Ranking the foursome of surviving MLS goalkeepers

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The signature touchstones of Major League Soccer’s 2012 playoffs to this point have included big weather, big upsets and big performance from the men guarding goal.

So let’s look quickly at the foursome of starting backstoppers remaining as the teams make final prep for today’s conference finals opening legs. In fact, let’s rank them:

1. Seattle’s Sounders Michael Gspurning: The veteran Austrian was among the league’s best this year, even edging Kansas City’s Jimmy Nielsen for best goals-against average (0.73). More than the numbers, of course, he’s essentially been a rock of stability behind a defense that’s only been stable-ish.

His performance in the series against Real Salt Lake was flawless, even if we talked more about the other fellow, Real Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando, whose exceptional night in Seattle overshadowed Gspurning’s good work. Still, he’s been everything they need.

(MORE: match preview for Galaxy-Seattle)

2. Houston’s Tally Hall: The playoffs have never been a problem for Hall, who is still in only his second year as an MLS starter. Houston’s big 2011 playoff run began with Hall’s remarkable 10-save performance as the Dynamo upset Philadelphia at PPL Park. (That was his first post-season match; not bad, eh?)

This year, Hall has done little wrong in allowing two goals in three matches. One bad choice to hurry out of goal got dicey in the Dynamo win over Sporting K.C. in Houston, but he’s generally been squeaky clean otherwise.

(MORE: match preview for Houston-D.C. United)

3. L.A. Galaxy’s Josh Saunders: The Galaxy was clearly better in 2012 with their starting man in goal, having suffered measurably as Saunders missed a chunk in mid-season due to personal reasons. Down the stretch, however, the 31-year-old Oregonian has not been at his best. There has been a wobble here and there, and then we all saw that ball he let wiggle free against San Jose. In the end, it didn’t crater the Galaxy playoff ambitions, but it certainly can’t add to the stores of confidence for Saunders (or his teammates).

4. D.C. United’s Bill Hamid / Joe Willis: Hamid, United’s young starter, is struggling. So perhaps it’s just as well that Willis, Hamid’s young backup (although not quite as young) will guard goal today as Hamid sits out his mandatory one-game red card suspension. (Oh, and never Tweet while angry, young man. It’s unbecoming, and you should know better.)

Video: Ronaldo scores fourth goal, gives Portugal early lead

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He has four goals in less than two matches, and Portugal is off to another flying start courtesy of their star forward.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Cristiano Ronaldo gave the Portuguese a 1-0 lead against Morocco in the fourth minute after brilliantly heading home a corner kick.

The Real Madrid star gave Portugal a similar spark at the beginning of their 3-3 draw against Spain in their first Group B match when Ronaldo drew, and scored a penalty kick inside of the opening three minutes.

Is there anything this man cannot do?

Reports: Alli unlikely to play in England’s second Group G match

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The Three Lions may not have taken all good news away from the team’s 2-1 win over Tunisia in their World Cup opener.

[ MORE: Russia races past Egypt, likely en route to next round ]

Several reports are suggesting that England will likely be without Tottenham playmaker Dele Alli in their second Group G match against Panama on Sunday.

Alli was forced out of England’s opener with a thigh strain, which gave manager Gareth Southgate the decision to put in Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

There isn’t a timetable for the 22-year-old’s return to the pitch, but his absence will definitely present a major question for Southgate heading into the rest of group play.

Without Alli in the starting XI, it’ll likely be between Loftus-Cheek and Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard to fill the role where Alli normally sits.

In the case of Lingard, who started against Tunisia, the England boss would have to bring in another starter if Southgate opts to have the Red Devils attacker sit in as the number 10.

Report: Newcastle activates $12m release clause of ex-Arsenal youth

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Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.

The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.

Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.

Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.

Like the move for Newcastle?

Lukaku pens inspiring post on hard-scrabble upbringing

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Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.

The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.

From The Players’ Tribune:

There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.

Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.