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Top 10 breakout players in MLS in 2018

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The 2018 MLS season is just around the corner, and with a new season comes a new crop of breakout stars.

The most-hyped name from the 2017-2018 offseason was unquestionably Atlanta United midfielder Ezequiel Barco, but there are plenty of others who have a chance to have breakout debut seasons after joining MLS clubs.

[MORE: MLS Eastern Conference Preview]

Here’s a look at what we project are the top 10 breakout players for the upcoming 2018 season:


 

 

 

Honorable Mention: Yohan Croizet – Sporting KC, Anthony Blondell – Vancouver Whitecaps, Cristhian Paredes – Portland Timbers, Cristian Penilla – New England Revolution, Diego Rossi – LAFC, Junior Moreno – D.C. United

10. Joao Moutinho – LA FC

The No. 1 overall selection in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft, Moutinho has a chance to win a starting place in the LAFC backline and make his professional debut this Sunday against the Seattle Sounders.

Moutinho came up from his defensive spot and scored for LAFC in its preseason finale against Sacramento Republic, and he could be a mainstay for years to come.

9. Alejandro Fuenmayor – Houston Dynamo

The Venezuelan First Division isn’t exactly the highest standard, even in South America, but Fuenmayor is a seasoned professional even at the age of 21. Fuenmayor played 72 times for Carabobo FC, including leading the team to a Copa Libertadores place and making the Venezuela Primera Division Best XI.

The young centerback joined the Dynamo this offseason and looks to slot in the backline alongside either Philippe Senderos, Adolfo Machado, or Leonardo, as the team looks to improve upon the 45 goals allowed last season.

8. Mason Toye – Minnesota United

Coming off an electric freshman season at Indiana University, Mason Toye went pro, signed a Generation Adidas contract and became the 11th overall selection in the draft.

Toye scored 10 goals and assisted on two others in his first season in college and he’s already impressed on the field for Minnesota during preseason. He probably won’t start at the beginning of the season, but Toye could break into the lineup in midseason and have a big impact.

7. Saphir Taïder – Montreal Impact

One of the few players joining MLS that isn’t from South America, Taider is looking for a fresh start in his career.

After failed stints at Inter Milan and Southampton, he’s looking for a chance to shine with the Impact, which is owned by the same co-owner of Bologna, Joey Saputo. Taider joined the Impact this offseason from Bologna and has been impressing both in terms of goals scored and the little things he does in midfield.

6. Milton Valenzuela – Columbus Crew

With the loss of Jukka Raitala, the Crew needed a new left back, and the club found one of South America’s brightest prospects in that position.

In comes Milton Valenzuela on a Young Designated Player contract, bringing another Argentine to join Federico Higuain, Gaston Sauro and co. Valenzuela is a former Argentine U-20 international and made his debut for Newell’s Old Boys as a 17-year-old. Now 19, he’ll step into the starting lineup for the Crew and has a chance to make his mark in MLS.

5. Josue Colman – Orlando City SC

Joining a talented and experienced group of attackers, Josue Colman has a chance to burst onto the scene in MLS with a bit less pressure than if he was expected to produce a ton out of the gate. But Orlando City’s new No. 10 has big shoes to fill – Kaka formerly wore that – and the club is looking to make the playoffs for the first time.

Colman has been sidelined most of preseason with injuries and is expected to miss the opening weekend. But once he’s on the field, the Paraguayan 19-year-old has a chance to show why Orlando City spent big to sign him.

4. Santiago Mosquera – FC Dallas

Josue Colman’s countryman Christian Colman had a tough first season at FC Dallas, and it appears Oscar Pareja may have already found a replacement in the speedy Colombian, Santiago Mosquera. The 23-year-old winger has pace to burn and has already made a strong impression in preseason, and could potentially become a lethal combination up top with Michael Barrios on the right and Maxi Urruti in the middle.

