ProSoccerTalk’s MLS Team of the Week – Week 4

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Forwards

Álvaro Saborío, Real Salt Lake – Our PST Player of the Week, Saborío scored twice while helped RSL to a 3-0 win over Toronto FC – a No. 1 vs. No 2 matchup, based on last week’s Power Rankings.

We could be wrong about: Blas Pérez, FC Dallas

(MORE: Explaining Player of the Week – Saborío over Zusi)

Midfielders

Mauro Díaz, FC Dallas – The young Argentine is becoming automatic on this list, but whereas last week Díaz took a backseat to Fabian Castillo (or, drew so much attention that he paved the way), the former River Plate midfielder played hero on Saturday. His late goal against Portland lifted Óscar Pareja’s team to its third win of the season. Last week’s performance may have been more heralded for that otherworldly ball he played for Je-Vaughn Watson, but his contribution against Portland was more influential.

Javier Morales, Real Salt Lake – As RSL’s focal point on Saturday, Morales exploited the space between Toronto’s lines to play a key part in his team’s last two goals. Beyond the goals, however, Morales was central to taking advantage of the work of Luis Gil and Ned Grabavoy, allowing the reigning Western Conference champions to hand TFC its first loss of the season.

Pedro Morales, Vancouver Whitecaps – An amazing display of passing over Saturday’ first half hour saw the former Málaga midfielder spraying the ball all over BC Place’s field, his first timed, long balls always leaving the Whitecaps within one touch of finding Darren Mattocks and Kenny Miller. His cross after an early corner began the play which created Vancouver’s opening goal.

Lee Nguyen, New England Revolution – It was already Nguyen’s best night of the campaign before a 93rd minute counter attack allowed him to end San Jose’s 21- match unbeaten run with his first goal of the season.

Osvaldo Alonso, Seattle Sounders – A typically destructive performance from “Ossie” was made all the more special as his skill in possession almost allowed the 10-man Sounders to preserve a draw against visiting Columbus.

We could be wrong about: Graham Zusi, Sporting Kansas City; Diego Valeri, Portland Timbers; Michael Bradley, Toronto FC; Ricardo Clark, Houston Dynamo; Perry Kitchen, D.C .United; Federico Higuaín, Columbus Crew

Defenders

Michael Parkhurst, Columbus Crew – When defending is good, it should look easy, but that doesn’t mean Parkhurst shouldn’t be acknowledged. His was the best defensive performance of the weekend, one which saw him constantly cleaning up the space between Steve Clark and the Columbus defense while Seattle was playing with 11. Another week, this could have been a sneak Player of the Week winner.

Nat Borchers, Real Salt Lake – Borchers didn’t make it look quite as easy; then again, he was going up against Jermain Defoe. Not renown for his foot speed, the RSL defender kept up with the England international, leading the effort that kept Defoe off the scoresheet for the first time this season.

Jair Benítez, FC Dallas – A second straight Team of the Week appearance for Benítez, who most will remember for the fouls he laid on Darlington Nagbe during Saturday’s first half. Beyond that rough play, however, Benítez was again the weekend’s best left back, his crossing help produce Dallas’s first goal.

(MORE: Last week’s Team of the Week.)

Kellyn Acosta, FC Dallas – It was an off week for the league’s right backs, allowing Acosta’s role on Dallas’s first goal to claim a spot in this team. Playing against 10 men, Acosta saw more room through midfield than usual, space he used to help provide width for his own 10-man side.

We could be wrong about: Aaron Wheeler, Philadelphia Union; Jordan Harvey, Vancouver Whitecaps; Armando, New York Red Bulls; Eric Miller, Montréal Impact

Goalkeeper

Steve Clark, Columbus Crew – Clark’s save on Lamar Neagle in Saturday’s first half may have been the most important stop of the weekend, but it wasn’t the new Crew No. 1’s only contribution. Among other strong moments, Clark came up big again just before Djimi Traoré’s sending off, helping Columbus stay close enough to take advantage of the Seattle defender’s dismissal.

We could be wrong about: Dan Kennedy, Chivas USA

While PSG has won the title, Areola’s playing for his future

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PARIS (AP) Although Paris Saint-Germain has easily won the French title, Alphonse Areola still has plenty to play for.

The next four games could be crucial in deciding whether PSG keeps the goalkeeper or tries to sign a big name in the transfer window, possibly Thibaut Courtois. The 25-year-old Areola is the same age as Courtois, but has nowhere near the international standing of the Chelsea keeper.

[ MORE: Turkey hands bid plans to UEFA for EURO 2024 ]

It is hard for Areola to stand out, however, in a team noted almost singularly for its attacking prowess. While PSG has already scored more than 100 league goals, and remains on course to reach 100 points this season, Areola has rarely been talked about.

The common perception is that PSG will thrash teams in the French league, so letting in a goal or two is irrelevant.

However, Areola has been one of PSG’s most consistent players this season, and last Sunday he made a personal record of eight saves in a 1-0 win at Bordeaux.

He was also one of the few PSG players to come through the loss to Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League with any credit. Without Areola’s shot-stopping, and particularly his bravery rushing off his line, the 5-2 aggregate loss would have been bigger.

With 104 goals, PSG’s attack is the best in the league by far and has netted 25 more than deposed champion Monaco.

But PSG’s defense is also the best and Areola has conceded only 21 goals in the 31 he has played. Although PSG has dominated most of those, losing only twice all season, he has still made on average four saves per game.

Having replaced Kevin Trapp as No. 1, Areola has missed only three league games all season. It represents a reversal for both.

