Where to look on MLS All-Star Game roster for possible replacements

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Major League Soccer announced the All-Star Game’s squad today, but nobody’s going to chisel that in stone. There are always a couple of injuries that rear their head before the exhibition’s kickoff, and with the Gold Cup final the weekend before the league’s party in Kansas City, there are bound to be a few more cancelled plane tickets before Peter Vermes has to pick an XI for AS Roma.

For people morose that their favorites weren’t named to the initial squad, that should be a point of solace, but whether your guy slots in isn’t merely about whether somebody drops out. As Vermes’ selections showed, many of the decisions are defined by positional need, with the All-Star Game coach needing to have cover at as many positions as possible.

So as we go through the potential drop-outs, the need to have a like-for-like backup becomes important when considering who else might come in.

(Also worth considering: The quicker we approach July 31, the more likely the replacement will be the first guy to say “Yes” to “Can you be in Kansas City by tomorrow night?” That’s why a Sporting player is listed as a possibility at almost every spot.)

Nick Rimando, G, Real Salt Lake
Reason: Gold Cup duty
Likelihood for ASG: Good
Details: Rimando may not need any rest to go from 90-plus minutes in Chicago to playing against Roma.
Conjectured possibilities: SKC’er Jimmy Nielsen would be an obvious replacement.

Corey Ashe, LB, Houston Dynamo
Reason: 
Gold Cup duty
Likelihood for ASG: 
Unknown
Details: 
If Ashe’s fitness allows him to start taking part in the Gold Cup, his availability could depend on how much action he gets in the tournaments’ final matches. If he plays significant minutes or fitness keeps him from playing at all, Vermes will have to call up a left back, as he has no other natural players for the position on the roster.
Conjectured possibilities: Todd Dunivant, local option Seth Sinovic, or former SKC’er Michael Harrington? Again, availability will be key.

Tony Beltran, RB, Real Salt Lake
Reason: 
Gold Cup duty
Likelihood for ASG: 
Below average
Details: 
Beltran bested Michael Parkhurst in their early Gold Cup auditions, so the RSL right back may be more likely to see time throughout the rest of the tournament. If that plays out, he’ll either slide into a sub’s role in Kansas City or be replaced. With DeAndre Yedlin on the roster, Vermes could opt for a right or left back as a replacement. He’s going to be short at one of the two positions.
Conjectured possibilities: Chance Myers drives in, Zach Loyd flies up from Dallas, or you hope Y.P. Lee isn’t flying home for the week? Regardless, Sheanon Williams deserves a place in the discussion.

Kyle Beckerman, M, Real Salt Lake
Reason: 
Gold Cup duty
Likelihood for ASG: 
Bad
Details: 
Beckerman’s a great bet to rack up big minutes at the Gold Cup and be replaced. Patrice Bernier is already in the team, as is Will Johnson, so Vermes doesn’t necessarily have to name a like-for-like replacement. But since Johnson’s not a true holder, a deeper midfielder might be called on as Beckerman’s replacement.
Conjectured possibilities: Nigel Reo-Coker may be back in England, and many will instinctively want Dax McCarty to have this spot, but Osvaldo Alonso is difficult to overlook, even with his prolonged absence. Does Vermes pick to win or reward?

Brad Davis, LM, Houston Dynamo
Reason: 
Fitness
Likelihood for ASG: 
Who knows?
Details: 
Davis hasn’t played for Houston since June 22, missing the last three games. If he’s needs to be replaced, who comes in may depend on what setup Vermes chooses. If MLS plays Sporting KC’s 4-3-3, Davis could be replaced by anybody. The team doesn’t need a true left-sider.
Conjectured possibilities: If Davis is out, it does seem logical to at least bolster the midfield, and in that respect, there’s no shortage of directions Vermes could go. Few would argue if Javier Morales was called, Seba La Toux has numbers (though he should thank Conor Casey for those), but again, if you’re choosing to win, you might want to consider Davis teammate Boniek Garcia.

Robbie Keane, F, LA Galaxy
Reason: 
Fitness
Likelihood for ASG: 
Seems iffy
Details: 
Keane did not look good when he came off against Portland. He seemed discouraged after the game. We won’t know until later this week what the diagnosis is; however, I wouldn’t be surprised if LA looks at the schedule and sees this as a good time to get him rested.
Conjectured possibilities: Jack McInerney. The fans seem to want him. The goal totals certainly supports the selection. However, Vermes would be justified selecting his own guy, Claudio Bieler, while I continue to think there has got room in this game for Federico Higuaín.

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