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Major League Soccer team previews: NEW ENGLAND

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Each day from now until the beginning of Major League Soccer’s 18th season, we will preview one Eastern Conference team and one from the West. First kick is March 2.

No. 8 in the East is the New England Revolution:

Significant additions and subtractions: Even with some high-profile MLS offseason signings from abroad, one of the truly interesting figures to watch this year is Andrew Farrell, the wise-beyond-his-years No. 1 overall draft pick.

Malian midfielder Kalifa Cissé looks like a Revolution upgrade at the holding midfield spot. Or, he gives Heaps the option of using tandem screeners (along with Clyde Simms), which could further free up attackers on the flanks.

Midfielder Andy Dorman is back for a second spell with New England, where he launched a professional career a few years back. As a two-way midfielder Dorman will more or less replace Benny Feilhaber, the talented passer who didn’t quite fit at Gillette Stadium and now resides in Kansas City. Feilhaber was the only player with significant minutes in 2012 not brought back.

Strengths: A midfield with Lee Nguyen, Juan Toja (assuming the Colombian now on his second MLS tour is healthy and gets his fitness in order) and the promising Kelyn Rowe is not one that most sides care to face.

With a full season as a head coach behind him,  Heaps is now better equipped to steer the team where it needs to go. He acknowledges the steep learning curve in 2012.

Honduran international Jerry Bengtson should benefit from a full preseason and from the MLS grounding his got last year, coming into the season late, with his team already on the ropes (and still sorting out some chemistry). His transition didn’t exactly go smoothly, but that doesn’t matter now.

Pressure points: Start with the ongoing spiral, which Heaps was unable to arrest last year. The Revs, who made three MLS Cup finals through the middle of the last decade, haven’t been to the playoffs in the last three seasons.

Between the younger and lesser tested Bobby Shuttleworth and increasingly pressed incumbent Matt Reis, the Revs have a tough choice in goal.

Left back Chris Tierney was having a wonderful preseason before an injury (and an unfortunate, unnecessary incident) against Seattle.

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Difference maker: Hard to imagine that fleet and skillful left-sided operator Nguyen was released by Vancouver about this time last year. He’s more or less the focal point of New England’s offense this year, at least until Toja gets his fitness in order. A big emphasis of Heaps’ preseason plan is finding ways to get Nguyen (pictured left) on the ball in better places, making him the second pass out of the back rather than the first, thus giving him a less cluttered look at things, with more time to create from wide areas and little less opportunity to get whacked by bigger defenders and midfielders. With ability to run at opponents and audacious on the shot, Nguyen is still brimming with potential.

Potential breakout player: I see big things in Farrell, who still doesn’t have an assigned spot at Gillette Stadium, able to man the right back, center back or holding midfield spots. Wherever he lines up, the big fellow just looks like a guy who has played the game professionally for years. And I’m not the only one expecting big things from the former University of Louisville standout.

Diego Fagundez, the club’s 18-year-old striker (and teen heartthrob, apparently) is another potential breakout figure.

Bottom line: The back line still seems less settled than it needs to be, the goalkeeping must improve and a striker simply has to emerge who can reliably supply 12-14 goals this year. (We are looking at you, Bengtson.) The elements seem to be there – but the proof will be in better results.

(MORE: the entire roster of ProSoccerTalk’s Major League Soccer previews and predictions)

Andy King: If Leicester can win PL, Wales can win EURO 2016

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 07:  Andy King of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Everton at The King Power Stadium on May 7, 2016 in Leicester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Andy King is still riding high from Leicester City’s Premier League title, and that confidence is carrying over into EURO 2016.

The Foxes midfielder and Welsh international sees no reason why Wales can’t win the tournament, despite having 80-1 odds to do so.

[ MORE: England’s EURO squad ]

Of course, Leicester began the Premier League season as 5,000-1 underdogs to lift the trophy.

We’ve got to win six or seven games compared to 38.

80-1 against 5000-1. You know which one you would rather back. We are a talented group and I believe we have the best player in the tournament.

Gareth [Bale] is probably the best player in the tournament in many people’s opinion, so why can’t we go there and do something? We are confident we can do that.

If Wales were to win the EURO this summer, the story truly would rival that of Leicester. The Dragons have never played in a European Championship before, and the nation’s only other appearance at a major tournament came back at the 1958 World Cup.

[ MORE: Payet, Milner make top-five of UEFA’s “player barometer” ]

You may not agree that Gareth Bale is the best player in the tournament, but he is surely near the top of the list. Bale’s play will likely determine how far Wales can go, drawn into Group B alongside England, Slovakia, and Russia.

