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What risk? Making sense of Schweinsteiger to Chicago in post-DP MLS

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Quick, how old were the best performers in Major League Soccer last season?

Rather than rattle off the players we think were the best, let’s use a couple advanced stats sites to double down (Squawka and WhoScored).

According to the former, the Top Ten “performance scores” were posted by Sebastian Giovinco (29), Osvaldo Alonso (30), David Villa (34), Ignacio Piatti (31), Gio dos Santos (27), Benny Feilhaber (31), Chad Marshall (32), Chris Pontius (29), Walker Zimmerman (23), and Lee Nguyen (29).

As for the latter, you’ll see a lot of the same faces at the top. Giovinco, Alonso, and Piatti remain 1-2-3, but the Top Ten is filled out by Nicolas Lodeiro (28), Sacha Kljestan (31), Michael Bradley (29), Gyasi Zardes (25), Jozy Altidore (27), and Bradley Wright-Phillips (31). Obviously, WhoScored favors the attack.

[ MORE: Cameron pumped for USMNT return ]

For comparison’s sake, the Premier League doesn’t boast a player in its Top Ten over the age of 30, Serie A has two (Dzeko and Fazio), La Liga four (Suarez, Ronaldo, Modric, and Luis), and the Bundesliga one (Robben). And any of those names would thrive in MLS, I imagine.

That’s an awful long preamble to say this: Bastian Schweinsteiger is likely do just fine at Chicago Fire, even in an advanced position.

The rise in young Designated Players in Major League Soccer is no joke, which has directly led to a big mistake amongst many MLS supporters. That is the assumption that older elite players, many who would wrongly earn the league “retirement league” jeers, are going to fail.

Before taking on the idea of Schweinsteiger, it’s important to note that many MLS fans bristle so much at the retirement league gloss that they are quick to lash out when superstar imports begin slowly in MLS. I emphasize “slowly” because stardom is understandably expected given the players’ lofty standards, and poor play is really anything below that standard.

[ MORE: Bellerin talks Barcelona interest ]

Consider:

Frank Lampard began his MLS tenure as a failure because he was hurt to start his tenure at NYCFC; The Chelsea legend got healthy and was as productive as almost any MLS attacking mid last season. In fact, look at NYC’s Top Five in per-game Squawka stats last season… pretty old.

Steven Gerrard is considered even worse because he didn’t put up gaudy offensive numbers. It’s important to note he was still one of LA’s best all-around per-game weapons in 2016 (and that they, too, were older at the top).

Which brings us to Schweinsteiger. I’ve read two well-read commentaries that question the move by two colleagues I respect a great deal: Andy Edwards’ MLS acumen is almost unrivaled, and Joe Prince-Wright has a great feel for our domestic league.

That’s fine, and he may flop. Any player could flop, of course.

Let’s compare Lampard and Schweinsteiger, as far as we can. The former arrived on the shores of MLS directly in which he managed only 989 minutes in league play for Man City, and three seasons since he was counted on for 2,000-plus minutes at Chelsea.

Schweinsteiger hits Chicago having not done much at all this season at United, and a three seasons after breaking that 2,000 mark at Bayern Munich. In theory, the only difference is that Schweinsteiger will need to find fitness. On the flip side, he’s not carrying a year’s worth of battle wounds.

He’s 32, played plenty in Germany’s EURO 2016 campaign, and is three summers removed from going all but nine minutes of four elimination games in winning a World Cup. He’s two seasons removed from a 20-match, 5-goal, 4-assist season as a deep-lying midfielder in the Bundesliga.

I love MLS and Opening Weekend generally signals something special in my mind, but right now the league is about on par with Eredivisie. For a 20-year-old brand, that’s not an insult, and if Schweinsteiger joined PEC Zwolle I’d consider it a savvy move to improve a team and sell a load of uniforms.

There are definite and legitimate questions about how Chicago will fare with him sitting atop holding midfielders Juninho and Dax McCarty. But Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez and coach Veljko Paunovic have had a looooong time to sort out whether the move makes sense for their formation and plan. We’re talking last summer, well before they scooped up both of the aforementioned center mids.

Not to mention this is a one-year, $4.5 million deal that carries an incredibly minimal amount of risk. Chicago has been tabbed as a team that could surprise and make the playoffs. The question isn’t why, or can this work? It’s why wouldn’t you?

Ronaldo, Neymar, Messi nominees for FIFA prize for 3rd year

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LONDON (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar are the contenders for FIFA’s top player award for the third straight year.

The nominations for the FIFA Best awards were announced Friday in London, where the ceremony will take place next month. Ronaldo is favored to join Messi as a five-time winner.

While Ronaldo won the Spanish league and Champions League last season at Real Madrid, Messi and Neymar only collected the Copa del Rey title with Barcelona.

Off the field, the three players have all been embroiled in tax cases in Spain over the last year.

Premier League Preview: West Ham vs. Tottenham

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  • West Ham have 14 PL wins vs. Spurs, more than against any other opponent
  • Spurs have lost 3 of their last 4 trips to West Ham
  • Since the start of 2015-16 Spurs have won the most points (164) and matches (47) in the PL
  • Harry Kane has five goals in his last five PL games vs. West Ham

West Ham United host Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday at the London Stadium (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) in a big London derby.

The Hammers have won both of their last two home games against Spurs 1-0 to scupper Tottenham’s title bids which has added extra spice to this rivalry in recent months.

