Major League Soccer team previews: SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES

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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. 1 in the West is San Jose Earthquakes:

Significant additions and subtractions: As you might expect coming off San Jose’ 2012, the roster is relatively unchanged.

Simon Dawkins is the only major loss, but he’s a big one. There isn’t an obvious candidate to replace his eight goals.

Khari Stephenson’s gone (Real Salt Lake) as is Ike Opara (Sporting KC), but among Frank Yallop’s top 14 minutes-getters, 13 return.

The additions have all been spare parts, though some will prove valuable. Mike Fucito will get some early starts. Same for Dan Gargan at right back. Nana Attakora and Ty Harden replace Opara’s depth in defense.

Strengths: Thanks to Chris Wondolowski, goals shouldn’t be a problem, though with Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon out to start the year, San Jose’s attack won’t be the huge edge in March that it will be in October. Still, with modest production from Fucito (who has looked good in preseason), the Earthquakes should be fine.

San Jose also have a lot of tactical versatility, something that enabled last year’s last match heroics. With a few subs, a tweak to Wondolowski and Rafael Baca’s positioning, San Jose can easily shift from a two to three forward look. With Martin Chavez and Shea Salinas wide, they can go to a speed team, or they can stay more balanced by playing only one of their burners. They can play wingers or, with Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour, go narrow through the middle and rely on their fullbacks for width.

All teams can do this, but San Jose is actually good at it. It’s as if Yallop can spend 60 minutes figuring out your weaknesses before using his team’s versatility to exploit you. And other teams just don’t have this much versatility.

Pressure points: Injuries are the obvious one, with questions about Chavez and Beitashour joining a list that includes Lenhart and Gordon, but the real problem is replicating 2012. With the possible exception of goalkeeper Jon Busch, you can argue every player in Yallop’s starting XI had the best year of their career. That’s nearly impossible to replicate.

Let’s just look at the goal totals. Wondolowski had 27. He’s not going to do that again. In fact, he could score anywhere between five and 10 less, particularly when those bulldozing No. 9 strikers are hurt to start the year.

Gordon’s production will be down. Lenhart’s production will be down. And Simon Dawkins scored eight goals last season. San Jose’s losing a lot in attack.

source: Getty ImagesDifference maker: Even if Wondo merely competes for the Golden Boot, he’s going to keep contributing in other ways. Whether playing withdrawn, wide, or as an attacking midfielder, Wondolowski is the focal point of San Jose’s attack, and while he may be better be known for his scoring, his seven assists speak to his importance for others’ production.

Potential breakout player: If Shea Salinas picks up a bulk of Dawkins’ minutes, he’ll put up the best numbers of his career. The speedy Texan has seven assists in limited time last year, but he only had one goal. The assist number may be difficult to improve, but if he gets more than 1155 minutes, he’ll beat his career best for goals (two).

Bottom line: We have them at No. 1, but as we mentioned yesterday, it’s close, particularly with all the injuries. Like the rest of the West, San Jose is less concerned with where they finish in October than being ready for November. That may entail sacrificing points over the next eight months.

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

Championship playoff contenders all but confirmed

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It was a pivotal day in England’s second-tier as the four playoff teams set to battle it out for a place in the Premier League have all but been confirmed.

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After the results in the penultimate weekend Huddersfield Town, Reading and Sheffield Wednesday are definitely in the playoffs (where they will finish in the standings is still up in the air) and Fulham have all but joined them after they drew 1-1 with Brentford at Craven Cottage.

That means they’re three points clear of Leeds United who are seventh and they also have a goal differential of +27 to Leeds’ +14. So, there needs to be a 13 goal swing on the final day of the Championship season for Leeds to finish above Fulham and nick the final playoff spot.

Yup. Not going to happen…

For fans of U.S. Soccer there will be plenty of intrigued in these playoffs as USMNT players Danny Williams (Reading) and Tim Ream (Fulham) will feature, plus German-American manager David Wagner has guided Huddersfield to the top six in his first full season in charge of the Terriers.

