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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

Klinsmann praises Nagbe: “He knows he has to push the envelope”

FRISCO, TX - MAY 25:  Pedro Larrea #15 of Ecuador reacts as Nagbe Darlington #10 of the United States celebrates with Christian Pulisic #17 of the United States after scoring against Ecuador during an International Friendly match at Toyota Stadium on May 25, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images
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Breaking into a Jurgen Klinsmann side isn’t easy, especially for an attacker.

With the United States men’s national team boss quite happy to trot out Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and — when healthy — Jozy Altidore, becoming a regular isn’t easy.

So making the most of your opportunity is key, and Darlington Nagbe has done that most times he’s hit the pitch for the USMNT.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

And scoring a 90th minute winner against Ecuador, even in a 1-0 friendly win, is going to help his odds of sticking in the coach’s mind. Klinsmann said Nagbe “knows he has to push the envelope”, and lauded him for doing so while cautioning that he’s never questioned the offensive acumen of Portland Timbers’ man.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“Now you also want to tell him ‘Listen, you’ve got to make an impression. You’ve got to learn to play both ways and grind it out defensively, go into 1v1s and win balls as well,’” Klinsmann said.

“And that’s just going forward. He has tremendous talent with the ball at his feet going forward. That’s what we enjoy in MLS every weekend. But the international side is both ways, and that’s what we’re working on. And he’s getting better and better at doing that.”

Nagbe was among a handful of U.S. players to shine during a dominant second half that saw the Timbers midfielder snare the decisive goal, and it’s not a stretch to say he was the brightest. Let’s hope to see him get a chance to start on Saturday against Bolivia.

Lukaku will listen to Everton but “I have my own ideas in mind

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - MAY 11: Romelu Lukaku of Everton arrives for the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Everton at the Stadium of Light on May 11, 2016 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
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Romelu Lukaku‘s future looks to be away from Goodison Park.

The big Belgian striker authored 25 goals across all competitions this season, including 18 in the Premier League.

[ MORE: Zlatan has “taken a decision” ]

But as he prepares for the Euro 2016 tournament, Lukaku’s comments make it seem likely that even new investments from up high aren’t going to keep him on Merseyside.

From Sky Sports:

“We have a new investor at Everton and out of courtesy I will listen to what he has to say. But I have my own ideas in mind. I want to win titles.

“I have had a very good season, but it is time for me to write myself a CV. That is why I play football. I got that trophy-winning mindset from Chelsea.”

Lukaku would be a big ticket item on the transfer market, and should go for more than the $41 million price tag Everton paid to get him from Chelsea.

Ibrahimovic says he has received offers from England, Italy

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 11:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Paris Saint-Germain walks out for a training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg match against Manchester City at Etihad Stadium on April 11, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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STOCKHOLM (AP) Still looking for a team for next season, Zlatan Ibrahimovic says he has “concrete offers” from England, Italy and other countries.

The 34-year-old Sweden striker, who has said he is leaving Paris Saint-Germain, has yet to announce where he is headed after the European Championship.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

Ibrahimovic says “I have taken my decision,” but he didn’t elaborate.

At Euro 2016, Sweden will play in Group E with Belgium, Italy and Ireland.

Benitez stay is huge, but Newcastle cannot be content with players

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 30:  Rafael Benitez (R) manager of Newcastle United congratulates Andros Townsend (L) after their 1-0 win in the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Crystal Palace at St James' Park on April 30, 2016 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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As posted yesterday, Rafa Benitez met with the media after Newcastle United confirmed that the trophy-winning manager has decided to stay with the club despite relegation, and said this is his ship now.

This is huge news for the Magpies.

The 56-year-old Spaniard couldn’t rescue the sinking ship he inherited from Steve McClaren, and is tasked with lifting Newcastle back to the Premier League at the first time of asking.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

For years, Newcastle’s managers have been subject to the approval of chief scouts, managing directors and owner Mike Ashley. What Benitez has now is assurances that no player is being sold without his permission, and none being bought without his approval. Which means no midseason sales of Yohan Cabaye because the iron is hot, or unrequested purchases like Xisco.

Of course that could mean we’re headed for a huge August or January bust-up when Ashley or Lee Charnley pulls the rug out from some big acquisition that could firm up Newcastle’s standing in the top flight, but we’ll stay on the sunny side for now and assume Benitez’s people made that part of his contact air tight.

It means Newcastle could line up, basically, the same as last season. There are plusses and minuses to that, of course, as the club was relegated thanks to woeful form and players who were perhaps rightfully accused of only showing up for primetime matches.

Consider:

— Newcastle took as many points from Manchester United (2) as Aston Villa.

— The Magpies went 2-0 against Tottenham Hotspur, grabbed four points from Liverpool, beat West Ham and drew both Manchester City and Chelsea.

— They also lost to relegation rivals Norwich, drew Sunderland twice and were swept by Watford.

So while Benitez holds sway to keep Moussa Sissoko, Georginio Wijnaldum and Daryl Janmaat despite the big money they could command on the open market, he has to be 100 percent sure they won’t mail it in.

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Kevin Nolan of Newcastle United celebrates scoring the opening goal with team mate Andy Carroll (L) during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Liverpool at St James' Park on December 11, 2010 in Newcastle, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Carroll and Nolan (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

There’s no certainty there, and one of the main things that helped Newcastle bounce right back up to the PL in 2009-10 was a crew that got its footing in the Championship by Week 13 and never looked back: the Magpies lost just once in the league from Oct. 24 onward thanks in large part to heart-and-soul players who stuck around after the drop (Kevin Nolan, Jonas Gutierrez, Fabricio Coloccini, Andy Carroll and others).

Among those who fit the bill for understanding the task at hand are Andros Townsend, Jonjo Shelvey, Jack Colback, Chancel Mbemba and Coloccini. Others, like Sissoko and Siem De Jong, risk poisoning the well. That’s not to say they shouldn’t be kept around, but Benitez will need to know transfer rumor and agent hijinks aren’t in the offing.

Make no mistake about it, Benitez in control is better than anything the Magpies have had in ages and Newcastle is far more likely to replicate the instant promotions of West Ham and itself than the divisional drops of Leeds United and Portsmouth.