This week’s MLS5: Our early look at the Most Valuable Player award

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Each week throughout the rest of the Major League Soccer season, we’ll take a look at (at least) one of the league’s major postseason awards, giving you our “if we have to vote today” view on MLS’s most prestigious honors. It’s our way of keeping a conversation going from start-to-finish rather than jumping in at season’s end to take inventory of the previous eight months. If we start paying attention now — thinking about things in terms of our eventual votes — hopefully we can make more informed decisions come October.

Every week, there’ll be one award and five points of discussion, and while it’s way too early to be making decisions about how we’re actually going to vote, it’s not too early to consider which players are distinguishing themselves.

We start with Most Valuable Player:

source: Getty Images

5. Mauro Díaz, FC Dallas

When you watch the young Argentine play you see an array of skills and choices that could vault him among the best players in Major League Soccer. For some, he’s already there, having won March’s MLS Player of the Month honor. Break down his games, actually track the end result of all those deft touches and though balls, and you see much of his skill has resulted in unrealized potential. He does have three assists (two primary), good for second in the league, but for all his orchestrating majesty, only five of Dallas’s 17 goals have come from open play. Soon, when those small, seemingly innumerable pieces of skill represent more than just potential, Díaz could climb this list.

source: Getty Images

4. Federico Higuaín, Columbus Crew

Four goals, two assists, and the key role in a team that looks primed for one of the season’s biggest turnarounds earns Higuaín a place on this list, though whether he deserves to be above Díaz is another question. Though Higuaín has scored more goals, that’s by virtue of being his team’s penalty kick taker. Those scores aside his numbers, like his influence, is almost identical to Díaz’s.

For us, there are two tiebreakers. First, Higuaín has been more dangerous as a penalty area threat. Second, in Columbus’s system, he’s having to do more work to drop back and pick up the ball. Even when his team’s established possession in the opponent’s half, Higuaín’s often drifting to the flanks to influence the game.

Are those minor distinctions? Of course. It’s not easy to try to draw lines between Mauro Díaz and Federico Higuaín. If you prefer the FC Dallas man, we can’t argue. Columbus has also only produced five open play goals (though that does represent 55 percent of the team’s production).

source: AP

3. Michael Bradley, Toronto FC

Moment to moment, this is the most influential player in Major League Soccer. Defensively, he may be the league’s most valuable, and as he showed in Columbus, had can also be one of MLS’s most dangerous going forward. The game he missed against Colorado hurts his ranking, but once that gets teased out, he’ll likely be competing with our choice for number one.

source: Getty Images

2. Robbie Keane, LA Galaxy

With four goals in five games, Keane is proving as valuable as ever. While he doesn’t quite have the minute-to-minute effect that Díaz, Higuaín, and Bradley have, he has a much greater influence within 18 yards of goal. Only Marco Di Vaio and Clint Dempsey are getting off more shots per game, while no forward is generating more scoring opportunities for his teams mates (as measured by Opta’s Key Passes, for what that’s worth). Despite only playing five games, he leads the league with 11 shots on target.

source: AP

1. Clint Dempsey, Seattle Sounders

Who else could it be? Even though he’s missed two games through suspension, Dempsey’s tied for the league’s lead in goals (six). His three assists (two primary) are second only to teammate Obafemi Martins, with most of his contributions coming in high-leverage situations (via late goals against Portland, Dallas). When Michael Bradley gets more minutes under his belt, the philosophical debate between a high value attacker and all around midfielder will escalate. For now, Dempsey’s surged to the top of our early, theoretical MVP ballot.

Others considered: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Obafemi Martins (Seattle Sounders), Javier Morales (Real Salt Lake), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), Erick Torres (Chivas USA)

West Ham 1-1 Leicester: Hammers marginally improved

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  • Albrighton opens scoring in 8′
  • Kouyate brings Hammers back in 45′
  • Moyes’ first point as West Ham boss

The tangible takeaway was small — a single point — but the overall sentiment appeared my larger for West Ham United, as David Moyes‘ side came from behind to secure a 1-1 draw with Leicester City at the London Stadium on Friday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

It didn’t take long for the Hammers’ boo birds to re-emerge and for the spotlight to return squarely — and blisteringly hotly — onto the club’s (already, after two games) beleaguered manager. Jamie Vardy broke down the left side of the penalty area, cut a left-footed cross back toward the penalty spot, and Marc Albrighton arrived at the right time to redirect the ball through traffic with and outstretched right foot (above video).

