Ignacio Piatti

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Filling out an MLS Best XI is harder than ever

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Fewer fun things have been as agonizing as filling out a ballot for the 2017 Major League Soccer Best XI.

This goes beyond the travails of deciding whether you need your lineup to be one that can actually play functionally in a match, whether that be by using a standard formation or players out of position. Even long believers in that process — this post-writer fell in that group until, spoiler alert, this season — would be challenged by this season’s options.

[ MORE: PST’s Best XI | Award winners ]

Part of that is due to super teams — Who contributed the most? — while plenty more comes down to some absolutely bonkers performances from players on wildly disappointing teams (Ignacio Piatti and Romain Alessandrini, we’re looking at you. Andre Blake, you, too).

Admittedly, my Best XI looks a lot like the one compiled by our PST staff, seven of 11, but I’ll give you my decision later. Here are some of your challenges.

1) Super teams — Toronto FC was the best single season club in MLS history and, given the parity and strength of the league relative to previous seasons, it’s easy to argue it isn’t even close. Sebastian Giovinco is its best player but missed significant playing time. Victor Vazquez became the straw that stirred the drink. Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore were fantastic but missed time with international commitments. Left-sided man Justin Morrow is, spoiler alert, my defender of the year.

How many can you take from that squad, and how about the shiny new toy that is Atlanta United, which had injury absences of its own but excited on so many levels. Beyond ex-River Plate defender Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, the Five Stripes boasted four star attackers in Josef Martinez, Miguel Almiron, Hector Villalba, and Yamil Asad. Consider that this was September’s Best XI according to the advanced stats people at WhoScored.com:

2) Midfield and attack problems: This is rarely easy given the magnification of star turns from players who score goals, but choosing even seven players this season was troubling given the remarkable amount of new boys and regular stars who got the job done this season.

In the midfield, there was the no doubt inclusion of Diego Valeri, who’s 21 goals and 11 assists demanded MVP attention, and the dominant seasons of Seattle’s Cristian Roldan and Montreal’s Piatti. Then there’s Bastian Schweinsteiger, Vazquez, Alessandrini, and RSL’s Albert Rusnak.

Difficult stuff, and we’re not even talking out-and-out attack. Martinez and Giovinco posted gaudy numbers despite missing significant portions of the schedule with injury. Is that enough to discount them? What absence counts for this? Miguel Almiron missed time late, while David Villa, too, had an MVP caliber season and Nemanja Nikolic only went and led his third-straight league in goals.

All that without a mention of Alex Ring, Justin Meram, Lee Nguyen, and Ola Kamara. Fortunately for the league’s voters, Blerim Dzemaili’s 22 matches mean he wasn’t around long enough to warrant a vote despite 7 goals and 10 assists in limited time.

3) Formation: So, given this and the amazing season of Morrow, how do you rightly go about picking three at the back? It’s enough to move stringent XI voters to a team that would get in trouble on a real pitch by using a 3-4-3 to maximize mids and forwards.

4) Goalkeeper: The usual suspects — Luis Robles, Bill Hamid — were good, with several others included in the MLS MVP shortlist: Bobby Shuttleworth, Tim Howard, Joe Bendik, and Stefan Frei (Robles was not included in RBNY’s bunch). However, it’s hard to imagine voters weren’t deciding between former No. 1 overall SuperDraft pick Andre Blake of Philadelphia and the near-impeccable season of Sporting KC’s Tim Melia.

Blake (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

5) So what was your ballot, writer dude?

The Best XI was the only category that took me longer to sort out that the MVP debate, and that’s because I had a very difficult time reconciling Valeri’s unbelievable full season with the fact that Giovinco was the best player despite missing five different stints with injury (More on that later).

Ultimately, I hedged on that “Could this team perform on the pitch?” question. As much as it would be easy to play a four at the back by including Graham Zusi, or to feel better about a back three by having Kendall Waston get a deserved spot, I’d rather have Justin Morrow slightly out of position than have to sacrifice a midfielder or attacker.

The trio of forwards was the most difficult choice. Martinez and Giovinco were Nos. 1 and 2 in terms of potent players in the league when healthy. Martinez’s 17 goals in 19 matches allowed me to slot him in the team, while Giovinco’s 16 goals and six assists in 25 matches feel similar. Including both, however, would mean dismissing Villa, the best player in league history and the prime reason NYCFC finished second in the East, or Nikolic.

