Neymar, Rodríguez: South America’s future shines before the knockout round

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Neymar has been on soccer fans’ radars for so long, it’s strange to think of him as one for the future, but if the Brazilian star’s first year at Barcelona told us anything, it’s that the 22-year-old still has room to improve. A valuable part of a team that finished second in La Liga, the former Santos star failed to meet expectations inflated by his $74 million transfer fee. Though 15 goals across all competitions was good, it still left us wondering what can be.

Two weeks in Brazil have given us another glimpse of that future: three games; two braces; and one sign a transition year between Brazil and Spain need not define the Selecao’s biggest start. With four goals, Neymar sits on top of the 2014 World Cup’s scoring chart, outpacing names like Thomas Müller, Karim Benzema, Robin van Persie, and Arjen Robben, all with three goals.

That only tells part of the Neymar story. Scoring 35 time in 52 appearances during what’s sure to be a record-setting international career, Neymar’s always been able to produce goals, but now moved into the middle of the Selecao attack, the goal-scorer-turned-focal point is at the center of everything his team does. Oscar’s playmaking helps, but through the tournament’s first three games, Neymar has more touches than any non-defender in the squad – part of the reason why, as we approach the midway point of the tournament, he’s has put himself in contention for the Golden Ball.

After Tuesday’s action, James Rodríguez is in the same boat, something even the Colombian’s most ardent supporters would have been pressed to predict when the tournament started. With team’s loss of its own focal point, striker Radamel Falcao, it was unclear how Cafeteros head coach José Pékerman would adjust. Thanks to his own 22-year-old star, the Colombians haven’t missed a beat. With three goals and two assists, Rodríguez may by the World Cup’s most productive player.

source: AP
Colombia’s James Rodriguez celebrates after scoring during the match between Japan and Colombia. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

He may also be tournament’s best, period, a status only emboldened by his 45 minutes today against Japan. On what was supposed to be a day of rest for Ligue 1’s assist leader, Rodríguez came off the bench to redefine the match. Instead of Japan carrying over momentum from their late first half equalizer, James (pronounced in a Spanish style: HAHM ace) asserted control, producing a goal for Jackson Martínez within 10 minutes in his introduction. From there, the Colombian creator did his damage in transition, seemingly making every ball played out of the Colombian defense into a potentially back-breaking counter.

By match’s end, Rodríguez’s 45 minutes had produced a goal, two assists, a 4-1 win, and no memory of his team being completely outplayed before halftime. Whereas once the Colombians looked in danger of being handed their first blemish, the team rolled into the knockout round on the back of a three-goal win, leaving no hint that they’re missing their best player.

Or maybe, they’re not. While it’s too soon to say Rodríguez has eclipsed the influence of Falcao, Tuesday’s performance confirmed that day will eventually come. Every ounce of promise that took Rodríguez from Banfield to Porto and Porto to Monaco was funneled into 45 minutes of the best individual soccer we’ve seen at this tournament. For all the talk of Robben’s performances, Müller-ian opportunism, or the array of goals Benzema could have scored, nobody’s reached the heights Rodríguez did in today’s second half.

Combined, Rodríguez and Neymar have already scored seven times at this World Cup. They’ve showed why Barcelona and Monaco open their vaults to buy then. They’ve provided a glimpse of two talents who could define the next eight years of South American soccer.

And combined, they’re only slightly older than one of Rodriguez’s teammate. Faryd Mondragón became the World Cup’s oldest player today, but at 43 years old, he nearly matches the age of two of the tournament’s brightest stars.

Through three games at this year’s World Cup, their ages haven’t mattered, though for fans around the world, 22 should be a reassuring number. Even if they fall in the knockout round, Neymar and Rodríguez will be back in 2018. And 2022.

La Liga & Serie A: Real Madrid dominates, Messi stars

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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Real Madrid 4-0 Alaves

Cristiano Ronaldo and Real are finding their form at the perfect time, and that should concern a lot of teams in Europe.

Although La Liga is likely out of reach given Barcelona’s brilliant play in 2017/18, the Madridistas have turned up another gear in the second half of the season.

Ronaldo’s brace on Saturday lifted Real to yet another victory in Spain’s top flight, and the club’s run in all competitions simply won’t be halted. Over their last seven matches, Real has scored an absurd 26 goals.

Barcelona 6-1 Girona

For two minutes, Girona looked like they were going to be en route to a stunning victory at the Camp Nou. That was only for two minutes though…

Lionel Messi decided to steal the show, in typical Messi fashion, sparking four unanswered goals before halftime from the Blaugrana, including two from the Argentine international.

The superstar forward picked out Luis Suarez for the equalizer in the fifth minute, before unleashing two brilliant goals of his own. Suarez found his second of the game prior to halftime, before completing his hat-trick in the second stanza.

For every piece of brilliance that Messi completed though, Philippe Coutinho did his very best to show up his teammate in the second half. The former Liverpool attacker bent a tremendous curler into the far corner in the 67th minute to extend the lead, and it was a thing of beauty.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Celta Vigo 2-0 Eibar
Leganes 0-0 Las Palmas

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Villareal vs. Getafe (6 a.m. ET)
Athletic Bilbao vs. Malaga (10 a.m. ET)
Valencia vs. Real Sociedad (12:30 a.m. ET)
Sevilla vs. Atletico Madrid (2:45 p.m. ET)


Inter Milan 2-0 Benevento

For the time being, Inter is up to third place in Serie A. The Milan side still sits a ways away from league leaders Napoli and Juventus, however, Inter managed to pass both Roma and Lazio with the victory on Saturday. The defeat for Benevento keeps the bottom dwellers firmly buried at the bottom of Italy’s top flight, 11 points behind 17th-place Crotone.

