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ProSoccerTalk MLS Team of the Week – Week 6

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Forwards

Clint Dempsey, Seattle Sounders – One jaw-dropping blast, a game-winner, with a forced own goal in between. Dempsey’s Saturday was better than his hat trick in Portland. That he somehow managed to top a three-goal performance against Seattle’s arch rivals with a better performance in Dallas has to rank as one of the best eight-day runs in MLS history. He was our Player of the Week.

Robbie Keane, LA Galaxy – It was a typical day for Robbie Keane; and by typical, I mean he was probably the best player on the field. His second half run to put home Stefan Ishizaki’s cross is the type of movement we’re starting to take for granted, though his first half blast at David Ousted’s net nearly left the Ireland international with his first multi-goal game of the season.

We could be wrong about: Obafemi Martins, Seattle Sounders, Chris Wondolowski, San Jose Earthquakes

Midfielders

Federico Higuaín, Columbus Crew – San Jose’s two-man shield forced Higuaín to drop deep to pick up the ball, a roll the Argentine is accustomed to assuming in Columbus’s set up. Just before half time, however, neither of those midfielders could prevent Waylon Francis from finding Higuaín just in front of the defense, with the No. 10’s quick finish giving Pipa his fourth goal of the season.

Lloyd Sam, New York Red Bulls – Saturday was another in a strong of strong performances from Sam, whose consistently strong service from the right has only highlighted New York’s shortcomings up top. If Red Bulls had even average finishing on Saturday, the chances Sam created would have given New York its first win of the season. That Mike Petke’s team became the second straight victim at RFK can’t cost Sam a spot in this team.

Maurice Edu, Philadelphia Union – Another strong performance from the Union’s midfield anchor allowed Jack Hackworth’s trio to go toe-to-toe with RSL’s diamond, with Edu’s presence in the middle serving as the team’s greatest asset. His late header inside Jeff Attinella’s left post allowed Philly to take a deserved point, earning the U.S. international a place in this week’s squad.

Kyle Beckerman, Real Salt Lake – It’s tempting to make an Edu versus Beckerman comparison, given the increasing (but misguided) notion the midfielders are competing for a spot in Brazil. In reality, the two are very different players who went about their Saturday excellence in different ways. Beckerman’s anchored, disruptive presence helped RSL take a point in Chester, with his late second half goal nearly delivering full points.

We could be wrong about: Kyle Bekker, Toronto FC; Will Johnson, Portland Timbers; Javier Morales, Real Salt Lake; Vincent Nogueira, Philadelphia Union

Defenders

Kevin Alston, New England Revolution – Alston’s first Major League Soccer goal was a memorable one, with the fill-in left back bursting in from the flank to fire home Saturday’s winning goal. Part of a defense that held Houston without a shot on target, the former Hoosier this week’s the easy choice at left back.

Giancarlo Gonzalez, Columbus Crew – It wasn’t a perfect day for the Costa Rican, but it was close, with quick reads and decisive clearances allowing him to keep the space in front of Steve Clark as clear as possible. His 13 clearances were more than the rest of Columbus’s defense combined, making Sunday his most convincing performance since moving to Major League Soccer.

Clarence Goodson, San Jose Earthquakes – If you think Goodson could have done more on Columbus’s goal (he was the closest man to Higuaín), then the U.S. international doesn’t deserve this spot. Give it to Gonzalez, and consider this my tacit concession. You may be right.

If you’re inclined to think Goodson was right to keep dropping back with the rest of the San Jose line, Sunday becomes one of his best this season. A number of strong first half reads allowed the Earthquakes to thwart most of Columbus’s early incursions, keeping his team close enough to claim a point with its early second half breakthrough.

Dan Gargan, LA Galaxy – A strong run at the end of Saturday’s first half nearly saw Gargan assist on Landon Donovan’s record-setting goal, though the Galaxy attacker ended up pushing his header wide. Still, the ball was an example of the consistently strong crosses the journeyman defender has provided since assuming a spot in the starting lineup. Along with Baggio Husidic, Gargan’s become one of the latest examples of Bruce Arena salvaging veteran talent.

We could be wrong about: Waylon Francis, Columbus;  Jámison Olave, New York Red Bulls; Omar Gonzalez, LA Galaxy; Andrew Farrell, New England Revolution

Goalkeeper

Jaime Penedo, LA Galaxy – Of the four big saves the Panamanian international made on Saturday, his 32nd minute stop on Kekuta Manneh was our favorite. On a ball moving from left-to-right across his goal, Peneda quickly got off his line to cut down Manneh’s angles, charging toward the Vancouver attacker before he even turned toward goal. The Whitecaps eventually lost 1-0, with Penedo keeping a clean sheet in his return to Arena’s starting XI.

We could be wrong about: Andrew Dykstra, D.C. United

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

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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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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