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)

Brighton 2-2 Stoke: Seagulls remain ninth thanks to Izquierdo’s equalizer

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Three Premier League newcomers remain in close contention with one another after 12 weeks, one of which picked up another positive result today.

[ MORE: Congested PL schedule challenges the big boys ]

Brighton & Hove Albion earned a 2-2 draw against Stoke City at the Amex Stadium on Monday after Jose Izquierdo’s persistence gave the home side the leveler in the 60th minute from Glenn Murray‘s clever pass inside the box.

The result made for Brighton’s sixth consecutive match unbeaten at home this season.

A back-and-forth first half saw the on-loan Chelsea defender give Stoke the lead heading into the halftime break after a disappointing spell of defending by Brighton allowed Zouma to finish of a corner kick.

Pascal Gross gave Brighton an equalizer one minute from halftime after Davy Propper had done superbly to create space for himself down the right wing.

The visitors struck in the 28th minute after Shaqiri delivered a perfect long ball into the path of Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.

The Cameroonian proceeded to control the pass beautifully from his Stoke teammate, before tucking his shot from close range into the near corner past Brighton goalkeeper Maty Ryan.

Brighton thought they had the chance to level the score prior to the equalizer when the hosts appeared to have a penalty appeal after Murray went down inside the Stoke area. However, referee Lee Mason opted against spot kick.

The two sides will both be in action on Saturday when Brighton travels to Old Trafford to face Manchester United and Stoke takes on Crystal Palace.

At the half: Zouma’s header has Stoke in front against Brighton

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It’s been a wild one thus far at the Amex Stadium, and we’ve still got 45 minutes left to play.

Stoke City holds a 2-1 advantage against newcomer Brighton & Hove Albion after Kurt Zouma gave the visitors the lead on the stroke of halftime.

[ MORE: West Brom fires manager Tony Pulis ]

Zouma headed home close range in first-half stoppage time to restore the Potters’ advantage, after Pascal Gross had equalized in the 44th minute for Brighton.

Stoke opened the scoring just prior to the half hour mark when Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting finished off a stellar move that originated from a Xherdan Shaqiri long ball over the Brighton back line.

Brighton were fortunate not to be reduced to 10 men after Glenn Murray went in late on a challenge against Stoke defender Kevin Wimmer.

Murray thought he had won himself a penalty kick minutes prior, but referee Lee Mason decided to continue play.

Miguel Almiron named MLS Newcomer of the Year

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Unsurprisingly, one of Atlanta United’s biggest stars took home some hardware on Monday after a stellar first season in Major League Soccer.

[ MORE: Previewing the MLS conference finals ]

Atlanta attacker Miguel Almiron was named MLS Newcomer of the Year today, beating out Chicago Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic and teammate Josef Martinez for the honor.

Almiron, who joined Atlanta from Argentine side Lanus, netted nine goals and added 14 assists for the Eastern Conference squad in 2017 and helped guide the club to the MLS Cup Playoffs after finishing fifth in the East.

The 23-year-old received an 37.38% average of the vote for the award, which was compiled based on votes from a combination of media members, MLS players and executives. Nikolic finished second with 24.92 percent, while Martinez checked in at number three.

Watch Live: Brighton and Hove Albion vs. Stoke City

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Chris Hughton looks to lead his Brighton and Hove Albion to a fifth-straight result as the Gulls welcome Stoke City to the Amex Stadium on Monday (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

The Gulls have won two and drawn two, powered by goals from Glenn Murray and the playmaking of Pascal Gross.

Stoke’s 3-4-1-2 has Ramadan Sobhi, Eric Choupo-Moting, and Xherdan Shaqiri attacking the final third.

LINEUPS

Brighton and Hove Albion: Ryan, Bruno, Dunk, Duffy, Bong, Stephens, Propper, Knockaert, Izquierdo, Gross, Murray. Subs: Krul, Hemed, Goldson, Schelotto, Suttner, Brown.

Stoke City: Grant; Zouma, Shawcross, Wimmer; Diouf, Fletcher, Allen, Pieters; Shaqiri, Ramadan; Choupo-Moting. Subs: Haugaard; Berahino, Jese, Afellay, Martins Indi, Adam, Crouch.