Position-by-position: Considering MLS’s All-Star Game snubs

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All-Star snub lists are a tradition in every sport, even though they often ignore the realities of the task. Caleb Porter couldn’t pick every player whose had a good season, and since there’s an actual game to play, he has to have some reasonable positional distribution. Add in the Fan XI and  Don Garber’s picks (which technically, he can exclude from the squad) and there were since significant restraints on the second-year boss.

So before criticizing his choices, let’s lay some ground rules – guidelines that will keep this from descending into a bland list of every player that’s performed above some imaginary threshold:

1. You have to be better than somebody who was chosen, preferably at your exact position. Having a good year doesn’t justify an All-Star spot, nor does a case that doesn’t acknowledge the competition at the position.

2. You can’t be a “snub” just because you’re better than a player who was voted in. Fan choices who live in a different realm and should be judged by a completely separate standard.

3. If other, better players at your position are also staying home, you’re not next in line. And you’re not a snub.

4a. You have to be clearly better than a player who was chosen. If Porter’s choosing between two almost equal options, it’s unfair to imply his preference is somehow wrong.

4b. There has to be somebody you’d kick out. Call this an accountability measure. If you can’t identify a player the snub should replace, you might not have found a snub after all.

With that in mind, let’s go position-by-position, level-by-level and ask who Porter should have chose:

GOALKEEPERS
Chosen: Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

After Rimando (voted in by the fans), a number of goalkeepers have a claim to the second spot, but nobody’s having a standout season. In that sense, picking Bill Hamid as a nod to D.C.’s strong defense makes sense. While you can isolate some suspect moments and make a case against Hamid, you could do the same with Luis Robles, Donovan Ricketts, Sean Johnson, Steve Clark or a handful of other decent-but-not-great seasons (really, the cluster is huge, at this level). Hamid is as justifiable as any in that group.

Snubs: None

source: Getty ImagesDEFENDERS
Chosen: Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Aurélien Collin (Sporting Kansas City), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Chad Marshall (Seattle Sounders FC), Michael Parkhurst (Columbus Crew), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders FC)

There are no left backs in the team, with Michael Parkhurst apparently destined to play wide. Though the list of left back candidates isn’t particularly impressive, Seth Sinovic should certainly feel like he deserves to have that spot.

Elsewhere, Chris Schuler and Drew Moor have had nice seasons, but neither have a clear claim to be picked before Aurélien Collin and Chad Marshall. If you see Michael Parkhurst as the left back, there isn’t room for a center back snub, with Omar Gonzalez’s selection beyond Porter’s control.

Snubs: Seth Sinovic (instead of Parkhurst)

MIDFIELDERS
Chosen: Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle Sounders FC), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Tim Cahill (New York Red Bulls), Will Johnson (Portland Timbers)

source:  This is where the questions start, because beyond loyalty and a nod to 2013, there’s no reason to pick Will Johnson. After a bad start to the season, the Timbers captain has recovered, but a number of central midfielders — from Benny Feilhaber, to Matías Laba, to Jeff Larentowicz, to Gonzalo Pineda, to teammate Diego Chara — have had better seasons. That’s not to say all of them deserve to be All-Stars. It’s merely to point out the problems with singling out Johnson.

But if you do consider 2013, the selection makes more sense, particularly given Tim Cahill was chosen. While most people would say the 2014 All-Star game should reward 2014 performance, that’s not a universally held view. For some, rewarding somebody for a small four-month stretch doesn’t make sense. Better to take a broader view of a player’s contributions.

Even by that standard, Johnson’s 2014 is hard to overcome, especially after the versatility Feilhaber’s shown over the last two months. While you can’t blame Porter for giving the benefit of the doubt to his captain, in this case, there shouldn’t have been a doubt.

Snubs: Benny Feilhaber (instead of Johnson)

ATTACKING MIDFIELDERS
Chosen: Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

source: Getty Images

For a league that has a glut of talent in attacking midfield, Porter’s managed to omit some notable names. In some’s estimation, Javier Morales remains the league’s best creator, while his namesake, Pedro Morales, has dazzled in his debut season with Vancouver. Lee Nguyen was among the league’s best players in May, Federico Higuaín may be the most influential player in Major League Soccer, while Dillon Powers has become the focal point in Colorado. How can you leave all of these players out?

