Federico Higuain, Lee Nguyen … David Horst? Who claims our MLS Player of the Week honor

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Three hat tricks made last week’s decision difficult. This week, the lack of hat tricks made it worse. On Major League Soccer’s 11th weekend of the season, players like Federico Higuain, Lee Nguyen, and Diego Fagundez made strong casses, but none were so dominant that a player who doesn’t make their living on the scoresheet was beyond consideration. Particularly once level of competition, red cards, and penalty kicks were taken into account, this week’s race was wide open.

Higuain won the league’s honor, but he also played 56 minutes against 10 men. Of his two goals, one game from a penalty he didn’t force. Against a Portland team that’s finding more creative ways to concede goals, was his day really that much better than Nguyen’s, whose goal and assist came amid a day where he helped his team produce five goals? Was it really that much better than Javier Morales’s, who had a penalty kick goal and an assist against 11 men?

We needed another Morales hat trick this week. We needed Bradley Wright-Phillips. We needed one of those offensive explosions to claim this award, because without it, the field was insanely large.

But the virtue of that wide open field is the ability for somebody off the radar to claim the honor. It’s nice when players like Clint Dempsey and Nick Rimando remind us they can dominate games, but it’s also a pleasure when somebody can put together a special 90 minutes, define a game, and remind us every weekend can give us a new star.

Instead of a three-goal day, maybe that star has 16 clearances from a central defense position. Perhaps its’ somebody who won six aerial duels, blocked three shots, and helped his team maintain a clean sheet. That he had a dramatic goal line clearance in that shutout made his effort especially valuable, particularly considering the score was 0-0 at the time.

On a normal week, David Horst wouldn’t have won this honor, but thankfully, this isn’t a normal week. Thankfully, nobody did enough to make the room Horst game Samuel in the first minute come back to haunt him, because for the next 89 minutes, the former Real Salt Lake and Portland center back was the game’s best player. Horst was the reason the Dynamo’s second half goal allowed Houston to claim its third win in four.

Is that enough to make up for the advantages Higuain or Nguyen had? Perhaps not, but if another player complemented a goal scored with tremendous play in other facets of the game, he’d have an obvious case for this award.

Horst doesn’t have that mark on the scoresheet, but his first half save had the same net effect, and although the narrative post-match described a Galaxy as a team that’s not clicking, LA’s not the first attack that’s found 11-on-11 life tough at BBVA Compass this yearl. It took more than a bad day to keep the Galaxy off Saturday’s scoresheet.

As a result, Horst wins our Player of the Week award, but if somebody were throw their support behind Nguyen, we wouldn’t argue. (If you like Higuain, though, we should talk about 11-on-10 soccer and penalty kicks.) Regardless, in a year that he has resurrected his career, Horst becomes the third defender to claim our weekly honor.

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
Week 10 Harry Shipp, Chicago Fire
3 goals, 1 assist vs. New York Red Bulls
Harry Shipp, Chicago Fire
3 goals, 1 assist vs. New York Red Bulls
Week 11 David Horst, Houston Dynamo
0 goals, 0 assists vs. LA Galaxy
Federico Higuain, Columbus Crew
2 goals at Portland Timbers

Klinsmann side-steps blame, calls USA-Mexico one of world’s best rivalries

Jurgen Klinsmann, USMNT
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The rivalry between the national soccer teams of the United States and Mexico is one of the fiercest and most unique of its kind in the world of sports. Anyone who’s participated in, or simply attended, a competitive fixture between the two sides will immediately attest to that.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

Speaking to FIFA.com ahead of Saturday’s clash against Mexico at the Rose Bowl, it’s quite interesting to hear current USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann describe the rivalry from his point of view, both before and after having coached in it on a number of occasions.

Before we get to that, though, Klinsmann had a bit more blame side step regarding his side’s fourth-place finish at the 2015 Gold Cup, the USMNT’s worst-ever showing at the tournament for CONCACAF nations.

Q: What did you learn from this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, where you lost to Jamaica in the semi-finals?

A: There were so many things that happened in the tournament and decisions that were made that affected the outcome. It was difficult for the players to know what to expect. For Mexico and for Panama it was the same thing. The lesson is that you just have to roll with it and try to control the things you can.

