Cardiff City v Manchester City - Premier League

Expect Joe Hart to get more scrutiny after today’s performance against Cardiff

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At the beginning of last season, Joe Hart was being touted as one of the best goalkeepers in the world, but meaningful discussion of that faded throughout last season. Manchester City’s number one struggled through a decent but inconsistent 2012-13; certainly not the dominant campaign you’d expect from such a lofty reputation. Coming into this year, though, there was very little talk of Hart persisting in with his troubles, the inherent assumption being the 26-year-old would recover.

Against Newcastle last week, he was rarely tested. And for the most part against Cardiff, Hart had an easy day. A easy day, that is, until the final 30 minutes, with the Bluebirds scoring three times to take a 3-2, upset win over Manchester City.

Particularly given how the second, go-ahead goal went down, you can expect to see a good deal of debate about Hart’s performance. The first goal may also draw some ire, though really, when the other team’s striker’s allow to blast a shot off you come close range, sometimes it’s all a keeper can do to keep the ball out. Hart may have left Fraizer Campbell’s shot for an easy Aron Gunnarsson goal, but it’s a bit greedy to want him to do more.

And in fairness, few will feel that way (I’ll stop stuffing this shirt with straw). The third goal, however — Campbell’s header from a 87th minute corner — falls squarely on Hart’s shoulders, the type of beguiling mistake that had drawn criticism over the last year-plus. On an in-swinging ball from the right corner, Hart chose a poor angle, getting caught up with Gunnarsson in the six such that he ended up under (not meeting) the ball. Campbell beat Pablo Zabaleta in front of goal head into an open goal from three or four yards out, a distance at which Hart should be catching the ball.

Though the final score won’t show it (with both teams adding another goal), this was a crucial tally. With 11 minutes left, Cardiff City had gone up one in a game Manchester City had controlled. It’s not just that Hart should never concede that goal. The timing plays into it as well.

To be fair, the central pairing in front of Hart had never played together, but this wasn’t on Javi Garcia and Joleon Lescott. Hart was making mistakes last year behind Vincent Kompany and Matija Nastasic. At some point, both Manchester City and England have to decide whether these tendencies are endemic or aberrational.

There’s something about Joe Hart, though; something that makes you think he’ll come around. Maybe it’s the confidence he still mostly portrays. Maybe it’s the memories of his first seasons as City’s number one that linger in our mind. Maybe it’s he technique or raw athleticism. Or maybe it’s his reputation, inflated as it was.

Maybe, though, all those things are biasing a real evaluation, one that rarely happens once goalkeepers reach a certain status. Once they’re at the top level, certain goalkeepers are just good, no matter what they do. It’s so inconceivable that Iker Casillas could ever be benched or Gianluigi Buffon may actually be fading, even if their performances say otherwise. Perception is what keeps a Thibaut Courtois from generally being considered an elite keeper, and why Liverpool’s move from Pepe Reina to Simon Mignolet even gets debated. Reputation, whether you’ve established one or not, is a powerful thing in how we discuss goalkeepers.

Hart is established. He’s not going to lose his job. But who is the real Joe Hart? The player that inspired best in show evaluations? Or the player we’ve seen for the last 13 months? It’s something that will be discussed in the wake of Sunday’s performance.

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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