Honorable mention at this spot goes to Reggie Cannon, the FC Dallas Homegrown player, who is expected to play regular minutes this season and could become a serious U.S. Men’s National Team prospect at fullback.

3. Jesus Medina – NYCFC

If FC Copenhagen coach Stale Solbakken is to be believed, the Paraguayan attacker was all set to join Copenhagen before NYCFC and the City Football Group stepped in. New York City FC is the ultimate beneficiary, as Patrick Vieira adds one of the most promising South American attacking midfielders to his squad.

Medina comes in just as Jack Harrison departs for Middlesborough via Manchester City, and he could help alleviate any issues in midfield with Harrison’s absence.

2. Alejandro “Kaku” Romero Gamarra – New York Red Bulls

The on-again, off-again, back on-again saga of Kaku was finally completed on February 16 and Kaku became a Red Bulls player.

Because of the long saga, there are huge expectations on Kaku’s shoulders, perhaps too high for a Young Designated Player who will have to replace the production of Sacha Kljestan, which is nearly impossible. Either way, barring injuries, Kaku should start plenty of games, and will have a chance to become the latest young South American star in MLS.

1. Ezequiel Barco – Atlanta United

Ah, the man of the hour. The 18-year-old man who Atlanta United reportedly spent around $15 million to sign from Independiente, breaking the MLS transfer record for the second consecutive year.

Barco emerged in the second half of 2017 for Independiente and helped give the club a Copa Sudamericana title, scoring the decisive penalty kick in the final. Atlanta United fans will be hoping Barco can lead Atlanta farther in the MLS Cup playoffs in year two. If he lives up to the hype, there’s no doubt he’ll be a household name in MLS living rooms.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 11 — England, Colombia back in action

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Day 11 of the 2018 World Cup is up next, on Sunday, with England back in action and in need of three points — and a resounding win — to keep pace with Belgium in Group G.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Following Belgium’s 5-2 thrashing of Tunisia — the same side that England beat in stoppage time earlier in the week — on Saturday, the Red Devils have positioned themselves perfectly to win the group with a draw against the Three Lions on Thursday. England need a five-goal victory at 6-1 or higher to the finish top of the group following a draw on the final day.

Then, it’s a pair of Group H fixtures, kicked off with Japan (1st) versus Senegal (2nd) — both of whom won their first game — followed by Poland (3rd) versus Colombia (4th).

Below is Sunday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Sunday, June 24

Group G
England vs. Panama: Nizhny Novgorod, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group H
Japan vs. Senegal: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Poland vs. Colombia: Kazan, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

FIFA opens case against Xhaka, Shaqiri for celebrations

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FIFA’s disciplinary committee opened disciplinary proceedings against Swiss players Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri for politically charged goal celebrations during their 2-1 World Cup win over Serbia in Kaliningrad.

[ MORE: The meaning behind Xhaka, Shaqiri’s eagle celebration ]

FIFA also said Saturday it has opened disciplinary proceedings against the Serbian Football Association for crowd disturbance and the display of political and offensive messages by Serbian fans. FIFA also is reviewing statements that Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic made after the match.

Xhaka and Shaqiri celebrated their goals by making a nationalist symbol of their ethnic Albanian heritage. Both of their families come from Kosovo, the former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008. Serbia doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s independence and relations between the two countries remain tense.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

The Polish Football Association was fined $10,100 and given a warning by FIFA’s disciplinary committee for a banner that the governing body deemed political and offensive. The banner was displayed during Senegal’s 2-1 win over Poland on Tuesday in Moscow.

The committee also opened disciplinary proceedings against the federations of Argentina and Croatia for crowd disturbances during Croatia’s 3-0 win Thursday at Nizhny Novgorod.

