OMG – I am so glad no one tried to talk me into going to Columbus for the US Ladies vs Germany 1st game in the She Believes Cup on Thurs night. It looked mighty, mighty cold and wet (snowing/sleeting) at Mapfree Stadium as the US Ladies beat Germany 1-0 behind a goal by Megan Repone. It looks like this could come down to the US and England with newly appointed manager Phil Neville of Man United playing fame for the Cup title. The US Ladies play France on Sunday at 12 noon on ESPN2, and Wed vs England at 7 pm on ESPNNews.
It seems like just a few weeks ago that the MLS Season was wrapping up with that classic Toronto home win over Seattle to take home their first ever MLS Cup. Now 3 months later we kick off a new season with a new expansion team in LA – LAFC, more money being spent by each team, and tons of cities vying to join the league via expansion. Below find the Previews for the Western and Eastern Conference teams. I think Toronto has held their roster pretty steady and should of course be favorites in the East and overall. Atlanta United, NYCFC and our own local teams Chicago Fire and Columbus should all be battling Toronto for supremacy in the East and overall as the East is definitely stronger than the West coming into the season. My Seattle Sounders losing winger/forward Jordan Morris has to hurt, does Clint have enough left in his tank to give us another great season? Portland, Houston, KC and perhaps Dallas are the biggest contenders in the West. I am not sure about Portland with all the turnover, I am thinking Dallas and former Carmel High School Defender Matt Hedges might be a surprise team and give Seattle a run at the top of a weakened Western Division. The season gets underway Saturday with national broadcast games live on Sunday on ESPN and Fox Sports 1.
Sun, Mar 4
5 pm ESPN Seattle Sounders vs LA FC
7:30 pm Fox Sport1 Sporting KC vs NYC FC
10 pm FS1 LA Galaxy vs Portland Timbers
Champions League Sweet 16 Leg 2’s resume this week and next with PSG without the injured Neymar traveling to defending champs Real Madrid on Tues on FS1 at 2:45 down 1-3, while Tottenham and Harry Kane will host Juve at Webley with the agregate lead 2-2 on Wed at 2:45 pm on FS1. Europa League’s Round of 16 gets underway Thurs with American Christian Pulisic featuring for Dortmund vs Salsburg, and Milan vs Arsenal probably providing the most competitive match-up.
Tues, Mar 6 – Champions League
2:45 pm FS1 PSG 1 vs Real Madrid 3
2:45 pm Fox Sport2 Liverpool 5 vs Porto 0
Weds, Mar 7 – Champions League
2:45 pm FS2 Man City vs Basel
2:45 pm Fox Sport1 Tottenham 2 vs Juventus 2
Thurs, Mar 8 – Europa League
1 pm FS 2 Milan vs Arsenal
1 pm Fox Soccer Dortmund (Pulisic) vs Salburg
1 pm eSPN3 Atletic Madrid vs Moskva
3 pm FS2 RB Leipeg vs Zenit
3 pm Fox Soccer Marseille vs Athletic Club
Got some huge league games on TV this weekend as Manchester City hosts Chelsea Sun at 11 am on NBCSN in a key battle for top 4 in the EPL, while Barcelona hosts Athletic Madrid on beIN Sport at 10:15 pm.
GAMES ON TV
Sat, Mar 3
7:30 am NBCSN Burnley vs Everton
9:30 am FS1 Shalke vs Hertha
10 am CNBC Southampton vvs Stoke City (Cameron)
10 am NBCSN Tottenham vs Huddersfield
12 noon beIN Sport Lazio vs Juventus
12:30 pm NBCSN Liverpool vs New Castle (Yedlin)
12:30 pm FS2 Dortmund (Pulisic) vs RB Leipzig
Sun, March 4 MLS Starts
8:30 am NBCSN Brighton vs Arsenal
11 am NBCSN Man City vs Chelsea
12 noon ESPN2 USA Ladies vs France (She Believes Cup)
10:15 beIN Sport Barcelona vs Atletico Madrid
5 pm ESPN Seattle Sounders vs LA FC
7:30 pm Fox Sport1 Sporting KC vs NYC FC
10 pm FS1 LA Galaxy vs Portland Timbers
Tues, Mar 6 – Champions League
2:45 pm FS1 PSG 1 vs Real Madrid 3
2:45 pm Fox Sport2 Liverpool 5 vs Porto 0
Weds, Mar 7 – Champions League
2:45 pm FS2 Man City vs Basel
2:45 pm Fox Sport1 Tottenham 2 vs Juventus 2
7 pm ESPN News US Ladies vs England (She Believes Cup)
Thurs, Mar 8 – Europa League
1 pm FS 2 Milan vs Arsenal
1 pm Fox Soccer Dortmund (Pulisic) vs Salburg
1 pm eSPN3 Atletic Madrid vs Moskva
3 pm FS2 RB Leipeg vs Zenit
3 pm Fox Soccer Marseille vs Athletic Club
Sat, Mar 10
7 am beIn Sport Eibar vs Real Madrid
7:30 am NBCSN Man United vs Liverpool
9:30 am FS1 Bayern Munich vs Hamburger (Woods)
10 am NBCSN Everton vs Brighton
12:30 pm NBC? Chelsea vs Crystal Palace
12:30 pm FS2 Leverkusen vs M’gladbach (Johnson)
Sun, March 11
9:30 am NBCSN Arsenal vs Watford
10:30 am FS1 Stuttgart vs RB Leipzig
12 noon NBCSN Bournemouth vs Tottenham
10:15 beIN Sports Juve vs Udines
1 pm Fox Sports 2 Dortmund (Pulisic) vs Frankfort
3:45 pm beIn Sport Inter vs Napoli
5 pm YES Network NYCFC vs LA Galaxy
Tues, Mar 13 – Champions League
2:45 pm FS1 Man United vs Sevilla
2:45 pm Fox Sport2 Shakhtar vs Roma
Weds, Mar 14 – Champions League
2:45 pm FS1 Besiktas vs Bayern Munich
2:45 pm FS 2 Barcelona vs Chelsea
Thurs, Mar 15 – Europa League
12 pm eSPN3 Atletic Madrid vs Moskva
3 pm FS2 RB Leipeg vs Zenit
2 pm Fox Soccer Marseille vs Athletic Club
4 pm Fox Soccer Dortmund (Pulisic) vs Salburg
1 pm FS 2 Milan vs Arsenal
Fri, Mar 16
4 pm NBCSN Tottenham vs New Castle
Sat, Mar 17
11 am NBcSN Stoke City (Cameron) vs Everton
12:30 pm FS2 Wolfsburg vs Schalke
1:30 pm NBC Liverpool vs Watford
3:45 pm ??? Man United vs Brighton FA CUP
Sun, Mar 18
8:30 AM FS 2 Dortmund (Pulisic) vs Hanover
1 pm FS 2 RB Leipzig vs Bayern Munich
United States-led 2026 World Cup bid in jeopardy to Morocco’s – sources
Feb 27, 2018am BordenESPN Senior Writer
Support for the United States-led bid to host the 2026 World Cup is more divided than most predicted, with some estimates of voting totals having Morocco not just threatening the North American bid but actually beating it, multiple high-ranking football executives within FIFA and the continental confederations told ESPN this week.The United States won’t be playing in the World Cup in Russia this summer, but bringing the 2026 tournament to North America had always been seen as significant solace. Yet now, with just over three months until the pre-tournament FIFA Congress — at which the body’s 211 member nations will vote on those hosting rights — even that consolation prize for American soccer fans might be in doubt.Losing out would be hard to stomach for the North American contingent. After all, public perception among many in the soccer world has long been that the joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico would fairly easily beat the one from Morocco — a North African country with a population of about 33 million — to host. But according to multiple sources, a confluence of events and circumstances in recent months — some related to football and others having little to do with it — have left the outcome of that vote far murkier.One official who is in regular contact with all of the continental confederations estimated that Morocco has the support of much of Asia and South America, as well as its home continent of Africa, which would put it over the 104 votes needed. All four bid nations cannot vote while the Guatemalan federation is currently suspended.Other officials questioned the breakdown showing Morocco in a position of strength, saying that while the North American bid’s winning margin might be tighter than expected, it would still emerge cleanly on top with the Americas, Oceania, most of Europe and part of Asia backing it.The ballots will be cast just days before the opening match of the 2018 World Cup between Russia and Saudi Arabia in Moscow — with the 2026 hosts expected to be announced on June 13.
