Major League Soccer positional Top Tens: LEFT MIDFIELDERS

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So many of the league’s premier left-sided midfielders really aren’t midfielders in the strictest sense. It makes this list even more problematic than yesterday’s roster of the best and brightest right-sided MLS men.

Chris Pontius, Fabian Castillo and Mike Magee have found themselves deployed as much at forward as along the outside, for instance. Lee Nguyen and Bobby Convey are more prototypical wingers than true midfielders.

Brad Davis and Camilo could just as easily operate as central midfielders or as left-sided mids who lean considerably to the inside, the way Fulham used U.S. international Clint Dempsey for much of his time at Craven Cottage.

But never mind all that.

All of this is just for conversation anyway. Our next ordering of positional talent in Major League Soccer, the league’s top left-sided midfielders:

1. D.C. United’s Chris Pontius >

Let’s hope this guy can stay healthy, because the sky is truly the limit. Pontius (pictured above) has the brains, the pace, the desire and the finishing ability out of midfield. Let’s just go bold here and predict a giant breakout year, not just around RFK Stadium, but in finally getting a deserved shot at Jurgen Klinsmann’s national team. (Pontius gets ahead of Brad Davis on my list only because of his age, 25, and potential upside.)

2. Houston Dynamo’s Brad Davis

3. New England Revolution’s Lee Nguyen

4. FC Dallas’ Fabian Castillo >

Someday the Colombian kid’s soccer brain will catch up with those 20-year-old feet. Signs were abundant that it was happening toward the end of 2012 around FC Dallas Stadium.

5. LA Galaxy’s Mike Magee >

LA Galaxy teammate Robbie Keane is wondering openly these days about why Magee can’t generate at least a wee little chatter about U.S. national team recognition. Ummm … that’s a good question!

6. Vancouver Whitecaps’s Camilo

7. Seattle’s Steve Zakuani >

The big question, obviously, is whether the Sounders pacey blazer along the outside can regain pre-injury form? He never gained full speed in 2012 – didn’t get close, really – so this is a big year in displaying a career fully back on track. If so, expect this list to look different at year’s end, because Zakuani could easily climb.

8. Montreal Impact’s Justin Mapp >

Mapp is fascinating in that he’s been at about the same place for years now. We’re talking about a guy who is only 28, but he’s been a starter in this league for 10 years now. He still has some game-breaking ability; if Mapp could apply it a little more often, he’d be a Best XI type and a national team regular, rather than someone relegated to the outer limits of the U.S. player pool.

9. Colorado Rapids’ Tony Cascio

10. Chicago Fire’s Dilly Duka >

This one is mostly about potential. The former U.S. under-23 was unhappy in Columbus but got the move he wanted and has apparently won the starting position in Chicago. It’s on you now, kid!

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

Referee leaders want on-field official to see video replays

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LONDON (AP) Antoine Griezmann headed the ball into the net and was in full celebration mode with his France teammates when referee Felix Swayer pinned a finger into his left ear to block out the stadium noise.

[ VIDEO: VAR system used correctly

An assistant in front of a bank of monitors was assessing replays and had some bad news for Griezmann. Swayer was told through his earpiece that a player was offside in the buildup.

The goal was then ruled out, without Swayer seeing a replay. But that won’t necessarily be the case by the time video replays are fully approved to be rolled out across soccer.

For now, the experimental phase is still in full flow but if refereeing leaders get their way officials should always have access to the footage themselves around the field.

“The subjective decisions should be made by the on-field referee because they have got the feel for the game,” Mike Riley, general manager of English refereeing organization, told The Associated Press. “They can put it in the context of everything else. So as part of the process we have got to work out how we can do that as effectively as possible … without interrupting the flow of the game.”

The International Football Association Board, the game’s lawmaking body, is in its second year of trials with various versions of video assistant referees (VAR). Some games, like the France-Spain friendly, do not allow the referee to evaluate incidents and instead by rely on the VAR.

But VAR could end up only ruling on what Riley describes as “decisions of fact,” such as whether a ball was inside or outside the penalty area.

Ultimately, if you are appointing one of the top referees to preside over a major game, that person is seen as ideal for making the big calls, according to IFAB.

