BIll Hamid

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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)

Columbus beats DC in MLS Cup Playoffs thriller

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Penalty prodigy Zack Steffen stopped two penalty kicks to help lead Columbus past DC United at Audi Field on Thursday in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs.

The sides were level 1-1 after 90 minutes, and 2-2 through 120. Columbus scored thrice to DC’s two goals in PKs.

Steffen stopped Wayne Rooney‘s opening attempt of penalty kicks, but Bill Hamid stymied Gyasi Zardes’ third round bid.

Steffen then stopped Luciano Acosta, but the ball bobbled on Patrick Mullins’ chance to win it for the Crew.

So it came down to DeLeon to tie it, and he sent it way over the bar.

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Federico Higuain bagged a brace for Columbus, while Nick DeLeon and Frederic Brillant scored for the Black and Red.

Columbus/DC moves on to face the New York Red Bulls in the conference semifinals, a rematch of the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals.

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DC hit the scoreboard first thanks to a rare error from Columbus goalkeeper Zack Steffen.

The USMNT No. 1 backstop couldn’t hold onto a rising cross, which spilled out of his hands for Brillant to tap into the goal.

DC’s lead didn’t last long, thanks to 34-year-old Higuain (You thought he was older, didn’t you?)

Like Brillant, the Argentine was in the right place at the right time to take advantage of some rough play from the opposition.

Columbus had a few very good chances to retake the lead.

Justin Meram hit a volley over the goal, and Bill Hamid thwarted Pedro Santos’ ambitious distance effort with a flying save in the 85th.

Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta then combined atop the 18, but Steffen made a fine save of his own to force extra time.

It didn’t take long for the visitors to get their first lead of the night, with Higuain heading a pinpoint cross from Afful inside the far post.

Yet that wasn’t it!

A foul far from goal saw Rooney presiding over a deep free kick. He sent it to the back post, it was headed to the top of the 18 by Gyasi Zardes, and De Leon punched it through traffic and inside the near post with a dynamic shot.

Bill Hamid returns to DC United on loan

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Denmark hasn’t really worked out for Bill Hamid. Thankfully, he has old friends to fall back on.

The U.S. international has returned to Major League Soccer after just six months away, signing with old club D.C. United on loan from Danish club FC Midtjylland, the team and league both announced.

The 27-year-old signed with Midtjylland on a free transfer in January after the expiry of his MLS contract following last season, but has made just five appearances for them across all competitions. Since United extended him a contract offer which he turned down, the club retained his league rights, and thus gets his services upon his return.

Hamid’s contract with Midtjylland runs through 2022, but with Danish veteran Jesper Hanses firmly entrenched as the #1, they decided to let Hamid find playing time with his old club. Hamid is no shoo-in to play immediately at D.C. United, but will compete with Dave Ousted and Steve Clark for time. Ousted has held the #1 spot since the beginning of the year, but has yet to keep a clean sheet with D.C. sitting bottom of the Eastern Conference.

The 27-year-old has struggled to reach expectations placed upon him a few seasons ago, when he was believed to be the heir apparent to Tim Howard‘s USMNT spot. He has hoped to reach that peak, but instead struggled in his final year with D.C. and has been on the outside of the USMNT picture looking in, playing poorly in a 2-1 loss to Ireland back in May. Still, playing in front of his home nation’s fans could give him the boost he needs back into the national team picture with the direction of the squad facing towards youth and new blood.

Three items of USMNT interest

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The United States men’s national team begins a fortnight of friendlies with Monday’s 6:30 p.m. ET kickoff against Bolivia in Chester, Penn.

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Even under the tutelage of an interim manager — Dave Sarachan has yet to lose since taking the reins from Bruce Arena — these young Yanks can make statements as the USMNT looks to the 2019 Gold Cup and hopefully the 2021 Confederations Cup.

Here’s what to keep an eye on:

Bono, Hamid, or Horvath?

