How ironic that Major League Soccer had such a big influence in shaping the early race for World Cup spots out of our part of the world.
Because men from the United States’ officially designated tier one league proved most beneficial – but not to the United States.
Two of Jurgen Klinsmann’s starters in yesterday’s 2-1 loss to Honduras were MLS men: center back Omar Gonzalez and attacker Eddie Johnson. (For accuracy’s sake, seven of the 11 did start their careers in MLS.)
Meanwhile, most of the starring roles for Honduras were MLS men, or were so recently. Midfielder Roger Espinoza, probably the best man on the field Wednesday, just left Sporting Kansas City for Wigan Athletic in the English Premier League.
Oscar Boniek Garcia, who helped arrange the home team’s game-winner, is a Houston Dynamo man. Big center back Victor Bernardez may have been Major League Soccer’s top defender last year, playing for San Jose.
But the big MLS influence stretched way beyond San Pedro Sula. In Mexico, a couple of men under MLS contract helped manufacture the region’s real shocker, as Jamaica stunned Mexico in a scoreless draw at typically impenetrable fortress Azteca.
Goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts (Portland Timbers), defender Jermaine Taylor (pictured Wednesday, plays for Houston Dynamo) and forward Ryan Johnson (Portland) all started for the Reggae Boyz. Well done, Boyz.
In Panama, FC Dallas striker and recently released FCD defender Carlos Rodriguez were in the lineup as the Central Americans drew with Costa Rica, 2-2. On the other side, Real Salt Lake’s Alvaro Saborio hit one of the goals for the Ticos.
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?
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.
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?
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.