Major League Soccer team previews: COLUMBUS CREW

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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. MLS first kick is March 2.

No. 7 in the East is the Columbus Crew:

Significant additions and subtractions: Three important South Americans will help strengthen the Crew’s first XI. Brazilian center back Gláuber gives longtime Crew backline cop Chad Marshall a stronger partner.

New midfielders Matías Sánchez and Agustín Viana means solid roster holdovers like Tony Tchani or Danny O’Rourke are now in reserve roles rather than starting roles, which makes Columbus a stronger team.

The departures are notable not in their production around Crew Stadium, but because so much had been expected of players like midfielders Milovan Mirosevic and Dilly Duka, and forward Olman Vargas.

Duka left in a huff; he’s now with Chicago, which offered up speedy Dominic Oduro in exchange.

Rich Balchan, Julius James, Chris Birchall, Carlos Mendes and Sebastian Miranda were all starters at some point who had their options declined.  Also gone is William Hesmer, the longtime starter in Crew goal who has now retired.

Strengths: Jairo Arrieta and Federico Higuaín were two of Major League Soccer’s top summer signings last year, in tandem generating 14 goals and 11 assists in 31 matches. Get that over an entire season and Columbus probably cruises into this year’s playoffs.

A new 4-2-3-1 look should give Higuain opportunity to “think” his way around the game, freer to freelance thanks to two defensive screeners behind him.

Generally, the roster is stronger, with a little less “average” spread around the field.

Under Warzycha, the team has always been well organized and tough to oppose. Arrieta and Higuain, plus underrated two-way man Eddie Gaven, provide the offense-defense balance that had been missing for some time in Ohio.

Pressure points: It’s time for manager Robert Warzycha to take a settled roster and move the team beyond makeover mode, where the Crew have hovered since 2010. The core is there to build around in Higuain, Arrieta, Marshall (still an above-average center back, now in his 10th professional season) and goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum.

Speaking of Gruenebaum, the pressure may feel a little different this year. Last year he could ride in heroically as Hesmer’s replacement. Now, everyone expects Gruenebaum to don the super hero’s cape – and that’s a whole other level of pressure.

The soft spots are at outside back, on either side. There’s some talent, but one of the lesser tested types needs to put a stranglehold on the position. Also along the back line, strong as Marshall can be, remaining healthy and available tends to be an issue.

Is the club past all the emotional undertow from popular midfielder Kirk Urso’s shocking death in 2012? Who could blame them if difficult moments still linger? The rookie from the University of North Carolina died from complications of a heart defect on Aug. 5.source: Getty Images

Difference maker: Higuain was so productive over his initial 8-10 matches upon arrival in Ohio last year that he kicked up some league Most Valuable Player chatter. (Higuain did claim league Newcomer of the Year honors.)

An injury crunched the momentum and slowed the Crew’s creator for the season’s final month, tamping down a playoff push that had looked so promising through August and September. The Argentine attacker (pictured right) has all the technical tools, all the know-how and all the desire to be a premier MLS man, and to be everything that the beloved Guillermo Barros Schelotto was for so long around Crew Stadium.

Potential breakout player: Talented young attacker Justin Meram will presumably get his chances around Crew Stadium; Arrieta figures to miss quite a few matches (and probably need resting here and there) due to Costa Rican international duty in World Cup qualifiers and in this summer’s Gold Cup.

Bottom line: You have to look at Columbus as one of the truly interesting teams in 2013, if only for the tremendous potential of the Arrieta-Higuain combo. Crew president Mark McCullers is certainly optimistic, stopping just short of predicting an Eastern Conference and the MLS Cup final being played in Ohio. Honestly, on paper, it’s really not such a stretch.

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

USMNT prospect Sargent signs for Werder Bremen

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Josh Sargent’s star is rising fast.

The 17-year-old is the latest U.S. national team prospect to head to the Bundesliga as Werder Bremen announced Wednesday that he will sign with the club in February 2018 when he turns 18.

[ MORE: Pulisic up for 2017 Golden Boy ]

Bremen stated that Sargent had “numerous offers from other top clubs in Europe” but was “convinced by our philosophy at SV Werder and that we can now oversee his development as a player and support him along the way.” It is believed Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich were interested in signing Sargent.

