Thigh injury will likely sideline di María for rest of the World Cup; what are Argentina’s options?

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One of Argentina’s most important players will miss the final two games of the World Cup, but since his name isn’t Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuaín, or Sergio Agüero, his contributions may be overlooked. Yet anybody who watched the UEFA Champions League final (or, any Real Madrid game over the last four years) knows the value of Ángel di María.

Within a talented Argentina team that often lacks flexibility, the winger/forward/midfielder’s presence may be even more valuable. His combination of talent, versatility, and relentless work makes Di María a player that would fit into any team in the world.

Unfortunately for the Albiceleste, over the final two rounds of this year’s World Cup, that team won’t be theirs. Having suffered a right thigh tear today against Belgium, the 26-year-old is expected to be ruled out of the semifinals and, if Argentina defeats the Netherlands, Brazil 2014’s final. An official announcement is expected on Sunday.

From reporting by The Guardian:

Di María suffered the tear when mustering a shot, which was blocked by Vincent Kompany, with his team leading 1-0 in Brasilia. He received treatment on the pitch and attempted to play on, but crumpled back to the turf moments later before hobbling away in tears … The Argentina manager, Alejandro Sabella, initially expressed hopes the injury would not prove too serious … However, the severity of the tear became clearer over the course of evening with media in Argentina reporting the Real Madrid player, who had scored the team’s late winner against Switzerland in the round of 16, was now resigned to missing the remainder of the finals.

With Argentina showing so many different looks this World Cup, it’s difficult to know how, exactly, this will affect Sabella’s team. Maybe that can turn into an advantage against the Dutch, who have tailored their set up for each opponent.

Without di María, Sabella could elect to put Agüero back in the team, switching back to 4-3-3 that worked before the tournament. But if di María’s not there to severe as the midfield’s linking element, Messi may be drawn further from goal. Perhaps Enzo Pérez could be that guy, but the Albiceleste may not have another central midfielder who can fill that role.

With that in mind, it makes more sense than ever to keep Agüero on the bench and simply replace di María with somebody who can play wider. That replacement could be Pérez, who came on against Belgium, or it could be veteran right-winger Maxi Rodríguez, if Sabella wants to tweak his team’s shape. Ricardo Álvarez and Rodrigo Palacio are other possibilities, but with the width the Netherlands has utilized through their wing backs, relying on either of those Inter Milan attackers to keep up is more hopefully than prudent.

Then again, Argentina could go back to the five-defender setup -the one they used in their tournament’s opening match. Unfortunately, that leaves Sabella with the same questions he’d have with a 4-3-3: How does Argentina play an effective three-man midfield without Di María?

At some point over the next three days, Dutch coach Louis van Gaal will have to make an educated guess about how Argentina will play and set up his team accordingly, but given di María’s importance, a guess will be as good as it gets. Even van Gaal will some uncertainty as to how Argentina replaces Ángel Di María.

Sporting KC giving away creative “Bike Opara” bobblehead

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In his ninth Major League Soccer season, Ike Opara has scored just a dozen regular season goals.

He’s known more for his physicality in the backline, for creating space for teammates on set pieces, or heading balls on to teammates with slightly more fleeter feet.

But in June 2017, it all came together for Opara in a magical moment, where he beat an offside trap from the LA Galaxy and scored an insane bicycle kick for Sporting Kansas City.

Now, to honor Opara’s ridiculous goal, Sporting KC has announced the first 10,000 fans through the gates at Children’s Mercy Park on March 31 will get a “Bike Ike” bobblehead, with him in flight kicking the ball towards goal over his shoulder.

You’ve gotta love the creativity and fun the Sporting KC marketing department is having. Hopefully, Opara can give the team another memorable goal in 2018.

Van Dijk named new Netherlands captain

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Virgil Van Dijk has had a pretty decent last three months since moving to Liverpool, and the towering defender earned a new personal achievement on Thursday.

Van Dijk was named the newest captain of the Netherlands National Team, where he’ll play under former manager Ronald Koeman. Van Dijk’s first game as captain will be against the nation where he currently plies his trade, England, on Friday.

“I am very happy with it, it is a great honor to be the captain of your country,” van Dijk said at a pre-match press conference Thursday. “Everyone knows that Koeman gave me the chance at Southampton, I am very grateful to him. This is very special.”

Van Dijk’s commanding presence in the Liverpool backline and previous stops at Southampton and Celtic make him an obvious choice for captain, taking the place of the now-retired Arjen Robben. At just 26-years old, van Dijk could carry the armband for a half dozen years if he keeps up his strong form.

MLS All-Stars to face Juventus in 2018

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For the first time, Juventus will be taking on Major League Soccer’s best in the MLS All-Star Game.

MLS announced on Thursday that the six-time defending Italian champions will take on the MLS All-Stars in Atlanta United’s Mercedez-Benz Stadium on August 1, 2018. Juventus will be the second Italian club to play in the MLS All-Star Game, following AS Roma’s appearance in 2013.

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Since MLS adapted its all-stars vs. foreign club format in 2002 (with a brief return to the old East vs. West format in 2004), MLS has gone 9-6. Last year the MLS All-Stars lost 4-2 on penalty kicks to Real Madrid in Chicago’s Soldier Field.

Klinsmann: “I’m sure I’ll come back” to coaching

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Jurgen Klinsmann hinted that he could return to full-time coaching after the 2018 World Cup.

Klinsmann appears to be enjoying life as a full-time soccer dad after his dismissal from U.S. Soccer in November 2016, having taken home a portion of a $6.2 million buyout from U.S. Soccer for he and his staff. Speaking to Socrates Magazine in Germany, Klinsmann gave his thoughts on the Bundesliga, the German National Team, and whether he’d be back in the hot seat one day.

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“I’m sure I’ll come back,” Klinsmann said. “Right now I’m having a nice break, I enjoy it. I do not know when I’ll take on a coaching job again. I’m looking forward to the World Cup in Russia and then I’ll be back in action.”

Klinsmann has been linked with a number of jobs over the past few years, even before he was fired as U.S. Men’s National Team coach, including with Everton, Sunderland, and Club Tijuana in Liga MX. But instead, Klinsmann has remained in the stands, cheering on his son Jonathan at the 2017 Under-20 World Cup along with the rest of the U.S. parents in their section.

Following the disastrous start of World Cup qualifying and the fact that Klinsmann never took the U.S. to the level he promised, it is hard to see where he will go next, unless it’s a lower level, with lower expectations. Based on his work with the USMNT and Bayern Munich, he has shown that he struggles tactically and is mainly a man-motivator, which is just one part of the coaching package.

The 53-year-old former German coach and player also had a bit of a warning to the Bundesliga, after a particularly tough season in Europe. Three Bundesliga teams (Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig) made the UEFA Champions League, but both Dortmund and Leipzig finished third in their groups, dropping down to the Europa League. FC Koln, Hoffenheim and Hertha Berlin all failed to advance to the knockout stages in the Europa League as well.

“The recent development at the European level is not a good sign, it is important that everyone is aware that success is lacking,” Klinsmann said. “Recently, you have lost too much ground.

“It’s a very critical moment. There is a certain amount of satisfaction after winning the World Cup in Brazil and the Bundesliga clubs having done very well in the Champions League.”