Any late bids are due in by a deadline of March 16.Regardless — and despite the seeming disparity between the two bids in terms of resources and infrastructure — there also is no denying that the race is far from a foregone conclusion.Sunil Gulati, the former president of U.S. Soccer who is heading the North American bid, declined to discuss specifics regarding support, but he said in an interview that it would be foolish for anyone to assume anything about the outcome.”We’ve never taken anything for granted in this process,” Gulati said. “We understand that in a competitive election — and that’s what this is — a lot of different things go into a decision.”In this case, those different things run the gamut. There is a technical component — the 2026 event will be the first with an expanded 48-team field, putting an even greater importance on a country’s stadiums and venue-city setup — but the United States’ superiority in that area is unquestioned.The trickier question for the North American bid is actually something remarkably basic: At this particular moment in time, does the world want to give something nice to the United States?There already was a leeriness toward the United States in corners of the football world, particularly in South America, as some national federations remain upset over how an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice exposed widespread corruption among their executives.More recently, however, the North American bid has had to counter an anti-American sentiment that stems largely from actions taken by President Donald Trump’s administration, multiple sources said. Those actions include a travel ban affecting mostly Arab countries, public comments that perpetuate stereotypes and the reported use of profanity in describing poorer countries.When North American bid officials visit with federation officials in a foreign country, they rarely get questions about stadiums or hotels, according to sources; rather, they have been quizzed about whether the United States can be considered a friendly place for foreigners.That is why the North American bid — which Gulati’s successor Carlos Cordeiro has made a top priority after being elected the new USSF president — is trying as much as possible to stress the Canadian and Mexican involvement. The United States will host the vast majority of the games if the bid wins, but organizers are pushing the notion that their bid is about unity — a concept they believe is critical in the current global environment.Asked about how the Trump administration has affected the canvassing for votes, Gulati would not address any individual circumstance but said, “All three countries’ governments, at the highest level, have been very supportive of the joint bid and the desire to bring the World Cup to North America.””The partnership between the three countries is an extremely important part of our story,” he added, “especially given what is going on in many parts of the world.”The setup of the balloting also presents a situation in which non-football influences could be considerable. Previously, hosting bids were awarded by FIFA’s executive committee, a process that was beset by corruption and led to the tainted 2010 vote, in which Qatar beat the United States for the right to host the World Cup in 2022.Now, each federation will vote and will have its vote made public, a situation that is better for transparency. That reality will make bloc votes — all of Africa voting for Morocco, for example — more likely, since any potential outlier won’t have the coverage of a hidden ballot. Every vote will have to be defended going forward, both to a country’s continental confederation members as well as to other officials within that nation’s leadership.Sources said they expect the race to come down to the final days. Morocco, whose bid was recently endorsed by disgraced former FIFA president Sepp Blatter, has lost on four previous attempts to win World Cup hosting rights, but this attempt is not a token operation. Morocco had 11 representatives at the recent UEFA Congress in Bratislava, Slovakia, and, as one official quipped, “They weren’t there for the weather.”Representatives from the North American bid also were in attendance at the UEFA gathering, and officials will make similar appearances at an Asian Confederation gathering this spring before focusing in on specific countries for targeted visits closer to the vote.
United States Reportedly in Danger of Losing 2026 World Cup Bid to Morocco
ROB GOLDBERGFEBRUARY 27, 2018IAKOVOS HATZISTAVROU/Getty Images
The United States is making a bid for the 2026 World Cup as part of a North America contingent, but Morocco is reportedly winning the race to host the international event, according to Sam Borden of ESPN.FIFA is expected to announce the host for the 2026 games on June 13.The United States, Mexico and Canada announced a joint bid last April to host the World Cup, with 60 of the 80 games set to take place in the U.S., including the finals, semifinals and quarterfinals. The other two countries would feature 10 matches apiece.According to ESPN, hosting this event could bring $5 billion in economic activity to the three countries.”Our assessment found that if the United Bid Committee is successful in its bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup, it could generate significant short-term economic activity and numerous other benefits across Canada, Mexico and the United States,” Cliff Grevler of the Boston Consulting Group said.However, the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea was the only time multiple countries co-hosted the event.Former President Sepp Blatter described the situation, also throwing his support behind Morocco:
Tariq Panja of the New York Times noted a lack of details from the African country’s bid, but it’s apparently done enough to get the members of FIFA interested.The 211 member nations will vote on the new loation at the FIFA Congress prior to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
U.S. Soccer CEO Dan Flynn further defines new general manager roles
3:33 PM ETJeff CarlisleSoccer
The U.S. Soccer Federation provided more detail on the requirements for the newly created GM positions for both the men’s and women’s senior national teams.USSF CEO Dan Flynn stated on a conference call with reporters that the two positions would “vary a bit to some degree,” but that the GM’s duties would include the hiring and firing of the senior national team head coaches, overall responsibility for the technical side of the senior team, build a strong, integrated national team staff, management of the day-to-day environment, and monitor the player pool and integration of new players.ADVERTISEMENTThe GM will also need to work alongside the manager once that person is hired and will report directly to Flynn.”The overall pool in terms of the environment, the travel, the scouting, the high performance, the nutrition, all of that needs to be managed in the process, so the GM will have other duties if you will,” said Flynn. “But he’ll have direct communication with the coach. I think the player pool is more GM than coach, and who actually plays is more coach than GM.”Flynn added that a committee comprised of USSF Board members Carlos Bocanegra and Angela Hucles, as well as several USSF staff members, including Flynn, COO Jay Berhalter, director of sporting development Ryan Mooney, and port development program director Nico Romeijn.”That committee will work the process and make a recommendation to the Board of Directors,” said Flynn.
In a departure from the tenure of Jurgen Klinsmann, who was given broad authority on matters that went beyond the senior team, Flynn indicated that the primary area of responsibility for the GMs will be their respective national teams.”The GM is responsible for the senior team and senior team environment in a direct way. In an indirect way, those GMs will have input as to what we’re doing on the player development side. But they have a primary [responsibility], and their key focus is managing the environment for the technical area for the men’s senior and women’s senior national team.”Mooney added, “Having integration and alignment will be critical. Obviously, there will be different demands at the level with the senior team, but having both those GMs be part of our internal think tank on the technical side with [Romeijn] is certainly what we are envisioning at this moment. There will certainly be an influence, but less so on the day-to-day.”When asked if the GM position would be like the role that Oliver Bierhoff plays with Germany’s national team, Mooney said there would be some differences.”These roles are not like for like with what it is that Oliver does with the senior team or what he does on the DFB academy side,” he said. “There are certainly aspects of it that would be applicable to the GM role as we’ve defined them.”In terms of where the USSF will look to fill the positions, Flynn said that on the men’s side the committee will look at the respective leagues on the men’s and women’s side. Seattle Sounders GM Garth Lagerwey has already been linked with the post.”We think that there is fertile territory in MLS,” said Flynn about the men’s GM position. “We’re looking beyond that level as well, in other parts of the world … I think internally we think it’s pretty darn important that our GM’s understand our leagues — plural — in our country and how they operate, how they work, what the player development model is on the domestic side.”Flynn stated that the decision to create the two positions had been contemplated for a while, and wasn’t in direct response to the failure of the U.S. men to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. He also said there was no specific timetable for when the positions might be filled, but “we are actively involved in the process right now.”
Toronto FC, Atlanta United start new season atop MLS Power Rankings
eb 25, 2018ason Daviscomment
A look at how the teams in Major League Soccer stack up ahead of the new season.
- Toronto FC
When you’re the champs, you start the season at No. 1. While the Reds didn’t make any splashy moves during the offseason, they did manage to add a couple of new signings that have the potential to make them even better than they were in 2017.
- Atlanta United
Atlanta measured up to outsize expectations with a playoff berth in their inaugural season. The bar doesn’t lower in year two as the league’s new high-profile side dropped a league-record transfer fee to sign 18-year old Ezequiel Barco out of Argentina.
- Seattle Sounders
The back-to-back Western Conference champions get the benefit of the doubt coming into the new year, but there is reason to worry about the Sounders’ ability to stay on top. Key pieces of the lineup are a year older, and striker Jordan Morris will be out of commission for most of the season after tearing his ACL.
City’s 2017 season ended in disappointment, the result of a bad away leg in the conference semifinals. The club has the tools to make it back to the postseason, but until proven otherwise, there will be doubts about Patrick Vieira’s ability to navigate the tournament.
- Chicago Fire
The Fire made a drastic improvement over 2016 thanks to a number of high-profile additions. Now counted among the best in the league, the Fire come into the new year with expectations. Bastian Schweinsteiger’s ability to contribute all season bears watching, as does the problem of replacing David Accam.
- Columbus Crew
Gregg Berhalter must overcome the loss of Justin Meram and Ola Kamara, who were shipped out via trade. Gyasi Zardes has shown extremely well in the preseason and will need to carry that form in the regular season if the Crew are going to maintain their place among the East’s playoff teams.
- Portland Timbers
It’s a new era in Portland after a tumultuous postseason. The first-place finisher in the West gets some benefit of the doubt, but there are questions surrounding the Timbers’ ability to replace Darlington Nagbe’s midfield work and how well new coach Giovanni Savarese adapts to the league.
