Austin FC moved to the top of the Western Conference in MLS on Wednesday, securing a gritty 2-1 win over Los Angeles FC.

Goals from Ruben Gabrielsen and Diego Fagundez gave Austin the vital three points, with Carlos Vela's response from the penalty spot in the 86th minute providing mere consolation for LAFC.

Gabrielsen put the home side in front in the 13th minute after Fagundez zipped a dangerous corner in, coolly finishing when the ball fell his way.

Josh Wolff's side looked to absorb pressure from LAFC, and Fagundez was able to double their advantage in the 80th minute after he was played through by Sebastian Driussi.

Vela's goal, which made him the third-fastest player to 100 MLS goal involvements (98 games), was not enough for a largely passive LAFC, who could not translate possession into chances of substance. They accumulated a non-penalty expected goals total of 1.12 from the 17 shots aside from Vela's spot-kick.

Austin lead LAFC on goal difference atop the West on 23 points, with FC Dallas remaining on 22 points after the Vancouver Whitecaps came from behind to defeat them 2-1 late on.

The LA Galaxy missed their chance to make up ground, only managing a 1-1 draw with Minnesota United despite Sacha Kljestan putting them ahead in the 83rd minute.

Elsewhere in the West, the Seattle Sounders continued their recovery from a slow start to the season, defeating the Houston Dynamo 1-0, while Sporting Kansas City beat the Colorado Rapids 2-1 in a game that saw four red cards in stoppage time.

A Jamiro Monteiro brace helped the San Jose Earthquakes defeat the Portland Timbers 3-2, as Nashville's strong start at GEODIS Park continued with a 2-1 victory over CF Montreal.

New York City gained ground on the Philadelphia Union with a 2-0 win over DC United, scoring twice in the first half to move within a point of the Eastern Conference leaders, who were held to a goalless draw by Inter Miami.

In Wednesday's early result, Xherdan Shaqiri scored what he thought was a late winner for the Chicago Fire, only for the New York Red Bulls' Patryk Klimala to score in the first minute of stoppage time to secure a 3-3 draw.

FC Dallas placed themselves in the race for top spot in the Western Conference, defeating Los Angeles Galaxy 3-1 in the MLS on Saturday.

Three goals in the opening 23 minutes, including a brace from Jesus Ferreira, set the Toros up for a critical three points after slip-ups from both Austin FC and Los Angeles FC.

Douglas Costa's well-taken free-kick in the 67th minute proved to be mere consolation, as the Galaxy failed to break Dallas down and force their way back into the contest.

Dallas now sit second in the West, a point off LAFC, who conceded two penalties in the opening 30 minutes to lose 2-0 to Colorado Rapids.

With the win, the Toros were able to go past Galaxy and Austin, who let slip a 1-0 lead at half-time following Daniel Pereira's red card to lose 2-1 to Real Salt Lake.

There were goals galore elsewhere in the West, with Portland Timbers giving Sporting KC a 7-2 trouncing while Houston Dynamo defeated Nashville SC 2-0. The Vancouver Whitecaps and SJ Earthquakes played out a 3-3 draw.

Elsewhere, Philadelphia Union's 1-1 draw with New York RB has made for up a three-way tie atop the Eastern Conference.

Daniel Gazdag put the Union ahead after some neat combination with Sergio Santos at the top of the penalty area in the 47th minute, but Luquinhas managed to restore parity with his goal in the 66th minute.

They are joined at the top of the East following respective wins for CF Montreal and Orlando City over Charlotte and Toronto FC.

New York City were able to make up ground with their 2-0 win over Columbus Crew and Cincinnati beat Chicago Fire 2-1, while Inter Miami and DC United played out a 2-2 draw. 

 

Los Angeles FC and Philadelphia Union remain top of the Western and Eastern Conferences respectively despite playing out a 2-2 draw on Saturday.

Franco Escobar's goal in the 82nd minute salvaged a point for LAFC, who went down twice at home to eventually restore parity in the top-of-the-table clash.

Daniel Gazdag was on hand at the back post to score in transition in only the ninth minute for the Union, who looked to absorb pressure from there.

Kwadwo Opoku equalised in the 56th minute, but Julian Carranza restored Philadelphia's lead nine minutes later with a lovely curling finish, only off a step after stopping the ball dead with his first touch.

Escobar was the unlikely source of an equaliser despite LAFC's 66.5 per cent possession for the match, slotting home the rebound after a Jose Cifuentes header from a corner.

Philadelphia remain top in the East on 19 points, a point ahead of New York RB, who could only manage a 1-1 draw at home to Portland Timbers.

CF Montreal took the three points and third spot from Orlando City in a 4-1 thumping, with Joao Moutinho's goal in the 72nd minute failing to stop a two-goal surge in the final 10 minutes. Atlanta United won with the same scoreline against Chicago Fire, who are now bottom of the conference.

With only nine points separating the 14 places in the East, Inter Miami also remain on 10 points after their 1-0 loss to Charlotte. New York City and Sporting KC played out a goalless draw.

New England Revolution and Columbus Crew finished with a 2-2 draw after substitute Erik Hurtado grabbed an 89th-minute equaliser for the Crew, while DC United defeated Houston Dynamo 2-0.

Cincinnati moved to fifth in East with a 1-0 win over Minnesota United via Brandon Vazquez's stoppage-time winner in the 93rd minute.