Kasper Schmichael was forced to make one spectacular save during the first half, in the 25th minute. Manuel Lanzini‘s free kick floated to Angelo Ogbonna at the back post, where the Italian headed downward and inside the post. Schmichael quickly scrambled across the face of goal and pushed the ball away with two hands.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Then, the strangest event occurred: for just the sixth time in 25 games since relocation in the summer of 2016, West Ham scored a first-half goal — with only seconds to spare. Again, it was a set piece from which the Hammers posed their greatest threat. Lanzini lofted another beautiful ball to the top of Schmichael’s six-yard box, this time from a corner kick, where Cheikhou Kouyate rose above the rest and headed the ball off the back of Danny Simpson and into the back of the net.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

With the two sides seemingly pleased to split the points, the second half featured very little notable action — in terms of scoring chances, that is.

Riyad Mahrez, who spent all summer trying to engineer a move away from Leicester, was subbed out by manager Claude Puel in the 70th minute. The Algerian international and 2015-16 Player of the Year appeared to be far from pleased, as he and Puel made no eye contact nor gave any acknowledgement of one another when Mahrez walked past Puel and made his way to the bench. Rekindled rumors are right around the corner.

The draw leaves West Ham (10 points), who are now six games without a win, 18th in the league table, now level on points with West Bromwich Albion who currently sit just outside the relegation zone. Leicester (14 points), meanwhile, leapfrogged Newcastle United for 11th.

Zenit face racism charge after banner honors war criminal

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NYON, Switzerland (AP) Russian club Zenit St. Petersburg is facing a UEFA racism charge after its fans displayed a large banner honoring convicted war criminal Ratko Mladic.

Two Serbian clubs, Red Star Belgrade and Partizan Belgrade, were also charged for similar offenses of supporting Mladic at Europa League games on Thursday.

UEFA said Friday that all three clubs faced charges of “racist behavior.” No dates were set for disciplinary hearings.

Zenit fans unfurled the banner, about 10 yards in length, during Thursday’s 2-1 Europa League group-stage win over Macedonian club Vardar Skopje.

The game took place the day after former Bosnian Serb military chief Mladic was convicted by a United Nations tribunal of genocide and other crimes in the wars following the collapse of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.

Mladic and other Serb leaders have broad support from Russian nationalist groups, which often see them as allies.

Red Star fans drew 0-0 at BATE Borisov in Belarus, while Partizan beat Swiss club Young Boys in their Europa League games.

Partizan also faces a range of charges for incidents in Belgrade including “field invasions” and “improper conduct” by fans.

Watch Live: West Ham v. Leicester City

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Friday Night Football under the lights in east London. Beautiful.

West Ham United host Leicester City on Friday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as David Moyes takes charge of his first home game as Hammers boss.

Leicester and Claude Puel will play on the counter and look to Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez for inspiration at the London Stadium, while Moyes is putting all of his faith in Andy Carroll.

After a defeat at Watford in his opening game as West Ham boss last week, Moyes could really do with a win to kick-start his Hammers career.

As for Puel, he’s had one win, one draw and one defeat from his three PL games in charge of Leicester so far but the Foxes have shown plenty of promise in those outings.

In team news West Ham are missing Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez through injury so Carroll starts up top with Marko Arnautovic and Manuel Lanzini supporting him.

Leicester start with Mahrez just off Vardy with Demarai Gray once again starting out wide in a 4-4-1-1 formation.

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West Ham

Leicester

FIFA reminds World Cup-bound Peru about government meddling

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has reminded the Peruvian soccer federation of rules prohibiting interference by national governments, one week after the South American country qualified for its first World Cup since 1982.

FIFA says the letter reacts to the “current draft of the Peruvian Sports Law” presented to a congressional committee last month. FIFA says the proposed text to lawmakers includes “certain items that, if implemented, would contravene the FIFA Statutes.”

In serious cases, FIFA can suspend a country’s national and club teams, plus officials, from international competitions and meetings.

Peruvian officials are due in Moscow next week for the World Cup draw.

Peru is not likely to be facing any action, but FIFA has promised to “continue to monitor the situation.”