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An infuriating attempt at the 2018 MLS Best XI

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It occurs to me that projecting an MLS Best XI for this year is tougher than its been in some time.

In truth, it’s probably been growing in that manner on an annual basis. Shoot, look at last year’s post on the topic.

It’s especially difficult to narrow down your attackers if you want an XI to be representative of anything close to a unit you’d place on field.

[ MORE: Champions League Weds. wrap ]

Consider that the league has three 20-goal scorers, none who could be considered anything close to a midfielder, and six players with double digits goals and assists.

Let’s start with the necessities.

Forwards: The XI could not look remotely rational without Josef Martinez’s 30-goal record season, and there’s on debate that Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s 22 goals in 26 matches rates.

So there’s two forwards, which means you need to exclude all but one of the following players:

  • Wayne Rooney — 12 goals, six assists, 19 matches
  • Bradley Wright-Phillips — 20 goals, 7 assists, 31 matches
  • Carlos Vela — 13 goals, 10 assists, 27 matches

And, by the way, Adama Diomande has 12 goals in 17 matches and David Villa 13 in 22. Not bad.

Midfielders: Miguel Almiron, Ignacio Piatti, and Nicolas Lodeiro have had out of this world campaigns, as has Alphonso Davies. Both Davies and Piatti are unlikely to make the playoffs, and should that matter? Orlando’s Yoshi Yotun and Mohamed El-Munir (a defender) have been amongst the best at their spots, but their team was terrible.

Borek Dockal, Luciano Acosta, Lodeiro, and NYCFC’s Maxi Moralez have 15 assists or more. Sebastian Giovinco and Darwin Quintero are just off the pace despite playing 27 and 26 games on bad teams.

Dockal is averaging an assist in two of three matches this season, and Piatti.

Piatti!

Defenders: This one’s difficult because you need at least three and this league is like the Dutch Eredivisie on steroids (Even that league only had one 20-goal scorer last season).

There’s a bit of cheating in including Sporting KC’s Graham Zusi, the influential right back who also plays advanced at times and also guarantees us an SKC man on the roster. And Matt Besler is a better positional fit, but Zusi feels more necessary.

It feels like either Aaron Long or Tim Parker should represent the Red Bulls, and Walker Zimmerman has reclaimed his elite form with LAFC.

Goalkeepers: Tim Melia and Luis Robles both pace the league in clean sheets with 13, while Andre Blake of Philadelphia and Evan Bush have thrived on… less impressive units. Bush has faced 181 shots, more than all but one goalkeeper, and has made a league-high 130 saves in keeping Montreal alive.

Conclusion: Look, we’re going to have to try and outscore the other team now, aren’t we? And we’re going to lose. But it’s going to be fun.

I’ve got it down to 10 players, only repeating two teams (Red Bulls and Atlanta).

There’s no one from Dallas, who deserves a man, nor NYCFC. Plus  we’ve got two players who could miss the playoffs in Zlatan and Piatti, but it’s crazy not to include them. It just is.

So who gets our 11th slot? A stable center mid? Vela to make it a 3-4-3 and a third team with two slots?

Robles (RBNY)

Zusi (SKC) — Zimmerman (LAFC) — Long (RBNY)

Almiron (ATL) — Piatti (MTL) — Dockal (PHI) — Lodeiro (SEA)

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

Sporting KC locks up four mainstays including Besler, Zusi

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Sporting KC likes its corps.

Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Ilie Sanchez, and Roger Espinoza have signed new multi-year contracts with the MLS outfit.

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Besler, 31, has appeared in more matches for Sporting than other player in club history, and the 32-year-old Zusi is not too far behind. The latter’s success since being moved to right back under Peter Vermes has been profound.

Coach Peter Vermes isn’t worried about the ages of the quartet. Sanchez is the youngest of the group at 27, but Espinoza is 31 like Besler. From KansasCity.com:

“We think all of them are in their prime,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “We just feel they have a lot of years left to give.”

While Besler hasn’t had an exceptionally strong season, the other three have been quite good for third-place KC. Zusi and Sanchez have played every league minute for the club, while Espinoza’s six assists trail only Daniel Salloi (7) on the team.

Sporting have played the fewest matches in the West, and sit four points back of the Western lead with a match-in-hand on LAFC and FC Dallas. They close the season with matches against each.

MLS Snapshot: Wasteful again, SKC drop more points at home

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KANSAS CITY, KAN. — The game in 100 words (or less): It’s been a rough few weeks for Sporting Kansas City since lifting the U.S. Open Cup here at Children’s Mercy Park on Sept. 20. Peter Vermes’ side has won just one of five league games following Sunday’s scoreless draw against their old late-season foes, the Houston Dynamo. In frustratingly familiar fashion, Sunday’s stalemate saw Sporting KC enjoy 69 percent of the game’s possession, attempt 24 shots on the night, put just six on target, and fail to find the back of the net. Graham Zusi (twice) and Diego Rubio went closest for the two sides, but came up with nothing more than woodwork. With the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders each winning big on Sunday, Sporting slip to fourth in the Western Conference. The point does, however, clinch a seventh straight playoff appearance for Sporting, and signal a return to the postseason for Houston.

[ MORE: MLS at Week 33 — all about playoff places, positioning ]

Three moments that mattered

11′ — Zusi blasts off from distance, and goes just wide — Having made the full-time switch to right back this season, Zusi is in danger of his first goal-less season since 2009, his rookie year. He nearly get off the mark early in the first half.

34′ — Zusi smashes the crossbar with a free kick — The weight of goal-lessness upon him, Zusi goes even closer.

76′ — Rubio hits the crossbar from distance — Rubio went closest in the second half, as his shot caromed off the crossbar and should have resulted in a corner kick for Sporting.

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

Man of the match: Tyler Deric

Goalscorers: None

Player ratings: USMNT’s 2-0 loss to Costa Rica a big setback

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Player ratings from the U.S. national team’s 2-0 defeat to Costa Rica on Friday…

[ RECAP: USMNT fails in bid for revenge on Costa Rica ]

GK — Tim Howard: 4.5 — The 38-year-old was shaky playing the ball out of the back, which is largely par for the course, and was wildly out of position and slow to react on Marco Ureña’s goal in the 30th minute.

RB — Graham Zusi: 6 — Here’s a thing I said about Zusi, the right back, a month and a half ago, and I stand by it today:

During the first half, the USMNT played through Zusi on a number of occasions, resulting in two of its best scoring chances.

CB — Geoff Cameron: 4 — Struggled mightily in the first half, the first time he’d ever started alongside Tim Ream in a four-man backline. Cameron’s poor decisions compounded Ream’s struggles, and vice versa.

CB — Tim Ream: 4 — While much of Cameron’s issues appeared to be Ream-related, Ream was quite poor all on his own. His gaffe in the 7th minute nearly resulted in a goal, and he was the one turned inside and out, failing to see Ureña wide enough, on the opening goal.

LB — Jorge Villafaña: 5 — As a left back, it’s really tough to play with Fabian Johnson in front of you. The same issues which prevent Johnson from being a good left back play out further up the field, and you’re too frequently left on an island all by yourself. Unfortunately, there’s still no one better.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from USA 0-2 Costa Rica ]

CM — Michael Bradley: 5.5 — Asked to play, essentially, by himself in the middle of the field, Bradley did everything he could, but was ultimately outnumbered and overrun on numerous occasions. His long-range balls into the channels remain a top-two attacking strategy for the USMNT.

CM — Darlington Nagbe: 5 — Here’s the thing about Nagbe, the central midfielder: it works with a dedicated no. 10 playing ahead of him (see: Valeri, Diego; and, Portland’s MLS Cup 2015 run), but you’re asking far too much of him to play centrally without a creator further up the field. He’ll push ahead way too frequently and leave his partner all by his lonesome, which is exactly what he did to Bradley on Friday.

RM — Christian Pulisic: 6.5 — The kid’s a huge talent, but the most impressive thing about him is how consistently he’s in the conversation for best player on the field. The majority of clear chances had his fingerprints all over them, whether it was his dribbling through midfield, his vision and crossing, or making the necessary run into the box as a target himself.

LM — Fabian Johnson: 5 — What’s Johnson’s best position/role? He was asked to shield Villafaña from the front and press high when Costa Rica try to play out of the back, but he did very little or none of either of those things.

[ MORE: Late drama for Germany; Kane starts scoring on Sept. 1 ]

FW — Jozy Altidore: 7 — Best player on the field, especially during the first half. Finally properly cast as a playmaker, dropping into the hole and creating for others. I know, it’s hard to imagine a striker with his build being a finesse player, but that’s the reality everyone must finally accept.

FW — Bobby Wood: 5.5 — His hold-up play is really important for the USMNT, as is his speed which stretches defenses beyond any semblance of comfort. Only, the latter didn’t happen against Costa Rica, and their three center backs remained in lockstep for 90 minutes.

Sub — Clint Dempsey: 5 — 65th-minute sub did exactly what you’d ask of an impact sub: find the ball early, find it often, and create chaos, which is precisely the situation in which Dempsey thrives most. That’s a tall task against a defensive unit like Costa Rica, though. His petulant elbow in the 91st minute should have been a red card.

Sub — Jordan Morris: N/A — 84th-minute sub unable to have any real impact on the game.

Sub — Paul Arriola: N/A — 87th-minute sub unable to have any real impact on the game.

Fabian Johnson misses Gladbach training with injury

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With John Brooks already out long-term due to a thigh injury, the United States may have another key injury to work around.

According to Borussia Monchengladbach manager Dieter Hecking, full-back/winger Fabian Johnson missed training on Friday due to an unspecified injury, and is now a question mark for Gladbach’s home match on Sunday against FC Koln. It could be nothing, but even the scare is cause for concern among U.S. fans.

Johnson has battled a few injuries the past couple of seasons, including a hamstring problem last spring that kept him out for nearly two months, including a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Johnson’s absence would leave a hole at right-back for the United States. The 29-year-old has been deployed some at right wing for the USMNT, but he has been relatively poor at that position in the national setup, looking better when pushed further back where he is given more defensive duties, roaming forward with less frequency but more intent.

In place of Johnson, another converted winger in Graham Zusi has been seeing more time at right-back, but he offers less in the attack and lacks Johnson’s recovery speed, meaning mistakes by the Sporting KC veteran are punished more often.