Australia v Spain: Group B - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil

Studs and Duds: How MLS and Premier League players have faired in the World Cup

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Yesterday The Guardian released a highly-addictive World Cup infographic (photo, below) that allows users to track players competing in the tournament based on what domestic league they play in.

Scrolling over each individual entry in the bar graph reveals the player, his position, nationality and club, and updates his country’s status as the tournament progresses. As teams bow out, down goes the strength of each domestic league.

The infographic is particularly interesting when examining how the stars of the Premier League and Major League Soccer have performed on the world’s biggest stage. So with that, let’s take a look at the studs and duds of the World Cup from each respective leagues.

PREMIER LEAGUE: STUDS

The Premier League put 106 players into the World Cup, 44 of whom are already on vacation and 62 who are either moving on to the Round of 16 or in position to do so.

For the Premier League studs, it’s all about Belgium. The contingent of Vincent Kompany, Romelu Lukaku, Nacer Chadli, Eden Hazard, Moussa Dembele and Jan Vertonghen have all enjoyed strong tournaments while Adnan Januzaj and Kevin Mirallas are reserves destined to contribute. Diables Rouge is a squad clicking on all cylinders, holding onto that dark-horse reputaion bequeathed to them months, even years, ago.

One surprise stud nation is Nigeria, with John Obi Mikel, Peter Odemwingie, Joseph Yobo,  Shola Ameobi and Victor Moses all moving on to the Round of 16. Other individual studs out of the Premier League enjoying solid tournaments include Pablo Zabaleta, Tim Howard, Pablo Armero, Hugo Lloris and Per Mertesacker.

PREMIER LEAGUE: DUDS

The Premier League duds are led by the English, who bowed out of the tournament with only two goals to their name, the worst performance ever by an England squad in the World Cup. And while many will point to Roy Hodgson as the primary culprit there were some notably shocking performances from veterans like Steven Gerrard, who appeared burnt out and error prone, Leighton Baines, who looked over-matched and lost, and Joe Hart, whose decision making off the line remains a major problem.

On par with England’s poor display was Spain as Cesc Fabregas, David De Gea, Fernando Torres, Cesar Azpilicueta, Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla are all going home early. The real culprits here are the La Liga based players but outside of Fabregas and Mata’s performance against Australia, the Premier League based players were largely ineffective and unimpressive with De Gea being the only one to get a pass due to injury.

Other Premier Leaguers failing to impress include Edin Dzeko, a no-show in Bosnia & Herzegovina’s first two matches, Dejan Lovren, whose center-back partnership with Verdan Corluka failed to prevent Mexico from a late-match walloping, Shinji Kagawa, who is a shell of his former self, Yaya Toure, who’s shoulders simply weren’t big enough to carry the Ivory Coast, and Antonio Valencia, who at the age of 28 has recently acquired a major discipline problem.

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MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER: STUDS

MLS, a league desperate for recognition on the international stage and deserved of much more than it gets, put 21 players into Brazil, seven of whom are going home early and 14 who are either moving on to the Round of 16 or in position to do so.

When talking MLS studs it’s all about Tim Cahill and Clint Dempsey. Scorer of two fantastic goals, one of which was arguably the goal of the tournament, Cahill’s passion and leadership made this Australia team an incredibly tough nut to crack. He and the Socceroos deserved much, much better.

Similarly, Dempsey encompasses everything that is great about the US. His goal against Ghana was sensational while his performance of playing the majority of the match with cotton stuck up his broken nose was heroic. Against Portugal, it was a new position and more of the same story – he was a major disruption, leading brilliantly, scoring a timely goal and flat-out inspiring not just a team but a nation. Other Americans enjoying classy World Cups include Kyle Beckerman, a defensive midfield stalwart, and super-sub Deandre Yedlin, who has the making of a full-back destined for true greatness.

