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.
- Ndiaye opens scoring
- Diouf assists, then misses big chance
- Barnes levels for Burnley
Neither Burnley not Stoke City will be pleased with a 1-1 draw at the bet365 Stadium on Sunday.
Badou Ndiaye gave Stoke a first half lead en route to a hopeful three points which could help save the side’s Premier League status, but Ashley Barnes‘ fortunate equalizer gave the Clarets a point.
Stoke has 29 points, four behind 17th place Swansea. Burnley sits four points behind Arsenal with one more match played in the race for sixth.
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Stoke led in the 11th minute through a very nice team goal, as Joe Allen found Ndiaye in the middle of the pitch. The midfielder worked a 1-2 with Mame Biram Diouf before sneaking a shot inside a tiny window.
Ashley Barnes bid to level the score when he collected a Kieran Westwood diagonal ball, but his curling effort from the left failed to find the goal.
Johann Berg Gudmundsson curled a free kick over the Stoke wall, and Jack Butland did well to save for a corner.
Diouf flubbed a chance to make it 2-0 when an Ndiaye cross found him alone near the back post.
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Butland made an outstanding save to force a Burnley corner in the 55th minute.
Barnes continued his villainous streak all match, and saw Butland’s slap save bound off his thigh and across the line to level the score in the 62nd minute.
Gudmundsson dragged a stoppage time shot millimeters wide of the far post.
Chelsea and Southampton clash in the FA Cup semifinal at Wembley on Sunday (10 a.m. ET kick off) for the right to play Manchester United in the final on May 19.
[ LIVE: Updates from Wembley ]
Antonio Conte led Chelsea to the FA Cup final last season but they lost to Arsenal. Even though the Blues are up against it to finish in the top four in the league, winning the cup would be a big success for Conte.
Saints haven’t made a cup semifinal since 2003 when they lost to Arsenal in the final. Mark Hughes‘ side are entrenched in the relegation zone and have a bigger challenge than making the final.
[ MORE: Minute-by-minute on Chelsea v Saints ]
Click on the links above to follow the action live, while we will have reaction and analysis live from Wembley right here on Pro Soccer Talk.
DURBAN, South Africa (AP) Police say two people have been arrested and more arrests are imminent after a violent riot at a South African soccer game on Saturday night, when hundreds of fans ripped up parts of the stadium, invaded the field, and seriously assaulted at least one security guard.
Players had to run for the safety of the dressing rooms as the fans swept onto the field soon after the final whistle.
[ MORE: The latest Arsene Wenger news ]
Police responded with stun grenades to disperse the rioters, and television pictures showed riot police storming the field and a white armored police vehicle racing across the edge of the pitch.
South African Police Services spokeswoman Nqobile Gwala on Sunday confirmed the arrests and said the two people were facing charges of public violence and malicious damage to property.
The violence mainly by Kaizer Chiefs fans followed their team’s 2-0 loss to Free State Stars in the semifinals of the Nedbank Cup competition at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in the east coast city of Durban, one of the stadiums built for the 2010 World Cup.
In the most disturbing scenes, a female security guard was set upon by a group of supporters on the field. She lay on the ground as they hit her with plastic chairs. A man then kicked her twice in the head. After the second kick she lay motionless and face down on the grass.
Police spokeswoman Gwala did not say if anyone had died in the violence, saying police had no information yet from stadium or medical authorities on any deaths.
Kaizer Chiefs coach Steve Komphela resigned after the game.
Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker has made 220 appearances for the club, all with one man in charge of the Gunners: Arsene Wenger.
[ MORE: The latest Arsene Wenger news ]
Mertesacker has won three FA Cups with Wenger, and he took up his pen — or laptop — for Sunday’s Matchday program.
The 33-year-old German says it’s down to Arsenal’s players to send off Wenger right: With two more successful rounds in the UEFA Europa League against Atletico Madrid and either Red Bull Salzburg or Marseille. From the BBC:
“We were only informed on Friday about the manager’s decision to step down at the end of the season, so it’s still quite emotional,” Mertesacker said.
“He’s been the major figure of this club for more than 20 years. He’s been so impressive for me and he has trusted me so much throughout my career, in bringing me here and making me captain even when I was injured. He also gave me a future role here at the club so I am very grateful and humbled for the opportunity he gave to me.
“There’s now an emphasis on us doing it for him too. We want to give him the send-off he deserves: with a cup.”
The French legend to end his time at Arsenal against Marseille would be delightful, don’t you think?