Zakuani, Ferreira and Morales: Never forget the Spring to Forget

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I hope the pathos wasn’t lost on you. It actually hit me quite hard; hence, this post.

When Steve (in yesterday’s Power Rankings) reminded us that David Ferreira’s ankle is still “wonky,” it should have given everybody pause. Two years ago, this was the best player in the league. Last year, he was taken out by an inexcusably reckless tackle. Today, it’s possible his career will never be the same. After all, how many players deal with an injury’s lingering effects 12 months on yet bounce back to their former selves? Let alone a 32-year-old?

Ferreira’s not the only player having trouble. In fact, all three victims of last year’s Spring to Forget have yet to assume their former selves. Seattle Sounder Steve Zakuani hasn’t returned to the field after a Apr. 22 leg-break caused by a Brian Mullan challenge. Ferriera’s injury happened against the Whitecaps on Apr. 24, while Real Salt Lake’s Javier Morales suffered his own ankle injury break/dislocation on May 7. At least Javi’s playing again.

As those stars were taken out, there were near-unanimous calls around MLS Soccer-dom for change – clean up a culture that too often forgives aggressiveness as ingenuity. That kind of aggression is more readily described as poor sportsmanship, even if that’s not the intent. Marginalizing the health of a peer because you are a hard working, hard charging kind of payer is unfathomably disrespectful. “That’s just the kind of guy I am” sounds inane compared to “well, that’s just the kind of leg/ankle he has.” MLS will be fine without that tackle. It’s far less fine without Zakuani and Ferreira.

At the time, it was unclear whether any lessons had been learned. After the huge flock of Sounders fans created a justified uproar over Mullan’s challenge, the Rapids midfielder got a 10-game ban. The backlash to Marco Mondaini breaking Morales’s ankle wasn’t as loud, and the suspension (4 games) wasn’t as long. Mondiani deserved a longer ban. That he failed to get one hinted Major League Soccer was struggling with the issue.

Now, it’s unclear whether we are ready to apply new standards, with the culture around MLS still implicitly forgiving the aggressive challenge, coloring it as gritty or gutty. This weekend in Kansas City, Sporting’s defenders were able to use excessive aggression as a way to slow down FC Dallas early, setting a tone for the rest of the match. It’s not a practice unique to Kansas City. In fact, few likely saw KC’s tact as out of the ordinary. Yet, they’re tactics that push the rules, may have precluded a tempo Dallas could have enforced, and evoke some of the uglier customs our culture’s inherited from English tradition.

And as all this was happening, Kansas City’s color man questioned Dallas’s players, claiming they were going down too easy. Fans in MLS Live’s Facebook stream echoed his sentiments. The people on Facebook and Twitter questioning why KC’s players were plowing into FCD’s? A shouted-down minority.

At some point, the challenge Matt Besler made to the back of Andrew Jacobson’s leg in Sunday’s second half will blow out a knee, and while we’ll wonder why another valuable player is being sidelined when it’s so easy to crackdown on grey-area aggression, we should really be questioning why we didn’t continue the call for change.

MLS: NYCFC beat TFC in new coach Torrent’s debut

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NEW YORK (AP) — Jo Inge Berget scored twice and coach Domenec Torrent celebrated his New York City FC debut with a 2-1 victory over Toronto FC on Sunday.

Berget made it 2-1 in the 68th minute, following Maximiliano Moralez’s direct pass up the right channel and slotting it home.

NYCFC (9-3-4) tied it at 1 in the 51st minute on Berget’s back heel from the top of the 6-yard box.

Víctor Vazquez opened the scoring for Toronto (4-8-3) in the 37th minute. Vasquez outran his defender on Auro’s long ball up the right side and sent a chip shot over the onrushing goalkeeper.

NYCFC’s David Villa left the game in the 28th minute with a non-contact injury.

Torrent replaced Patrick Vieira in New York shortly after Vieira’s departure for OGC Nice was officially confirmed. Torrent had been the right-hand man to Pep Guardiola for the last 11 years, most recently at Manchester City.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 12 — Time to settle Groups A & B

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Day 12 of the 2018 World Cup is up next, on Monday, and with it begins the final round of group games to decide the 16 teams headed to the knockout rounds. For the next four days, we’ll be treated to four games each day.

