One lesson from opening MLS weekend: Newly built defenses need time together

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Nothing gets most fans in a frothy lather like new stars. Or even the established stars, the “difference makers,” as I like to tag them.

But the hard business of wins and losses frequently comes down to more mundane matters. Front and center in these matters of the mundane, these boots-on-the-ground essentials that just aren’t as exciting to talk about over burgers and shakes: cohesiveness along the back line.

One of the big lessons from Major League Soccer’s opening weekend was just that: even when defenses are stacked with talented types, the back lines that has not played together is a problem waiting to happen.

In Portland, Mikael Silvestre (pictured) brought all those years at Manchester United and elsewhere in Europe. Ryan Miller, so determined to get forward in the new Caleb Porter way, looks like a find along the right side. Michael Harrington along the left has long been one of the league’s stronger one-on-one defenders (although his passing choices were always a sticky wicket.)

(MORE: analysis of Portland and New York from Richard Farley)

Still, the Jeld-Wen defense forces were dragged under by the same old bugaboos and boo-boos that helped take down the former coaching regime. A big reason was communication between four guys along the back and a goalkeeper who have never played together.

Same with New York, where Jamison Olave was large and in charge on a newly assembled back line – and yet there were mistakes here and there. Again, that was the first time together for this foursome.

Jeff Parke and Amobi Okugo as a central pairing in Philly? Both are quality players individually, but as a first-time center back pairing? Well, they’ll get better than what we saw in giving up three at home to Sporting KC.

Chivas is probably an outlier here because everything around the Goats new way is spanking new. So allowing three at home (to Columbus) was certainly a partial product of a new back line, but it would be a big over-simplification to pin all the blame there.

Meanwhile, a team like FC Dallas survived despite playing anywhere near conference contender form. A big reason: the back four starters were the very same as in the second half of 2012. Matt Hedges and George John were ball-clearing beasts as Dallas overcame a game Colorado effort in a 1-0 win.

(MORE: SKC goes on the road to down Philadelphia)

(MORE: Observations from the Chivas USA experiment, Match 1)

Khedira laughs off Swedish reporter’s offer of tickets home

AP Photo/Matthias Schrader
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Juventus midfielder Sami Khedira brushed off a gesture from a Swedish reporter, trading a bit of banter ahead of Germany’s big World Cup match against Sweden on Saturday.

Germany fell 1-0 to Mexico in its opener while Sweden beat South Korea, leading a playful Swede to hand Khedira boarding passes for a flight home to Germany.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Khedira’s reply? He joked that Sweden won’t be a problem and he’ll use the tickets after the World Cup Final.

From Goal.com:

“After this bad start, we know that it’s super difficult, but we know that we are a strong team. We analysed the game, we saw Sweden play and we are sure that we are winning this game.

“I think we’ll need them [plane tickets] on the 16th of July.”

Report: Newcastle’s Clark knocked out on Spanish dance floor

Scott Heavey/PA via AP
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A wild story out of Spain says an Englishman knocked Newcastle United defender Ciaran Clark unconscious at a night club.

[ MORE: Sampaoli defends Messi ]

Clark was on vacation in Spain, where he was spending time at Crystal’s Bar in Punta Ballena, Magaluf very early Sunday morning.

Clark and a man “in his 30s” got into an argument that saw the Irish defender knocked out, according to the BBC.

Clark was left unconscious and taken to hospital after an argument between him and the suspect broke out on the dance floor.

The 28-year-old suffered cuts and bruises to his face.

Clark, 28, scored twice in 20 Premier League appearances this season, his second at St. James’ Park.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 9 — Iceland’s next step, Brazilian bounce back?

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Brazil is one of the favorites of the 2018 World Cup, while Iceland is the smallest nation to qualify for the world’s biggest tournament.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

On Friday, both enter their second match days feeling quite different after 1-1 draws.

They won’t face each other, of course, but the contrast is striking nevertheless.

Brazil opens the day’s action when it squares off with Costa Rica, who fell to Serbia in the opener. For Serbia, a dark horse of the tournament, it will be a meeting with Switzerland.

Then there’s Iceland’s bid to climb into the Group D driver’s seat by knocking off Nigeria. A win from Iceland would make Lionel Messi and Argentina’s task of qualifying for the knockout rounds extremely unlikely.

Below is Friday’s schedule in full.

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


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group D
Nigeria vs. Iceland: Volgograd, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group E
Brazil vs. Costa Rica: Saint Petersburg, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Serbia vs. Switzerland: Kaliningrad, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Sampaoli defends Messi, blasts Argentina

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Jorge Sampaoli is lambasting his team after a 3-0 loss put Argentina on the edge of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup’s knockout rounds.

“The reality of the Argentina squad clouds Lionel Messi’s brilliance,” Sampaoli said. “The team doesn’t gel as well as it should.”

[ MORE: Modric urges humility ]

Sampaoli said his players could not find a way to get the ball to Messi, and that the introduction of Boca Juniors youngster Cristian Pavón was aimed at opening up the field a little bit.

And Sampaoli is not shying away from the long-discussed comparison between Messi and Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo. From the BBC:

“Cristiano is a great player and he has achieved a lot with club and country. Right now it is hard to compare these two players because of the ability in the Argentinian squad clouds the judgment. Leo is in a difficult position because the squad doesn’t gel with him. As coach I have to accept that. I don’t feel shame but I definitely feel pain. It has been a long time since I have gone through this experience as a coach and obviously it is more painful when I’m wearing the colours of my country.

“We have no alternative but to give it our all in the final match. We have not performed at the level the country expects. We were ambitious ahead of the game but now it is harder for us as a group. We did think this would be the match we can take off as a team, but it wasn’t in the end. I think this is an excellent squad but we didn’t gel or come together. We need to take advantage of the next match, when the pressure will be on, and hope to progress.”

Now, of course Sampaoli is going to defend Messi, but Argentina’s team is not chopped liver. The side certainly isn’t as deep or solid as Croatia, but 1-1 with Iceland preceded this one.

That said, Argentina’s performance once Croatia essentially decided to surround Messi was unacceptable. If favored Nigeria doesn’t handle its business against Iceland, the World Cup finalists won’t have a prayer of going back.