Top Foxes: Which Leicester players shine brightest in the fairytale?

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Riyad Mahrez won the PFA Player of the Year award for this Premier League season as the award understandably went to a member of Leicester City.

But did it go to the right one?

The sensational Mahrez is most certainly in the discussion, but what about Jamie “Fantastic Horse” Vardy or N’Golo “Battery Pants” Kante?

And then there’s the center back pair critics just can’t divide (in terms of importance), and a pair of Manchester United cast-offs playing every match. Oh, and a legendary Red Devils’ son.

[ MORE: UEFA Champions League semifinal preview ]

So who would be crazy enough to make an attempt to rank the most valuable members of the title run? Pro Soccer Talk. Duh.

Nine players have appeared in at least 33 of Leicester’s PL matches this season, although one of those Foxes — Shinji Okazaki — has played less minutes than Danny Simpson (27 matches) and Christian Fuchs (29 minutes).

And with respect to Leonardo Ulloa, who has several high-profile Leicester moments, and

To avoid making a distinction between the two, we will limit our ranking to the remaining eight (at the expense of Okazaki, Simpson and Fuchs).

8. Marc Albrighton

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 19: Marc Albrighton and Leicester City players celebrate their 1-0 win in the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Leicester City at Selhurst Park on March 19, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Crosses for days: Albrighton had an early season knack for gorgeous, sweeping assists. Not as clinical in possession or defending, though, and that slots him 8th.

7. Danny Drinkwater

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 03: Wes Morgan of Leicester City (5) celebrates with team mate Danny Drinkwater as he scores their first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Southampton at The King Power Stadium on April 3, 2016 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Doesn’t make as many spectacular, awe-inspiring plays as his midfield mate Kante, but is a steadying part of the force who’s opened the eyes of England manager Roy Hodgson.

6. Robert Huth

during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Newcastle United at The King Power Stadium on March 14, 2016 in Leicester, England.
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A friend of mine who’s been getting into the Premier League more because of the Leicester story calls the big German back the “Chris Pronger of the Premier League”, and any hockey fan can tell you what that means. Big and nasty, and a threat at both ends of the pitch.

5. Kasper Schmeichel

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 03: Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel of Leicester City attempts to punch clear from Graziano Pelle of Southampton during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Southampton at The King Power Stadium on April 3, 2016 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

It wasn’t too long ago that his last name was more interesting to neutrals than his status as a starting goalkeeper. Schmeichel has played in every match for Leicester, and is a Top Ten goalkeeper in the PL.

4. Jamie Vardy

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 03: Jamie Vardy of Leicester City controls the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Southampton at The King Power Stadium on April 3, 2016 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

We know, we know: the striker who set a record for most successive goals is fourth on our list. His 22 goals and 8 assists account for close to 50 percent of the Foxes’ 63 goals, and who knows how high that figure rises when you consider his relentless energy and pressure have caused many a turnover. Not bad for a kid from Stocksbridge Park Steels’ youth set-up.

3. Wes Morgan

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Leicester City at the Etihad Stadium on February 6, 2016 in Manchester, England.
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Leicester didn’t keep its first clean sheet until Week 10, and has just two before Christmas. The English-born Jamaican international has been instrumental in most of the 12 clean sheets that have come since, as the Foxes have allowed multiple goals just three times in 2016. Marshall.

2. Riyad Mahrez

West Ham United v Leicester City - Premier League
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The 17-goal man’s best league scoring outputs before this season were 13- and 11- goal seasons… for Le Havre II. This season, he’s been off the charts in terms of electricity in attack.

MVP: N’Golo Kante

 during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and West Ham United at The King Power Stadium on April 17, 2016 in Leicester, England.
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There are many reasons Mahrez won PFA Player of the Year, but his gaudy numbers tipped the scales. Traditional statistics don’t tell us everything, though, and if you’re talking about open market value for a player we believe Kante would fetch the most. We’ve written about his value at length here, as Leicester’s counterattacking approach needs an interceptor and a facilitator. He does both.

Agree? Disagree? Vote on your Leicester MVP here:

Study: MLS improves racial hiring, slides in gender hiring

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A diversity report shows improved racial hiring practices for Major League Soccer but also highlighted a continuing decline in gender hiring efforts.

The annual report card from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at Central Florida on Wednesday gave MLS an A with 93.9 points for racial hiring in 2019 for its highest score in 15 years.

[ MORE: Top 25 players in USMNT pool ]

But the gender score of 72 points for a C grade fell for the third straight time, down from 76.8 points in 2018 and 81 points as recently as 2016.

The overall grade for MLS was a B at 82.9 points, falling from a B-plus and 85 points in 2018.

TIDES director Richard Lapchick, the lead report author, called lower gender hiring numbers across men’s professional sports a “systemic problem.”

Online: http://tidesport.org/

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

Medel: Chile players decline friendly over civil unrest

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Chile had already canceled a home friendly with Bolivia this international break, and now the players will not play Tuesday in Peru either due to unrest in their country.’

