3/2/17 MLS Kicks off Season Fri Night, US Ladies Play England Sat 5 pm on Fox, Champ League Tues/Wed

 

I watched a little of the US Ladies vs Germany game Wed Night – first Germany in Green and the US in all Red looked like Ireland vs Portugal – kind of weird.  Overall a whole lot of new faces on the US team – new goalkeeper (thank goodness), new players all over – still it was the old guard Tobin Heath, Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd and Christian Press doing a lot  of the heavy lifting before newcomer Lynn Williams knocked in the only goal off a rebound.  The US faces England Sat at 5 pm on Fox before wrapping up the tourney vs France on Tues night at 7 pm on Fox Sports 1.

So after 2 of my favorite teams got to the MLS finals last year with my longtime favorite Seattle Sounders winning it all – we are ready for a new season of MLS – with 2 new teams on board in Atlanta United and Minn United.  MLS kicks off Friday night with Portland hosting new club Minnesota United at 9:30 pm on Fox Sports 1, while the other new team Atlanta United will host NY Red Bulls on Sunday on FS1 at 7:30 right after Orlando City opens its new stadium with NY City FC on ESPN at 5 pm.  (See full season previews and predictions below).

So leg two of the Sweet 16 Rounds of Champions League returns next Tues/Wed.with Arsenal hosting Bayern Munich and needing a downright miracle to comeback out of a 1-5 hole.  Defending champs Real Madrid travel to Napoli on FS2 down 2-1.  Wednesday Barca will try to swim out of the 4-0 hole with PSG at home on Fox Sport 1 at 2:45 while Dortmund will hopefully start or at least play American Christian Pulisic earlier in their home matchup with Benefica with a 4-2 lead.

This weekend the big game has Arsenal traveling to a reeling Liverpool Sat at 12:30 pm on NBCSN as the battle for top 4 continues, while Pulisic and Dortmund face Chicarito and Bayern Leverkusen at 9:30 on FS2 right after Man U host Bournemouth at 7:30 on NBCSN.

BIG GAMES ON TV THIS WEEK

Fri, Mar 3

9:30 pm Fox Sports1                        Portland Timbers vs Minnesota United

Sat,  Mar 4

7:30 am NBCSN            Man United vs Bournemouth

9:30 am Fox Sport2   Dortmund (US Pulisic) vs Bayern Leverkusen

12:30 NBCSN                 Liverpool vs Arsenal

5 pm Fox                      US Women vs England (She Believe’s Cup)

Sun, Mar 5

8:30 am   NBCSN         Tottenham (US Vickers) vs Everton

11:30 Fox Soccer        Hamburger (US Woods) vs Hertha (US John Brooks)

5 pm ESPN                       Orlando City vs NYCFC (MLS new stadium)

7:30 pm Fox Sport1  Atlanta United vs New York Red Bulls (new MLS team)

Tues Mar 7 –Champions League 

2:45 pm FoxSport1    Arsenal vs Bayern Munich (1-5)

2:45 pm FoxSport2    Napoli vs Real Madrid (1-2?)

7 pm  Fox Sports1      US Women vs France

Weds Mar 8 –Champions League 

2:45 pm FoxSport1      Barcelona vs PSG (0-4)

2:45 pm FoxSport2      Dortmund (US Pulisic) vs Benefica (4-2)

Fri, Mar 10

2:45 pm beIN sport   Juventus vs Milan

US

Retooled US Ladies Win 1-0 over #2 Germany

US 1-0 Win Over Germany in She Believe’s Cup

She Believes Cup a Litmus Test for US Team in Transition  SI.com

Unrecognizable USWNT prepares for Future with She Believes Cup

US Women’s Coach Jill Ellis Talks Keepers, 3-5-2 and more – Philly.com

Fox’s coverage of She Believes Cup – includes live Streaming of non US Games

Tobino –

US U20s beat Mexico 1-0 Hi-lites

US U20s beat Mexico story face El Salvador Friday 6:30 on Facebook live

Pulisic turned down Liverpool this summer

Trump Travel ban could hamper US bid for World Cup

MLS

MLS Predictions – Who will win MLS Cup, Supporters Shield?  ESPNFC

MLS predictions – SI

MLS Power Rankings – Seattle on top ESPNFC Video

SI MLS Power Rankings Preseason – SI.com

Biggest Question Facing all 22 MLS teams ahead of 2017 Season – ESPNFC

MLS Making Strides but has a way to Go still – Doug McIntyre ESPNFC

Eastern Conference Preview – Team by Team – NBCSN

Western Conference Preview Team by Team – NBCsports

West vs East – Has Power Shifted?

Columbus Crew Announce New Jersey Sponsor –soctake.com

Sneak Peak at Orlando City’s New Soccer Stadium – soctake.com

All 22 MLS Stadiums

Full MLS Schedule

Champions League – 3/7+8, 3/14+15

Odds of Advancing after the 2nd legs

Dortmund hope home record advances

Barca have 4-0 Mountain to Climb at home vs PSG

Leicester needs help at home down 2-1 to Sevilla

Monaco eye another Englash Scalp as Man City Visits up 5-3

Juventus holds aces on home soil vs Porto up 2-0.

Atletico on top 4-2 as Leverkusen visit againand my Daughter Courtney will be at the game – yea! 

 WORLD SOCCER

Power Rankings have Juve on Top

Weekend action in the EPL will Arsenal or Liverpool Recover this weekend?

Barca Coach Enrique to leave after season

Big Stories in Europe Include Man U Cup Win and More – SI

Man City Wins FA Cup Replay vs Huddersfield

Zlatan helps Man U win EFL Cup

Atletico’s Torres Ok After Scary Head Bash in Game

 Indy 11 + NASL

If its not Broke – don’t fix it – Indy 11  – Aaron Gunyon SocTakes.com

Former Butler Forward Goldsmith on Trial with the 11 – Kevin Johnson Soctakes.com

Indy 11 Win 1st Pre-season game vs Butler 1-0

New Signings Settling In

Defender and Capt Colin Falvey has minor surgery to miss PreSeason

Single Game Tickets on Sale Now

John Harkes out as Coach at Cinncinati – SocTakes.com

 GAMES ON TV  

Fri, Mar 3

6:30 pm CONCACAF Facebook   US U20s vs El Salvador WCQ – also Univision

9:30 pm Fox Sports1                        Portland Timbers vs Minnesota United

Sat,  Mar 4

7:30 am NBCSN            Man United vs Bournemouth

9:30 am Fox Sport2   Dortmund (US Pulisic) vs Bayern Leverkusen

9:30 am Fox Soccer Koln vs Bayern Munich

10 am NBCSN                Leceister vs Hull City

10 am CNBC                    West Brom vs Crystal Palace

10:15 am beIN sport                        Eibar vs Real Madrid

12:30 NBCSN                 Liverpool vs Arsenal

4 pm Univision             LA Galaxy vs Dallas (Carmel’s Matt Hedges)

5 pm Fox                      US Women vs England (She Believe’s Cup)

Sun, Mar 5

8:30 am   NBCSN         Tottenham (US Vickers) vs Everton

9 am beIn Sport          Udenes vs Juve ITALY

11 am   NBCSN             Sunderland vs Man City

11:30 Fox Soccer        Hamburger (US Woods) vs Hertha

5 pm ESPN                       Orlando City vs NYCFC (MLS new stadium)

7:30 pm Fox Sport1  Atlanta United vs New York Red Bulls (new MLS team)

Mon, Mar 6

3 pm NBCSN                   West Ham vs Chelsea

Tues Mar 7 –Champions League 

2:45 pm FoxSport1    Arsenal vs Bayern Munich (1-5)

2:45 pm FoxSport2    Napoli vs Real Madrid (1-2?)

7 pm  Fox Sports1      US Women vs France

Weds Mar 8 –Champions League 

2:45 pm FoxSport1      Barcelona vs PSG (0-4)

2:45 pm FoxSport2      Dortmund (US Pulisic) vs Benefica (4-2)

Fri, Mar 10

2:45 pm beIN sport   Juventus vs Milan

Sat,  Mar 11

7:15 am Foxsport 1   Middlesborough vs Man City – FA

9:30 am Fox Sport2   Dortmund (US Pulisic) vs Hertha BSC (US John Brooks)

9:30 am Fox Sport 1 Bayern Munich vs Frankfurt

10 am NBCSN                Everton vs West Brom

Sun, Mar 5

10 am Fox Sport 1      Tottenham vs Millwall

12 NBCSN                                                 Liverpool vs Burnley

12:30 Fox Sport2        Hamburger (US Woods) vs Bourussia Mgladbach (US Johnson)

5 pm ESPN                       Minn United vs Atlanta United

7 pm Fox Sport1          LA Galaxy vs Portland  

Mon, Mar 13

3 pm Fox Sport 1        Chelsea vs Man United FA Cup

Retooled U.S. women open SheBelieves Cup with 1-0 win over Germany

By Graham Hays | Mar 1, 2017espnW.com

CHESTER, Pa. — The United States hoped to play this game in Rio de Janeiro. It hoped the backdrop would be the sun setting over the Maracana. It hoped it would represent the final step in a march to history, the first team to win World Cup and Olympic titles in successive years.The Americans instead had to settle for a smaller setting Wednesday on the banks of the Delaware River, the threat of thunderstorms standing in for any South American sun. There was no history on the line, just another in the many and very early steps toward greater aspirations.It still feels good to beat Germany, of course. It always feels good to beat Germany.What mattered more Wednesday was how the U.S. women played in a 1-0 win against the team one spot behind them atop the FIFA world rankings. And there is no better place to start than a goal that was the product of everything the team has talked about being in this post-Olympics reset.

Playing a game of this magnitude for the first time, 23-year-old Lynn Williams scored the winner in the 56th minute. The player who made such a splash last fall by scoring the fastest debut goal in U.S. history, even if the record lasted only a few days, made her second goal a memorable one.But the other part of the story is how the ball arrived at her feet, a play set up by a tackle at midfield from someone who has scored 41 goals in 81 appearances for the national team. A tackle from a player who sees herself as no less a part of the answer than the newcomers.U.S. coach Jill Ellis wants her team to press, wanted it against the team that won Olympic gold and wants it as a general principle.Who better to do so than Christen Press?While the United States outplayed Germany almost from the outset, not by a mile but by enough to notice, the game hit a lull in the early minutes of the second half. American pressure that had put Germany on its heels early waned and a stalemate loomed. Then Press closed quickly on German defender Isabel Kerschowski near the sideline. Press won the ball, took off down the right side, cut inside with a soft touch and fired a shot that smacked off the goal frame.The rebound off the frame fell to Tobin Heath, whose own shot was blocked by a defender in front of goal — but only as far as the feet of Williams, who one-touched the ball into the net.Official assist or not, it still came about because of Press. A veteran who took a circuitous route to the national team in the first place, Press has both always been a willing servant and needed to be when asked to play a variety of roles by multiple coaches. But when she and Ellis spoke recently about her role in this new look, she took on a new challenge willingly.”Playing her in the pure No. 9 is probably her most natural position,” Ellis said. “But just her commitment in terms of pressing the ball and physically challenging to the ball, we can use her. We wanted to press, so we needed a forward that makes sure they can physically commit to the game, obviously both sides of the ball. Christen committed to that. And I think her work rate has been tremendous. Now couple that with I think she’s a natural goal scorer. She’s always looking to get in behind, she’s always off shoulder.”She’s done well in training and you’ve got to reward that.”