- New York Red Bulls
Sacha Kljestan is gone, but New York fought through the drama and landed Alejandro Romero Gamarra, aka Kaku. The Argentine will play under an intense spotlight as the Red Bulls execute yet another transition in the midfield. Looming: Will Tyler Adams be in New York after the summer?
- Houston Dynamo
Wilmer Cabrera’s first season in the Bayou City delivered a Dynamo playoff appearance for the first time since 2013. In order to hold to a spot among the postseason finishers, Cabrera will have to improve on last year’s foundation with Alberth Elis, Romell Quioto and Mauro Manotas playing big roles.
- Sporting Kansas City
Sporting Kansas City is remarkably consistent, and the club again looks like a playoff team on paper. Defender of the Year Ike Opara returns, and defense is rarely a problem for Sporting. So if the goals come, the club could challenge for a first-round bye come playoff time.
- Vancouver Whitecaps
The Caps enter 2018 as something of an unknown quantity. Several major figures, the incoming group of players and chemistry all could be factors in their success or failure. Vancouver might also be on the verge of breaking up one of the league’s top center back tandems, with reports swirling that an unhappy Tim Parker wants out of British Columbia.
- San Jose Earthquakes
The Quakes are one of five teams with a new coach. The smart money is on San Jose looking much different under Mikael Stahre than they did under Dom Kinnear and Chris Leitch last year, though just how different is unclear.
- Real Salt Lake
Mike Petke enters his first full year as RSL’s coach, looking to build on last year’s strong finish. The Utah team is chock full of young talent, balanced against a few long-serving veterans. There’s a lot of promise for a team in the wide-open Western Conference.
- FC Dallas
Oscar Pareja’s team took a massive step backward in 2017. Still focusing on young players, the club signed players from Bulgaria, Colombia and elsewhere in a bid to get better. With locker room drama settled, is FC Dallas primed for a return to the playoffs?
- New England Revolution
Brad Friedel is still dealing with a tug-of-war with Lee Nguyen over the midfielder’s demand for a trade, casting something of a pall of the start of his tenure as coach of the Revs. With Nguyen’s status in limbo, the attacking burden may fall to Kelyn Rowe — a player who spent time at left back last year.
- Orlando City
No returning team did more business during the offseason than the Lions. There’s a feeling of “postseason or bust,” with so much money committed to a group of incoming players that includes Sacha Kljestan and Justin Meram. On paper, Orlando looks like a contender for a playoff spot in the East.
- Philadelphia Union
The offseason was a slow burn for a club that finished well off the pace in the East. The one big, early acquisition was winger David Accam, who moves over from Chicago. The Ghana international will be expected to be the catalyst for the Union attack, scoring goals and setting up lead striker CJ Sapong.
- Montreal Impact
An aging roster fell flat in 2017, despite high expectations off the back of a conference final appearance the year before. Some of that age is gone, replaced by several names with unclear ceilings. New coach Remi Garde will have to learn the league quickly for the Impact to succeed.
- LA Galaxy
The post-Arena tradition year was a disaster for the Galaxy, resulting in the firing of Curt Onalfo and a last-place finish. The club has overhauled the roster and made several smart trades, giving the impression that while LA probably isn’t a title contender, they’ll at least be competitive.
- D.C. United
Whatever financial help moving into Audi Field will give United has yet to hit the roster in a big way. Ben Olsen’s team looks improved from 2017, but there are concerns about the striker corps and a difficult early-season schedule that could derail the team no matter the improvement.
- Minnesota United
Minnesota natives are restless over the Loons’ seeming lack of ambition, with offseason signings not measuring up to rising league standards. If the “soft launch” mentality holds, it’s difficult to see Adrian Heath taking MNUFC to the playoffs in year two.
- Colorado Rapids
Colorado’s new coach seems well-equipped to deal with the club’s meager spending thanks to his experience with the New Zealand national team. The Rapids talk about playing more entertaining soccer but don’t appear to have the horses to do it.
As the lone expansion club for 2018, LAFC gets the ignominious spot at the bottom of the rankings. There’s talent on the roster for the Black & Gold, and Bob Bradley certainly knows the league: will that be enough to help them avoid the usual struggles for expansion sides?
Record in 2017: 9-19-6 — 10th in Western Conference (Missed MLS playoffs)
Offseason evaluation: This club has bulked up defensively, adding onto what was already a pretty strong backline, with players like Edgar Castillo, Tommy Smith and Danny Wilson entering the fold. Meanwhile, Wolves forward Joe Mason was brought in to provide assistance up front, although the Englishman has struggled to find consistency throughout his career.
Key player: Niki Jackson — A SuperDraft selection from this January, Jackson will probably have a lot asked of him during his rookie campaign given Colorado’s lack of attacking options. He notched 16 goals last year at Grand Canyon University, so the Rapids will be hoping that translates to MLS.
Coach: Anthony Hudson — The first-year MLS manager has his work cut out for him, but in a short time with the Rapids it looks like his formula will mimic what Pablo Mastroeni used to when he was in charge. A heavy emphasis on defense.
Vague 2018 prediction: The Rapids will likely have a hard time scoring goals, yet again, but opponents won’t just waltz in and beat up on the Colorado club.
Record in 2017: 11-10-13 — Seventh in Western Conference (Missed MLS playoffs)
Offseason evaluation: The departure of Walker Zimmermann was a big blow to the team’s back line, but Dallas has stocked up defensively with a number of Homegrown talents and CSKA Sofia’s Anton Nedyalkov this offseason. Dallas also made the most of its early SuperDraft selections, nabbing midfielder Ema Twumasi and forward Francis Atuahene in the first round to bolster a strong attack.
Key player: Cristian Colman — The Paraguayan was brought in last season to help the FC Dallas attack reach another level, with just two goals in 26 appearances Colman was far below the mark that many expected. He’ll need to improve drastically in 2018, especially with rookie Atuahene waiting to get on the field.
Coach: Oscar Pareja — With a rejuvenated roster, Pareja’s first priority should be getting back into the postseason. His side is simply too good to not be in the playoffs.
Vague 2018 prediction: It’s difficult to imagine this club not making the playoffs given the talent throughout the roster, but then again, last season proved to many that this Dallas side can be exploited.
Record in 2017: 13-10-11 — Fourth in Western Conference (Qualified for MLS playoffs)
Offseason evaluation: Losing Erick “Cubo” Torres certainly wasn’t a shock given his up-and-down tenure in MLS, however, he was a key piece in the Dynamo attack last season, and his goal production will be missed. The club failed to go out and seek refuge with replacements in the attack, so it will be intriguing to see how Houston responds.
Key player: Tomas Martinez — The Young DP signed midway through 2017, and had some difficulty getting acclimated to his new side. The former Braga man will key for the buildup play in the Dynamo attack this season, if the team is to find success.
Coach: Wilmer Cabrera — Cabrera did a fantastic job in 2017 getting the most out of his roster, and he’ll need to do an equally as good job this year if the Dynamo are to get back into the playoffs.
Vague 2018 prediction: It’s very easy to see this team taking a step back, especially with other clubs in the West improving this offseason.
Record in 2017: 8-18-8 — Last in Western Conference (Missed MLS playoffs)
Offseason evaluation: Ola Kamara, Chris Pontius and David Bingham were three additions for the Galaxy that automatically upgraded three positions this offseason. Call it a success. Not to mention nabbing Perry Kitchen, who will be out to prove himself in his return to MLS> Meanwhile, the Galaxy selected one of the best defensive players in the SuperDraft with Stanford product Tomas Hilliard-Arce.
Key player: Ola Kamara — The former Crew forward could very well be the best offseason transaction from any club. He’s in the prime of his career and surrounded by talented attackers like Giovani dos Santos. Kamara will thrive in LA.
Coach: Sigi Schmid — This man has found success everywhere he has gone, and with the offseason that the Galaxy have had, it’s difficult seeing this club miss out on the postseason.
Vague 2018 prediction: The Galaxy are used to having success in MLS, and they’ll almost certainly be back in the playoffs in 2018.
Record in 2017: N/A
Offseason evaluation: Atlanta set the bar in their 2017 debut season, and now LAFC is looking to equal, or potentilly top, anything that the Eastern Conference side did. Carlos Vela, Benny Feilhaber, Latif Blessing and Diego Rossi are just a few of the names that LA can feature up front. Then, the club’s ability to go out and sign arguably the best defender in MLS with Laurent Ciman’s introduction added another dimension to the team. He’ll partner with another promising talent in Walker Zimmerman from Dallas.
Key player: Carlos Vela — His form in La Liga was sporadic at times, but when Vela is at his best he’s a scary threat for any opposition. The El Tri forward has the weapons around him to thrive in his first MLS campaign.