Meanwhile in the West, FC Dallas moved to third and returned the Seattle Sounders back to Earth after their CONCACAF Champions League triumph during the week, claiming a 2-0 victory.

In the other all-Western matchup, Nathan's goal in the 63rd minute was sufficient for the San Jose Earthquakes against the Colorado Rapids, taking a 1-0 win.

Austin FC momentarily moved to the top of the Western Conference in the MLS, securing a 3-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday.

A Maximiliano Urruti double within the opening half-hour put Austin in a commanding position at the interval, but they struggled in the second half, giving up eight shots to three despite 62.3 per cent of possession.

Sebastian Driussi clinched the result for Josh Wolff's side in the 68th minute, though, getting on the end of a flick-on from Nick Lima's long-throw at the back post to head home.

Austin have now gone five games undefeated in the league, bouncing back from Wednesday's elimination at the hands of San Antonio FC in the US Open Cup.

They remain a point ahead of the Los Angeles Galaxy, who scraped a 1-0 win at home to Nashville via Dejan Joveljic's winner in the 86th minute. Real Salt Lake slipped up away to Portland Timbers, playing out a goalless draw.

There were also goalless draws between Sporting KC and Columbus Crew, and Colorado Rapids and Charlotte FC.

They were leapfrogged by FC Dallas, who claimed their fourth win of the season with a 2-1 win over Houston Dynamo.

They left it very late in the Texan derby after Sabastian Ferreira's opener for Dynamo in the 33rd minute, only equalising in the 87th minute through Tsiki Ntsabeleng.

Facundo Quignon claimed the three points for the Toros, lurking unmarked at the back post from a corner to score in the third minute of injury time.

Philadelphia Union remained top of the Eastern Conference despite a 1-1 draw at home to Montreal CF, giving the impetus to Orlando City and New York RB to make up ground on Sunday.

San Jose Earthquakes moved from the bottom of the Western Conference with a shock 4-3 win over the Seattle Sounders. Cristian Espinoza scored the winner for his hat-trick in the fourth minute of injury time via the penalty spot.

In Saturday's other results, Minnesota FC defeated Chicago Fire 3-0, while DC United claimed a 3-2 win over New England Revolution.

Los Angeles FC maintained top spot of the Western Conference in the MLS on Sunday, claiming a gutsy 4-2 win away to Orlando City.

LAFC led twice in the first half at Exploria Stadium but were pegged back on both occasions, first by a finely taken goal from Alexandre Pato in the 36th minute.

Sensing where the ball would drop following Mauricio Peyeyra's delivery into the penalty area, Pato set himself and calmly volleyed past Maxime Crepeau.

But Ilie Sanchez rifled in a third LAFC goal six minutes into the second half and the visitors were able to absorb Orlando pressure thereafter.

After some important saves from Crepeau, substitute Kwadwo Opoku sealed victory in stoppage time, moving Steve Cherundolo's side to 13 points from five games after four wins and a draw.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia Union were also able to keep their place atop the Eastern Conference with a 2-0 win at home to Charlotte FC.

The Union took the lead in uncomplicated fashion after only four minutes, with Sergio Santos running onto a ball over the top and crossing for Julian Carranza from the byline.

Daniel Gazdag doubled the lead a minute into the second half, with that two-goal margin enough for the Union to see out the win and themselves move to 13 points.

New York Red Bulls and Atlanta United stayed within three points of Philadelphia in the East with respective 1-0 victories over New England Revolution and DC United. Columbus Crew lost at home to Nashville, with Alex Muyl's lone goal the difference.

A Gonzalo Higuain penalty counted for little for Inter Miami, who remain rooted to the bottom of the ladder in the East after Phil Neville's side lost 3-1 to Houston Dynamo. Chicago Fire and FC Dallas played out a goalless draw, while Toronto FC beat reigning MLS Cup champions New York City 2-1.

CF Montreal edged FC Cincinnati in a seven-goal thriller, trailing twice in the first half before recovering to win 4-3.

In the Western Conference, Real Salt Lake fell two points behind with a 1-1 draw away to Colorado Rapids, while Austin FC conceded two goals in as many minutes to draw 2-2 against San Jose Earthquakes.

Ryan Raposo's 73rd-minute winner was enough for Vancouver Whitecaps at home to Sporting Kansas City, while Brent Kallman's own goal ultimately condemned Minnesota United to their first defeat of the season, losing 2-1 to Seattle Sounders.  

LAFC maintained top spot of the Western Conference in the MLS on Sunday, claiming a gutsy 4-2 win away to Orlando City.

Though the visitors hit the lead twice in the first half at Exploria Stadium, the Lions equalised as many times, including a finely taken goal from Alexandre Pato in the 36th minute.

Sensing where the ball would drop following Mauricio Peyeyra's ball over and into the penalty area, Pato set himself and calmly volleyed past Maxime Crepeau.

Ilie Sanchez rifled home a mere six minutes into the second half and from there, LAFC were able to sit and absorb Orlando pressure.

After some important saves from Crepeau to deny a third equaliser, substitute Kwadwo Opoku was able to score an injury-time sealer in transition, moving Steve Cherundolo's side to four wins and a draw from five games.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia Union were able to keep their place atop the Eastern Conference, with a 2-0 win at home to Charlotte FC.

The Union took the lead after only four minutes and in uncomplicated fashion, with Sergio Santos running on to a ball over the top and assisting for Julian Carranza from the byline.

Daniel Gazdag doubled the margin a minute within the restart, and similarly to LAFC, absorbed pressure in their defensive half to see out the win to move to 13 points from five games.