What’s the no. 1 thing players can’t control? Who gets called into the team/plays in the games.

What was the no. 1 problem for the USMNT at this summer’s Gold Cup? Who got called up/played game after game despite performing very poorly. Ultimately, it’s what undid them in the semifinals and third-place game.

Just once — once — would it hurt Klinsmann to answer a question with an “I,” or “me,” or even “we?” The question was “What did you learn,” yet the answer always come back to “the players,” or “they,” or “them.” At this point, Klinsmann either believes he’s infallible, or he’s simply trying to see how many ridiculous statements he can get away with.

Q: You’ve been in the top US job for almost five years now and you’ve met Mexico many times. How would you define the rivalry between these countries on the pitch? Can you compare it with others you’ve experienced?

A: The USA-Mexico rivalry is one of the greats in world football. For me, it compares to Germany-Holland in terms of the intensity and emotion it brings out in the fans. As USA coach, it was a learning curve to understand how much this rivalry means to our fans. We had won some games against big nations, but the reaction from everyone to when we went down to [Estadio] Azteca and beat Mexico there for the first time was just amazing.

Q: What makes the rivalry unique?

A: What is unique is that there are so many Mexican-Americans living in the United States, so the rivalry crosses borders. We have seen many times in these last years that younger Mexican-Americans will wear a Mexico jersey to our game, and when we start doing well they take it off and have a U.S. jersey underneath! More and more they’re supporting us, and we hope to continue to win them over.

Klinsmann gets this one absolutely right. With the two countries situated right next to each other, the aforementioned immigration of so many Mexican soccer fans into the U.S., and the classic battles between the two sides over the years, USA-Mexico not only feels amazing to get one over on your rivals, but perhaps more than anything it’s avoiding that feeling of defeat, of embarrassment, of being taunted and haunted for days, weeks, months and sometimes years, that makes beating the old foe so satisfying.

Ozil, Coquelin: Arsenal can win the title this season

Mesut Ozil, Arsenal FC
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I suppose, in theory, that any Premier League club that fields a team could win the league title for a given season, so the above headline could have been written in reference to any one of 20 teams a few short weeks ago.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Fast forward eight rounds of fixtures to the present day, and it’s becoming clearer and clearer with every passing week that it’s a three-horse race — Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United, who currently sit 1-2-3 atop the league — for the 2015-16 Premier League title.

So — and stick with me for just a second — why not Arsenal? [The crowd gasps loudly] Arsenal midfielders Mesut Ozil and Francis Coquelin believe the Gunners have what it takes to win the title this year, so why doesn’t anyone else?

Ozil and Coquelin, on Arsenal’s progression to title contenders — quotes from the Guardian:

Ozil: “We have a great team with many world-class players. Our goal is to win the Premier League and I think that this season it’s possible to do it, if we all stay healthy. But the season is long.”

Ozil: “I didn’t expect [Bayern Munich] to beat Dortmund 5-1. Their recent results show they are simply in great shape … But our victory against Manchester United was a sign: when we play and want it 100 percent, then we can beat Bayern.

“We are playing at home. Although we have respect for them, we don’t have any fear. We know how to score goals against Bayern and we can be successful. It will be difficult – but we have the potential to beat any team.”

Coquelin: “We proved a lot of people wrong. Inside the dressing room we knew we could do good things this season. We knew we could be contenders, but obviously we have to be consistent.

“We are getting stronger against the big teams. We beat City last season, now United. It’s all about consistency. The league is getting tougher, so we need to be getting results every week … We knew we had to put it right after Olympiakos and that’s what we’ve done.”

Coquelin is absolutely right — no one expected Arsenal to throttle Man United the way they did on Sunday. The Gunners acquitted themselves quite well, though it should be mentioned that Louis Van Gaal set up United to fail miserably with the immobile midfield duo of Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger against a quick, dynamic Arsenal unit.

[ MORE: “Super computer” predicts final Premier League standings ]

That’s not meant to take anything away from Arsenal’s scintillating performance, because they did exactly what they should be doing against a poorly planned side — that’s not always been the case for Arsenal against top teams. The Gunners will play hosts to Man City on Dec. 19; perhaps we’ll better be able to dub them contenders or pretenders based their showing that day.