Major League Soccer positional Top Tens: CENTRAL/ HOLDING MIDFIELDERS

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Let’s say this straight away: there are some seriously talented and trusty central midfielders who will not be on this list.

How many holding mids or central midfielders could put up a compelling argument for Top Ten consideration? Somewhere north of 15, perhaps?

Imagine if we had attempted to cram attacking midfielders into this ranking, too! (We rank those tomorrow.)

Our ranking of the Top Ten holding midfielders/ central midfielders in Major League Soccer:

1. Seattle’s Osvaldo Alonso

2. Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman

3. Montreal Impact’s Patrice Bernier >

The Canadian international came out of nowhere last year to provide one of the real stabilizing forces around the expansion club – never mind all those names attached to greater decoration. He’s 33, a little old for a central mid, but still manages to wear it well around Stade Saputo.

4. New York Red Bull’s Dax McCarty

5. Chicago Fire’s Jeff Larentowicz >

Perhaps he didn’t quite fit Oscar Pareja’s image of a midfield conduit in Colorado’s possession-oriented, short-passing game. Chicago was glad to take him in a trade, bringing that blend of rough-and-tough ball winning and reliable two-way play to Toyota Park.

6. LA Galaxy’s Juninho >

David Beckham’s busy central midfield mate at the Home Depot Center had been generally known around MLS circles as “the underrated Juninho.”  We can all officially give that stuff a rest. Skillful, industrious and still quite young (24), he gets the work done on both sides of the midfield stripe.

7. D.C. United’s Perry Kitchen

8. Vancouver Whitecaps’ Nigel Reo-Coker >

Talent-wise, the England veteran may deserve higher ranking here. But we’re not 100 percent sure the center of the park is where Reo-Coker will land for Martin Rennie’s Whitecaps. And as we’ve said before, it’s hard to tell which Reo-Coker arrives, the well-liked leader or the occasional troublemaker?

9. Seattle Sounders’ Brad Evans

10. Vancouver Whitecaps’ Gershon Koffie

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

La Liga releases schedule: First El Clasico coming in December

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It’s Christmas in July for fans of La Liga Friday as the Spanish league published its schedule for the upcoming season.

Defending champions Real Madrid travel to Deportivo La Caruña on August 20, the opening match of the season while its rival Barcelona hosts Real Betis.

As it’s La Liga, the first date most fans searched for was the first El Clasico of the season, and the biennial battles between Real Madrid and Barcelona will take place on December 20 and May 6, with Real Madrid hosting the first match.

The first match comes just ahead of the Spanish winter break, while the second match comes at a busy period at the end of the season, where both teams will be hoping to still be competing in the UEFA Champions League.

Other interesting matches to keep an eye on in the first few weeks of the season include Real Madrid hosting Valencia in week two, the Barcelona derby between Barca and Espanyol in week three and Atletico Madrid taking on Sevilla in week six.

Here’s a look at this year’s La Liga schedule.

Conte: Costa “situation was very clear” in January

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At this point, there is no doubt Diego Costa‘s future lies away from London and Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte broke his silence on the Brazilian-born Spain international striker, saying he’s been ready to move on from Costa since January, when Costa and Conte had a disagreement following a big-money offer from Chinese club Tianjin Quanjian during the winter transfer window.

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“I don’t like to talk about players who are not here but the only thing I can tell you [is that] in January, the Costa situation was very clear, for the club for him and his agent,” Conte told reporters Friday. “For me the situation is closed.”

It’s an amazing turn of events after Costa scored 20 Premier League goals in Chelsea’s title-winning 2016-2017 season, including 14 goals through the end of December. But after falling out with Jose Mourinho a year earlier, the same issue happened again under Conte, with Costa proving much less effective down the stretch.

But Conte and Costa were able to put their differences aside on the field, photographed multiple times hugging after wins, as well as after winning the title.

Costa is reportedly now agitating for a move back to his former club Atletico Madrid, but the Spanish club’s transfer ban until the next window complicates matters. In a World Cup year, would Costa be willing to sit out half a season just to leave Chelsea?

If Costa’s time in the Premier League is up, he’ll go down as one of the league’s best pound-for-pound goalscorers. He scored 52 goals in 89 Premier League appearances, with seven more cup goals in his three-year spell at Chelsea.

And if he is gone, defenders across the Premier League will sure be happy to wave goodbye.

Sparta Prague signs France midfielder Rio Mavuba

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PRAGUE (AP) Sparta Prague says it has signed France midfielder Rio Mavuba to a three-year contract.

The 33-year-old Mavuba comes from French club Lille, which he joined in 2008. Before that, he played for Bordeaux and Spanish club Villarreal.

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Mavuba was on the France team at the 2014 World Cup.

He is the 10th player signed by Sparta after Italian coach Andrea Stramaccioni took charge in May.

Mexico 1-0 Honduras: Pizarro strikes early to put El Tri in Gold Cup semifinals

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Mexico had little trouble dispatching Honduras as El Tri won 1-0 in Glendale, AZ and eased into the Gold Cup semifinals.

Just four minutes into the game, Mexico took the lead as they got Honduras on its heels, with Rodolfo Pizarro sticking the ball in at the far post at the end of a scramble. Jesus Duenas carved a ball through the defense, and while Elias Hernandez whiffed on the tap-in, Pizarro was right behind him to finish the chance.

Mexico settled in after scoring, while Honduras tried to out-muscle El Tri, with the latter receiving a pair of yellow cards in the first 45 minutes. There were precious few other chances throughout the first half, with Honduras completely incapable of creating anything in the attacking half.

Mexico continued to dominate out of the halftime break, but they lost Monterrey midfielder Jesus Molina in the 65th minute with discomfort, replaced by Chaka Rodriguez. The best moment for Honduras as they chased the game late came in the 78th minute as Jose Corona made a spectacular save when substitute Alexander Lopez nearly scored directly from a corner. They came close again in stoppage time after a set-piece as Alfredo Mejia scuffed a shot agonizingly wide.

Honduras ended their Gold Cup without a single goal scored. They technically defeated French Guyana 3-0 in the group stage, but that came on the typical forfeit scoreline, whereas the actual game played ended in a 0-0 draw.

Meanwhile, Mexico will take on Jamaica in the semifinal in a rematch of last tournament’s final.