NY Red Bulls and Atlanta stayed within three points of Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference with respective 1-0 victories over New England Revolution and DC United. Columbus Crew dropped points at home to Nashville, with Alex Muyl's lone goal the difference.

A Gonzalo Higuain penalty would not suffice for Inter Miami, who remain rooted to the bottom of the ladder in the East, after Phil Neville's side losing 3-1 to Houston Dynamo. Chicago Fire and FC Dallas played out a goalless draw, while Toronto FC beat reigning MLS Cup champions New York City 2-1.

In the Western Conference, Real Salt Lake fell two points behind with a 1-1 draw away to Colorado, Austin FC conceded two goals in as many minutes to eventually play out a 2-2 draw against San Jose Earthquakes.

Ryan Raposo's 73rd-minute winner was enough for Vancouver Whitecaps at home to Sporting KC, while Brent Kallman's own goal eventually condemned Minnesota to their first defeat of the season, losing 2-1 to the Seattle Sounders.  

Early Eastern Conference leaders Philadelphia Union made a statement with a 2-0 win away to reigning MLS Cup champions New York City on Saturday.

Union scored first-half goals from Alejandro Bedoya and Daniel Gazdag, while Sergio Santos had a goal disallowed on the stroke of half-time, as Philadelphia got some revenge after last season's Eastern Conference final defeat to City.

Bedoya put Philadelphia ahead in the 12th minute, but City thought they had an avenue back into the game when referee Ted Unkel awarded them a penalty and sent off Jack Elliott for a 28th-minute last-man push on Santiago Rodriguez.

However, VAR intervened and determined that Rodriguez had illegally used his hand in the lead-up, meaning the penalty and red card were overturned.

The win was Philadephia's first at Yankee Stadium and came despite City bossing the possession count with 74 percent.

Former Liverpool and Bayern Munich attacker Xherdan Shaqiri netted his first MLS goal as Chicago Fire won 3-1 over Sporting KC.

Shaqiri scored from the spot in the 50th minute to make it 2-0 as Chicago extended its unbeaten start to the new season with Kacper Przybylko hitting a double.

Jesus Ferreira scored a first-half hat-trick as Dallas defeated Portland Timbers 4-1 in a sign of intent for the forward ahead of USA's upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

All three of Ferreira's goals came in a 10-minute span, marking his first-ever MLS hat-trick.

Gonzalo Higuain scored, but Inter Miami remain winless this term after a 3-1 loss away to last season's strugglers Cincinnati.

The result leaves Phil Neville's side with an MLS-worst record of one point from four games, having conceded 10 goals and only scored two.

Karol Swiderski netted a double as Charlotte upset New England Revolution 3-1, while Luis Amarilla's 32nd-minute strike lifted Western Conference leaders Minnesota United past San Jose Earthquakes 1-0.

Tyler Pasher's 90th minute goal salvaged a 1-1 home draw for Houston Dynamo against Colorado Rapids, while 10-man Atlanta United scored twice in the final five minutes to rescue a 3-3 draw with Montreal.

Facundo Torres' early goal got Orlando City past LA Galaxy 1-0, Bob Bradley's Toronto knocked off DC United 2-1 and Real Salt Lake edge 10-man Nashville 2-1.

New York City FC kickstarted their MLS Cup defence with a 4-1 win over CF Montreal at Yankee Stadium on Saturday.

After failing to score in their opening two games – a 1-0 loss to LA Galaxy and a goalless draw with Vancouver Whitecaps – City hit the lead after only seven minutes, with Alexander Callens rifling home after Montreal failed to clear their lines from a corner.

Santiago Rodriguez spectacularly chipped Sebastian Breza to double the margin on 20, but only after Montreal gifted City possession in an attempt to play out from their own half.

Zachary Brault-Guillard pulled one back for CFM, but following further City goals from Telles Magno and Thiago Andrade, the scoreline arguably belied the performance.

Douglas Costa opened his account in the MLS later on Saturday, scoring the equaliser in LA Galaxy's 3-2 loss away to Seattle Sounders.

Javier Hernandez gave the Galaxy a shock lead in the sixth minute, after fine link-up play between Raheem Edwards and Kevin Cabral, but the Sounders fought back to lead before the interval – with goals from Jordan Morris and Fredy Montero.

Costa drew the visitors level from the dead ball after 48 minutes, wrong-footing Stefan Frei, but Xavier Arreaga headed home in the 72nd to give the Sounders their first win of the season.

Los Angeles FC continued their unbeaten start to the season, meanwhile, grinding out a 2-0 win against a 10-man Inter Miami at DRV PNK Stadium.

A deflected Carlos Vela pass put Kwadwo Opoku through on the stroke of the interval, and the 20-year-old Ghanaian finished with composure. That didn't spell the end of events in the first half, though, as Brek Shea was given a straight red card in injury time.

LAFC had six shots for the match compared Inter's seven, despite 53 per cent possession and an extra man. However, an Ismael Tajouri free-kick crept inside Inters back post in the 82nd minute to secure the win.

Steve Cherundolo's side are equal top in the Western Conference with Real Salt Lake, who defeated New England Revolution 3-2. Austin FC couldn't keep pace in the final Saturday game, however, going down 1-0 away to Portland Timbers through a Bill Tuiloma goal.

Columbus Crew share the lead in the Eastern Conference, following their 2-1 win over Toronto FC. They are joined by Philadelphia Union, who defeated San Jose Earthquakes 2-0.

