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)

Bundesliga schedule for Matchweek 29

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The return of German soccer has been hugely successful and the Bundesliga schedule for Matchweek 29 is locked and loaded.

Dust off your lederhosen, fill that stein to the brim and make sure you know which young American stars to keep an eye on. Live sports is back.

[ LIVE: Bundesliga scores ] 

Bayern Munich are top of the table with a seven-point lead after their big win at Borussia Dortmund, while RB Leipzig, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Monchengladbach have all dropped points as their title bids have faltered.

Given that Bayern look likely to secure an eighth-straight title, there is an epic scramble for European qualification. The top four in Germany qualify automatically for the UEFA Champions League group stage and that means one of the five teams mentioned above as title contenders will miss out, while Wolfsburg, Hoffenheim and Hertha Berlin are surging and Schalke and Freiburg have struggled in the Europa League spot.

Below is the full Bundesliga schedule for this week, as the fourth round of games to restart the campaign is a beauty.

Bundesliga schedule

Friday, May 29

2:30 p.m. ET: Freiburg v. Bayer Leverkusen

Saturday, May 30

9:30 a.m. ET: Hertha Berlin v. Augsburg
9:30 a.m. ET: Mainz v. Hoffenheim
9:30 a.m. ET: Schalke v. Werder Bremen
9:30 a.m. ET: Wolfsburg v. Eintracht Frankfurt
12:30 p.m. ET: Bayern Munich v. Fortuna Dusseldorf

Sunday, May 31

9:30 a.m. ET: Borussia Monchengladbach v. Union Berlin
12 p.m. ET: Paderborn v. Borussia Dortmund

Monday, June 1

2:30 p.m. ET: Cologne v. RB Leipzig

Barcelona ready to sell six players this summer

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According to the latest news out of Barcelona, the Catalan giants are ready to rework their squad and want to sell up to six players to fuel their transfer plans.

Those players being sold are Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Sergio Busquets… just kidding. Of course not.

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According to a report from the Daily Mirror, Barca have made Rafinha, Arturo Vidal, Jean-Clair Todibo, Nelson Semedo, Junior Firpo and Moussa Wague available for permanent transfers. Wague is currently on loan at Nice, while Todibo is on loan at Schalke and Rafinha at Celta Vigo. Ousmane Dembele is another player who has been consistently linked with a move away from the Nou Camp too, as he continues to be hampered by injuries.

Why the huge exodus? It is believed Barcelona want to sign Lautaro Martinez from Inter Milan and Miralem Pjanic from Juventus to spruce up their squad under relatively new manager Quique Setien, who only arrived in mid-January.

It is believed Inter boss Antonio Conte is a big fan of Vidal, but any deal for the Chilean midfielder would reportedly be separate for a deal for Martinez. The Argentine striker has been sensational for the Italian giants so far this season and is said to have been in close contact with Messi about a move to Barcelona.

As for Pjanic’s potential arrival, what does that mean for Ivan Rakitic? He has just one year left on his current Barcelona contract and seems relaxed about his future but Pjanic plays in a very similar position to the Croatian playmaker.

One thing is for sure, Barcelona need to freshen up this squad and there is plenty of transfer news floating around when it comes to ins and outs. They are just ahead of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga and Real have certainly had a huge overhaul over the last 12 months with Vinicius Jr., Eden Hazard, Brahim Diaz, Ferland Mendy, Rodrygo and Luka Jovic all arriving at different times.

Barcelona’s old guard remains intact with Messi, Busquets, Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba as instrumental as ever but there’s no doubt Setien will want to strengthen his squad as they aim for Spanish and European glory next season and beyond.

With plenty of talk about Barcelona’s financial situation and the huge contracts that Messi, Suarez and Antoine Griezmann in particular have, offloading this many players suggests they have to cut their cloth accordingly in order to bring in top talent.

Setien will be hoping he can offload as many players as possible reshape this Barcelona squad which is still incredibly talented but has a few glaring needs.

Reports: Premier League clubs want June 17 restart; neutral stadiums possible

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The Premier League is holding in-depth meetings with all 20 clubs on Thursday to determine a potential restart date for the 2019-20 season and June 17 has emerged as the leading contender, although there is plenty to still sort out before then.

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Multiple reports claim that clubs and the league have agreed that from June 17 games can resume, which is five days later than the original placeholder date suggested last month. It has been reported the two games in hand, Man City v. Arsenal and Aston Villa v. Sheffield United, could be played on June 17 so all teams are on 29 games played, then the rest of the games would kick off on June 20.

It is believed that the clubs want the Premier League season to be finished by August 1, so clubs can then focus on the FA Cup and European action in the Europa League and Champions League, while the 2020-21 season can then resume in early September.

Other reports suggest that a sticking point remains neutral stadiums as police forces in the UK want certain high-profile games to be played at neutral stadiums over fears of fans congregating outside home stadiums. However, it is believed the majority of games could be played home and away as normal.

More details will no doubt filter out in the coming hours, while the meeting is also set to discuss the plan for possible curtailment if playing the remaining 92 games of the 2019-20 season is not possible. The schedule for how games will be played will also be discussed, with five games back-to-back on both Saturday and Sunday reported as a possibility.

The third round of COVID-19 testing saw a slight rise in positive tests compared to the last, as a total of 2,752 COVID-19 tests have now been carried out on Premier League players and staff with a total of 12 positive results.

All players and staff at Premier League clubs will be tested twice a week during the strict return to training protocols put in place.

All 20 Premier League clubs have agreed to return to contact training in stage two of the ‘Project Restart’ plan, as the Premier League’s main focus is to agree on a restart date that managers and players can focus on.

Aston Villa boss Dean Smith’s father dies of COVID-19

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Aston Villa manager Dean Smith has lost his father, Ron, who died at the age of 79 after contracting COVID-19.

Ron Smith was a lifelong Aston Villa fan who worked at Villa Park as a steward and passed on his love of the club to Dean and the rest of his family.

The Premier League club released the following statement honoring Smith.

“The Aston Villa Family are saddened to announce that Ron Smith, the father of our current head coach Dean, has passed away at the age of 79.

“Ron, who had recently been living in a care home after being diagnosed with dementia six years ago, contracted coronavirus four weeks ago and after a short spell in hospital passed away with his family at his side.

“A lifelong supporter, Ron was a steward at Villa Park for many years and passed on his love of the club down to his children. As well as being a regular at home games, Ron was also there to witness that greatest of days in May 1982 when Villa lifted the European Cup in Rotterdam.

“The thoughts of everyone at the football club are currently with Dean and his family at this most distressing of times and would kindly ask for the family’s privacy to be respected.”

Dean Smith is a hardcore Aston Villa fan and the fact he joined them midway through last season and got them promoted back to the Premier League via the playoffs was a hugely emotional moment for the former Walsall and Brentford manager.

He has spoken candidly in the past about his close relationship with his father and the impact dementia had on his dad. Last summer Dean Smith revealed this story before he led their beloved Aston Villa to promotion back to the Premier League.

“I went to see my old man on Friday and I managed to get his eyes open for two minutes and I said to him ‘next time you see me I’m going to be a Premier League manager’,” Smith said. “He smiled and nodded, for me that’s enough.”

Man City manager Pep Guardiola lost his mother to the coronavirus pandemic and the Premier League rallied around the Spanish coach. They will do the same for Smith who has lost the man who introduced him to the beautiful game in the first place.