Starry nights: MLS Team of the Week – Round 10

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ProSoccerTalk’s Best XI from Week 10 in Major League Soccer includes a lot of good men on the defensive end.

Goalkeeper:

  • New England Revolution’s Bobby Shuttleworth

Why we like him: When a good team (the Portland Timbers) gets shut out at home and walks away saying, in effect, “We played pretty good in this one,” you can bet there’s a goalkeeping performance worthy of a long, slow applause. Shuttleworth’s work (nine saves) in Thursday’s scoreless draw certainly applies.

Back line:

  • Real Salt Lake’s Chris Wingert
  • Houston Dynamo’s Bobby Boswell
  • New York Red Bull’s Jamison Olave
  • Real Salt Lake’s Nat Borchers
  • Portland Timbers’ Michael Harrington

Why we like them: Boswell was among the best Dynamo men in a big 1-0 win over the Galaxy, a rematch of the last two MLS Cup finals. Harrington probably doesn’t get enough credit for his work around Jeld-Wen. His passing is still too erratic, but the man’s one-on-one defending is rock solid. It was in last week’s draw with New England.

Wingert, now healthy again, played along the left for RSL and provided a big push (along with accurate crossing) in a 2-0 win over Vancouver. Alongside Wingert on the Rio Tinto back line was Borchers, whose goal-line clearance helped keep this one under control.

Olave was Olave in the Red Bulls latest road triumph, a really good one, 1-0 in Columbus. We’ll say it again: he’s top 2-3 among league center backs when he’s healthy. When he is healthy.

Midfield:

  • Philadelphia’s Danny Cruz
  • Sporting Kansas City’s Graham Zusi
  • New York Red Bulls’ Tim Cahill
  • Montreal Impact’s Justin Mapp (pictured)

Why we like them: The cynic may say that Cruz’s two goals were “right place, right time” stuff. But each and every week we see guys pop up in the right spots, but unable to seal the deal. Cruz finished with authority. Twice!

Zusi had a goal and assist and ran the attack in SKC’s romp-and-stomp over Chivas USA, 4-0.

Cahill has a goal or assist in three consecutive matches, the league’s longest active streak. His goal Saturday in Columbus wasn’t just his third in two matches, it was the difference as Mike Petke’s in-form team won its third in a row away from Red Bull Arena.

Forward:

  • Sporting Kansas City’s Claudio Bieler

Why we like them: Beiler’s pair gives him six for the year. So, make room Mike Magee and Jack McInerney; SKC’s striker now shares the league with those guys.

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

Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
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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.