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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)

PL roundup: Leicester shock Man City; Arsenal go top (for now)

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 10: Andy King of Leicester City (C) celebrates scoring his sides second goal with his Leicester City team mates during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester City at the King Power Stadium on December 10, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images
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A roundup of Saturday’s action in the Premier League…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Leicester City 4-2 Manchester CityFULL RECAP

Here’s one from the way-back (to last year) machine: Jamie Vardy‘s hat trick propelled Leicester to a surprise win over Manchester City at the King Power Stadium. The Foxes were 3-0 up after 20 minutes — two of the three goals Vardy’s handiwork; Andy King tallied Leicester’s second — and 4-0 up after 78 minutes, thanks to the completion of Vardy’s hat trick. Aleksandar Kolarov and Nolito grabbed consolation goals for City inside the final 10 minutes. With the defeat, City fail to move to within a point of league-leading Arsenal and Chelsea, and will finish the weekend in fifth if Tottenham Hotspur can knock off Manchester United on Sunday. Leicester, meanwhile, have risen to 14th place.

Arsenal 3-1 Stoke CityFULL RECAP

Arsenal found themselves a goal down, at home to Stoke, before the Gunners awoke to secure a 3-1 victory and overtake Chelsea for the PL’s top spot (Chelsea host West Bromwich Albion on Sunday). Theo Walcott brought Arsenal level just before halftime, Mesut Ozil made it 2-1 not long into the second half, and Alex Iwobi put the game away with Arsenal’s third in the 75th minute. The win moves Arsenal to 14 league games without a loss, having tasted defeat just once all season, on the opening day in August.

Hull City 3-3 Crystal PalaceFULL RECAP

Hull and Palace went back and forth, from the Tigers’ 1-0 lead after 27 minutes (Robert Snodgrass), to Palace’s 2-1 lead in the 70th minute (Christian Benteke and Wilfried Zaha), to Hull’s 3-2 lead just eight minutes later (Adama Diamonde and Jake Livermore), before finally settling on a 3-3 draw (Frazier Campbell) at the KCOM Stadium. Hull remain 19th in the league table, now level on points with 17th-place Swansea City.

Swansea City 3-0 SunderlandFULL RECAP

Swansea find themselves outside the relegation zone for the first time since Oct. 1, thanks to a resounding triumph over Sunderland at the Liberty Stadium. Gylfi Sigurdsson put Bob Bradley‘s Swans ahead with a penalty kick in the 51st minute, quickly followed by Fernando Llorente to make it 2-0, and the Spaniard once more in the 80th minute to round out the scoring. Swansea go from 20th to 17th with the result, while David Moyes and Sunderland now find themselves bottom of the league.

SWANSEA, WALES - DECEMBER 10: Bob Bradley, Manager of Swansea City (L) embraces Fernando Llorente of Swansea City (R) after he is subbed during the Premier League match between Swansea City and Sunderland at the Liberty Stadium on December 10, 2016 in Swansea, Wales. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Watford 3-2 EvertonFULL RECAP

Everton are winless in their last five league games (one win in their last 10) after coughing up an early lead and losing away to Watford. Romelu Lukaku fired Ronald Koeman‘s Toffees ahead in the 17th minute, but a brace from Stefano Okaka and Sebastian Prodl‘s first goal of the season made it 3-1 before the big Belgian could bag his second of the game. The win sees Watford climb all the way up to seventh in the league, leapfrogging five sides in doing so; one of the five, Everton, falls to ninth.

Burnley 3-2 BournemouthFULL RECAP

Jeff Hendrick scored himself a goal of the season candidate (WATCH HERE) and Stephen Ward scored his first goal of the season for Burnley, all before the clock told 16 minutes gone. Benik Afobe pulled Bournemouth back to 2-1 in first-half stoppage time, but George Boyd restored the two-goal lead in the 75th minute, which turned out to be the game-winner after Charlie Daniels made it 3-2 in second-half stoppage time. Burnley are 13th, five points clear of relegation, with Bournemouth now 11th, one point ahead.

Sunday’s PL schedule

Chelsea vs. West Brom — 7 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com
Manchester United vs. Tottenham — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com
Southampton vs. Middlesbrough — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSports.com
Liverpool vs. West Ham — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

VIDEO: Watch Vardy’s stunning hat trick as Leicester beat Man City

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Ah, there you are Jamie Vardy. Good to have you back, and the old Leicester City, too.

Vardy, 29, had not scored in his last 16 matches for Leicester in all competitions going in to this weekend…

On Saturday Vardy scored a hat trick to lead reigning Premier League champions Leicester to a 4-2 demolition of Manchester City which gives Claudio Ranieri‘s side some breathing space from the relegation zone.

[ MORE: Leicester hammer Man City ]

The Foxes — who had one just one of their last nine games in the PL leading up to this game — raced into a 4-0 lead (Leicester was 3-0 up inside the first 20 minutes) and although City scored twice late on the scoreline doesn’t reflect Leicester’s dominance against Pep Guardiola‘s side who were all over the place in defense.

Click play on the video above to watch Vardy’s hat trick as the English striker only had two goals all season going into this game. Now he has five, and his partnership with Riyad Mahrez is finally showing signs of reigniting this season.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live

The Vardy, and Leicester, we all fell in love with last season was back with a bang on Saturday. It took 15 weeks of the Premier League season.

