The Red Bulls’ roster is the most talented yet seen in MLS

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Tim Cahill’s arrival into Red Bull Arena seals the deal: The New York Red Bulls have assembled the sweetest collection of talent Major League Soccer has ever seen.

Period.

The Red Bulls newest high-dollar man met media Monday, answering questions about a move from Everton that fell quickly and neatly into place as the transfer period was closing last week.

So now, along with Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez, Kenny Cooper, Dax McCarty, Wilman Conde, Joel Lindpere, Heath Pearce, Sebastien Le Toux, Teemu Tainio and others, this is the best assembly of talent the league has seen in 17 years.

Even some of the highly skilled teams of MLS past (D.C. United or the Chicago Fire sides of the late 1990s, for instance) really can’t match what general manager Erik Soler and coach Hans Backe have put together for Red Bull Arena. Clubs didn’t have access to the Designated Player mechanism back in the day (even if something like it may have been functioning unofficially), so those teams simply couldn’t cook with such rich ingredients.

Los Angeles won MLS Cup with a full cupboard of DPs last year, plus talented support in Omar Gonzalez, Todd Dunivant, Juninho and others.

But role players contributed significantly, as well. The collective roster quality and depth was not (and is not now) equal to what the Red Bulls have stitched together.

Henry and Marquez are world class talents. (Marquez doesn’t really make the team better, in my opinion, but if we’re just talking about talent “on paper,” he has to be part of the conversation.)

Cooper, McCarty, Pearce, Conde and Lindpere are players who could walk into most MLS clubs and be an immediate starter. Possibly Le Toux as well. Tainio, center back Markus Holgersson and defender/midfielder Jan Gunnar Solli could find starting roles on plenty of MLS teams.

Goalkeeper Ryan Meara may yet make a run at Rookie of the Year, assuming he can get healthy and regain his starting spot.

source: Getty ImagesAnd now arrives Cahill, who not only drives the roster quality factor further north, he fits a big need.

McCarty has settled in as defensive midfielder. Marquez and Tainio can play there, too.

But the hole in New York has been a connector, a box-to-box type who can add numbers to the attack, which adds pressure on defenses. Too many opportunities to serve balls into danger spots have come and gone for New York with just one or two attackers near goal. They needed someone to arrive late, to pick up balls that Cooper, Le Toux or Henry couldn’t, or to zip into areas where Henry can find him.

That’s Cahill’s specialty, arriving late to score an inordinate number of headed goals for a man of average size; he really is the perfect fit. And remember, we’re talking about a team that’s already leading the Eastern Conference.

If there’s a weakness now, Hans Backe’s team may be a little narrow in the attack. But that’s just a wee nitpick. Building teams under a salary cap means no roster will have everything.

But New York has a lot. On paper, it’s the most impressive collection of talent we’ve seen yet.

Report: Newcastle’s Clark knocked out on Spanish dance floor

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A wild story out of Spain says an Englishman knocked Newcastle United defender Ciaran Clark unconscious at a night club.

[ MORE: Sampaoli defends Messi ]

Clark was on vacation in Spain, where he was spending time at Crystal’s Bar in Punta Ballena, Magaluf very early Sunday morning.

Clark and a man “in his 30s” got into an argument that saw the Irish defender knocked out, according to the BBC.

Clark was left unconscious and taken to hospital after an argument between him and the suspect broke out on the dance floor.

The 28-year-old suffered cuts and bruises to his face.

Clark, 28, scored twice in 20 Premier League appearances this season, his second at St. James’ Park.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 9 — Iceland’s next step, Brazilian bounce back?

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Brazil is one of the favorites of the 2018 World Cup, while Iceland is the smallest nation to qualify for the world’s biggest tournament.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

On Friday, both enter their second match days feeling quite different after 1-1 draws.

They won’t face each other, of course, but the contrast is striking nevertheless.

Brazil opens the day’s action when it squares off with Costa Rica, who fell to Serbia in the opener. For Serbia, a dark horse of the tournament, it will be a meeting with Switzerland.

Then there’s Iceland’s bid to climb into the Group D driver’s seat by knocking off Nigeria. A win from Iceland would make Lionel Messi and Argentina’s task of qualifying for the knockout rounds extremely unlikely.

Below is Friday’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 – Wednesday, June 20

Group D
Nigeria vs. Iceland: Volgograd, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group E
Brazil vs. Costa Rica: Saint Petersburg, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Serbia vs. Switzerland: Kaliningrad, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Sampaoli defends Messi, blasts Argentina

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Jorge Sampaoli is lambasting his team after a 3-0 loss put Argentina on the edge of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup’s knockout rounds.

“The reality of the Argentina squad clouds Lionel Messi’s brilliance,” Sampaoli said. “The team doesn’t gel as well as it should.”

[ MORE: Modric urges humility ]

Sampaoli said his players could not find a way to get the ball to Messi, and that the introduction of Boca Juniors youngster Cristian Pavón was aimed at opening up the field a little bit.

And Sampaoli is not shying away from the long-discussed comparison between Messi and Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo. From the BBC:

“Cristiano is a great player and he has achieved a lot with club and country. Right now it is hard to compare these two players because of the ability in the Argentinian squad clouds the judgment. Leo is in a difficult position because the squad doesn’t gel with him. As coach I have to accept that. I don’t feel shame but I definitely feel pain. It has been a long time since I have gone through this experience as a coach and obviously it is more painful when I’m wearing the colours of my country.

“We have no alternative but to give it our all in the final match. We have not performed at the level the country expects. We were ambitious ahead of the game but now it is harder for us as a group. We did think this would be the match we can take off as a team, but it wasn’t in the end. I think this is an excellent squad but we didn’t gel or come together. We need to take advantage of the next match, when the pressure will be on, and hope to progress.”

Now, of course Sampaoli is going to defend Messi, but Argentina’s team is not chopped liver. The side certainly isn’t as deep or solid as Croatia, but 1-1 with Iceland preceded this one.

That said, Argentina’s performance once Croatia essentially decided to surround Messi was unacceptable. If favored Nigeria doesn’t handle its business against Iceland, the World Cup finalists won’t have a prayer of going back.

Modric urges humility after big win, stunning goal (video)

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There are few teams who’ve looked as strong as Croatia at the World Cup in Russia.

[ RECAP: Argentina 0-3 Croatia ]

Zlatko Dalic’s men now have a pair of shutout wins against decent competition, topping Nigeria 2-0 over the weekend before hammering Argentina 3-0 on Thursday.

The nature of those performances will have many, us included, debating just how far Croatia can run in this tournament. Veteran midfielder Luka Modric is hoping his team doesn’t do the same.

Let’s not be euphoric or get ahead of ourselves,” Modric said. “Of course this win will boost our confidence for the next game, and we have shown we can create opportunities, but let’s keep our feet firmly on the ground.”

Modric noted that Willy Caballero‘s howler “was a shot in the arm,” but added that they had played a “perfect game.”

That’s true. And while so much focus will be on Messi’s struggles, don’t sleep on the terrific performance of Vatreni. 

Modric also seemed to bristle when asked about shutting down Messi.

“I don’t want to talk about other players. We are happy with our own performance. We wanted to cut out Messi receiving the ball because he is the most dangerous player.”