“Fundamentally we are told very much by players and coaches they want the referee to be making the most important decisions,” IFAB technical director David Elleray said, referencing England’s top referee. “They don’t know who is in a van out in the car park or 300 miles away in a match center.”

Soccer’s lawmakers only envisage video replays being used to correct game-changing decisions involving four situations: penalties being awarded, red cards, cases of mistaken identity and goals being scored.

That situation arose twice in the Stade de France on Tuesday as France lost 2-0 to Spain. After Griezmann’s goal was disallowed, video replays worked against France again but in Spain’s favor when an incorrect offside call against Gerard Deulofeu was overturned and his goal stood.

Swayer again relied on the information from a colleague benefiting from replays.

“Nicola Rizzoli was appointed to referee the last World Cup final because he is the best referee,” Elleray said. “But if actually the two most important decisions in the match are made by somebody watching a TV screen … the most important person is the man you put behind the TV screen not the man on the field.”

The challenges are how referees are able to view replays without lengthening the delay. For now the technology isn’t satisfactory for officials to use wearable devices and receive footage in real time. That means going to the side of the field to watch incidents with the eyes of thousands of fans in the stands on them. The screens are likely to be on the opposite side to the technical area to avoid coaches being able to surround and harangue the referee.

“Some of our stadiums don’t lend themselves to monitors by the side of the pitch because they are really tight,” said Riley, a former Premier League referee who is now in charge of appointments for games in the world’s richest soccer competition. “Is it right for referees to have to run 30 yards to go and look? Can you get the footage to the referee on the field somehow? All these things have to be explored through the experiment and come out with a solution that works for football.”

Live experiments are taking place in about 20 competitions this year, including the Confederations Cup in Russia in June and July that will serves as a World Cup test event.

Once IFAB adds video replays to the laws of the game, any competition meeting the requirements will be able to use them.

For Riley, permitting replays is “the most significant change in refereeing in the game for generations,” far more significant than the 2012 decision to allow technology that simply determines whether the ball crossed the goal line.

“If you are making such a significant change,” Riley said, “you need to really explore and understand all the potential implications.”

Rob Harris can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

Amid fanfare, Bastian Schweinsteiger arrives in Chicago

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Arriving at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, it is clear Bastian Schweinsteiger is kind of a big deal…

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Posing for photos with fans as he stepped off the flight with his wife, former Serbian tennis star Ana Ivanovic, the former Bayern Munich midfielder was mobbed by Chicago Fire fans who are delighted he has arrived in Major League Soccer as the newest Designated Player.

The German legend has completed his move from Manchester United to the Fire and will be officially unveiled to the media on Wednesday after signing a one-year deal.

[ MORE: Latest MLS news ]

Schweinsteiger, 32, has already had a training session in the books and the World Cup winner is expected to make his debut in Chicago’s home clash with the Montreal Impact on Saturday at Toyota Park.

Below is a video of Schweinsteiger’s arrival in Chicago, his first training session and a collection of photos he took with ecstatic Fire fans.


Liverpool’s Emre Can scores stunning goal in training

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Emre Can, take a bow.

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Alongside Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum, the German international stole the show as BT Sport rocked up for an episode of “Goals Recreated” at Melwood.

The premise is simple: can current day PL players recreate sensational goals of the past?

On this occasion each player had four attempts to mirror Papiss Cisse‘s stunning goal for Newcastle United against Chelsea, and although Mane came close Can was the man of the moment.

Click play on the video below to see the stunning effort.


Barcelona defends Messi over “unfair” suspension

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Lionel Messi’s four-match international suspension for insulting a linesman was “unfair and totally disproportionate.”

[ MORE: Messi handed ban by FIFA ]

Barcelona released a statement Wednesday expressing “its surprise and indignation” with FIFA’s decision to sideline the playmaker for so long following the incident in Argentina’s win over Chile in World Cup qualifying last week.

The punishment was announced before Argentina lost at Bolivia 2-0 Tuesday, a result that left the two-time champions at risk of not qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

Barcelona says it “wishes to reiterate its support for Leo Messi, an exemplary player in terms of conduct both on and off the field.”

Pending an appeal, Messi will only be available to play in Argentina’s final qualifier, on Oct. 10 against Ecuador.