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)

World Cup referees miss yet another physical penalty in box

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Let’s get this out of the way first: VAR (Video-Assistant Refereeing) has been a fabulous addition to the game of soccer. In the 2018 World Cup, the availability of replay has done nothing but improve the ability of referees to correctly officiate the game, providing an outlet for mistakes to be corrected. Earlier on Friday, a referee gave a penalty to Brazil for a foul on Neymar, but with VAR applied correctly, the penalty was wiped off after it was determined Neymar went down easily. The game continued as it should, and a clear and obvious error was erased.

Unfortunately, despite the clear improvement to the game VAR provides, there’s still some work to be done in one very specific area of the game.

[ MORE: Recap of Serbia 1-2 Switzerland ]

On multiple occasions this World Cup, referees have missed wrestling matches in the penalty area, allowing defenders to essentially get away with murder instead of awarding attackers a deserved penalty. The worst example of this yet took place in the 66th minute of the 1-1 draw between Serbia and Switzerland in Kaliningrad.

Aleksandar Mitrovic, already with a goal to his name early in the match, went up to meet a set-piece delivery with his head. He was fully bear-hugged by Switzerland captain Steven Lichtsteiner, and while being wrapped up, was then rugby tackled by Swiss central defender Fabian Schar.

Yet somehow, Mitrovic was called for the foul, as the referee whistled him for ending up over the back of his defender on a genuine attempt to play the ball.

With every replay shown, it became more and more evident that not only should a penalty have been awarded, but the referee missed a clear and obvious call. Yet the match referee, German Felix Brych, was given no assistance from the VAR booth, left on an island after blowing the call.

There have been so many instances of this throughout the tournament, despite a public directive reportedly given by FIFA to referees asking them to crack down on physical play in the box, according to Fox rules analyst Dr. Joe Machnik. England striker Harry Kane was wrestled to the ground numerous times against Tunisia with no call, while many Egypt fans felt hard done by after Mohamed Salah was bullied in the box repeatedly against Russia.

The more defenders can get away with while defending set pieces in front of net, the more the game will be muddied by controversy, clouding an otherwise glittering debut for VAR on the international stage. That’s frustrating.

Serbia 1-2 Switzerland: Late Shaqiri break shatters Serbian hearts

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One of the most exciting games of the 2018 World Cup proved entertaining from start to finish, ended by a stunning breakaway goal by Xherdan Shaqiri that capped a 2-1 Switzerland comeback victory over Serbia.

The start of the game was all Serbia, with Newcastle striker Aleksandar Mitrovic the most dangerous option up front, and he delivered on that promise just five minutes in. After a pair of chances just kept out by Yann Sommer, Mitrovic powered in a header off a Dusan Tadic cross to put Serbia in front early on.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

The goal confirmed yet another game without a 0-0 draw, 26 in a row to start the tournament, marking the World Cup record set back in 1954 when every single game in the Switzerland event featured a goal.

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After the goal, the game exploded, with Serbia looking to double its lead and Switzerland hoping to gain a grip on the match. Without a second coming, Switzlerland began to build promisingly, and had its first chance right on the half-hour mark as Steven Zuber through-ball sprung Blerim Dzemaili, but his sliding effort was saved brilliantly by Vladimir Stojkovic at the last second. They had a second chance minutes later, but for some reason Xherdan Shaqiri decided for one too many crosses rather than taking the open shot himself.

Serbia didn’t just look to see out the first half, though, as the star of the first half Dusan Tadic nearly gave his team another lift. First, he delivered a fabulous corner that stunningly skipped through the box untouched. Then, just before the break, Tadic came agonizingly close to what would have been a fabulous half-volley strike that flew viciously wide.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

After the break, the back-and-forth action continued, and Granit Xhaka struck an absolute stunner on the counter to level the match seven minutes into the second half. Shaquiri’s initial attempt from the right edge of the box was blocked and the rebound fell to the Arsenal midfielder outside the penalty area. His follow-up was a laser, curling through the defense and past a wrong-footed Stojkovic.

The chaos continued, with Serbia swinging back into the initiative. Mitrovic had a penalty shout turned down after being bear-hugged and wrestled to the ground by a pair of defenders, and minutes later Aleksandr Kolarov delivered a luscious cross into the box but nobody was there to tap it home.

Serbia began to tire as the game inched towards the final minutes, and Switzerland had most of the late pressure. One moment of brilliance caught the Serbians sleeping, and it proved the difference. Mario Gavranovic fed Shaqiri on the break from his own half, and free on goal the Stoke City winger made no mistake as the last ticks of regulation came off.

The win for Switzerland moves them to four points through the first two matches, leaving them level atop Group E with Brazil on points but in second thanks to an inferior goal differential. Serbia, meanwhile, sits third with three points. Switzerland would advance to the knockout stage with a win or draw in their final match against Costa Rica, while the winner of Brazil vs. Serbia will advance as well, with Brazil advancing in the event of a draw.

Southgate asks media to “help the team” after lineup leak

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England management is unhappy with the media after a coach was snapped with the proposed lineup for Saturday’s match against Panama.

Assistant manager Steve Holland was photographed holding a teamsheet that appeared to show a pair of changes in the England attack, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek replacing Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford partnering with Harry Kane up front. While Southgate attempted to play down the leak, stating the piece of paper was “just a squad list” and “the next sheet has different players in different positions,” he was also clearly frustrated with the media’s decision to run the photos.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“Obviously any time, if we were to give the opposition the opportunity of having our team it’s a disadvantage to us,” Southgate said in his pre-match press conference. “So of course our media has to decide whether they want to help the team or not.

The teamsheet showed no changes to the defense, with the team playing a three-center-back system as Kyle Walker continues his role along that back line. Kieran Trippier stays in at wing-back opposite Ashley Young, with Jordan Henderson sitting in the midfield between them. Jesse Lingard retains his place in the attack centrally with help from the addition of Loftus-Cheek, and the pair of strikers ahead of them.

Walker was also asked about the leak, and he said Holland apologized to the team, even if they felt it was unnecessary. “He’s apologised to us all in training, which we had a bit of banter with him about, and that was it.”

“I think if you guys try to keep it to yourself and don’t bring it out to the world,” Walker added, “because it’s not going to help us come the later stages of the tournament, please God we get there. All the rest of the world’s seen our team now, if that is the team or if not. As I say, you guys have to do your little bit, so if you could just please help us with that it would be polite.”

Liverpool to lose $82m Alisson to Real; Klopp turns to Lazio GK?

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Brazilian national team starter and Liverpool transfer target Alisson looks increasingly likely to only see Anfield as a visitor.

Italian outlet Corriere dello Sport says Real Madrid is going to tempt Roma with an $82 million bid that could rise with add-ons.

[ MORE: Lozano to Barcelona? ]

And Real would also offer a near $6 million annual salary to the Brazilian backstop.

It’s coincidence that this news comes on the day that both Alisson and current Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas were at opposite ends of the pitch.

Alisson had little to do, while Costa Rican backstop Navas was outstanding until Philippe Coutinho and Neymar scored during stoppage time.

Meanwhile, TalkSport says the Reds are in on a different Serie A goalkeeper: Lazio’s Albanian backstop Thomas Strakosha.

The 23-year-old old played all 38 league games for the Roman club this season.