A Darwin Quintero brace handed Houston Dynamo a 2-0 win against Vancouver Whitecaps, while Brandon Vazquez scored a double of his own in FC Cincinnati's 2-1 win at Orlando City.

FC Dallas, Chicago Fire and Colorado Rapids respectively secured 2-0 victories over Nashville, DC United and Sporting Kansas City in Saturday's other games.

Efrain Alvarez's stunning 77th-minute strike silenced the MLS record crowd of almost 75,000 fans as LA Galaxy got past newcomers Charlotte 1-0 on Saturday.

Expansion side Charlotte drew a single-game attendance record of 74,479 fans, eclipsing the 73,019 mark set by Atlanta United in the 2018 MLS Cup.

Galaxy had the better of the chances with Victor Vazquez hitting the woodwork in the 18th minute, while Javier Hernandez forced a good save from Charlotte goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina.

Alvarez made the decisive breakthrough with a spectacular left-foot shot from outside the box which nestled into the top corner to spoil the Charlotte party.

Scottish forward Lewis Morgan netted a first-half hat-trick as New York Red Bulls won 4-1 away to Toronto.

Morgan's finishes for his opening two goals were similar, set up by Patryk Klimala with curling right-foot shots in the 17th and 24th minutes.

Jesus Jimenez pulled one back for Toronto, before Klimala released Morgan on halfway and the Scot raced forward to slot home for his treble.

Carles Gil's penalty on the stroke of half-time earned 2021 Supporters' Shield winners New England Revolution a 1-0 home win over Dallas. The victory meant Revs head coach Bruce Arena became the all-time leader among MLS coaches for regular-season wins.

Francisco Calvo scored twice in the final 10 minutes as 10-man San Jose Earthquakes salvaged a 3-3 draw with Columbus Crew.

Ola Kamara netted a stoppage-time winner for DC United as they beat Cincinnati 1-0, while Chicago Fire and Orlando City drew 0-0 and Real Salt Lake won 1-0 over Seattle Sounders.

Colorado Rapids won 3-0 over Atlanta United at home and Vancouver Whitecaps held on for a goalless draw with reigning MLS Cup champions New York City.

Sporting KC got past Houston Dynamo 1-0 while 10-man Philadelphia Union edged Montreal 2-1 and Minnesota United drew 1-1 with Nashville.

Former Arsenal forward Carlos Vela netted a hat-trick as LAFC crushed Colorado Rapids 3-0 on the opening day of the 2022 MLS season on Saturday.

Vela struck twice within six first-half minutes, first from the penalty spot before getting in behind the Colorado defence and calmly finishing past goalkeeper William Yarbrough.

The former Mexico international produced his best goal of the game to complete his hat-trick in the 50th minute, curling in a fine left-footed shot from just inside the box.

Vela only managed five goals from 20 MLS appearances last season with LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo cautiously optimistic about his potential impact this term.

“We will have to wait and see what it does. But I think we all know what he can do,” Cherundolo said. “He showed it again today and he worked very hard in preseason to get to where he is today. I'm very happy for him and the group that we're all rewarded for it.”

Yimmi Chara's spectacular 78th-minute goal earned Portland Timbers a 2-2 draw with 2021 Supporters' Shield winners New England Revolution.

Portland, who reached the MLS Cup final last year, found a way back with Chara firing home a stunning overhead goal while Jozy Altidore debuted for the Revs as a 79th-minute substitute.

Ex-Liverpool and Bayern Munich midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri made his debut for Chicago Fire as they drew a blank in a 0-0 draw at Inter Miami.

Leonardo Campana's 10th-minute header from Gonzalo Higuain's cross hit the crossbar for Miami, while Chicago's Stanislav Ivanov struck the upright in the 31st minute. Shaqiri was impressive throughout, with a long-range first-half chance his only major goal attempt.

Toronto, who made a major off-season signing with Lorenzo Insigne to join in July, only managed a 1-1 draw at Dallas.

Philadelphia Union started its new season with a 1-1 home draw against Minnesota United, with Cory Burke levelling Robin Lod's 23rd-minute strike.

New York Red Bulls won 3-1 at San Jose Earthquakes, while Columbus Crew swept aside 10-man Vancouver Whitecaps 4-0.

Cecilio Dominguez netted a double as Austin won 5-0 over last year's bottom side Cincinnati, while Michael Estrada scored a brace as DC United eased past newcomers Charlotte 3-0.

It's officially a World Cup year, that means footballers all over the globe will be hoping to get themselves into contention for their own shot at glory in Qatar.

Back in November, Stats Perform began their one-year countdown to the biggest show in football by identifying 11 uncapped players who could potential break into their respective national squads before Qatar 2022 got under way.

With February now upon us, we have revisited those players to see how they have been faring and whether a trip to World Cup looks any likelier…

Luis Maximiano (Portugal) – 23, goalkeeper, Granada

Having been one of LaLiga's form goalkeepers during the early stages of the season, Maximiano has been a little rocky lately. Since the start of December, he has conceded 10 times (excluding own goals) in the league despite those chances only being worth 7.9 xG – that puts him at least partly at fault for 2.1 goals, the sixth-worst over that period.

 

Jonathan Clauss (France) – 29, right-back, Lens

Clauss continues to show his worth in Ligue 1. Since December 1, his three assists have been bettered by only Dimitri Payet and Lovro Majer. Granted, the expected assists (xA) value of those was only 1.2, so there's an element of luck or benefiting from expert finishing, but he's still proving himself a good outlet both out wide and from set plays.

 

Bremer (Brazil) – 24, centre-back, Torino

Torino managed to keep Bremer in January before they extended his contract by a year to 2024 on Wednesday. Not only does that protect his value to the club, it was also a just reward for his reliable form. Since December 1, his tally of 21 interceptions is the second-highest among Serie A defenders, as is his 28 aerial wins.

Sven Botman (Netherlands) – 22, centre-back, Lille

Lille stood firm as Newcastle United tried to prise Botman away in January. Over the past two months, the Dutchman has continued to look an imperious presence at the back – his duel success rate (76.5 per cent) is the highest among defenders with at least 300 minutes on the pitch, while only two of those to have engaged in more than 11 aerials can better his success rate (79 per cent) in the air.

Angelino (Spain) – 25, left-back, RB Leipzig

Spain certainly aren't short of quality options in this area of the pitch, but Angelino is still a standout from an attacking sense. Since early December, his 3.0 xA is the best in the Bundesliga, while only five players have played more key passes than him (16).

 

Riqui Puig (Spain) – 22, midfielder, Barcelona

It's not looking good for Puig. It was thought Xavi's arrival might finally be the break he needed, but he has played only 158 minutes of LaLiga football in the past two months, and that was a period that saw Barca under real stress amid an injury and COVID-19 crisis. With players returning to action, including Pedri, few would be surprised to see his minutes reduce even further.

Christopher Nkunku (France) – 24, midfielder, RB Leipzig

Nkunku continues to look to be in with a great chance of forcing himself into France reckoning. Since we last checked on him, the versatile midfielder has scored four non-penalty Bundesliga goals, bettered by only four players (all out-and-out strikers), and laid on three assists. Only five players have tallied more goal involvements over the same period.

 

Alan Velasco (Argentina) – 19, winger, FC Dallas

Young talents leaving South American countries for MLS is becoming a recurring them – Velasco is the latest. The young winger became Dallas' record signing on February 1, reportedly costing $7million. He has not played much in recent months due to the Argentinian football calendar, so it will be intriguing to see if he kicks on when MLS starts again at the end of the month.

Cade Cowell (United States) – 18, forward, San Jose Earthquakes

The first success story on this list! Cowell was given his international bow in December as the USA beat Bosnia-Herzegovina 1-0. He did only feature for 12 minutes, and it was a partly experimental squad, but a cap is a cap.

Amine Gouiri (France) – 21, forward, Nice

Gouiri is another who continues to plug away to good effect. He slowed a little, and his return of five goal involvements (three assists, two goals) in the specified period is bettered by as many as eight players, though only Payet has as many as seven. The exciting forward is still doing well, though he could do with another minor boost.

 

Matias Arezo (Uruguay) – 19, forward, Granada

With the Uruguayan season finishing in early December, Arezo has not played much since his form was last examined – though he did get one more goal to take his seasonal tally to 15 in 29 games for River Plate (URU). That form earned him his shot in Europe, with Granada pulling off a potentially major coup in bringing him to Spain for about €3million. He awaits a first senior cap, though Uruguay are back in an automatic qualification spot.

And so, the countdown begins…

The 2022 World Cup is just over a year away, with Qatar set to begin the tournament against a still-to-be-decided opponent on November 21, 2022.

Even writing it feels strange. A World Cup… starting in November. But that is the reality, with Qatar's controversial – to put it kindly – hosting of the competition effectively rendering a tournament in June/July impossible due to the conditions.

With only a year to go, 13 of the competing nations (including Qatar) have confirmed their qualification, including record five-time winners Brazil and defending champions France.

Of course, most countries will have a fairly settled group of players, but a year is a long time in football, and a few newcomers will make the breakthrough.

As such, Stats Perform has identified 11 uncapped players who could break into their respective national teams by this time in 2022, and those players' progress will be tracked over the next 12 months in follow-up features.

Without any further ado, here are the chosen players...

Luis Maximiano (Portugal) – 22, goalkeeper, Granada

Yes, yes, Maximiano's inclusion here already implies a massive assumption that Portugal will even make it to Qatar, given their 2-1 home defeat by Serbia left them needing to go through the play-offs.

Nevertheless, it's reasonable to expect them to make it, and if they do, Maximiano may fancy himself as being in with a shot, particularly after a strong start to 2021-22.

He replaced compatriot Rui Silva – who left for Real Betis – between the posts at Granada after falling out of favour at Sporting CP, and he's showing his quality.

 

According to Opta's xGOT (expected goals on target) conceded data, Maximiano has already prevented 3.7 goals in LaLiga this season, the second-most in the division.

Of course, such metrics are weighted in favour of goalkeepers in teams are that kept defensively busy, and Granada are 17th in LaLiga, but we can create a fairer comparison by standardising for the number of shots each keeper faced by looking at their 'goals prevented rate'.

Maximiano's goals prevented rate of 1.37 means he was expected to concede 1.37 goals for every goal actually conceded, and again this is the second best in the league this season.

His shot-stopping abilities have reportedly caught the attention of Barcelona, and given Portugal's lack of a standout goalkeeper (and that's including first-choice Rui Patricio), Maximiano certainly isn't out of the running for Qatar 2022.

Jonathan Clauss (France) – 29, right-back, Lens

Football loves a late bloomer; maybe it's because they convince some of us we can still make it as a professional player. Lens star Clauss is a fascinating embodiment of the phenomenon.

Now 29, Clauss did not make his top-flight debut until the start of 2020-21, but it's fair to say he's been a revelation in a Lens side who have truly captured the imagination since they were promoted back to Ligue 1 in 2019-20 – 13 games into the current campaign, they're second to PSG.

A year out from Qatar 2022, Clauss is being mentioned in France media conferences, with Didier Deschamps last week asked why he wasn't called up. Of course, the coach's decision to go with options he knows when qualification wasn't assured is fair enough, but the Lens man is seemingly now in contention.

He has already had a hand in eight Ligue 1 goals this season, with six assists the joint-most in the division. His positivity on the flank as a wing-back is proving a massive asset to Lens, for whom he also set up six goals last term.

Of course, his greater comfort as a wing-back rather than an orthodox full-back may in the long run count against him, but Clauss is demonstrably effective going forward – usual France right-back options Benjamin Pavard and Leo Dubois aren't, and that may be his 'in'.

 

Bremer (Brazil) – 24, centre-back, Torino

Playing in a generally poor team can go one of two ways for a centre-back: you're either considered a big part of the problem, or you thrive because you're given more opportunities to show your strengths.

For Bremer in a Torino team that have finished 16th and 17th in the past two seasons, it's definitely been the latter.

The 24-year-old has reportedly attracted the interest of numerous Premier League clubs, with Liverpool seemingly the team that are most keen.

While he's not a particularly great progressor of the ball, his 4.9 passes into the final third per 90 minutes since the start of last season being almost half the figures of the highest-ranking Serie A defenders, Bremer is a reliable centre-back first and foremost.

His four clearances per game is up there with the best (only one player averages more than 4.7), while Bremer's positional sense is highlighted by 2.6 interceptions every 90 minutes, a figure bettered by only five defenders (min. 1,000 minutes played since 2020-21 started).

Similarly, the centre-back wins 3.2 aerial duels per 90 minutes, which again is the sixth-highest among that group of defenders.

Brazil don't have outstanding depth at centre-back, all the more reason why Bremer is in with a shot – a move to Liverpool or another 'giant' would only help his cause.

Sven Botman (Netherlands) – 21, centre-back, Lille

Ball-playing centre-backs grow on trees in the Netherlands, or so you'd think. Botman is another off the very reliable production line, having come through the esteemed ranks at Ajax.

Lille signed him for roughly €9million in July 2020 after he enjoyed a promising loan spell with Heerenveen, and he went on to play in all but one Ligue 1 match as Les Dogues won the title.

Life's been a little tougher for Lille this term following the loss of coach Christophe Galtier to Nice, but Botman remains a key player and retains a fine reputation from 2020-21.

Since the start of last season, his 1,295 forward passes is the second most in the division and he ranks 11th for the most ball carries (635).

He's a progressive centre-back who offers plenty of forward-thinking but is also reliable when it comes to getting stuck in.

Over the same period, he's come out on top in 67.8 per cent of his duels, which is the second-best success rate among players to have engaged in at least 150.

Granted, the Netherlands' centre-back options are deep, but Botman's been in the squad before and there's little doubt he would be a good fit for them stylistically.

Angelino (Spain) – 24, left-back, RB Leipzig

It may surprise a few people to learn Angelino has never played for Spain. In fact, he's never even received a call-up to the senior side.

Let's not forget, Spain are blessed with a lot of quality in left-back and wing-back roles. Currently, Jordi Alba, Marcos Alonso, Jose Gaya and Sergio Reguilon are the favoured options, but Angelino is arguably in better form than any of them.

All five players are probably at their best as wing-backs rather than full-backs, and Luis Enrique's current system does allow for such players, which is another reason for Angelino's suitability. Then it comes down to effectiveness on the pitch.

Since the start of last season, in league competition Angelino tops a host of attacking metrics among the aforementioned players. He creates 2.2 chances per 90 minutes on average, with Alonso and Alba next on 1.6.

While Angelino's 0.16 assists every 90 minutes is lower than Alba's 0.22, the Leipzig man is seemingly being let down by poor finishing as his expected assists each game is 0.31 – again, this is the highest.

On a per-90-minute basis, Angelino creates the most chances from open play (1.6), plays the most crosses (5.5) and passes into the box (9.9) most frequently among this group.

Of course, this is partly explained by him playing slightly further forward than his counterparts, but Spain spend most of the time on the ball anyway – having someone as effective as Angelino in attack must be a consideration for Luis Enrique.

 

Riqui Puig (Spain) – 22, midfielder, Barcelona

It feels like Puig has been around for a long time, because even before he was around the first-team squad, Barca fans were singing his praises.

He had been considered as potentially their next legendary midfielder, such was his blend of technical excellence and fine passing skills, two staples of Barca's La Masia academy.

But it's not quite worked out that way.

In the past three seasons, he's only played more than 300 minutes over the course of a LaLiga campaign once, under Quique Setien in 2019-20. While he did feature in 14 league games for Ronald Koeman last term, that amounted to 283 minutes at an average of 20.2 mins in each appearance, and that did not improve this term prior to the Dutchman's sacking.

So, why is he even on this list?

Well, as much as anything because his progress will be intriguing to watch once again now that Xavi is at the helm. If there's anyone who can appreciate Puig's qualities, it'll surely be him.