Sargent scored four goals and grabbed on assist for the U.S. U-20 side which reached the quarterfinals of the U-20 World Cup in South Korea over the summer and he will play for the USA’s U-17 side at the World Cup in India next month.

The promising striker, who currently plays for St. Louis Scott Gallagher Missouri Soccer Club, had this to say about his upcoming move to Germany.

“My full concentration is first and foremost on the World Cup and the time I have left in Missouri. But I am really looking forward to next year and the new challenge in Bremen,” Sargent said. “Werder made a huge effort with me and they have always shown in the past that they give young players like myself an ideal introduction to professional football. That meant that my decision to continue my career in Bremen was not a hard one to make.”

Bremen say that Sargent will spent his first few months in Germany training with the U-23 side and will then link up with the first team ahead of the 2018-19 campaign.

With Christian Pulisic ripping it up at Borussia Dortmund and Weston McKennie getting starts for Schalke, it seems like Bundesliga teams can’t get enough of teenage American talents.

Nominees for FIFPro World XI announced

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The best 55 players on the planet have been selected by their peers.

[ MORE: Pulisic up for 2017 Golden Boy ]

World Players’ Union FIFPro, in conjunction with its partner player associations across the globe, asked over 25,000 professional players to select their FIFPro World 11 for the 2016-17 season.

Each professional player could pick one goalkeeper, four defenders, three midfielders and three attackers to make up their best XI.

Real Madrid, the two-time reigning European champions, set a new record as 13 of their players were among the 55 nominees shortlisted, while 13 players from the Premier League are included with Antonio Valencia, Philippe Coutinho, Nemanja Matic, Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku all shortlisted for the first time.

David De Gea, David Luiz, Eden Hazard, N'Golo Kante, Mesut Ozil, Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alexis Sanchez make up the rest of the Premier League contingent.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar will be the frontrunners to make up the front three in this team, just as they did in 2015, and Messi and Ronaldo have both been in the FIFPro team in each of the last nine seasons.

Below are the 55 players who received the most votes as the FIFPro World 11 will be announced in London on Oct. 23 at the Best FIFA Football Awards where the World Player of the Year and other prestigious accolades will be dished out.


Goalkeepers
Gianluigi Buffon – Italy, Juventus
David de Gea – Spain, Manchester United
Keylor Navas – Costa Rica, Real Madrid
Manuel Neuer – Germany, FC Bayern Munich
Jan Oblak – Slovenia, Atletico Madrid

Defenders
David Alaba – Austria, FC Bayern Munich
Jordi Alba – Spain, FC Barcelona
Dani Alves – Brazil, Paris Saint-Germain
Jerome Boateng – Germany, FC Bayern Munich
Leonardo Bonucci – Italy, Juventus/AC Milan
Dani Carvajal – Spain, Real Madrid
Giorgio Chiellini – Italy, Juventus
Diego Godin – Uruguay, Atletico Madrid
Mats Hummels – Germany, FC Bayern Munich
Phillipp Lahm – Germany, FC Bayern Munich/retired
David Luiz – Brazil, Chelsea FC
Marcelo – Brazil, Real Madrid
Javier Mascherano – Argentina, FC Barcelona
Pepe – Portugal, Real Madrid/Besiktas
Gerard Pique – Spain, FC Barcelona
Sergio Ramos – Spain, Real Madrid
Thiago Silva – Brazil, Paris Saint-Germain
Samuel Umtiti – France, FC Barcelona
Antonio Valencia – Ecuador, Manchester United
Raphael Varane – France, Real Madrid

Midfielders
Thiago Alcantara – Spain, FC Bayern München
Sergio Busquets – Spain, FC Barcelona
Casemiro – Brazil, Real Madrid
Philippe Coutinho – Brazil, Liverpool FC
Eden Hazard – Belgium, Chelsea FC
Andres Iniesta – Spain, FC Barcelona
Isco – Spain, Real Madrid
N’Golo Kante – France, Chelsea FC
Toni Kroos – Germany, Real Madrid
Nemanja Matic – Serbia, Chelsea/Manchester United
Luka Modric – Croatia, Real Madrid
Mesut Ozil – Germany, Arsenal FC
Paul Pogba – France, Manchester United
Marco Verratti – Italy, Paris Saint-Germain
Arturo Vidal – Chile, FC Bayern Munich

