This week’s MLS5: Our early look at the Defender of the Year award

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As we continue our weekly (at least) update on Major League Soccer’s still long off postseason awards, the Defensive Player of the Year discussion promises to be the murkiest. We’re just not used to talking about defenders like this. They don’t score much, don’t snare many Player of the Week honors, so there’s little to distinguish them in the discourse on a week-to-week basis.

Come All-Star time, people think about it, pick their mid-season best, then put the defender discussion on the shelf until award season. Whereas MVP talk is almost constant and things like goals and assist subtly inform other debates, Defender of the Year doesn’t get tracked. At the end of the year come get together, debate a little, then cast votes for players who we feel have been the best, usually without diving into their week-to-week performances.

There’s already an early example of this process: FC Dallas’s Matt Hedges. The guy looks great, so much so that he’s started being mentioned as an emerging talent – a potential U.S. defender next World Cup cycle. By the end of the season, he could very well earn a place in this discussion. But if you go game-by-game, scoring opportunity by scoring opportunity, the Dallas defender has been involved in a lot of meaningful goals this season: Chivas USA’s Erick Torres beating him to the near post; Clint Dempsey drawing him out during Seattle’s visit; being the closest man on Aurélien Collin’s goal in Kansas City; his own goal against Portland. Those are a lot of question marks for a player who’s 2014 is starting to generate some buzz.

The process also helps a player like Matt Besler, who has been far less mistake prone. He also has not had that many stand-out performances. If we only talk about Defender of the Year twice a year, it’s easy to recall our general image of Matt Besler and say, “Yeah, he’s been good.” But if you’re tracking it week-to-week or month-to-month, you notice he isn’t part of many Teams of the Week hasn’t had the kind of stand-out performances we’ve seen occasionally from Michael Parkhurst or Chad Marshall. The award should be who performed the best of the season, not who you would pick if you were starting a team tomorrow.

So Besler isn’t on the list, this time. Nor is Matt Hedges, but don’t be surprised of both make their way onto this countdown over the next couple of months. At this point in the season, only a couple of performances separate number one from the also rans.

For now, here’s this week’s MLS5 – Defensive Player of the Year:

source: AP

5. Víctor Bernárdez, San Jose Earthquakes – Bernández’s defending got off to a shaky start with some errors in the Earthquakes’ 3-3 draw with Real Salt Lake, mistakes he made up for with two goals, an assist, and our Player of the Week honor. Since, Bernárdez has been very good at the back, and while he may not be rating out quite as high as his partner, Clarence Goodson, on a game-by-game basis, he’s been healthy all year. Goodson missed the first part of the season.

source:  AP

4. Drew Moor, Colorado Rapids – The veteran defender has been overlooked since moving to Colorado in 2009, his play usually more solid than spectacular. But this year, having to work with two different partners in the middle (and two different keepers behind him), that solidity has been particularly valuable, with Colorado allowing only five goals in its first six games. The Rapids were exploited on Saturday, allowing four in Seattle, but even while his team was blown out, we saw glimpses of Moor’s value. He’s the only player in Colorado’s back five to start every game in the same spot, and only restored partner Shane O’Neill has joined him in every starting XI.

source: AP

3. Chad Marshall, Seattle Sounders – Picking up on a theme mentioned in Moor’s blurb, Marshall was overlooked last season because he wasn’t in a prominent, adored market, and while he has been slightly better this season, this is the player Sigi Schmid expected when Seattle acquired him this offseason. Particularly in Seattle’s visit to Montréal, the former Defensive Player of the Year has proven occasionally dominant. The few mistakes he’s made have been shared with his teammates, not function of his failings alone. Without Marshall, Seattle’s defense would be in big trouble.

source: AP

2. Michael Parkhurst, Columbus Crew – Parkhurst has been a perfect fit for Gregg Berhalter’s approach, having already given the team two extremely good performances (particularly the hour in Seattle before Djimi Traoré’s sending off). The partnership between him and  Giancarlo Gonzalez has come together immediately, but whereas Costa Rican’s low points are more frequent and dramatic, Parkhurst’s relative slips only serve to highlight the former Defensive Player of the Year’s steadiness. If Columbus was going to give up Chad Marshall, they needed to get somebody like Parkhurst.

source: AP

1. Nat Borchers, Real Salt Lake – It’s been difficult for Borchers to distinguish himself from partner Chris Schuler, but the young U.S. hopeful may be pushing his veteran partner to slightly higher levels. Perhaps Borchers has also freed up to be more aggressive, because the number of big clearances, tackles, and aerial challenges the RSL stalwart is winning is taking him from appreciated veteran to Best XI contender (again). As Schuler puts his early season injuries further in the past, he’ll join his partner at the top of this list, but helping his team to a 1.00 goals against average through eight games, Borchers has our top spot. For now.