Here’s one area I will hedge: While I felt confident in submitting my XI, I’ve since felt nagged by two exclusions: Villa (!!) and Waston. If the deadline was 4 p.m. ET Wednesday, I may have removed Martinez and Matt Besler.

Andre Blake (PHI)

L. Gonzalez Pirez (ATL) — Matt Besler (SKC) — Justin Morrow (TFC)

Bastian Schweinsteiger (CHI) — Cristian Roldan (SEA)

Diego Valeri (POR) — Ignacio Piatti (MTL)

Josef Martinez (ATL) — Nemanja Nikolic (CHI) — S. Giovinco (TFC)

Ultimately, I think we beat your team.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Montreal fires Biello after Impact loses nine of last 10

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Mauro Biello is out.

The Montreal Impact have parted ways with its entire coaching staff following a terrible end to a disappointing 2017 season which failed to see them build on an Eastern Conference Finals run.

[ MORE: Yaya Toure to NYCFC? ]

Montreal lost nine of its last 10 despite beating Toronto FC in Toronto, finishing with 39 points. That’s 11 points out of a playoff spot, which looked all but certain before their miserable finish to the campaign.

This despite an MVP caliber season from recently-extended Ignacio Piatti, who scored 17 goals with five assists. That the Impact failed was a bit baffling, especially following the midseason addition of Blerim Dzemaili, who chipped in seven goals and 10 assists in 22 matches.

There are some interesting pieces for the next boss, should 24-year-old Anthony Jackson-Hamel and 18-year-old Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla stick around.

The 45-year-old Biello finishes his first managerial gig following a playing career with the Impact (pre-MLS), Rochester Rhinos, and several indoor sides including the Impact, Toronto Thunderhawks, and Buffalo Blizzard.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Tackling the MLS MVP debate: Which players are for real?

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We have a former MVP, a league newcomer and everything in between this season as MLS’ most prestigious individual award nears its end.

[ MORE: Atlanta continues home-field dominance with win vs. Impact ]

New York City FC’s David Villa is strongly in position to win his second MVP award in a row, while Diego Valeri, Josef Martinez and others chase the former Barcelona man.

PST takes a look at five serious candidates for the Landon Donovan MLS MVP award this season.

David Villa

The debate starts with the NYCFC captain for a second consecutive season. “El Guaje” has come out and lit it up once more for the Bronx side and propelled his side into a prime spot to grab a first-round bye in the Eastern Conference, despite Atlanta’s hot pursuit. The biggest thing working against Villa right now is a combination of injuries and lacking finishing. The Spanish international hasn’t scored an MLS goal since August 20, making his stock fall a bit.

Diego Valeri

Is there a player hotter than Diego Valeri right now? Well, there might be one other, but we’ll talk about him in a minute. The Argentine is simply scorching MLS defenses right now, scoring in nine straight matches and lifting the Portland Timbers to within a point of the Western Conference lead. Not only has Valeri exhibited incredible finishing technique in 2017, but the 31-year-old has also recorded nine assists for Caleb Porter’s group. Valeri’s most important trait could very well be his clutch factor. The attacker has six (yes, six) game-winning finishes this season for the Timbers.

Josef Martinez

Cut the whole “he missed half the season” argument out of the equation because that argument actually helps his case. The Designated Player has scored 17 goals in 16 matches this season for newcomers Atlanta, and while the expansion side has plenty of attacking firepower, such as Miguel Almiron, Hector Villalba and Yamil Asad, it’s Martinez that has proven to be the vital piece for Tata Martino and Co. down the stretch. By the way, Atlanta is 9-2-2 this season when Martinez starts for them. That’s not a coincidence.

