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Koeman defends Barkley, Lukaku after criticism

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Ronald Koeman has jumped to the defense of two of his most-gifted players, Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley, following Everton’s derby defeat to Liverpool at Anfield.

[ MORE: The end for Luke Shaw? ]

The Toffees lost 3-1 to their Merseyside rivals on Saturday which all but ended their faint hopes of securing a top four finish.

Speaking to the media ahead of Everton’s clash at Manchester United on Wednesday (Watch live, 2:45 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com), Koeman defended Lukaku and Barkley

“Ross played in a different position than he has played in the last few weeks. Of course, he lost several balls in the midfield instead of playing a little faster, but he needs to improve in that,” Koeman said. “But taking out one or two players and saying that was the problem last Saturday – that’s not fair.

“It’s easy to pick your opinion in front of the television without any responsibility. I am happy. I see a lot of progress in the team, in the club. The whole season is not one game.”

When it came to Lukaku, who is the leading goalscorer in the Premier League this season with 21 goals, Koeman was particularly defiant and questioned if the reporter understood the game as every player can’t always “be a 10” with their performance.

“He is the top scorer of the league. Why now after the Liverpool game do we have to criticize Rom?” Koeman said. “He’s a great striker. He’s working hard. He’s a human boy.”

[ MORE: Koeman lashes out at Klopp ]

Plenty of pressure was put on Lukaku (especially given the uncertain nature of his future at Goodison Park as he is yet to sign a new deal) to deliver the goods and he was shackled impressively by Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip as he hardly had a touch in perhaps Everton’s biggest game of the season.

As for Barkley, the academy product continues to frustrate both Everton fans and neutrals  — plus Koeman who has been far from complimentary about his playmaker at times this season — as the talent is in there but he often picks the wrong pass and tried to do too much when on the ball on Saturday. Barkley was also once again guilty of putting in some shocking tackles, just like he did in the Merseyside derby earlier this season, with his first half tackle on Lovren worthy of a straight red card.

All in all, the defeat was a bit of a reality check for Everton but when all is said and done a top seven finish this season is very good progress in Koeman’s first campaign in charge. Especially when the promise of a new stadium is becoming much more of a reality, plus majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri will give Koeman plenty of money to spend this summer in the transfer market.

A rare off day for Everton’s two talented attackers shouldn’t concern the Toffees faithful too much.

CCL: Toronto wins; Wild Herediano comeback

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On a single-digit Tuesday that severely limited the attendance at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, where the Colorado Rapids and Toronto FC dueled in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.

Jonathan Osorio’s second half goal put the Reds in front and Sebastian Giovinco had a goal and an assist and the visitors take a 2-0 decision back to Ontario.

The best chance of a preseason quality first half saw Dominique Badji flub the best chance of the stage into the feet of Alex Bono.

Toronto took the lead, nabbing the away goal through Osorio’s header of a Sebastian Giovinco cross. And the Atomic Ant got on the board with a goal of his own off an Auro assist with 17 minutes to play.

[ MORE: Georgia teen heading to Schalke ]

Tuesday’s other first leg saw Herediano and Tigres play to a 2-2 draw in Costa Rica, with the Liga MX visitors taking a pair of away goals but shocked by a pair of stoppage time concessions.

Francisco Meza scored in the 15th minute and Lucas Zelarayan seemingly put it to bed with 15 minutes to play.

But Yendrick Ruiz converted a 90th minute penalty kick before ex-DC United forward Jairo Arrieta did this ahead of the Feb. 22 second leg in Mexico.

Another American heads to Schalke: Zyen Jones

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Schalkamerica?

Bundesliga mainstays Schalke have added yet another American, this one 17-year-old Zyen Jones of Atlanta United. Jones is a forward with the U.S. U-17 national team.

Like Josh Sargent, who signed his deal with Werder Bremen on Tuesday, he’ll head overseas and sign a pro contract on Aug. 25, his 18th birthday.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

Jones will join several potential USMNT teammates in Gelsenkirchen, including injured senior team midfielder Weston McKennie and youngster Nick Taitague (19). Forward Haji Wright is on loan at Sandhausen.

Report: Simon Dawkins making move to Minnesota

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The Loons are taking a flier on Simon Dawkins.

The London-born Jamaican international hasn’t done a ton since returning to MLS from Derby County, and turned 30 over the offseason, and Paul Tenorio says the player is on his way to Minnesota United.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

Dawkins scored 14 goals between 2011-12 with San Jose, but scored just five times in his return to California and was blanked in 14 appearances last season. He registered just 10 shots in those matches.

The left winger would join an attack with Christian Ramirez, Kevin Molino, Ethan Finlay, and a pair of Generations Adidas forwards: Abu Danladi (2017 SuperDraft) and Mason Toye (2018).

Champions League Weds. preview: Sevilla-Man Utd, Shakhtar-Roma

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Jose Mourinho says Manchester United is one round away from having legitimate hopes of winning the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

That makes the Round of 16 tie against Sevilla — beginning Wednesday in Spain — a bit of a dream qualifier for the Red Devils.

“I normally say that Champions League dreams start around the quarter-finals and not yet in the last 16,” Mourinho said on ManUtd.com. “Last 16 still looks a long way to go. When a team reaches the quarter-finals, I think it’s the moment where even the teams that are not favourites – which is our case – they start realising that anything is possible.

The injury-hit side got a bit of a boost on Tuesday in Sevilla, where Paul Pogba, Antonio Valencia, Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera all trained ahead of the first leg.

As for the hosts, manager Vincenzo Montella admitted that he hopes Pogba won’t play, and joked that he’d prefer to tie up and “padlock” Alexis Sanchez in a bid to defend against the Chilean star.

The final Round of 16 tie to start will be Roma’s pairing with Shakhtar Donetsk, with the first leg taking place in Ukraine.

Shakhtar hasn’t played in some time, but the great equalizer is the bitter cold at Donbass Arena, where the temperature is set to be between 21 and 28 degrees Fahrenheit come kickoff.

Don’t worry, Roma fans, Daniele De Rossi is busy breathing fire into any teammates angling for excuses:

“The cold weather could affect things a little because we’re not used to it but at the end of the day it comes down to how well you perform out there. We must be mentally ready from the get-go because the cold might hit us in the opening minutes.

“If it was that much of a factor, these teams would win the Champions League every year. You don’t go through because of the weather.”