Others considered: Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City); Carlos Bocanegra (Chivas USA); Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes); David Horst (Houston Dynamo); Jámison Olave (New York Red Bulls); Chris Schuler (Real Salt Lake)

Deeney considers training return after talking with top doctor

Troy Deeney
Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images
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Watford captain Troy Deeney is considering a return to training after some of his concerns were allayed by a leading doctor.

Deeney, 31, declined to return to training last week due to fears of spreading the coronavirus to his five-month-old son, who struggles from breathing difficulties.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

He also expressed concerns over how the virus has disproportionately affected the black community.

Deeney stated he never said his absence from training was permanent and that talks with Jonathan Van-Tam, the government’s deputy chief medical officer, have helped him.

From Sky Sports:

“I’m potentially going to go in next week. Even if it’s just to have a conversation. I’ve already been in dialogue with all the players and all the management.”

Deeney also said he received some vile abuse directed at his son following his first comments, which is disgusting but unfortunately not surprising.

Watford is currently outside the Premier League drop zone on goal difference, one of three teams on 27 points. Deeney’s six goals share the team lead with Ismaila Sarr, and the veteran has scored 129 goals in his Hornets career.

Hornets goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes said this week that Watford “cannot afford” to be without the striker and that he believed the environment is very safe. Hopefully all things work out for Deeney and his family.

Bundesliga: Takeaways from Germany’s midweek matches

Bundesliga team of the week
Photo by Federico Gambarini/Pool via Getty Images
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This midweek was all about Bayern Munich, who will win its eighth-straight Bundesliga title next month unless it suffers a shocking and historic collapse.

Bayern Munich’s 1-0 Tuesday defeat of Borussia Dortmund took the steam out of their Klassiker rivals’ title hopes, and it only got worse for fans wanting the title race to stretch deep into June.

[ MORE: Davies shines again | McKennie scores ]

Any club within shouting distance declined to raise a hand in protest, with RB Leipzig and Borussia Monchengladbach drawing lower-half sides and Bayer Leverkusen forgetting how to defend in a blowout home loss to Wolfsburg.

So now a Bayern team which has not lost in 14 matches, winning 13 of them, will need to fail miserably over the final six matches while someone else will need to take all 18 points available to them.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from Der Klassiker ]

Good luck with that.

Bayern’s six remaining matches were enough to think there would be a title fight if Dortmund at least drew the reigning champs but find the eight dropped points that would allow a perfect BVB to pass them:

Saturday – v. Fortuna Dusseldorf
June 6 – at Bayer Leverkusen
June 13 – v. Gladbach
June 16 – at Werder Bremen
June 20 – v. Freiburg
June 27 – at Wolfsburg

Maybe next year, because it’s incredibly unlikely this year.

[ MORE: Latest Bundesliga news | Current table ]


Nagelsmann rages as Leipzig blows chance

RB Leipzig won’t have liked Bayern Munich beating Dortmund — it would’ve likely preferred a draw, but it would’ve liked almost everything else it liked on the scoreboard Tuesday.

So to allow an early goal off a set piece to bottom-half (but admittedly in-form) Hertha Berlin and then toss away the good fortune of taking a 2-1 lead despite being down a man is just terrible.

This is a Leipzig side which defends so well and entered the match week having allowed the league’s fewest goals.

“We started well, but fell behind because we defend a set piece like a school team,” Nagelsmann said after the game. “We simply did nothing, everyone is standing in position, yet (Grujic) could finish with his foot in the box. This is the second time in a row in a home game that we conceded from a set piece. We have to blame ourselves for this. We’re happy that we scored another point, but I’m not happy at all.”

Leipzig has a manageable run into the final day aside from a Dortmund visit. Nagelsmann’s boys otherwise face Paderborn, Koln, Fortuna Dusseldorf, Augsburg, and an uneven Hoffenheim. They had some hope of catching Bayern and gaining sharpness for the Champions League, but only the latter looks likely after dropping two points to Hertha


Player of the Week

Austrian youth international Christoph Baumgartner has been moved all over the pitch this season, but he was a wizard in the final third as an attacking midfielder.

Hoffenheim rebounded from a terrible first two matches since the return from the coronavirus pause to beat Koln 3-1 on Wednesday, red cards going to each team.