A nationwide strike and protests against the government, spurred by a rise in metro fares, have Chile on edge.

[ MORE: USMNT-Canada preview ]

La Roja stars Gary Medel and Arturo Vidal both posted lengthy messages on their Instagram accounts, saying that the decision was made “in response to the social moment in our country.”

They urged both protestors and law enforcement to turn away from violence.

From Mega.CL:

“We are soccer players, but above all people and citizens. We know that we represent a complete country and today Chile has other priorities much more important than next Tuesday’s game.”

Chile is ranked No. 17 by FIFA and 22 in Elo Ratings.

Slumping USMNT big favorites v. Canada

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Let’s start with two statements which might be a bit controversial given the tone and tenor of the United States men’s national team program.

  1. The CONCACAF Nations League very much matters to Gregg Berhalter’s era and the program in general, even if the coach’s job is not in jeopardy and the tournament is in its infancy.
  2. The USMNT are the oddsmakers’ heavy favorites to win (nearly +500), even given the current injury problems, and it will be shocking but not surprising if they lose to the Canadians.

Point No. 1 might be a bit surprising, but this is a competition with silverware and Berhalter hasn’t won any of it yet in his tenure as USMNT boss. It’s also relevant because losing to Canada twice in a month after not losing to them since the Billboard No. 1 single was the sensual “One More Night” by Phil Collins.

And even without Christian Pulisic and a raft of injury excuses, plus taking into account Canada’s sincere re-emergence on the CONCACAF scene, the USMNT has no business losing a meaningful match at home to a team that, while improved, has far more holes than the hosts.

If you remember from October, Berhalter didn’t call upon his men to press an inexperienced Canadian back line (I just realized I’m still angry about this). There is literally no way he’ll do that at home.

If John Herdman keeps his backs the same as the one that shut out the Yanks at BMO last month, he’ll have Kamal Miller, Derek Cornelius, Steven Vitoria, and Richie Laryea out there. Three of the four aren’t full-time starters for their MLS clubs (Vitoria is an every week man in Portugal’s top flight). Goalkeeper Milan Borjan (Red Star Belgrade) is capable of stealing a result, but shouldn’t have the chance if the Yanks pressure the ball on Friday.

The midfield and attackers are where the U.S. will have its hands full. Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David beg speedy and/or smart defenders. John Brooks being in the mix should help in both counts, plus he’s the best passing back in the pool right now.

Whether the match is cagey or comfortable will come down to the midfield. Scott Arfield is going to make it difficult on the Yanks, but Alfredo Morales plays with a nasty streak and will not be as bullied as his peers were in Toronto.

The one thing to fear is how bamboozled Berhalter was by Herdman’s plan in Ontario. This isn’t to pile on the coach, who is known for his tactics but hasn’t seen them deliver against too many opponents of quality. Herdman may be the novice in terms of overall club experience, but he’s got a better handle on the international game.

If the Yanks look out-foxed and unprepared on Friday, that’s a big problem.

How will the USMNT line up versus Canada?

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No Christian Pulisic.

No Tyler Adams.

No Timothy Weah.

No Michael Bradley, Matt Miazga, and no Zack Steffen, either.

Ugh.

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Still, the United States men’s national team will be favored to get a home decision over Canada on Friday as the CONCACAF Nations League begins its final two match days of the group stage.

How will Gregg Berhalter line up his team without so many key components?

Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan is probably going to get the start here, and he won’t kill the team, but we’d love to see Sean Johnson get a chance to improve on his 100% clean sheet success rate across two tournament caps for the U.S.

Back line: It would be insane if Sergino Dest didn’t start at one of the full back spots given his election of the USMNT over the Netherlands. Also insane would be not starting a finally-healthy John Brooks.

After that, it seems likely Berhalter will opt for Aaron Long to pair with Brooks. If his left back option is Dest, then it’ll be DeAndre Yedlin at right back (or Reggie Cannon). If Dest is on his preferred right side, than Daniel Lovitz may get a look over Tim Ream on account of the speed in Canada’s attack.

Midfield: Might Berhalter pull back an attacker and use a four-man midfield against the Canucks? Weston McKennie and Alfredo Morales will take two spots, and it seems pretty likely Jackson Yueill will get the chance to be a deep-lying playmaker with McKennie and Morales running their shorts off to make his life easier. We suppose Berhalter could opt for Wil Trapp over Yueill. It’s possible. A little too possible.

Attack: Josh Sargent is going to get the center forward spot, and it would be wild if Jordan Morris doesn’t join him. Then it’s down to Tyler Boyd or Paul Arriola, exciting versus a bit safer. And Arriola would give him more of a midfield presence than the forward-thinking Boyd.

Here’s how we think Berhalter starts in Orlando:

Guzan

Yedlin — Long — Brooks — Dest

Yueill

Morales — McKennie

Morris — Sargent — Arriola