Forwards
Gareth Bale – Wales, Real Madrid
Karim Benzema – France, Real Madrid
Edinson Cavani – Uruguay, Paris Saint-Germain
Paulo Dybala – Argentina, Juventus
Antoine Griezmann – France, Atletico Madrid
Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Sweden, Manchester United
Harry Kane – England, Tottenham Hotspur
Robert Lewandowski – Poland, FC Bayern Munich
Romelu Lukaku – Belgium, Manchester United
Kylian Mbappe – France, Paris Saint-Germain
Lionel Messi – Argentina, FC Barcelona
Neymar JR – Brazil, Paris Saint-Germain
Cristiano Ronaldo – Portugal, Real Madrid
Alexis Sanchez – Chile, Arsenal FC
Luis Suarez – Uruguay, FC Barcelona

James stars for Bayern Munich in Bundesliga win at Schalke (video)

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BERLIN (AP) James Rodriguez starred on his first Bundesliga start for Bayern Munich, scoring one goal and playing a role in the others for a 3-0 win at Schalke on Tuesday.’

James, who switched from Real Madrid in the offseason, earned a penalty and then scored in the first half, before brilliantly setting up Arturo Vidal to wrap up the win in the second.

[ WATCH: Alex Morgan smashes USWNT goal ]

While the Colombian midfielder made his first league start for Bayern, American teenager Weston McKennie did likewise for the home team. Despite the efforts of the 19-year-old Texan midfielder – who covered more ground than any other player in the first half – Schalke had no answer to James’ individual brilliance.

“We created the goals very well, so we deserved to win,” said Bayern’s reserve goalkeeper Sven Ulreich, playing in place of Germany No. 1 Manuel Neuer. Neuer has been ruled out until January with another hairline fracture of the metatarsal in his left foot.

The home side was first to have the ball in the net, but Amine Harit’s goal was ruled out as Bastian Oczipka was offside. Ulreich had done well with two saves beforehand.

Bayern got the penalty after referee Marco Fritz consulted his video assistant to see if Naldo had handled the ball when James cut it back. The Brazilian defender was going to ground but had his arms raised when the ball struck.

Protests by Schalke players had no effect and Robert Lewandowski duly converted from the spot.

[ MORE: NASL suing U.S. Soccer ]

It got worse for the home side four minutes later, when Bayern scored after a Schalke throw-in. Thomas Mueller, Lewandowski and Corentin Tolisso worked the ball to the unmarked James, who wrong-footed Ralf Faehrmann to score his first Bundesliga goal.

Mueller hit the post with a header from a cross by James after the break, before substitute Yevhen Konoplyanka went close at the other end.

Schalke coach Domenico Tedesco brought on Swiss forward Breel Embolo for McKennie with just over half an hour remaining.

Any hopes of an equalizer ended when James eluded two defenders and delivered a perfect ball for Vidal to strike with a volley to the top corner.

“Altogether there’s no denying that Bayern had a very good day. Then it’s hard for any team,” Schalke general manager Christian Heidel said.

WOLFSBURG FRUSTRATION, AUGSBURG ELATION

Fin Bartels’ second-half header earned Werder Bremen a 1-1 draw at Wolfsburg and denied Martin Schmidt a winning start as coach. Schmidt was appointed Monday when Wolfsburg fired Andries Jonker after the team had claimed just four points in its opening four games.

Michael Gregoritsch’s fourth-minute strike was enough for Augsburg to beat visiting Leipzig 1-0 for its third win from five games.

Two goals from Brazilian midfielder Raffael gave Borussia Moenchengladbach a 2-0 win at home over promoted Stuttgart.

USWNT rides brace from super sub Morgan to big win (video)

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Alex Morgan scored two goals, the second with gusto, as the United States women’s national team hammered New Zealand 5-0 at Nippert Stadium in a Tuesday night friendly.

After Cincinnati native Rose Lavelle made a 30-minute cameo in her return from injury, the USWNT poured forth with goals.

[ MORE: NASL suing U.S. Soccer ]

Coming off the bench, Morgan scored within a minute of her second half introduction.

And then, after an electric dribble from Mallory Pugh, Morgan rang an aesthetically-pleasing rocket off the proverbial woodwork to make it 5-0.