Major League Soccer team previews: VANCOUVER WHITECAPS

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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. 7 in the West are the Vancouver Whitecaps:

Significant additions and subtractions: Barry Robson is the biggest “loss.” The Scottish international was brought in as a Designated Player, had the team built around him, but never quite justified the love. It was also unclear he ever warmed to the move, part of the reason he’s now in the third-tier of English soccer.

To partially fill his boots, Vancouver’s brought in 30-year-old Daigo Kobayashi, though the team’s unlikely to rely on him the same way they tried to depend on Robson. With the once-capped midfielder on this fifth team in sixth years, that’s probably a good thing.

Farther back, the team has added Nigel Reo-Coker to their defensive midfield. If Martin Rennie gets good Reo-Coker, the former West Ham, Aston Villa standout will prove a very valuable addition.

Strengths: Vancouver has a number of individuals capable of transcending whatever struggles appear around them. Defenders Jay DeMerit and Lee Young-Pyo are among the best at their positions in the league. Gershon Koffie would be one of the most talked about young players in MLS if he were playing in a different market, while it’s no longer edgy to say Darren Mattocks is set to break out (everybody agrees).

Rennie could change philosophy every 45 minutes, but if those players are on the field, Vancouver have a puncher’s chance.

Pressure points: That starts with Rennie. The Whitecaps’ boss took a chance with the team last year, shifting gears midseason after an unexpectedly strong start. A couple of key trades and the signing of Kenny Miller remade the team for the worse. That mistake needs to turn into a learning experience.

The team also needs to settle into a way to play (a problem that lingers from last year’s makeover), and they need to find somebody to augment Mattocks’ goals. That means playing in a way that gets more production out of Miller and Camilo.

With the acquisition of Reo-Coker pushing Alain Rochat back to left back, the biggest question is in goal. Is it going to be Brad Knighton or Joe Cannon? Knighton seems the right choice, but Cannon is awfully veteran-y.

source:  Difference maker: If Jay DeMerit isn’t the best defender in the league, he might be the most valuable. His experience and talismanic play augment his defending with valuable leadership at a crucial position. The problem is age combined with the specter of nagging injuries, with an Achilles problem hampering his preseason preparations. For a 33-year-old, that type of problem could cause a cascade.

Potential breakout player: No doubt about it: Mattocks (right). On a per minute basis, the guy was already a strong scoring option last year, a season where injuries and rookie adjustments held him back. With Jamaica out of the Gold Cup (and Mattocks no lock to make the team for World Cup Qualifiers), the talented attacker will be at Rennie’s disposal more often.

The question is how much to expect. Break out your TI-85s and do some prorating and it’s not hard to see mid-teens as a reasonable output for Mattocks. That would make him one of the league’s best goal scorers.

Is it too soon for that? Nobody who has watched this kid played would deny the talent. It’s all about how much he plays and whether he has made the adjustments.

If he comes good, Vancouver’s biggest problem is solved. They have a consistent goalscorer.

Bottom line: If the Whitecaps carry over last fall’s form into 2013, they’re not a playoff team. Add in likely improvement from Dallas and Portland, and Vancouver will be hard-pressed to replicate last year’s finish.

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

U-17 World Cup wrap: Ghana tops Niger, Brazil roasts Honduras

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The quarterfinals are set in the U-17 World Cup.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s Champions League wrap ]

With just two games left to decide, Wednesday proved quite decisive. In the early game, Ghana topped Niger 2-0 to advance into the quarterfinals where they will match up against another African nation in Mali, while Brazil had no trouble with Honduras in a comprehensive 3-0 win.


Ghana 2-0 Niger

Ghana struck twice, both in stoppage time of either half, and they move on to the quarterfinals with a 2-0 win over fellow African nation Niger. The Group A champions were always going to be favored, as they had topped the strong group to pick up a matchup with a third-placed team.

Eric Ayiah bagged a simple penalty in first-half stoppage time to put Ghana 1-0 up. The decision came after Ayiah was fouled by Farouk Idrissa in the area. Idrissa conceded a second penalty with four minutes to go in the match, but Ayiah’s effort for a brace was saved.

Ghana dominated the match, with 63% possession and 23 shots, including five on target, while holding Niger to zero shots on target. The favorites grabbed a deserved second goal in second-half stoppage time as Richard Danso struck an absolutely fabulous effort from outside the top of the box that crashed its way into the top-right corner.

Brazil 3-0 Honduras

Sao Paulo forward Brenner scored a brace, while young midfielder Marcos Antonio hit a third as Brazil breezed by Honduras. The Brazilians were clinical in front of net, bagging a 50% score rate with three goals on six shots on target. Honduras, meanwhile, managed just one shot on target in 10 attempts.

The pair of goals for Brenner gives him three, drawing him level with Lincoln for the most in the tournament for the Brazilians, and two off the tournament lead paced by Malian striker Lassana Ndiaye and France’s Amine Gouiri. Brazil will take on Germany in the quarterfinals, a heavyweight matchup for so early in the knockout round.