Also, the end of 8 a.m. ET kickoffs. Hooray for sleeping in.

[ SCENARIOS: Who needs what, to finish where, in final round of group games ]

First up, the conclusion of Group A, where both the hosts, Russia, and Uruguay have already advanced with wins in their first two games. Now, the two meet in the southwestern city of Samara to determine who’ll go through to the round of 16 as the group winners, and who’ll be the runners-up. Most likely awaiting either of them will be Spain and Portugal, pending the order in which they finish in Group B.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

Speaking of Group B, Spain will finish group play against fourth-place and points-less Morocco, while Portugal have a tricky meeting with third-place Iran, who sit just a point behind the reigning European champions. The winner of Group B will face the runners-up of Group A, and vice versa.

Below is Monday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Monday, June 25

Group A
Uruguay vs. Russia: Samara, 10 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Saudi Arabia vs. Egypt: Volgograd, 10 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group B
Spain vs. Morocco: Kaliningrad, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Iran vs. Portugal: Saransk, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Transfer rumor roundup: Emery raiding Sevilla; Wilshere’s suitor(s)

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Unai Emery has reportedly been in contact with at least one former player, Ever Banega, in an attempt to convince the Argentine midfielder to join him at Arsenal.

[ MORE: Latest transfer news

Banega, who’ll turn 30 on Friday, played two seasons under Emery at Sevilla — where they won back-to-back Europa League titles (Banega was only at the club for the second and third of three straight from 2013-2016).

With Banega reportedly on the fence about whether or not to leave Sevilla again — he only just returned last summer after one season at Inter Milan — Emery is said to have made a personal call after Arsenal’s bid of roughly $23 million triggered the release clause in Banega’s contract. Sevilla will join Arsenal in the Europa League next season after finishing seventh in La Liga.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Jack Wilshere announced last week that he will leave Arsenal this summer — thus opening up the handful of games for which he was healthy and fit to play each season, perhaps for Banega — which leads us nicely to the final bit of transfer talk for Sunday: West Ham are interested in the 26-year-old, but are reportedly only willing to offer him a one-year contract.

The Hammers’ hesitancy is, of course, a response to his years-long battle with injuries — he’s made just 66 appearances over the last four PL seasons (three with Arsenal, one on loan to Bournemouth).

Two other clubs to keep an eye on, as they’ve reportedly indicated interest in Wilshere and/or been in contact already: Everton and Juventus.

Durmaz condemns Sweden fans’ racist abuse after World Cup loss

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KRASNODAR, Russia (AP) — Sweden midfielder Jimmy Durmaz says the racist abuse aimed at him over social media following the 2-1 loss to Germany at the World Cup has been “completely unacceptable.”

[ SCENARIOS: Who needs what, to finish where, in final round of group games ]

After coming on as a substitute, Durmaz gave away the free kick that led to Toni Kroos curling in an injury-time winner in Saturday’s group game. Durmaz has since been subjected to online abuse, including threats to his family.

Before a training session on Sunday, Durmaz — standing in front of the rest of the Sweden squad and beside coach Janne Andersson — read out a statement to the media from a mobile phone.

“When you threaten me, when you call me ‘Arab devil,’ ‘terrorist,’ ‘Taliban,’ then you have gone far beyond the limit,” Durmaz said in the statement, which was published on the Swedish Football Association’s website.

“And even worse, when you go after my family, my children, threaten them. Who does such a thing? It is completely unacceptable.”

Durmaz was born in Sweden to Assyrian parents who emigrated from Turkey.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“I am Swedish and I am proud to play in the Swedish national team. That’s the biggest thing you can do as a football player,” he said in the statement. “I will never let any racists destroy that pride. We must all stand against all forms of racism.”

The Swedish FA has reported the abuse toward Durmaz to police.

“We do not tolerate a player being exposed to threats and violations,” said Hakan Sjostrand, secretary general of the Swedish FA. “It is unpleasant and very upsetting to see the treatment that Jimmy Durmaz has suffered. Completely unacceptable.”

The loss to Germany left Sweden tied on three points with its opponent. Both countries are three points behind Mexico with one game left. Sweden plays Mexico in Yekaterinburg on Wednesday, with Germany taking on South Korea at the same time.