Caleb Porter 2

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.

Watch: Scott Sinclair nets stunning curler in Celtic victory

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Celtic is enjoying another fine campaign in Scotland, and much of the team’s success can be attributed to the play of Scott Sinclair.

[ MORE: Burkina Faso, Cameroon progress at AFCON 2017 ]

The Englishman was at it again on Sunday during Celtic’s 3-0 Scottish Cup win over Albion Rovers when the 27-year-old curled an absolutely sublime effort into the top corner for the game’s opening goal.

The finish, Sinclair’s 13th of the season in all competitions, came after the winger picked up the ball on the left side of the Albion penalty area. Sinclair then proceeded to slot his dipping shot just under the bar and into the far post.

Celtic now moves on to the fifth round of this season’s tournament, joining the likes of Rangers and Aberdeen. In addition to the team’s success in the competition, the Bhoys have yet to lose a match in the Scottish Premier League this campaign (19 W, 1 D).

La Liga & Serie A: Sevilla avoids Osasuna upset, Barcelona cruises

EIBAR, SPAIN - JANUARY 22:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona competes for the ball with Ander Capa (L) and Dani Garcia of SD Eibar during the La Liga match between SD Eibar and FC Barcelona at Ipurua stadium on January 22, 2017 in Eibar, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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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 ]

Eibar 0-4 Barcelona 

Four different goalscorers and three points has put Barcelona inches closer to Real Madrid at the top of La Liga, and it certainly was a complete effort for the Blaugrana. Denis Suarez gave Barca the lead ahead of halftime before Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar each netted in the second stanza to give Luis Enrique’s side a strangle hold on the match. Barca now sits just two points behind Real as the season nears its halfway point.

Meanwhile, Barca suffered a major loss during the match when Sergio Busquets was carted off the pitch after sustaining an ankle injury. Busquets left the game after receiving the brunt of a Gonzalo Escalante tackle in the eighth minute.

Osasuna 3-4 Sevilla

There were goals galore at the Estadio El Sadar, however, Osasuna remains at the bottom of La Liga despite their best efforts. The last place side led on two occasions against Sevilla, but a strong second half from the visitors allowed Los Rojiblancos to remain within a point of league leaders Real Madrid. Vicente Iborra recorded a brace for Sevilla, with goals on both sides of halftime, while Franco Vázquez and Pablo Sarabia also inked their names on the score sheet.

Athletic Bilbao 2-2 Atletico Madrid

Atleti went ahead early on against Bilbao, but Diego Simeone’s men needed a late Antoine Griezmann finish to earn a point on Sunday. Koke struck inside of three minutes to give Madrid the early advantage before goals from Íñigo Lekue and Oscar de Marcos gave Bilbao the lead. Atletico has now fallen eight points behind Real Madrid, while Bilbao sits seventh on 29 points.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Real Betis 0-0 Sporting Gijon
Real Sociedad 1-0 Celta Vigo


Juventus 2-0 Lazio

Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain each found the back of the net early on for Juventus and Massimiliano Allegri’s side never looked back from there. After scoring in the fifth and 16th minutes, respectively, the Bianconeri remain atop of Serie A after picking up the team’s 16th win on the season. Lazio remains fourth following the defeat, now sitting eight points behind the league leaders.

Roma 1-0 Cagliari

Edin Dzeko netted his 14th league goal of season for Roma on Sunday en route to the team’s fifth consecutive victory in all competitions. The win sees Roma move to within a point of Juventus at the top of Italy’s top flight, however, the Bianconeri currently hold a game in hand. Meanwhile, Cagliari sits 11th in Serie A on 26 points.

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Bologna 2-0 Torino
Empoli 1-0 Udinese
Genoa 2-2 Crotone
Palermo 0-1 Inter Milan
Pescara 1-3 Sassuolo
Atalanta 1-0 Sampdoria

AFCON wrap: Burkina Faso tops Group A, Cameroon also through

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - SEPTEMBER 29:  Bertrand Traore of Ajax is chalenged by Darwin Andrade of Standard Liege during the UEFA Europa League group G match between AFC Ajax and  R. Standard de Liege at the Amsterdam Arena on September 29, 2016 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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One down, three to go.

Two nations advanced out of Group A on Sunday, and neither of the spots were held by the tournament’s hosts.

[ MORE: All AFCON 2017 coverage ]

Cameroon 0-0 Gabon

Hosts Gabon needed a victory to reach the final eight, however, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and co. struggled mightily to break down the Cameroonian backline.

The Panthers failed to manage a shot on target on Sunday, while Cameroon — who finishes second in Group A — recorded a shot goalward just once.

Cameroon will likely face Senegal in the knockout phase after the Lions of Teranga locked up a spot in the next round.

Guinea-Bissau 0-2 Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso topped the group based on goal differential after an early own goal and Bertrand Traore added a second after halftime.

Rudinilson Silva was caught in an uncomfortable position after 11 minutes when the Guinea-Bissau defender put the ball into his own net. From there, Traore doubled the advantage for Burkina Faso after finishing off a Prejuce Nakoulma pass.

The Stallions will face the runner up of Group B, currently Tunisia, in the quarterfinals.

Group A table (* indicates teams that advanced)

*Burkina Faso (5 points, +2 GD)
*Cameroon (5 pts., +1 GD)
Gabon (3 pts., 0 GD)
Guinea-Bissau (1 pt., -3 GD)

Monday’s AFCON schedule

Senegal vs. Algeria — 11 a.m. ET
Zimbabwe vs. Tunisia — 2 p.m. ET

Henry bashes Arsenal’s Xhaka after second red card of season

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22:  Granit Xhaka (2nd R) of Arsenal talks to Steven Defour (1st R) of Burnley before shown a red card during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Burnley at the Emirates Stadium on January 22, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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It’s become a trend, albeit one that the Gunners certainly aren’t too fond of. Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka was sent off for the second time this season and while his side did manage to hold on to three points, the Swiss international has quickly made a name for himself in England for all the wrong reasons.

[ MORE: Arsene Wenger apologizes for sending off ]

Xhaka, 24, was dismissed in the second half of Sunday’s 2-1 win over Burnley after making a rash challenge on Clarets midfielder Steven Defour in the 65th minute.

[ MORE: Gunners up to second place after handling Burnley ]

Former Arsenal legend Thierry Henry sounded off on Xhaka’s latest dismissal following the match, calling out the midfielder for his lack of discipline.

“It’s not the first time. He did the same thing against Swansea,” Henry told Sky Sports. “This one I just don’t get it. Against Swansea it was a counter. Here, he gives the ball cheaply away.

“Why are you doing that 60 yards away from your goal, 25 minutes to go, you’re in control of the game? You misplace a pass. So what? Stay on your feet.

“As soon as you do that, the rules say it’s a red. Is it worse than [Marcos] Rojo who didn’t get a red? No. But the rule says both feet off the ground, it’s a red.”

Since the beginning of 2015, Xhaka has been shown red cards on six occasions dating back to the midfielder’s time with German club Borussia Monchengladbach, and including appearances for both club and country.

Xhaka’s suspension will keep him out of Arsenal’s next three matches, including home fixtures with Watford and Hull and a difficult road visit to Chelsea.