Report: West Ham offer $22 million for AC Milan striker Carlos Bacca

MILAN, ITALY - MARCH 20:  Carlos Bacca of AC Milan celebrates his goal during the Serie A match between AC Milan and SS Lazio at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on March 20, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)
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West Ham’s search for an elite striker continues, with their newest target AC Milan’s Carlos Bacca.

According to Sky Sports, the Hammers have bid $22 million for the striker, who led Milan with 18 goals in Serie A play last season.

However, after paying $34 million to sign the striker last summer, it is believed Milan would be unwilling to sell their top scorer for less than $30 million.

MORE: All 2015-16 PL season reviews ]

At 29-years-old, Bacca has been one of Europe’s most consistent forwards over the past few seasons. After bagging 49 goals in 108 appearances for Sevilla, he earned a move to Milan last July, finishing third in Serie A scoring in his first year with the club.

West Ham’s chairman David Gold has been open about his desire to sign a world-class striker, with Lyon confirming that they rejected a $45 million bid from the Hammers for Alexandre Lacazette.

VIDEO: Neymar takes batting practice before New York Mets game

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 31:  Brazilian soccer player  Neymar Jr stands in the New York Mets dugout before the game against the Chicago White Sox at Citi Field on May 31, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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We all know Neymar’s skills with a soccer ball, but what about with a baseball bat?

Spoiler alert: He’s better with his feet.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Copa coverage ]

The Barcelona and Brazil superstar was in New York on Tuesday night and hit up the batting cages at Citi Field before the Mets game against the Chicago White Sox.

Taking swings lefty, Neymar made some contact but didn’t necessarily have the smoothest stroke…

He then hit the field and got back to his roots, showing off some footskills while juggling a baseball.

I’m not too sure if Neymar is a baseball fan, but this may make him the Mets’ newest, most famous supporter (sorry Jerry Seinfeld).

Neymar is in the United States as he has some time off after the long Barcelona season. He is not playing in the Copa America with Brazil, but will instead play in the Olympics in August.

Messi’s tax fraud case begins with player avoiding court

BARCELONA, SPAIN - APRIL 17:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona looks on  during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Valencia CF at Camp Nou on April 17, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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MADRID (AP) Lionel Messi’s tax trial began Tuesday with the player deciding not to appear in court for early proceedings.

Messi is facing a prison sentence of nearly two years on charges he failed to properly pay taxes for part of his earnings from Barcelona from 2007-09.

[ FOLLOW: All of PSTS’s Copa coverage ]

The Argentina playmaker is not obligated to appear in the Barcelona court until Thursday, when he is scheduled to testify before a judge. Sentencing is not expected until next week.

Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, have been charged with three counts of tax fraud for allegedly defrauding Spain’s tax office of 4.1 million euros ($4.5 million).

Because of the trial, Messi is missing Argentina’s preparation for the Copa America Centenario, which begins Saturday in the United States. He is expected to fly straight to the U.S. to join his teammates after the trial ends. Argentina debuts in the tournament on Monday against defending champion Chile.

Even if found guilty, it is highly unlikely that Messi or his father will face any jail time. They have denied wrongdoing.

[ COPA AMERICA PREVIEWS: Group A | BC | D ]

“Everything is good. Everybody is calm,” said Messi’s lawyer, Enrique Bacigalupo, as he arrived at the Barcelona court on Tuesday.

The trial is centered on alleged unlawful activities of Messi’s father, but authorities said the player knew enough to also be named in the case. Officials said that although Messi was mostly unfamiliar with tax issues, there was sufficient evidence to believe he could have known and consented to the creation of a fictitious corporate structure to avoid paying taxes on income from his image rights.

In addition to each facing a prison sentence of 22 months and 15 days, Messi and his father could also be fined in the amount defrauded and ordered to pay all legal proceedings and the loss of any possible tax benefits for a year and a half.

Messi is just the latest high-profile player to have to deal with Spain’s tough tax system. Neymar, Javier Mascherano, Adriano and Xabi Alonso also were targeted by authorities recently.

[ MORE: Marcelo giving away UCL winners’ medal…on Facebook ]

Mascherano, Messi’s teammate with Argentina and Barcelona, earlier this year was handed a suspended one-year prison sentence for not paying nearly 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million) in taxes for 2011 and 2012. Brazil striker Neymar recently had to testify before a judge because of alleged irregularities involving his transfer to Barcelona. He and the club were accused of withholding the real amount of the transfer fee, in part to avoid paying the full amount of taxes.

Messi was also being investigated by Spanish tax authorities after his name was among those released in the probe of international offshore accounts, known as the Panama Papers, although he was not charged for those allegations.