Coach: Bob Bradley — The former USMNT coach is in a great spot with current roster, and it doesn’t look like the expansion side is done in the transfer market.
Vague 2018 prediction: It takes a lot to get integrated as a new club, but this team has the makings of one that will make a run in the West. The perfect combination of MLS experience and foreign talent.
Record in 2017: 10-18-6 — Ninth in Western Conference (Missed MLS playoffs)
Offseason evaluation: The addition of Tyrone Mears defensively will provide some stability, but Minnesota still looks to be inept at the back. The good news for this club is that they remain an attacking threat, and have added Wisconsin forward Mason Toye in the draft.
Key player: Abu Danladi — After a tremendous rookie campaign, the Loons will be looking for the former UCLA striker to pick up where he left off in 2017. Minnesota undoubtedly boasts a strong attack, it’s definitely more about the defense that is worrisome.
Coach: Adrian Heath — We saw a number of coaches fired in 2017, and if things don’t go the right way early for Minnesota it’s very likely that Heath is sacrificed at the second-year MLS side.
Vague 2018 prediction: This team will be fun to watch at times in the attack, but after conceding 70 goals a season ago and showing little sign of defensive improvement, the Loons will probably be on the outside looking in once again in the playoff picture.
Record in 2017: 15-11-8 — First in Western Conference (Qualified for MLS playoffs)
Offseason evaluation: This is a club that still boasts the reigning league MVP with Diego Valeri, however, losing Darlington Nagbe this offseason cannot be overstated. The Timbers did well to bring in Benevento forward Samuel Armenteros, Cristhian Paredes and Andy Polo, though, so they’ll still be a strong side in 2018.
Key player: Andy Polo — The Peru international has big expectations resting on his shoulders after joining MLS from Mexican side Morelia on loan. With the ability to play up front and on the ing, the 23-year-old gives new manager Gio Savarese flexibility as to where he plays the dynamic player.
Coach: Giovanni Savarese — It was only a matter of time until the ex-Cosmos manager ended up in MLS, and the situation that Savarese has been granted is almost as perfect as it could be for a first-time MLS boss.
Vague 2018 prediction: Definitely envision this club at the top of the West once again, and should be in the thick of things when it comes closer to MLS Cup.
Record in 2017: 13-15-6 — Eighth in Western Conference (Missed MLS playoffs)
Offseason evaluation: This club continues to get younger and younger, and while the biggest concern will be where the goals come from, RSL is building towards a bright future. The club secured the rights to Brooks Lennon this offseason, while San Luis midfielder Pablo Ruiz also entered the fold for the Claret and Cobalt. Re-signing Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando added the veteran presence that has sustained the club for years.
Key player: Jefferson Savarino — The Venezuelan notched six goals in his first season with the Western Conference side, and he’ll be expected to build off of that as he’s with RSL for his first full campaign.
Coach: Mike Petke — The former Red Bulls coach has done everything right since taking over RSL. He’s utilizing one of the top academies in MLS, while bringing in the proper pieces to supplement the squad.
Vague 2018 prediction: RSL might still be a year away from really challenging in the West, but don’t be surprised if they make the leap into the playoffs. After all, they finished just a point outside of the postseason in 2017.
Record in 2017: 13-14-7 — Sixth in Western Conference (Qualified for MLS playoffs)
Offseason evaluation: Yeferson Quintana and Joel Qwiberg were brought in to help improve the back line this season, while Eric Calvillo and Magnus Eriksson can help improve an attack that features one of the greatest goalscorers to ever play in MLS, Chris Wondolowski.
Key player: Magnus Eriksson — The 27-year-old has scored double-digit goals five times in his career, and the Quakes will be banking on their new DP to come in and help take some of the pressure off of Wondolowski, and perhaps become the heir apparent.
Coach: Mikael Stahre — The first-year MLS manager has already put his stamp on the Quakes with several Swedish signings, and his club looks improved from a season ago.
Vague 2018 prediction: After getting thrashed in the first round of the playoffs last season, this team will be out to prove that they can take another step forward.
Record in 2017: 14-9-11 — Second in Western Conference (Qualified for MLS playoffs, Reached MLS Cup final)
Offseason evaluation: The news couldn’t have been worse for the Sounders when word came down that Jordan Morris will miss the entire season with an ACL tear. The Sounders didn’t add any more depth up top, or at least not yet, so while the club is still wildly talented, they will likely be without one of their top finishers for all of 2018.
Key player: Will Bruin — The veteran MLSer knows what he needs to do now that Morris has gone down with an injury. His 11 goals in 2017 was one short of a career-high, so the West winners will want him to recreate that brilliance.
Coach: Brian Schmetzer — Two straight MLS Cup appearances, and a title in one of those seasons, isn’t too shabby from the long-time Sounders employee. He’s already one of the best managers in the league.
Vague 2018 prediction: The Morris injury is massive, but considering the Sounders played great without him for much of last season, the loss isn’t a deal breaker. They’re still very much a title contender.
Sporting Kansas City
Record in 2017: 12-9-13 — Fifth in Western Conference (Qualified for MLS playoffs)
Offseason evaluation: This squad lost a number of big names this offseason, highlighted by Benny Feilhaber, Latif Blessing and Erik Palmer-Brown. Not to mention having lost Dom Dwyer to Orlando City during the middle of last season. Now, SKC will be relying on a bunch of new faces, including Frenchman Yohan Croizet and Derby County midfielder Johnny Russell.
Key player: Yohan Croizet — The DP midfielder enters the fold for Sporting KC as he looks to fill the void left by the departed Benny Feilhaber. Croizet will have to replace one of the top playmakers in the league, which isn’t a small task.
Coach: Peter Vermes — The long-time manager has struggled to find success in the postseason over the last several years, and with a host of new additions this season, the former MLS Cup champions could be on track to rebuild.
Vague 2018 prediction: This is a club searching for its identity. They’ll always be well-coached and a tough out, but the playoffs aren’t a guarantee in 2018.
Record in 2017: 15-12-7 — Third in Western Conference (Qualified for MLS playoffs)
Offseason evaluation: Kei Kamara, Brian Rowe and Anthony Blondell from Monagas are just a few of the big-time names that the Whitecaps have added this offseason, despite losing Christian Bolanos and Fredy Montero. Additionally, the Whitecaps have lost Tony Tchani in a trade to the Chicago Fire, which creates a void in front of the back line.
Key player: Kei Kamara — The veteran has been a streaky scorer throughout his career, but he’ll be the main option up top for the Whitecaps in 2018, and he should be good for at least 10 goals.
Coach: Carl Robinson — The manager will have to deal with a host of departures this offseason, but he’s proven to be one of the better coaches in MLS when dealing with change.
Vague 2018 prediction: They’ll be in contention in the West once again, especially after nabbing one of the better strikers in MLS.
2018 MLS Eastern Conference preview
Ah, the return of Major League Soccer.It feels like forever ago that Toronto FC captured its first MLS Cup title in franchise history, although it was only a mere two-plus months ago.[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]In that time, though, a lot has changed, including the preparation for yet another expansion side entering into the league and several MAJOR transfer moves that have sent reverberations throughout MLS.Wel get to Los Angeles FC and the rest of the Western Conference on Wednesday, but for now, here is everything you need to know about the Eastern Conference heading into the 2018 season.
Record in 2017: 15-9-10 — Fourth in the Eastern Conference (qualified for MLS playoffs)
Offseason evaluation: The loss of Yamil Asad was certainly a big one, but when you can replace a player like him with Ezequiel Barco, Darlington Nagbe and a plethora of young talent waiting in line it’s safe to say you’re in a good position. Defensively, one of the best back lines in MLS arguably got better with Franco Escobar’s arrival and depth provided by veteran Sal Zizzo.
Key player: Miguel Almiron — He was my Player to Watch heading into 2017, and it’s safe to say the Paraguayan lived up to the billing… and then some for Atlanta. His brilliance goes beyond just scoring goals, and his vision is almost unmatched on an MLS scale. It’s quite likely that 2018 will be Almiron’s last season in the United States, so take in his excellence while he’s still in our presence.
Coach: Gerardo “Tata” Martino – The former Barcelona manager did just about everything right in Year 1, but it’s time for this Atlanta club to take the next step in its progression. Martino has succeeded on the highest of levels, and it’s hard to believe that track record won’t translate to an MLS crown at some point in the near future.
Vague 2018 prediction: If watching Atlanta was fun in 2017, then this season is going to be a treat for those attending matches at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It’s MLS Cup or bust for this talented group.
Record in 2017: 16-11-7 — Third in Eastern Conference (Qualified for MLS playoffs)
Offseason evaluation: When David Accam was traded to the Philadelphia Union this offseason it raised some questions about the Fire’s intentions for the 2018 campaign. Losing the veteran attacker was certainly a damaging blow, however, the club did well to equip itself rookie talents Jon Bakero and Mo Adams — both selected in the first round. Meanwhile, a loan move for Alaves midfielder Aleksandar Katai went as an underrated move for the team.
Key player: Jon Bakero — The rookie midfielder may have been the best player in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft, and the Fire are expected good things from the young player from the beginning.
Coach: Veljko Paunovic — The Serbian has done a fantastic job integrating youth with a veteran core in his short time with the Fire, and he and his staff appeared to have one of the the
Vague 2018 prediction: The Fire lost a fair deal of players this offseason, including Accam, so they’ll be banking on a younger group in 2018.
Record in 2017: 16-12-6 — Fifth in Eastern Conference (Qualified for MLS playoffs)
Offseason evaluation: With Ola Kamara and Justin Meram no longer in the fold, the Crew attack is going to look drastically different this season. Veteran presences like Gyasi Zardes and Mike Grella will step in to try to fill the void, but the expectations for the Crew have surely changed.
Key player: Gyasi Zardes — The ex-Galaxy attacker is going to play a big role up front for this team, and with Ola Kamara gone, Zardes will have to pick up the slack in the goalscoring department.
Coach: Greg Berhalter — The former MLS player has been one of the best coaches in the league since taking over, and he’ll need to do a special job this season if the Crew are to contend.
Vague 2018 prediction: This club was very close to reaching MLS Cup in 2017, but a plethora of exits this offseason have the Crew looking up at the major contenders in the East.
Record in 2017: 9-20-5 — Last in Eastern Conference (Missed MLS playoffs)
Offseason evaluation: The addition of Yamil Asad was the biggest add in terms of name recognition, but D.C. managed to get a very good goalkeeper in David Ousted as well, after losing Bill Hamid last year when he left for Europe. Throw in veteran MLS players like Darren Mattocks and Frederic Brillant, and D.C. has some good guys to build around.
Key player: Yamil Asad — Atlanta’s loss will surely be D.C.’s gain this season. Asad was brilliant in 2017 playing with Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez and Atlanta’s dynamic attack, so we’ll see how the Argentine transitions into his new club.
Coach: Ben Olsen — On paper, Olsen has a really strong group of talent. It’s up to the former USMNT player to get his side back into the playoffs.
Vague 2018 prediction: Olsen and Co. had a sneaky good offseason, and they could very well be in the playoff mix this season.
Record in 2017: 11-17-6 — Ninth in Eastern Conference (Missed MLS playoffs)
Offseason evaluation: The shocking move to send Laurent Ciman to LAFC was not on anybody’s radar in Canada, but it caused a big shakeup within the Impact defense. While losing the center back was massive, it was coupled by seeing Blerim Dzemaili also leave when his loan deal expired. The Impact managed to acquire a few foreign players to try and make up for losses, with Bologna’s Saphir Taider and Canadian defender Michael Petrasso entering the picture.
Key player: Raheem Edwards — The versatile wing player was acquired through a trade with LAFC, and he’s shown that he can be one of the most promising young players in MLS. With the ability to play wing back and in the midfield, expect Edwards to garner some serious minutes with his new club.
Coach: Remi Garde — The former Lyon defender has joined a squad in transition mode, so his first season at the helm will likely involve seeing what he has for future campaigns.
Vague 2018 prediction: A new manager in place and a drastically different roster will likely see 2018 serve as a transition period for the Canadian side.
Record in 2017: 13-15-6 — Seventh in Eastern Conference (Missed MLS playoffs)
Offseason evaluation: The Lee Nguyen saga dominated the headlines throughout the layoff from action, but with the USMNT midfielder still in New England, the Revs can regain their focus. Kei Kamara‘s departure this offseason could create a bigger role for Kristian Nemeth in 2018, while the back line will rely on several new faces from the SuperDraft, including Brandon Bye and Nicolas Samayoa.
Key player: Krisztian Nemeth — The ex-Sporting KC man will be counted on a lot in 2018 with Kamara no longer at Gillette Stadium. With a solid group of attacking options around him, including Nguyen and Diego Fagundez, Nemeth will have to find his form after netting just one goal in six appearances last year.
Coach: Brad Friedel — The first-year manager has already had a lot to deal with during the Nguyen saga, but his on-field job will be just as difficult after losing several key players this offseason.
Vague 2018 prediction: The Revs appear to be in a similar position to 2017. There’s enough talent to make the playoffs, but it’s probably not expected.
Record in 2017: 16-9-9 — Second in Eastern Conference (Qualified for MLS playoffs)
Offseason evaluation: The loss of Jack Harrison dominated the offseason news for NYCFC, and now the Bronx side will be looking at a host of new faces to help revamp the attack. Young DP Jesus Medina, Ismael Tajouri, Ebenezer Ofori and Jo Inge Berget have all joined the pack for Patrick Vieira’s squad, and are expected to fill Harrison’s shoes and help aid top goalscorer David Villa.
Key player: Jesus Medina — The young South American player has been brought in to replace Jack Harrison on the wing, and the 20-year-old will be on a short leash given the number of players NYCFC has brought in to compete in the attack.
Coach: Patrick Vieira — The third-year coach has had the chance to put his stamp on this NYCFC roster, and he’ll be expected to take the next step in 2018 with a group that features many talented names.
Vague 2018 prediction: NYCFC supporters will be hoping that preseason isn’t any indication of how the club looks in the regular season. A number of attacking signings should keep this team near the top of the East, though.
Record in 2017: 14-12-8 — Sixth in Eastern Conference (Qualified for MLS playoffs)
Offseason evaluation: It was an offseason of turnover for the Red Bulls, and one where notable players Sacha Kljestan, Mike Grella, Gonzalo Veron and more were sent packing. With that said, the club has brought in young reinforcements with big promise, including Alejandro “Kaku” Gamarra, Cristian Casseres Jr. and Amando Moreno (who previously played for the club).
Key player: Alejandro “Kaku” Gamarra — With Kljestan gone, Gamarra has great expectations bestowed upon his shoulders this season. The Red Bulls waited awhile to secure the former Huracan midfielder, but he should pay dividends with his pace and vision in the attacking third.
Coach: Jesse Marsch — Make no mistake about it. Marsch and his staff have a plan, and they’re sticking to it. A younger roster is exactly what they’ve been trying to establish, and now it’s time to see what kind of steps they can take.
Vague 2018 prediction: A young, feisty roster is what Marsch has on his hands. Could easily see Red Bulls contending for an East crown or falling short of the playoffs due to lack of defensive depth. Hit or miss.
ecord in 2017: 10-15-9 — 10th in Eastern Conference (Missed MLS playoffs)
Offseason evaluation: Cyle Larin’s departure wasn’t a surprise, although the way that it went down was anything but amicable. With the Canadian gone, Orlando now has to find a new way to bag goals in the attack. After missing out on the playoffs in each of their first three seasons, the Lions have done big things this winter by acquiring Justin Meram and Sacha Kljestan. The club also brought in solid veterans like RJ Allen and Stefano Pinho, as well as Jose Villareal from the Galaxy.
Key player: Sacha Kljestan — The creative attacker was brought in to do what he’s done for the Red Bulls in the past, which is create. Everywhere he’s gone, Kljestan has managed to influence the attack in a positive manner, and with Kaka’s departure, the American has a big role.
Coach: Jason Kreis — The former NYCFC manager certainly wasn’t shy this offseason with his roster moves, but now it’s time for Orlando to step up and make use of its newfound talent.
Vague 2018 prediction: The Lions have gone all in, and the roster is shaping up to at the very least be a playoff squad.
Record in 2017: 11-14-9 — Eighth in Eastern Conference (Missed MLS playoffs)
Offseason evaluation: Outside of acquiring David Accam from the Fire, it was a quiet offseason in Chester. The attack should be able to latch onto another gear with the Ghanian present in the lineup, but several key losses, including Charlie Davies, Chris Pontius and Roland Alberg, could hurt the team’s short-term plans.
Key player: David Accam
Coach: Jim Curtin — The 38-year-old has had his share of ups and downs with the Union, and with a predominantly young roster in 2018, he’s going to need his players to play hard on a weekly basis if Curtin is to last.
Vague 2018 prediction: There aren’t many positive expectations for the Union, nor should there be. Hard to see this club making the playoffs.
Record in 2017: 20-5-9 — First in Eastern Conference (Qualified for MLS playoffs, Won MLS Cup)
Offseason evaluation: The defending champions somehow found a way to make their roster better, and did so without spending a ton of money. Bringing in midfielder Axel Aketxe from Spain and Holland defender Gregory van der Wiel has added another dimension to TFC’s deep roster, despite losing Raheem Edwards, Steven Beitashour and Benoit Cheyrou this offseason.
Key player: Gregory van der Wiel — The club’s attack is certainly the least of Toronto’s concerns, so that turns the attention to the back line. Van der Wiel was brought in to fill the spot left by Beitashour, and the veteran Dutchman should be a strong fit for the club.
