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The impossible annual task of choosing an MLS Best XI

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Forget about a functional XI when you’re putting together an MLS Best XI.

That’s true in most leagues, to be fair, but the offensive firepower in MLS puts up gaudy numbers as silky attackers are given a bit more free reign than their used to in previous leagues.

Consider that two players eclipsed the 30-goal mark in Carlos Vela and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, with the latter doing it in under 30 matches. Josef Martinez also came close in 29 matches.

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Those players are enough to form a trident for your Best XI, and they come from loaded units.

Then there’s midfielder Maxi Moralez of NYCFC with his 20 assists in 2434 minutes.

Vela had double digit goals and assists, an achievement met by Carles Gil (New England), Alejandero Pozuelo (Toronto), and Nani (Orlando City).

They all can’t make it.

So we’ll build from the back, and likely punish the fullbacks thanks to a remarkable group of attackers.

Here is who is getting my vote.

Goalkeeper

The backstop is always a tricky choice. Bill Hamid and Brad Guzan led the league in clean sheets with 14, but only the former will warrant consideration here. The Galaxy’s David Bingham led the league in saves and saves inside the box, while also stopping a pair of penalties.

Both join Portland’s Steve Clark, Vancouver’s Maxime Crepeau, and New England’s Matt Turner as advanced stat darlings.

For me it comes down to Hamid and Bingham. The former had far superior defenders, but I can’t get past DC United’s 38 goals allowed to the Galaxy’s 59. Maybe it’s the hockey fan in me thinking of it like the Jennings Award, but that’s my tiebreaker.

Defender

I’m gonna start with DC again here, and the Black-and-Red have two players deserving of a place: Frederic Brillant and Steve Birnbaum.

Here’s why I’m opting for the latter: On the SofaScore list of the Top 20 rated defenders in MLS, minimum 25 games, all but two were dribbled past 11 times or more: Orlando’s Lamine Sane and Birnbaum.

Birnbaum’s number? Two.

You read that right. In 3032 minutes this season, he was taken twice.

Other contenders include:

— Ike Opara, who had another remarkable season and didn’t miss a beat in switching from Sporting KC to Minnesota.

Bastian Schweinsteiger in Chicago dropped from the center of the park and was very strong.

— Miles Robinson of Atlanta was exceptional, especially given his age, while Ryan Hollingshead had the best advanced statistical season of any back on WhoScored. Jorge Moreira gets that nod on SofaScore. And spare a thought for Keegan Rosenberry, who intercepted 16 more passes than anyone else in MLS (82) but still can’t get a call from the USMNT.

Everybody else

We named the prime attackers in MLS at the top of this post. You’d like to add Nicolas Lodeiro and Diego Valeri.

Eduard Atuesta and Mark-Anthony Kaye from LAFC have been difference makers behind Vela. In-beom Hwang was marvelous more often than not but on a terrible Vancouver team.

But there’s one name I believe qualifies as the least-heralded star in MLS.

Minnesota United’s Jan Gregus needs to be on this team. I don’t think he will because his goal and eight assists don’t pop off the page and the Slovakian national team doesn’t get as much love as center midfield partner and well-established bulldog Osvaldo Alonso.

Gregus was fifth in MLS in interceptions with 1.9 per match, 2.2 key passes, and crafts an awfully nice looking long pass. You could argue that he was the key to Minnesota’s fourth seed.

The Best XI

So here’s my team. We’d be destroyed out wide, but would probably score 10 goals a game so man would we entertain?

Bill Hamid (DC)

Robinson (ATL) — Birnbaum (DC) — Opare (MIN)

Gregus (MIN) — Atuesta (LAFC)

Lodeiro (SEA) — Moralez (NYCFC)

Vela (LAFC) — Ibrahimovic (LAG) — Martinez (ATL)

Bench: Bingham (LAG), Brillant (DC), Gil (NE), Pozuelo (TOR), Przyzbylko (PHI), Valeri (POR), Schweinsteiger (CHI)

Americans Abroad: Johnson, Yedlin register starts; Miazga injured in FA Cup bout

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After last weekend served as the year’s best weekend yet for Americans abroad, positive activity was scarce this time around.

Fabian Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin returned to their respective team’s starting lineups, but neither them or any other American abroad managed to put the ball in the back of the net.

To make matters worse, Matt Miazga left Reading’s match on Saturday with an apparent ankle injury.

Here is a list of several other USMNT affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) abroad this weekend.

FA Cup

DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle — Yedlin was back on Steve Bruce‘s starting lineup on Saturday. The fullback played all 90 minutes in Newcastle’s draw with Oxford United.

