ProSoccerTalk’s MLS Player of the Week: Álvaro Saborío

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A strong afternoon in Colorado earned Graham Zusi a goal, two assists, and Major League Soccer’s Player of the Week honor. There’s only one problem: He wasn’t the key player on any of those goals, and in a game that was largely fought through the middle of the park, Zusi’s influence may have been secondary to teammate Benny Feilhaber. Too bad Feilhaber, with a goal of his own on the night, also conceded a penalty kick that gave Colorado a late lead.

Context is, of course, important. One goal and two assists in an away win looks amazing, but one assist was a secondary tally, something that wouldn’t be rewarded in another league. Zusi’s goal was a tap in from three yards thanks to a great ball from Sal Zizzo, and the second assist was less an amazing chance created than “did Dom Dwyer really do that?” Zusi had a very good day, but was it the league’s best?

Here’s why we’re saying no. Pedro Morales had an amazing, dictating day in Vancouver, Osvaldo Alsono put in another under appreciated performance for the Sounders, and Michael Parkhurst calmly covered behind Columbus’s back line so easily, people will overlook how good he was. They all may have had as much, if not more, influence on their matches as Zusi.

But none of them are winning our award. Instead, the honor goes to Real Salt Lake’s Álvaro Saborío, admittedly another player who may not have even been the best on his own team. But drawing the early penalty (then, converting it) ahead of his second half goal gives him a case against creator Javi Morales’s, as does his key dummy on RSL’s other goal. Add in all the unheralded defensive work Saborío did in the first half, and he edged this week’s honor.

That defensive work could be seen in the 28th minute. Then again in the 37th. Once more in the 43rd. With Olmes Garcia starting with him up top, Saborío didn’t have to worry about staying high as an alternative to the diminutive João Plata. Instead, the Costa Rican international was able to check back into the midfield and take the ball off the likes of Jeremy Hall, Michael Bradley, and the rest of an overwhelmed Toronto FC. His play forced key turnovers that helped Real Salt Lake maintain pressure throughout the first half.

Is that his primary job? No, but it’s important, particularly when a slew of players make cases to be our Player of the Week. But whereas Graham Zusi’s case leaned almost entirely on his stats, Álvaro Saborío offered something that augmented his numbers. Not only did he have two goals, he had a big impact in other phases of the game.

In week four, Graham Zusi was good. Álvaro Saborío, however, was better.

PST Award MLS Award
Week 1 Will Bruin, Houston Dynamo
2g, 1a vs. New England
Nick Rimando, Real Salt Lake
8 saves, PK save at LA
Week 2 Victor Bernardez, San Jose Earthquakes
2g, 1a vs. Real Salt Lake
Jermain Defoe, Toronto FC
2 goals at Seattle
Week 3 Fabian Castillo, FC Dallas
1 goal vs. Chivas USA
Bernardo Añor, Columbus
2 goals vs. Philadelphia
Week 4 Álvaro Saborío, Real Salt Lake
2 goals vs. Toronto FC
Graham Zusi, Sporting Kansas City
1 goal, 2 assists at Colorado

VIDEO: de Bruyne delivers gorgeous assist on Lukaku goal

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It took a little bit of patience, but Romelu Lukaku finally got on the scoresheet at the 2018 World Cup, thanks to a delicious assist from crosstown club rival Kevin De Bruyne.

The Manchester City playmaker delivered a spectacular outside-of-the-boot cross into the box, where Lukaku’s head met it and guided it towards the far post for Belgium’s second goal of the day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Arsenal close in on Leno; Man City near Jorginho signing, and more

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Arsenal looks like it will have a new man between the pipes for next season.

According to a report from German publication SportBild, Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper Bernd Leno will be introduced as an Arsenal player on Tuesday, after a reported $23-29 million transfer fee. The 26-year-old was on Germany’s 35-man pre-World Cup squad, but was one of the last cuts as Joachim Low went with Manuel Neuer, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Kevin Trapp in Russia.

Leno became the full-time starter for Leverkusen as a 20-year-old, and has held the position of the No. 1 for the last six seasons, earning plenty of Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League experience along the way.

It’s unclear what will happen to current Arsenal No. 1 Petr Cech. The 36-year-old Premier League legend experienced one of his worst seasons in net for Arsenal and he could begin the season as a backup, unless he moves to a new club. He reportedly has a contract through 2019.

Here’s some more transfer rumors from around the Premier League and Europe.

(more…)

VIDEO: Mertens scores wonderstrike for Belgium

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After a frustrating 45 minutes, it took only two minutes for Belgium to finally get on the board, even if it was a goal sprinkled with magic dust.

Off a partially cleared ball on the right side of the box, Belgium attacker Dries Mertens whalloped a shot that arced over Panama (and former LA Galaxy) goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, giving Belgium a 1-0 lead.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

Croatia’s Kalinic sent home from World Cup

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It’s only been five days, and we have our first World Cup dismissal.

According to a bombshell report out of Croatia, Croatia National Team head coach Zlatko Dalic has sent home striker Nikola Kalinic from the team’s camp, after the AC Milan player reportedly refused to be a substitute during Croatia’s 2-0 win over Nigeria.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

[Update: The Croatia FA confirmed the decision, releasing this statement from Dalic. “During the Nigeria encounter, Kalinić was warming up and was supposed to come on in the second half. However, he then stated that he wasn’t ready to come on due to a back issue. The same thing happened during the Brazil friendly in England, as well as before the practice session on Sunday. I have calmly accepted that, and since I need my players fit and ready to play, I have made this decision.”]

The report states that Kalinic refused to come on due to an injury, but Dalic had said recently that his team had no injuries that would keep players out, potentially meaning that Kalinic used the injury claim as an excuse.

Croatia’s FA is expected to confirm the news on Monday.

After a rough season at AC Milan, with just six league goals in 31 Serie A appearances, Kalinic, at 30, is likely finished with the Vatreni. He scored three goals in World Cup qualifying but hasn’t started for Croatia since a 2-0 win over Peru in March. Kalinic did score against Spain in Croatia’s shock 2-1 win exactly two years prior to Saturday’s match.

He was deemed second choice to Mario Mandzukic as the center forward up top, but was reportedly asked to spell Mandzukic during Croatia’s match against Nigeria, and Kalinic reportedly refused.

If true, Croatia will continue with 22 players for the remainder of the tournament.