While Sarachan may not be around for the long-term, goalkeeping coach Matt Reis has a good chance of staying on the staff. Even if he doesn’t, the GK usage against Bolivia, Ireland, and France will say something about the unit.

The fact that Sarachan pulled Alex Bono away from Toronto FC in the middle of MLS season bodes well for his chances to see significant playing time. Bill Hamid (Midtjylland) and Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge) are terrific talents and will be going all out to earn the top spot.

The next of the uncapped gems

Eyes are understandably on Josh Sargent, but he and Bono are joined by five other uncapped players.

Most of the names have danced through the prospect radar for some time, some more than others.

Centerbacks Erik Palmer-Brown (Manchester City) and Matthew Olosunde (Manchester United) seems unlikely to get a ton of time, especially given Sarachan seems to lose track of who’s been capped and who hasn’t as the moments tick away in these friendlies.

Antonee Robinson, 20, is Everton property and behind Jorge Villafana and Eric Lichaj on the depth chart, though he should see a chance to show as the side’s left back of the future at some point.

Midfielders Keaton Parks (Benfica) and Alejandro Guido (Tijuana) are lesser known entities, and those are always intriguing for USMNT fanatics. Will these two trend toward the national team paths of Emerson Hyndman or Darlington Nagbe?

The Pulisic progress report

There’s little doubt about Christian Pulisic, but he’s officially been handed the keys to the USMNT kingdom. After an exhausting season with Borussia Dortmund and free from the shackles of most of his teammates from the World Cup qualifying failure, how will he fare with all the eyes, arms, and legs of Bolivia, Ireland, and — most interestingly — France taking aim at him.

USMNT player ratings from eyelid-pulling draw

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The United States men’s national team played a sleepy 0-0 draw with Bosnia and Herzegovina on Sunday in California.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

Since you care about how the relatively unknown players looked but almost certainly didn’t want to watch, we did it for you.

Because we love you, you wonderful you.

Starting XI

Bill Hamid — 7 — Challenged once, and answered with a wonderful save.

Justin Morrow — 6 — Saw yellow in a friendly within 36 minutes, and otherwise was unremarkable. The goal was clearly not to utilize the attack-minded skill set which made him an MLS Best XI defender.

Ike Opara — 8 — Exceptionally strong at center back, aggressive in closing down attackers, and often getting between the ball and its intended receiver. *Man of the Match*

Walker Zimmerman — 4.5 — Mishit clearance provided Bosnia’s second most dangerous chance, and gave away a PK for the other.

Matt Polster — 6 — BIH targeted the U.S. right side as the second half went on, but Polster ultimately wasn’t trumped by any significant mistake.

Wil Trapp — 7 — Inviting set piece delivery in the 35th minute was not turned on goal, and it was one of several terrific playmaking moments for the Columbus Crew midfielder.

Tyler Adams — 6 — Didn’t look like a teenager for most of the match, and should only grow into the international game.

Cristian Roldan (Off 69′) — 5 — Still yet to show any of his Seattle strength in his national team’s shirt.

Gyasi Zardes (Off HT) — 6 — Difficult to select an influential moment, good or bad, for the one-time USMNT mainstay.

Jordan Morris — 7 — Had as good a chance as anyone at scoring, and notably served a good left-footed cross midway through the first half.

CJ Sapong (Off HT) — 6 — Did some very good things including a cross that Adams used to force a save, but badly mishit a shot attempt, too.

Substitutes

Zack Steffen (On HT) — 6 — Guessed wrong on the missed PK and not troubled much otherwise.

Paul Arriola (On HT) — 7 —  His engine and electric potential a much-needed move for Sarachan.

Kelyn Rowe (On HT) — 7 —  Along with Arriola, injected pace and playmaking into a dull affair.

Juan Agudelo (On 69′) — 6 — Not much doing for the Revolution attacker.

Rubio Rubin (On 83′) — N/A