Follow Live: Chelsea, Manchester United in Champions League action

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Two more Premier League teams, both with high aspirations, steam towards the halfway point of group stage action in the 2017/18 Champions League.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

Manchester United hits the road to Portugal to take on Benfica. The Red Devils with a win would move to a perfect nine points out of nine through the midway point of group stage play, almost assuring themselves of a place in the knockout round.

Chelsea could do the same, although their predicament looks slightly more bleak as injuries have ravaged the squad and given Antonio Conte pause as to how he will proceed. The Blues are in poor form after losing the last-placed Crystal Palace in league play over the weekend, and as they host Roma at Stanford Bridge, questions remain as to how Conte can replace the injured N'Golo Kante and Victor Moses.

[ MORE: How will Chelsea lineup after injuries? ]

Elsewhere, Paris Saint-Germain heads to Belgium to take on Anderlecht, while Bayern Munich hosts Brendan Rodgers and Celtic. Atletico Madrid has an early kick on the road at Azerbaijan giants Qarabag.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ] 

All games kick at 2:45 p.m. ET unless otherwise noted.


Wednesday’s UCL games

Group A
Benfica vs. Manchester United
CSKA Moscow vs. FC Basel

Group B
Anderlecht vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Bayern Munich vs. Celtic

Group C
Qarabag vs. Atletico Madrid (12:00 p.m. ET)
Chelsea vs. AS Roma

Claudio Reyna eviscerates US Soccer as “arrogant” and “obnoxious”

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Former USMNT captain Claudio Reyna has come out guns blazing after the Americans failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, repeatedly condemning the mentality of the coaches and players in the wake of the debacle.

Speaking to Goal.com’s Ives Galarcep, the usually hushed NYCFC Sporting Director put the USMNT on blast during his lengthy chat. “You travel to Spain, Argentina, Germany,” Reyna said, “and you run into coaches and sporting directors and there’s a humility about their work that doesn’t exist here, and that’s, for me, seeing it, is to me a big concern.”

“When you have a disappointment like last week, and we’ve had past disappointments as well, and we’ll have disappointments in the future, but what we need to understand that it’s for me behavioral.”

Reyna, who garnered 112 caps during his time with the US National Team as a midfielder, questioned the advancement of the game in the United States, looking to differentiate an increase in popularity from headway on the field. “What I think has happened in the past 10 years is we’re confusing investment, expansion, growth, and all these other things with progress,” Reyna said. “All these things have sort of created a feeling that we’re progressing, but I call it expanding, growth and more fans. From the general growth side it’s happening, but are we really progressing? When I look around at certain levels I don’t see progress happening.”

The 44-year-old eventually let the heads of the federation have it, saying nothing will improve no matter who is in charge unless the mentality of those at the helm changes. “People are sitting together and thinking about strategies and how we’re going to get better,” Reyna said. “We need a little humility and modesty at the table. Unfortunately we have a little too much ‘Mr. I Know Everything’, ‘Mr. Arrogance’, ‘Mr. Obnoxious’, ‘Mr. Loud’, and when those get together nothing happens.”

Before finishing out his chat with Goal, Reyna made sure to point out that the country has quality players at its disposal, and that it’s on the federation to develop them and pull the best out of them, or else the disappointments will continue.

“There’s a lot of positives despite the disappointing result that we had last week,” Reyna said. “I think we’re all embarrassed. I’m embarrassed as a former player that I have to go around and have people make fun of us, and get texts from my friends in Europe who remind me we’ll be on [vacation] next summer. I can laugh, but it hurts. It definitely hurts.”

De Bruyne on Silva spat: “I also get into some arguments with my wife”

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With Manchester City in total control of their Champions League match against Napoli at halftime, leading 2-0 and outshooting the visitors 11-4, it seemed all was right at the Etihad.

But then, as the players went down the tunnel for the break, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva were arguing, with the Belgian furious for some undisclosed reason. A closer inspection shows that de Bruyne actually had gone after the fourth official first, and instead, the captain Silva had stepped in, which angered de Bruyne further. Eventually, the players headed down the tunnel, and City would end up edging out a 2-1 victory.

But what happened at halftime? Is there discontent in the Manchester City locker room?

Afraid not. “I think we had a little discussion,” de Bruyne told reporters in street clothes after the match. “There’s nothing wrong, after one minute that is over. At home I also get into some arguments with my wife, I think it’s normal. I think this is necessary. But now everything is ok, it’s just what happens sometimes.”

It’s most likely that de Bruyne was angry about the penalty called in the 38th minute which Dries Mertens saw saved. The foul was given on Kyle Walker for pulling down Raul Albiol down from behind. With de Bruyne incensed, it was on Silva to keep his stellar attacking midfielder from finding himself in hot water.