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

While PSG has won the title, Areola’s playing for his future

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PARIS (AP) Although Paris Saint-Germain has easily won the French title, Alphonse Areola still has plenty to play for.

The next four games could be crucial in deciding whether PSG keeps the goalkeeper or tries to sign a big name in the transfer window, possibly Thibaut Courtois. The 25-year-old Areola is the same age as Courtois, but has nowhere near the international standing of the Chelsea keeper.

[ MORE: Turkey hands bid plans to UEFA for EURO 2024 ]

It is hard for Areola to stand out, however, in a team noted almost singularly for its attacking prowess. While PSG has already scored more than 100 league goals, and remains on course to reach 100 points this season, Areola has rarely been talked about.

The common perception is that PSG will thrash teams in the French league, so letting in a goal or two is irrelevant.

However, Areola has been one of PSG’s most consistent players this season, and last Sunday he made a personal record of eight saves in a 1-0 win at Bordeaux.

He was also one of the few PSG players to come through the loss to Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League with any credit. Without Areola’s shot-stopping, and particularly his bravery rushing off his line, the 5-2 aggregate loss would have been bigger.

With 104 goals, PSG’s attack is the best in the league by far and has netted 25 more than deposed champion Monaco.

But PSG’s defense is also the best and Areola has conceded only 21 goals in the 31 he has played. Although PSG has dominated most of those, losing only twice all season, he has still made on average four saves per game.

Having replaced Kevin Trapp as No. 1, Areola has missed only three league games all season. It represents a reversal for both.

When Trapp was signed by former coach Laurent Blanc in 2015-16, Areola went on loan to Spanish club Villarreal. He established himself as regular in Villarreal’s side and gained further experience in the Europa League. Spanish media were largely impressed by his consistency and his agility on the goal-line.

He returned to PSG and battled with Trapp for the starting position last season. But coach Unai Emery seemed unsure who he really preferred, with Trapp starting 24 games to Areola’s 14. PSG ended up losing the title to Monaco.

But the hierarchy is much clearer now and the error-prone Trapp, once hailed by Blanc for his passing out from goal, is the one expected to leave.

Areola has further incentive to do well with the World Cup coming up. He is challenging Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda to be France’s No. 2 behind Hugo Lloris in Russia. For now, Areola is a squad member but has yet to make an international appearance under coach Didier Deschamps.

But he has done well at every level for France, starting with the under-16s a decade ago. He got his first taste of international success when he helped France win the Under-20 World Cup in 2013.

While Paul Pogba was one of the stars of the tournament, Areola’s crowning moment came in the final itself. France drew 0-0 with Uruguay and he saved two shots in the penalty shootout. Prior to the shootout he had a word with France’s designated penalty takers, confidently telling them “do your job and I’ll do mine.”

With Emery almost certain to be replaced next season, it promises to be a frenetic offseason of buying and selling at the club.

But whoever replaces Emery should perhaps think twice before letting Areola leave. The Parisian-born Areola came through the youth ranks at PSG, as did center half Presnel Kimpembe and midfielder Adrien Rabiot.

Star-studded sides like PSG often import their best players and fans are happy to see them arrive, because it shows ambition. But they nevertheless identify more closely with homegrown talents such as Areola.

More AP Ligue 1 coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/Ligue1

Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

Infantino has ‘full confidence’ in Samoura amid ethics issue

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA President Gianni Infantino says he retains “full confidence” in secretary general Fatma Samoura after an attempt to embroil her in an ethics investigation.

[ MORE: Turkey hands in bid plans to UEFA for 2024 EUROs ]

Samoura has expressed irritation at “totally ridiculous and baseless” claims she broke FIFA rules by not declaring an alleged conflict of interest in the 2026 World Cup bidding contest.

FIFA has not specified the exact nature of the complaint or the progress of any ethics investigation after it was alleged she was a relative of former Senegal player El Hadji Diouf, who is an ambassador for Morocco’s bid.

Samoura insisted on Wednesday the former Liverpool forward “is not a member of my family and therefore everything is crystal clear.”

FIFA’s top administrator received a public show of support from Infantino.

“I can confirm my full confidence in Fatma Samoura to lead the FIFA administration,” Infantino said in a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday.

The former United Nations official was hired by Infantino in 2016 months after he was elected as Sepp Blatter’s successor.

Morocco is due to take on a joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico in the June 13 vote for the 2026 World Cup host.

Photo: Flamengo supporter tattoos club jersey on body

MAURÍCIO DOS ANJOS VIA VICE
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A supporter in Brazil has taken fandom to a whole new level with a piece of body art that shows his devotion to the club.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

Maurício dos Anjos, a passionate Flamengo fan, has been a life-long supporter of the Rio de Janeiro-based club, and has the tattoo to prove it.

While it may look like body paint, Dos Anjos has a tattoo on the upper-half of his body depicting the Flamengo jersey, and it’s pretty awesome.

“People ask me if I don’t find it strange that I’m always wearing a Flamengo shirt. And I just don’t,” dos Anjos told VICE. “To me, it’s normal. But it doesn’t seem like anyone I talk to about it actually dislikes my tattoo.”

In total, Dos Anjos says the body work took over 90 hours and 30 sessions to complete the tattoo.

Has the perception of MLS really changed?

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When David Beckham arrived in Los Angeles back in 2007 his presence changed the complexion of Major League Soccer for all the right reasons, and the perception of the growing league changed.

[ MORE: Go behind the scenes at NYCFC’s new training facility ]

Over the years, MLS has strived to move into the upper-echelon of the global game, in an attempt to compete with the likes of the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga, but naysayers still indicate to this day that the United States’ top flight lacks the quality of the aforementioned.

Phrases like “retirement league” and “uninspired” have been used to describe MLS in the past, particularly when it comes to the league’s willingness to spend boatloads of cash on notable players well past their prime.

Examples such as Andrea Pirlo, Steven Gerrard and Rafael Marquez have at times dampened the perception of MLS due to the lack of quality on the pitch from those players, along with several others that had previously boasted extensive resumes.

Now, we’re at a time where MLS has picked up its scouting, with clubs focused more on younger, more skilled talents from South America and Europe.

That has led to major signings over the past several years, such as Ezequiel Barco, Miguel Almiron, Diego Rossi and Jesus Medina, to name a few.

Has that changed the overall complexion of MLS though?

On Thursday, Kevin De Bruyne‘s agent, Patrick de Koster, suggested in an interview that the Belgium international would likely “finish” his career in MLS.

“For now, he’s very happy at this club,” De Koster said. “We always look what the best solution for the player, both financially and football wise. Kevin’s future? I can see him finish at Los Angeles.”

This comes on the heels of a 36-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic joining the LA Galaxy in a move that has sent shockwaves across the league and the world because of the Swede’s great presence on a global scale.

It’s not to say that players like Ibrahimovic, or previous signings like David Villa and Didier Drogba cannot help the overall growth of MLS, because they certainly bring an awareness to the matches and draw attention to their respective clubs.

However, the long-term viability of MLS has been and will continue to be sustained on youth players succeeding in the league, as well as being able to draw promising young talents into the top flight of the U.S.