More from espnW.com

U.S. women debut with win over Germany

SheBelieves Cup is next test for U.S. women

Rapinoe left off roster for SheBelieves Cup

U.S. Soccer’s Lloyd seals Manchester City move

Spirit announce Dunn’s departure for Chelsea

Foudy: USWNT union changes are step in the right direction

Rampone retires from U.S. Soccer at age 41

This was not a safe lineup for the United States. Keeping the three-back that she turned to with regularity last fall, Ellis started Crystal Dunn and Mallory Pugh as the wide players on either side of those three defenders (the coach rejected the idea that Dunn and Pugh were traditional wingbacks who were expected to drop in and defend alongside the center backs, saying she wanted them on the front foot at all times). To that end, Germany coach Steffi Jones noted after the game how little time her team had to play out of the back. Playing that aggressively doesn’t work if people don’t buy in to the philosophy, whether or not they find themselves playing their preferred position or role.That’s true of Dunn when she plays wider and deeper than she might like. It’s true for Pugh, who came on in a similar role. It’s true for Casey Short, a natural outside back playing farther inside. And it’s certainly true for Press, closing down the ball on the sideline.”It was about prepping for 2019 and where she wants me to be there and kind of dreaming big and trying to expand my capacity a little bit,” Press said of what she and Ellis talked about. “So that when we’re in this year that seems like an off year, it’s actually the most important time to grow. So we talked about the areas she wants to see me develop, which is being a better physical presence holding up the ball and being more aggressive and confident in my play.”

Whatever vision Ellis has works only if both old and new mesh. The new faces like Williams draw much of the focus for now because they’re new. The unknown is more compelling than the known. But those who were here before are needed just as much, whether closing in on 100 caps, like Press, or 20 caps, like Samantha Mewis.”I think that in the last year, and especially in the last couple of months, it’s definitely more open for competition,” Press offered in a concurring opinion. “I think Jill has been bringing in players who are playing excellently in the league, and that pushes the players that have been around and also gives hope to all the players in the NWSL.”That the product looked promising is what matters. Although beating Germany is nice.The opening act offered its own drama, as third-ranked France beat fifth-ranked England 2-1. A Jordan Nobbs goal put England up 1-0 in the first half, but two familiar faces rescued France late. Marie-Laure Delie tied the score with an 80th-minute header off a cross from Elodie Thomis. Then with what proved the final kick of the game, and after a quick counter started by French goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi, Wendie Renard headed home Amel Majri’s corner kick for the winner.France went winless and goalless in the first edition of the tournament. It will face Germany on Saturday in Harrison, New Jersey, while England will play the United States later the same day. (See more Stories at Bottom)

Tobin Heath: U.S. win over Germany ‘the best place we could be’

Updated: MARCH 2, 2017 — 12:29 PM EST

by Jonathan Tannenwald , STAFF WRITER  @jtannenwald |  jtannenwald@phillynews.com

After the U.S. women’s soccer team beat Germany, 1-0, at Talen Energy Stadium on Wednesday night, I got an exclusive interview with star midfielder Tobin Heath.

Your thoughts on the win?

I thought it was fantastic. It was our first game back since November, so obviously, playing a quality opponent like Germany and getting the result we did – and I think the way that we played, we were always on our front foot during the game. I thought that was great. Obviously, there were a lot of things that we need to clean up and make a little bit better, but to start the tournament like this, I think it’s the best place we could be.

How is the transition to playing a 3-5-2 formation going?

It’s going well. I mean, this is the first time we’ve actually played it against a good opponent, so I think for us, we just need to keep playing it and keep challenging ourselves in the formation, and be in uncomfortable situations. Because it’s one of those formations where in most situations, you’ve got to give up some territory. Knowing [how to] be positionally accurate in order to solve those. And just playing with the new players, and stuff like that. It’s important to get those connections going in order to make the formation buzz in the way we want it to.

And for you in particular, as one of the outside players – I know you’ve played some outside back in a four-back formation at times in the past – but what’s this like?

It’s different. I would say it’s a lot of work, but I think it can be rewarding at times. I think it’s one of those positions where you have to always kind of expect to either transition out of it and be a great option [in attack], or put in that last-ditch run back. So in that way, I think you have to be focused and tuned in.

For us, it’s me, Crystal [Dunn] and Mal [Pugh] who played out there today. I think it’s a little bit different for us, because we basically have the whole sideline to deal with. In that way, it puts us in situations that are a little unique for us in this formation. I think we’re learning, and I think we’re growing. So it’s good.

This is a heck of a way to do it, to jump into a tournament with Germany, England and France. And on top of that, as you said, the U.S. team hadn’t played a game for a few months. So what’s it like for you all to be thrown right into the deep end?

That’s exactly what we need. Especially in this time in the cycle. We need these games. We need this flexibility in order to play a system like this with the new players that we have.

Because we don’t have anything to lose. Although this is a great tournament with great opponents, at the end of the day, we’re just trying to grow and find out things about the team that we need to know. The only way we’re going to find out is against these teams. So in that way, it’s a good time to try things.

Last question. When the tournament ends, you go back to Portland to join the Thorns as they prepare for the start of the National Women’s Soccer League season. How big a year is this going to be for the Thorns and the NWSL?

I’m so stoked to get back to Portland and start the NWSL [season]. I love playing there. I love being there. I love playing for [head coach] Mark Parsons. I think we’ve got a great team. It’s the first time we’ve gotten kind of a consistent team from last year to this year, so in that way, I’m excited to get back on the pitch – and go for another championship, hopefully.

SheBelieves Cup provides a litmus test for a USWNT in transition

QUICKLY -Over the next week, the U.S. women’s national team will go up against England, Germany and France–three of the top five teams in the world.AVI CREDITOR3 hours ago

Saturday, March 4 at Red Bull Arena, Harrison, N.J.

2:15 p.m.: Germany vs. France (FoxSportsGo.com)
5:00 p.m.: United States vs. England (Fox)

Tuesday, March 7 at RFK Stadiu, Washington, D.C.

4:00 p.m.: England vs. Germany (FoxSportsGo.com)
7:00 p.m.: United States vs. France (Fox Sports 1)

Coming off the low of an Olympic failure, the U.S. women’s national team was confronted with another harsh reality. Meaningful games will be few and far in between for about two years, and the opportunity to pick itself back up and prove itself as a world champion again won’t come around that often.Well, one of those such opportunities kicks off Wednesday night in the SheBelieves Cup, when the top-ranked (according to FIFA) U.S. hosts Olympic gold medalist and second-ranked Germany at Talen Energy Stadium in Pennsylvania. The tournament also pits the U.S. against fifth-ranked England (March 4 at Red Bull Arena) and third-ranked France (March 7 at RFK Stadium), with four of the world’s five highest-ranked teams going against one another in a high-profile, quick-hitting round robin. What the week-long exercise provides is a true litmus test for a U.S. team in a transition phase and trying to figure out its way going forward.Hope Solo hasn’t been the goalkeeper since the Olympics and it doesn’t appear she will be anytime soon, if at all. Manager Jill Ellis has left behind the Meg(h)ans Klingenberg and Rapinoe, and is also taking a look at 16-year-old midfielder Brianna Pinto. Plenty of the core U.S. players remain in place, but with time comes change, and competition for places should ramp up with the amount of relative newcomers Ellis has at her disposal. There is no surefire U.S. XI right now, and that’s entirely to be expected in the middle of dormant period in the international women’s soccer cycle.So while standing atop the winner’s podium for a second straight year in this nascent competition is of utmost importance to the U.S., figuring out who belongs in the mix for the run up to the 2019 Women’s World Cup is the other high-priority item on the to-do list.”We’ve now had two camps together this year and I’ve seen some good things across the board,” Ellis said. “Now we’re looking to translate that into three games against fantastic opponents. We will be greatly tested, and these are the moments where you learn the most about yourself, which is exactly what we need right now.”The transition with the U.S. women (who still don’t have a new CBA amid the ongoing equal pay fight) extends a bit to the club level, as well. While the NWSL schedule came out on Wednesday, at least the opening half of it won’t pertain to Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd, and it won’t at all to Crystal Dunn, the three U.S. stars (in addition to retired national team midfielder Heather O’Reilly) who have taken their games overseas. Their moves won’t alter their standing with the U.S., but they do provide a new logistical hurdle for Ellis, who is used to having a full squad of domestic-based talent. “In my tenure, I haven’t dealt with international players joining us purely at FIFA windows so it’s a slightly different experience for me personally but obviously we’ve kept in contact with them, both visually in terms of watching their games, and obviously through constant communication,” Ellis said. “We’re excited to have them join us in camp and ready for them to help us be successful.”In all, change is in the wind for the U.S. women. After their subpar showing in Rio, there is plenty they can learn from this competition, and there’s plenty we’ll learn about the U.S. in the process. Here’s the U.S. squad for the competition:

GOALKEEPERS: Jane Campbell (Houston Dash), Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)

DEFENDERS: Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Ali Krieger (Orlando Pride), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), Casey Short (Chicago Red Stars), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns FC)

MIDFIELDERS: Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Rose Lavelle (Boston Breakers), Carli Lloyd (Manchester City), Allie Long (Portland Thorns FC), Samantha Mewis (NC Courage), Brianna Pinto (CASL)

FORWARDS: Crystal Dunn (Chelsea Ladies FC), Jessica McDonald (NC Courage), Alex Morgan (Olympique Lyonnais), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Mallory Pugh (UCLA), Lynn Williams (NC Courage)

An unrecognizable USWNT will prepare for the future at 2017 SheBelieves Cup

You may not fully recognize the United States women’s national team when it kicks off the second edition of the SheBelieves Cup in Chester, Pa., on Wednesday. And that’s entirely by design.There is no Hope Solo, of course, long since ostracized for her multi-page rap sheet – and injured, to boot. Out, too, are the retired Christie Rampone, Heather O’Reilly, Abby Wambach and Lauren Holiday. Meanwhile, Megan Rapinoe isn’t yet fit after a long-term injury. Meghan Klingenberg is also on her way back, while Amy Rodriguez has just been off for a year while she had her second son.[ SheBelieves Cup: Live match updates | Harris’ personal triumph | Solo’s long road ]

