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An unsung hero from Columbus: Michael Parkhurst

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On days such as yesterday with much celebration, much fanfare, and much boasting, there often goes a moment, a performance, or an individual who gets overlooked.

Last night, Landon Donovan, Eddie Johnson, and the stars of the USMNT took much of the credit – and rightly so – for their second half domination of Mexico en route to Brazil 2014 qualification.

One individual’s performance did, however, get swept under the rug, and without it the game would have been vastly different.

Michael Parkhurst came on as a second-half substitute for right-back Fabian Johnson, and changed the match entirely in the home side’s favor.

It was clear that, with a new coach at the helm for all of three days, Mexico was keeping things simple. They fired salvos directly at the obvious vulnerabilities of the United States – they challenged hard in the weakened US midfield, and bombarded their right flank just as the Costa Ricans had done. They looked to start with a bang – again, like Costa Rica – and grab a goal or two before tiring.

Getting the start at right-back was Johnson, and although he fared much better than poor Michael Orozco, it was still a point of weakness. Right-back has been a merry-go-round for the United States in the recent going, and Jurgen Klinsmann has worked hard to find a suitable fit down the flank who can provide both an attacking instinct as well as a brick wall for opposing wingers.

Mexico had tired from their early frenzy, and had no goals to show for it. Enter Parkhurst, who came on for Johnson at halftime who had apparently tweaked his hamstring. He was the switch the United States was looking to flip.

Often as a defender, it is best to go unnoticed. Much like a defensive back in football, it is more difficult to notice when one performs well, but all too easy to spot mistakes – which often lead to scores. Parkhurst is easily overlooked, largely because the Mexicans had ended their pounding of the US right flank by halftime.

However, what cannot be underestimated is how well the 29-year-old Rhode Island native fit into the well-organized US back four. The crew, both first half and second, seemed to absorb a fair bit of pressure but never looked like they were on the verge of conceding, and the organization between the back line and the defensive midfielders on Mexican attacks is without question a main reason why.

On the attacking end, Parkhurst added a lovely first-touch layoff to Mix Diskerud on the United States’ second goal, which Diskerud worked to the edge of the box and crossed to Donovan to punch home. Again, in the background, but contributing nonetheless.

Is Parkhurst the long-term solution at right-back? It’s a question whose answer has eluded not just Jurgen Klinsmann but almost every fan as well. People have their opinions, but nobody seems to agree.

Fabian performed so-so, but appeared to be the weakest link of the back four in the first half nonetheless. Steve Cherundolo had knee surgery…again. The Michael Orozco experiment at Costa Rica was pretty much a failure. Eric Lichaj has been stuffed to the bottom of the pile by the current regime thanks to spotty performances at the club level. Brad Evans figured to be the man this qualifying round but ended up with niggling injuries – nothing new for the 28-year-old. Klinsmann seems to favor Geoff Cameron out of position at defensive midfielder rather than in the spot he plays for at Stoke.

Whomever you believe to be the long-term answer, credit must be given to the man who, for 45 minutes, took the weakest link in the United States back four and solidified it.

This allowed for bigger and better things to take place up front – namely, that whole “Dos a Cero” business we’ve been shoving down your throat.

Report: Alexis Sanchez growing impatient with Wenger, Arsenal

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 21:  Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal is watched by James Chester of West Bromwich Albion during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and West Bromwich Albion at the Emirates Stadium on April 21, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Alexis Sanchez is frustrated, and that doesn’t bode well for Arsenal or its manager Arsene Wenger.

[ MORE: Stoke announces partnership with MLS side Orlando City ]

The attacker and his coach have had several spats in the Chilean’s two years at the Emirates Stadium, however, their rift was quite evident over the weekend when Sanchez was substituted off against Norwich City. Sanchez reportedly exited through the tunnel without shaking Wenger’s hand and left the stadium directly after.