Low: Germany survived “a thriller full of emotion”

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At 1-0 down, they were headed for elimination in the group stage (with a game still to play); once level at 1-1, they faced yet a steep hill to climb on the final day of the group stage; after Toni Kroos scored his stunning 94th-minute winner, Joachim Low could finally exhale and imagine himself managing the German national team for another day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Sweden at the 2018 World Cup was, for most intents and purposes, a worrying performance for the defending world champions. Fortunately for Low and Co., the one place in which their comeback dramatic victory was a raging success is the only one that matters: the Group F table, where Die Mannschaft currently (somehow) sit second and control their own destiny — quotes from the BBC:

“This was a thriller, full of emotion, right up until the final whistle. Brandt hit the goal post just three minutes before the end too. We took out a defensive player and brought on an attacking player because we knew had to bring on everything we had to turn it round.

“We had a couple of great chances — Mario Gomez’s header being one of them. The last couple of minutes were full of drama but those matches exist in football. We’ve had these situations in other tournaments as well. For the viewers that’s part of the attractiveness of football.”

“Something I did appreciate today was that we didn’t lose our nerve, we didn’t panic after going a goal down. We kept a level head and said we needed to make quick passes and tire the Swedes out to open up spaces.

“We didn’t score a couple of good chances but we never lost hope we could win the match and I think the goal scored in stoppage time had a bit of luck involved but it did show the belief we had in ourselves.”

There’s still plenty of work to do for one of the most popular pre-tournament favorites — there’s a little matter of needing to beat, or at the very least, best Sweden’s result against Mexico — but that can wait until tomorrow, because Saturday unexpectedly became all about survival.

Germany snatches late win over Sweden to avoid elimination

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Germany dodged a fatal bullet on Saturday, coming back from a goal down to Sweden to steal a 2-1 victory at the 2018 World Cup and keep their world title defense alive… barely.

For all of 16 minutes — plus halftime — the Germans were in line to be eliminated with one Group F game still to play, but ultimately, Ola Toivonen‘s unlikely opener was canceled out by Marco Reus in very short order after the restart, and Toni Kroos broke Swedish hearts in the 94th.

Put another way, Joachim Loew survives to manage another day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Sweden felt massively aggrieved to have not been awarded a penalty kick in the 17th minute, when Jerome Boateng took out the legs of Marcus Berg as he bore down on an out-rushing Manuel Neuer. The combination of leg-to-leg contact and a strong push in the back appeared an obvious error for the video-assistant referee to right a wrong, but the call never came.

The opening goal was the direct result of a careless giveaway by Kroos near the center circle, and needed just three touches and two passes to cut through the German defense and spring Toivonen behind Antonio Rudiger. The finish, a perfectly weighted dink — perhaps aided by the slightest of deflections by Rudiger — left Neuer with no chance (WATCH HERE).

Then, with the final touch of the first half, Berg glanced a header from a free kick that was destined to his the inside netting at the far post, but Neuer redefined the phrase “at full stretch” to keep the scoreline 1-1.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

That save proved invaluable for Joachim Loew’s side, as Marco Reus pulled the defending world champions level less than three minutes into the second half. Timo Werner dribbled to the endline and cut the ball back toward the penalty spot, and Reus got on the end of the deflected cross and struck it home with his knee. A semblance of order restored.

Bedlam ensued in the final 15 minutes, as Boateng was sent off for a second yellow card and Neuer lost his footing while scrambling across the face of goal to make a save, only narrowly preserving the 1-1 scoreline. Robin Olsen one-upped Neuer in the 88th minute, rising to his crossbar to punch Mario Gomez’s header just over.

In the fourth of five minutes of second-half stoppage time, Kroos became the hero. From a nearly impossible angle on the left side of the penalty area, Kroos rolled the ball forward to Reus on the restart, creating an ever so slightly wider angle from which to curl his shot toward the far post. It worked to perfection.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

Germany (3 points) will finish group play against fourth-place South Korea (0 points) on Wednesday, while Sweden (3 points) will face Mexico (6 points), who had clinched their place in the knockout rounds until Germany’s late winner.