Coach: Greg Vanney — It’s amazing to see what the club has transformed into over the last several years, and Vanney has played a big part in how TFC has become an elite MLS side.
Vague 2018 prediction: Last year, PST said 2017 could be the first of many MLS titlesfor this club. Toronto is the favorite once more.
MLSisBack! Here’s your complete 2018 season preview
February 26, 201812:00PM ESTBenjamin BaerNew Media Editor#MLSisBack and the 2018 season will kickoff on Saturday in Toronto. Given that, we asked our experts for their quick takes on each of the 23 teams heading into the season. You can also find a link to your team’s unofficial depth chart based on our own evaluations and preseason matches. In addition, there’s my prediction for where every team will finish in their conference.
The Five Stripes are everyone’s hot pick to take a big step forward in 2018, and that’s understandable. They spent big to bring in 18-year-old Argentinean DP Ezequiel Barco, and splashed out TAM + GAM to pry Darlington Nagbe from the Timbers. That’s a lot of flair and off-the-dribble skill. The problem might be that they’re unbalanced now, as linchpin midfielder Carlos Carmona headed back to Chile and, as yet, there’s no replacement for his midfield steel. —Matt Doyle
Chicago brought back their biggest star this winter in Bastian Schweinsteiger but lost one of their most productive players when they traded winger David Accam to Philadelphia on draft day. The Fire signed a promising Accam replacement in Serbian attacker Aleksandar Katai, but still need some help in a few spots – center back and No. 10 being two – if they want to build on last year’s third-place Supporters’ Shield finish. —Sam Stejskal
It’s a new era in Colorado, with new head coach Anthony Hudson and the front office overhauling the Rapids roster hoping to wash away 2017. The additions are plentiful, with many coming from England and New Zealand, and Hudson will be hoping his 3-5-2 can provide enough in the attack for a team that has struggled to score goals. —Ben Baer
Crew SC almost upset the best team in MLS history in the Eastern Conference Championship, but getting to that point again will be a tall task for Gregg Berhalter’s team. Star attackers Justin Meram and Ola Kamara were traded away in the offseason, with only maligned striker Gyasi Zardes brought in to replace their star production (so far). Columbus will likely be relying on an intact defense and a rising star in between the pipes to get them back to the playoffs. —Ben Baer
The level of optimism around D.C. depends on how you see the half-filled glass. On the positive side, D.C. upgraded in multiple positions, including the acquisitions of Ulises Segura, Junior Moreno, Frederic Brillant and Yamil Asad. The lineup could be both sturdy and electric, all to go with a brand new stadium. On the downside, they have a crazy schedule, front-loaded with road games and then extra congested on the back end. —Bobby Warshaw
Last year we were talking about Dallas pushing for MLS Cup. Then they had one of the worst collapses in MLS history. Now we are wondering if they are even a playoff team. From Point A to Point B, they have almost exactly the same team. They struggled to replace Fabian Castillo in 2017, but this winter they got Colombian attacker Santiago Mosquera. If they can sort through their late-2017 issues, Dallas should be pushing for trophies again. —Bobby Warshaw
Was 2017 a playoff mirage or did the Dynamo re-establish themselves among MLS’s upper echelon? We’re about to find out. Houston sold their leading scorer (Erick “Cubo’” Torres) in the offseason, and that might be a good thing since it opens a spot for Mauro Manotas, one of four young attackers Wilmer Cabrera will set free on the counter. Speed kills, but the rest of the league knows what’s coming. Can the Dynamo find another gear? —Andrew Wiebe
They say one should temper expectations with expansion teams – even Atlanta in 2017 finished 4th in the East – but that’s not the mentality manager Bob Bradley is taking into the season. He’s gone to the world market for top-end talent in Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi and blended it with proven MLS contributors like Benny Feilhaber, Walker Zimmerman, Laurent Ciman and Steven Beitashour. The first 13 on the roster looks like it could compete with anyone. Like most expansion clubs who need to build from scratch, if Bradley needs to dig deeper, he could be in trouble. —Bobby Warshaw
They were the worst team in the league last year, so by definition nobody had more work to do. And so work they did, pulling in international defenders, a fringe USMNT defensive midfielder and goalkeeper, and one of MLS’s most consistent goalscorers. There’s a lot to like about this group, but there’s no guarantee all of the above will be enough if Gio and Jona dos Santos don’t start playing like the stars they’re supposed to be. —Matt Doyle
This really is gonna be a slow build, eh? While most of the rest of the league was pulling in TAM or DP-caliber players from overseas, the Loons pretty much stood pat (except for adding three more wingers, because of course they did). The prize signing of their offseason at this point looks to be 35-year-old journeyman right back Tyrone Mears, and it remains unclear who’s going to be the playmaker. It looks like they’ll need serious improvement from within. —Matt Doyle
The Impact have yo-yoed in and out of the playoffs during their six seasons in MLS. In former Lyon boss Remi Garde, Montreal hope they’ve found a head coach who can foster more consistency and tap into the talent coming through the academy. Garde wasted no time turning over the roster and getting younger. Losing Blerim Dzemaili hurt, but Saphir Taider arrived in return. If all else fails, just give the ball to Ignacio Piatti. —Andrew Wiebe
With a new coach comes, presumably, a new philosophy. We haven’t yet seen how that’ll work for real, but so far it seems to be geared toward finding new positions for a bunch of mainstays. Diego Fagundez has been used as a playmaker, and Kelyn Rowe as a box-to-box No. 8. Meanwhile it’s unclear where Juan Agudelo and Lee Nguyen – who held out for a month before reporting – fit in. And the defense is, as always, an open question. —Matt Doyle
NYCFC are clearly one of the top contenders for MLS Cup entering the season, even after selling Jack Harrison to Manchester City. David Villa will be hunting for a trophy in what could be his last season in the Big Apple and reinforcements have been added all across the field. The midfield trio should be one of the best in the league, with young star Yangel Herrera likely getting more playing time after a breakout year. —Ben Baer
The Red Bulls traded their captain (again), but did so with a purpose. The red side of New York is going all-in on the press, and that requires young legs, which arrived via DP Kaku, the Kljestan trade and a cadre of Homegrown and Red Bulls II graduates. Tyler Adamsshould take another big step, this time in central midfield, but the old heads will still be expected to lead the charge. —Andrew Wiebe
Has anyone in MLS history had as active (and, frankly, impressive) an offseason as the Lions? They added the two-time reigning assist king, a Best XI-caliber winger, a high-priced young DP playmaker, an in-his-prime MLS Cup champion d-mid, a Bundesliga starter at CB, the best college midfielder, the college assist king, and the NASL MVP/Golden Boot winner. This team is deep and LOADED, and now Jason Kreis has to make the pieces fit. No excuses in 2018. —Matt Doyle
Union fans seemed ready to riot in December, then the club spent big to acquire David Accam. Accam has the ability to turn any game and immediately lifts any team to the next level. Is it a playoff level? It could come down to how well their No. 10s perform in creating goals and if any of the young center backs on the team — Jack Elliott, Josh Yaro, Auston Trusty or Richie Marquez — can become consistent performers. —Bobby Warshaw
New manager Gio Savarese inherits a group that finished the 2017 regular season top of the West, plus they added winger Andy Polo, defender Julio Cascante and striker Samuel Armenteros. The problem could be that his three key players — 2017 MVP Diego Valeri, linchpin Diego Chara and captain Liam Ridgewell — are all a couple years past 30. If everything clicks, Portland could cruise. If Chara and Ridgewell — or, god forbid, Valeri — break down, though, Savarese could be reeling. —Bobby Warshaw
They couldn’t quite overcome a slow start to sneak into the playoffs, but RSL closed 2017 as one of the hottest teams in all of MLS. Their young core of Albert Rusnak, Jefferson Savarino and Homegrown Players Justen Glad, Danny Acosta and Brooks Lennon is as exciting as they come and has plenty of folks tabbing RSL as a trendy pick to contend in the West. —Sam Stejskal
A new year, a new era in San Jose. The Quakes took a European turn this winter, with Swiss GM Jesse Fioranelli hiring Swede Mikael Stahre as the club’s new head coach and signing Swedish striker Magnus Eriksson to a Designated Player deal. How the two Swedes adapt to MLS will do a lot to determine if San Jose can improve on a 2017 in which they made the playoffs but had a negative-21 goal differential. —Sam Stejskal
Continuity is the buzzword on the Puget Sound heading into the season. Seattle, who had significant turnover after winning MLS Cup 2016, are bringing back almost everyone from the team that fell short in the final in Toronto in December. Will that core be enough after an offseason that saw most of the other Cup contenders make big moves? The Sounders are betting on it. —Sam Stejskal
If defense wins championships, how come Sporting KC can’t seem to get past the Knockout Round? Another year of playoff disappointment prompted Peter Vermes to break out the TAM and DP slots to replace the traded Benny Feilhaber, augment the league’s best backline and keep pace with the rest of the league. What Vermes hasn’t done (yet) is land the forward #SKCnation yearns for. Are Khiry Shelton and Diego Rubio enough to make KC a top contender? —Andrew Wiebe
Could Toronto do the quadruple? It’s certainly possible after the best team in MLS history had few changes over the short offseason. Already off to a good start in the CONCACAF Champions League, the Reds could make a run in the continental tourney before setting their sights on retaining their three other trophies. Keep an eye on Greg Vanney’s lineups though, as he will not want to wear out his team before the stretch run. —Ben Baer
The Whitecaps favorite ride is the Forward Carousel, and Kei Kamara is the latest to climb aboard. With Kamara and Kendall Waston attacking dead balls, Vancouver ought to dominate on set pieces … but can they step out of their direct shell and go toe-to-toe with the league’s best? The answer in the playoffs was a resounding no, and the likes of Yordy Reyna, Efrain Juarez and Alphonso Davies will have to prove this version of the ‘Caps is different. —Andrew Wiebe
Under other circumstances, Romelu Lukaku’s role in setting up Jesse Lingard’s winner against Chelsea would have counted for more than this equaliser. A fine cross highlighted the improvement in his game outside the penalty box. But he had waited 938 minutes. Or more than six months since his debut.However it is measured, it is safe to say the costliest striker in Manchester United’s history was expected to find the net against any of England’s top six rather sooner into his Old Trafford career. The overall statistics are still unflattering – one goal from his opening 18 shots against the English elite for United, five in his last 42 games, incorporating his time at Everton – but at least it was a start when, for the first time, he struck against Chelsea.
