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Major League Soccer positional Top Tens: RIGHT BACKS

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There was a time when Major League Soccer fullback play meant there was very little distinction between the league’s best right backs. Whether that was down to talent, tactics, talent acquisition, or the lingering biases from the broader soccer culture, you used to be able to throw the names of MLS’s best backs into a hat and pull an almost indistinguishable, defensively accountable, decent crossing dude out of the lot.

It’s wasn’t that the players weren’t good. It’s that a league with a salary cap that provided limited financial resources forced choices. And those choices highlighted how that position was perceived within the North American game.

Now things are changing. The salary cap’s going up. More athletic players are being groomed into the position. The tactics are changing.

Major League Soccer’s wide defenders are slowly starting to reflect the attacking quality that has defined fullback play across the globe. It’s part of a product that continues to improve.

As with the goalkeepers, there was a wildcard or two which forced us to demur. It’s possible Portland’s Ryan Miller plays his way onto this list in a couple of months, and we’ll have to wait and see how the playing time in New York shakes out.

Until then, here’s how we see Major League Soccer’s Top 10 Right Backs:

1. Vancouver’s Lee Young-Pyo (pictured) >

One year in the league, and the South Korean is a clear number one. It’s no surprise. The South Korean came to BC Place with 127 international notches on his belt. Set to turn 36 in April, we’re yet to see evidence of him slowing down.

2. Real Salt Lake’s Tony Beltran
3. San Jose Earthquakes’ Steven Beitashour >

A strong 2012 vaulted the aspiring U.S. international to this position, but recovering from a sports hernia injury he played through at the end of last season, the 26-year-old may be hard pressed to duplicate 2012’s form. It’s likely to be a small road bump in a promising career.

4. Sporting Kansas City’s Chance Myers
5. LA Galaxy’s Sean Franklin >

There was a time when Franklin would have been at the top of this list, a status that won him a national team look under the previous administration. Last year, his defending was more problematic than in previous seasons (as Steve Zakuani showed in the playoffs), but if he can return to his former, slightly more stalwart self, the two-time MLS Cup winner could be the second best right back in the league.

6. FC Dallas’ Zach Loyd
7. Philadelphia’s Sheanon Williams >
8. New England Revolution’s Kevin Alston >

This is where the list gets cloudy. Williams, however, has been one of the few reliable parts of a Union team that’s been down-up-down in its first three years. Alston, a former All-Star, still has all the skills, but like much of what we’ve seen from New England, things could be better.

9. Toronto FC’s Richard Eckersley >
10. Seattle Sounders’ Adam Johansson >

Take your pick between Eckersley and Johansson, and your pick will likely reflect your preferences in fullbacks. Eckersley’s reliable at the back and tries to get forward. Johnsson can provide plus play in attack while trying to hold up his end of the bargain in defense.

(MORE: the entire roster of ProSoccerTalk’s Major League Soccer previews and predictions)

 

Premier League AT HALF: Arsenal fights back, Hull City on top

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 10:  Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal (L) and Francis Coquelin of Arsenal (R) celebrate after Theo Walcott of Arsenal (not pictured) scored Arsenals first goal during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Stoke City at the Emirates Stadium on December 10, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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Goals and controversial penalty decisions are a big part of Saturday morning’s quartet of Premier League matches, all of which are at the break.

[ STREAM: Every PL game on NBC Sports ]

Arsenal 1-1 Stoke City

Joe Allen took an elbow from Granit Xhaka inside the 18, and Lee Mason awarded a PK that Charlie Adam converted to give the visitors an early lead. But Theo Walcott scored his 100th goal as a Gunner off a classy Hector Bellerin cross to make it 1-1 before the break.

Burnley 2-1 Bournemouth

The Cherries will have to dig out of another hole this week, and it all began with Jeff Hendrick‘s phenomenal opener. Fellow Irishman Steven Ward scored an economical to goal to double the lead.

But Ryan Fraser continued his fine December with an assist on Benik Afobe‘s goal before halftime.

Hull City 1-0 Crystal Palace

Robert Snodgrass drew a penalty with a pretty easy grass grab, and the Tigers have a

Swansea City 0-0 Sunderland

Not much cooking at the Liberty Stadium.

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Koeman: “Nervous” Everton has a problem after another loss

WATFORD, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 10:  Ronald Koeman manager of Everton arrives prior to the Premier League match between Watford and Everton at Vicarage Road on December 10, 2016 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
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One win in 10 for Ronald Koeman‘s Everton has the Dutchman on the hot seat.

Koeman seems to be clawing for air after the Toffees’ latest setback, a 3-2 loss at Watford.

The loss puts the Hornets ahead of Everton on the PL table, and — while unlikely — it’s a mathematical possibility that the Toffees could be a bottom half team by the end of the weekend.

[ STREAM: Every PL game on NBC Sports ]

That’s a brutal development for a club expected to challenge for a European place this season.

Here’s Koeman:

“I see a lot of similar problems in the team. The team is too much reactive. Of course it’s maybe a lack of confidence, but if you start the game well, 1-0 up, you need a bigger belief in the team and not going back and defending, and nervous, and not enough ball possession. In my opinion that’s a problem.”

A big problem with that? It can be put down to the manager. Is Koeman in trouble already?

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VIDEO: Hendrick scores incredible volley from distance

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Jeff Hendrick, take a bow.

Burnley’s Republic of Ireland international midfielder pulled off a stunning piece of skill on Saturday to put the Clarets ahead against Bournemouth.

[ STREAM: Every PL game online ] 

A long ball forward was flicked on to Hendrick and he took a stunning first touch to tee himself and then settled himself before spanking a volley into the top corner.

Sensational goal from Burnley’s club-record signing.

Click play on the video above to watch it.

Messi’s latest goal dares you to count the touches (video)

PAMPLONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 10:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the La Liga match between CA Osasuna and FC Barcelona at Sadar stadium on December 10, 2016 in Pamplona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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There’s a danger in observing Lionel Messi on a week-by-week basis, and it has a lot to do with how he makes greatness look routine.

So while it’s easy to dismiss yet another mazy dribble through a defense, one of those “Frogger” style with calm-but-vicious cutbacks, try to consider everything that goes into Messi’s second goal against Osasuna early Saturday.

[ MORE: Watford 3-2 Everton ]

On first look, you might count 9 touches for Messi starting with his right-footed collection of the ball. But move to the slow motion replays, and recognize the truth: Often Messi is letting the ball do the work for him, essentially moving the duo closer to goal while he used his preferred left foot as a must-respect threat.

That he does it in such traffic and at full speed is incredible. It’s literally one of those goals in which a linguistic luminary like Ray Hudson would have trouble over-emphasizing the greatness.

Messi now has 11 La Liga goals in 12 matches, and 22 in 19 overall.

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