When Trapp was signed by former coach Laurent Blanc in 2015-16, Areola went on loan to Spanish club Villarreal. He established himself as regular in Villarreal’s side and gained further experience in the Europa League. Spanish media were largely impressed by his consistency and his agility on the goal-line.

He returned to PSG and battled with Trapp for the starting position last season. But coach Unai Emery seemed unsure who he really preferred, with Trapp starting 24 games to Areola’s 14. PSG ended up losing the title to Monaco.

But the hierarchy is much clearer now and the error-prone Trapp, once hailed by Blanc for his passing out from goal, is the one expected to leave.

Areola has further incentive to do well with the World Cup coming up. He is challenging Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda to be France’s No. 2 behind Hugo Lloris in Russia. For now, Areola is a squad member but has yet to make an international appearance under coach Didier Deschamps.

But he has done well at every level for France, starting with the under-16s a decade ago. He got his first taste of international success when he helped France win the Under-20 World Cup in 2013.

While Paul Pogba was one of the stars of the tournament, Areola’s crowning moment came in the final itself. France drew 0-0 with Uruguay and he saved two shots in the penalty shootout. Prior to the shootout he had a word with France’s designated penalty takers, confidently telling them “do your job and I’ll do mine.”

With Emery almost certain to be replaced next season, it promises to be a frenetic offseason of buying and selling at the club.

But whoever replaces Emery should perhaps think twice before letting Areola leave. The Parisian-born Areola came through the youth ranks at PSG, as did center half Presnel Kimpembe and midfielder Adrien Rabiot.

Star-studded sides like PSG often import their best players and fans are happy to see them arrive, because it shows ambition. But they nevertheless identify more closely with homegrown talents such as Areola.

More AP Ligue 1 coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/Ligue1

Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

Infantino has ‘full confidence’ in Samoura amid ethics issue

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA President Gianni Infantino says he retains “full confidence” in secretary general Fatma Samoura after an attempt to embroil her in an ethics investigation.

[ MORE: Turkey hands in bid plans to UEFA for 2024 EUROs ]

Samoura has expressed irritation at “totally ridiculous and baseless” claims she broke FIFA rules by not declaring an alleged conflict of interest in the 2026 World Cup bidding contest.

FIFA has not specified the exact nature of the complaint or the progress of any ethics investigation after it was alleged she was a relative of former Senegal player El Hadji Diouf, who is an ambassador for Morocco’s bid.

Samoura insisted on Wednesday the former Liverpool forward “is not a member of my family and therefore everything is crystal clear.”

FIFA’s top administrator received a public show of support from Infantino.

“I can confirm my full confidence in Fatma Samoura to lead the FIFA administration,” Infantino said in a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday.

The former United Nations official was hired by Infantino in 2016 months after he was elected as Sepp Blatter’s successor.

Morocco is due to take on a joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico in the June 13 vote for the 2026 World Cup host.

Photo: Flamengo supporter tattoos club jersey on body

MAURÍCIO DOS ANJOS VIA VICE
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A supporter in Brazil has taken fandom to a whole new level with a piece of body art that shows his devotion to the club.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

Maurício dos Anjos, a passionate Flamengo fan, has been a life-long supporter of the Rio de Janeiro-based club, and has the tattoo to prove it.

While it may look like body paint, Dos Anjos has a tattoo on the upper-half of his body depicting the Flamengo jersey, and it’s pretty awesome.

“People ask me if I don’t find it strange that I’m always wearing a Flamengo shirt. And I just don’t,” dos Anjos told VICE. “To me, it’s normal. But it doesn’t seem like anyone I talk to about it actually dislikes my tattoo.”

In total, Dos Anjos says the body work took over 90 hours and 30 sessions to complete the tattoo.

Has the perception of MLS really changed?

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When David Beckham arrived in Los Angeles back in 2007 his presence changed the complexion of Major League Soccer for all the right reasons, and the perception of the growing league changed.

[ MORE: Go behind the scenes at NYCFC’s new training facility ]

Over the years, MLS has strived to move into the upper-echelon of the global game, in an attempt to compete with the likes of the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga, but naysayers still indicate to this day that the United States’ top flight lacks the quality of the aforementioned.

Phrases like “retirement league” and “uninspired” have been used to describe MLS in the past, particularly when it comes to the league’s willingness to spend boatloads of cash on notable players well past their prime.

Examples such as Andrea Pirlo, Steven Gerrard and Rafael Marquez have at times dampened the perception of MLS due to the lack of quality on the pitch from those players, along with several others that had previously boasted extensive resumes.

Now, we’re at a time where MLS has picked up its scouting, with clubs focused more on younger, more skilled talents from South America and Europe.

That has led to major signings over the past several years, such as Ezequiel Barco, Miguel Almiron, Diego Rossi and Jesus Medina, to name a few.

Has that changed the overall complexion of MLS though?

On Thursday, Kevin De Bruyne‘s agent, Patrick de Koster, suggested in an interview that the Belgium international would likely “finish” his career in MLS.

“For now, he’s very happy at this club,” De Koster said. “We always look what the best solution for the player, both financially and football wise. Kevin’s future? I can see him finish at Los Angeles.”

This comes on the heels of a 36-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic joining the LA Galaxy in a move that has sent shockwaves across the league and the world because of the Swede’s great presence on a global scale.

It’s not to say that players like Ibrahimovic, or previous signings like David Villa and Didier Drogba cannot help the overall growth of MLS, because they certainly bring an awareness to the matches and draw attention to their respective clubs.

However, the long-term viability of MLS has been and will continue to be sustained on youth players succeeding in the league, as well as being able to draw promising young talents into the top flight of the U.S.