ProSoccerTalk’s MLS Team of the Week – Week 8

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Forwards

Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls – Our Player of the Week, the 29-year-old registered his first MLS hat trick last Wednesday, part of a four-goal week. When New York’s clicking, he’ll be able to go on these types of runs, something that could allow Tim Cahill to resume his role partnering Dax McCarty in central midfield.

Clint Dempsey, Seattle Sounders – Had two goals within seven minutes of halftime against Colorado and also played the key part in Lamar Neagle’s first half opener. This is becoming an obligatory spot for Dempsey, but given the damage he and partner Obafemi Martins inflicted on a usually strong Colorado defense, the place was well-earned.

Obafemi Martins, Seattle Sounders – Martins didn’t put up Fabian Espindola’s numbers (two goals, one assist), but he also wasn’t playing against 10-men, as D.C.’s attackers did for most of Dallas’s visit to RFK. Against Drew Moor and Shane O’Neill – a very good central defense – Martins’ movement was key to opening tearing apart the  Rapids line. One goal understates his impact. Six shots on target do not.

We could be wrong about: Fabian Espindola, D.C. United; Thierry Henry, New York Red Bulls; Álvaro Saborío, Real Salt Lake

Midfielders

Patrice Bernier, Montréal Impact – His contribution to the game’s only goal was part of Saturday’s shot highlight real, but Bernier’s presence against a strong Philadelphia midfield proved just as important. It was the closest Bernier has come to matching his early 2013 self, part of the season Montréal finally broke through.

Dax McCarty, New York Red Bulls – McCarty’s slow return to form is a big reason why New York look like their former selves. Against the talented, deep midfields of Houston and Columbus, the Red Bulls’ holder played two of his best games of the year. Part of that is due to McCarty’s up-and-down season, but part of that is due to a strong, two-match week. We’re giving him some degree of difficulty points because of the strength of his opposition, but against the likes of Federico Higuaín and Boniek Garcia, McCarty acquitted himself quite well.

Gonzalo Pineda, Seattle Sounders – Pineda has formed such a good partnership with Osvaldo Alonso, it will be interesting to see how Sigi Schmid uses Brad Evans when the U.S. international returns to full health. Strong play winning the ball (five tackles) proved a vital part of Seattle maintaining the pressure that resulted in 13 shots on target. On a weekend that lacked stand-out central midfield performances, another predictably above-average day from the former Mexican international gets rewarded. Also, had a Beckham assist on Dempsey’s second goal.

We could be wrong about: Matías Laba, Vancouver Whitecaps; Leandro Barrera, Chivas USA; Lee Nguyen, New England Revolution

Defenders

Roy Miller, New York Red Bulls – Second week in a row for the Red Bulls’ captain, who terrorized Warren Creavalle last Wednesday. A solid performance in Columbus didn’t help or hurt his cause, but on the back of his contributions to New York’s rout of Houston, the Costa Rican international retains this spot.

Clarence Goodson, San Jose Earthquakes – Goodson’s consistently strong performances since returning from injury have put him in consideration for this team almost every week. After helping his team to a shutout of Chivas USA (and San Jose’s first win of the season), he claims a spot for the second time this season.

Chris Schuler, Real Salt Lake – Like San Jose, Real Salt Lake has a pair of center backs that compete for this team week in, week out. On Saturday, we thought Schuler was the slightly better of Jeff Cassar’s duo. RSL may have given up two goals late, but their central defenders weren’t to blame, with Schuler leading the way with nine clearances.

Hassoun Camara, Montréal Impact – If this wasn’t the best defensive performance by a right back this year, it was at least the most prolific, with Camara recording 13 interceptions, five tackles, and seven clearances. He was my first choice right back in last year’s best XI, and although the move outside unseats rookie Eric Miller, Camara is back where he can had the greatest influence for Montréal.

We could be wrong about: Steven Beitashour, Vancouver Whitecaps; Jámison Olave, New York Red Bulls; Víctor Bernárdez, San Jose Earthquakes; Chris Wingert, Real Salt Lake

Goalkeepers

Steve Clark, Columbus Crew – In what turned into a bit of a goalkeepers’ duel, another strong performance from Clark allowed Columbus to take a point from visiting New York. Overlooked for most of the season, Clark’s performance against the surging Red Bulls was the latest in what’s been an all-star caliber season. Perhaps he hasn’t been Nick Rimando, but on a weekend where the RSL No. 1 struggled, Clark may have cast some well-deserved light on himself.

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

 

Why are we so concerned with Dele Alli and diving?

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Another weekend, another debate about Dele Alli taking a tumble in the penalty box.

Rinse, repeat.

Although, there should be no debate about the latest penalty kick he won late on against Rochdale in the fifth round of the FA Cup on Sunday. He was clearly fouled and both opposition players and their manager had no complaints as the nimble Englishman went down under contact.