[ MORE: Ben Afra being targeted by Barcelona after stellar season with Nice ]

According to the Telegraph, Sanchez is miffed about the inconsistent amount of playing time that he has received this season. In 26 league appearances during the 2015-16 campaign, Sanchez has totaled 12 goals, which is tied for first on the team with Olivier Giroud.

Being that the 27-year-old is arguably Arsenal’s most important attacking player, the feud between Sanchez and Wenger certainly isn’t ideal for the French manager. Gunners supporters protested prior to the team’s match against Norwich due to the club’s lack of success over recent seasons.

Sanchez still has two years remaining on his contract with the London side, and even though it isn’t likely that he’ll move this summer, a few teams have expressed interest in the talented winger. Pep Guardiola could make a swoop at Sanchez as he arrives at Manchester City this summer, while Guardiola’s soon-to-be former side Bayern Munich have also made their wishes known.

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Nadim’s path: From Taliban-ruled Afghanistan to Portland

HALMSTAD, SWEDEN - JULY 13:  Raffaella Manieri (R) of Italy and Nadia Nadim (L) of Denmark battle for the ball during the UEFA Women's Euro 2013 group A match between Italy and Denmark at Orjans Vall on July 13, 2013 in Halmstad, Sweden.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Soccer is the one constant in Nadia Nadim’s life since fleeing the Taliban as a young girl.

[ MORE: Stoke City announces partnership with MLS side Orlando City ]

She first learned the game from her father, an Afghan military general who was tragically killed. Later it gave her a sense of belonging as a refugee, and then national pride when she donned the jersey of her adopted Denmark.

Now it’s a career in Portland, Oregon, thousands of miles from where she started.

“I kind of feel it was meant to be, like destiny,” she said of her current career with the Thorns of the National Women’s Soccer League.

Nadim is new to Portland this season after spending the last two in New Jersey with Sky Blue FC. Sitting in the warm sunshine after training at the team’s downtown stadium, Nadim wore a Los Angeles Lakers jersey (she’s a Kobe Bryant fan) as she reflected on her journey.

At 28, she’s at a break in medical school studies back home – a good time to see how far the game she loves can take her.

“When that time came I thought I could go and play in a European League, but that would be still so close and similar to what I was used to back home,” she said. “So I wanted to try something different and away from home. Plus, I wanted to play in a league where some of the best players in the world play.”

Nadim’s love for the game started in Kabul, where she grew up. Her father was a big sports fan and when he wasn’t working he’d take his five daughters to play at the local fields. But the Taliban seized control of the country in 1996, and Nadim’s childhood quickly slipped away. Girls were not allowed to go to school, let alone play soccer.

One day when she was about 10, Nadim’s father was summoned to meet with the Taliban leaders. He never returned. The family later learned he was killed.

“Most memories I have are nice ones – until the last year when everything was chaotic,” she said. “Before that, before the stuff that happened with my dad and the Taliban coming to my country, I remember having a really safe childhood where my parents tried to protect us and we had everything we wanted.

“But yeah, that changed really, really drastically after they came to power.”

In an Islamic state, women were not allowed to have jobs or even leave the home without a male relative. That made life untenable for her mother, who faced raising five girls on her own. They fled.

“It happened really quick,” she said. “It’s not like anything you can plan for.”

The family made it to Pakistan, where they paid a smuggler and got to Italy. The group had hoped to make it to England, but a driver dropped them off in “the middle of nowhere.” It turned out to be Denmark.

The family was in a Copenhagen refugee camp for six months before they were granted asylum. Nadia was able to go to school, but more importantly, play soccer. It was there she learned that she actually had talent for the game.

A standout for her club team, Nadim got the attention of Denmark’s national team. She was allowed to train with the team but could not play until she got her citizenship at 18. She was the first naturalized citizen to play for the senior team when she made her debut in the 2009 Algarve Cup against the United States.

Her first task? Mark Abby Wambach.

“I wasn’t even supposed to play but the striker got injured in the first 15 minutes,” she said. “I wasn’t even warmed up when they said, `Nadia! Go!”‘

When not on national team duty, Nadim played in Europe while also going to school. She is currently studying to become a plastic surgeon – not the cosmetic type but the reconstructive type. She has one year left.