Lukaku’s potency against relegation-threatened teams is not in doubt. It is one of the reasons United signed him. To be a genuine success at Old Trafford, however, he has to score defining goals on such stages. A composed finish offered more encouragement after some unconvincing efforts in previous summit clashes. So did his role in the goal.Lukaku’s work-rate has been questioned in such games. The sense is that he is showing more industry for United. It was significant that the Belgian battled to win the ball back before Alexis Sanchez and Anthony Martial set him up. He almost added another with a spectacular volley. The next, and bigger, test is to do it more often when United could have 11 more matches this season against either England’s top six or leading European sides.Willian became a rare player to score against Barcelona and Manchester United in the same week.
Antonio Conte spent some of Friday defending his past decisions to bench Willian for much of his time in charge of Chelsea, either because he preferred Pedro or, in playing 3-5-2, he omitted both. It will be harder to omit the Brazilian for the remaining few months. Willian has supplanted Eden Hazard as the Blues’ form player. He has also reduced the reliance on the Belgian. His opener at Old Trafford was his fifth goal in six starts. More pertinently, it was a second in two against elite opponents: first Barcelona and then United.
It showed many of the attributes that Jose Mourinho admires in the man he took to Stamford Bridge: the defensive diligence to track back and win a header in his own box; the speed and directness to break quickly and the power to get into the United penalty box; the finishing prowess to take his chance. It should not be forgotten that Willian was Chelsea’s outstanding player in their bleak final few months under Mourinho, the one whose form improved as everyone else’s collapsed.He has showed his character before. This was evidence of his ability. And with a tiring Hazard being removed in defeat at Old Trafford, it illustrated the importance of another relieving the Belgian of his burden if Chelsea are to reclaim a top-four spot.
West Ham and Pablo Zabaleta struggled to stop Andrew Robertson as he set up a goal in Liverpool’s 4-1 win.
A left-footer who Liverpool signed in the summer excelled on Saturday. Mohamed Salah got his regulation goal, added an assist and helped Jurgen Klopp’s team pass 100 goals for the season as they beat West Ham 4-1. But another was almost as impressive. It was Andrew Robertson’s cross that brought Sadio Mane’s goal, just as it was the Scot who centred when Salah spurned a golden chance. Nor was it a one-off display. He has been consistently excellent in a time when he has started 14 of Liverpool’s last 15 league games, relentless going forward and solid on his defensive duties.
Rewind a few months and Alberto Moreno was the regular in the side and being described as the answer to Liverpool’s perennial left-back problems. The Spaniard, despite some encouraging displays, is not: he remains too erratic and too defensively suspect.But Robertson should be: just as Virgil van Dijk’s arrival means they no longer need to sign a centre-back in the summer, he should end their pursuit of a left-back. It has been a position where Liverpool have long lacked a top-class performer – John Arne Riise is probably their best in the Premier League era, though right-backs Rob Jones and Alvaro Arbeloa did well at times on the opposite flank and midfielder James Milner began well last season – but now, finally, they appear to have the solution.Alan Pardew’s West Bromwich Albion lost 2-1 to Huddersfield to leave them six points behind 19th-place Stoke.
- Beaten Baggies look doomed.
It is one of the closest relegation battles in years. With one exception, anyway. While only eight points separate ninth from 19th, West Bromwich Albion are six points adrift at the foot of the table. Saturday’s defeat to Huddersfield left them staring the Championship firmly in the face. In theory, the fixture list until the middle of April is friendly; in reality, they have won one league game since August so it scarcely seems to matter who they face.
The increasingly beleaguered manager Alan Pardew raised the question of Leicester last week; not the Foxes’ title-winning exploits, but their great escape the previous season, when Nigel Pearson’s side won seven of their last nine league games. Albion may only require six victories, or five plus a sprinkling of draws, but, as Pardew pointed out, they have won three of their last 37 league games. Whether or not he is fired, they seem to be going down without a whimper whereas their conquerors, Huddersfield, are straining every sinew to stay up.Glenn Murray scored twice in Brighton’s 4-1 win over Swansea to reach 10 Premier League goals for the season.
- Prolific Murray overshadows Brighton’s record buy.
When Brighton spent a club record £14 million on Jurgen Locadia, it seemed a public admission that Chris Hughton lacked a goalscorer. It looked the beginning of the end for Glenn Murray, the valiant veteran who helped them get promotion. It appeared hard to argue with that: there was a time in November and December when Brighton only scored one goal in nine league games.
And, indeed, Locadia can claim he has made a difference. The former PSV Eindhoven forward has struck in both appearances for his new club. But he completed the scoring against Swansea and while that made it the first time since 1981 that Brighton had mustered four goals in a top-flight game, Murray got the vital first two goals. He has five in as many games in all competitions, 10 in the Premier League this season. Only more celebrated and, in most cases, expensive attackers have more. The Championship stalwart is averaging a goal every 156 minutes in the Premier League this season. Brighton look likely to stay up. If they do, it will owe much to the underrated Murray.
Indy 1 – 2 FC Cincy: talking points
Indy XI hosted early Eastern conference title contenders, FC Cincinnati at Grand Park yesterday. It was Indy’s first pre-season game of the season and the two teams played out 3×30 minute periods. While FC Cincy was largely at full-strength, Indy XI was missing a number of players who had not arrived to training yet.
- Indy XI played a flat 4-4-2for most of the game. The team started with Juan Guerra and Brad Ring as CMs, and Zach Steinberger and Ben Speas on the wing. Ex-NY Cosmos striker Eugene Starikov had a strong game as the main striker up top, while “trialist” David Goldsmith played as support striker. The fact that Goldsmith – who showed determination and moments of individual skill – has not been offered a contract is one of the many puzzling decisions made by the new coaching staff. Goldsmith* had the best opportunity of the first period, when his header resulted in a good save by the FCC keeper.
Starikov and Guerra were the pick of the players in yesterday’s scrimmage. Guerra’s distribution was excellent, and with Brad Ring as a ball-winning midfielder beside him, together they produced turnovers and counterattacking opportunities in midfield for Indy XI. Guerra also managed to go an entire 45’ without diving once. So, that’s progress.
- We played on the counter. It’s really hard to extrapolate from a single preseason game. Additionally, FC Cincinnati are a strong team designed to retain possession (as a sidenote: This is a complete 180 degree tactical turn from Koch’s team last year). And therefore, playing on the counter, may yet have been a natural consequence of superior opposition combined with lack of match fitness.
However, it is important to note, that for the first 45’, Indy created excellent chances on the counter. In particular, Steinberger’s movement created space and opportunities for others. The Butler University graduate excelled in the support striker role during the early stages of the 2017 NASL season for Jacksonville Armada. His late runs into the box often go unmarked and that is a tactical asset Rennie will undoubtedly look to unleash. Whether Steinberger is consistently able to do that in a winger role is unclear. Both Speas and Steinberger had their best moments when drifting centrally – and that is a positional issue Rennie will have to work out. It may yet necessitate a switch back to Hankinson’s infamous 4-4-2 diamond.