You do that by not drawing the line on forwards. Goals are nice, and the skill should certainly be rewarded, but it’s difficult to comprehend how so many through-the-middle strikers were allowed to push the league’s creators out. Though Graham Zusi and Diego Valeri are in the team, I’m not convinced an Thierry Henry-aided Bradley Wright-Phillips is more deserving than Javier Morales. And as spectacular as Defoe’s best moments have been, Higuaín’s constant influence (even during as his team slumps) would have won my nod.

More generally, it seems unfair in a league where teams play one or two forwards to pick a squad that disproportionally represents that role. The cost: Players at other positions don’t get the recognition they deserve. Out of fairness alone, the roster should be more balanced.

Snubs: Javier Morales (instead of Wright-Phillips), Federico Higuaín (instead of Defoe)

FORWARDS
Chosen: Jermain Defoe (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls), Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), Obafemi Martins (Seattle Sounders FC), Erick Torres (Chivas USA), Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls)

In Porter’s defense, the Landon Donovan’s inclusion really hamstrung him. It’s only one spot, with the ability to add Morales or Higuaín, the exclusion of all those create talents would be less galling, particularly if that addition came at the expense of somebody who isn’t having an All-Star season.

But Donovan is a fan choice. He was voted in. There’s no use debating whether he deserves to be there. The fans decided. Even as his current level, people want to see Donovan in Portland.

source: Getty Images

That not only leaves the likes of Morales and Higuaín on the outside, but Dom Dwyer, who has arguably been the league’s best forward, will be staying home. With 14 goals, the Sporting standout is second on the league’s scoring charts, and with a nearly unmatched work rate that the striker position, the third-year pro has more defensive value than any of his peers. Add in the fact that he hasn’t had an Henry-like presence playing in support, and Dwyer’s season looks much more impressive than Bradley Wright-Phillips’.

But Wright-Phillips is already out of the team, meaning the only two players who we can replace are Robbie Keane and Erick Torres, who was one of the two commissioner picks. Given Keane’s numbers (10 goals, four assists) and play that suggests he’s still one of the league’s best creators at the forward position, it’s easy to see his other contributions making up the three-goal gap between himself and “Cubo.” And with Dwyer not only out-scoring Cubo but adding more value without the ball, the Sporting striker should probably have Torres’s spot.

Let’s put an asterisk by this one, though. Torres was a commissioner’s pick, and those sometimes play by different rules. Ultimately, however, Dwyer could ask why Garber loves Cubo so much more than a player who’s having a better season.

Snubs: Dom Dwyer (instead of Torres)*

That’s three Sporting players among our snubs. Had Porter and Garber gone this route, almost half the All-Star team would be made up of Kansas City (six) and Seattle (five) players. Is that the kind of All-Star Game we want?

Perhaps not. And perhaps the fact that I’ve ended up with so many players from two teams suggests there’s a bias in my views.

Still, there’s a reason why those two teams are at the top of their conferences. If the individual performances warrant it, there’s no reason why those players shouldn’t be in this squad.

Toronto loses CONCACAF Champions League in PKs

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Chivas Guadalajara scored on all of its penalty kicks to clinch a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League Final, breaking the hearts of Toronto FC in Mexico on Wednesday and earning a berth in the 2018 Club World Cup.

Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore scored in regulation as Toronto FC picked up a 2-1 win to reverse their first leg loss and push it to kicks.

Orbelin Pineda scored Chivas’ goal.

Hometown kid Jonathan Osorio hit the cross bar on Toronto’s second PK and Michael Bradley sent the fifth offering into outer space.

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Toronto flew out of the gates, and Rodolfo Cota came flying off his line to deny Altidore a 10th minute chance.

Alex Bono collected a header off a Chivas corner kick earned by a counterattack.

Pineda then made Toronto’s task even harder with a 19th minute goal, cooking Auro’s mark to reach a through ball and dancing around Bono for 1-0.

But Altidore was somehow unmarked for Nic Hasler’s pass despite five Chivas defenders and Cota inside the six-yard box, and TFC leveled the second leg at 1.

And TFC got the next goal through Giovinco, slipped through by Marky Delgado and taking advantage of a yard of space and a second to shoot with his fourth goal of the CCL knockout rounds.

The Reds kept coming in the second half, with Delgado winning a big 50-50 ball deep in Chivas territory and Victor Vasquez ripping a shot that Cota dove to smother.

