Tracking MLS Defender of the Year race: Matt Besler leads, but it’s wide open

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The final nine rounds of play will tell all in this one, especially as one of my top three choices has just turned up injured and will miss one match, possibly a second.

1. Sporting Kansas City’s Matt Besler

Whereas some center backs will have nights of dominance mixed with nights of wobble, Besler (pictured) is as steady as the most loyal high school sweetheart. He never looks rattled back there, never seems to have a bad match. Plus, Besler’s confidence keeps growing, in MLS and in international waters.

Fellow KC center back Aurelien Collin adds a lesser stable element along the club’s back line, but so long as Besler is around, things always seem under control in the whole.

2. New England’s Jose Goncalves

Who knew that the Portuguese veteran would become one of the most important off-season additions around MLS? Goncalves is providing the stabilizer arm that Jay Heaps’ team lacked in the back last year. And don’t underestimate his influence on rookie Andrew Farrell, who is starting along the right.

New England’s defense is third in goals allowed, with 23 conceded in 24 matches.

3. New York Red Bulls Jamison Olave

Yes, Olave has suffered the odd rickety performance here and there. But on his game, no MLS center back is more dominant. The guy is so big that it’s easy to forget how fast he is. And all that speed helps cover for mistakes made by the Red Bulls outside backs – and there are several of those each match.

We’ll know more about how valuable the veteran Colombian is to New York this week, as Olave sits out injured. He may miss a second game with a quad tear picked up last weekend.

LAFC selects Urena, 4 others in MLS Expansion Draft

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Los Angeles FC selected five players in the MLS Expansion Draft, including Costa Rican national team star Marco Urena.

Whether they’ll make their way to the City of Angels is another story.

The first pick from general manager John Thorrington was goalkeeper Tyler Miller from Seattle Sounders.

[ MORE: Benitez on NUFC struggles ]

Going next was Latif Blessing from Sporting KC, an electric attacker who netted thrice with an assist last season.

Next was Urena from San Jose and the Costa Rican national team, a huge addition, and then Columbus left back Jukka Raitala before closing up the draft with Raheem Edwards from Toronto FC.

LAFC has already announced the signings or acquisitions of Carlos Vela, Walker Zimmerman, Carlos Alvarez, Monday Etim, and Guillermo Vizcarra.

The club will also loan Omar Gaber from Basel and Rodrigo Pacheco from Lanus.

WATCH LIVE: Three Premier League matches

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Chelsea visits the John Smith’s Stadium to face Huddersfield Town in one of three Premier League fixtures this chilly Tuesday in December (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Blues are now 14 points back of Manchester City, and three points clear of fifth place.

Meanwhile there are a pair of matches on NBC Sports Gold: Burnley looks to keep pace with its Top Four ambitions when it hosts struggling Stoke City, while in-form Crystal Palace seeks a home win that would move it out of the drop zone. In its way? Dangerous, attack-minded Watford.

Burnley vs. Stoke City — 2:45 p.m. ET [ STREAM ]

Huddersfield Town vs. Chelsea — 3 p.m. ET [ STREAM ]

Crystal Palace vs. Watford — 3 p.m. ET [ STREAM ]

FIFA bans Colombia midfielder Cardona 5 games for gesture

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has banned Colombia midfielder Edwin Cardona for five matches for making a discriminatory gesture with his eyes toward a South Korean opponent.

FIFA will allow Cardona to serve the ban in friendly games, so he should be available for Colombia’s World Cup opener against Japan on June 19.

[ MORE: Pep on post-derby celebrations ]

Cardona has also been fined 20,000 Swiss francs ($20,150) because of the incident last month in a friendly in Seoul.

Cardona apologized at the time, saying he “didn’t mean to disrespect anyone, a country or a race, but if anyone felt offended, or interpreted it in that way, I am sorry.”

Spurs’ Alderweireld won’t return until February

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Spurs finally got a bit of good news this weekend with a blowout of Stoke City.

That was a followed by a tough draw against Juventus in the UEFA Champions League, and bad news on an old injury.

[ MORE: Benitez on NUFC struggles ]

Center back Toby Alderweireld is going to be gone into February, extending his time on the sidelines with a hamstring injury suffered Nov. 1 against Real Madrid.

Spurs were 6-2-2 in league when Alderweireld went down, and are just 2-2-2 since the injury. The Belgian has missed losses at Arsenal and Leicester, draws against Watford and West Brom, and wins over Crystal Palace and Stoke.

Tottenham did win both of its UCL matches since the injury.