Alli, 21, was brought off the bench to try and drag Spurs back into the game and he did just that with Harry Kane slamming home the spot kick Alli won to put Spurs 2-1 up late on, only for the Premier League side to let in a late equalizer against their third-tier opponents to set up a replay at Wembley in 10 days time.

Yet it is the constant hubbub around Alli and diving which is the biggest issue which needs to be addressed.

With three yellow cards for simulation while playing for Spurs in the Premier League (more than any other player since 2015-16), plus his manager Mauricio Pochettino saying he understands diving to gain an advantage after Tottenham’s controversial 2-2 draw at Liverpool earlier this month, Alli is in danger of being pigeonholed as a cheat, if he hasn’t been already.

Speaking after the FA Cup game this weekend, Rochdale manager Keith Hill discussed the 88th minute penalty being awarded and Alli’s actions.

“I’m led to believe he was looking for it, but why not? If players feel there is an opportunity to be gained then brilliant, I don’t hold it against him,” Hill said. “I don’t blame him and I don’t have a problem with it. Whether it’s him, Harry Kane or [Rochdale’s opening scorer] Ian Henderson, it doesn’t matter who does it. If he does that for England in the World Cup this summer then I will definitely be supporting him.”

Comments like this, although deemed to be supportive by Hill, are the reason why Alli is being branded a cheat.

If someone praises him for initiating contact and going down, he’s hammered. If he’s criticized for going down too easily, he’s hammered. He’s in a lose-lose situation. But why is Alli being singled out for special treatment?

Quite simply, it’s because he’s a special talent and because he is the next great hope for England, even if this season he hasn’t quite lived up to the hype of being crowned the PFA Young Player of the Year in each of his first two Premier League campaigns.

Purists within the English game have long lambasted and singled out foreign imports (rightly or wrongly) for taking tumbles in the box, going down too easily and trying to con referees into giving them an advantage.

Many foreign imports to the PL who have since admitted they were taught at a young age to go down if they felt contact in the box which further enraged the debate. Now, with the heavy international influence at each PL club, we have seen simulation become a bigger part of the English game over the past decade and more anger emerge from pundits, coaches and fans alike.

A special rule introduced this season to retrospectively ban any players found guilty of diving (if the incident wasn’t spotted at the time by the officials) has seen Oumar Niasse and Wilfried Zaha banned, although Zaha won his appeal against the decision, and it seems to be having some impact, but it’s still not doing enough to stamp out simulation in the English game.

Is Alli the only player who goes down often? No. Yet the way Alli plays the game, we will more often than not see him clattered into in the box. He flicks and pokes balls past defenders and his relatively slight frame means he will likely go down under contact from a bruising center back or midfielder. That’s just science.

Alli’s reputation as a hothead supersedes these simulation allegations and previous bans for punching opponents in the stomach, lunging into tackles to be sent off and off the ball incidents certainly do him no favors in proclaiming his innocence.

But the vendetta building against him as a serial cheat needs to end before this vicious cycle gets out of hand and his talent erodes amid the jeers from opposition fans.

It’s unlikely that Alli, like many players, will stop going down in the box anytime soon if he feels contact from an opposition defender. The sooner everyone starts to accept it, the sooner everyone can move on and focus on trying to eradicate serial simulation in the game once and for all. That’s the bigger issue here. Not just Dele Alli.

Man United, Chelsea prepare for La Liga tests

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The final two Premier League teams to get their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties off and running are Manchester United and Chelsea who both play this week.

Both PL giants face Spanish opposition but both are in very different situations heading into these games.

 [ MORE: Champions League schedule

United travel to Sevilla on Wednesday as the firm favorites to advance to the quarterfinals, while Chelsea host Barcelona on Tuesday hoping to still be in the tie after the first leg at Stamford Bridge against Lionel Messi and Co.

After Liverpool battered FC Porto, Manchester City demolished Basel and Tottenham went to Juventus and dominated in a draw last week, all of a sudden United and Chelsea are under a little bit of extra pressure to not let the PL sides down.

That pressure is ratcheted up given the fact that Spanish clubs have dominated the Champions League for much of the last decade, with six of the last 10 European champions hailing from La Liga.

Chelsea were the last PL club to reach the UCL final, when they beat Bayern Munich in 2012, while United reached the final in three of four seasons from 2008 to 2011 but only prevailed on one occasion… when they beat Chelsea in the final 2008. That rich run for English clubs in the Champions League saw seven of the eight finals from 2005-2012 have at least one English club in it, but none have made it that far since.

