Plata vs. Marshall, forward vs. defender: Who was PST’s Major League Soccer Player of the Week?

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With his 93rd minute goal at Toyota Park, Real Salt Lake’s João Plata put his stamp on the league award. Not only did the Ecuadorian attacker complete his team’s remarkable comeback — a rally that saw Jeff Cassar’s team score three in the match’s final 22 minutes to overturn a 2-0 deficit — he also capped a two-goal, Player of the Week-worthy performance. Justifiably, Plata won the league’s honor.

Until late last night, I was going to go in the same direction, but I kept coming back to the same question: What does a player have to do defensively to make up for one goal? If a player with a one-goal game gave a dominant defensive performance, how dominant would that performance have to be to make up for Plata’s two-goal performance?

I never came up with an answer. In truth, I didn’t try that hard. Too much of those evaluations come down to how individuals see the game. It’s why some coaches are more successful than others. It’s why honors like these often benefit from being decided by crowds. Quickly, I reframed the question: How much does a player have to do defensively to convince me he’s made up for a goal?

source: AP
Chad Marshall’s first goal as a Seattle Sounder was the game-winner in Saturday’s 2-1 victory over visiting Philadelphia. The former MLS defender of the year also had six blocked shots and won five aerial duels. (Photo: AP Photos.)

My instinct, after a night’s study: Seattle’s Chad Marshall did enough. Like Plata, Marshall scored a late game winner, heading home a 84th minute corner in Seattle’s 2-1 win over Philadelphia. Though the timing of Plata’s goal made his more dramatic, it was no more valuable. It probably wasn’t as difficult to pull off. Regardless, the players’ game-winners were a bit of a wash.

But Plata had that 72nd goal, hit from just inside the penalty area, inside Sean Johnson’s right post; hence; our one-goal dilemma. Did Marshall do enough to make up for that?

His league-high six blocked shots may have (no other player had more than four). His four clearances helped, as did his typical dominance of anything in the air. Often Andrew Wenger went wide to serve as an outlet for the Union, part of the reason he won a game-high six aerial duels. But he also lost four. Marshall not only won five of his six aerial challenges, but as one of the few players in the league that can not only contest but control balls won in the air, the former Defensive Player of the Year made the most of those challenges. All together, it was one of the best individual defensive performances of the season – one that gave our one-goal question even more significance.

If Marshall’s defense on Saturday can’t make up for an attacker’s one-goal edge, what can? Can defense never be worth a goal? Because if Marshall’s performance didn’t make up the difference, almost no defensive performance could.

Can a defender only win Player of the Week if he goes Víctor Bernárdez, registers two goals and an assist, and claims a point in stoppage time (as the San Jose defender did in Week Two against RSL). That’s an unreasonably high bar, one I can’t imagine many coaches agreeing with if asked about the value of star defenders.

After his Week Nine performance, Marshall may be the brightest of those defending stars; at least, if the Defender of the Year race is any indication. Last week, we published our current top five for the year-end honor, a list that had the new Sounder third. But after a weekend in which Nat Borchers and Michael Parkhurst each made major errors (Borchers on Mike Magee’s second half chance; Parkhurst on Claudio Bieler’s game-sealing goal), Marshall’s stock would rise, if we republished our ranking today. Through two-plus months, he’s been the league’s best defender, in addition to being our Week Nine Player of the Week.

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 Víctor Bernárdez, 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
Mauro Díaz, FC Dallas
4 games, 2 goals, 0 assists
Week 5 Diego Chara, Portland Timbers
2 goals vs. Seattle
Clint Dempsey, Seattle Sounders
3 goals at Portland
Week 6 Clint Dempsey, Seattle Sounders
2 goals at Dallas
Clint Dempsey, Seattle Sounders
2 goals at Dallas
Week 7 Nick Rimando, Real Salt Lake
4 saves vs. Portland
Nick Rimando, Real Salt Lake
4 saves vs. Portland
Week 8 Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls
4 goals vs. Houston, at Columbus
Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls
4 goals vs. Houston, at Columbus
April Player of the Month Clint Dempsey, Seattle Sounders
4 games, 7 goals, 2 assists
Clint Dempsey, Seattle Sounders
4 games, 7 goals, 2 assists
Week 9 Chad Marshall, Seattle Sounders
1 goal vs. Philadelphia
João Plata, Real Salt Lake
2 goals at Chicago

Pique finds solidarity with criticized NBA players

AP Photo/Alberto Saiz
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There have been a number f outstanding pieces in The Players’ Tribune since its launch, but few as colorful and entertaining as Thursday’s entry from Gerard Pique.

The Barcelona star center back spilled the beans on any number of funny stories in his post, from Roy Keane’s cell phone anger and Sir Alex Ferguson‘s guiding hand to Lionel Messi’s greatness and more.

[ MORE: Zlatan in MLS an auto success ]

But perhaps most interesting was his take on the grief he’s received for supporting the vote for Catalan independence. Pique points out that he’s been proud to represent the Spanish national team, but won’t veer from his democratic beliefs.

And guess what? Even in Spain, athletes rightly bristle at the “Stick to Sports” crowd.

It’s funny, I noticed some people in America have started telling the NBA players to “just shut up and dribble” when they express their opinions on real problems in society.

It’s ridiculous, no?

It’s the same here in Spain. They say, “Just shut up and play football. It’s all you know.”

Sorry, but I will not just shut up and play. It’s not all I know. There’s a lot more depth to footballers than most people realize, and I think it’s important that we express ourselves and our views.