Ignacio Piatti

These last two players won’t be sexy picks given the possibility that neither of their teams will make the postseason, but just listen to why they should be in consideration. Piatti has recorded a 25.3 percent conversion rate this season, which ranks second-highest in MLS when accounting for players that have scored 10 goals or more. The Impact have given up the second-most goals in the East this year, making it more difficult for Piatti and Co. to work

Lee Nguyen

To many, this pick will be a bit out of left field, but bear with me for a second. The 30-year-old has recorded 10 goals and 15 assists this season, making him the New England Revolution’s most dangerous attacking player because of his duel-threat abilities. Nguyen is the only player in Revolution history to record double-digit goals and assists in the same season, which further makes the case for what a historic season he is having. The Revs will need some help in order to qualify for the playoffs, but if they do, Nguyen’s stock will have to increase even more.

MLS Snapshot: Toronto FC 3-5 Montreal Impact (video)

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The match in about 100 words: Well, here’s a formula for ending Toronto FC’s 11-match unbeaten run –

  1. Hope they don’t use Jozy Altidore, Sebastian Giovinco, and Victor Vazquez.
  2. Have your best player ball out of control.

Montreal’s Ignacio Piatti did just that, scoring twice and adding an assist in the first half alone. A 42nd minute own goal from Montreal opened the door to home hope, but Anthony Jackson-Hamel continued his breakout campaign with two goals in four minutes. Tosaint Ricketts scored a pair of late headers to complete the score line.

Toronto FC’s home crowd didn’t see arguably its three top performers of the season, and did see something it hadn’t this year: a home loss. That it was a derby loss won’t feel good for the Reds, who also gave oxygen to their rivals’ flickering playoff hopes.

[ MORE: Bundesliga wrap | La Liga | Serie A ]


Three moments that mattered

12′ — Michael Bradley clears TFC’s runway — Not the finest moment for Captain America, as Marco Donadel opens up his laser and fires.

24′ — “When defenders fall down” — …And when they do it in front of Nacho, inside the 18.

47′ — AJH puts it to bed — It wasn’t Toronto’s night, and a bad back pass met tepid decision-making and one of the sleepy breakout players of MLS in Anthony Jackson-Hamel.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage | Standings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the Match: Piatti

Goal scorers: Piatti (10′, 24′), Donadel (12′), Boldor (o.g. 42′), Jackson-Hamel (47′, 51′), Ricketts (77′, 79′).

MLS Snapshot: Piatti brace lifts Impact | Crew, Orlando City draw

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The game in 100 words (or less): The Montreal Impact have proven to be a second-half of the season team the last several years, and that form appears to be holding true once more. Mauro Biello’s side won its fourth straight match on Saturday, while Ignacio Piatti continues to show he’s one of the most deadly scorers in the league. Meanwhile, RSL’s six-match unbeaten run is snapped north of the border, leaving the Western Conference side three points out of sixth place.

Three four moments that mattered

11′ — Piatti nets his first of the night — The Impact made this attack look so easy, and Ignacio Piatti simply won’t miss a chance like this one.

26′ — Evan Bush left motionless as RSL equalize — Luis Silva took matters into his own hands, and boy did he connect with this effort!

29′ — Impact punish poor RSL defense — Guess who? Piatti has his second of the evening.

47′ — Hosts begin to pile it on — Anthony Jackson-Hamel played provider in the first two goals, so it’s only fair he got one of his own.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Ignacio Piatti

Goalscorers: Ignacio Piatti (11′, 29′), Luis Silva (26′), Anthony Jackson-Hamel (47′)


The game in 100 words (or less): Orlando City and the Crew settled for a point apiece on Saturday night, but for the former the club is running out of opportunities to pick up points in the playoff race. Giles Barnes pulled a goal back for the hosts after Lalas Abubakar netted his first MLS goal for the Crew, but Orlando couldn’t find a second. The Lions played up a man for the final 13 minutes, following Harrison Afful’s dismissal.

Three moments that mattered

35′ — Abubakar knocks in first MLS goal — Orlando City’s defensive woes are certainly notable as well, but for Lalas Abubakar this is a quality way to open his scoring account in MLS.

67′ — Barnes knots it up at 1-1 — The veteran MLS forward picked up his second goal of the season.

77′ — VAR used for red card decision — The video monitor came into play briefly in the second half, and Harrison Afful was sent off the pitch early after the referee viewed the defender’s elbow to the head of Yoshi Yotun.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Zack Steffen

Goalscorers: Lalas Abubakar (35′), Giles Barnes (67′)