Bundesliga wrap: Bayern back on top; Leipzig no longer unbeaten

Bayern's Robert Lewandowski celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the German Bundesliga soccer match between FC Bayern Munich and VfL Wolfsburg at the Allianz Arena stadium in Munich, Germany, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
AP Photo/Matthias Schrader
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The odds said a RB Leipzig hiccup was coming, and Bayern Munich took full advantage of its good fortune on Saturday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Bayern Munich 5-0 Wolfsburg

Thomas Muller finally scored his first goal of the Bundesliga season, the fourth marker in an out-and-out thumping of Wolfsburg (What’s become of them?!?). Robert Lewandowski netted a brace for the second-straight outing, while Arjen Robben and Douglas Costa also scored in the win.

Ingolstadt 1-0 RB Leipzig

The visitors were dominant, holding Ingolstadt to just 83 passes, but a 12th minute Roger goal was enough to send RB Leipzig to its first loss of the season. Their record is now level with Bayern at 10W-3D-1L, and Leipzig has scored 8 less goals than the table-topping Bavarians.

Koln 1-1 Borussia Dortmund

The hosts looked set to keep pace with the leaders via an Artjoms Rudnevs’ 28th minute goal, but Marco Reus netted a 90th minute equalizer to help BVB to its share of the spoils.

Elsewhere
Eintracht Frankfurt 0-0 Hoffenheim — Friday
Freiburg 1-0 Darmstadt — Nils Petersen with lone goal
Hamburg 1-0 Augsburg — Hosts win despite first half red card
Hertha Berlin 0-1 Werder Bremen — Max Kruse scores
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Mainz — 9:30 a.m. EDT Sunday
Schalke vs. Bayer Leverkusen — 11:30 a.m. EDT Sunday

Standings

 

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 14 10 3 1 34 9 25 6-2-0 4-1-1 33
 RB Leipzig 14 10 3 1 29 12 17 5-1-0 5-2-1 33
 Hertha BSC Berlin 14 8 3 3 22 14 8 6-0-1 2-3-2 27
 1899 Hoffenheim 14 6 8 0 25 14 11 4-3-0 2-5-0 26
 Eintracht Frankfurt 14 7 5 2 19 11 8 4-3-0 3-2-2 26
 Borussia Dortmund 14 7 4 3 32 16 16 5-2-0 2-2-3 25
 1. FC Köln 14 6 5 3 19 13 6 4-3-0 2-2-3 23
 SC Freiburg 14 6 1 7 18 25 -7 5-0-2 1-1-5 19
 FC Schalke 04 13 5 2 6 18 15 3 4-0-2 1-2-4 17
 Bayer Leverkusen 13 5 2 6 20 21 -1 3-2-2 2-0-4 17
 FSV Mainz 05 13 5 2 6 23 25 -2 3-1-2 2-1-4 17
 FC Augsburg 14 3 5 6 11 16 -5 1-3-3 2-2-3 14
 Werder Bremen 14 4 2 8 18 32 -14 3-0-4 1-2-4 14
 Mönchengladbach 13 3 4 6 13 22 -9 3-3-1 0-1-5 13
 VfL Wolfsburg 14 2 4 8 12 23 -11 0-2-5 2-2-3 10
 Hamburger SV 14 2 4 8 11 27 -16 1-2-4 1-2-4 10
 FC Ingolstadt 04 14 2 3 9 11 24 -13 1-2-4 1-1-5 9
 Darmstadt 14 2 2 10 11 27 -16 2-2-3 0-0-7 8

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Leicester City 4-2 Manchester City: Vardy deconstructs Pep’s men

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 10: Jamie Vardy of Leicester City celebrates scoring his sides third goal during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester City at the King Power Stadium on December 10, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images
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  • Foxes up 2-0 by 5′
  • Vardy hat trick
  • Kolarov scores free kick
  • WATCH: First three goals

Jamie Vardy‘s hat trick led Leicester City to a surprising 4-2 win over visiting Manchester City on Saturday at the King Power Stadium.

Andy King scored in the first half, where Vardy scooped his first two of the day before adding a third in the 78th minute. Aleksandar Kolarov‘s 81st minute free kick dirtied the clean sheet, and Nolito redirected one home in the 90th minute.

Man City will finish the weekend at least four points back of the top, and currently sit in fourth with 30 points. Leicester rises rises to 14th on 16 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Manchester City was in a horrible spot in two blinks, as Vardy and Islam Slimani took advantage of John Stones and Aleksandar Kolarov before the latter beat Claudio Bravo to make it 1-0 in the third minute.

Less than two minutes later, it was time for another. Andy King let loose with a shot from outside the 18 that a flying Bravo could only touch into his goal. 2-0 at the King Power. Scenes.

And Leicester saved its best for the third goal, as Riyad Mahrez made an otherworldly first touch assist on a diagonal ball over Stones’ head, and Vardy touched around Bravo to score it. Wow.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Guardiola doubled down on risk-taking tactics as the second half wore on. And why not? He was down 3-0.

On came Yaya Toure and Raheem Sterling. Out went Kelechi Iheanacho and Jesus Navas. Yes, Yaya Toure as striker.

Yet it was Vardy who scored next, taking advantage of an out-to-lunch Stones to inch a tight-angled shot off the post and just over the line via Goal Decision System.

Kolarov made it 4-1 with a terrific free kick that curled to nestle inside the post behind the wall, then found Nolito for a goal in the final minute of scheduled time.

Matty James came into the match during stoppage time for his 100th Leicester experience, which came 570 days after an ACL tear ended his 99th.

Follow @NicholasMendola