Christopher Nkunku (France) – 24, midfielder, RB Leipzig

While Nkunku has generally been considered a versatile central midfielder for much of his career, he's excelled in a slightly different role since Jesse Marsch's introduction as Leipzig coach.

He's operated more from the flanks and is getting into the opposition's penalty area with greater frequency, his touches in the box up from 5.2 per 90 minutes to 7.7 this season.

As such, he's getting more shots away in the area (2.2 every 90 minutes, up from 1.7) and that's unsurprisingly led to an increased xG average of 0.45 each game.

He's already got 11 goals across all competitions, four more than he managed in 2020-21, suggesting the change in role is paying dividends, though he remains an able option in the middle such is his quality on the ball and ability to break forward.

In each of the past two seasons, Nkunku didn't manage to start more than 21 league games, but he's already on 11 this term. He's maturing and seemingly found his niche – now all he needs is that elusive first call-up.

 

Alan Velasco (Argentina) – 19, winger, Independiente

Lionel Scaloni has restored a significant amount of respect for Argentina's national team, guiding them to Copa America success earlier this year – that was their first international title at senior level in 28 years.

During his three years in charge, Scaloni has used 75 different players in matches, which shows both the wealth of options he has but also how willing he is to give individuals a chance.

In attack is arguably where Argentina's depth is greatest, but Independiente talent Velasco is surely one of the likeliest to earn a first cap over the next 12 months.

A positive and direct left-winger who likes to cut inside onto his right foot, Velasco has been enjoying something of a breakthrough season in Argentina's Primera Division, particularly during the second stage.

 

He has five goal involvements (one goal, four assists) since mid-July, with no one in the division managing to set up more than five in the entire year, and he has unsurprisingly become a bit of a target for opponents, as highlighted by his 2.9 fouls suffered every 90 minutes being the third-most among players with at least five appearances.

But that doesn't deter him. His 41 chances created is the third highest in the division, and the most among under-21 players, while his 91 dribbles completed and 4.8 per 90 minutes are both league highs.

Velasco also works hard off the ball, making 47 recoveries in the opposition's half, which is fifth among all players. The teenager is a big talent who also boasts strong work ethic – Scaloni will surely have him earmarked as one to watch.

Cade Cowell (United States) – 18, forward, San Jose Earthquakes

There aren't many countries in the world producing more exciting young talent than the United States at the moment, with their squads for the next few World Cups shaping up to be very promising.

While 2022 will probably come too soon for Cowell – arguably the wildcard of this list – he certainly shouldn't be written off, given he has already spent time training with the senior squad before.

A dynamic, quick and strong attacker who play out wide as well, Cowell is the third-youngest player in MLS history to reach 50 appearances, having reached that landmark at 18 years and 16 days old. Only Freddy Adu (16y, 2m, 25d) and Alphonso Davies (17y, 7m) got there quicker.

 

This season, despite only starting for 14 of his 33 MLS appearances, Cowell has amassed 11 goal involvements (five goals, six assists), which only Jesus Ferreira (17 – 8g, 9a) and Ricardo Pepi (16 – 13g, 3a) can better among under-21 players.

There's no mistaking Cowell is very much a rough diamond. He doesn't create a huge amount of chances (1.3 per 90 mins), his duels (32.2 per cent) and dribble (47.6 per cent) success rates aren't great, but he's young and raw. Improvements here should come naturally, and a big 2022 might just propel him into a national side that's not afraid to give youngsters a chance.

 

Amine Gouiri (France) – 21, forward, Nice

If there's one team in international football that would be the toughest to break into as a forward, it's probably France, but Gouiri looks special.

It now looks utterly astonishing that Nice managed to get him for as little as an initial €7million from Lyon in 2020, and the versatile forward – who is comfortable on the left or through the middle – is enjoying the kind of consistency not always associated with young players.

The 2020-21 season was his first as a regular starter in top-flight football and he went on to score a highly respectable 12 goals. While that failed to match his 14.6 expected goals (xG), perhaps showing a degree of inexperience, he did also lay on seven assists.

 

Once again, Gouiri's goals haul of six is a little behind his xG (8.1), suggesting a hint of wastefulness, but only three players are providing greater service than him, with his 3.3 expected assists (xA) ranking high.

Technically, Gouiri is exceptional and explosive, and this undoubtedly helps him create openings and space in the final third, with his combined average of 0.97 expected goals and assists every 90 minutes this season the second-highest in Ligue 1.

Gouiri is too good to never play for France – it's only a matter of time until he gets the call-up, and if he carries on his current trajectory for the next 12 months, Qatar will beckon.

 

Matias Arezo (Uruguay) – 18, forward, River Plate (URU)

Uruguay has produced some truly great strikers down the years. After more of a barren spell in that regard since Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez came through, there is once again a cause for optimism with Darwin Nunez, Agustin Alvarez and, arguably chief among them, Arezo.

The teenager turns 19 this November, so he's still got lots to learn and much room for growth, but the early signs are hugely promising – his stocky appearance, powerful style of play and feistiness (13 yellow cards over 2020 and 2021) have earned him the nickname 'Buffalo', and he's already a reliable source of goals despite his youth.

Arezo scored 13 times in 35 Uruguayan Primera appearances last term – he's matched that haul from 26 outings this year. For comparison's sake, Suarez got 10 in 27 in his first full season in the division with Nacional, while Cavani recorded nine in 25 appearances for Danubio before moving to Europe.

