Premier League defenders: Who’s in our Top Five? And how to choose just five?

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As the 2015-16 Premier League season gets ready to spread its wings this weekend, Pro Soccer Talk is getting you ready with a week full of projections, lists, news and views.

Picking a group of five defenders is way more difficult than selecting the best goalkeepers in the league, and given the vitriol from Monday’s Top Five ‘keepers, I’m preparing for a total bombardment of my home office after I tag just five back line heroes from the entire Premier League.

Plus, how do you choose? For example, there are some commanding defensive presences who aren’t going to contribute much to the attack, while others can thrill you with crosses from the outside and dipping free kicks but are a bit less impressive when it comes to tackling.

[ MORE: All of PST’s season previews | Top 5 goalkeepers | Midfielders | Forwards ]

Consider this statistic, which will blow minds: According to advanced statistics site Squawka, the most complete defender in terms of attacking, possession and defending last season was:

Not John Terry.

Not Martin Skrtel.

Not Jose Fonte.

It was Chris Smalling.

 

And how about this? Smalling was the only player to place double-digit scores in each category, as well as the only player to sit inside the Top Five in two categories (attack and possession).

Considering all that, can we possibly keep him outside our Top Five? Of course we can. Will we? Read on.

5. Ashley Williams, Swansea City — Like Lukasz Fabianski behind him, Williams played incredibly well on an often times under-the-radar Swans unit last season. He’s not going to thrill you on offense, but he’ll organize a unit and make life hard on any striker. In Garry Monk’s formation, that’s a big responsibility and Williams met it head on.

4. Martin Skrtel, Liverpool — One of my favorite animated graphics is of the 30-year-old Slovakian eating nails for breakfast. His 7-goal season two years ago was an aberration, but he can chip in while organizing a back line.

3. John Terry, Chelsea — Terry isn’t as sound a defender or tackler as Skrtel, but he’s a better facilitator for possession and has a superior nose for the ball.

source: Getty Images

2. Phil Jagielka, Everton — He can hit a ball on the screws from time to time, but what the England veteran does best is provide a healthy dose of steel to the Toffees back line. “Jags” had 49 blocked shots and 390 interceptions to place among the league’s top defenders.

1. Jose Fonte, Southampton — Consider that Saints’ Portuguese back was commandeered a team with crazy turnover last season, as well as a brand new coach and system. The veteran only came out and steadied the entire unit while ranking amongst the Premier League leaders in touches (9th), tackles (29th) and interceptions (1st). In the last category, his 414 steals is 15 more than second-place Nemanja Matic (399) and 24 more than the nearest defender (Jagielka).

Honorable mention: Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker (Arsenal), Kieran Tripper and Danny Rose (Tottenham), Daryl Janmaat (Newcastle United), Smalling and Antonio Valencia (Manchester United), Branislav Ivanovic, Cesar Azpilicueta and Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Aaron Cresswell (West Ham United), Ryan Bertrand (Southampton), Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool), Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City), Ryan Shawcross (Stoke City), Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman(Everton).

Alright… let us have it.

What to expect as U.S. kicks off U-20 World Cup

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Tab Ramos’ United States men’s national team may have a navigable U-20 World Cup group, but it doesn’t set-up nicely.

Not that supporters are ready to make excuses; The U.S. is expected to make a decent run over the next month in Poland.

[ WATCH: The U-20 World Cup on Telemundo ]

Timothy Weah, Paxton Pomykal, and the Baby Yanks meet Ukraine at 2:30 p.m. ET in their Group D debut, hopeful of a run past the quarterfinals. The Americans haven’t played three post-group stage matches since a fourth place finish in 1999.

A group win is imperative with loaded favorites France expected to win Group E and set for a spot on the other side of the knockout bracket.

Aside from Josh Sargent’s call-up to the full USMNT, the Yanks have every reason to be optimistic about their potential. The 21-man player squad breaks down to six players on German sides, 10 American-based players, two from the Netherlands, and one each from Portugal, Spain, and France.

Weah is probably the most exciting one of the bunch, having success at Celtic on loan from PSG and earning high praise from Neymar amongst others, but Pomykal is one of the best MLS products in some time as a center midfielder.

Both Pomykal and Chris Durkin are getting significant minutes at the Major League Soccer level, while Mark McKenzie has nearly 20 with the Philadelphia Union as a senior player.

Beyond that are exciting strikers Sebastian Soto, who debuted for Hannover 96 this season, and Wolfsburg prospect Ulysses Llanez.

But the Yanks will look to Weah for that extra special something, the 19-year-old scoring six goals between PSG and Celtic this season.

Friday’s debut will be followed by a Monday match against Nigeria before Thursday’s tango witj Qatar.

Winning Group D means the third-place team from B, E, or F, while finishing second is a Round of 16 match-up with France, who boasts a number of high-end players already playing regularly at the highest levels of European soccer.

Everton adds keeper depth with Lossl

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Everton has added goalkeeping depth beyond Jordan Pickford.

Danish keeper Jonas Lossl will sign a three-year contract with the Toffees on July 1, staying in the Premier League after his release from Huddersfield Town.

[ MORE: U-20 World Cup rewind ]

Lossl, 30, was initially on loan to the Terriers from Bundesliga outfit Mainz, but the deal was made permanent before last season.

The Dane had an outstanding loan campaign but wasn’t as strong this season as the Terriers were mowed down by Premier League competition and relegated to the Championship.

He was one of five players released by Huddersfield earlier this month.

Pickford also had a rough season between the sticks for Everton, but played all 38 Premier League matches for the club. Maarten Stekelenburg was his backup.

River Plate to sponsor car in Indy 500

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There will be a soccer presence at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Indianapolis 500.

On Thursday, Club Atletico River Plate announced, along with car owner Juncos Racing that Kyle Kaiser’s No. 32 car will feature a River Plate logo on the front of the vehicle. Juncos Racing is named after founder Ricardo Juncos, an Argentine native and clearly a big River fan.

Per a press release from River Plate, it’s the first time a soccer team is sponsoring a car in the Indy 500, which takes place this Sunday, May 26.

[READ: Pochettino hopeful Kane will be ready to make an impact in UCL final]

“As a River fan, I always wanted to have the logo of the Club in the car,” Juncos said in a press release.
“This race is very important for me. I am very happy and I believe that in the goal of River to expand into the Indy 500. From here to there will come positive things for both.”

Kaiser, just 23, is one of the new guys on the main IndyCar scene, especially after winning the IndyCar Lights title in 2017. It’s the racing equivalent of winning the Europa League. Unlike River’s reputation as one of the biggest clubs in South America, Kaiser just barely made it into the field all together, bumping former Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso out of the field by about one hundredth of a second.

While it’s cool to see a soccer team get involved in the Indy 500, a worldwide viewing event that’s also akin to a religious holiday throughout the state of Indiana, it’s another Buenos Aires club that really should have been the first to sponsor a car.

Racing Club, defending Argentine league champs, would have been terrific, Racing in Uruguay, or Racing de Santander in Spain. Perhaps one day in the future the three clubs can combine forces to sponsor an IndyCar event or a car competing in a race.

USSF, Relevant Sports clash in court over international matches

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NEW YORK (AP) A lawyer for a promoter asked a judge to order the U.S. Soccer Federation to sanction international league matches in the United States.

The USSF last month denied an application by Relevent Sports, a company partly owned by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, to have Ecuador’s Barcelona and Guayaquil clubs play on May 5 at Miami Gardens, Florida. The USSF cited an Oct. 26 announcement by FIFA that its ruling council “emphasized the sporting principle that official league matches must be played within the territory of the respective member association.”

During a half-hour hearing Thursday before New York Supreme Court Justice W. Franc Perry, a lawyer for the USSF argued the court should not hear the dispute and it should be sent to arbitration.

Blair G. Connelly, the lawyer representing the USSF, said because Relevent’s application included its executive chairman, Charlie Stillitano, as the FIFA-licensed match agent requesting approval to stage the game, Relevent was bound by a provision in FIFA’s match agent regulations requiring any dispute with a national association be submitted to arbitration. FIFA’s rules specify such a case be heard by its player status committee, whose decision could be appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland.

“What they’re trying to do is outsource the court’s authority … to two bodies in Switzerland that don’t follow New York law and have nothing to do with it,” said Marc Litt, a lawyer for Relevent.

Connelly said the USSF’s decision could be overruled only if the court found it to be irrational. He also cited a 2007 decision by U.S. District Judge Harry D. Leinenweber in Illinois, who ordered a suit against the USSF by ChampionsWorld, a previous Stillitano-affiliated company, be stayed pending FIFA’s arbitration procedure.

“They are bound by the contracts their agent enters into on their behalf,” Connelly said.

Litt said FIFA never issued a formal regulation against international club matches in different countries and the USSF cited only a news release.

“Was U.S. Soccer irrational when it concluded that something that FIFA itself called a decision by its decision-making body was in fact a decision? We’re we crazy to think that? Was U.S. Soccer just in outer space?” Connelly said.

Litt claimed the USSF made its decision to protect Soccer United Marketing, an affiliate of the USSF and Major League Soccer.

“We believe that the only reason that they don’t want professional league matches that count in the United States is because that would damage Major League Soccer,” Litt said.

Relevent also attempted to stage the first Spanish La Liga match in the U.S., between Barcelona and Girona, at Miami Gardens on Jan. 26. That effort fell through following opposition from the governing body of Spanish soccer, the Real Federacion Espanola de Futbol, and the players’ union, the Asociacion de Futbolistas Espanoles.

Perry did not announce any decision.