MLS Cup positional edges: Looking at the goalkeepers for Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake

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Amongst MLS’s goalkeeping elite, Jimmy Nielsen and Nick Rimando can both claim places, each veteran number ones having held major sway on the league’s last two Goalkeeper of the Year honors. In 2012, the Sporting captain snared the award, while the Real Salt Lake veteran finished second to Portland’s Donovan Ricketts this season. Over the last two seasons, these may be Major League Soccer’s two best keepers.

They are, however, very different players, a divide that starts with their stature. At 6’3″ tall, Nielsen has the traditional size of a top flight keeper, while at 5’9″, Rimando’s height is more reminiscent of an outfield player. Yet whereas you’d expect the taller man to have the greater presence coming off his line, the opposite’s actually true.

Nielsen’s earned his nickname “White Puma” for his cat-like reflexes, attributes most often displayed while the 36-year-old stays between his sticks. With defenders like Aurélien Collin and Matt Besler patrolling the box, his strategy may be influenced by his teammates, but entering the final years of his professional career, it also serves a player whose athleticism continues to wane. At his best waiting and reacting, Nielsen rarely presses his luck off his line, something that can come back to haunt him on the rare occasion one of his central defenders is beat in the air.

Rimando is surprisingly strong in the air – an attribute that’s improved throughout his career. Though his size still works against him, Rimando’s quick, decisive reads on crosses allow him to beat opposition players to the ball, his ability to read the game seeing him evade most physical challenges. Particularly on deep crosses, Rimando distinguishes himself from his peers, with his performance in the 2012 conference semifinals at Seattle standing out as one of the best games from a goalkeeper in MLS postseason history.

source: Getty ImagesRimando’s other obvious edge on Nielsen is in his distribution. Whereas the Real Salt Lake keeper is thought to be one of the best in the league putting the ball back into the field, Nielsen’s kicking game isn’t considered a strength. His play on the ball is another area where the more well-rounded Rimando makes up for his six-inch height disadvantage.

But being well-rounded doesn’t make you a better keeper any more than having a more versatile skill set automatically makes a midfielder better than a pure goalscorer. The overriding principle: How do you influence the bottom line? Rimando can be the most well-rounded goalkeeper in the world, but if he isn’t preventing more goals than Nielsen, he’s probably not the better keeper.

Though Rimando probably was the better keeper in 2013, the gap between Saturday’s keepers isn’t so big that one game’s variables couldn’t shift the scales. Particularly against an RSL team unlikely to persistently challenge with crosses (16th in MLS in crosses per game), Nielsen’s weaknesses will be masked. Likewise, Sporting’s become less apt to use their strikers as target men (13th in crosses), meaning Rimando’s unlikely to replicate last year’s performance in Seattle.

If it’s a battle of shot stoppers, Nielsen’s ability to cover more of the goal may give him the edge, but given the razor-thin nature of that advantage, you’ll forgive us a slight cop-out:

EDGE: Basically even

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Ronaldo explains his new chin hair at World Cup

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Now that Cristiano Ronaldo has taken to sporting a reasonable hairstyle atop his head, people are talking about the foliage on his face.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

Ronaldo, 33, drew speculation when he stroked his chin following a goal in his hat trick performance against Spain in the World Cup opener. Some said he was demonstrating defiance against Lionel Messi posing with a goat (Greatest Of All Time) in a recent photograph.

Ronaldo scored again on Wednesday, and there was seemingly little doubt his goatee was a wink to the speculators. But what did it mean, CR7? From ESPN:

“This goatee? It’s a joke I had with [Ricardo] Quaresma. “We were in the sauna [before Friday’s match against Spain] and I started to shave and I left the goatee. I said if I score tomorrow, I would leave it for the rest of the tournament. And it gave me luck.

“I scored in that game, I scored in this one, so it stays.”

Personally, I like to imagine Ronaldo starting to get as wild with his facial hair as he did his head hair.

Perhaps a beatnik style, or something like Serj Tankian from System of a Down. Get nuts, C-Ron.

Report: Southampton could sell Tadic to Ajax for $20m

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Could Southampton be selling one of its most creative forces?

Dusan Tadic, 29, is in the middle of a World Cup run with dark horse Serbia, but the Saints star is also being talked about as a purchase item for Ajax.

[ MORE: Serbia tops Costa Rica ]

The celebrated Eredivisie has traditionally been a selling club for the Premier League, but could be a $20 million buy for Ajax.

The report says director of players Marc Overmars and financial director Jeroen Slop have flown to Southampton to work out a deal.

Tadic starred for Dutch sides Groningen and Twente between 2010-14 before moving to St. Mary’s for a reported $12 million.

He’s scored 24 goals with 35 assists in 162 appearances for Saints, 21 and 30 of which came in the Premier League.

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’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 C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE