Walker Zimmerman

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LAFC beat RSL on more late-game heroics; first in MLS to 10 points

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Their 2019 campaign is only four weeks old, but Los Angele FC are making a name for themselves as MLS’s new cardiac kids — masters of late-game drama — with another stoppage-time winner.

[ MORE: Young FCD side tops Rapids | Kljestan, Orlando down Red Bulls ]

After knocking off Sporting Kansas City courtesy of Adama Diomande‘s 94th-minute goal in Week 1, Bob Bradley‘s boys were at it again against Real Salt Lake on Saturday.

Just as they did against Sporting KC, LAFC fell behind in the first half only to pull level close to halftime and break visiting hearts with 90-plus on the clock. Damir Kreilach converted from the penalty spot in the 35th minute, but the advantage lasted barely five minutes before Diego Rossi equalized in the 40th.

[ MORE: Schalke issue injury update on USMNT’s Weston McKennie ]

Then, in the 91st minute, came the stunning winner from Rossi Carlos Vela  Diomande Christian Ramirez Lee Nguyen Walker Zimmerman(?!).

Whether or not the strike took a deflection or knuckled and swerved in a way that would make the world’s greatest strikers of the ball proud — even Bradley was noncommittal either way — is largely irrelevant.

With a 3W-1D-0L record through the season’s first month, Bradley and Co., have shown their debut MLS season was no fluke. In fact, they’ve made it abundantly clear that it was actually something of a disappointment and they are intent on reaching far greater heights in 2019.

USMNT 3-0 Panama: Mihailovic scores on debut as US impresses

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It was a day of debuts for the USMNT as they defeated Panama 3-0 to end January camp on a positive note. Gregg Berhalter led the United States for the first time as head coach, while five debutants earned their first senior international caps, the most in a single match since 1992.

One of those debutants, Chicago Fire academy product Djordje Mihailovic, bagged the game’s opening goal, giving the hosts tangible reward for an energetic and sharp showing. Walker Zimmerman grabbed the second goal, sealing the win, while substitute Christian Ramirez poked in the third at the death. Another debutant, Aaron Long, wore the captain’s armband over Michael Bradley, a surprising development when the lineups were announced.

The United States off the opening kickoff showed a fascinating tactical shape and clear purpose. Defender Nick Lima, listed as a right-back, often pushed forward into central midfield when the U.S. had possession of the ball. He would occupy the space next to Michael Bradley, with the other defenders forming a back three.

[ MORE: Player ratings from USMNT win over Panama ]

The hosts had the first look at goal, with debutant Jeremy Ebobisse – deployed on the left wing – crossing to Gyasi Zardes completely alone in the penalty area, but his wide-open header was sent over the bar.

Bradley was at the heart of every U.S. possession, and he nearly created another goalscoring chance on 20 minutes when Cristian Roldan had the ball down the middle and should have seen Corey Baird running clear on goal, but instead wasted the chance with a shot from 28 yards out. Five minutes later Baird had another chance, putting his layoff from Zardes just inches wide right. Nick Lima had a shot that also went a hair wide of the post a minute later from Zardes again laying off.

The U.S. continued to dominate and nearly found the opener on a corner in the 28th minute. Long had a touch at the near post and flicked it across the face of goal where a charging Walker Zimmerman put it over the bar. The attacks continued to prove dangerous but lacked the final ball, as Zardes again missed with a header in the 39th minute after Daniel Lovitz delivered a brilliant curling ball into the box.

Finally, the U.S. was able to celebrate after Panama failed to deal with a broken attack. In the 40th minute, the U.S. pushed forward after a turnover and Lima was the man on the ball through the middle. He threaded Zardes through the center, and while Zardes went down under pressure looking for a foul, the ball fell at the feet of Baird, and he cut across to Mihailovic who came charging in and blasted the ball into the back of the net with the help of a slight deflection.

It has to be said that Panama was horrific in the first half, but they picked things up after the break and worked a big chance in the 55th minute that required a reflex save from Zack Steffan, the first real action for the U.S. goalkeeper.

Mihailovic had another big chance on the stroke of the hour mark, charging again onto the ball at the top of the box, but his vicious shot was blocked. He came off soon after for Sebastian Lletget in Berhalter’s first substitution.

In the 70th minute, the U.S. was again put under pressure on a free-kick that saw two Panamanian attackers get behind the defense, but Ernesto Walker sent his glancing header just wide. With Panama beginning to find a bit of comfort, the United States bagged a second goal to put the game away, made by Lima with a wonderful bit of defense to offense. With Panama on the counter after the U.S. saw an attack fizzle out, Lima came thundering in with a thumping tackle, winning the ball off Edson Samms and then delivering a pinpoint cross to a host of bodies in the penalty area. Walker Zimmerman rose the highest and pummeled in a header for the strike.

With the game winding down, substitute Christian Ramirez came on for Zardes and poked home the exclamation point on great work from fellow substitute Jonathan Lewis down the left flank, bursting past his defender and cutting across to Ramirez all alone on the doorstep with the goalkeeper pulled out.

That was nearly the final kick of the game, with no stoppage time added. It was a solid win against a poor opponent for the United States, with few trouble spots to shake a finger at. Berhalter earned victory in his first coaching appearance for the USMNT, giving hope to fans as they move forward toward the Gold Cup, and eventually, the World Cup qualification cycle.

MLS notes: Zimmerman spurns Europe, Vazquez sold, DC youngster in remission

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Let’s sweep up some good, somewhat-expected, and wonderful news from around Major League Soccer.

DC United defender and Maryland product Chris Odoi-Atsem announced that he is in remission after a fight with Stage Two Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

[ MORE: Atlanta signs Watford teen ]

Odoi-Atsem was expected to undergo four months of chemotherapy, and the announcement comes just under three months into the journey.

At 23, Odoi-Atsem hopes to rejoin the team after his final round of chemo later this month. He was the 12th overall draft pick in 2017.

Another defender is extending his stay in Los Angeles.

USMNT center back Walker Zimmerman was a huge part of LAFC’s success as an expansion club following his arrival from FC Dallas, and was reportedly ready to test the waters of European soccer with interest from the Premier League, Ligue 1, and the Bundesliga.

But Bob Bradley pushed the right buttons and LAFC will have its 25-year-old mainstay back in the fold via a Targeted Allocation Money contract running through the 2022 season.

Finally, one of the key pieces to Toronto FC’s 2017 MLS Cup triumph is on his way out of Ontario.

Victor Vazquez is going to be sold to an unnamed Qatari club, pending a physical according to TSN’s Kristian Jack.

The 32-year-old scored posted 18 goals and 15 primary assists for TFC.

Player ratings: USMNT loses late vs. Italy

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The USMNT closed off another year with a sour taste in its mouth, losing track of Italy’s Matteo Politano as the Azzurri finally found a way past American goalkeeper Ethan Horvath with a stoppage time winner in Belgium on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]


Starting XI

Ethan Horvath — 8 — Very good after a nervy moment early, the Club Brugge man will have shown a new coach he should be in consideration for the top job. Could do little on the goal.

Shaq Moore — 7 — Quite decent despite playing 4/5 of the match on his non-preferred left side.

Cameron Carter-Vickers — 5.5 — Beaten a couple of times, but a clean sheet against Italy in Europe is what it is.

Aaron Long — 6 — Left in no man’s land by Lletget in stoppage time.

Walker Zimmerman — 7 — The standout of a decent night for the three center backs, even chipped in with a header on goal in the first half.

Reggie Cannon (Off 76′) — 6.5 — A decent performance with promising moments moving forward for the FC Dallas right back.

Kellyn Acosta (Off 83′) — 7 — I though the Colorado Rapids midfielder was the Yanks’ best field player on the day, with quite decent service on set pieces to boot.

Marky Delgado (Off 62′) — 5 — Inconspicuous

Tyler Adams — 6 Busier than Delgado, but was a bit overran and will take this as a learning experience.

Christian Pulisic (Off 83′) — 6 — Just fine. Saddled with either a second striker or 3+1 attacking midfielder role, Pulisic was understandably troubled by Leonardo Bonucci (though we have to imagine the Italian wasn’t happy to deal with him either).

Josh Sargent (Off 62′) — 5 — Good energy, but clearly taking a step up in class from Werder Bremen’s reserves. Hesitated to pull the trigger to find Reggie Cannon’s adventurous run in the early second half.

Subs

Wil Trapp (On 62′) — 5 — Looked confused at times in the middle of the park, troubling for a player who’s received plenty of time to get used to these situations.

Bobby Wood (On 62′) — 6 — Just fine.

Jorge Villafana (On 76′) — 6 — An improved performance from last week versus England, albeit in a cameo.

Sebastian Lletget (Off 83′) — 4 — How a clean sheet is quickly undone against Italy: Lletget leaves Politano, who starts a quick exchange between Marco Verratti, Moise Kean, and himself to win it in stoppage time. Maybe harsh on a man who waited almost 2 years between caps, but true.

Romain Gall (Off 83′) — 6.5 — Lively in limited time, Gall earned a corner with a wayward shot from distance (though his ensuing corner service left plenty to be desired).

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)