Considering Ryan Nelsen and new MLS managers: What kind of experience counts?

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(Update: The Nelsen hire is official, but there is some weirdness afoot with the new manager’s starting date. Read about it here.)

If reports out of Toronto are to be believed – and there’s no reason to think them wrong at this point – Ryan Nelsen will be named Toronto FC manager today.

For the worriers and fearful out there, you probably have some reason to fret here.

Start with the lack of success around Toronto FC, where seven managers have come and gone, none having ever guided the Reds to a playoff spot. Chris Cummins, percentage points above .500 with a 12-11-8 mark, was technically the most “successful.”

So, at some point, you have to wonder if the rot is at the top; I am certainly not the first to question the true commitment to winning of a professional sports team operated by Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment. So, check that box for properly aimed anguish.

Then there’s Payne as the selector; his choices have a mixed record, as I mentioned yesterday toward the bottom of this post.

Then there’s Nelsen’s lack of experience. On this matter, I say “No worries, man!” I just wouldn’t be too concerned, for history says this can be done.

Nelsen is clearly untested as a manager; he’s 35 years old and counted himself as a fully professional (and highly respected) player just a week ago. But in terms of professional managerial experience, he has every bit as much as you or I.

But here is where I point out that “MLS experience,” even if it’s just as a player, outstrips “managerial experience” as an essential element that provides the best chance for success.

Nelsen may not know much about MLS 2.0; he hasn’t been part of the league since 2005. MLS had just grown to 12 teams that year, with just four dedicated soccer stadiums in use and still carrying a lot of questions about long-term potential.  The growth since then (19 teams, with 16 playing in grounds built, rebuilt or refurbished expressly for MLS clubs) has been nothing short of staggering.

So, it’s a different MLS day. Still, Nelsen understands the essential elements. He knows the history. He gets it. All of which is to say, he won’t be paralyzed by challenges unique to MLS. He won’t stubbornly resist when an owner of GM explains why things are why they are here. He won’t be in denial about which types of players work and don’t work here.

I am not saying he’s a going to be a great manager; no one can know this. I’m just saying, his history in MLS gives provides a good shot.

As for Nelsen’s age? That’s a non-factor. Here’s why:

Jason Kreis was 34 when he became manager at RSL, and was 36 when the men of Rio Tinto won an MLS Cup. (Kreis remains the youngest to win one of those.)

Ben Olsen was 33 when he took over at D.C. United, and that’s turning out pretty well.

Jay Heaps was 35 when he took over New England. His first year was inconclusive, although we have to consider the difficulty in Heaps’s situation. This is a tough place to win; the man is doing what he can at an organization that has been lapped by pretty much every club this side of Chivas USA.

Bottom line: I worry a lot less about Nelsen and his lack of time with the coaching whistle, and a lot more about MLS newbies like Paulo Sousa, who may soon be named at New York, or Jose Luis Sanchez Sola, the new man in charge at Chivas USA, or the Montreal Impact’s new manager Marco Schallibaum.

Young coaches can work in this league. Previous grounding in MLS counts for a lot more than previous work with the coaching whistle.

Atlanta leads way with six All-Star Fan XI selections

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It may be hard to believe with all the World Cup festivities going on, but the Major League Soccer season is nearly halfway over.

[ MORE: Toronto FC’s 2018 has been far from their cup-winning 2017 ]

And that means it’s almost All-Star time.

The MLS All-Stars will continue their recent tradition of facing a European superpower in August, with Juventus being welcomed to the United States in early August.

But, which players from MLS will we see in action?

Last season’s expansion sweetheart Atlanta United leads the way in the fan voting with six players from the Eastern Conference side voted into the Fan XI, including attackers Miguel Almiron, Ezequiel Barco, Darlington Nagbe and Josef Martinez.

Goalkeeper Brad Guzan and defender/captain Michael Parkhurst also made the team from Atlanta.

In all, only five clubs were represented based on the Fan XI, with the LA Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Los Angeles FC’s Carlos Vela and Laurent Ciman, Sporting KC’s Graham Zusi and Portland Timbers star Diego Valeri each rounding out the squad.


Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United)

Defenders: Michael Parkhurst (Atlanta United), Laurent Ciman (Los Angeles Football Club), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Miguel Almirón (Atlanta United), Ezequiel Barco (Atlanta United), Darlington Nagbe (Atlanta United), Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers)

Forwards: Josef Martínez (Atlanta United), Zlatan Ibrahimović (LA Galaxy), Carlos Vela (Los Angeles Football Club – EA SPORTS™ “More Than a Vote” Challenge)

Saudi Arabia steals late win over Egypt in Group A finale

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Saudi Arabia pulled off a late 2-1 win against Egypt on Monday in their Group A finale, as the two nations ended their 2018 World Cup run in the group stage.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

Salem Al Sawsari scored in the fifth minute of second half stoppage time to give the Saudis a late winner in the match, as the attacker struck the post in the dying moments before the ball crossed the line.

The Pharaohs took the lead in the 22nd minute, after a tremendous run from Mohamed Salah and lob over the Saudi Arabia goalkeeper.

Salah has two goals at the World Cup for Egypt, who were already eliminated heading into Monday’s match.

Saudi Arabia was granted a chance to equalize prior to halftime, however, goalkeeper Essam El Hadary brilliantly stopped Hattan Bahebri’s penalty kick in the 41st minute to preserve the Egypt advantage.

El Hadary became the oldest player in World Cup history to appear in a match at the age of 45.

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

The Egypt keeper wasn’t as lucky the second time around though, with Salmon Al Faraj converting a penalty kick in the 51st minute.

Saudi Arabia finishes group play in third place on three points, while Egypt goes winless in its three matches.

Uruguay tops Russia & Group A with perfect record

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The host nation looked strong in its opening two matches, but they ran into a far superior side on Monday.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

Uruguay finished atop Group A with a 3-0 win over Russia in Samara, behind goals from Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and an own goal from Russia’s Denis Cheryshev.

With the victory, the South Americans win Group A with nine points, while Russia finishes runners’ up with six points.

Suarez gave the Uruguayans the lead after just 10 minutes, when the Barcelona man struck via a free kick on the edge of the penalty area.

The goal for Suarez is his second of the World Cup, which leads Uruguay.

The lead was quickly doubled in the 23rd minute, when Diego Laxalt unleashed a shot from distance that took a wicked deflection and went beyond goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev.

Laxalt’s effort hit Russia attacker Denis Cheryshev before gliding towards the near post for the own goal.

The fortunes for Russia just got worse as the first half wore on, and the hosts were reduced to 10 men just beyond the hour mark when Igor Smolnikov was sent off after picking up his second yellow card.

Meanwhile, it had been a disappointing start to the World Cup for Edinson Cavani, but the PSG man finally got a goal for his country in the late stages of the match to extend the lead to 3-0.

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

Uruguay will face the runner up in Group B, while Russia will await the Group B winner in the Round of 16.

El Tri star Lozano staying focusing amid Barcelona rumors

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Hirving “Chucky” Lozano was a player everyone needed to pay attention to heading into the 2018 World Cup, and through two matches, the El Tri star has been every bit the price of admission for his country.

[ MORE: Group scenarios heading into the final group stage matches ]

Mexico sits atop Group F with six points at the moment, and much of the team’s success can be attributed to Lozano’s endless motor and creative attacking vision when he finds space down the wing.

The PSV Eindhoven attacker has been linked with various big clubs, including La Liga giants Barcelona, but that hasn’t halted Lozano’s pursuit of guiding Mexico to an unprecedented run at the World Cup.

“The important thing is to focus on the next [Mexico] game, do as well as possible and go step by step,” Lozano said.

Despite winning their first two games, El Tri needs at least a point in its final Group F match to ensure qualification without any complications.

Mexico will take on Sweden on Wednesday, as Juan Carlos Osorio’s side aims to remain perfect in the group stage.

Meanwhile, Andres Guardado — who has been a mainstay of the Mexican national team for years — only confirmed the work ethic of his teammate and hopes that a dream move becomes a reality for Lozano in the near future.

“It makes me very proud to say he is a kid that is very centered, despite everything he is going through,” said Guardado after Saturday’s 2-1 win over South Korea. “He is conscious that he has to continue like he’s not achieved anything.”

“He’s the same kid I met the first time he came with us,” continued Guardado. “Hopefully he stays like that and the rumors about a possible transfer to a big team become reality. It would be marvelous, he’s a great teammate.”