Baumgartner did his damage early in scoring twice and adding an assist in building a 3-0 lead. He had two key passes, was four-of-four in take-ons, and won eight of 11 duels over 77 minutes.

Still 20 until Aug. 1, Baumgartner six goals and four assists in his first Bundesliga season.

And he’s got audacity for days. Look at this drag and drop assist to Steven Zuber.


BEST XI

Sommer (Gladbach)

Baku (Mainz) — Boateng (Bayern) — Pongracic (Wolfsburg) — Davies (Bayern)

 Grujic (Hertha) — Kimmich (Bayern) — Arnold (Wolfsburg)

Baumgartner (Hoffenheim) — Grifo (Freiburg)

Hennings (Fortuna)

Notes

  • Croatian center back Marin Pongracic was one of several big names to leave Salzburg in January, and the big man delivered for Wolfsburg in a big way with two goals in a 4-1 win over Bayer, also making four clearances, blocking two shots, intercepting two passes and winning four of six duels.
  • Fortuna needed a win in a bad way, and two come back against Schalke has to feel good. Veteran striker Rouwen Hennings turned back the clock and scored his 12th of the season in the win and first since before Christmas.
  • Gladbach’s 0-0 draw with Werder Bremen would’ve been worse if not for goalkeeper Yann Sommer. Bremen forced seven saves out of the veteran, who passed at 83 percent and completed 8 of 13 long balls.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]


SCORES

Borussia Dortmund 0-1 Bayern Munich — RECAP | Kimmich reacts
Werder Bremen 0-0 Borussia Monchengladbach — RECAP
Eintracht Frankfurt 3-3 Freiburg — RECAP
Bayer Leverkusen 1-4 Wolfsburg — RECAP
RB Leipzig 2-2 Hertha Berlin — RECAP
Augsburg 0-0 Paderborn — RECAP
Union Berlin 1-1 Mainz — RECAP
Hoffenheim 3-1 Koln — RECAP
Fortuna Dusseldorf 2-1 Schalke — RECAP | WATCH: McKennie’s goal

WEEK 29 SCHEDULE (Full season schedule here)

Freiburg v. Bayer Leverkusen — 2:30 p.m. ET Friday
Mainz v. Hoffenheim — 9:30 a.m. ET Saturday
Wolfsburg v. Eintracht Frankfurt — 9:30 a.m. ET Saturday
Schalke v. Werder Bremen — 9:30 a.m. ET Saturday
Hertha Berlin v. Augsburg — 9:30 a.m. ET Saturday
Bayern Munich v. Fortuna Dusseldorf — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday
Borussia Monchengladbach v. Union Berlin — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Paderborn v. Borussia Dortmund — Noon ET Saturday
Koln v. RB Leipzig — 2:30 p.m. ET Monday

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 28 20 4 4 81 28 53 10-2-2 10-2-2 64
 Borussia Dortmund 28 17 6 5 74 34 40 10-3-1 7-3-4 57
 RB Leipzig 28 15 10 3 70 29 41 7-6-1 8-4-2 55
 Mönchengladbach 28 16 5 7 53 34 19 9-2-3 7-3-4 53
 Bayer Leverkusen 28 16 5 7 53 36 17 7-4-3 9-1-4 53
 VfL Wolfsburg 28 11 9 8 40 34 6 4-6-4 7-3-4 42
 1899 Hoffenheim 28 11 6 11 39 48 -9 6-1-8 5-5-3 39
 SC Freiburg 28 10 8 10 38 40 -2 6-2-5 4-6-5 38
 FC Schalke 04 28 9 10 9 34 45 -11 5-6-3 4-4-6 37
 Hertha BSC Berlin 28 9 8 11 41 50 -9 4-3-7 5-5-4 35
 1. FC Köln 28 10 4 14 44 52 -8 6-3-5 4-1-9 34
 FC Augsburg 28 8 7 13 40 54 -14 5-4-5 3-3-8 31
 1. FC Union Berlin 28 9 4 15 33 48 -15 6-2-6 3-2-9 31
 Eintracht Frankfurt 27 8 5 14 44 52 -8 6-4-4 2-1-10 29
 FSV Mainz 05 28 8 4 16 37 61 -24 4-2-8 4-2-8 28
 Fortuna Düsseldorf 28 6 9 13 31 53 -22 4-4-6 2-5-7 27
 Werder Bremen 27 5 7 15 29 59 -30 1-3-9 4-4-6 22
 SC Paderborn 28 4 7 17 31 55 -24 2-2-10 2-5-7 19

Bundesliga wrap: Fortuna sinks Schalke, Hoffenheim flies

Bundesliga
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Goals and tired legs were everywhere in the midweek matches of the Bundesliga’s restart.