Six of the last eight teams to reach the UCL final have been from Spain, with Juventus reaching the final in two of the past three seasons but failing to the might of Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Yet this season, with five teams from one league reaching the last 16 for the first time in the competition’s history, there’s a sense the English clubs are back to their best and are ready to put La Liga in their place. United and Chelsea will have the first crack at doing that in the knockout rounds with all eyes on what could be a seismic shift in power back to the PL.

Chelsea were the only one of five PL teams in the Champions League this season to not win their group and they paid the ultimate price for that as they were drawn against Barcelona, the current La Liga leaders and one of the red-hot favorites to win yet another European title.

Antonio Conte‘s men have recovered well in recent weeks after patchy form in the Premier League briefly dropped them out of the top four, but there’s no doubting that there are still issues behind-the-scenes with Chelsea’s Italian manager who many expect to walk away at the end of this season.

On the pitch, Chelsea continue to be Lionel Messi’s kryptonite as the Argentine star hasn’t scored in any of his nine outings against the Blues. Conte will hope that is once again the case and we may well see a more defensive Chelsea side than usual as they will keep it tight, then play it up to either Olivier Giroud or Alvaro Morata to link up with Eden Hazard on the break.

Barca lead La Liga and if Messi once again fires a blank against Chelsea, at least this time they also have Luis Suarez in reserve, although Philippe Coutinho is cup-tied and can’t feature in the UCL after his January move from Liverpool.

As for United, the rigmarole around Paul Pogba continues as Jose Mourinho’s star midfielder missed their FA Cup fifth round win at Huddersfield on Saturday due to illness but is expected to be fit to play against Sevilla. Does Pogba have a future at Old Trafford?

That’s the key question right now but the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez will be eager to lead United in the latter stages of the UCL for the first time since 2014 when they reached the quarterfinals, but Mourinho is dealing with an injury crisis as Marcus Rashford could join Ander HerreraAntonio Valencia, Zlatan IbrahimovicMarcos RojoPhil Jones and Marouane Fellaini on the sidelines.

Sevilla drew against Liverpool twice in the UCL group stage and even though their La Liga form has been up and down throughout this season (they currently sit in fifth place in the table) and since Vincenzo Montella was appointed as their new boss in December, they’ll be a threat.

Wissam Ben Yedder is Sevilla’s chief goal threat and has six goals in six UCL games so far this season, while ex Manchester City pair Nolito and Jesus Navas will cause problems and Steven Nzonzi continues to impress in central midfield.

Both United and Chelsea know they face tough tests against Spanish opposition this week, and it is perhaps made a little tougher with expectations growing for English clubs in the Champions League this season.

VIDEO: 10 red cards in abandoned Brazilian game

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This is utterly bonkers.

There are plenty of derbies around the globe which put fans and players on edge, but this was different.

Vitoria and Bahia squared off in the Bahia State derby in Salvador, Brazil and the match was abandoned amid violent scenes on the pitch which saw 10 players sent off.

The first half saw eight yellows dished out, but it all kicked off in the 50th minute after Vinicius scored a penalty kick for Bahia and shall we say danced before appearing to hump mid-air in front of the Vitoria fans. Predictably, that didn’t go down well.

Chaos ensued (see the video clip below) as punches flew in and the referee ended up sending off eight players, which included substitutes nearby, as all hell broke loose behind the Vitoria goal.

After a lengthy break, eventually three Vitoria players were sent off and five from Bahia, but there was to be more drama as two more Vitoria players were sent off in the 79th minute to take their tally of players on the pitch to seven.

That meant the game was abandoned and Bahia will likely be awarded a 3-0 victory.

The next time someone tells you a derby game is particularly “feisty” just show them the video below…


Arsenal sign record-breaking deal with Emirates

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Arsenal have announced a new sponsorship deal with Emirates Airlines which will run until 2024 and is said to be worth over $56 million per season.

In a statement released on the club website, they call the five-year extension to the current deal “largest sponsorship deal ever signed by the club” as Emirates will continue to appear on the shirts and training gear of all of the teams.

Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis revealed the reason behind extending the relationship with Emirates.

“Our shirt partnership is the longest running in the Premier League and one of the longest relationships in world sport. This mutual commitment is testimony to the strength and depth of our unique relationship. Emirates are again demonstrating their great belief in our approach and ambition and their significantly increased investment will help us continue to compete for trophies and bring more success to the club and our fans around the world.”

The Gunners also confirmed that their home stadium will be known as the Emirates Stadium until at least 2028, as per the agreement reached in 2012.

Where do Arsenal rank in terms of shirt sponsorship deals?

Manchester United lead the way with their deal with Chevrolet said to be worth over $74.2 million per year, while Chelsea sit in second with a $56 million per year partnership with Yokohama but the Gunners are now alongside their London rivals.

Manchester City and Tottenham are just behind them when it comes to sponsorship deals, while Liverpool’s relationship with Standard Chartered runs until the end of next season.