Given relative health, Zlatan’s success MLS is close to automatic

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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The only question is his knee at his age.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is coming to Major League Soccer. Having confirmed his departure from Manchester United, the announcement that the living Swedish legend is joining the LA Galaxy is expecting next week.

[ MORE: MLS Weekend Preview ]

Some have asked whether he’ll cut muster in the league, to which we point to the lead: Few players have arrived to MLS with as dominant a career as Ibrahimovic, and the Swede would need his knee to fall apart in order to fail in California.

The man’s game isn’t based on speed, but it does require his abnormal power and grace. He scored just once for United in very limited time this season, but don’t forget how dangerous he was against Premier League and Europa League defenses last season.

He scored 28 goals with 10 assists last season, with 17 and 5 coming in league play. He was suspended for three matches and injured for seven, meaning this is a 20-goal Premier League scorer arriving in MLS within a calendar year of doing so.

Try putting his resume in perspective: Didier Drogba was extremely good for Montreal but a half-decade removed from his last double-digit goal PL season (Don’t forget that Drogba bagged 11 in 11 to start life on our shores). Robbie Keane was about the same time removed from his run of 10-plus goal seasons in the Premier League. He was good for LA.

The only risk here is that Ibrahimovic never gets healthy and LA takes a bit of a loss on his salary (one which is at least partially negated by the sheer number of Ibrahimovic Galaxy jerseys sold).

Entering this season, Ibrahimovic had failed to score 15 goals once since 2006. He’a also had a fairly religious assist output (10+ most years). With names like Alessandrini, Kamara, and dos Dos Santos, this should be a stand-up double if not a homer for LA and for MLS.

Plus the vicious looks after teammates miss him badly with a pass, let alone the press conferences and paparazzi hits: This should be a lot of fun.

MLS Weekend Preview: Friedel’s Revs get NYCFC test

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It’s an international break, and Major League Soccer is only sorta observing it.

More than half of the league’s clubs will participate on Saturday match days, with several shorthanded by national team duty.

[ MORE: Southgate on racism in football]

Columbus won’t have Zack Steffen and Wil Trapp for a visit from DC United — who is missing Zoltan Steiber, Bruno Miranda, and Oniel Fisher — while the Red Bulls will be without Tyler Adams, Kemar Lawrence, and Michael Murillo for Minnesota United’s visit.

NYCFC won’t have Alexander Ring, Ronald Matarrita, and Rodney Wallace, Portland’s without David Guzman and Andy Polo, and Sporting KC loses Daniel Salloi.

The Whitecaps won’t have center back Kendall Waston, while opponents LA Galaxt are without Ola Kamara.

New England Revolution vs. New York City FC — 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday

Brad Friedel‘s New England revolution, purposely lower case, is making believers out of its players. It would take a giant step if it could slow the NYCFC juggernaut. The visitors have allowed just one goal in their 3-0 start.

As for the hosts, Friedel has made his mark in a way that mostly makes you wonder what in the world Jay Heaps was doing:.

(Bunbury) pointed to a fine system in the locker room, increased accountability, how Friedel posts the starting XI on game day, and occasional two-a-day training sessions, which never occurred in the forward’s four years under Heaps.

“I think it unifies the team,” Bunbury said. “The broad sense of professionalism, it’s about having respect for each other and making sure you are held accountable in every part of this club.”

Never occurred under Heaps? Woof.

FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers — 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday

FCD had an uninspiring ending to their CONCACAF Champions League dreams, but that’s little compared to the Timbers’ 0-2 start under Gio Savarese. A trip down South isn’t a surefire way to right the ship.

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. LA Galaxy — 10 p.m. ET Saturday

A long trip up North is only made worse by a laundry list of injuries for Sigi Schmid’s Galaxy. We’re only listing it amongst our Top Three because an LA win would be wildly impressive given the ‘Caps strong start.


Columbus Crew vs. DC United — 6 p.m. ET Saturday
New York Red Bulls vs. Minnesota United — 7 p.m. ET Saturday
Colorado Rapids vs. Sporting KC — 9 p.m. ET Saturday

Mourinho: “People with brains” understand Man Utd in transition

AP Photo/Armando Franca
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Jose Mourinho’s been having a little fun on his international break, “managing” a team of superstars including Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt in a charity match.

[ MORE: Southgate talks racism in football ]

Speaking CNN as part of a publicity run, Mourinho was asked about Manchester United’s second place campaign and disappointment after dropping out of the UEFA Champions League.

Mourinho reiterated his position that United is a team in transition, and that the season is going along at an acceptable clip.

“I understand the frustration, I understand the sadness of being knocked out in the Champions League, but I don’t understand anything more than that,” Mourinho said to CNN’s Amanda Davies.

United has scored the third-most goals in the Premier League, and allowed the fourth-fewest. It’s drastically reduced its propensity to draw matches, which hurt its table position last season, and has already surpassed last season’s goal total.

Two more wins, 10 goals better differential, and the list goes on but unfortunately also includes crosstown rivals running away with the league and still alive in the UCL.

“Of course in the future we want to have 19 clubs behind us but this is the reality,” said Mourinho. “And the reality is for people with brain, with sense, with common sense, with knowledge of what sports is, we are in a moment of transition. Being in a moment of transition and still manage to do what he did last season and win trophies and to do what we are trying to do this season, which is still trying to win a trophy, and try to be second, because in this moment it’s the only top position that is possible for us to get. I think we are in a good position.”