Duane Holmes, Derby County — Holmes remianed on the bench in Derby’s 0-0 draw with Northampton Town on Friday.

Matt Miazga, Reading (loan from Chelsea) — The 24-year-old captain started and played 66 minutes before exiting the field with an apparent ankle injury against Cardiff City on Saturday.

Eric Lichaj, Hull City — The Tigers’ defender started and played 90 minutes in Hull’s 2-1 loss to Chelsea.

Geoff Cameron, QPR — The 34-year-old defender stayed on the bench in QPR’s 2-1 loss to Sheffield Wednesday on Friday.

Tim Ream, Fulham — Ream played the final six minutes in Fulham’s 4-0 loss to Manchester City on Sunday.

Ligue 1

Timothy Weah, Lille — Weah didn’t feature on the field or on Lille’s bench this weekend.

Theoson Jordan-Siebatcheu, Rennes — Jordon-Siebatcheu watched Rennes draw 1-1 with Nice from the bench.

Eredivisie

Haji Wright, VVV-Venlo — Wright remained on the bench in Venlo’s 2-1 win over RKC Waalwijk on Sunday.

Sergino Dest, Ajax — Dest started and played 90 minutes in Ajax’s 2-1 defeat to Groningen.

Desevio Payne, FC Emmen — The U-23 MNT fullback didn’t dress for FC Emmen on Sunday.

Bundesliga

Timmy Chandler, Eintracht Frankfurt — The fullback played 89 minutes in Frankfurt’s 2-0 win over RB Leipzig on Saturday.

Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig — Adams started and played 71 minutes for Leipzig.

Weston McKennie, Schalke — McKennie is back and running, playing 10 minutes for Schalke in their 5-0 loss to Bayern Munich.

Zack Steffen, Fortuna Dusseldorf — Steffen is inactive with an injury.

Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf — Morales started and played 90 minutes in Fortuna’s 3-0 loss to Bayer Leverkusen.

Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen  The 19-year-old started and played 66 minutes in Werder Bremen’s 3-0 loss to Hoffenheim.

Fabian Johnson, Borussia Mönchengladbach — Johnson made his way back into Mönchengladbach’s starting cast, playing 87 minutes on Sunday.

Honorable Mentions

Alex Mendez, Jong Ajax — Mendez played all 90 minutes and registered an assist in Jong Ajax’s 3-3 draw with  NEC Nijmegen.

Mexicans Abroad: Vela starts preseason with a bang; Davila continues to shine in A-League

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It took Carlos Vela 10 minutes to prove that he didn’t lose a step over Major League Soccer’s lengthy offseason.

Vela, 30, started his third preseason in grandiose fashion, scoring a trademark left-footed curler against Uruguayan giants Peñarol. The Mexican winger, who scored a league-record 34 goals in 31 matches, inspired LAFC’s 2-0 win at the Banc of California Stadium.

Thousands of miles away, an old friend of Vela, Ulises Davila, delivered the good for his club once again. The Chivas academy product scored a goal and provided an assist in Wellington Phoenix’s 2-1 win over Newcastle Jets.

Here is a list of several other Mexico national team affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) outside of Mexico this weekend.


Premier League

Raul Jimenez, Wolverhampton Wanderers —  Jimenez and Wolves did not feature this weekend, but they did on Thursday, and the Mexican shined then. Jimenez scored his 11th goal of the season in Wolves’ 2-1 loss to leaders Liverpool, equalling Harry Kane‘s and Sadio Mane’s count. Thhe goal, itself, was a masterpiece:

La Liga

Hector Herrera, Atletico Madrid — Herrera took the field in the 62nd minute for Angel Correa and completed 25 passes in Atletico’s 0-0 draw with Leganes.

Andres Guardado, Real Betis —  Guardado started but left the field 34 minutes in after picking up an injury. Betis dropped three points after losing to Getafe 1-0.

Diego Lainez, Real Betis — The 19-year-old was not called up to Betis’ bench on Sunday. 

Nestor Araujo, Celta Vigo — Araujo started and played 90 minutes in Celta’s draw with Eibar on Sunday.

Serie A

Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Napoli —  With reports linking the frenetic winger to Everton, Lozano continues lack playing minutes with Napoli. The 24-year-old was on Genaro Gattuso’s bench on Sunday, but was not substituted on in Napoli’s 2-1 win over Juventus.

Primeira Liga

Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, FC Porto — Tecatito started and played all 90 minutes in Porto’s 1-0 loss to Braga in the Taca da Liga final. It was reported that the 27-year-old’s home in Portugal was burglarized during the match.

