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Arsenal releases statement from Xhaka detailing fan abuse

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No one’s excusing Granit Xhaka for swearing and gesticulating at the home fans who booed him off the pitch this weekend, but plenty are going to have sympathy for the Arsenal captain after he released an emotional statement on Thursday.

Xhaka, 27, admits to having been deeply hurt by reprehensible comments from “fans” on social media, and said it all boiled over on the pitch. The Swiss star had been dealing with disgusting comments regarding both him and his family, and admitted that they had affected him greatly. He is asking fans to join him in going back to a “place of mutual respect.”

[ MORE: Berhalter calls up 20 ]

When someone wishes death and disease on your wife and baby daughter, well, what’s wrong with people?

Those comments are far from excusable, and imitate the worst qualities of humans. Yes, there is a pretty vile culture right now where folks believe they’re entitled to call names and berate  people of all sorts — and not just on social media — but the fact that Arsenal green lit this statement from Xhaka shows that the club recognizes how bad things have gotten between players and fans.

Look at even the tamer comments on this Instagram photo of Xhaka and his new daughter, saying things like, “I hope you’re a better father than a football player” and begging him to take paternity leave.

The other thing about Xhaka is that whether he’s being played out of position, utilized incorrectly, or simply not playing well, the guy clearly busts his bones for Arsenal. There’s a reason his teammates elected him captain, and he cares deeply for the club. How that ever gets to death and cancer threats is beyond the pale and against the very nature of what it means to care about the club.

Either way, we’re unabashedly in his corner. Making millions of pounds/dollars/euros may allow fans to judge players critically, but it doesn’t turn them into inanimate targets. At least it shouldn’t.

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.

[ MORE: MLS Cup Playoff Power Rankings ]

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)

Jurgen Klopp wins FIFA’s The Best men’s manager

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Jurgen Klopp has been named the top manager in the world for the past season at FIFA’s The Best awards ceremony on Monday in Milan, Italy.

The UEFA Champions League-winning manager beat out Premier League winner Pep Guardiola of Manchester City and UCL finalist Mauricio Pochettino of Spurs.

[ WATCH: FIFA’s The Best awards ceremony ]

Klopp, of course, was magnanimous in victory.

 “It is great, nobody expected this 20, 10, five, four years ago that I would be standing here,” Klopp said. “We know what an incredible job Mauricio Pochettino did and what Pep did.”

He thanked the owners and players of his club.

“To the owners thank you, they gave me an incredible team. I have to thank my team – as a coach you can only be as good as your team is. I’m really proud of being manager of such an incredible bunch of players. This is an individual prize, I don’t 100% understand individual prizes, I’m here for a lot of people.”

Good for Klopp.

Guardiola credits Gundogan for ‘outstanding’ match in Ukraine

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Manchester City bounced back from its weekend loss to Norwich City by dominating Shakhtar Donestk, collecting a 3-0 win in Ukraine to start life in this UEFA Champions League season.

Ilkay Gundogan, a scapegoat for some in the weekend’s loss to Norwich City, came back to form, too, chipping in a goal and an assist in the win.

[ RECAP: Shakhtar Donetsk 0-3 Man City ]

City manager Pep Guardiola was asked whether the German midfielder flies under the radar.

“He gets the credit from all of us, not just myself,” Guardiola said, via The Manchester Evening News. “He’s an exceptional player. Also he knows how good he has to play, as there are many others in that position.”

Guardiola also credited Gundogan for his work last season. Just like Fernandinho is playing out-of-position now, Gundogan was filling in for the Brazilian last season.

“People are starting to look at what he’s done. Without him last season when Fernanindho was out we couldn’t have won the Premier League in the way we did. He can play in two or three different positions and against Shakhtar he made an outstanding performance.”

As for Fernandinho, the Brazilian said that he’s been training at center back plenty this season, even before injuries to John Stones and Aymeric Laporte.

Fernandinho said “everyone should be ready” for any role under Guardiola.

He was good enough on the day, partnering with Nicolas Otamendi in a move that has many making comparisons to what Guardiola did with midfielder Javier Mascherano at Barcelona.

That’s one of the things for which Guardiola, perhaps, has not received enough credit. Center midfielders Fabian Delph or Oleksandr Zinchenko have been serviceable left backs in two of the best seasons in Premier League history (The latter did get some minutes in the middle when Benjamin Mendy subbed in on Wednesday). And Gundogan is playing a more defensive role than usual, while Fernandinho is a center back.

If that works out, and City claims a UCL crown or PL three-peat, how could you not call this man the clear-cut best of the modern era?

Rossi salvages point for Vela-less LAFC in Orlando (video)

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The game in 200 words (or less):  With serious possibilities of losing back-to-back games without the league’s best player in Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi stepped up for LAFC. The Uruguayan’s goal in the 78th minute – his 15th of the season – earned the Supporters’ Shield favorites a point in their visit to Exploria Stadium on Saturday night. Despite dealing with injuries and international absences, Rossi’s impact was a quick reminder of the type of firepower that Michael Bradley possesses. Orlando City, playing inspired in front of their home crowd with hopes of making playoffs intact, also tested their all-around depth through the legs of what seemed like vintage Luis Nani. LAFC, however, didn’t fold in front of the Portuguese, proving to be the better team when defending and in moving the ball forward. Four points out of playoffs and with four games to play, Orlando’s playoffs hopes hang by a thread, while LAFC remain on track to lift silverware sooner rather than later.

Three moments that mattered

13′ — Vintage Nani levels the game  — We’ve seen this before from the 32-year-old.

20′ —  Michel finishes a lovely sequence — A beautiful goal.

78′ — Rossi earns LAFC a point — There are reasons why European teams are closely monitoring the Uruguayan.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Luis Nani

Goalscorers: Perez (12′), Nani (13′), Michel (20′), Rossi (78′)