Tracking MLS Coach of the Year: Oscar Pareja pulling ahead

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Some may argue, but in my mind Montreal’s Marco Schallibaum is no longer an MLS Coach of the Year candidate. His professional comportment (not what it should be, to say the least) always left the Swiss manager with something of a handicap in the race.

Now Montreal has gone lately from a club eyeballing Supporters Shield to a team with some work over the last three rounds just to make the playoffs. That doesn’t make Schallibaum a poor coach – it just means he may not be Coach of the Year material in a year blessed with plenty of good options.

That said, here’s how I rank them with three rounds remaining:

1. Colorado’s Oscar Pareja

Look at the list of rookies or virtual rookies getting the job done for Pareja at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. (By “virtual” rookies, I mean guys that signed a pro deal late last year but played only a game or two, or a guy who had previously signed a lower-tier pro deal but who is in his first truly professional assignment.) The list includes goalkeeper Clint Irwin, center back Shane O’Neill, left back Chris Klute, center midfielder Dillon Powers and forward Deshorn Brown.

(MORE: No doubt now that Rookie of the Year is headed to DSG Park)

Some of these guys are starting ahead of established, well-paid veterans, and it takes some guts to make those calls.  Just like it took guts to sign off on trading Pablo Mastroeni, the face of the franchise in some ways. But there can be little doubt that it’s all working out. Despite all the early injuries to key figures, the Rapids probably need one more victory (in three remaining contests) to secure a playoff spot.

2. Real Salt Lake’s Jason Kreis

Real Salt Lake still has a shot at the Western Conference regular season crown. That’s not bad considering extensive use of several young, key figures, guys that some of the best MLS fans would not recognize even if they walked up and introduced themselves.

Bouncing back last week’s bitter U.S. Open Cup disappointment with a 1-1 draw last weekend against Dallas, despite being a man down for 70 minutes, says something, too.

3. Portland’s Caleb Porter

Porter’s latest accomplishment – and latest evidence of a quick learning curve as a pro head coach – is how the Timbers have learned to grind out results recently.

(MORE: Timbers among the team learning how to win ugly)

His ability to steer the team to results with style deserves praise. But putting the team in position to pick up points in the money days of September and October through a useful blend of attractive soccer and some old fashioned “getting it done” is reaping rewards down the stretch.

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.