Chivas found its footing in 58th minute, sending a shot over the bar before Jesus Godinez hit the post in the 61st (though his dive seemingly had the near post covered). Bono the next knocked a free kick over the bar from a similar position as the ball that beat him in the first leg.

Javier Lopez curled a vicious attempt just over the goal in the 72nd. He’d have the next best chances moments after Altidore subbed off with an apparent hamstring injury, but dribbled onto Bono’s lap and fired off the keeper.

Giovinco worked a 1-2 with Osorio and cruised a shot just wide of the far post in the 87th minute. Delgado then mailed a sitter over the bar in the first minute of stoppage time.

Premier League Power Rankings: In tiers

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Liverpool has knocked Manchester City from the Champions League, but sits 19 points behind the leaders and City has a match-in-hand.

Manchester United beat City just weeks ago, but was bounced from the UCL even earlier. The Red Devils also took four of six points from Liverpool.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

Spurs are fourth in the table but also took four of six from Liverpool and could be level on points with the Reds by winning its match-in-hand.

So the question remains, who’s the best team in the Premier League right now? That’s why we’re revisiting our Premier League Power Rankings for the first time in a while, since City was the unquestioned No. 1 for months.

Will it change anything? Spoiler alert: Probably not.

Spots 20-14: Not safe yet

20. West Bromwich Albion: The Baggies are going down, but Darren Moore has at least instilled some life into a moribund bunch which was saddled with the dour and unsuccessful tactics of Tony Pulis before moving onto the peppy and hard-to-understand tactics of Alan Pardew.

19. Stoke City — The Paul Lambert jump has faded, and the Potters’ inferior goal differential and one more match played than both Southampton and Swansea City feel like a death knell.

18. Southampton — Yes, the Bottom Three is the same as the table, but Saints are a New South Coast Derby win away from sitting three points back of pulling Palace and perhaps Huddersfield Town and West Ham United back into the picture.

17. Huddersfield Town — If David Wagner cannot lead the Terriers past Everton this weekend, his side finishes at Man City, at Chelsea, and home to Arsenal. That’s a recipe for watching a six-point advantage on the drop zone melt away.

16. Swansea City — Still four points clear of the drop zone, Swans have the cup half-full of facing Saints and Stoke City. The two sides aren’t very good, but also the only teams to worry about when it comes to their Premier League lives.

15. Crystal Palace — Given their turnaround from the beginning of the season, it feels dirty to have them so low. But of the three clubs sitting six points clear of 18th, the Eagles are the one to have three matches left and not four.

14. West Ham United — A brutal schedule featuring two of David Moyes‘ old sides — Everton and Manchester United — means the Irons cannot breathe safely yet (especially with Swans, Saints, and Stoke set to take points off each other).


Spots 13-11: Foot off the gas (and is there any gas in the tank?)

13. Watford — Javi Gracia may have Watford safe, and that was his charge, but the Hornets look like the same team they did under previous bosses. The Hornets have two points from their last six, and would be much further down the table if they weren’t essentially safe.

12. Bournemouth — Eddie Howe is probably wondering how that Arsenal chair would feel right about now, as the Cherries have probably reached a glass ceiling. Now a derby against Saints can define the run-in to the season.

11. Brighton and Hove Albion — Perhaps satiated by a five-match unbeaten run that featured a win over Arsenal and beat downs of Swansea and West Ham, Chris Hughton‘s Gulls have two points in five matches including a derby loss to Palace.

10. Everton — Sam Allardyce‘s men nicked a win off of Newcastle last weekend, and it was about as satisfying as moribund draws against Liverpool’s B Team and Swansea City. There’s a lot of unrest at Goodison Park, and Sam Allardyce has to go. Because of the relative positive vibes at lower table sides Leicester and Newcastle, Everton sinks beneath them.

9. Leicester City — A fun team which has had infuriating lapses at the back. Jamie Vardy‘s as reliable as ever, and there’s a real question what they’ll do without Riyad Mahrez (allegedly) in the future. Wilfred Ndidi, Demarai Gray, and Fousseni Diabate look a big part of said future, but it’s a bit alarming that the Foxes haven’t been able to take advantage of the relatively open door to seventh since Claude Puel righted Craig Shakespeare‘s sinking ship.

