PST’s Major League Soccer Team of the Month – March

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Forwards

Jermain Defoe, Toronto FC – Even while being kept off the scoresheet at Real Salt Lake, the England international showed what a handful he’ll be for Major League Soccer defenses. His three goals over the previous games represent Toronto FC’s only offense, enough to lift last year’s ninth place finishers in the Eastern Conference to a 2-1-0 month.

We may be wrong about: Alvaro Saborío, Real Salt Lake; Erick Torres, Chivas USA

Midfielders

Mauro Díaz, FC Dallas – The league’s best creator in March, Díaz surprisingly finishes the month with no assists, even though his through ball ahead of Je-Vaughn Watson’s goal against Chivas USA may have been the pass of the month. The young Argentine added two goals while leading Dallas to three wins in four games.

Federico Higuaín, Columbus Crew – Pipa hasn’t had any Player of the Week-caliber performances, but he has been consistently excellent throughout the Crew’s 3-0-0 month. No player is more important to his team’s attack than the 29-year-old Argentine, whose creativity has given new coach Gregg Berhalter a focal point to build around.

Mauro Rosales, Chivas USA – Rosales caught the league’s attention with his play in Chivas USA’s opening day win, but while his team has yet to replicate that result, the former Sounder has persisted. He defensive efforts against Vancouver, where the Goats where down a man for nearly 80 minutes, and this weekend at New York (responsible for five changes of possession in the second half) give him this nod.

Michael Bradley, Toronto FC – Our March Player of the Month. Bradley has already established himself as the league’s best player, and while that won’t surprise anybody familiar with the U.S. international, the speed with which he’s adjusted is still noteworthy.

Osvaldo Alonso, Seattle Sounders – A little insight into how this will work: I’m not going to be afraid to pick the same players month-after-month for variety’s sake. Players don’t get extra credit for transcending our preconceived notions. Great players don’t get penalized for being great.

With that in mind, expect to see Osvaldo Alonso’s name often. There may be months where a player like Kyle Beckerman can shake up this burgeoning Alonso-Bradley duopoly in our team’s pivot, but after four weeks where Alonso was nothing more than his usual, destructive self, he still made our Team of the Month.

We may be wrong about: Shea Salinas, San Jose Earthquakes; Maurice Edu, Philadelphia Union; Vincent Nogueira, Philadelphia Union; Kyle Beckerman, Real Salt Lake

Defenders

DeAndre Yedlin, Seattle Sounders – His only blemish came on national television, playing a part in Jermaine Defoe’s first MLS goal. Around that, the 20-year-old U.S. international was MLS’s best combination of consistency and occasional excellence at right back (though admittedly, he would have been amongst the close calls were it not for Kofie Sarkodie’s hand ball this weekend in Vancouver).

Michael Parkhurst, Columbus Crew – The former MLS Defender of the Year looks like an early contender for a second honor. A strong night of infrequent tests in D.C. gave way to a more unsteady performance at home against Philadelphia, but Saturday’s game in Seattle affirmed his place in this team.

Chad Marshall, Seattle Sounders – Like Parkhurst, Marshall’s month wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty close. A small hiccup against Toronto saw him play a part in one goal, but the rest of the month vaulted his consistently strong play back into MLS’s collective consciousness. It’s funny (and sad) what going from the of the shadows of Columbus to the spotlight of Seattle will do for one’s reputation.

Jair Benítez, FC Dallas – Benítez’s use of the space behind Fabian Castillo earned him two spots in our Teams of the Week, making him a natural fit for March’s Best XI. In addition to the service he’s provided from the left, Benítez has also had impact in the middle of the park, occasionally venturing in from his flank while helping Dallas to its surprise start.

We could be wrong about: Kofie Sarkodie, Houston Dynamo; Nat Borchers, Real Salt Lake; Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Chicago Fire; Fabinho, Philadelphia Union

Goalkeeper

Steve Clark, Columbus Crew – Players like Nick Rimando and Luis Robles have snared headlines their individual saves, but Clark has also has his share of spectacular stops (this weekend against Lamar Neagle) while making the rest of his job look easy. And, unlike most of his peers, Clark has been virtually mistake free over the season’s first month. If he was out of position a little more often and forced to be more dramatic about his saves, the former Michigan Buck may be getting more attention. Renowned or not, Clark had a great month.

We could be wrong about: Luis Robles, New York Red Bulls

Serie A roundup: Roma pips Napoli for 2nd, Lazio falls

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Francesco Totti’s legendary career came to a close in fitting fashion as Roma scored a last-minute winner to secure 2nd place in the Serie A table.

On the final day of the season, Napoli’s win at Sampdoria moved them momentarily into second, but Roma snatched the spot back as Diego Perotti scored in the 90th minute to beat Genoa 3-2. Totti had come on as a 54th minute substitute.

[ MORE: Francesco Totti’s career achievements make him an all-time great ]

The win saw Roma end the season on 87 points, one above Napoli’s 86. That puts Roma into the Champions League group stage, while the third-place finish for Napoli places them in next season’s Champions League playoff round. They finish the season with a dominating 4-2 win over Sampdoria that saw four different Napoli goalscorers find the back of the net.

Below the Champions League battle, Atalanta held onto its fabulous fourth-place finish as Lazio fell 3-1 at Crotone. With Lazio already down 2-1 midway through the first half, Angolan defender Bastos received a second yellow card. Down to 10 men, Lazio still controlled the majority of possession but saw themselves outshot, only able to pop off three shots on target. The loss has no significant bearing, as both Atalanta and Lazio qualify for the Europa League group stage, while AC Milan seven points adrift in sixth makes the Europa League third qualifying round.