[ LIVE: Stream Premier League games

With West Ham winning their first home game this season against Huddersfield Town, Slaven Bilic is looking to make the London Stadium a fortress. Spurs will be eager to play another game away from their temporary home for the season, Wembley, after Mauricio Pochettino‘s men have failed to win any of their opening three home PL games at Wembley.

If Tottenham prevail in east London it will mean they have won their opening three away games in the league for the first time since 1991-92.

In team news West Ham will be without injured duo Pedro Obiang and Manuel Lanzini but skipper Mark Noble is available. Ben Davies could return for Spurs, while Victor Wanyama, Erik Lamela and Danny Rose remain out.

What they’re saying

Slaven Bilic praises Christian Eriksen in The London Evening Standard: “They have many excellent players but the one who is maybe the unsung hero is Christian Eriksen. I don’t want to say he is under-rated because everyone in Europe is aware of the talent that he possesses. Apart from being a vital link in their team, he is also making clever little moves into pockets of space or into the box.”

Mauricio Pochettino on taking his players out for dinner: “We need time for the players that we signed to engage with everyone, know everything. It’s only a few weeks that they are involved in the dynamic of the team, the club. You need time to create a good dynamic. Not only tactics but outside too. We had a dinner in a restaurant in London with all the staff and players that I invite, of course. I paid the bill at the end! That is important because you can say: ‘Tactics here in the morning’ or you prefer to go last night and put all the staff, the players and the chairman too in a restaurant. That is tactics too. It is so important, just as it is important to work on the pitch. To get to know each other better, to speak in a different way. That creates links between them, emotion.”

Prediction

Spurs will have too much going forward for West Ham’s shaky defense and they will relish not only an away day but also putting their poor recent record against West Ham to bed. Tottenham to win 3-1.

USMNT’s Danny Williams out injured for Huddersfield

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Potentially bad news has arrived  for Danny Williams as the U.S. national team midfielder has suffered an injury at the worst possible time.

[ MORE: JPW sits down with Williams ]

Williams, 28, has suffered a “small fracture” to a bone in his foot and will not play for Huddersfield at Burnley on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

UPDATE: Pro Soccer Talk understands Williams’ injury will keep him out of action for about 2-3 weeks.

Speaking to reporters ahead of the trip to Turf Moor, Wagner gave some more information on Williams’ injury.

“Danny Williams has a small fracture in a bone in his foot. We have specialists appointment tomorrow[Friday] where we will get some information on how long he will be out,” Wagner said. “At the moment it is totally open because it is a very, very small fracture. So we will see. For sure he is out for Saturday.”

So, it doesn’t seem like a long-term injury but after Williams battled to start his first-ever start in the Premier League against Leicester City last week in a 1-1 draw, this knock has come at a very frustrating time for the German-American midfielder as he established himself at his new club.

Williams has battled hard to get into Huddersfield’s starting lineup after his free transfer from Reading over the summer.

Some USMNT fans were also calling for Williams to get a recall from Bruce Arena ahead of the U.S. national teams crucial 2018 World Cup qualifiers against Panama and Trinidad & Tobago next month.

The combative midfielder now faces an anxious wait about the severity of his injury.

Antonio Conte thanks Diego Costa after Chelsea departure

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These will likely be the final questions Antonio Conte faces about Diego Costa.

[ MORE: Liverpool’s Matip talks to JPW ]

On Thursday it was announced that Chelsea has sold their leading scorer in each of the past two seasons back to Atletico Madrid with a protracted fallout between Conte and Costa finally coming to a logical conclusion.

After Conte reportedly sent Costa a text message stating he was no longer needed at Chelsea, just days after they lifted the Premier League title together, the Brazilian born striker refused to return to preseason training and remained in Brazil with family as he demanded to be sold back to Atletic Madrid.

He was fined by the club but has finally got his wish with a $77 million move back to Atleti sealed for the 28-year-old who won two Premier League titles in three season at Chelsea but also brought controversy with him on many occasions as the bullish striker upset opponents and teammates alike.

Speaking at Stamford Bridge on Friday ahead of Chelsea’s trip to Stoke City on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com) Conte thanked Costa for his efforts.

“About this issue, we want to thank him for what he did with this club. We wish him all the best for the future,” Conte said.

Asked about the deterioration of his own relationship with Costa and if his team will miss the goals of the Spanish international, Conte was less open.

“Now it is not important, I am not interested to continue talking about this issue,” Conte said. “I am working with my players and am happy to work them them. We must work and fight to win every competition. We are Chelsea and we need to try to do this in this season. We have to try to do our best in every competition. Our target is to do our best every day, every week, every month in this season.”

Stating multiple times that he was “not interested in talking about the past” and that only the current and building for the future was important, Conte did thank Costa once again and said he will remember the success they achieved together last season.

“I do not forget we won together last season,” Conte said. “For sure we want to thank him for his effort last season with us but not only last season, the period he played for Chelsea.”

With this saga now over, Chelsea will turn to Alvaro Morata and Michy Batshuayi to score the goals they need to be successful on all four fronts this season.

After recovering well from a sluggish start to the season it appears Conte’s decision to oust Costa will, long-term, be the correct one. Even though Morata has taken a little time to settle and Batshuayi blows hot and cold, the Blues have goals everywhere you look with Eden Hazard, Pedro, Willian and others able to chip in.

There’s only one Diego Costa and Conte must be somewhat relieved to see the back of him.