The defending Women’s World Cup champions are very much in transition as a new cycle begins in earnest following last year’s debacle at the Rio Olympics – the quarterfinals elimination to Sweden on penalties was the worst American finish at a major tournament ever.Now begins the slow rebuilding process towards the 2019 Women’s World Cup – and the qualifying tournament in late 2018 or early 2019 – in the first major test since Brazil. The SheBelieves Cup has come to replace the Portuguese Algarve Cup as the U.S. women’s national team’s annual Spring proving ground. And the quality of opposition has been highThis year, like last year, Germany, France and England will participate. Which means four of the top-five teams in the world will play a round-robin over three days outside Philadelphia, in New Jersey and in Washington, D.C., on March, 1, 4 and 7.These will be tough tests. Last year, the Americans went 3-0-0 but won by scores of 1-0, 1-0 and 2-1, respectively. That’s quite a difference with the typical friendly blowouts they tend to register against anybody but the world’s elite. After the Olympics, the U.S. won the remainder of its 2016 games by scores of 9-0, 3-1, 4-0, 5-1, 8-1 and 5-0.Head coach Jill Ellis wants to expose new players to these types of challenges. That’s why 18-year-old wunderkind Mallory Pugh is back in the team after some time off. And it’s why Ellis called in 16-year-old Brianna Pinto – who was born in 2000, potentially making her the national team’s first post-Millennial.“In this phase we’re in, it’s about taking players who are ready or needing to gain experience. The reality is if a player is not ready right now, we have a big window in which to continue their evaluation and assessment,” Ellis explained in a Q&A on USSoccer.com. “I think with Brianna, part of it is that you have to make sure that a player can help immediately, but also ask yourself, what do you see potentially in this player? And what I see in her is someone that already from a January camp until now is getting more comfortable, is answering questions in meetings and asking questions on the field. Giving her the exposure and experience of being in SheBelieves, which is a big tournament, is a massive investment.”This tournament, then, will be much less about the established stars in their own right as Ellis figuring out where they still fit in – if anywhere. The English-born head coach with the recognizable hybrid accent is a perpetual builder with a long-running project of modernizing a national team shackled to the same style and players for so many years.

As such, her leaving certain established players home hardly means they’re out of the picture for the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France. She has said that she only wanted players who were fully fit or very close to it for this SheBelieves Cup, so as not to waste the opportunity of really seeing where players stand against the preciously rare quality opposition. With more than two years remaining to piece together the puzzle, other chances will be plentiful.So the thing to watch is not how the team copes without the players not there, but how the battles and chemistry among those present shapes up. Who will seize the starting job in goal in this post-Solo era? Alyssa Naeher or the fascinating Ashlyn Harris?Who sticks out in the ever-crowdedfight among the forwards? And between Alex Morgan, Christen Press, Crystal Dunn, Pugh, Lynn Williams and Jessica McDonald, who forms the best pairing? Or trident?What midfield configuration will yield the ideal balance between freeing up creative talents like Tobin Heath – or a healthy Rapinoe – and shielding the defense?There are many questions and three quality games to seek answers. A sea of time sprawls out between now and the next major women’s tournament, but the preparatory process has already begun.

Meet the U.S. WOMEN’S NATIONAL TEAM ROSTER FOR 2017 SHEBELIEVES CUP:

GOALKEEPERS (3): No. 18-Jane Campbell (Houston Dash), 1-Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars), 24-Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride).

DEFENDERS (6): 8-Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), 11-Ali Krieger (Orlando Pride), 5-Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), 4-Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), 7-Casey Short (Chicago Red Stars); 15-Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns FC).

MIDFIELDERS (8): 6-Morgan Brian (Houston Dash, 17-Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), 9-Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), 16-Rose Lavelle (Boston Breakers), 10-Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), 20-Allie Long (Portland Thorns FC), 3-Samantha Mewis (NC Courage), 22-Brianna Pinto (CASL).

FORWARDS (6): 19-Crystal Dunn (Chelsea Ladies FC), 14-Jessica McDonald (NC Courage), 13-Alex Morgan (Olympique Lyonnais), 23-Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), 2-Mallory Pugh (UCLA), 12-Lynn Williams (NC Courage).

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

USWNT coach Jill Ellis on goalkeepers, Alex Morgan on Lyon, Ali Krieger on playing 3-5-2

Updated: MARCH 1, 2017 — 9:23 AM ESTU.S. women’s soccer team striker Alex Morgan chatted with reporters at Talen Energy Stadium ahead of the Americans’ game against Germany.by Jonathan Tannenwald , STAFF WRITER  @jtannenwald |  jtannenwald@phillynews.com

Here are some highlights from the U.S. women’s soccer team’s pregame conversations with the media on Tuesday, ahead of Wednesday’s SheBelieves Cup game against Germany at Talen Energy Stadium (7 p.m., Fox Sports 1).U.S. coach Jill Ellis spoke from the podium at a press conference, striker Alex Morgan spoke to a gaggle of reporters outside the locker room, and defender Ali Krieger spoke exclusively to me a few minutes later.By the way, if you’re on the fence aboug going to Chester on Wednesday, U.S. Soccer said that as of Tuesday evening, around 1,000 tickets remained for sale.

Jill Ellis

On Alex Morgan, Crystal Dunn and Carli Lloyd deciding to play abroad for a while:

These players want to explore other environments. In 2015 and ’16, we’ve been heavy with our programming. This year, the commitment to the NWSL is when they’re in that league, we’re playing FIFA dates. So that obviously puts everybody in the same category, whether you’re playing domestically or overseas.

I think for them, it’s an opportunity to see something different and experience something different. All three of them have never been overseas. I think for them, it’s a great opportunity for them to experience high-level teams, or slightly different things. Every environment you can go to that you can take away something [from] I think is going to benefit us in the long run.

On the contest between Alyssa Naeher and Ashlyn Harris to be the top goalkeeper on the depth chart:

That’s part of this. What I committed to after the Olympics was giving them games. Well, in truth, this is the biggest game for Ash and Alyssa. These are the biggest games right now, because when you’re suddenly competing to get on a podium, it puts a whole other emphasis on the importance – or the stress, really.

So I think for both of them, these games are big tests. Listen, is one game going to determine it? No. You have to look at consistency in a player. So what I’m committed to there is to get them games. I know [Harris] has done very well in the league, but again, it’s a different level.

And it’s not just seeing them one-off, or in a couple of games, or a game against a lesser opponent. It’s seeing them against these big opponents, to see how they manage the stress, the pressure, and obviously the action, because they can get a lot of it.

On her expectations for 16-year-old midfielder Brianna Pinto, and what fans should expect:

Having her in here, she’s gaining so much just being in and around it, training with these players every day. Pinto is a player – and I’ve said this before – it’s a position, the No. 6 [defensive midfielder], with [Andi] Sullivan getting hurt, I think we still need to deepen that spot.

She’s done well. She’s, of course, young. And what I’m trying to look at is, okay, where is she now and where could she be in two years with investment with us in here. That’s really why I’m looking at her. Will she play in this tournament? I don’t know. To be determined. But getting this major tournament under her belt at 16 years old, I think is going to benefit us.

Alex Morgan

On what it’s been like in Lyon so far:

It’s definitely been challenging a lot of times. It’s been fun and exciting to get to know my new teammates, to get to know the club a little bit better. But it’s not always easy.

There’s difficult moments, and the last two weeks have been pretty difficult with the illness [she’s had the flu] that I had, and then having a little knock to my ankle as well. So it’s been a tough couple of weeks, but I’m happy to be back in the U.S. and representing my country.

On how her time in France has changed how she plays:

I think I have gained a different style. Learning to play a different way. With Lyon, it’s more of the technical side and coming back for the ball, and making your runs more sophisticated. A lot of teams that we play against kind of sit a little deeper because they don’t want to get beat. So for me it’s trying to still contribute and open up space for myself even though that space is limited.

Then, at the same time, bringing my best to training every day, because we have a lot of the best players in the world on that team, as you saw from the FIFPro (Women’s Team of the Year) nominees. I think there were 50 nominees and 11 of those were on Lyon.

[It was 55 total, not 50, but Morgan was right that Lyon had 11.]

It’s amazing to see, it’s really challenging every day, and I feel like we’re able to challenge ourselves and create a competitive environment every day. So it’s fun to be a part of that.

Ali Krieger

How big do you think this tournament is?

Huge. This week is going to be incredible. This week is what we all dream of being a part of. At the highest level, you’re playing against the best teams in the world. We’re all in the top five teams int he world. So I think this is an awesome experience for all of us.

This is who we want to play all the time. These are the opponents that we dream of playing against, not only in big tournaments but during the year. It makes us better, it challenges us, we grow from it, and it gives us more experience. It’s nice to just have a small, intimate tournament domestically for us to really build the game.

At the same time that this tournament is happening, Orlando City is opening the fancy new stadium that you’ll be playing in with the Orlando Pride. How good a place is it?

What a dream. I can’t say that I’ve been because we’ve been so busy with training and things like that. I haven’t yet gone to the stadium tour, but I hope to do that right when I get back.

It is incredible. They’ve thought about every single last detail, and I can’t wait to see it, to be a part of it, to open up the stadium for the inaugural season coming up. It’s soccer-specific, the atmosphere is going to be amazing. It’s a dream that we as women footballers get to play in the same stadium as the men.

How much of the stadium really belongs to the Pride specifically?

It’s half and half. We share it completely with the men. And they understand that too. We’re a family, we’re a community, and I feel just as much a big part of that, even though I haven’t even been there yet – really involved with the team. I really feel a huge part of it. We share it 100 percent with the men, and that’s something that you feel like you’re rewarded in that way from the organization.

Alex Morgan is at Lyon, Crystal Dunn is at Chelsea, and Carli Lloyd is headed to Manchester City after the SheBelieves Cup ends. How much of a different element does it bring to the national team when top players are playing abroad?

It allows players to kind of step up, and it allows players to go and achieve their individual goals that they want to do. I had the whole European experience, and I would tell every single one of my teammates that they should go and experience it as well if you’re able to. I think these two off years [2017 and 2018] are really a good time for them to do that.

To have that experience, check it off their lists, and to fight for a Champions League title – that’s something I already have in my back pocket, and I’ve experienced, and I’ve grown so much as a person. I don’t think I would be where I am on this national team if I hadn’t gone.

So for them, it broadens the game and opens up, maybe, doors for other players to feel the same. I think it’s an awesome experience, and I’m really happy they’re doing that.

