Even solid All-Star squad comes with question marks

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It’s difficult to take too many exceptions with the 20-man, game day squad Major League Soccer has named for July 31’s All-Star Game. Across all sports and all formats for these kind of exhibitions, we’re used to the type of glaring mistakes that are often the product of these exhibitions. Whether it be baseball’s bloated rosters, basketball’s former positional constraints, or football’s pure ‘who cares’ attitude toward their event, the teams that are selected often reflect the weird context that surrounds their games.

The team Peter Vermes helped select is relatively free of those types of obvious errors, which is not to say there aren’t places we can nit pick. Here’s the full game day squad, with Vermes’ seven picks in bold, Don Garber’s two commissioner’s picks in italics:

Goalkeeper: Raúl Fernández (FC Dallas), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: Corey Ashe (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake), Aurélien Collin (Sporting Kansas City), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders FC)

Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Patrice Bernier (Montreal Impact), Tim Cahill (New York Red Bulls), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Will Johnson (Portland Timbers), Mike Magee (Chicago Fire), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Forwards: Marco Di Vaio (Montreal Impact), Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls), Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), Camilo Sanvezzo (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Some of Vermes picks address positional concerns. Others are no brainers. Ashe and Beltran were picked because the roster needed fullbacks, and while they may not be your personal favorites at the positions, it’s difficult to make a rock solid case against either veteran. In midfield, Vermes added the season’s two best holders to a holder-less roster, while it’s unclear anybody had better cases for the rest of the spots then Keane and Sanvezzo. Overall, Vermes is close to beyond reproach.

Garber’s picks are a bit weird, though. Yedlin (pictured) is a great prospect, but it’s hard justify this selection. Is the buzz around him really enough to justify giving the 20-year-old a spot in Kansas City? You could make the case he’s the third-best starting right back in Cascadia. Although it’s at a different position, Jack McInerney would have been a better choice if you’re looking for a young buzz-generator, and if you want the huge Seattle market behind the game, overlook Osvaldo Alonso’s recent absence and pick only to the league’s best players.

Cahill’s case is a bit stronger, but he still has not had an All-Star caliber season (or, season-plus, since joining Major League Soccer). While the former Everton star is a renown player, he’s not the type of star that’s going to add any glamour to the event. Somebody like Federico Higuaín may have been a better choice, if you’re looking to add an extra storyline to the game. With the Columbus star also unlikely to significantly move the needle, it might have been best to honor a veteran or go with the best player available.

Again, these are relative concerns. As far as All-Star rosters go, this one’s reasonably solid. Go through the league’s squads, and it’s difficult to find somebody whose claim for Kansas City is so compelling that their play should overwhelm the myriad other factors that go into picking this roster.

VIDEO: Portugal lead Iran at HT; Spain 1-1 Morocco

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We’re through the first 45 minutes of Monday’s Group B finales at the 2018 World Cup, and things are happening. A quick rundown…

[ SCENARIOS: Who needs what, to finish where, in final round of group games ]

Andres Iniesta and Sergio Ramos combined to commit a disastrous gaffe at midfield, resulting in a goal for Khalid Boutaib in the 14th minute. At this point, Spain would have finished second, behind Portugal, and headed to the far more difficult side of the knockout bracket.

Five minutes later, it was Iniesta who, with a little help from some slightly lesser geniuses, unlocked the Moroccan defense to set up Isco for an emphatic finish. La Furia Roja moved back to the top of the group, on goals scored.

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

In the afternoon’s other game, Portugal and Iran appeared destined for a 0-0 scoreline at halftime, until Ricardo Quaresma unleashed a stunning, outside-of-the-foot curler from outside the box to beat the goalkeeper and put Portugal ahead — both on the day, and in the table. As things currently stand, Portugal would win the group and Spain would finish second.

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 4

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In the fourth episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England players have been preparing for their next match in an unusual way, Argentina has a huge meltdown, and more.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

Click play on the video above to watch the fourth episode in full.

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.