Justin Morrow

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MVP favorites Valeri, Villa headline 2017 MLS Best XI

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All five Major League Soccer MVP finalists — Diego Valeri, David Villa, Nemanja Nikolic, Sebastian Giovinco and Miguel Almiron — have been named to the 2017 Best XI squad.

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The attacking talent doesn’t stop there, as the above quintet is joined by Toronto FC midfielder Victor Vazquez and Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez.

Tim Melia and Ike Opara, who were previously named Goalkeeper of the Year and Defender of the Year, respectively, for their parts in leading Sporting Kansas City to the best defensive record in 2017, were chosen alongside Kendall Waston and Justin Morrow of the Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC, respectively.

Yes, that is indeed a rarely-seen 3-3-4 formation which very closely borders on being a 3-0-7. My personal ballot, which features a defensive midfield-type and was submitted on Oct. 22, reads as follows:

Goalkeeper: Tim Melia

Defenders: Ike Opara, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Kendall Waston

Midfielders: Diego Valeri, Ignacio Piatti, Victor Vazquez, Cristian Roldan

Forwards: David Villa, Nemanja Nikolic, Josef Martinez

Reserves (not on ballot): Alex Bono, Chris Mavinga, Sacha Kljestan, C.J. Sapong

MLS Snapshot: TFC outlast RBNY, claim first Supporters’ Shield

Photo credit: Toronto FC / @torontofc
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The game in 100 words (or less): At long last — after eight years without ever qualifying for the playoffs, and 10 without a major MLS trophy to show for all their heartache — Toronto FC are 2017 Supporters’ Shield winners.

Greg Vanney’s side limped to the finish line this week and last, but they got there in the end, with two games to spare. The Reds completed one of the best regular seasons in league history on Saturday, narrowly outlasting the New York Red Bulls, 3-2, to win — and lift — the Shield in front of their home fans. They did so without the service of Sebastian Giovinco, who’s now missed four straight games with what the club has called “lower-body tightness.” Justin Morrow wound up the unlikeliest scorer of a hat trick to clinch a trophy, bagging goals five minutes apart not long before halftime, setting up MLS assist king (16) Victor Vazquez to score the game- and Shield-winning goal from the penalty spot just 10 minutes before full-time.

[ MORE: SKC, VAN face off for West supremacy; HOU still chasing playoffs ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

32′ — Morrow cleans up a mess in front of goal for 1-0 — Victor Vazquez played the long diagonal to Jozy Altidore, who headed the ball back across the face of goal and into the danger zone. No one in blue dealt with it, and Morrow was the quickest to react.

37′ — Morrow pokes another one home, and it’s 2-0 — Michael Bradley’s shot was blocked and deflected t0 — you guessed it — Morrow, with nothing in between him and goalkeeper Luis Robles. Decent composure in front of goal for a full back.

39′ — Veron hits right back, brings RBNY to 2-1 — slots past Bono after Tyler Adams’ inch-perfect ball plays him behind the backline.

77′ — Royer converts from the spot after Veron gets taken down — Drew Moor slid clear through Veron inside the penalty area to give away a largely needless penalty. Royer sent Bono one way and dinked the ball the other.

80′ — Vazquez converts one of his own after Altidore goes down — Aaron Long was all over Jozy Altidore who, big as he might be, had to go down under that much contact — penalty rightly given. Vazquez made it look easy.

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Man of the match: Justin Morrow

Goalscorers: Morrow (32′, 37′, 90+1′), Veron (39′), Royer (77′ – PK), Vazquez (80′ – PK)

MLS Snapshot: Shield, Cup favorites TFC torch Timbers, 4-1

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The game in 100 words (or less): Very rarely is a team in MLS capable of running away from the rest of the field — it’s a league designed to create parity, after all — but this Toronto FC side looks as if they intend to smash that very ideal. Greg Vanney’s side thrashed the Portland Timbers, 4-1, on Saturday to go six points clear (for the time being) in the Supporters’ Shield race and announce themselves as favorites for MLS Cup 2017, yet again. Sebastian Giovinco tallied only an assist on the day, while Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley neither scored nor assisted themselves, yet TFC put four (of six shots on target) into the back of the net and extended their unbeaten run to six games. Going back even further, TFC have only lost twice in their last 18 games.

[ MORE: Assessing the top moves of the MLS summer transfer ]

Three moments that mattered

58′ — Morrow beats Attinella near post for 1-0 — Alvas Powell has had… well, a rough season, to say the least. To be fair to Powell, though, he’s far from the only one struggling along that backline.