AC Milan finishes the season a point above rivals Inter despite a 2-1 final-day loss to Cagliari. The game was tied 1-1 down the stretch, but Gabriel Paletta was sent off with 15 minutes remaining, and Fabio Pisacane scored three minutes deep into stoppage time to give Cagliari the win.

Inter, meanwhile, finished the year on a high note as they hammered Udinese 5-2, most notably on a brace from Eder. Ivan Perisic and Marcelo Brozovic also scored in the win, while the fifth came on a late own goal. Inter finished the year on 62 points, five less than last season’s 67 which was good enough for fourth place.

Elsewhere, Fiorentina finished a disappointing season with a disappointing 2-2 home draw with last-placed Pescara, while Palermo beat Empoli 2-1 and five goalscorers helped Torino pound Sassuolo 5-2.

USMNT roster announced for pair of World Cup qualifiers

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The regulars are all aboard as Bruce Arena has announced a mostly full-strength roster for the World Cup qualifiers against Mexico and Trinidad & Tobago.

The only true regular missing from the 27-man list is midfielder Jermaine Jones, who is recovering from a knee injury suffered back in early May.

Leading the line are Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey up front, with Jordan Morris and Bobby Wood alongside. Fabian Johnson, Michael Bradley, and Christian Pulisic headline the midfield, along with Alejandro Bedoya and Darlington Nagbe. Kellyn Acosta is called up as a like-for-like replacement for Jermaine Jones.

Along the back, Geoff Cameron is available for selection after navigating a few injuries this past season. John Brooks is back as well after his muscle tear suffered in late April. DeAndre Yedlin is back as well after missing the last pair of qualifiers with an injury and winning the Championship with Newcastle. Fulham’s Tim Ream is called in after showing improvement all season at the club level. Jorge Villafana returns at the thin left-back position, as is DaMarcus Beasley, who is listed as a midfielder.

In goal, Brad Guzan, Tim Howard, and Nick Rimando present an experienced trio, also supported by 21-year-old Ethan Horvath.

The US takes on Venezuela in a friendly on June 3rd in a warm-up to the pair of qualifiers. First, they’ll host Trinidad & Tobago in Denver on June 8th. Then, on just a three day turnaround, they head to the Azteca to play Mexico.

After earning four points in the last international break, the United States sits in 4th position in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. The top three teams advance automatically to the 2018 World Cup, while the 4th placed team can qualify via a two-legged playoff against a team from the Asian confederation.


GKs: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC), Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

DEFs: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City).

MIDs: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)

FWDs: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Bobby Wood (Hamburg).

Totti’s loyalty one of the great soccer accomplishments ever

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During the prematch ceremony to celebrate the retirement of Roma legend Francesco Totti, there were fans crying. There were mascots crying. There were family members crying. There were players crying. The man himself was crying.

When 25 years with one club, no celebration can keep back the tears that naturally follow such a glorious career. Instead, an entire stadium paid tribute in one massive outpouring of emotion.

He was never flashy, he was never self-concerned, he never attracted the spotlight. All Francesco Totti did was give and give and give to his club. As the Italian’s career progressed, the game changed around him, with more and more money flowing through a landscape that gave players every reason to change teams as often as possible.

Through it all, Totti stayed put.

Roma’s Francesco Totti enters the field for his final salute to his fans after an Italian Serie A soccer match between Roma and Genoa at the Olympic stadium in Rome (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino).

At the end of it all, 25 years produced 618 league appearances, and 782 appearances overall. He scored 250 Serie A goals on the nose, and another 66 amid all other competitions. Those are just numbers, and Totti gave Roma far more than a laundry list of big numbers.

But for now, we focus on the bookkeeping, because even those are staggering. 250 league goals leaves Totti 2nd all-time in Italy, behind just Silvio Piola, but even the great 1938 World Cup champion never scored more than 143 league goals for a single club. Only three active players have over 100 league goals.

Totti racked up 618 Serie A appearances, his final one a 3-2 win over Genoa that earned Roma a Champions League group stage spot. That total is good for third all-time, one (for now) behind the great Gianluigi Buffon and 29 back of all-time leader Paolo Maldini. Maldini, who retired in 2009, also spent his entire career with one club in AC Milan, an equally commendable accomplishment. But in the modern game, 8 years adrift of Maldini’s playing days, the overwhelming temptations to move clubs make what Totti has done even more remarkable. Plus, he out-lasted Maldini’s career by a year (24 vs. 25 years active).

A note: only two players in the top 30 list in Serie A appearances are still active: Buffon, and 34-year-old Alberto Gilardino, who has played for 11 clubs in his career and is still 104 appearances back of Totti.

Past all the numbers stands a humble man who served one fanbase as loyally as humanly possible. Totti’s accomplishments are not only among the greatest in the history of the game, but it also may never be surpassed by anyone as long as we live.

Mascherano out 6 weeks, will miss Argentina vs. Brazil

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says defender Javier Mascherano will be out of action for six weeks to recover from a right knee injury.

[ MORE: Luis Enrique leaves Barca with feeling of accomplishment ]

Barcelona’s season is over, but the injury will rule out Mascherano from Argentina’s friendly against Brazil on June 9.

Mascherano injured his leg early in Saturday’s final of the Copa del Rey, when Barcelona beat Alaves 3-1 to defend its title for a third straight season.

He also cut his head during the collision with an Alaves player that produced the leg injury. He returned on crutches to join the team celebration.

Argentina doesn’t play its next World Cup qualifier until it plays Uruguay on Aug. 28.