Two gaffes, one huge miss see Diego Lugano undermine West Brom, rekindle concerns for Uruguay

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After watching one of their starting center backs undermine their chances today at Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion fans won’t be the only ones regretting the performance of Diego Lugano. For those hoping Uruguay can recreate 2010’s magic at this summer’s World Cup, outings like today’s from the veteran defender are cause for concern. Is this somebody La Celeste can count on in Brazil?

Those doubts are nothing new, with Lugano’s play having prompted questions ever since he left Fenerbahçe for Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 2011. On Wednesday, however, there was no doubt about the extent to which he hurt his club team. Committing three major errors over a span of 50 minutes, Lugano was the biggest difference between a one-goal loss and a victory in Albion’s West Midlands derby.

The first mistake came in the 12th minute, with the Baggies in control after taking a shock 2-0 lead. Off a long ball from Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan, Lugano headed back toward his own goal from the edge of West Brom’s defensive third. His ball went straight to Andreas Weimann, who lobbed Baggies goalkeeper Ben Foster to bring Villa back into the match.

Lugano’s second gaffe came 10 minutes into the second half when a Villa mistake defending a restart left him with an open header at Guzan’s left post. From eight yards out, Lugano only needed to redirect his shot on goal, with Villa’s transitioning goalkeeper unlikely to be in position to stop a ball put on target. Instead, Lugano pushed his shot wide of the right post, leaving the shootout tied, 3-3.

Just after the hour, Lugano committed his decisive error. On a cross sent in from Villa’s right, Lugano wrapped his right arm around Christian Benteke’s shoulders and neck, pulling the forward to the ground as Leandro Bacuna’s ball went through the area. With a foul so blatant, all discretion was taken out of Mark Clattenburg’s hands. Lugano cost his team a point, gifting Benteke the penalty that led to the game’s decisive goal.

Even from a player who has become highly scrutinized over the last two-plus years, this was an especially bad day, one that would be unfair to pick apart were it not for its place in a bigger context. At one time the cornerstone of his national team’s defense, Lugano is clearly in the sunset of his career, a decline that’s led him from PSG to West Bromwich (via Málaga). Like most players his age, he’s lost a step, something that’s make him much more mistake prone.

For West Brom, the solution’s obvious. Gareth McCauley has started 20 times this year but hasn’t appeared since Pepe Mel took over. Today, he was on West Brom’s bench, having returned from a hamstring problem. While Mel may have wanted to give a player of Lugano’s reputation another chance in the team (Lugano’s only made five starts), Wednesday should be enough to convince the Baggies’ new boss to turn back to Steve Clarke’s duo. While Lugano’s unlikely to be that bad in his next start, the performance was consistent with somebody who was unable to win more time under the previous boss.

For Uruguay, the solutions aren’t as obvious. While Atlético Madrid’s Diego Godín is an obvious choice at one center back position, there’s no clear candidate to take over for Lugano at the other, part of the reason the then-rarely used Baggie was still in Óscar Washington Tabárez’s starting XI during Uruguay’s World Cup playoff against Jordan. Among the inexperienced (José María Gutíerrez, Gastón Vila, Emiliano Velazquez), rarely played (Sebastián Coates, Martín Caceres), or potentially too old (Andrés Scotti, 38), there’s nobody whose play screams ‘this man should unseat the captain of the national team.’

For West Brom, Wednesday’s Lugano problem doesn’t have to be a big deal. Pepe Mel can move on. For Uruguay, it’s a bigger problem. This is a team that can again be a dark horse contender at a World Cup, but unless Lugano can recapture some of his Fenerbahçe self, Tabárez as a potentially debilitating problem at the back.

Pique says Neymar “does not know what to do”

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Barcelona defender Gerard Pique has spoken out about the Neymar saga, stating that he and his fellow teammates are trying to lend their comrade a hand as he looks to sort out his future between Barcelona or Paris Saint-Germain.

Speaking ahead of the El Clasico preseason match in Miami, Pique told reporters, “Neymar and I we are very close and I want him to stay and I know the situation. Right now he doesn’t know what to do and we are trying to help him, the ones [on the team] that are more close to him to take the right decision.”