72′ — Vazquez turns home a cross for 2-0 — When TFC are on, they make it look really, really easy.

76′ — Morrow plays the poacher, makes it 3-0 — As I said about other Portland defenders struggling…

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Man of the match: Justin Morrow

Goalscorers: Morrow (58′, 76′), Vazquez (72′), Delgado (87′), Valeri (89′)

Who is Kenny Saief, and other USMNT Gold Cup personnel questions

Photo by Stephen Pond - The FA/The FA via Getty Images
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Kenny Saief is an 23-year-old American left-sided player with UEFA Champions League experience.

So why do we know so little about the Miami-born man?

The answer is pretty straight-forward: Saief’s entire career has been under-the-radar. After coming up through a series of Israeli teams, he moved to KAA Gent in Belgium. None of those matches, even adding in his representing the full Israel national team twice, got a ton of play on American soil.

[ MORE: Saul scores stunner for Spain U-21s ]

So when Saief filed his one-time switch to represent the United States, paving the way for a USMNT call-up for this summer’s Gold Cup, even those of us who’d followed his career from afar had put a limited amount of actual observation on match footage.

So here’s the long-and-short:

  • Saief turns 24 in December.
  • He moved to Gent from Israeli second tier side Ramat haSharon in 2014.
  • Played a total of 35 minutes in friendlies versus Serbia and Croatia.
  • Saief has 20 total appearances between the Europa and Champions Leagues.
  • Posted a UCL assist versus Wolfsburg in the 2015-16 Round of 16.
  • Had goal, 2 assists in UEL this season, played 180 mins vs. Spurs.
  • Has 15 goals, 9 assists in 107 apps for Gent.

Saief should get an opportunity to make an impact for Bruce Arena’s USMNT, perhaps as soon as Saturday’s friendly against Ghana in East Hartford.

Who else stands a chance to gain the most from this tournament?

Joe Corona — The 26-year-old made his thirst-inducing name in American soccer circles by scoring a pair of goals in the 2013 Gold Cup, but has just 17 caps to his name. His call-up over veterans like Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan either shows how high he’s risen or how far those veterans have fallen.

Cristian Roldan — Seattle’s hard-nosed midfielder was playing college ball at Washington just three years ago, and it’s not crazy to think strong performances could boost him onto the radar of bigger clubs abroad (let alone make him a mainstay along Kellyn Acosta with the USMNT).

Dom Dwyer — If Roldan’s rise is surprising, Dwyer’s really is astounding. It’s easy to forget that the Sporting KC star forward was playing junior college soccer in 2010 before spending one season of Division I soccer with South Florida. Now he has 57 MLS goals and a look at becoming the clinical finisher the American side has wanted for some time.

Justin Morrow and Eric Lichaj — The 29- and 28-year-old fullbacks would love to prove their mettle is as good if not better than Jorge Villafana, the current front-runner to start at left back should the Yanks complete their revitalized run to the World Cup. Lichaj, a Nottingham Forest veteran, is also adept at right back.

This isn’t to say that Juan Agudelo and Kelyn Rowe won’t benefit from strong tournaments, but the names above have either been rescued from soccer’s scrap heap or at least Jurgen Klinsmann’s prison.

USMNT announces Gold Cup roster shortlist

Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
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KAA Gent midfielder Kenny Saief and FC Dallas backstop Jesse Gonzalez are among the players on Bruce Arena’s 40-man shortlist for this summer’s Gold Cup.

Saief has been capped twice by Israel and Gonzalez recently stated his preference to represent Mexico.

English-American striker Dom Dwyer makes the shortlist as well as Philadelphia’s CJ Sapong.

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Also of note are the inclusions of Toronto FC fullback Justin Morrow and Nottingham Forest’s Eric Lichaj.

Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan have been left off the shortlist by Arena.

Goalkeepers: Joe Bendik, Jesse Gonzalez, Brad Guzan, Bill Hamid, Tim Howard, Sean Johnson

Defenders: Matt Besler, Steve Birnbaum, Greg Garza, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Hedges, Eric Lichaj, Matt Miazga, Justin Morrow, Matt Polster, Jonathan Spector, Jorge Villafana, Graham Zusi.

Midfielders: Paul Arriola, Ale Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Joe Corona, Dax McCarty, Tommy McNamara, Darlington Nagbe, Kellyn Acosta, Chris Pontius, Christian Pulisic, Cristian Roldan, Kelyn Rowe, Kenny Saief, Wil Trapp, Gyasi Zardes.

Forwards: Juan Agudelo, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Dom Dwyer, Jordan Morris, CJ Sapong, Chris Wondolowski