Can Brad Guzan take the heat at Aston Villa?

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Paul Lambert has a commendable plan at Aston Villa, to build around his assemblage of talented young men, never mind the inevitable lumps along the way.

So his switch early in the season away from veteran goalkeeper Shay Given to younger American Brad Guzan makes a lot of sense in so many ways. The defense is young, and Guzan proved last year during an injury to the starting incumbent (Given) that he could surely be the future at Villa Park.

When Given stumbled out of the 2012-13 starting block, there really was no decision to be made; it was absolutely the right time Guzan to take over.

The American has generally repaid his bosses’ faith; the performance has been steady as she goes.

But you do have to begin wondering now after such a troubling defensive run. Villa’s last 10 games have seen the youngsters allow 3, 3, 4, 4, 5 and 8 during the span. There were a couple of shutouts, but one was at home to ultra-defensive minded Stoke City, so that gets an asterisk.

How does Wednesday’s Boxing Day loss by a score of 4-0 (Wednesday’s loss to Tottenham) manage to check the box of “vast improvement?” When it follows that harrowing, historic 8-0 thrashing delivered days before at Stamford Bridge by the suddenly rampaging Blues of Chelsea.

So, yes, the last two outings have been dropped by a combined margin of 12-0. Ug. Ly.

None of this has been Guzan’s fault. Not in terms of shot-stopping, at least. Unless you are on the field, it’s impossible to know of Guzan’s larger contributions to the “stop” efforts.

What kind of information the U.S. international is providing to defenders? Is he getting the boys along Villa’s back line into the right spots? Is he in synch with his center backs and outside backs? Are they functioning as a singular unit and not as haphazard individual units in a “back five?”

Either way, the question could be fairly asked: at some point, would the team be better served with a veteran, steady hand, if only temporarily? And this also must be in question at some point: is Guzan’s confidence now at stake?

These are questions that only Lambert can answer.

This much is sure: Villa has fallen perilously close to the drop zone, into the bottom three. That’s a dangerous place, even for a side committed to rebuilding around youth. Thus, this weekend’s contest at Villa Park against Wigan is a “gotta-have.”

Lambert says there is “no pressure” on his young men, and fair enough. But you have to wonder if he’s just saying so to relieve some of the mounting pressure.

There is no pressure like relegation pressure, by the way. Villa and Guzan need this one on Saturday. Bet on that.

Lodeiro brace gives Seattle’s faint playoff hopes a lifeline

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In Major League Soccer’s forgiving playoff structure, there’s almost always a way back into the mix.

When your team has a talent like Nicolas Lodeiro, your chances get magnified quite a bit.

[ MORE: Josef Martinez bags 3 more ]

Lodeiro scored twice, once from the spot, and Seattle debuted its new Designated Player in a 2-0 Cascadia Cup win over Vancouver on Saturday.

Seattle is now eight points back of the West’s final playoff spot with 15 to play in its season. And the Sounders join Portland on three Cascadia Cup points, with the Timbers beating Seattle in the other cup match of the season.

Raul Ruidiaz came off the bench for the Sounders, and showed early glimpses of why Seattle wanted the World Cup participant from Peru.

The ‘Caps finished the match with 10 men thanks to a red card on Efrain Juarez, who saw yellow and then made contact with the referee.

The second goal took a vicious turn on its way to making goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic look capital-A awkward.

MLS 3 Things: Unstoppable Martinez grills DC in surge toward record

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Josef Martinez bagged his MLS record sixth career hat trick, and moved to within five goals of the single season goal record as Atlanta United battered DC United 3-1 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday.

[ MORE: Caps’ Davies nears Bayern move ]

1) The MLS record book better get used to his name: Martinez now has 22 goals in 22 matches this season, and he’s going to break the Major League Soccer single season goal record if he’s at least half as productive over the final 12 matches.

Martinez has goals in nine of his last 10 matches. He got luck to set up his third, but look at this composed finish.

2) Another American milestone: 18-year-old USMNT prospect Andrew Carleton made his first MLS start and helped set-up Martinez’s second goal, which gave Atlanta United its first lead.

3) Rooney fails to find score sheet: England hero Wayne Rooney couldn’t find a goal or assist after picking up one of the latter in his debut. This time it was a start for Rooney, who went 66 minutes and earned a yellow card to go with his second shot.

Premier League friendlies: Saints undone by Lampard’s Rams

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Nine Premier League clubs were in action Saturday, none of them at home.

[ MORE: Neymar on diving ]

An ex-PL star, however, thrilled his home fans in a Pride Park debut, facing top flight competition.


Derby County 3-0 Southampton

Frank Lampard is the new Rams’ boss, and his first home match was a win over Premier League competition.

“Lamps” got two goals from Tom Lawrence, and another from Mason Bennett as Saints fell by three. It was Southampton’s first match since returning from a China trip which saw a draw with Schalke and a defeat of Jiangu Suning.

Notts County 1-4 Leicester City

The visitors went down 1-0 before rebounding with vigor to hammer the Magpies behind four different scorers: Demarai Gray, Wes Morgan, Islam Slimani, and Hamza Choudhury.

AFC Wimbledon 2-1 Brighton and Hove Albion

The Gulls slipped to defeat, going down two before Ollie Norwood converted an Aaron Connelly-won penalty

Oxford United 1-3 Crystal Palace

Wilfried Zaha, Jeffrey Schlupp and Sullay Kaikai scored as Roy Hodgson‘s men collected an easy enough win away from home.

Real Betis 2-0 Huddersfield Town /  Roy-Weiss Essen 1-0 Huddersfield Town

The Terriers lost a pair of 45-minute friendlies in Belgium.

Elsewhere

Lille 0-0 (4-2, PKs) Everton
Lyon 4-0 Fulham
Fortuna Dusseldorf 1-3 Watford
Preston North End 2-2 West Ham United

Neymar: I get the diving jokes but “you will never understand”

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Neymar proved himself not above a laugh at his own expense this week when he posted a video regarding the Neymar Challenge, the phenomenon in which people writhe around in agony at the slightest touch.

The 26-year-old wants the world to understand his reasons for play-acting — or at least his perceived exaggerations — following some fouls, and the keyword here is apparently “some.”

[ MORE: Neymar staying at PSG ]

Neymar is consistently fouled by teams, and there’s little doubt that the majority of Brazil’s World Cup opponents were aiming to disrupt his love of the game if not outright injure the magnificent talent.

He implies, frankly enough, that he’s extra sore and feels injuries more closely than the next guy.

There’s no question Neymar made some ridiculous theater in Russia with his rolling and grimacing, but take a look at his logic and let us know if you buy the “complications” of his antics.

From Sky Sports:

“Do you think I want to suffer tackles all of the time? No, it is painful, it hurts. After the games I stay back for four or five hours putting on ice, it’s complicated but if you haven’t experienced that you will never understand. I saw [the jokes], but I took them with a humor. Even yesterday I posted on Instagram a joke with the children about it.”