[ MORE: Latest Bundesliga news | Current table ]

First, the 10 men of RB Leipzig saw their title hopes drift away in a 2-2 draw with Hertha Berlin.

Then came the 2:30 p.m. ET kickoffs, which saw a wonderful goal from an American at Schalke and an even better assist from Hoffenheim’s Christoph Baumgartner.

Read on, as the relegation and seventh-place pictures swung a little on Wednesday.

Fortuna Dusseldorf 2-1 Schalke

USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie’s diving header of a 54th-minute free kick gave goal starved Schalke a lift, but Fortuna Dusseldorf knocked it back to earth in painful fashion.

Rouwen Hennings and Kenan Karaman scored six second-half minutes apart as Fortuna picked up a huge three points for its bid to stay in the top flight. Fortuna moves a point back of safety and five points clear of 17th place Werder Bremen.

Schalke is now winless in 10 and sits ninth, dropping five points back of sixth-place Wolfsburg and two behind Hoffenheim. Seventh place may be enough for a Europa League spot.

The 21-year-old McKennie’s second goal of the season came in his 70th career Bundesliga match. It was just Schalke’s third goal since Jan. 17, and only two have come in the last seven (both from McKennie).

[ WATCH: McKennie’s diving header goal ]

The hosts dominated the early stages of the match but Schalke had the first real danger when Daniel Caligiuri used a slick flick and hard shot to force a fine save out of Florian Kastenmeier.

Fortuna had 76 percent of the ball at halftime and a 5-2 advantage in shots, but Everton loanee Jonjoe Kenny could’ve easily had it 1-0 to Schalke after the break had he got his foot around a Guido Burgstaller feed.

Kevin Stoger’s smashed free kick was only palmed into the air by Schalke keeper Markus Schubert in the 63rd minute and Hennings nodded the equalizer over the line from close range.

Hoffenheim 3-1 Koln

The red mist went both ways as 10-man Hoffenheim rebounded from a slow restart to Bundesliga life and collected a 2-0 home win over 10-man Koln.

Christoph Baumgartner’s two goals and an assist joined a 26th-minute red card for the visitors to build a 3-0 advantage, but Hoffenheim’s Benjamin Hubner picked up a second yellow in the 50th minute to put both sides down a man.

Jacob Bruun Larsen and Robert Skov played providers for Baumgartner and Steven Zuber also scored as Hoffenheim climbed into seventh with 39 points. Seventh could still be a Europa League spot depending on the winner of the German Cup.

Koln’s Florian Kainz scored at the hour mark but Mark Uth saw a late penalty saved by Oliver Baumann. Koln fails in a bid to join the top half and leaves Wednesday in 11th with 34 points.

Just look at Baumgartner’s pass on the third goal. He was absolutely feeling it.

Union Berlin 1-1 Mainz

A bonafide relegation six-pointer, Union and Mainz traded goals in the first 33 minutes before a second Robert Andrich yellow card put the hosts in danger of slipping closer to the relegation places.

Union remained strong at the back, with 15 tackles, 11 interceptions, and 15 clearances to collect a point and, more importantly, keep Mainz three points in the rear view mirror.

Union sits 13th with 31 points, while Mainz’s 28 is just one more than 16th-place Fortuna Dusseldorf.

Augsburg 0-0 Paderborn

Last-place Paderborn needs wins but collected its third-straight draw of the restart and remain dead last with 19 points.

The visitors will feel they were the better win on the day, out-shooting Augsburg 15-11 but missing two big chances.

Augsburg is now just four points clear of the bottom three with 31 points.

WATCH: USMNT’s McKennie scores diving header for Schalke

Weston McKennie goal video
Photo by MARTIN MEISSNER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
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Schalke hasn’t been able to buy goals lately, but its USMNT midfielder went to the dirty areas to steal his side a Wednesday lead.

Weston McKennie’s diving header of a Bastian Oczipka free kick gave Schalke its third goal since Jan. 17. McKennie has Schalke’s only two goals in their last seven matches.

Schalke has four draws and five losses in the stretch, and has conceded twice since McKennie’s opener in the 10th match of the winless run.

[ MORE: Latest Bundesliga news | Current table ]

Take nothing away from the quality of McKennie’s 54th-minute goal.

The 21-year-old’s second goal of the season came in his 70th career Bundesliga match and 86th senior appearance for the Royal Blues.