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The Soccer Hall of Fame’s “Essential XI” is infuriating

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Let’s get this out of the way: The National Soccer Hall of Fame’s “Essential XI” ballot — vote today! –will make you want to massage a mannequin made of broken glass.

That’s not because the XI isn’t fun, or the NSHOF won’t be amazing, but because choosing the members of this particular 3-4-3 is improbably difficult.

[ MORE: Bundesliga season preview ]

I’ve filled out the XI a bunch of times, and not once have I felt good with my picks. Even the positions which seem clear cut… just… aren’t.

There’s one tip I’d give anyone considering their ballot: DO NOT choose a foreign player who played in the old NASL or an import who spent the waning days of his career in a nascent MLS.

Franz Beckenbauer and David Beckham definitely deserve credit for their contributions to American soccer, but having one of them pop up in an all-time XI would be an embarrassment in my — and I’m assuming many others’ — eyes.

Also, don’t do the write-in… the candidate won’t win (I made an XI of Josh Wolffs, anyway).

So here are the main options I wrestle with when I look at the nominees. Having men and women in the same XI is also a headache given the USWNT’s success.

Goalkeepers

Brad Friedel
Frank Borghi
Hope Solo
Nick Rimando
Tony Meola
Kasey Keller
Brianna Scurry
Mary Harvey
Tim Howard

Respect to all of these players, but it’s hard not to immediately strip this to Keller versus Howard (with Friedel in third, which is insane given our soccer culture). There’s recency bias here, I’m sure, but Howard’s success with Manchester United and then at Everton, holding the No. 1 chair for 10 seasons? That’s nuts. Keller’s career is nearly as amazing, and his performance against Brazil in the 1998 World Cup is close to Howard vs. Belgium in 2014. Brutal choice.

Ultimately I went with… Howard.

Defenders

Franz Beckenbauer
Harry Keough
Alexi Lalas
Marcelo Balboa
Christie Pearce Rampone
Steve Cherundolo
Carla Overbeck
Paul Caligiuri
Carlos Bocanegra
Brandi Chastain
Joy Fawcett
Kate Markgraf

Let me say this first, as a (horrible) forward, for some reason my favorite players were always backs. Bocanegra and Cherundolo are in my Top Three USMNT players of all-time. That said, it’s impossible to avoid Chastain’s status of holding the most iconic moment in U.S. Soccer history (It is called a Hall of Fame, after all), and Rampone held her position through one of the most competitive times in USWNT history. Keough gets the nod for his status on a legendary USMNT team and a storied career in coaching, too. He’s an architect.

Ultimately I went with… Keough, Chastain, Pierce-Rampone.

Midfielders

Walter Bahr
Michael Bradley
DaMarcus Beasley
Heather O’Reilly
Megan Rapinoe
Cobi Jones
Kristine Lilly
Carli Lloyd
Earnie Stewart
Julie Foudy
Tab Ramos
Claudio Reyna
David Beckham
John Harkes

First off, you have to include Lilly. She owns 354 caps and scored 130 goals, the latter of which is insane for a midfielder.

Now if you include Foudy, Rapinoe, Bahr, or Harkes — the latter’s omission perhaps the most egregious — you’ll have to exclude three absolute icons of the American men’s game.

Cobi Jones is the USMNT’s all-time caps leader, and his record is safe for some time. His iconic dreadlocks also just trump Alexi Lalas as the top look in U.S. Soccer (apologies to all the bald GKs and Bradley).

To me, Reyna and Bradley are similar players, generals, and trendsetters. Given the World Cup qualifying failure of the 2018 cycle, there’s a temptation to look past Bradley but that’s asinine. He’s got 140 caps, 17 goals, memorable goals at Azteca and in a qualifier’s qualifier against Costa Rica. And Donovan against Algeria doesn’t happen if Bradley doesn’t equalize against Slovenia. This doesn’t include his exploits at Roma, Gladbach, and Toronto FC. He’s really good.

Reyna won three NCAA championships under Bruce Arena at Virginia, earned 112 caps for the USMNT, and opened doors for Americans in Germany and Scotland (winning a double at the latter) in addition to becoming a fixture for Man City, making a World Cup Best XI, and winning the freaking Hermann Trophy.

All this leaves out Earnie Stewart and a two-time women’s World Player of the Year in Lloyd. Wow.