Jill Ellis is trying to get this team to play a 3-5-2 formation. What has that transition been like for you?

It’s amazing, because I think it fits my style a lot better than a four-back [formation]. So I’m really excited about that. I can just defend, I can focus on winning the ball back and giving it to the front six players who can do their magic.

I love playing in a three-back [formation]. I really enjoy it, because of the speed of play and the opportunities to get the ball and play it into the front six. I think it’s nice to have a variety of lineups and formations to use against different opponents, depending on what they bring.

2017 MLS predictions: Who will win MLS Cup, Supporters’ Shield, MVP?

With the 2017 MLS season just about to kick off, ESPN FC asked its writers and analysts to make predictions for who will win the MLS Cup, Supporters’ Shield, Golden Boot and MVP.

Who will win MLS Cup in 2017?

Vancouver Whitecaps: Is it crazy to think that a team that two years ago was in contention for the Supporters’ Shield without a goalscorer find themselves with one of the most exciting goalscorers MLS has ever had, and not be in the mix? I’m all in on a Cascadia Treble. — Herculez Gomez (@herculezg)

I’m going to go for Vancouver Whitecaps, though that may be as much about the way that the season and playoffs offer the kind of twists and turns that see solid-but-unspectacular teams find a way through by the time early December rolls around. The Whitecaps were derailed by injuries last season, but were better than their final position suggested. A lot depends on whether Yordy Reyna returns from injury in the summer like a new signing, or whether he ends up as a cap writeoff for the year, but let’s guess that he helps Cascadia keep its winning sequence running into a third surprise year. — Graham Parker (@KidWeil)

Also picking Vancouver is Steve Nicol (@SteveNicol61)

FC Dallas: Even with Mauro Diaz likely to miss half the season due to the Achilles injury he sustained last year, Dallas looks to be the most complete team. Javier Morales has been brought in to fill the attacking void, but more importantly, Dallas’ core that includes Kellyn Acosta, Matt Hedges and Walker Zimmerman is a year older and wiser. If Cristian Colman provides the goals from the forward position, look out. — Jeff Carlisle (@JeffreyCarlisle)

Last season’s Supporters’ Shield winner take it a step further and validate regular season dominance with a successful MLS Cup run. — Alejandro Moreno (@AleMorenoESPN)

It’s their time. FC Dallas has all the tools to take home the crown in 2017: A strong defense, speed on the wings, a creative midfield and now a striker to finish chances. Once Mauro Diaz returns from injury in June, they will be unstoppable. — Arch Bell (@ArchBell)

Maybe I’m swayed by their CONCACAF Champions League demolition of Arabe Unido, but Dallas just seems poised to hang banners in 2017. Kellyn Acosta is so good and they’ve got — arguably with Seattle — the best center-back pairing in MLS. Oscar Pareja has really built a powerhouse. — Sebastian Salazar (@SebiSalazarFUT)

Also picking Dallas is Paul Mariner (@Paul_Mariner)

Toronto FC: Were the most dynamic team down the stretch run of last season and have kept all their major pieces intact. Unlike Columbus the year before, I believe they will use losing MLS Cup at home as the fuel to fire a return a year later and will go one better. — Adrian Healey (@AdrianHealey)

The Reds came oh-so-close to hoisting the hardware last season, losing a final they dominated on penalties. That experience pushes them over the edge this year. — Doug McIntyre (@DougMacESPN)

Toronto FC is my pick to win MLS Cup, reaching the goal they nearly accomplished last season. A host of big changes and new signings across the league make this as unpredictable a season as there’s been in recent memory, but TFC stands out thanks to their proven core of MLS elite talent and a handful of strong additions. — Jason Davis (@davisjsn)

 Who will win the Supporters’ Shield in 2017?

FC Dallas: So consistent during regular season play, these kids know how to handle the grind of a long MLS season. Look for a repeat of the Supporters’ Shield. — Herculez Gomez

FCD won the Shield last year, and look plenty capable of delivering a different kind of double this season. — Jeff Carlisle

Also picking Dallas is Alejandro Moreno.

Hard to look past Dallas again, as they’re strengthening at all levels of experience and have a formidable pipeline of youth talent compared to other clubs. Still need to work on concentration coming through knockout rounds, but in the regular season, any club that beats them probably has to do better than last year’s points total. — Graham Parker

The CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal win over Arabe Unido showed that FC Dallas are still plenty dangerous even without Diaz in the fold. There will be plenty of challenges in coming out of the West — Seattle, Los Angeles — but Oscar Pareja’s group should ride to a second straight Supporters’ Shield. — Arch Bell

 

Toronto FC: The Double hasn’t happened too often recently, but Toronto are primed for it this year. They will have the advantage of playing a regular schedule rather than the first eight games on the road as they did last year. Dallas, Sporting Kansas City and even Columbus could push them close, though. — Adrian Healey

After MLS Cup heartbreak, I bet TFC comes out hot to start the season. Toronto managed to keep its team together, and the intriguing addition of Victor Vazquez — who was player of the year in Belgium two seasons ago — could further spark an already combustible attack. — Sebastian Salazar

Seattle Sounders: Boosted by their championship swagger and the return of Clint Dempsey, the Sounders will become the first MLS Cup holder to win the Shield since Columbus did it eight years ago. — Doug McIntyre

The Sounders’ 2016 championship means they had an extremely short offseason. That could mean a slow start, but with Brian Schmetzer settling further into the job and Clint Dempsey back on the field, Seattle should still be among the best teams in the league. After last year’s aberrant regular season, I’m picking the champs to bounce back with a points title. — Jason Davis

Sporting Kansas City: Lots of firepower up front, creative in midfield and young improving defenders at the back. — Paul Mariner

Vancouver Whitecaps: — Steve Nicol

Who will win the Golden Boot in 2017?

Sebastian Giovinco: Do I really need to explain myself? Just look at his numbers over the past two years. — Herculez Gomez

Fueled by his MVP snub in 2016, when the little Italian wasn’t a finalist despite leading the league in combined goals and assists, I see Giovinco outscoring everyone this year. — Doug McIntyre

Also picking Giovinco is Steve Nicol.

Fanendo Adi: Adi tied for fifth last year with 16 goals, but with Sebastian Blanco brought in to provide another supply line alongside Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe, Adi should not only exceed that total this year, but lead the league. — Jeff Carlisle

A striker who has it all, who Portland have done amazingly well to hang on to. Has got better every year in MLS and this is the year he puts it all together and tops 20 goals for the first time. — Adrian Healey

 

David Villa is the safe bet here, because he’ll net a big chunk of NYCFC’s likely 60-plus goals. But Adi has scored at a great clip since entering league in 2014, and with Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe and now Sebastian Blanco creating danger, the Nigerian international will get plenty of chances. — Sebastian Salazar

David Villa: Going to suggest David Villa squeaks this one with the strengthening New York has done in the attacking midfield positions around him; less work as a creator and more as an opportunistic finisher may give him the edge over the usual contenders. — Graham Parker

New York City FC’s high-flying attack won’t miss a beat with Maxi Moralez slotting into the midfield along with Andrea Pirlo, thus setting up David Villa with plenty of scoring chances. Bradley Wright-Phillips of the New York Red Bulls will provide stiff competition, but this year it’s the Spanish striker taking home scoring honors. — Arch Bell

Also choosing Villa is Alejandro Moreno.

Bradley Wright-Phillips: Chances created, chances finished, stays fit, plays most games and his conversion rate has improved over the years. — Paul Mariner

Who will win MVP in 2017?

Sebastian Giovinco: Are we still doing this? He was snubbed last year. Wasn’t even top three! Insane. Shame on you. — Herculez Gomez

Sebastian Giovinco should have won it last year, only to be completely snubbed. No matter. This season he’ll reclaim the trophy he won in 2015. — Jeff Carlisle

Since Giovinco won it two seasons ago, and should have won it last season, there’s no reason to believe that he won’t have yet another outstanding season. — Alejandro Moreno

Missing out last year really seemed to stick in Sebastian Giovinco’s craw. Assuming he stays happy in Toronto and also stays injury free, then he should be the one to beat again. — Graham Parker

After not even being named an MVP finalist in 2016, Giovinco should pick up his second MVP trophy (2015) in what stands to be another fantastic season for the Italian in Toronto. With Jozy Altidore healthy, Giovinco’s numbers (17 goals and 15 assists in 2016) will only improve. — Arch Bell

He’s the best player in MLS, and maybe the best in league history. The fact that Giovinco wasn’t even an MVP finalist last year still gets on my nerves. Hope the voters get it right in 2017. — Sebastian Salazar

 

Benny Feilhaber: In similar fashion to the production of Sacha Klejstan last year, Feilhaber has the potential to do the same this year with the added motivation of getting back in the national team picture. Sporting are going to make their presence felt in the West, and Feilhaber will be the fulcrum for everything they do. — Adrian Healey

Nicolas Lodeiro: The Uruguayan World Cup vet was so good in 2016 he had an argument for the award even though he didn’t arrive until late July. In his first full season, the league’s most complete player will just edge out Giovonvo as MLS’s best. — Doug McIntyre

We got a taste of what the Uruguayan could do when he arrived in Seattle in midseason and subsequently pushed his new team all the way to an MLS Cup title. A full season of Lodeiro, augmented by the return of Clint Dempsey, should be extremely productive. A 15-goal, 15-assist season isn’t out of the question. — Jason Davis

 

Mauro Diaz: Best No. 10 in the league, a creator, can finish chances and is magic on restarts. — Paul Mariner

Fredy Montero: — Steve Nicol   Follow @ESPNFC on Twitter to keep up with the latest football updates.

SI’s expert 2017 MLS season predictions

SI’s expert panel makes picks for the 2017 season, including MLS Cup, Supporters’ Shield, Golden Boot and much more.SHARESI.COM STAFFan

The 2017 MLS season is nearly upon us, with the Portland Timbers and expansion club Minnesota United pulling back the curtain on the new campaign Friday night at Providence Park. It’s been a few months since the Timbers’ rival, the Seattle Sounders, captured their first MLS Cup title in Toronto. Since then, two new full rosters have been built (Minnesota and fellow expansion club Atlanta United); big-name, big-money stars have moved on (farewell to the likes of Robbie Keane, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and Steven Gerrard); a new cast and breed of talent has joined the fold (hello to Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez, Sebastian Blanco, Alberth Elis, Romain Alessandrini and Albert Rusnak, among others); and future league expansion remains on the horizon. With a nine-month road ahead, you have a couple of options: watch it play out, or have it all spoiled for you with our fearless and peerless, never-wrong season predictions. So with that, take a look below as SI’s experts Grant Wahl, Brian Straus and Alexander Abnos make select picks for how the league’s 22nd season will play out:

Who will win MLS Cup?