A final MLS stud shout goes out to Julio Cesar, who rediscovered his form while on loan at Toronto FC and has done well so far for the Selecao. If the host nation has any hope of hoisting the cup come July, Cesar’s form will be absolutely crucial.

MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER: DUDS

For MLS duds look no further than the Honduran four-some of Marvin Chavez, Victor Bernardez, Boniek Garcia and Jerry Bengsten, all of whom played a signficant role in Brazil. To beat up Los Catarachos may feel a bit harsh but it’s difficult not to at least classify Bengtson’s performance as a major let down. A much more clever player than he showed in Brazil, Bengtson is a veteran who needed to step up if Honduras was to have any chance. He didn’t and they suffered.

MLS Snapshots: Impact 5-1 Union | Toronto FC 4-1 DC United (video)

Didier Drogba
Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP
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The game in 100 words (or less): Look out, America, for the Canadians of Major League Soccer are here, and they mean business. Saturday night saw the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC thrash the Philadelphia Union (5-1) and D.C. United (4-1), two playoff-caliber teams in their own right, each at home, to move to within four and six points, respectively, of New York City FC, the current leaders of the Eastern Conference. The stars for the two sides? Would you believe me if I told you Sebastian Giovinco and Didier Drogba each scored a hat trick on the night? Of course you would, because they’re Giovinco and Drogba. At their best, it’s hard to argue any team in the East is better than either Montreal or Toronto. Here’s to 180 minutes of Drogba vs. Giovinco in the Eastern Conference finals.

[ MORE: Previewing the rest of the MLS weekend ]

Three moments that mattered

19′ — Silky smooth build-up ends with a Drogba tap-in — If you’re allowing Drogba chances that are this easy, good luck to you. The real story here, though, is the backheel by Piatti. A moment like this is enough to flip me into a second-assist advocate.

42′ — Drogba slots home a rebound for 2-0 — Unlucky carom on the rebound, but you’re really not doing a great job of “don’t give Drogba chances that are that easy,” Union defense.

52′ — Drogba gets his hat trick — The Union are really, really not doing a good job of making life even the least bit difficult for Drogba.

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Man of the match: Didier Drogba

Goalscorers: Drogba (19′, 42′, 52′), Pontius (72′), Piatti (87′), Mancosu (90+1′)


Three moments that mattered

21′ — Giovinco ends his skid with a stunning free kick — It had been eight full games since Giovinco last scored a league goal for TFC, by far the longest such streak of his time in MLS. The wait was (almost) worth it. (WATCH HERE)

39′ — Giovinco does it again — What is there to say at this point? The angle is ridiculous. The power is ridiculous. The swerve is ridiculous. Giovinco is a ridiculous player. (WATCH HERE)

90+1′ — A hat trick for Seba — Not to be outdone, Giovinco bags his third of the night.

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Man of the match: Sebastian Giovinco

Goalscorers: Giovinco (21′, 39′, 90+1′), Jeffrey (24′), Delgado (29′)

WATCH: Giovinco’s goal drought is over after a pair of stunning free kicks

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco celebrates after scoring his team's second goal against Colorado Rapids during the first half of the MLS soccer game in Toronto on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015. (Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP)
Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP
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Oh, how we have missed you, Sebastian Giovinco, scorer of amazingly beautiful, video game-like goals.

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If you can believe it, Toronto FC’s tiny superstar entered Saturday’s clash with D.C. United without a goal in any of his last eight league games. Six minutes before halftime, the drought was over after not one, but two “only Giovinco could do that” free kicks (videos below).

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It was by far the longest such streak of Giovinco’s (brief) time in MLS, and at least he had the decency to make it worth our wait.

Scholes: Pogba “nowhere near worth” rumored Man United transfer fee

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 05:  Paul Pogba of Manchester United looks on during Paul Scholes' Testimonial Match between Manchester United and New York Cosmos at Old Trafford on August 5, 2011 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images
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If a player is only worth what a club is willing to pay them, then aren’t they also worth a price at the top of the pay scale, as long as a club is willing to pay it?

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Manchester United legend Paul Scholes doesn’t think so, at least not in the case of Paul Pogba, the highly-sought Juventus (and former Man United, which he left for free) midfielder. Rumored to be the subject of $113-million bid by the Red Devils, Pogba’s footballing future remains a question, though an answer will have to be realized in the coming days and/or weeks, as the 2016-17 Premier League season kicks off 21 days from today.

That’s a price that, according to Scholes, should be reserved for “someone who is going to score 50 goals a season like Ronaldo or Messi” — quotes from the Guardian:

“He was a very talented young player, I played with him and I knew how good he was. He played for the first team maybe once or twice, but from my understanding he was asking for too much money [when he left in 2012].

“For his age, he was asking for far too much money, for a player who hasn’t played first-team football. OK, he has gone on to great things. I think certainly there has been a lot of improvement. He needed to improve if he is going to be a player worth £86m.”

While United may have to pay closer to [$131 million], Scholes added: “I just don’t think he is worth [$86 million]. For that sort of money, you want someone who is going to score 50 goals a season like Ronaldo or Messi. Pogba is nowhere worth that kind of money yet.

[ PRESEASON: PL clubs in action with opening day three weeks ago ]

On Scholes’ assertion that Pogba was asking “for far too much money”: United have finished 7th, 4th and 5th in the last three PL seasons, while in that same time Pogba has gone on to become on of the top five players in the world; meanwhile, none of the world’s 20 best (or is it 50?) players currently play for United. It would have been a risk to pay a 19-year-old with three first-team appearances like a seasoned veteran, to be sure, but so much of succeeding at the top level of the sport is down to hitting pay dirt on exactly that kind of calculated risk. If everyone plays it by the book, no one’s ever going to get ahead.

On Scholes’ obviously fear he may no longer be United’s greatest “Paul”: It’s OK, Scholesy, it’ll be terribly difficult to top in 10 years what you achieved in 18.

MLS Snapshot: Portland Timbers 1-2 LA Galaxy (video)

CARSON, CA - MARCH 06:  Robbie Keane #7 of Los Angeles Galaxy celebrates after scoring on a penalty kick in the second half of their MLS match against D.C. United at StubHub Center on March 6, 2016 in Carson, California. The Galaxy defeated United 4-1.  (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images
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The game in 100 words (or less): The LA Galaxy are firing on all cylinders these days, having extended their winning streak to four games (six games unbeaten) with a 2-1 victory over the defending MLS Cup champion Portland Timbers at Providence Park on Saturday. The win sees Bruce Arena’s side move to within two and five points of the Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield-leading Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas, respectively (the two sides face one another later on Saturday), while the Timbers miss out on their chance to jump two places, up to fourth, in the West. Back to Saturday’s game, Robbie Keane bagged the 80th goal of his time in MLS (to go with 44 assists, bringing the Irishman’s impressive statline up to 124 goals and assists combined in 118 appearances), but it was Gyasi Zardes who scored the winner, just four minutes after Keane’s opener, in the 11th minute. As I’ve opined the last two weeks, the Galaxy are peaking at the right time of year, and the rest of the league should be terrified.

[ MORE: Previewing the rest of the MLS weekend ]

Three moments that mattered

7′ — Keane taps home at the far post — Keane won’t score many goals easier than this one. Giovani dos Santos teed him up, and fortunately for Keane, Nat Borchers dropped his controller as GdS hit his cross.

11′ — Zardes heads home after another defensive breakdown — Zardes has real striker’s instincts. Let’s let him put those to good use, like he did in making the late run to the back post for the Galaxy’s second goal.

41′ — Valentin rolls one past Rowe for 2-1 — The finish from Valentin is nice, but how about Darlington Nagbe with the skill and the vision inside the penalty area to created the space, time and chance?

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Man of the match: Robbie Keane

Goalscorers: Keane (7′), Zardes (11′), Valentin (41′)