Ultimately I went with… Jones, Lilly, Reyna, Bradley.

Forwards

Landon Donovan
Carin Jennings-Gabarra
Tiffeny Milbrett
Abby Wambach
Cindy Parlow-Cone
Eric Wynalda
Alex Morgan
Michelle Akers
Jozy Altidore
Brian McBride
Clint Dempsey
Giorgio Chinaglia
Mia Hamm
Pele

This one feels reason enough to demand separate XIs for the USMNT and USWNT. In order to include a male, you need to ditch either Abby Wambach, Michelle Akers, or Mia Hamm. You have to exclude two of those to get both Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey on the XI!!

Hamm scored 158 goals (second all-time) and 145 assists (first) in 276 caps. Even given the investment in American women’s soccer compared the rest of the world, that’s absurd. Akers scored 107 times in just 155 caps. That’s insane. Wambach, as dominant as she was, doesn’t touch that.

Which pretty much brings us to Donovan or Dempsey (Sorry, Eric Wynalda and Brian McBride). For me, the level of success Dempsey found as a flame-holder for American soccer in England tips the scales for me. He’s scored the same amount of goals in 16 less caps, though Donovan torches him in assists. If you forced me to take Donovan over Dempsey, I wouldn’t put up much of a fight.

Ultimately I went with… Hamm, Dempsey, Akers

NWSL announce return; first pro league in US to restart play

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The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) will return to play on June 27 with a new exciting tournament, becoming the first professional sports league in the U.S. to announce a date to return to action.

Did somebody say tournament soccer? That’s right, things are about to get very fun in the NWSL season as the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup has arrived.

All nine NWSL clubs will feature, as a 25-game tournament will by held in Utah from June to July to mark the 2020 season.

Each NWSL club will play four games in a preliminary round in Herriman, Utah to determine seeding, with the top eight teams then moving on to the quarterfinals as the tournament will become a knockout competition.

The semifinals and final will then be held at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, with the Championship match to take place on July 26. The tournament is hosted by Utah Royals FC owner Dell Loy Hansen, as all housing, training, and competition needs for the league’s nine teams will be taken care of in Utah as an “NWSL Village” will be created to control the environment for players and staff.

NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird confirmed all games will be played in empty stadiums, while adding that they are excited to mark the return of pro soccer, and sports, in the USA.

“As our country begins to safely reopen and adjust to our collective new reality, and with the enthusiastic support of our players, owners, as well as our new and current commercial partners, the NWSL is thrilled to bring professional soccer back to the United States,” Baird said. “This exciting month-long tournament will showcase our league’s talented players and provide our fans the type of world-class entertainment they’ve come to expect from the NWSL.”

The NWSL were in preseason and due to start the 2020 regular season on April 18 but that was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Per the league statement, health and medical officials at each club have worked tirelessly over the last nine months to come up with a safety protocol.

“Each player, official, and essential staff member will be tested 48 hours prior to departure for Utah and upon arrival and will be subject to consistent testing, temperature readings, and symptom review throughout their stay in Utah.”

The NWSL is leading the way for professional soccer, and sports, to return to the US in some format this summer.

With the NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS all exploring similar options of hosting games in a tournament format in fixed, neutral sites, all eyes will be on the NWSL to see how they pull it off.

Premier League clubs vote for contact training return

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Premier League clubs voted unanimously to return to full contact training as a key step on the road to restarting the 2019-20 season arrived.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The league released a statement confirming that clubs are now allowed to return to contact training and said they are on track to restart the season when it is safe to do so.

It is hoped the Premier League could return as early as June 12 but it has been reported that date could be pushed back by at least one week with managers wanting more time to work on the fitness of their players after over two months off.

The Premier League season was suspended on March 13 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This vote is a big, big step in the final 92 games of the season actually being completed as players and managers now appear comfortable with the strict safety protocols in place after a week back training in small groups at training grounds. Plus, if they are happy to resume contact training then they are essentially happy to resume games, as long as strict health and safety protocols remain in place.

Here is the statement from the Premier League in full:


Premier League Shareholders today voted unanimously to resume contact training, marking another step towards restarting the Premier League season, when safe to do so.

Squads are now able to train as a group and engage in tackling while minimising any unnecessary close contact.

The Premier League’s priority is the health and wellbeing of all participants.

Strict medical protocols are in place to ensure the training ground is the safest environment possible and players and staff will continue to be tested for COVID-19 twice a week.