- 3. Indy played a low-bloc defensive line. Yet again, this could be a consequence of superior opposition, but Indy’s defensive line played very deep for most of the game. When the line did push up, it was via slow, ponderous passing between the centerbacks – lead by the towering Brad Rusin – and the two DMs.
The fullbacks helped retain a pretty well-organized defensive shape. Tyler Pasher had a good outing at Left back. All the scouts and coaches I’ve spoken to (who know Pasher) rate the young Canadian winger/full back very highly. They unanimously call him one of the quicker players they’ve seen, while a few highlight his crossing ability. From what I saw of him yesterday, I was pleased by his defensive positioning.
- There were a number of trialists. Particularly in the final period, there were a number of players who aren’t currently on Indy XI’s roster. A pre-season game like this allows Rennie to see if certain players are capable of achieving the high standards Rennie demands. One trialist who stood out for this author was a floppy-maned central midfielder (for now, let’s call him Shaggy). Shagster looked like the part during his cameo. While young players can often chase shadows in games like this, Shaggalicious’ distribution, short-passing and reading of the game were strong. He kept things fairly simple – except for one long range pass for Amankona down the right wing. Shaggababy may yet end up on a roster, based on his performance. Would provide some much-needed squad depth at the CM position.
Soc Takes reached out to Indy XI to ascertain the name of current trialists. That request was declined.
- Soony Saadup. Saad won and converted Indy XI’s penalty (Click the link below to download and view a video of the penalty) and was the standout player for Indy during a difficult final 30’ when FC Cincinnati really took control of the game. Saad’s best moments came with the ball in front of him, rather than when he had to play with his back to goal. The 25-year old Lebanon international possesses an acceleration and a powerful shot that will trouble opposition defenders. Whether Rennie deploys him as a winger or a forward will likely define Saad’s season.. Follow Nipun on Twitter: @NipunChopra7.
Indy Eleven’s first USL roster is barely recognizable
Kevin Johnston, Special to IndyStarPublished 12:12 p.m. ET Feb. 19, 2018 | Updated 4:49 p.m. ET Feb. 20, 2018
Team has just three holdovers, but added notable firepower Monday with acquisition of Jack McInerney.
There are typically two methods for roster reclamation projects: keep a core group together and tinker, or practically blow the whole thing up and start from scratch.Evidently, new Indy Eleven manager Martin Rennie is a fan of the latter approach. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A year after reaching the 2016 North American Soccer League’s final, the Eleven backslid last season. They won just seven of 32 games played and parted ways with coach Tim Hankinson and a host of familiar faces. The only returnees from Indy’s 2017 side are Ben Speas, Justin Braun and original member Brad Ring — just three total holdovers as the franchise transitions from the NASL to the United Soccer League this spring.Former Butler midfielder Zach Steinberger also returns to the team after playing for the Eleven on loan from Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo in 2015.Beyond those familiar faces, Rennie has assembled a few NASL standouts whom fans might recognize from Indy’s previous rivals, particularly the San Francisco Deltas and New York Cosmos. The club signed midfielder Juan Guerra, defender Ayoze Garcia Perez and forward Eugene Starikov from the 2016 champion Cosmos, and added defenders Reiner Ferreira and Karl Ouimette from the 2017 champion Deltas.Steinberger (Jacksonville Armada FC), defender Brad Rusin (Miami FC) and midfielder Seth Moses (Puerto Rico FC) are also from Indy’s old NASL stomping grounds. Several of the ex-NASL guys are likely to contribute immediately.Monday, the Eleven added potentially its most recognizable name to soccer fans with the acquisition of 25-year-old forward Jack McInerney from the L.A. Galaxy. Since 2010, McInerney has scored 43 goals in 175 MLS appearances and he has been called up to the U.S. Men’s National Team’s U-17, U-20, U-23 and Senior squads.“He’s very hungry to keep scoring and we’re very lucky to have him join our team,” Rennie said in a news release. The club has also made good use of its international roster spots. Rennie, who hails from Scotland, hasn’t been bashful about importing foreign talent.On Wednesday, Indy signed two Trinidadian players in defender Carlyle Mitchell (East Bengal FC) and forward Nathan Lewis (San Juan Jabloteh). The club also recently added a host of other internationals: Ghanaian midfielder Amass Amankona (Dayton Dutch Lions), Canadian wingback Tyler Pasher (Swope Park Rangers), Welsh goalkeeper Owain Fon Williams (Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC) and English midfielder Matt Watson (Phoenix Rising). Indy also brought in right back Kevin Venegas (Minnesota United FC) and backup goalkeeper Jordan Farr (Timbers III U23).How will the Indy Eleven line up for the season opener? Rennie hinted to IndyStar shortly after taking the job that a 4-3-3 (four defenders, three midfielders and three attackers) is his oft-used formation, but that’ll obviously depend on his final personnel.”I’m open-minded on that part,” Rennie said. “A lot of games that I have coached I’d say have kind of been a 4-3-3 formation.”
If it is in fact a 4-3-3, which is generally a more offensive setup, it likely won’t be a traditional one given Rennie’s knack for staying organized defensively. It could involve starting two central defensive midfielders — perhaps Ring and Guerra — sitting behind a more attack-minded midfielder like Steinberger or Speas. Such a formation would play more like a 4-2-3-1 regardless of how it looks on paper, and would require a little more two-way play from the wing forwards.WRALSportsFan.com’s Neil Morris, who covered Rennie for two-plus years during the Scot’s Carolina RailHawks coaching stint, recently dissected Rennie’s style”Your team is going to get better immediately,” Morris said. “That has been the hallmark of his every stop along his coaching way.”How that translates to years two, three and beyond is always the big question mark when it comes to Martin. But you’re going to have a guy who has a keen, keen, keen eye for talent.”Win or lose, Rennie has molded the 2018 Eleven roster on his own terms. He cares less about club nostalgia and more about finding guys that fit his system. In a USL Eastern Conference that has only improved this offseason, time will soon reveal if Rennie’s troops are up to the task.The Eleven will open their 2018 USL campaign on the road March 24 at the Richmond Kickers. The following weekend, their debut at Lucas Oil Stadium is set for March 31 at 7 p.m. against FC Cincinnati.
Corban’s Jordan Farr signs professional soccer contract with Indy 11
Gary Horowitz and Luis Ramirez, Statesman JournalPublished 7:15 p.m. ET Feb. 2, 2018 | Updated 6:22 p.m. ET Feb. 4, 2018
The Corban goalkeeper is nearing the NAIA record for shutouts. Molly J. Smith / Statesman Journal
Corban University goalkeeper Jordan Farr has signed a professional soccer contract with Indy Eleven of the United Soccer League, the franchise announced Friday.Farr, a Cascade High School graduate, is the fourth Corban player to sign a professional contract, joining current Corban men’s soccer coach Aaron Lewis (1999, Dallas Burn), Taurai Daka (2004, Charlotte Eagles) and Steve Reese (FCM Bacau/PortlandTimbers 2000/2007-08).Farr, an NAIA All-American at Corban, set a school record with 44 career shutouts, which ranks second in NAIA history.”Being a professional soccer player has been my dream since I could walk,” Farr said in a statement. “I am so fortunate to be able to do what I love at a very high level.”More: Corban goalkeeper Jordan Farr a defensive gem in the net
In addition to his success at Corban, Farr collected 2017 PDL All-Western Conference team honors last summer playing with the Portland Timbers U23s. He was the only NAIA goalkeeper to be named to the PDL’s College “Watch List.”Farr is scheduled to be in Indiana next week as the team begins its preseason training camp. Indy Eleven, based in Indianapolis, hopes to join the MLS in 2020.The USL (United Soccer League) is sanctioned as a Division II professional league placing it just below the MLS (Division I) in the United States professional soccer hierarchy. Former Cascade Surge and Vancouver Whitecaps Manager, Martin Rennie was recently named the new head coach at Indy Eleven.“He went to Houston to work out with the Dynamo and I know Sporting Kansas City had interest in him,” Lewis said. “Timbers 2 invited him into training camp, but when Mark Rennie accepted the job at Indy Eleven, we had a relationship with him and he had a lot of interest in Jordan.”Indy Eleven currently has one other goalkeeper on the roster, giving Farr an opportunity to fight for playing time. “I’m really confident in Jordan and I think he’ll really compete for the number one job,” Lewis said. “This is probably the biggest thing that we’ve done outside of our team accomplishments.”Farr will report to training camp next week and will have their first preseason match against FC Cincinnati on February 22. Indy Eleven’s first regular season game will be on March 24 against the Richmond Kickers. “To have a player come from local roots, and develop through Salem and Corban University, is inspiring to many,” Lewis said. “Jordan is well equipped to make the jump to the professional level, and I am confident he has what it takes to have a long professional career.”ghorowitz@StatesmanJournal.com or Twitter.com/@GHorowitz