San Jose Earthquakes v Portland Timbers - Portland Timbers Tournament

Diego Valeri snares a point for Portland; is it time for some MVP talk?

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Diego Valeri got his fair share of preseason hype when he arrived from Lanús, but once the games started to count and the Will Johnsons and Rodney Wallaces emerged, the Timbers looked more like squad transcending the sum of its parts than a team fueled by stars. That naturally cast come well-deserved attention on Caleb Porter but also gave love to Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, and Donovan Ricketts. As Portland’s embraced playoff contention for the first time in the team’s MLS history (hat tip to late 2011 run here), there’s been a credit to go around.

Amid that noise, Valeri has quietly claimed a co-share of the league’s assist lead (12, seven primary). And, after this effort last night in Carson (below), he’s up to seven goals, having distinguished himself as the best and most important player on a playoff contender:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f3IVbtWB40I]

Thanks to an early goal from Bryan de la Fuerte, Chivas USA were able to claim a somewhat surprising point, 1-1. Given how well they’ve played of late, though, a home result for the Goats should not be so shocking. But with Portland leaving StubHub with 60.6 percent of the possession and 486 passes (to Chivas’s 315), Porter may feel his team should have had more.

Yet as you see in the video, Valeri’s contribution was more than the end product. The 26-year-old Argentine may not be healthy enough to play 90 minutes (coming on at halftime on Saturday), but he was fit enough to shrug off an attempt to pull him down before finishing the layoff from Jose Valencia.

All of which brings us to the bigger topic hinted in the headline: To what extent should we be thinking about a player like Valeri as an MVP candidate? The question seems weird because there’s a shocking lack of MVP talk, and coming off a season in which the MVP (Wondolowski) was known early in the season, it’s been a while since we engaged in this type of debate. And the last time we did so, we didn’t come up with a consensus solution (Dwayne De Rosario winning in 2011 after a season where he was traded twice).

source: Getty Images
Robbie Keane’s 13 goals and 11 assists make him one of the favorite for the MLS’s Most Valuable Player award, but the lack of discussion about the league’s most-prostigious individual honor leaves a crowded, ill-defined field going into the season’s final stretch (Photo: AP Photos.)

Look around the league and there are a few obvious candidates, with Marco Di Vaio and Mike Magee’s goal hauls probably leading the discussion. Robbie Keane will have his backers, and players like Patrice Bernier and Javier Morales will garner obligatory consideration based on their team’s positions alone. Even in Portland, Valeri will get competition from Will Johnson for the team award. Johnson’s captaincy will leave people predisposed to give him leadership credit.

It’s hard to see Valeri’s case being that much better (or appreciably worse) than most of those candidates, though in a season where no candidate has distinguished himself, there may be even more players that warrant consideration. This is they type of year where we see, in other sports, a Dustin Pedroia or Steve Nash-type candidacy garner late momentum, allowing them to surge ahead of a fractured field. Might was see a defensive player get some consideration where they might otherwise be overlooked? Can an Ossie Alonso, Jamison Olave or even Nick Rimando rally support?

With less than two months left in the regular season, we’re hearing relatively little about MLS’s most-prestigious award, leaving the field wide open. A strong finish by any number of players could spark a narrative that will win votes six weeks from now.

Still, it’s about time the conversation started, lest we end up with another 2011.

AEK Athens beats Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) AEK Athens defeated Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0 in an ill-tempered game on Sunday that saw 12 yellow cards and two dismissals.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win of season ]

Astrit Ajdarevic scored the only goal in the 34th minute with a free kick that deflected off Olympiakos defender Manuel da Costa.

Olympiakos’ athletic director Francois Modesto was sent to the stands for protesting about the lead-up to AEK’s goal. His team’s central defender Alberto Botia was dismissed after a second yellow card in the 75th for pulling an advancing AEK forward’s jersey.

Despite the defeat, its second of the season, Olympiakos has a 10-point cushion over second-place Panionios, which beat 10-man Iraklis 1-0.

PAOK, a 4-0 winner over Veria, remains in third place, one point ahead of Panathinaikos, which beat Asteras 5-0 on Saturday. AEK is joint fifth with Xanthi.

PSG drops points against Toulouse days after massive UCL win

PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 14:  Julian Draxler of Paris Saint-Germain looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Paris Saint-Germain and FC Barcelona at Parc des Princes on February 14, 2017 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Just days after its massive (and somewhat unexpected) beatdown of Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain failed to close the gap on league leaders Monaco.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win ]

PSG settled for a 0-0 draw on Sunday at the Parc des Princes against eighth-place Toulouse, leaving the Parisian side three points behind Monaco through 26 rounds of action.

[ MORE: Bielsa returns to Ligue 1 with Lille ]

Despite holding the visitors to just three shots (one on target), Toulouse managed to contain a rampant PSG attack, which posted four goals midweek in their rout of the Blaugrana.

PSG’s first strong chance came in the 14th minute when Lucas Moura’s effort was saved in the bottom corner by goalkeeper Alban Lafont.

Meanwhile, Edinson Cavani may have had the game’s best opportunity to break the deadlock when the Uruguayan attacker struck the post from inside the penalty area.

Unai Emery’s group will be back in action on Feb. 26 when PSG travels to Dimitri Payet and Marseille.

Wenger worried over Sutton’s pitch heading Monday’s clash

SUTTON, GREATER LONDON - FEBRUARY 16:  Pundits Paul Merson (4L) and Matt Le Tissier (2L) take part in a training session alongside Paul Doswell manager of Sutton United (L) and players during a Sutton United FA Cup media day on February 16, 2017 at the Borough Sports Ground in Sutton, Greater London. Sutton United are due to face Arsenal in the Emirates FA Cup Fifth round on 20 February.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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The story of Monday’s encounter between Arsenal and fifth-division Sutton United will be whether the minnows can overcome the mighty Gunners.

[ MORE: Mourinho pleased with United’s “attitude” against Blackburn ]

However, Arsene Wenger already fears a bigger challenge within the game, one that concerns his players’ safety.

Sutton’s 5,000-seat Gander Green Lane features an artificial surface, which is largely uncommon for English and most European venues regardless of club standing.

“First of all the pitch. Secondly their enthusiasm. Thirdly that we are not ready mentally for a big fight and think subconsciously that it doesn’t matter,” Wenger said ahead of Monday’s FA Cup meeting in South London.

In preparation for their meeting with the U’s, Wenger had his side train on their own indoor artificial field on Friday.

“Look, ideally we would like to play on a normal pitch. Competition is as well to deal with what you face, and we’ll face an unusual pitch and we’ll have to deal with it,” he said.

“We practice inside [on Friday] because we have an artificial pitch. It’s not the same as it’s a dry pitch, and at Sutton I’ve heard that’s a wet pitch, they water it before the game. So it will be much quicker than what we have.”

Leipzig beats ‘Gladbach 2-1, cuts Bayern’s Bundesliga lead

Leipzig's scorer Willi Orban, center, and his teammates celebrate their side's 2nd goal during the German Bundesliga soccer match between RB Leipzig and Hertha BSC Berlin in Leipzig, Germany, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
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BERLIN (AP) Leipzig held on for a 2-1 win at Borussia Moenchengladbach to cut Bayern Munich’s lead in the Bundesliga to five points on Sunday.

[ MORE: Messi rescues Barca, Pescara wins second Serie A match ]

Emil Forsberg scored one and set up another for the promoted side to end its two-game losing streak and stay on course for Champions League qualification with its 14th win of the season.

[ MORE: Bielsa makes Ligue 1 return, joins Lille as new manager ]

`Gladbach `keeper Yann Sommer pulled off a brilliant fingertip save to deny Marcel Sabitzer early on, but he was powerless to stop Forsberg from breaking the deadlock after half an hour played.

Sabitzer and Timo Werner played their way through the static `Gladbach defense and Werner laid the ball off for the Sweden midfielder to fire inside the bottom left corner.

The home side was given a lifeline when Marvin Compper brought down Lars Stindl and referee Felix Zwayer pointed to the spot, but Peter Gulacsi saved Thorgan Hazard‘s penalty before the break.

More poor defending allowed Werner grab the second 10 minutes after the break, firing inside the far post after Forsberg played him through.

Jannik Vestergaard pulled one back with a powerful header from a corner to set up an exciting finale. However, six minutes of injury time were not enough for an equalizer.

Leipzig had kicked off to a chorus of whistles from the home fans, who then mostly stayed silent till the 19th minute in protest against the visiting side. Huge banners in the north stand said “Traditional club since 1900” – an apparent protest against Leipzig, founded in 2009 when Austrian energy-drink billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz rebranded a fifth-tier team with his company’s livery before financing its steady promotion through the lower leagues.

COLOGNE 1, SCHALKE 1

Cologne stopped Schalke’s progress but the point was enough for the visiting side to overtake `Gladbach on goal difference in 10th.

Alessandro Schoepf got the visitors off to a flying start in the second minute with the help of the left post, and Leon Goretzka hit the post after half an hour with the home side still struggling to get into the game.

But Anthony Modeste equalized before the break with a fine strike inside the far post, and might even have scored again just minutes later, when his hesitation allowed Benedikt Hoewedes get back and clear.

Guido Burgstaller came closest to a winner for Schalke in the second half, his shot just wide of the far post after beating the goalkeeper.