A devil’s advocate defense of All-Star Liam Ridgewell

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Portland has always been high on Liam Ridgewell, but few predicted this level of success so quickly. The former West Bromwich Albion defender, out of contract just over a month ago, will be in uniform when Major League Soccer’s best face Bayern Munich on Wednesday, the Timbers defender named to replace the injured Kyle Beckerman in the league’s All-Star squad.

Don’t take that sentiment too seriously. With only three games played in MLS, Ridgewell isn’t deserving of this place, but when a player pulls out of the game less than two days before kickoff, it’s not a matter of finding the next name on the list. Can the player get there in time? Has he made other plans? Does the player even want to go?

The restrictions basically limit Porter to West Coast and Rocky Mountain call ups, but the Galaxy’s players are out, since the team plays on Friday. Same goes for San Jose, and given the state of Chivas USA’s roster, there are no obvious candidates with the Goats. Chad Marshall’s injured and Jay DeMerit’s retired, leaving the defensive best options in the Rockies, but whatever reasons kept Drew Moor and (to a lesser extent) Nat Borchers out of the team may have been a factor here, too.

The other factor: Caleb Porter may have wanted somebody who can play left back. Granted, naming a player like Toronto’s Justin Morrow to the squad would have done that, but obviously Porter didn’t see him as an All-Star. With Michael Parkhurst the only apparent option at left back, Porter may have decided to bring in some backup.

But why not Michael Harrington, who is Portland’s regular left back? Or Jack Jewsbury, a player who recently played his 300th MLS game, one capable of manning the position? Or why not Diego Chara, who would have been a like-for-like replacement for Beckerman?

I’m not going to pretend those aren’t great questions, nor am I going to pretend those players were necessarily available. Though it’s unlikely those players have major plans (given the Timbers practiced both Monday and Tuesday), they may not have been able to play. It wouldn’t be the first time somebody was unwilling to break plans to accept an emergency call up.

At some point, however, these possibilities seem thin, and once you add scenario on top of scenario that’s needed to get Ridgewell into the squad, another explanation can’t be avoided: Porter just wanted him in. As a Designated Player playing in front of home fans, one who has experience against high-level players, Ridgewell could certainly help the squad. Perhaps Porter’s competitive side got the best of him on this one.

Because ultimately, Ridgewell hasn’t proven he’s an All-Star, though, at this point of the process, how much does that matter? One day before the game, this may have been the best of limited options. If the choice came down to one of Jewsbury, Harrington, or Ridgewell — all players who’d be out-of-place in this year’s All-Star squad — is it really so wrong to take Ridgewell?

Wasteful Poland snatches late 2-1 win at Montenegro

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Poland was in control for much of the game, but failed to finish in front of net until Borussia Dortmund full-back Lukasz Piszczek found the winner with eight minutes to go as the visitors increased their lead at the top of World Cup qualification Group E.

Robert Lewandowski put Poland in front five minutes before halftime with a brilliant free-kick that left Montenegran goalkeeper Mladen Blozovic completely baffled, but Montenegro looked sturdy at the back for much of the game and dangerous on the counter. They’d hit just past the hour mark as Stefan Mugosa headed in to level the score.

Lewandowski had a pair of massive chances in the second half, but couldn’t get either to go down as Blozovic was there to turn him away, and Montenegran defenders cleared off the line as well. Luckily for Poland, they had Piszczek who burst down the right to beat Aleksandar Sofranac, and he produced a stunning finish looped over the closing Blozovic from a tight angle, dinked off the far post, and into the back of the net.

That would do it for Montenegro who had little attacking ability outside of their countering abilities, and with Poland happy to ease out the clock, the hosts didn’t have enough.

The win pushes Poland six points clear at the top of Group E, a sizeable lead with five matches remaining. The battle for the second-place spot is tight, with Montenegro still in command on seven points, level with Denmark but ahead on goal differential. Armenia and Romania are even with six points each.

Netherlands manager Danny Blind fired after Bulgaria loss

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The Netherlands are in real trouble, and the manager has paid the price.

The Dutch national team has parted ways with Danny Blind the day after a 2-0 loss to Bulgaria left the Dutch fourth in their World Cup qualification group halfway through.

The move garnering all the headlines from Saturday’s loss was Blind’s decision to start 17-year-old defender Matthijs de Ligt. The Ajax youth product, who has just two Eredivisie starts to his credit, made two crucial errors and yanked at halftime, but the damage had been done. Spas Delev scored twice in the opening 20 minutes for Bulgaria, and that was all the home side needed as the Dutch offered little in front of goal.

Blind was also criticized for not getting Memphis Depay on the field as they chased the game. The Netherlands held 74% possession, but could only manage 3 shots on target. Depay has been in good form since his January move to Lyon, with five goals in his 10 Ligue 1 appearances.

This decision was something Blind saw coming. He told national broadcaster NOS immediately after the Bulgaria loss, “I blame myself. It can’t go on like this. Things have to change.”

“I need to think about [my future]. I do not throw the towel in here. I’m incredibly disappointed, especially since I had a good feeling about this match. It makes sense that I put myself in front of the mirror.”

However, the problems for the Dutch go far deeper than Danny Blind. They missed out on Euro 2016 largely thanks to the failed 2nd tenure for Guus Hiddink. His assistant Blind took over, but the results have been equally as poor. The Netherlands sit fourth in UEFA World Cup qualification Group A, with losses to Bulgaria and France plus a draw with Sweden. It’s not over for them though, as they sit three points back of a second place spot with five matches to go, and three of those five at home.

With the Netherlands still yet to play their friendly against Italy this coming week, former goalkeeper Fred Grim takes over on an interim basis. Grim collected 101 caps for the Netherlands, and has served as the Netherlands U-21 manager for the last two years. Before that, he took charge of his first full managerial job as head man of Dutch 2nd-tier club Almere City.

Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery, scores in England win

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Jermain Defoe’s friendship with terminally-ill Bradley Lowery has been special to watch unfold, and the Sunderland striker brought his little buddy to Wembley today.

Then he notched a match-winner.

Lowery walked Defoe out onto the field in a replica England kit before Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania, and then Defoe scored his 20th goal for country.

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It was his first since 2013, the last year Defoe was called up for the Three Lions.

Here’s the goal, which was followed by a second-half Jamie Vardy tally as England stayed atop Group F with a 2-0 win over Lithuania.

Two Russian soccer fans stabbed in Serbia

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) Two Russian fans have been hospitalized with serious injuries after being stabbed following a friendly soccer match between Red Star Belgrade and Lokomotiv Moscow.

Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said Sunday police were looking for the knife-wielding perpetrators who attacked a group of Lokomotiv fans in downtown Belgrade late Saturday.

Serbian media reports said the Russian fans were attacked by supporters of Red Star’s rival Partizan Belgrade.

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The match, which Red Star won 2-1, was meant to promote Serbia’s traditional friendship with Russia.

Stefanovic says “nobody should think they could hurt the Serbian-Russian friendship” with such attacks.

Serbia has seen a surge of fan violence inside and outside stadiums. In 2009, a French football fan was fatally beaten in Belgrade.