-0 victory, giving the kind of controlling performance that’s come to characterize their season. Bayern have not allowed a goal in league since Dec. 12 against Borussia Mönchengladbach.
  • With their loss, Frankfurt’s fourth place cushion’s reduced to three points, with Freiburg (3-2 winners at Werder Bremen) and Hamburg (1-0 victors over Gladbach) now within striking distance.

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