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)

French league terminates goal-line technology contract

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PARIS (AP) The French football league has terminated the contract with its goal-line technology provider after a series of glitches.

The LFP had already suspended the use of GoalControl, the German system that was deployed at the 2014 World Cup.

According to L’Equipe newspaper, the league will launch a tender in February to find a new provider of the technology that determines whether the ball crossed the line.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

In recent months, the French league had repeatedly expressed its discontent with GoalControl.

Goal-line technology entered soccer after a goal was wrongly disallowed at the 2010 World Cup.

FIFA is already focused on fast-tracking the next phase of technology – video assistant referees – for the World Cup in June.

Goal-line technology and VAR were provided by Hawk-Eye at the Confederations Cup last year.

Bristol City’s Johnson: “They certainly have heard of us now”

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The Premier League world may see Bristol City next season, but it seems its manager has the personality to arrive on the top flight whether or not his Robins earn promotion this season.

Johnson, 36, earned plenty of plaudits after leading his Championship club to the League Cup semifinals, famously defeated Manchester United in the quarters.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

Before that, Bristol beat Premier League sides Crystal Palace, Stoke City, and Watford. The Robins beat third tier Plymouth Argyle 5-0 in the first round.

Johnson was beaming after the Robins took Man City to the edge, closing to within a goal of extra time before Kevin De Bruyne‘s stoppage time number ended the tie 5-3 on aggregate.

“Absolutely I’m proud. It’s not just tonight but over the course of the season, particularly the cup run. It was a fantastic occasion, I’m sorry we couldn’t get the win but we played against the best side that I have ever seen live. They have so many good individuals.

“We kept going and it’s taken two injury-time goals to beat us. They certainly have [heard of us] now…everybody knows what we’re about. It’s been great.”

Bristol City is in the Championship’s fifth place, bidding for its first top flight campaign since 1980. Johnson should be a hot prospect to earn a shot in the Premier League should the Robins not make the jump.

League Cup semifinal preview: Arsenal vs. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea has won 4-of-7 League Cup matches vs. Arsenal
  • Arsenal leads all-time series 74W-58D-62L
  • Clubs have drawn four times this season

Hardware hopes are on the line when Chelsea hits the Emirates Stadium for a League Cup semifinal second leg with Arsenal on Wednesday.

The sides drew 0-0 at Stamford Bridge, giving Chelsea the advantage of knowing a scoring draw would do the trick and set up a date with Manchester City at Wembley on Feb. 25, though Arsenal has home field advantage in pursuit of a win.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

Henrikh Mkhitaryan may debut for Arsenal, though the club released an interesting note on Tuesday: He’ll wear No. 7 in most competitions, but will have to use a different number in the Europa League because Alexis Sanchez wore it to start the tournament.

Chelsea’s Antonio Conte won’t have Alvaro Morata (back) and Cesc Fabregas for the match, though Andreas Christensen will be available for selection.

The clubs are no strangers to each other in big non-PL spots, squaring off in this season’s Community Shield (Arsenal won in penalty kicks) and last season’s FA Cup Final (Arsenal won).

Nothing has separated the sides on the field aside from those penalty kicks at Wembley Stadium, as Arsenal and Chelsea have drawn 1-1, 0-0, 2-2, and 0-0 since August.

What they’re saying

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger on Henrikh Mkhitaryan“He can play in different positions, but personally I see him first in a wide position, but I’m thinking about him a possibility to play through the middle. You are certain in our job of nothing, that’s absolutely sure. But you believe and I believe he has the qualities to do well, is a team player and our game is based on team attitude and movement and I think he can absorb the quantity of movement in our team.”

Chelsea’s Conte on the lineup: “Every game is different, you change the quality of your opponent and you must be intelligent enough to understand if you should continue with the same players or make some changes.”

Javier Mascherano leaving Barcelona after 8 seasons

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says defender Javier Mascherano is leaving the club after eight seasons.

Barcelona says there will be a farewell ceremony on Wednesday with Mascherano, club president Josep Bartomeu and the rest of the squad.

[ MORE: Man City to buy $86m CB ]

The 33-year-old Argentina international will say goodbye to the fans before Thursday’s game against Espanyol at Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey. He is reportedly going to play in China.

Mascherano, who also played as a defensive midfielder, arrived in Barcelona in 2010 from Liverpool and helped the Catalan club win 18 titles. He has made 334 appearances with Barcelona, but recently hadn’t been playing much.

The club earlier this month signed Colombia international Yerry Mina to boost its defense.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga