PORTLAND, Ore. — MLS is about to align its calendar with Europe’s? That’s news to Major League Soccer; at least, according to league President and Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott.
In the middle of a wide-ranging media session Tuesday in Portland, Abbott denied by recent claims from FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who said on Monday that MLS would soon adopt what’s often referred to as the “international calendar” – the late-summer-to-spring season footprint that’s used by most leagues around the world.
Asked about Blatter’s assertions, Abbott said Major League Soccer, which plays from March through early December, could not make the change at this time, reiterating a view expressed by league commissioner Don Garber in December.
“I saw the comments, we didn’t have a chance to talk to [Blatter] about those,” Abbott explained, “What I’ll say today is what Don (Garber) said last year, which is we looked at it last fall. We concluded that, at this point in time, it is not a change that we could make.”
Note: could, not would. A change in schedule could happen at some point, but there are no plans to sync up with Europe any time soon.
“We don’t rule it out for some point in the future,” Abbott said, “but there’s not an imminent plan to change to the international calendar.”
Blatter, speaking yesterday in Canada ahead of the Women’s U-20 World Cup, said “[MLS] has taken the decision … to adapt the FIFA calendar,” a claim that contradicted Garber’s statements in December at MLS Cup. There, the league commissioner said a schedule change was something MLS would “continue to look at it … to see if we can do this in the future,” but was “not something we are going to do in the short-term.”
In that short-term, Major League Soccer is focused on other things, like getting the league up to 24 teams by 2020. If it is a goal, changing schedules remains a long-term one.
For a lot of us, that meant delving into statistics and seeing what matched the eye test. Many started Googling the name “N'Golo Kante“, the dynamic disruptor who’d move to Chelsea in August.
He’s a household name now, with some personalities even arguing that he should buck the trend of Ballon d’Or nominees including only major statistic producers (There was a time when names like Fabio Cannavaro and Matthias Sammer claimed the honor, you know).
For our purposes, we’ll use a pair of advanced stats sites and the good ol’ eye test. (Of the sites we’re using, Squawka seems to skew toward high attack scores, while WhoScored tilts a bit toward the back, so life is good if a player hits both sites’ Top 50).
Before getting into our team — we promise no 10-picture, click-to-reveal-next stuff — some stats that stood out.
— Three players have had outstanding “short” seasons for different reasons.
Leicester City’s Wilfried Ndidi took a short spell to adjust to the Premier League after arriving in January, but has been the Foxes’ most influential player in their recent turnaround).
Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake essentially was the Cherries’ first-half success before heading back to Chelsea where Antonio Conte won’t move him ahead of Marcos Alonso or Victor Moses (and that’s actually understandable as you’ll see below).
Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas just doesn’t feature a ton for Conte, but in limited time his per-90 stats on Squawka trail only Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez.
Ander Herrera (Manchester United, 7.44, 36.64) – Long-heralded at Athletic Bilbao, Herrera is finally showing what made him so sought. One odd stat that may be explained by his willingness to run to any situation: he’s very high in average times dribbled past.
Idrissa Gana Gueye (Everton, 7.34, 20.57) – The best player in Aston Villa’s awful 2015-16, he’s been arguably as effective as N’Golo Kante. Seriously.
Matt Phillips (West Bromwich Albion) – Once the top player on a relegated QPR, Phillips is fifth in the Premier League in assists despite missing the last four matches with injury.
Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur, 7.41, 31.89) – Second in the PL in key passes, he doesn’t get the plaudits of English teammates Dele Alli and Harry Kane. The relationships are very symbiotic.
Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace, 7.44) – On an under-achieving team, Zaha’s statistics are wild. He’s the most-fouled player in the league, and attempts/completes the most dribbles in the PL. He gives the ball away a lot, too, but that happens when you’re the focal point of everything your team does in the attacking third.
Alex Iwobi (Arsenal, 30.54) – The Nigerian turns 21 in May, and has four goals and seven assists across all competitions.
“[Ibrahimovic] is a genius, he’s very intense because he wants to win everything, even football-tennis,” Herrera said to Radio MARCA.
“He assumes this role of doing or saying what he likes in front of the media because he does not care, he can say that he’ll score 30 goals or is the best because he can afford to.”
There’s certainly something to stature when it comes to saying what you feel (though on the other hand, being egotistical is rarely controversial. It’s not like Ibrahimovic is often railing on controversial soccer or social issues).
We’re sure there are plenty of players across all sports, casual and professional, who don’t understand hyper-competitive teammates, but we love a guy who doesn’t turn it down when it comes to on-the-field activities. Hopefully Ibrahimovic is the Jaromir Jagr of soccer.