Eredivisie

Erick Gutierrez, PSV Eindhoven —  Gutierrez earned his first minutes of competitive playing time of the year on Sunday. The midfielder played the final eight minutes of PSV’s draw with FC Twente on Sunday.

Edson Alvarez, Ajax — Alvarez dressed but remained on the bench for Ajax on Sunday.

Major League Soccer

Carlos Vela, LAFC – Vela kickstarted LAFC’s 2020 preseason in spectacular fashion. Take a look for yourself:

Jupiler Pro League

Omar Govea, Zulte Waregem — Govea and Zulte were inactive this weekend.

Elsewhere around the globe:

Ulises Davila, Wellington Phoenix – On Thursday, Davila played a tremendous role in Phoenix’s 2-1 win, scoring a goal and adding an assist against Newcastle Jets. Davila is the A-League’s fourth highest scoring this season with 10 goals.

Serie A roundup: Struggling Napoli stun leaders Juventus (video)

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Napoli’s much-needed win against leaders Juventus highlights Sunday’s busy Serie A action.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Napoli 2-1 Juventus

Second-half goals from Piotr Zielinski and Lorenzo Insigne earned Napoli a hard-earned 2-1 win over leaders Juventus in San Paolo. 

Gli Azzurri’s win marks their first in three Serie A bouts and ended the Old lady’s five-game winning streak.

Cristiano Ronaldo managed to extend his goalscoring streak to eight games in the final minutes of the match, but Juventus failed to go six point clear of second best Inter Milan, who drew on Sunday.

Following the game, the visitor’s boss, Maurizio Sarri, was delighted for Napoli, who he managed from 2015 to 2018.

“I am happy for the lads, as I will always be fond of them,” he told Sky Sport Italia. “If you have to lose, I guess I’d rather it be here to help Napoli get out of their current problems. I’d rather they started winning next week, of course.”

“Clearly, the game takes over and you have to detach yourself from everything around that,” he added. “Napoli represented a special moment in my life and it’s always pleasing and emotional to be back here.”

As for Napoli, the home league victory – their first since October – takes loads of pressure from their back. The club, under the guidance of Gennaro Gattuso, had been struggling.

The club stands 10th with 27 points after 21 games, but has a long ways to go, according to Gattuso.

“We beat two good teams now, fine, but we are still in trouble, still a long way back and need to keep pushing,” he said. “I congratulate the lads for the work they’ve done over the last seven days, but we have to keep going like this now, do not let up, focus on Napoli 24 hours a day.”

Up next for Napoli is Sampdoria, while Juventus host Fiorentina.

Elsewhere in Serie A 

Inter Milan 1-1 Cagliari

Parma 2-0 Udinese

Sampdoria 0-0 Sassuolo 

Verona 3-0 Lecce

Roma 1-1 Lazio

La Liga roundup: Nacho header powers Real Madrid to top of table (video)

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Real Madrid’s close win at the Estadio Jose Zorilla to go atop of Spain’s top-flight highlights La Liga’s Sunday action.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Real Valladolid 0-1 Real Madrid

Real Madrid is three points clear at the top of La Liga after Nacho Fernandez’s header in the 78th minute against Real Valladolid on Sunday.

With defending champions Barcelona dropping three, crucial points against Valencia on Saturday, Zinedine Zidane and company take a giant leap in the tight title race. Los Blancos’ 46 points are the most within La Liga with less than a half a season to go.

But even then, the French manager was reluctant to accept that his team did enough against Valladolid to claim league triumph.

“For us, nothing changes,” Zidane said. “We are happy with the victory, the work done having fought until the end, but nothing changes. There are 17 games left and we will continue fighting until the end.

“I don’t want to talk about being champions because there is still a lot left to play. It changes nothing to be leaders, they are three important points but nothing more.

“There are a lot of league games left and it will be difficult for all teams, including us.”

Madrid’s defense shined all 90 minutes, denying the hosts from registering a shot on target and producing the match-winning goal via Nacho.

“Defensively, what we are doing, we are doing well. It is our strength,” Zidane also told reporters. “We defend all and when we lose the ball we recover it very high, and if we keep it we have a good chance of scoring.”

“Nacho scored and that is part of football. We know that we can improve in this aspect,” he added. “Nacho is a professional. When he has to compete he does well. I’m glad for his goal; he doesn’t usually score them but from time-to-time we can also create chances for defenders.”

Debuting for Madrid in 2011, Nacho has made 133 appearances and scored seven goals. His goal on Sunday perhaps the most important, earning his team what is arguably their most crucial league win this season.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Atletico Madrid 0-0 Leganes

Celta Vigo 0-0 Eibar

Getafe 1-0 Real Betis

Real Sociedad 3-0 Mallorca