Diego Valeri snares a point for Portland; is it time for some MVP talk?

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Diego Valeri got his fair share of preseason hype when he arrived from Lanús, but once the games started to count and the Will Johnsons and Rodney Wallaces emerged, the Timbers looked more like squad transcending the sum of its parts than a team fueled by stars. That naturally cast come well-deserved attention on Caleb Porter but also gave love to Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, and Donovan Ricketts. As Portland’s embraced playoff contention for the first time in the team’s MLS history (hat tip to late 2011 run here), there’s been a credit to go around.

Amid that noise, Valeri has quietly claimed a co-share of the league’s assist lead (12, seven primary). And, after this effort last night in Carson (below), he’s up to seven goals, having distinguished himself as the best and most important player on a playoff contender:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f3IVbtWB40I]

Thanks to an early goal from Bryan de la Fuerte, Chivas USA were able to claim a somewhat surprising point, 1-1. Given how well they’ve played of late, though, a home result for the Goats should not be so shocking. But with Portland leaving StubHub with 60.6 percent of the possession and 486 passes (to Chivas’s 315), Porter may feel his team should have had more.

Yet as you see in the video, Valeri’s contribution was more than the end product. The 26-year-old Argentine may not be healthy enough to play 90 minutes (coming on at halftime on Saturday), but he was fit enough to shrug off an attempt to pull him down before finishing the layoff from Jose Valencia.

All of which brings us to the bigger topic hinted in the headline: To what extent should we be thinking about a player like Valeri as an MVP candidate? The question seems weird because there’s a shocking lack of MVP talk, and coming off a season in which the MVP (Wondolowski) was known early in the season, it’s been a while since we engaged in this type of debate. And the last time we did so, we didn’t come up with a consensus solution (Dwayne De Rosario winning in 2011 after a season where he was traded twice).

source: Getty Images
Robbie Keane’s 13 goals and 11 assists make him one of the favorite for the MLS’s Most Valuable Player award, but the lack of discussion about the league’s most-prostigious individual honor leaves a crowded, ill-defined field going into the season’s final stretch (Photo: AP Photos.)

Look around the league and there are a few obvious candidates, with Marco Di Vaio and Mike Magee’s goal hauls probably leading the discussion. Robbie Keane will have his backers, and players like Patrice Bernier and Javier Morales will garner obligatory consideration based on their team’s positions alone. Even in Portland, Valeri will get competition from Will Johnson for the team award. Johnson’s captaincy will leave people predisposed to give him leadership credit.

It’s hard to see Valeri’s case being that much better (or appreciably worse) than most of those candidates, though in a season where no candidate has distinguished himself, there may be even more players that warrant consideration. This is they type of year where we see, in other sports, a Dustin Pedroia or Steve Nash-type candidacy garner late momentum, allowing them to surge ahead of a fractured field. Might was see a defensive player get some consideration where they might otherwise be overlooked? Can an Ossie Alonso, Jamison Olave or even Nick Rimando rally support?

With less than two months left in the regular season, we’re hearing relatively little about MLS’s most-prestigious award, leaving the field wide open. A strong finish by any number of players could spark a narrative that will win votes six weeks from now.

Still, it’s about time the conversation started, lest we end up with another 2011.

Sweden players, coaches left fuming after last-minute loss

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — A last-minute goal. A non-called penalty. A disrespectful celebration.

Sweden had a lot to be upset about when the final whistle blew on Saturday.

[ MORE: Low: Germany survived “a thriller full of emotion” ]

The Swedes were within seconds of holding defending champion Germany to a draw, and moving into good position to advance to the round of 16 at the World Cup, when Toni Kroos scored deep into stoppage time to give Germany a 2-1 come-from-behind victory.

“I’m sorry that we didn’t get at least one point,” Sweden coach Janne Andersson said. “But I’m not blaming anyone tactically or analyzing too much right now, there are so many emotions going around. This is probably the heaviest conclusion that I’ve experienced in my career.”

Kroos’ goal from a set piece came in the fifth and final minute of injury time. The draw would have kept Sweden ahead of Germany in Group F and needing only a draw against Mexico in the last match.

[ MORE: Germany snatches late win over Sweden to avoid elimination ]

“It was just bad luck,” Sweden forward John Guidetti said. “Now we need to try to find a way to win the last match. In a few days we play again and we have to win it. It’s simple.”

Germany, which is tied with Sweden on points and goal difference, will play against South Korea in the final round.

“We still have an excellent opportunity to qualify,” Andersson said. “Now we have to clean up, tidy up after this game. We’re going to do that.”