Qatar 2022 will almost certainly be the last World Cup for Suarez and Cavani if Uruguay make it, so they are likely to be involved – but otherwise, La Celeste's forward options are up in the air.

Arezo has been coping well in the physical competitiveness of South America's domestic football and must be in with a great shout of forcing his way into contention for the mission to Qatar.

The 2021 MLS Cup play-offs are set following a wild final round of the regular season which saw LA Galaxy dramatically eliminated from the post-season picture by Real Salt Lake.

Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez scored twice for the Galaxy in a 3-3 draw with Minnesota United on Decision Day, but RSL's last-gasp 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City changed the landscape of the Western Conference.

RSL pipped the Galaxy – without post-season football for the second straight campaign – to the seventh and final play-off spot on victories for the season via a 95th-minute winner, having finished level on 48 points at the end of 34 rounds.

Minnesota finished fifth to clinch a post-season berth in the west, along with sixth-placed Vancouver Whitecaps, who drew 1-1 against Seattle Sounders.

Seattle's stalemate and Sporting KC's late loss allowed Colorado Rapids to secure top seed in the Western Conference following a 5-2 rout of Los Angeles FC, who were eliminated as a result.

In the Eastern Conference, Orlando City beat Montreal 2-0 for a spot in the play-offs, along with Atlanta United (2-1 over FC Cincinnati) and New York Red Bulls – the latter using a 1-1 draw against Nashville to extend their post-season streak to 12 years.

Supporters' Shield winners New England Revolution lost 1-0 to already eliminated Inter Miami, Portland Timbers eased past lowly Austin 3-0, DC United defeated Toronto 3-1, 10-man New York City drew 1-1 with Philadelphia Union and reigning champions Columbus Crew – who will not defend their title – beat Chicago Fire 2-0.

Chris Wondolowski scored in the San Jose Earthquakes' 1-1 draw against Dallas before the league's all-time leading scorer announced his retirement.

Inter Miami have been eliminated from the MLS play-off race following a 3-1 defeat to New York City, while San Jose Earthquakes teenager Cade Cowell produced a stunning moment of individual brilliance.

David Beckham's Inter Miami were looking to keep their fading play-off hopes alive on Saturday, however, second-half goals from New York City pair Valentin Castellanos and Talles Magno dashed that dream.

Inter Miami had never taken a point against New York City in their three previous meetings, losing all three. New York City were one of two teams Inter Miami had faced more than once without claiming a point, along with DC United.

That drought continued despite Inter Miami defender Jorge Figal initially cancelling out Castellanos' 33rd-minute opener at DRV PNK Stadium, where co-owner Beckham was in attendance.

But New York City – third in the Eastern Conference – hit back via Castellanos and Magno to clinch a play-off spot thanks to results elsewhere as Inter Miami were left to pick up the pieces in Phil Neville's first season as head coach.

Cade Cowell, meanwhile, scored a memorable solo goal as the Earthquakes outlasted Real Salt Lake 4-3 in a wild showdown.

The 18-year-old collected the ball in his own half with 21 minutes remaining before barging down the right flank, cutting in between two RSL defenders and finishing past David Ochoa with the outside of his boot.

Elsewhere, Fabio netted a dramatic stoppage-time winner as New York Red Bulls edged Montreal 1-0 to move into the seventh and final play-off spot in the east.

Defending champions Columbus Crew kept their slim play-off hopes alive with a 3-1 win over DC United, Toronto and Atlanta United drew 1-1 and 10-man Dallas edged Austin 2-1.

Supporters' Shield winners New England have made more history with Wednesday's 1-0 win over Colorado Rapids breaking the MLS record for most points in a single season.

Bruce Arena's side, who clinched their first-ever Supporters' Shield on Saturday, won thanks to Tajon Buchanan's 74th-minute strike.

The result took Revolution's season tally to 73 points from 33 games, eclipsing the previous record mark held by LAFC with 72 points in 2019.

New England have one more regular season match to extend their record, playing Inter Miami at home on November 7.

Canada international Buchanan came up with the winner, showing fast feet to make space for a low shot that beat Rapids goalkeeper William Yarbrough, who had sensationally kept out Henry Kessler from close range minutes earlier.

New York Red Bulls slipped out of the Eastern Conference play-offs spots after a 1-0 defeat to DC United who moved above them into seventh place.

United snapped a four-game winless skid, while also ending the Red Bulls' four-game running run and eight-game unbeaten streak in the process. Kevin Paredes side-footed home the ninth-minute winner for United.

Sporting KC moved into top spot in the Western Conference and dented LA Galaxy's play-offs aspirations with a 2-0 win.

Johnny Russell extended his scoring run to eight straight games with both goals for KC who clinched a top-four seeding as well.

Randall Leal scored two goals and grabbed an assist as Nashville came from two goals down twice to win 6-3 at Cincinnati.

Portland Timbers moved in the west's top four with a 2-0 home victory over San Jose Earthquakes, while Vancouver Whitecaps climbed up to fifth with a 2-1 triumph over Minnesota United.

New York City boosted their Eastern Conference top-four seed hopes with a 1-0 home win over Chicago Fire, while Josef Martinez's winner helped Atlanta United past Inter Miami 2-1 after Gonzalo Higuain had opened the scoring from the spot.

Columbus Crew upset Orlando City 3-2, Toronto held Philadelphia Union 2-2 as Jozy Altidore netted while Real Salt Lake scored twice in the final 10 minutes to win 2-1 at Dallas.

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