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Three (more) things we learned on MLS opening day

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It’s a long, old season of soccer-ing still to be soccer-ed, but we’re 60 percent of the way through the opening weekend of MLS 2018, which means it’s time to start drawing grand conclusions.

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PST’s Joe Prince-Wright talked us through the first three lessons of the newborn season this afternoon. Now, a look at three games this evening…

[ MORE: MLS 2018 season previews

There should have been an all-out bidding war for Justin Meram

Orlando City SC only got a draw against D.C. United on Saturday, but Jason Kreis is surely over the moon with regards to the dominant performance of Justin Meram, just one — and the most expensive — of the Lions’ major offseason acquisitions. Despite the fact he and Orlando were a man down for 50 minutes, Meram, who was very clearly given the freest of roles in the absence of Sacha Kljestan (suspension), Dom Dwyer and Josue Colman (injuries), was far and away the best player on the field.

At right, you can see both Meram’s attempted passes (key passes are in yellow — there’s four of them, not including the inch-perfect through ball to Jonathan Spector which earned Meram a secondary assist on Orlando’s 93rd-minute equalizer) and attempted dribbles. To say, those success percentages are high, would be a massive understatement. There’s still a ton to be worked out by Kreis and Co., as far as the long-term formation and system go, and Meram’s versatility will give his new coach an endless list of options. If Saturday’s showing can be replicated another 20-24 times this season, the Lions have themselves a real darkhorse MVP candidate.

As an aside, 21 other teams had the opportunity to pay a small fortune in order to acquire Meram this winter, but very few — if any — teams not named Orlando were reported to have engaged in serious negotiations with Columbus Crew SC. Shame on every last one of them.


Justen Glad is next-level good

It should come as very little surprise to anyone who watched him in 2016, and particularly in 2017, that Justen Glad — he of more than 4,500 MLS minutes before his 21st birthday (last Wednesday) — is easily a top-five (if not -two or -three) center back in the league already.

Real Salt Lake found themselves under a constant flow of pressure during their 1-1 draw with FC Dallas — in truth, RSL were horribly unlucky to only come away with a point after Glad’s partner, Marcelo Silva, scored an own goal four minutes from full-time — and Glad was the undisputed star of the defensive show.

Glad’s final stat line for the night: 7 clearances, 4 interceptions, 2 blocks, 2 recoveries — all while completing nearly 80 percent of his 35 passes attempted against an extremely front-foot FCD side which trailed for more than an hour.

There were times over the last two years where Glad relied almost solely upon his brilliant recovery speed and instincts, but 90 minutes into 2018 — on the back of an almost faultless finish to last season — he’s in complete control of RSL’s entire defensive, he’s seeing, reading and reacting to threats long before they materialize, and he’s arguably the most important player on a team that has the look of Supporters’ Shield challengers.


I’m just really sorry for you, Revs fans

Here’s the thing about hiring a first-time head coach: he’s never been a head coach before, and there’s no way to possibly know whether or not he’s actually qualified for the job. That’s where I’m at — and where everyone else should be, too — with Brad Friedel. Couple that with the fact that the New England Revolution’s roster is an unmitigated disaster zone, and it’s going to be a long, long season in Boston Foxborough. The season that just might never end began on Saturday, with a 2-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union, and only nine players on the field at full-time.

Sure, there’s plenty of exciting attacking talent — from Lee Nguyen, to Diego Fagundez, to Juan Agudelo and Krisztian Nemeth — but there’s a whole other half of the field that hasn’t been blessed with a single successful signing since… I don’t know, Jermaine Jones, all the way back in 2014.

It’s true: sometimes you really do have to completely bottom out before you can get better.

Also true: you can actively facilitate such a process by acknowledging your own failures and shortcomings, blow the whole thing up on your own accord, and get to the other side a whole lot quicker. Just think about it.

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.