[ MORE: Miazga loaned back to Vitesse ]

Pique was the source of intrigue a five days ago when he posted a Tweet with picture of himself and Neymar and the caption “He stays.” The defender was forced to clarify later saying that his post was only a hopeful prediction of the future rather than a bit of breaking news.

“It depends on what he wants,” Pique said at the pre-match press conference. “He can be in all the clubs in all the world. He can be in Paris, Barcelona, Chelsea or City. All the clubs will want him. It’s about your priorities. What do you want? Do you want more money? Do you want to win titles?”

Then, Pique used his knowledge of American sports to make a comparison, perhaps indirectly referencing Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving. “It’s happening here and it’s happening in the NBA as well. There are some players that are not earning all the money that they deserve to win titles. So sometimes you have to take decisions in life and it’s all about priorities.”

Meanwhile, club captain Iniesta was also asked about Neymar, and he said he just wants a decision soon. “We [as players] just want peace which will benefit everyone – the players, the club and everything surrounding it.”

Former Barcelona defender Carles Puyol also spoke out about Neymar’s situation, telling Spanish publication Marca that he thinks Neymar should make his decision soon to erase the uncertainty.

Cheers! Czech soccer club shapes dugouts like beer cans

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PRAGUE (AP) Czech club Viktoria Plzen has come up with innovative beer-can shaped dugouts that truly represent the city.

The club from Plzen, or Pilsen in English, is known as the Czech capital of beer which gave the world the golden “pilsner” lager in 1842.

This week, it unveiled the new dugouts at its Doosan Arena that look exactly like beer cans.

Plzen manager general Adolf Sadek said it was a joint idea from the club and the nearby Gambrinus brewery.

“Such dugouts are unique and I daresay no other club has them,” Sadek said.

Added Gambrinus brewer Zdenek Polak, “Beer and football belong to each other.”

Players welcomed the novelty, particularly with leather heated seats.

The dugouts will first be tested in Viktoria’s season opener against Dukla Prague on Saturday.

Report: USMNT’s Paul Arriola attracting MLS, European interest

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Several U.S. Men’s National Team players made strong impressions on Bruce Arena and Co. at this month’s CONCACAF Gold Cup — which resulted in a Stars and Stripes title.

[ MORE: NYCFC continues push to top in latest MLS Power Rankings ]

One of those players is Club Tijuana attacker Paul Arriola, whose performance for the USMNT and in Mexico have drawn him significant interest from MLS, Portugal and the Netherlands, according to Goal USA.

The report from Goal states that a “half dozen” sides in MLS have shown interest in Arriola, including Real Salt Lake.

Arriola, 22, has played for Xolos in Liga MX since 2013 after finishing up his academy career with the LA Galaxy.

The Galaxy would hold the rights to Arriola if he were to join MLS due to a Homegrown claim, despite the forward only spending one season with the club’s academy from 2012 to 2013.

Chanot, Wallace among missing for NYCFC’s clash at Toronto

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Patrick Vieira’s men have been flying high as of late, but New York City FC’s difficult schedule continues over the weekend north of the border.

[ MORE: NYCFC continues push towards top of PST MLS Power Rankings ]

NYCFC will take on Toronto FC on Sunday afternoon at BMO Field, but the third-place side in the Eastern Conference will have to do so without six first-team players.

[ MORE: MLS Week 22 preview — Sigi makes LA debut against Sounders ]

A number of injuries will keep out regulars like center back Maxime Chanot, winger Rodney Wallace and Ronald Matarrita, while Miguel Camargo, Khiry Shelton and 16-year-old midfielder/defender James Sands are also sidelined ahead of the Toronto clash.

Wallace and Camargo each sustained injuries during the CONCACAF Gold Cup while on duty with Costa Rica and Panama, respectively.

The two sides settled for a 2-2 draw when they last met on July 19 at Yankee Stadium, but an NYCFC victory could mean a strong push for Vieira and Co. towards the top of the East.

As the table stands, NYCFC currently sits just three points Toronto at the top of the Eastern Conference through 21 matches, while the Chicago Fire are lumped in between the two clubs on 38 points.

Meanwhile, TFC will continue to deal with a couple injuries of its own as Steven Beitashour and Benoit Cheyrou remain out with abdominal and calf ailments, respectively.