WAHL: Toronto FC. Somehow, TFC failed to win the MLS Cup final in December despite being on its home field and despite outplaying Seattle before falling on penalties. That will be plenty of motivation to get back to the final—and win it this time.

STRAUS: FC Dallas. Last year’s treble dreams were shattered along with Mauro Díaz’s Achilles tendon. But instead of feeling sorry for itself, FC Dallas went out and got better. Javier Morales was acquired as a replacement playmaker, striker Cristian Colmán arrived from Paraguay and Belgian winger Roland Lamah was signed to fill the hole left by Fabián Castillo. Defenders Matt Hedges and Walker Zimmerman are evolving into national team candidates while FCD’s academy gold mine has produced Paxton Pomykal, Jesus Ferreira and Reggie Cannon.

FCD’s trophy drought ended with last year’s Open Cup and Supporters’ Shield. Now it can focus on MLS Cup. Coach Oscar Pareja will be more patient in pacing his team, Díaz will return in the fall and Dallas will hit the playoffs focused and in form. It’s their time.

ABNOS: FC Dallas. Morales was an inspired pickup, and his veteran presence will not only help a very young team in the absence of Diaz, but also in the period after Diaz comes back. Pareja always has his team playing without fear, and that should serve them well come playoff time.

Who will win the Supporters’ Shield?

WAHL: Dallas. Even without the injured Mauro Díaz for most of the season, Dallas has a good short-term replacement (Javier Morales) and a cast of terrific veterans and emerging youngsters.

STRAUS: There will be no hangover in Toronto, despite the short offseason. The pain of that agonizing MLS Cup final loss will fuel the Reds through the spring and summer, while a tactical and personnel changes by the New York Red Bulls and Dallas’s shifting priorities remove the past two Shield winners from the equation. Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco are unstoppable and Spanish playmaker Víctor Vázquez will help TFC diversify its attack. Toronto finished seven points behind FCD last year after spending the season’s first two months on the road. With a more normal slate at BMO Field in 2017, Toronto will make up those points and more.

ABNOS: Toronto FC. Greg Vanney’s side is just stacked from top to bottom, so they stand a good chance of picking up points even when one or all of Altidore, Michael Bradley or Giovinco are unavailable. Plus, don’t discount the motivating factor of losing last year’s MLS Cup final. That team will be doing everything it can to get that taste out of their mouths as quickly as possible.

Who will win the Golden Boot?

WAHL: Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto. The most dangerous scorer in the league, period.

STRAUS: David Villa is 35, but until he stops being awesome he’s going to get the benefit of the doubt. NYCFC plays a wide-open game and it attacks with flair through the Spanish veteran. Villa, who finished one goal off the golden boot pace last season, won’t split the scoring load like Giovinco will in Toronto. That’ll make the difference for the 2016 league MVP.

ABNOS: Fanendo Adi. He’s scored 16 goals in each of the last two seasons and has the fearsome trio of Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri and newly arrived DP Sebastian Blanco behind him in Portland.

Who will be the highest-scoring American in the league?

WAHL: Jordan Morris, Seattle. Kind of crazy that the highest-scoring American in MLS last year was (wait for it) Chris Pontius. Morris is emerging as a star, and I think he’ll be the guy this year.

STRAUS: Altidore appears to have overcome his hamstring issues. He’s found his comfort zone for both club and country and has a powerful team behind him in Toronto. Even though Giovinco will score plenty, a full season at his full potential will be enough to lift Altidore to the top of the American scoring chart.

ABNOS: Altidore. When healthy, Altidore is as hard-working a forward as there is in the league, and he proved at the end of last season that he can be a volume scorer as well (15 goals in his last 21 games with Toronto in 2016, including playoffs).

Which 10 teams will miss the playoffs?

WAHL: East: Chicago Fire, Montreal Impact, New England Revolution, Orlando City, Philadelphia Union; West: Colorado Rapids, Houston Dynamo, Minnesota United, San Jose Earthquakes, Vancouver Whitecaps

STRAUS: East: Atlanta United, Chicago Fire, New England Revolution, Orlando City, Philadelphia Union; West: Colorado Rapids, Houston Dynamo, Minnesota United, San Jose Earthquakes, Vancouver Whitecaps.

ABNOS: East: Atlanta United, Chicago Fire, Montreal Impact, Orlando City, Philadelphia Union, Orlando City; West: San Jose Earthquakes, Houston Dynamo, Minnesota United, LA Galaxy, Vancouver Whitecaps.

Who is your sleeper, under-the-radar team due for a bounce back?

WAHL: Columbus. Last season was a strange one for Gregg Berhalter’s team, and with greater stability this season I suspect 2016 will end up being viewed as an anomaly.

STRAUS: Agree with Grant here. Last year was an everything-that-can-go-wrong-will-go-wrong stumble for Columbus. But the yellow kits are back and the Crew’s 2015 mojo will return as well. Ola Kamara will continue to score, and coach Gregg Berhalter addressed the issues in defense with the signing of DP center back Jonathan Mensah and left back Jukka Raitala. Columbus has depth and talent in center midfield and if Federico Higuaín can stay healthy, the Crew should have no issue returning to the postseason.

ABNOS: New England Revolution. The Revs really found a groove toward the end of 2016 and you know Jay Heaps has spent all off-season thinking of a way to get all the talent in their front six to play well together. They’ve improved just enough on the defensive side of the ball that I think they’ll bounce back in a big way in 2017.

Which off-season acquisition will look like an act of genius?

WAHL: Javier Morales, Dallas. Mauro Díaz left big shoes to fill while he’s out. It says here that Morales has one more season in him in that spot.

STRAUS: Chicago’s turnaround will get a jumpstart from striker Nemanja Nikolić. He scores goals at a robust rate and will remind us of the days when a vigorous Eastern European influence helped carry the Fire to trophies. Nikolić was born in Serbia, plays for Hungary but broke through in Poland, where he tallied 55 goals in 86 games across 1.5 seasons at Legia Warsaw. He struck six times in 11 Champions League matches last season. He’s a pure finisher, and with Michael de Leeuw and David Accam providing service and Dax McCarty and Juninho locking things down in midfield, Nikolić will get his chances.

ABNOS: McCarty to the Chicago Fire. “Act of genius” may be a little strong for this one, actually. It’s more like “Act of spellbinding obviousness.” The Fire clearly had developed a losing culture at the club, and McCarty proved in his time with the Red Bulls that he brings the exact opposite. Together with some of the Fire’s other moves, McCarty will make a noticeable difference in Chicago. I’d be shocked if they finish near the bottom of the table again this season.

Who are your breakout player candidates?

WAHL: D.C. United’s Ian Harkes is my pick for Rookie of the Year; FC Dallas’s Kellyn Acosta is on the brink of stardom; NYCFC’s Tommy McNamara won’t be just a cult hero anymore in 2017.

STRAUS: Kellyn Acosta, FC Dallas; Luciano Acosta, D.C. United; Jordan Allen, Real Salt Lake; Fabian Herbers, Philadelphia Union; Cristian Roldan, Seattle Sounders

ABNOS: Sporting Kansas City’s Jimmy Medranda is a spark plug of a player that seemed to get better and better as last year went on. If he can cement a permanent spot in the SKC lineup, look out; FC Dallas did damage last year without a go-to center forward, so the addition of the 23-year-old Cristian Colman could elevate an already-good team to another level. He’s been in good form in preseason. Real Salt Lake homegrown player Jordan Allen performed well when called upon last season and should have an even bigger role this time around for a more balanced RSL team than we’ve seen.

How will Atlanta United and Minnesota United fare in their respective Year 1 campaigns?

WAHL: Atlanta will make playoffs after finishing sixth in the East. Minnesota will finish last in the West.

STRAUS: There’s a reason the Sounders are the only first-year club to make the playoffs since MLS’s initial expansion in 1998—it’s hard to build a cohesive side in a few months. So while both Atlanta and Minnesota will be fun to watch, it’s a tall order to expect either to play in November. Atlanta is stocked with young talent and has enormous potential. But relying on 22- and 23 year-olds with no MLS experience will pose challenges, and by the time this team gels and gets comfortable, it’ll be too late. But watch out in 2018. Minnesota will score goals thanks to Christian Ramirez, Johan Venegas and Kevin Molino, but United will be far too busy in back to contend this year.

ABNOS: Atlanta will be inconsistent but occasionally very, very good. However, it’s tough to expect an expansion team starting from scratch to make the playoffs. Minnesota, on the other hand, will struggle.

Which cities will be given MLS expansion teams by year’s end (including Miami)?

WAHL: Miami, Sacramento, St. Louis. Sacto and STL are the favorites, and David Beckham’s group will finally get their act together in Miami.

STRAUS: Miami will figure it out and finally nail things down. St. Louis and Sacramento were the heavy favorites entering 2017. But a couple of political hurdles remain for the former, while the latter stumbled last month thanks to some internal ownership intrigue. Don Garber has made no secret of his interest in San Diego, and an impressive plan there (plus the Chargers’ departure) could see it spring a surprise.

ABNOS: Sacramento, St. Louis, and Cincinnati. Miami would be a good addition to MLS but that bid only ever seems to lose momentum despite having one of the sport’s biggest celebrities behind it.

Dempsey, champs Seattle Sounders top preseason MLS Power Rankings

The first ESPN FC Major League Soccer Power Rankings of the new season are here. With no official match action outside of preseason to go on, we took into account last year’s finishes and each team’s offseason acquisitions in an attempt to figure out who is primed for success in 2017.It seems only right that the defending MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders get the top spot and the league’s two expansion sides bring up the rear as the season gets underway. With the season set to kick off on Friday, here’s where the other 19 teams in the league stack up in between.

  1. Seattle Sounders
    The champs get the top spot to start the season because, well, they’re the champs. It also doesn’t hurt that Clint Dempsey is ready to return, the core of the team is intact and preseason returns are looking good so far.
  2. FC Dallas
    No Mauro Diaz, no problem. If FC Dallas’ 4-0 CONCACAF Champions League thrashing of Arabe Unidois anything to go by, Oscar Pareja’s team looks like an MLS Cup contender even without its injured Argentine playmaker.
  3. Toronto FC
    The defending Eastern Conference winner returns all of the core pieces that pushed it to the MLS Cup final in 2016, and the team has added a potential solution to its creative problems in midfielder Victor Vazquez.
  4. Colorado Rapids
    The Rapids are essentially the same group that finished second in the West in 2016. We are giving them the benefit of the doubt for now, but with so few goals available, Colorado could slip if Tim Howard and the defense aren’t as good as they were last season.
  5. Montreal Impact
    Didier Drogba is gone, but Montreal managed to hold on to its most important player: Ignacio Piatti. His decision to stay in Quebec is a huge boost for Mauro Biello’s men.
  6. New York Red Bulls
    Questions at Red Bull Arena swirl mostly around the midfield after the departure of Dax McCarty and a tweak in formation executed by head coach Jesse Marsch. There’s been enough change to warrant some caution over expectations for the Eastern Conference winners in 2016.
  7. New York City FC
    The boys in blue went in a different direction with the signing of Maxi Moralez as a designated player this winter, but what the new addition lacks in name recognition, he could make up for in impact on a team that manager Patrick Vieira promises will be even better than expected.
  8. D.C. United
    United didn’t dive into the transfer waters as heavily as most this offseason, putting continuity at the top of the club’s lists of strengths heading into the new year. Keep an eye on Patrick Mullins, who won the starting striker job at the end of 2016.
  9. Portland Timbers
    The Timbers expect to bounce back in 2017 with a reshaped back line, Darlington Nagbe settled on the left side of midfield and Sebastian Blanco on the right.
  10. Sporting Kansas City
    Benny Feilhaber is back to feed Dom Dwyer, but will that be enough to make Sporting an MLS Cup contender? The team stayed the same through the middle but added players at wing positions this offseason.
  11. LA Galaxy
    Gyasi Zardes is set to miss the start of the season, and now the back line has been hit by an injury to Ashley Cole. With so much change in L.A. — manager Bruce Arena is gone, as is veteran Robbie Keane — there’s potentially reason for concern.
  12. Real Salt Lake
    RSL said goodbye to a legendary No. 10 with midfielder Javier Morales’ departure. Albert Rusnak will be the man who will try to fill those extremely large shoes.
  13. Philadelphia Union
    As always, the Union will have to avoid injuries to have a chance in the East this year. An offseason marked by cautious spending means it’s another season of fine lines in Chester. But there are players in place — Alejandro Bedoya and Charlie Davies, to name a couple — to help Jim Curtin’s team reach the postseason again.
  14. Orlando City SC
    After a year marked by a midseason transition on the sideline with Adrian Heath’s departure, Orlando City enters the season full of confidence with Jason Kreis settled in as head coach. Can Kaka and Cyle Larin help the team reach the playoffs for the first time in the club’s short history?
  15. New England Revolution
    If it wasn’t for Crew SC and the Timbers, the Revs might have been 2016’s biggest disappointment. With so much attacking talent available in players like Kei Kamara and Lee Nguyen, how does Jay Heaps juggle them in 2017?
  16. Columbus Crew SC
    A revamp of the defense and a reinforced midfield aim to fix what ailed Columbus in 2016. Spending DP money on center back Jonathan Mensah sends a message that the Crew won’t be the goal-leaking sieves they were last year.
  17. San Jose Earthquakes
    With a Dominic Kinnear-coached team, there are rarely any surprises with regard to style or personnel. But with a host of young talent on his roster this season, the old dog might throw caution to the wind.
  18. Houston Dynamo
    Wilmer Cabrera inherits a team that did very little right last year, but new signings have fans hopeful in the Bayou City. Is this the year Erick “Cubo” Torres regains his scoring touch?
  19. Vancouver Whitecaps
    The Caps got their season off to a decent start with a draw at Red Bull Arena in the CONCACAF Champions League on Wednesday, but the loss of Yordy Reyna to foot surgery is a definite setback. Fellow new arrival Fredy Montero will now be asked to carry the scoring load up top.
  20. Chicago Fire
    The league’s worst team in 2016 made a host of changes, but none of them bigger than acquiring a new duo to man the midfield. As Dax McCarty and Juninho go, so will the Fire in 2017.

21A. Atlanta United
The plight of an expansion team: You’ve got to prove it before you get out of the bottom of the Power Rankings. That said, expectations are very, very high in the ATL with an experienced manager in Gerardo Martino and veteran players like Greg Garza and Michael Parkhurst on board.

21B. Minnesota United
See above, with a slight difference: Minnesota United’s cautious building process and late roster additions mean they might sneak up on teams in the West. Jason Davis coves Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.

MLS Preseason Power Rankings: How do new clubs Atlanta, Minnesota fit in?

QUICKLYWhere do all 22 teams rank entering MLS’s 22nd season? Plus, a key question for each club ahead of the new campaign.ALEXANDER ABNOSTuesday February 28th, 2017

Preseason is over. All the drafts are done. Thanks to the CONCACAF Champions League’s continually-weird scheduling, some teams have already played official games. The 2017 MLS season is upon us, which means it’s time for the first edition of MLS Power Rankings.The league has added two new teams in Atlanta United and Minnesota United, and that combined with the fact that no teams have played a league game yet will make this edition of the Power Rankings different from those that will follow.These one emphasize off-season moves and improvements to last year’s rosters (or the crafting of new ones), as well as gauging the general sense of momentum surrounding each team as it heads into the season. That’s why, for example, Atlanta United is ranked so high despite never having played an official game, and also why the Red Bulls are ranked in the middle of the league despite being of of MLS’s strongest teams last year (unexpectedly trading your club captain will tend to have that effect).Feat your eyes on this now, because this is MLS, and this list will be constantly in flux throughout the season. But for now, here’s where the league’s 22 teams stand entering its 22nd season:

2017 MLS Preseason Power Rankings

  • 1TORONTO FC

LAST SEASON: 14–9–11, 3RD IN EASTERN CONFERENCE, 5TH OVERALL; MLS CUP RUNNER-UP

The Big Question: Can the Reds recover? Toronto FC followed a solid season and a brilliant playoff run with a loss at home in the MLS Cup final that could hardly have been more heartbreaking. TFC returns just about everyone from the team that got them to that point–and added a vital piece in attacking midfielder Victor Vazquez–and Sebastian Giovinco looks poised to continue his reign as the league’s best player. The biggest challenge for this team may be to simply put last year’s final loss behind them and maintain focus throughout a long regular season.

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  • 2FC DALLAS

LAST SEASON: 17–8–9; 1ST IN WESTERN CONFERENCE, SUPPORTERS’ SHIELD; ELIMINATED IN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS

The Big Question: Can Javier Morales impersonate Mauro Diaz? FCD’s 2016 regular season could hardly have been better, and a big reason for that was the playmaking ability of Mauro Diaz. However, Diaz’s late-season Achilles injury disrupted the club’s playoff run and will keep him out of the club’s plans for this season until summer. Enter Javier Morales, who played a Diaz-like role with Real Salt Lake for nearly a decade before he was abruptly let go this offseason. Morales is 37, but the rest of Dallas’s roster remains as young, dynamic, and exciting as it was last season, with no other major pieces gone. If Morales can fill in capably until Diaz returns, chances are Dallas will once again be favorites for the Shield and MLS Cup in 2017.

  • 3SEATTLE SOUNDERS

LAST SEASON: 14–14–6, 4TH IN WESTERN CONFERENCE, 7TH OVERALL; MLS CUP CHAMPIONS

The Big Question: Can they repeat? In every other season they’ve been in MLS, the Sounders have done well in the regular season only to flop in the playoffs. Last season, it was entirely the opposite–they floundered through much of the regular season before turning it on around playoff time and winning MLS Cup despite several key absences. The most key of those absences, Clint Dempsey, is back after dealing with a heart condition, and Jordan Morris has one amazing rookie season under his belt. This team is deeper than last year’s and looks on paper to be better in every way. However, if this is a team that needs to suffer before success, maybe that’s not a good thing.

  • 4NEW YORK CITY FC

LAST SEASON: 15–10–9, 2ND IN EASTERN CONFERENCE, 4TH OVERALL; ELIMINATED IN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS

The Big Question: Will the defense improve? NYCFC made huge strides in 2016, playing some really stylish soccer under coach Patrick Vieira and developing Jack Harrison, Khiry Shelton, and Tommy McNamara into solid contributors even while DPs David Villa, Frank Lampard, and Andrea Pirlo each enjoyed fine seasons. NYCFC swapped the retired Lampard for Argentine attacker Maxi Moralez, so chances are this team will continue to score tons of goals. That puts the onus on the back line to improve, and with a new goalkeeper (Sean Johnson), defensive midfielder (Fininish international Alexander Ring), and center back (Peru international Alexander Callens), they have an excellent chance to do so.

  • 5SPORTING KANSAS CITY

LAST SEASON: 13–13–8, 5TH IN WESTERN CONFERENCE, 8TH OVERALL; ELIMINATED IN KNOCKOUT ROUND

The Big Question: Who will score (other than Dom Dwyer)? Sporting Kansas City was solid enough last season but continually struggled with a one-dimensional attack. Put simply: if things weren’t going through Dom Dwyer or Benny Feilhaber, they generally weren’t going anywhere. The team’s attempt to fix this comes in the form of Guinea-Bissau DP winger Gerso Fernandes, as well as Latif Blessing, the player of the season in Ghana’s Premier League. If either of those two can take the load off Dwyer, that will make all the difference for a team that is otherwise solidly constructed from the top down.

  • 6ATLANTA UNITED

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The Big Question: Can the coaching staff and players adjust quickly to MLS? Atlanta United has done just about everything so far–it hired a top-class coach with an international profile never seen in the league before, unveiled a sharp (if not totally original) inaugural look, secured an impressive home field and stocked its roster with gobs of young skillful talent (I’m particularly excited to see if 22-year-old Argentine Yamil Asad can do things like this regularly). Problem is, none of that will mean much if Atlanta suffers a rocky first season. To justify all this hype, Tata Martino will need to get this brand new team rolling like one that’s been around for years. Luckily, he has all the tools to do so.

  • 7COLORADO RAPIDS

LAST SEASON: 15–6–13; 2ND IN WESTERN CONFERENCE, 2ND OVERALL; ELIMINATED IN CONFERENCE FINALS

The Big Question: Was last year a fluke? The Rapids were MLS’s ultimate surprise package in 2016, challenging for the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup in a year when many predicted them to be hovering around the bottom of the table. They did this thanks to its absurdly stingy defense, which conceded just 32 goals in 34 games last season and returns the entire starting back four, the defensive midfield and goalkeeper Tim Howard from that squad (though Howard will be injured to start the year). Still, the likelihood of repeating a defensive season like that is fairly low, so the Rapids need to improve on last season’s dismal 39-goal output (tied for second-worst in the league). Forward Alan Gordon, a free agent acquisition, could hardly be a better fit for the team’s style.