Bologna 2-0 Genoa

Second-half goals from Mattia Destro and Cesar Faletti helped Bologna move into 11th in Serie A on Saturday, while Genoa sits three points behind in the table. Faletti, who was only on the field 10 minutes prior to scoring, nabbed his first Serie A goal of the season in the outing for the hosts.

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Crotone vs. SPAL (6:30 a.m. ET)
Fiorentina vs. Chievo (9 a.m. ET)
Hellas vs. Torino (9 a.m. ET)
Sampdoria vs. Udinese (9 a.m. ET)
Sassuolo vs. Lazio (9 a.m. ET)
Juventus vs. Atalanta (12 p.m. ET)
Roma vs. AC Milan (2:45 p.m. ET)

Report: Sounders suffer big loss with Jordan Morris injury

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The Seattle Sounders are aiming to find their way back to MLS Cup in 2018, but they’ll likely have to do it without one of their most important attacking players.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Johannsson gives Werder big three points in Bundesliga ]

U.S. Men’s National Team striker Jordan Morris looks to be sidelined for some time, with Fox Sports analyst Stu Holden reporting that the American has suffered a right ACL tear.

Last season, Morris missed some time with a hamstring injury, but now his latest setback could cost him the entire 2018 MLS campaign.

In two years with the Sounders, the 23-year-old has tallied 15 goals and added five assists in the regular season, while also playing a big role in the club’s 2016 MLS Cup title.

NASL denied injunction to obtain temporary Division II status

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The latest gut punch to a league hanging on by a thread was thrown on Friday when the North American Soccer League (NASL) was denied its injunction to obtain temporary Division II status.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit was in charge of bestowing the decision, which went in favor of the U.S. Soccer Federation — who had previously lifted NASL’s Division II standing for not meeting several criteria set forth by the U.S. Soccer Federation Board of Directors.

[ MORE: PST takes a look at which PL sides will be relegated ]

NASL and USL had previously been granted temporary Division II status, including prior to the 2017 season, however, USL is the only league currently operating under Division II sanctions heading into the 2018 campaign.

The latest decision from the Court of Appeals doesn’t affect the antitrust lawsuit currently ongoing being NASL and USSF, which was filed in 2017.

NASL is seeking to be reinstated by U.S. Soccer to be recognized with Division II priority, after allegedly being wrongfully stripped of its status. The lawsuit also alludes to a conspiracy that USSF is working in conjunction with Major League Soccer and Soccer United Marketing (SUM) in order to drive NASL out of operation.

As NASL is currently constructed, just six teams remain intact in the league, although Miami FC and Jacksonville Armada have pursued other opportunities while NASL awaits its future.

The New York Cosmos, Puerto Rico FC and expansion sides 1904 FC and California United FC round out the field of clubs that remain.

The league lost several of its clubs in the last 12 months due to a variety of reasons, including Indy Eleven and North Carolina FC (both of whom have entered USL) and defending NASL champions San Francisco Deltas (club folded).

PL roundup: Liverpool runs rampant; Brighton, Huddersfield victorious

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Get caught up on all seven of Saturday’s Premier League fixtures…

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Liverpool 4-1 West Ham — FULL RECAP

When Philippe Coutinho departed for Barcelona there was a question as to how Liverpool would perform without the Brazilian. Now, it’s safe to say the Reds are going to be just fine without him. Another dominating effort at home on Saturday has pulled the Reds up to second place in the PL, courtesy of goals from Emre Can, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah. Jurgen Klopp‘s side has now totaled 65 league goals in 28 matches.

Leicester City 1-1 Stoke City — FULL RECAP

Xherdan Shaqiri‘s brilliant finish before halftime looked like it would be enough to give the Potters a much-needed three points, however, Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland cost his side dearly with a howler in the second stanza. A powerful cross from Marc Albrighton, coupled by a darting run from Jamie Vardy, gave the keeper troubles, before he spilled the ball into his own net.

West Bromwich Albion 1-2 Huddersfield Town  — FULL RECAP

Second-half finishes from Rajiv Van la Parra and Steve Mounie helped go three points clear of the bottom three on the day, while West Brom looks very much buried in the relegation race. The Baggies pulled a goal back through Craig Dawson‘s finish, however, it was too late to provide a comeback for the last-place side.

Burnley 1-1 Southampton FULL RECAP

The Clarets sit seventh in England’s top flight, however, Sean Dyche and Co. have not won a PL match since early December. Southampton’s form hasn’t been much better though, with the Saints winless in their last 15 matches. Manolo Gabbiadini‘s finish was vital for Southampton, who are one of 10 teams separated by a mere six points.

Bournemouth 2-2 Newcastle — FULL RECAP

A victory would have been massive for the Magpies, who are muddled in the heap of relegation sides, but a strong second-half effort from Bournemouth helped secure a point for the hosts.

Brighton 4-1 Swansea City — FULL RECAP

The promotion side has opened up a four-point cushion in the relegation race after a brilliant home showing on Saturday. A brace from Glenn Murray, combined with Anthony Knockaert and Jurgen Locadia goals, helped the Seagulls move into 11th place, while Swansea’s offensive woes continue to prove critical in their attempt to stay afloat in the PL. The Swans have score a league-l0w 21 goals in 28 matches, nearly 0.75 goals per game.

Watford 1-0 Everton — FULL RECAP

Troy Deeney‘s strike with 10 minutes to play was the difference for the Hornets, closing the gap between the two sides to just one point. Everton struggled mightily on the day to muster up any quality chances, although to be fair, both clubs didn’t look like they were in the finest of form up front. The Toffees have been dreadful away from home this campaign, with just one victory away from Goodison Park.