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ProSoccerTalk’s MLS Player of the Month: Michael Bradley

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Through three games, Michael Bradley has been as advertised. On a minute-by-minute basis, he is the best player in Major League Soccer – somebody who can have a defining impact in all phases of the game. The only problems with this Player of the Month candidacy: The lack of minutes; and the lack of numbers.

With Toronto off the first weekend of the season, Bradley only played three games in March, yet there are 12 teams who played four games who’ve played four games since the season kicked off in Seattle. If you pick Bradley as your Player of the Month, you have comfortable with the claim three games of his March performance are worth more than four games for anybody else.

Think about Mauro Díaz’s performance with FC Dallas. The young Argentine has been among the best playmakers in the league, and that may be overly diplomatic to those other playmakers. Consider all the chances he’s created, the two goals he’s tallied, and his constantly positive contributions over four games, and Díaz’s case is hard to deny. If you’re choosing Mauro Díaz as Player of the Month, you’re picking a guy who put in four weeks of consistently above-average-to-stellar attacking play.

Now, think about Díaz’s defensive contributions. And think about Bradley’s. The Toronto star has been one of the most disruptive players in the league. Even as his team was being overwhelmed by Real Salt Lake this weekend, the U.S. international was doing his part, giving a third straight standout performance. Throughout March, Bradley was always a threat to regain possession whenever TFC’s opponent brought the ball into the middle of the park.

The gap between Bradley’s defensive contributions and Díaz’s is much greater than Díaz’s edge going forward, where Bradley has also been a plus contributor. Is that gap big enough to make up for the fewer games played (as well as any difference there might be in the value of attacking and defensive performance)? It’s all theoretical, but we think so.

The other player who has strung together four good games is Seattle’s Osvaldo Alonso, but he falls into a similar equation. Where Alonso may have the slightest of edges in the defensive end, Bradley’s been far more productive going forward. While they both did a great job in retaining possession in the middle of the part of the field, Bradley did a much better job of making that possession dangerous, so much so we’re willing to say three games of the TFC midfielder were worth more than four of Alonso.

That’s how good Bradley’s been, a value that’s transcended numbers. He has no goals, he has no assists, but his impact has still be so substantial, we’re willing to say three games of his play were more valuable than four games from anybody else. It’s his moment-by-moment impact, something that only becomes apparent once you start concentrating on all the little things he does for his squad. But once you do, you see that Bradley becomes involved with so much for Toronto, it’s not hard for him to do four match’s work over the course of 270 minutes.

Perhaps that’s a framework that overvalues well-rounded players. If so, my future apologies to Mauro Díaz, but the ability to have a major impact in all phases is a rare a valuable skill set, one that Michael Bradley has used to claim PST’s first Player of the Month honor for 2014.

PST Award MLS Award
Week 1 Will Bruin, Houston Dynamo
2g, 1a vs. New England
Nick Rimando, Real Salt Lake
8 saves, PK save at LA
Week 2 Victor Bernardez, San Jose Earthquakes
2g, 1a vs. Real Salt Lake
Jermain Defoe, Toronto FC
2 goals at Seattle
Week 3 Fabian Castillo, FC Dallas
1 goal vs. Chivas USA
Bernardo Añor, Columbus
2 goals vs. Philadelphia
Week 4 Álvaro Saborío, Real Salt Lake
2 goals vs. Toronto FC
Graham Zusi, Sporting Kansas City
1 goal, 2 assists at Colorado
March Player of the Month Michael Bradley, Toronto FC
3 games, 0 goals, 0 assists

Bayern’s Vidal says “ugly” Atletico not deserved UCL finalists

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27: Juanfran of Atletico Madrid and Arturo Vidal of Bayern Munich argue during the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at Vincente Calderon on April 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal has declared “ugly” Atletico Madrid unworthy finalists in the UEFA Champions League.

Bayern was eliminated in the Champions League semifinal by Atleti on Tuesday, with Diego Simeone’s Spanish side advancing on away goals.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

However, Vidal believed Bayern were the better team in the second leg, saying Atletico played “ugly football” to get through.

Today ugly football – Atletico – played against the best football in the world. The only time they saw the ball was for the goal.

They are going to be dreaming about us right up to the final. They did not have the ball, they took on the best team in the world, they took their chances and got to the final.

The best does not always win in football, like today. They are not deserved finalists.

Bayern Munich controlled more than 70-percent of possession and had 33 shots compared to Atletico’s nine, but those stats mean little as Antoine Griezmann’s away goal was enough to send Atleti to the final.

[ MORE: Former England striker Joe Cole headed to NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies ]

Atletico may not play the most attractive football, but after eliminating Barcelona and Bayern Munich in consecutive legs, it’s hard to argue anyone deserves this more than Simeone’s men.

Europa League preview: Liverpool, Shakhtar look to overcome Spanish foes

VILLARREAL, SPAIN - APRIL 28:  Cedric Bakambu of Villarreal is watched by the Liverpool defence during the UEFA Europa League semi final first leg match between Villarreal CF and Liverpool at Estadio El Madrigal on April 28, 2016 in Villarreal, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The second leg of the Europa League semifinals kick off tomorrow, with two La Liga sides looking to make it an all-Spanish final.

[ MORE: Premier League Playback ]

Villarreal holds a 1-0 lead over Liverpool, while Sevilla scored two away goals in their 2-2 draw at Shakhtar Donetsk.

Liverpool vs. Villarreal – 3:05 p.m. ET
Villarreal won first leg 1-0

Adrian Lopez’s late winner in the first leg has given Villarreal a slight lead, while the Spanish side did well not to concede an away goal. However, Liverpool have overcome deficits at Anfield before, including their memorable 4-3 victory over Borussia Dortmund in the quarterfinals. Emre Can is back fit for the Reds, as manager Jurgen Klopp will hope his fellow German can help the team to a cup final in his first year in charge.

[ RELATED: Liverpool preparing for another big Thursday night at Anfield ]

Sevilla vs. Shakhtar Donetsk – 3:05 p.m. ET
First leg ended 2-2 draw 

Sevilla are looking to become the first team to win three consecutive Europa League titles as the two-time defending champions face off against Shakhtar Donetsk. Sevilla are in the driver’s seat after scoring two away goals in Ukraine, and will feel confident of advancing to the final with a great home record at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium.

Men in Blazers podcast: Celebrating Leicester’s title with Arlo White

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In the latest Men in Blazers podcast, Rog and Davo celebrate Leicester City’s improbable Premier League title with Leicester’s own Arlo White.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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European police say Russian mafia infiltrating soccer clubs

LISBON, PORTUGAL - NOVEMBER 04:  Sporting Lisbon fans celebrate after their team score a goal during the Portuguese Liga match between Sporting Lisbon and Uniao Leiria at the Alvalade XXI Stadium on November 4, 2005 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Portuguese and European police say they have broken up a cell of an important Russian mafia group that allegedly laundered money through European football clubs.

Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, said in a statement Wednesday the group identified EU football clubs in financial distress and infiltrated them with benefactors who brought much-needed cash.

[ MORE: Man City bounced from UCL ]

Once they were in control, the mobsters allegedly laundered millions of euros (dollars) through player transfers, TV rights deals and betting.

Portuguese and European police on Tuesday raided third-division Portuguese club Uniao de Leiria and arrested three key members of the Russian gang. Three other Portuguese clubs’ premises were searched.

Europol said the operation helped identify serious crimes in Austria, Germany, and the United Kingdom, though it gave no details.