8. Newcastle United — The Magpies saw their win streak snapped by Everton, but Rafa Benitez is playing with house money after coaxed a midtable season out of a Championship squad. A healthy Islam Slimani has moved Dwight Gayle to his rightful role as a spark plug off the bench, but don’t sleep on the wonders Benitez has worked in turning Mo Diame, DeAndre Yedlin, and Paul Dummett into serviceable Premier League players. The future is bright if Mike Ashley sells the team or at least opens his purse strings to make one of the longest road trips in the PL even harder for visitors to St. James’ Park.


Spot 7: One of the best stories in Premier League history

7. Burnley — A loss to Chelsea and draw with Stoke has sunk Sean Dyche‘s excitement, we’re sure, but Southampton’s departure from the FA Cup means seventh place means Europa League. It’s Burnley in Europe: Yes, for real!


Spots 6-4: The bargaining stage of grief

6. Chelsea — The Blues have won two-straight in the league and reached an FA Cup Final against old pal Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United, but there’s as much uncertainty at Stamford Bridge as there is at the Emirates. The difference? We know Roman Abramovich will spend more to try to fix it.

5. Arsenal — The danger of slipping behind Burnley and into seventh on the table has passed, but the Arsene Wenger goodbye tour is focused firmly on the Gunners’ fate versus Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Europa League and the quite decent form of Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, as well as a resurgent and healthy Aaron Ramsey. Defenders need improving in a big way and there’s a lot of uncertainty regarding Wenger’s replacement. Don’t know what you’ve got til its gone?

4. Spurs — No trophy again this season, and there’s a very good chance Tottenham will miss out on third place by virtue of goal difference when all is said and done; When all’s said and done, Mauricio Pochettino‘s men will have drawn 1-1 or 0-0 against West Brom, Swansea, Watford, West Ham, Saints, and Brighton. That’ll render a decent record against top foes less impressive.


Spots 3-1: Power trio

3. Manchester United — The Red Devils are better than almost everyone thinks despite precious few standout seasons from its players (David De Gea, Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matic and Jesse Lingard are among the pardoned). When it comes to talking progress, however, second place won’t cut it: Mourinho needs that FA Cup win over Chelsea, a trophy United hasn’t won since (checks his notes) oh, two seasons ago.

2. Liverpool — The Reds looked incredible in dicing up Roma for 80 minutes, but allowed Roma a sliver of hope. Moreover, the last four goals Liverpool has allowed have come in the 79th, 88th, 81st, and 85th minutes. Why won’t we put them ahead of City? Well, let me clarify: it’s not PST, it’s me. I’ll own this: As brilliant as Liverpool was against City, they were out-chanced 31-14 over two legs. Give me that scenario 100 times, and I’m betting on the 31 about 85-90 times. The Reds are almost there, and Naby Keita over Jordan Henderson would be a huge upgrade (especially if this success convinces Emre Can to stick around). Next year, yeah. This year, just no.

  1. Manchester City — The records continue to fall, and it’s funny to consider that should City had lost the first Manchester Derby and been knocked out of the UCL a round earlier — yes, even by Liverpool in the same manner — no one would be arguing for anyone other than City at No. 1.

WATCH: Giovinco levels CONCACAF Champions League Final

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A trademark Sebastian Giovinco goal snapped a 1-1 first half tie and put Toronto FC in the driver’s seat for Major League Soccer’s first title in the CONCACAF Champions League era.

Jozy Altidore scored the first goal after Orbelin Pineda put Chivas Guadalajara ahead early in Mexico, and the tie is level at 3-3 after 135 minutes.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

Toronto needs to score once more and stay ahead by one, or win in penalty kicks.

The winner goes to the Club World Cup in December.

Look at this quick work from Giovinco after Marky Delgado slipped him into his office.

Spartak and Zenit fined in latest Russia fan racism cases

AP Photo/Julia Chestnova
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MOSCOW (AP) Spartak Moscow and Zenit St. Petersburg have both been fined for racist chants by their fans, the latest such incident in World Cup host nation Russia.

Spartak’s fans were accused of aiming monkey chants at FC Tosno player Nuno Rocha, who is black, while some Zenit supporters allegedly chanted a Nazi slogan during a league game.

[ MORE: Bayern 1-2 Real Madrid ]

The clubs must each pay a 100,000-ruble ($1,600) fine, and Spartak has been hit with a partial stadium closure for its next cup game, state news agency RIA Novosti quotes Russian Football Union disciplinary committee head Artur Grigoryants as saying.

The verdict comes after FIFA charged Russia with racist abuse of France players during last month’s friendly.

Zenit has also faced two racism charges from UEFA this season.