Nadim first ventured to the United States in 2014 when she played six games with Sky Blue while on loan from Danish club Fortuna Hjorring, scoring six goals. The next year, she started in all 18 games for Sky Blue.

Nadim was traded to Portland in a draft-day deal before the season. Already she has made an impact off the ball, which is what the Thorns have asked of her, new head coach Mark Parsons said.

“Her game is winning games and scoring goals, but we’ve needed her in different role. I think that sums her up. She’s a winner, she’s a great character and she’s willing to do what it takes for the team,” Parsons said.

Nadim is still getting comfortable with the Thorns and her new, albeit temporary, home. The NWSL streams all her games live so her mother Hamida can watch from Denmark.

“I hope to make some more great memories with the Portland Thorns,” she said. “We have a really, really special team here with a lot of quality players. I feel really fortunate to be here and I enjoy playing, and I love the way we play.”

Stoke City announces partnership with Orlando City

during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Chelsea at Britannia Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Stoke on Trent, England.
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Americans have been heavily involved in Premier League management, including John Henry at Liverpool and the Glazer family who own Manchester United.

[ MORE: LAFC is one step closer to joining MLS, after finding home for stadium ]

Friday marked a dawn of a new relationship between the PL and MLS though, when Stoke City announced a strategic partnership with Orlando City SC.

[ MORE: Rapids-RSL highlights Week 10 action around MLS ]

The goal of the agreement between the two sides is to advance player recruitment and development, as well spark fan engagement in both leagues.

Potters Chief Executive Tony Scholes:

“It’s an opportunity for us to share best practice with Orlando in a variety of areas, primarily in player recruitment, marketing and development, but also to give both clubs chance to grow in each other’s markets,” said Scholes.

“A large number of our fans already regard Orlando as their MLS side and I know that Stoke City are already followed by many Orlando fans.

“As an established Premier League club we are always looking at new ways to develop our profile overseas and our strategic partnership will help us to develop in the United States.”

NBC’s recent coverage of the PL has sparked massive interest in the United States, giving fans various opportunities to watch matches over the course of a weekend. As MLS continues to grow as well, you can surely expect interest abroad, specifically in Europe, to grow too.

Phil Rawlins, Founder and President of Orlando City, is excited with the relationship building between the two clubs.

“It was very clear that we’ve always had a good relationship with Stoke City and it came down to us wanting to reignite that synergy and bring our brands closer together. This will be our only partnership in England, and we hope to ignite passions for both our clubs in each other’s markets.”

The pursuit of MLS to become a top league has a ways to go, but a move like this will surely only benefit commissioner Don Garber and the rest of MLS.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

Gareth Bale, Keylor Navas injuries present challenge for Real Madrid

MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 18:  Gareth Bale of Real Madrid controls the ball under pressure from Joel Matip of Schalke uring the UEFA Champions League Round of 16, second leg match between Real Madrid and FC Schalke 04 at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on March 18, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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After narrowly escaping Wednesday’s Champions League semifinal against Manchester City, 1-0, Real Madrid is facing a bit of difficult news.

[ MORE: Ben Afra drawing interest from Barcelona ]

The club has confirmed injuries to both Gareth Bale and goalkeeper Keylor Navas, despite each player going the full 90 minutes midweek. Bale has reportedly sustained a knee problem, while Navas has suffered an injury to his Achilles tendon.

The extent of the injuries is not yet known, although Bale’s appears to be less severe. With Madrid down a goalkeeper, reserve team keeper Kiko Casilla will likely take over in net for Real while Navas recovers.

Madrid will host Valencia on Sunday in La Liga, with both players expected to miss the match. Bale could reportedly return for Real’s match against Deportivo La Coruna on May 14, their final league game. The team can then turn its attention to the Champions League final against rival Atletico Madrid on May 28.

Real currently sits one point behind La Liga leader Barcelona and second place Atleti with two games to play.

Follow @MattReedFutbol