  • 8MONTREAL IMPACT

LAST SEASON: 11–11–12, 5TH IN EASTERN CONFERENCE, 11TH OVERALL; ELIMINATED IN CONFERENCE FINALS

The Big Question: Will more of the same be good enough? The Impact stayed remarkably quiet throughout the offseason, with their biggest move letting Didier Drogba go (which is just fine, as Matteo Mancosu outplayed Drogba toward the end of last season). That may seem fine for a team that made a run to the conference final, but just like last season, the aggregate age of this team may be a factor–every member of the team’s front six is over 30. The season may come down to how effectively the team’s depth is able to step in and get the job done.

  • 9NEW YORK RED BULLS

LAST SEASON: 16–9–9, 1ST IN EASTERN CONFERENCE, 3RD OVERALL; ELIMINATED IN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS

The Big Question: Will off-field drama carry over? The Red Bulls enjoyed two of their most successful years ever with Ali Curtis as sporting director, Jesse Marsch as head coach and Dax McCarty as captain. Two of those characters are now gone, with McCarty traded to Chicago and Curtis relieved of his duties after a curious off-season saga. Why the Red Bulls would make either move with things going so well begs a bevy of questions, especially with the opaque and sometimes contentious way both departures were handled. The team still has plenty to like on the field–Sean Davis performed well in McCarty’s absence through injury last season–but there’s a danger that the good vibes that permeated the last two seasons may have gone.

 MLS making strides toward becoming destination league, but has a way to go

As Major League Soccer prepares for the start of its 22nd season on Friday, there is much for the league to celebrate. After not increasing its footprint in 2016, the arrival of two new teams, Atlanta United and Minnesota United, swells its ranks to 22 clubs with at least one more newcomer, Los Angeles FC, slated to arrive next year.A dozen other markets are clamoring for four more coveted spots, all of them prepared to pay a $150 million expansion fee for the privilege. Attendance and fan engagement are at all-time highs. There is labor peace, at least for now. Even the TV numbers are up significantly. By any measure, these are good times for a circuit that came perilously close to extinction just 15 short years ago.During his annual State of the League address before MLS Cup in December, longtime MLS commissioner Don Garber once again reiterated the league’s desire to become one of the top soccer circuits in the world. Nothing new there. Garber has been beating that drum for four years now, and why wouldn’t he?MLS has become one of the great success stories in sports since Garber became commissioner in 1999, in large part because of the New Yorker’s savvy. He helped the league survive its brush with death in 2001, when two of its 12 teams folded, by creating a profitable marketing arm to help underwrite its clubs’ losses. He recruited a stable of new investors, more than doubling MLS size and putting it on the stable ground — quite literally, as most teams now play in custom-built stadiums — that’s the foundation of the league today.Yet it was notable that Garber didn’t mention exactly when MLS would stand toe-to-toe with global juggernauts like the English Premier League, the German Bundesliga and Spain’s La Liga during those remarks in Toronto. In the past, there was an oft-quoted end goal of 2022. Now that aim seems a bit more opened ended, with a growing recognition among MLS insiders that the league must first catch up to its southern neighbor before truly beginning to compete with Europe’s elite.”The Mexican league has a really good standard. For me, Liga MX is one of the top 10 leagues in the world,” Seattle Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey told ESPN FC in a phone interview.  “If you can beat those teams regularly in the [CONCACAF] Champions League, which we haven’t been able to do so far, then we’re on our way to becoming one of the best leagues in the world. Hopefully we’re able to achieve that at some point.”Mexican teams have utterly dominated the region for the past two decades. MLS teams have made the final just twice since the current format was introduced nine years ago. The last to claim a title was the LA Galaxy in 2001.The main reason is, not surprisingly, money. Not only do Mexican teams spend more on player salaries than their MLS counterparts, they distribute those funds more evenly across their rosters, resulting in substantially greater depth.MLS has tried to narrow the gap in recent years by investing more in their squads. It’s working.”Two years ago, when teams put out their reserves during preseason, some guys shouldn’t even have been on the field,” said Philadelphia Union Coach Jim Curtin. “Now you have some really experienced players out there.”Still, you can be sure that whoever wins the Tigres-Pumas CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal will be favored against either the New York Red Bulls or Vancouver Whitecaps when the semis kick off next month.During the past decade, Garber often compared MLS to a teenager still finding their way in the world, while correctly pointing out that the European and Mexican top flights have been around for a century and the other North American sports leagues for almost as long. He correctly reminded anyone who would listen that the league, for all its successes, couldn’t catch up overnight.But back in December Garber again called his league “young”. He wasn’t wrong. But if MLS was an adolescent a decade ago, it’s now more like a college grad who moved back in with the parents before really making a go of life alone. A few years from now, it might be harder to invoke youth when explaining why other leagues boast more talent.”Player investment is the single biggest driver [of success],” Lagerwey said. “It’s not the only driver by any means, but it’s the single biggest one.”Development is included in that, and MLS academies — which got a later start than the league as a whole — are only now beginning to make a real contribution to first-team rosters. Eventually that will help close the gap, too.And MLS does have some built-in advantages when it comes to luring top foreign players, such as more favorable tax laws and the relative anonymity that comes with being a professional soccer player living in the United States and Canada.But the truth is that MLS, a league that is thriving thanks to its insistence on financial responsibility, won’t be one of the top leagues in the world until it can afford to spend like one. And on that front at least, MLS still has a way to go yet.Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.

Indy Eleven 2017: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

Why Indy should and probably will do exactly what we saw last year. February 17, 2017by Aaron Gunyon http://www.soctakes.com

INDIANAPOLIS — There are no surprises here.  The Indy Eleven have retained a core group of players from last season.  A season which included record goal scoring and a championship run.  Indy Eleven’s head coach Tim Hankinson is a seasoned leader and he is pragmatic with his approach.  There is a home unbeaten streak to protect.  There is hardware to win in 2017.  Fans of the NASL have seen firsthand just how important stability and chemistry can be in such a volatile league.  It takes a while for systems and players to grow together into a cohesive unit.  The Indy Eleven’s top brass hope that there will be less need for a discovery period this time around and that is evidenced by their recent roster activity. In last night’s Season ticket holder meeting, Coach Hankinson suggested that he would start next season with a playing style similar to last season’s.

Indy Eleven have announced a total of 13 (at the time of publication) players that will return from last season’s squad.  Most of which are starters or of starting quality in the NASL.  I find that comforting.  One of the leagues top defenses returns almost entirely intact.  Greg Janicki has retired, but a back line with Colin Falvey, Marco Franco, Nemanja Vukovic and Lovel Palmer can be seen as a stable building block.  Those four combined for 99 appearances and their abilities are well proven on this stage.  It would take a monumental swing in opinion for Colin Falvey, last years captain, to lose his place as the field general and the organizer from the back.  Falvey will be sidelined for the entirety of preseason due to an offseason surgery for a sports hernia, but he is expected to return in six weeks.

Kwame Watson-Siriboe is a central defender with MLS experience.  He was recently signed to add depth and perhaps test a starting role, but he will get a good look in the next few weeks leading up to the regular season.  Interestingly though, at 30, Watson-Siriboe would be the second youngest member of the defensive unit behind the baby face of 26 year old Marco Franco.  Perhaps that youthful infusion will be a departure for Hankinson’s veteran approach, but really, it looks like more of the same.There was a touch of a positional battlle for the right back spot between Palmer and Franco in which the latter won out in the end last year.  Palmer is a valuable and versatile asset for Hankinson and it’s not yet known where the Jamaican veteran will slot in, but coach has alluded to Palmer’s abilities to fill in at center back if needed.  Look for that in preseason along with a healthy Cory Miller who has surfaced on Palmer’s social media account.  The two could be seen lacing up in the locker room and obviously in the early stages of training camp.  There has been no official announcement from the team regarding Miller’s return, but it worth noting he has apparently worked his back to strength after last year’s season ending injury.  Hands clapping emoji.  Both Miller and Franco have been around since late in the 2014 season and players like that are becoming a rarity on this squad.

I asked coach Hankinson about some of his philosophy and if he considered himself to be a pragmatist.  I said I wanted to put him in a box and categorize him.  I used the phrase ¨If it ain´t broke…¨

¨THAT´S FAIR. I TAKE THINGS AS THEY COME.  THERE WERE SOME PLAYERS THAT WE WANTED THAT WERE FREE AGENTS THAT WONT BE WITH US THIS YEAR.  WE WILL HAVE TO MAKE ADJUSTMENTS, BUT I DON´T BELIEVE IN CHANGE JUST FOR CHANGE.  IT´S ALL ABOUT CONTINUITY.¨ -INDY ELEVEN HEAD COACH TIM HANKINSON

Continuity is key in the defensive third and that is why Jon Busch and Keith Cardona will return as shot stoppers for Indy.  Busch is transitioning to another phase of his career, but the 40 year old showed no real signs of aging with 29 starts and 11 clean sheets during his most recent campaign.  Cardona is is the heir apparent and he will be back for his third season in the circle city.  The only question here involves just when the passing of the torch will occur.  Busch maintains dual duty as Indy’s goalkeeper coach but his sole pupil hasn’t been allowed to spread his wings completely.  It’s not much for drama, but it’s about all we’ve got in Indy so far.  Cardona was spotted on a trial with the Philadelphia Union in MLS just a few weeks ago, but no announcements have been made by either club regarding his departure from Indy. Certainly, at last night’s ticket holder meeting, Cardona looked relaxed and ready to take on the next season.Both of Indy’s star forwards will also be back.  Justin Braun and Eamon Zayed formed a notable partnership on the pitch.  The two combined for 23 goals and 11 assists as they were the preferred tandem up top.  The scouting reports for Indy’s opposition will detail how to address these threats first.  That does not mean that they are unstoppable, but it means that sleeping on this duo is not a winning strategy.  Coach Hankinson fondly refers to Zayed as El Raton (The Rat who finds his cheese) and Braun is said to run like the legendary Steve Prefontaine.There were no challengers in the striker position that were worthy of taking time away from either attacker.  Zayed’s 2,686 minutes and 31 appearances were second only to Nemanja Vukovic who was the team’s Ironman.  Braun logged just over 2,000 minutes, but his mileage could not be topped.  Hankinson has suggested that he would like more options going forward but it is hard to imagine intentionally disrupting this pair without cause.

The name Dino Williams has been reintroduced into the conversation regarding attacking reinforcements.  Williams had been loaned to Indy last season, but an injury forced the Eleven to reconsider and to pick up Omar Gordon instead.  Both Williams and Gordon had been teammates under Hankinson at Montego Bay United just before Hankinson departed for the Midwest in December of 2015.  Both Williams and Gordon were league leaders in goals scored while in the Red Stripe Premiere League, but Gordon found little success translating the Jamaican league in America.  Gordon is not returning, but subbing one Jamaican golden boot for another is not exactly reinventing the wheel.  There are no official reports of Williams’ return…yet. Based on Coach Hankinson’s comments last night, it’s likely that Williams would be a loan, rather than a permanent, signing for Indy XI.