Stage Two of the Return to Training protocol has been agreed following consultation with clubs, players, managers, the PFA, LMA and the Government.

Discussions are ongoing as work continues towards resuming the season, when conditions allow.


The Premier League confirmed over the weekend that from 1,744 tests on players and staff across the first two rounds of COVID-19 tests, eight positive tests have been recorded with players from both Watford and Bournemouth confirmed to have the virus.

Several Premier League stars and managers have revealed their angst about returning to training but those fears seem to have evaporated, for the most part, as contact training resumes.

What’s next?

Premier League clubs are due to meet on Thursday to discuss a possible restart date and a curtailment plan, just in case unexpected obstacles arise over the next few weeks.

Make no mistake about it, a return to contact training is a huge step forward for the Premier League restarting.

PSG’s Mbappe praises Klopp, Liverpool in recent interview

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This is going to delight the Anfield set.

Paris Saint-Germain mega striker Kylian Mbappe has admitted admiration for the way Liverpool plays, as conversations continue regarding his future.

[ MORE: Latest Bundesliga news | Current table ]

Mbappe, 21, may be the most valuable commodity in the world given his position, accomplishments, and skill set. For France, he has a World Cup to go with 34 caps, 13 goals, and 10 assists. For PSG and Monaco combined, he’s scored 117 goals and 65 assists in 180 appearances.

He doesn’t turn 22 until December.

But there’s long been a thought that the World Cup winner will eventually have to leave PSG to cement his legacy given the relatively shallow competition in the league.

“This season, Liverpool have been a machine in the Premier League,” he told The Mirror. “They have made winning look easy but the truth is that it is never easy. Performances like they have been having don’t just happen.

“To be as ruthless as they have been would come from lots of hard work in training and from having a very good manager.”

Liverpool fans will be nodding along, beckoning the center forward with arms extended and hands waving him to them.

Real Madrid has often been the rumored destination, and we’ve argued that there’s no fee too high for this player considering how many years he has ahead of him.

With transfer fees possibly ducking low this summer after a wake-up call from the coronavirus, could Liverpool upgrade its dangerous front three with one of the top center forwards in the game?

The fact that the Reds reportedly negotiated a percentage of jersey sales into their new apparel deal could help, because it’s easy to imagine red Mbappe jerseys all around the world.

Canada’s Davies shines again as Muller brands him Roadrunner (video)

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Alphonso Davies sees your expectations and he moves past them with vigor.

The Canadian phenom again took the international spotlight and ran with it, past it, and over it on Tuesday as Bayern Munich put one hand on its eighth-straight Bundesliga title with a 1-0 win over Borussia Dortmund at the Westfalenstadion.

[ MORE: Latest Bundesliga news | Current table ]

We’ll get to the stats and the style in a bit, but let’s start with some video that showcases the elite physical package he’s built.

Davies isn’t grinding here and he’s actually a bit slow to recognize the danger as Erling Haaland works over David Alaba.

Haaland isn’t at top speed and balance, too, but it doesn’t matter. Davies is there in a hurry. And it’s also about what he does when he get there. There are plenty of speed merchants in the game, not all of them can tackle Erling Haaland.

[ RELATED: Real Madrid targeting Davies as Marcelo replacement ]

That’s why this viral soundbite from Thomas Muller is gaining a lot of traction (also because it’s funny).

The roadrunner quip is the main attraction, but hidden in it is the implication that Davies has these elite make-up skills but is only going to get better with experience and awareness. He’s cutting out Haaland a minute earlier.

Before you watch that, though, here’s what Davies said on the play.

“Obviously being a young player I get caught out of position a lot and I’m happy to have the speed I have. That’s a factor in my game that I use very well, but I think over the years going forward with this team I will definitely learn more about my position, better positioning so it doesn’t look like I’m out of position just running back as fast as I can to catch up.”

Davies moved from Vancouver Whitecaps to Bayern just last year, but is already the undisputed best player for the Canadian national team with five goals and eight assists in 17 caps.

His 54 tackles are tied for 16th amongst Bundesliga players (Remember: He’s 19).

His 72 dribbles are top in the league (Again: 19).

Only three players have won more duels than his 180 (Not 20 until November).

And his two professional matches of left back experience before October were with Bayern II in 3.Liga this Fall. That’s bonkers.

Meep-meep.