Thinking through Andy Najar’s prolonged absence

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Word came down from on high yesterday: Andy Najar will get two extra games off for throwing the ball at referee Jair Marrufo during last Saturday’s game. He missed the second leg of DC United’s semifinal with New York, and now he’s set to sit both halves of the Eastern Conference final. Expect Robbie Russell to get the call at right back for Ben Olsen.

What exact does that mean for United? What do they lose in the switch from Najar to Russell?

In defense, DC’s unlikely to miss much. Russell, now 33, might be a downgrade if Houston played somebody more fleet of foot down their left. Then Najar’s speed would be missed. Against Brad Davis, Russell might actually be a better bet to prevent some of those dangerous crosses into the box.

Russell’s experience may also be a bonus for United. Having played a part in Real Salt Lake’s 2009 title run (as well as appearing for Rosenborg in UEFA Champions League), Russell has as much big game experience as anybody at Ben Olsen’s disposal. Against Dominic Kinnear’s bag of tricks, that may come in handy.

Going forward, however, Najar will be missed, especially for a United team that’s generating few good chances in attack. A lot of that is due to the team’s passive defensive approach, their willingness to absorb pressure leaving them unlikely to generate the midfield turnovers that can lead to easy transition chances.

But beyond tactics, Najar, a converted midfielder, is just much better getting forward than Russell, who has only two goals and nine assists in parts of five Major League Soccer seasons. In the last stages of his career, Russell is now more of a traditional fullback than Najar. He’s even seen time in central defense for United. Though he was good for the odd goal during his years in Norway, Russell doesn’t pose an attacking midfielder’s threat.

I’m not convinced it will make that much of a difference. With Najar adapting to right back, he’s still learning how and when to utilize his attacking talent. Some times we see it, as we did in flashes against New York. Often, we don’t. Much of the excitement surround Najar at right back is more about the 19-year-old’s promise than his present.

Against a Houston team that doesn’t give teams many opportunities in transition, Najar’s forays forward could have had little effect, though it would have still been an x-factor, of sorts.

Najar’s suspension means the team has had to sacrifice that wild card for the certainty of Russell’s defending. It may prove a meaningless trade-off.

Heartbroken Karius issues apology to Liverpool

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Liverpool’s disappointing result in Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final can be chalked up to many factors, but all anyone will ever remember is Loris Karius‘ performance… and the goalkeeper knows it.

[ MORE: Bale brace guides Real Madrid to third straight UCL title ]

Karius issued this series of tweets on Sunday, declaring his disappointment from the team’s 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid, as well as an apology to the supporters and his entire club.

Of the two errors Karius made, the Real Madrid equalizer from Karim Benzema was certainly the more glaring.

After receiving the ball on a routine grab, Karius rushed his distribution from goal while Benzema read the play perfectly and stepped in front of the throw to get a foot on the ball.

The ball then deflected into the back of the Liverpool net, and changed the complexion of the match drastically.

While Karius’ mistakes cannot, and won’t, go unnoticed, the Reds were still reeling from Mohamed Salah‘s gruesome shoulder injury in the first half — which leaves the Egypt international’s availability uncertain for the summer’s World Cup in Russia.

Rotherham gains promotion to Championship

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After one season down in League One, the Millers are returning to the Sky Bet Championship in 2018/19.

[ MORE: Tammy Abraham rescues England in Toulon opener ]

Rotherham United defeated Shrewsbury Town, 2-1, in extra time on Sunday at Wembley Stadium to reach the Championship.

Regulation wasn’t enough to decide the League One playoff final, but Richard Wood brace ensured his side, Rotherham, would reach the English second division ahead of the 2018/19 season.

Wood did superbly to volley home his squad’s second goal in the first half of extra time, after a brilliant Joe Newell set piece curled into the path of the defender.

Shrewsbury equalized around the hour mark when Alex Rodman calmly placed the ball beyond goalkeeper Marek Rodak from close ranger after a perfectly-executed set piece that caught the Millers off guard.

The first half went largely in favor Rotherham though, having taken the lead in the 32nd minute through Wood’s header to the bottom left corner.

The lead should have been larger though heading into halftime, but David Ball’s early penalty kick was saved by Shrews keeper Dean Henderson in the ninth minute to keep the match scoreless at the time.

Transfer rumor roundup: Man United plans Joe Hart move and more

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Pro Soccer Talk takes a glance at some of the biggest transfer rumors on Sunday…

[ MORE: Bale brace guides Real to third straight UCL title ]


We start in Manchester, where the Red Devils are reportedly interested in raiding their cross-town rivals for a back-up goalkeeper.

Man United is said to have interest in Manchester City’s Joe Hart, who missed out on being called up to England for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Hart has spent the last two seasons on loan from the Citizens, spending 2016/17 in Serie A with Torino and this past season with West Ham United.


Sticking with United, the Red Devils are preparing a new contract for Anthony Martial, according to the Sun.

Martial has become a regular for United since joining from Monaco in 2015, scoring 36 goals in all competitions.


Finally, Danny Rose could be making a Merseyside move if Everton has it their way.

The Toffees are eyeing up the Tottenham left back, although Manchester United has also expressed its interest in the England international.

Rose missed a significant portion of the 2017/18 season due to a knee injury, and the 27-year-old could be on the move this summer despite spending the last 11 seasons in London with Spurs.

Tammy Abraham rescues England in Toulon opener

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It took a late finish to nab three points on Sunday, but England’s title defence at the Toulon Tournament is off an running.

[ MORE: Bale brace guides Real Madrid past Liverpool ]

The Three Lions’ Under-21 squad picked up a 2-1 win in their Group A opener against China, after having fallen behind to the Asian nation inside the opening half hour.

England, winners of the last two editions of the competition, conceded in the 20th minute to Yan Dinghao, and went into the halftime break behind 1-0.

Manager Paul Simpson and his side came out strong in the second stanza, though, and found an equalizer five minutes in through Middlesbrough defender Dael Fry‘s header.

It seemed as though England would be destined for a point, however, Tammy Abraham‘s tap-in finish in the 85th minute ensured a crucial victory to open the tournament for the Three Lions.

England will round out Group A with matches against Mexico and Qatar on March 28 and June 1, respectively.

At the Toulon Tournament, the three group winners automatically reach the semifinals, while the best second-place nation also receives a bid into the final four.