The midfield is messier and a lot less clear how things will shake out.  Don Smart, however,  is bae. The 29 year old will return to Indiana’s team as one of only two players to have been to all four preseason camps.  Brad Ring is the other.  And assuming he continues to impress the coach, Smart will be Indy’s first player to 100 appearances.  My count puts him at 76 so it is within reason for a 32 game season.   Even though Smart is committed to the club, there are questions about whether the club values him highly; it is understood that Smart’s contract – the same he signed with the club 3 years ago – has him at a markedly low base salary.

Gerardo Torrado is back.Brad Ring is back. #Legend returns after his own lengthened contract negotiation.  Taking nothing away from the others mentioned, Ring is one of the most familiar faces on the team.  Hoosiers have adopted him as one of their own because of his work ethic and his celebrations with the Brickyard Battalion.  Ring is a bulldog in the middle that doesn’t shy away from challenges.  His 34 tackles won and 106 duels won were second only to midfielder Dylan Mares whose departure leaves the biggest hole in the Indy Eleven lineup.Hankinson revealed to me, in an interview, that Miami FC signed Mares to a new contract that would have made him the highest played player in Indianapolis.  With his age, his attacking prowess, and his defensive stats; it wouldn’t be too hard to make that case for value.Duke Lacroix has (at this time) moved on as well.  The 23 year old is a speedy Ivy League product, but he was not retained by his first pro team.  It is not for a lack of trying although it may be due to a lack of money.  Lacroix is currently shopping around and had been seen on trial with MLS side Minnesota United.  That didn’t pan out.  It is unknown where Lacroix is attempting to find work, but Hankinson mentioned that he continued to reach out to the young up-and-comer. There haven’t been very many new faces in the locker room and Indy has announced only three names in addition to the 13 that have worn checkers before.  All of those players are in positions that have notable departures.  One central defender and two midfielders leads me to believe that Hankinson is only addressing the cracks caused by normal roster movement.  It is safe to say that Hankinson seems very comfortable in who he is bringing back and what they can do.  There are no upgrades addressing current players who aren´t quite up to snuff.

Ben Speas will be a replacement for Dylan Mares and Craig Henderson has international experience.  Indy Eleven fans are in for a treat with Speas.  Soc Takes’ own Kevin Johnston recently analyzed his role on the team in an interview with Hankinson.

At this time last year, there were many more unknowns.  A bevy of new players had been introduced, to the fortunate remnants of unsuccessful seasons past.  The team stumbled and slogged through preseason as they attempted to gel into a cohesive unit.  By the end of the 2016, all who witnessed were believers.  The second best offense and the second best defense went on the road for the championship only to remain second best.  They were tested and came up short even though it was only just.  Penalties can be a cruel mistress. Now is not the time to begin anew and this team doesn’t have to.  This team is ready to go as is.  Training camp is now three days old.  Indy Eleven will welcome talent and reinforcements into the fold, but get ready for a lot of what we saw last year.  The Eleven will be stingy on defense and the boys in blue will be relentless in attack.  The fire fueled by defeat is going to be a powerful driving force as well as a continual theme throughout 2017.

Former Butler standout David Goldsmith trialing with Indy Eleven

If he makes the Eleven roster, Goldsmith will likely back up Justin Braun in the second forward role.

February 25, 2017by Kevin Johnston

INDIANAPOLIS — David Goldsmith must’ve felt like he was wearing the wrong kit. Well, it would’ve been blue or white either way.

Just months removed from his decorated senior season at Butler, Goldsmith lined up on the other side of the field Friday night at the Butler Bowl, and might be on the verge of signing his first professional contract. The 5-9 forward — though he is from Bristol, England — won’t have to travel far from his adopted home to do so if he puts ink to paper.The Indy Eleven have invited Goldsmith in as a trialist for the preseason.The 23-year-old played in the second half of Indy’s 1-0 scrimmage win against his former teammates and looked quite impressive. He nearly had an assist when he rolled a perfect pass into the box from the right wing, but Butler goalkeeper Eric Dick made a stellar save on the ensuing effort on frame.“He’s doing really well so far,” Eleven assistant coach Tim Regan told 1070 The Fan’s Greg Rakestraw on Soccer Saturday. “(He) set up a really good chance in the second half.”

One of 15 semifinalists for the prestigious MAC Hermann Trophy awarded each year to the top college soccer player, Goldsmith produced 12 goals and four assists in leading the Bulldogs to the 2016 Big East title. He was named Co-Offensive Player of the Year in the conference.

If he makes the Eleven roster, Goldsmith will likely back up Justin Braun in the second forward role, playing underneath a strike partner. At Butler, Goldsmith often featured as the lone striker in coach Paul Snape’s preferred 4-5-1 setup, but in the pros he projects as more of a withdrawn forward who can drift from touchline to touchline in the attack.His hold-up play is better than one would expect from an undersized striker, and he possesses a savvy goal scorer’s instinct. He’s also capable of setting up his teammates, as he showed last night.After being snubbed by Major League Soccer in the 2017 SuperDraft, Goldsmith appears to have a good shot at winning a job with the “Boys in Blue,” especially considering Indy’s current lack of depth at the forward position. The Eleven would be wise to give him a long look. He’s already extremely talented and will only get better as he faces professional competition day in and day out in training.

What are Champ League team’s chances of going through?

Wednesday 1 March 2017 by Paul Saffer & Rob Esteva

Can Barcelona do something unprecedented? Who has the statistical edge between Leicester and Sevilla? We look at each team’s chances of going through from their current position.

  • The eight UEFA Champions League round of 16 first legs produced eight different scorelines, with six of the initially home teams having leads to defend away from home and two needing to overturn deficits.Scores ranged from 1-0 and 2-1 to an unusual 5-3, and convincing 5-1 and 4-0 victories. But who does history say will go through?We looked at every past first leg in the European Cup/UEFA Champions League, UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League and European/UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup with an identical scoreline to the current round of 16 ties and noted which teams went though.So while the precedents say Leicester and Sevilla are virtually level, Arsenal and Bayer Leverkusen must both attempt to do things that only one club has managed in the past, and in Barcelona’s case something that has never been achieved. Oh, and if all six ‘unseeded’ sides hold on and go through, that too will make history …Two-legged heroics Great UEFA Champions League comebacks

 7 March  2:45 pm on Fox Sports 1 & 2
Napoli v Real Madrid (1-3)
Times first-leg scoreline has happened in UEFA men’s club competition: 329
Home side in second leg through: 75 (22.8%)
Away side in second leg through: 254 (77.2%)

Arsenal v Bayern München (1-5) 
Times: 80
Home side in second leg through: 1 (1.2%)
Away side in second leg through: 79 (98.8%)

  • The only team to recover from a 5-1 defeat were Real Madrid, who beat Borussia Mönchengladbach 4-0 in the 1985/86 UEFA Cup third round to progress on away goals.

8 March 2:45 pm on Fox Sports 1 & 2
Borussia Dortmund v Benfica (0-1)
Times: 990
Home side in second leg through: 402 (40.6%)
Away side in second leg through: 588 (59.4%)

Barcelona v Paris Saint-Germain (0-4)
Times: 58
Home side in second leg through: 0 (0%)
Away side in second leg through: 58 (100%)

14 March 2:45 pm on Fox Sports 1 & 2
Juventus v Porto (2-0)
Times: 339
Home side in second leg through: 330 (97.3%)
Away side in second leg through: 9 (2.7%)

Leicester City v Sevilla (1-2)
Times: 587
Home side in second leg through: 287 (48.9%)
Away side in second leg through: 300 (51.1%)

15 March 2:45 pm on Fox Sports 1 & 2
Atlético Madrid v Bayer Leverkusen (4-2)
Times: 29
Home side in second leg through: 28 (96.6%)
Away side in second leg through: 1 (3.4%)

  • The only side to fail to successfully defend a 4-2 lead at home were Barcelona, after a 4-1 loss against Metz in the 1984/85 European Cup Winners’ Cup first round.

Monaco 3-5 Manchester City
Times: 10
Home side in second leg through: 4 (40%)
Away side in second leg through: 6 (60%)

Bonus UEFA Champions League round of 16 stat …

How many seeds (home in second leg) have gone through
8: 2013/14
7: 2005/06, 2010/11
6: 2006/07, 2011/12, 2012/13, 2014/15, 2015/16
5: 2003/04, 2004/05, 2008/09
4: 2009/10
3: 2007/08

U-20 MNT DEFEATS MEXICO 1-0 WCQ

CAPTAIN ERIK PALMER-BROWN’S 29TH MINUTE HEADER LIFTS USA PAST EL TRÍ; USA CAN GUARANTEE FIFA U-20 WORLD CUP BERTH WITH WIN OR DRAW AGAINST EL SALVADOR ON FRIDAY

U-20 MNT Feb 27, 2017

TIBÁS, Costa Rica (Feb. 27, 2017) – The U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team rode a 29th minute header from captain Erik Palmer-Brown and a solid defensive effort to shut out Mexico 1-0 in the opening match of the Classification Stage at the 2017 CONCACAF U-20 Championship. The win broke Mexico’s 20-match unbeaten streak at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship, a run that dates back to the 2009 edition of the tournament.pplying high pressure throughout the match, the U.S. frustrated Mexico from the first whistle and went ahead just before the half-hour mark when Brooks Lennon’s corner kick from the left found Palmer-Brown for his first goal of the competition. The goal was also the first conceded by El Trí in its four tournament matches.ater chances from Lennon, Jeremy Ebobisse, Justen Glad, Coy Craft and Jonathan Lewis were denied by Mexico goalkeeper Jose Hernández, while a swarming U.S. midfield and suffocating play from the back line limited El Trí to just three shots, none of which were on target. With the victory, the U.S. can advance to the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Korea Republic should Mexico either draw or lose against El Salvador on Wednesday. If Mexico wins, the U-20 MNT can punch their ticket to both the World Cup and Sunday’s CONCACAF U-20 Championship match with a draw or win against El Salvador when the two sides meet in the Group D Classification Stage finale on Friday (6:30 p.m. ET; UDN, Facebook Live).Up Next: The U-20 MNT closes out the Classification Stage of the 2017 CONCACAF U-20 Championship on Friday, March 3 against El Salvador. Kickoff from Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica in San Jose is set for 6:30 p.m. ET and the match can be seen live on Univision Deportes Network and the CONCACAF Facebook Page.

Earn your Degree While You Watch Your Kids Soccer Practice – ½ the time and cost of Traditional Schools

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