The Swedes were leading Germany at halftime thanks to Ola Toivonen’s goal in the 32nd minute at Fisht Stadium. They felt they could have been ahead even earlier if the referee had called a penalty when Marcus Berg appeared to be fouled inside the area with a clear chance to score. There was no formal video review called for.

“If we have the (VAR) system, it’s very unfortunate that he (the referee) can feel so secure in the moment that he doesn’t go and have a look at the situation,” Andersson said.

He and the Swedish players said they also couldn’t understand why Germany decided to celebrate near their bench.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“You shouldn’t celebrate in front of our bench the way they did, that’s disrespectful,” Guidetti said. “You can celebrate with your own fans. Don’t celebrate in front of our bench like that. That’s why they apologized, because they knew they did something wrong.”

Andersson said he was “very annoyed” by seeing the Germany team “running in our direction and rubbing it in our faces by making gestures.”

“We fought hard for 95 minutes,” he said. “And when the final whistle blows, you shake hands.”

WATCH: World Cup, Day 11 — England, Colombia back in action

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Day 11 of the 2018 World Cup is up next, on Sunday, with England back in action and in need of three points — and a resounding win — to keep pace with Belgium in Group G.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Following Belgium’s 5-2 thrashing of Tunisia — the same side that England beat in stoppage time earlier in the week — on Saturday, the Red Devils have positioned themselves perfectly to win the group with a draw against the Three Lions on Thursday. England need a five-goal victory at 6-1 or higher to the finish top of the group following a draw on the final day.

Then, it’s a pair of Group H fixtures, kicked off with Japan (1st) versus Senegal (2nd) — both of whom won their first game — followed by Poland (3rd) versus Colombia (4th).

Below is Sunday’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 – Sunday, June 24

Group G
England vs. Panama: Nizhny Novgorod, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group H
Japan vs. Senegal: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Poland vs. Colombia: Kazan, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

FIFA opens case against Xhaka, Shaqiri for celebrations

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FIFA’s disciplinary committee opened disciplinary proceedings against Swiss players Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri for politically charged goal celebrations during their 2-1 World Cup win over Serbia in Kaliningrad.

[ MORE: The meaning behind Xhaka, Shaqiri’s eagle celebration ]

FIFA also said Saturday it has opened disciplinary proceedings against the Serbian Football Association for crowd disturbance and the display of political and offensive messages by Serbian fans. FIFA also is reviewing statements that Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic made after the match.

Xhaka and Shaqiri celebrated their goals by making a nationalist symbol of their ethnic Albanian heritage. Both of their families come from Kosovo, the former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008. Serbia doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s independence and relations between the two countries remain tense.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

The Polish Football Association was fined $10,100 and given a warning by FIFA’s disciplinary committee for a banner that the governing body deemed political and offensive. The banner was displayed during Senegal’s 2-1 win over Poland on Tuesday in Moscow.

The committee also opened disciplinary proceedings against the federations of Argentina and Croatia for crowd disturbances during Croatia’s 3-0 win Thursday at Nizhny Novgorod.

Low: Germany survived “a thriller full of emotion”

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At 1-0 down, they were headed for elimination in the group stage (with a game still to play); once level at 1-1, they faced yet a steep hill to climb on the final day of the group stage; after Toni Kroos scored his stunning 94th-minute winner, Joachim Low could finally exhale and imagine himself managing the German national team for another day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Sweden at the 2018 World Cup was, for most intents and purposes, a worrying performance for the defending world champions. Fortunately for Low and Co., the one place in which their comeback dramatic victory was a raging success is the only one that matters: the Group F table, where Die Mannschaft currently (somehow) sit second and control their own destiny — quotes from the BBC:

“This was a thriller, full of emotion, right up until the final whistle. Brandt hit the goal post just three minutes before the end too. We took out a defensive player and brought on an attacking player because we knew had to bring on everything we had to turn it round.

“We had a couple of great chances — Mario Gomez’s header being one of them. The last couple of minutes were full of drama but those matches exist in football. We’ve had these situations in other tournaments as well. For the viewers that’s part of the attractiveness of football.”

“Something I did appreciate today was that we didn’t lose our nerve, we didn’t panic after going a goal down. We kept a level head and said we needed to make quick passes and tire the Swedes out to open up spaces.

“We didn’t score a couple of good chances but we never lost hope we could win the match and I think the goal scored in stoppage time had a bit of luck involved but it did show the belief we had in ourselves.”

There’s still plenty of work to do for one of the most popular pre-tournament favorites — there’s a little matter of needing to beat, or at the very least, match Sweden’s result against Mexico — but that can wait until tomorrow, because Saturday unexpectedly became all about survival.