The two-legged playoff semifinals will take place after the regular season ends on May 5 and then the winners of those semifinals will compete in the Championship playoff final, known as the richest game in soccer, at Wembley on May 26 for a place in the Premier League.

Below is a look at the Championship table with one round of games to go as Brighton (already promoted automatically to the PL along with Newcastle) can seal the title with a win against Bristol City late on Saturday.


Relegated Sunderland “obviously distraught”; Moyes wants to stay

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Neither John O'Shea nor David Moyes had been relegated during their long careers in football.

That changed Saturday.

The former Manchester United defender and Everton manager saw Sunderland drop into the second tier after a bevy of wasted chances and a lapse at the back perfectly summed up their season in England.

[ RECAP: Sunderland 0-1 Bournemouth ]

Moyes wants to stick around and help Sunderland back to the Premier League the way Rafa Benitez did this season in the Championship. Here’s what he said on NBCSN after the match:

“I feel for the supporters. They put their hard-earned cash out there to support the team, and my thoughts are really with them today.

“Yeah, the job’s to make sure that we get ourselves prepared and ready but we’re in this position, to talk about it now is just too quick.”

As for O’Shea, he’s clearly gutted and exasperated. The veteran Irish back did not have a strong season along with the majority of his teammates, and is left grasping for answers.

“Look, we’re obviously distraught. We all wanted the support that we got today. It’s not a nice feeling.

“Performances, results, are the obvious things at the end of the season. The detail never lies. We haven’t kept enough clean sheets, we haven’t taken enough chances. We needed a miracle run to save us, and we couldn’t produce it.”

The Black Cats were kept alive by Jermain Defoe‘s heroics for most of the season, but the striker went ice cold with finishing from February onward. The club rarely looked the part this season, and this might not be a short spell away from the top flight.

Stoke City 0-0 West Ham: Stalemate in the Potteries

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  • Stoke, West Ham waste chances
  • Potters move on to 40 points
  • West Ham have 39 points

Stoke and West Ham played out a tense 0-0 draw at the bet365 Stadium on Saturday.

Marko Arnautovic went close for Stoke and so did Andre Ayew for the Hammers but both Adrian and Jack Butland were in fine form in goal.

The draw means Stoke reach the 40-point marker but they drop 12th place in the table, while West Ham remain in 14th and have 39 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The first big chance of the game fell to Stoke as Marko Arnautovic cut the ball back from the left side of the box to find Saido Berahino and his powerful effort was well blocked by Winston Reid.

Stoke continued to do most of the pressing early on and West Ham’s best chance came from a free kick as Jose Fonte’s header was deflected over the bar.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

West Ham then had a great chance to go ahead as Fernandes’ cross found Jonathan Calleri but he blazed over the bar. Moments later Andre Ayew’s overhead kick was then denied brilliantly by Jack Butland who made a phenomenal stop on his first appearance back at the bet365 Stadium.

Stoke finished the half well as Glen Johnson brilliantly burst into the box and his ball to the near post was poked wide by Fonte just as Arnautovic was ready to tap home and moments late Fonte blocked by Berahino as Joe Allen cut the ball back.

Right on half time Calleri then made a terrible mess of a great chance as he tried a rabona instead of slotting home. 0-0.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The second half started brightly as Allen had a volley just wide and Cheikhou Kouyate saw his effort go wide of Butland’s far post.

Good work from Arnautovic then led to a chance to Xherdan Shaqiri but he fired just wide under pressure. Allen’s shot from distance caused Adrian some problems and West Ham’s goalkeeper also pushed away an effort from Berahino.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Ayew then forced Butland into a save from a shot and a header as the Hammers pushed hard for a winner late on.

Stoke went close to snatching all three points as a fine ball into the box found Arnautovic but Adrian denied his volley superbly and scrambled clear at the second attempt.

Southampton 0-0 Hull: Jakupovic the hero in late PK drama

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  • Jakupovic saves Tadic’s late PK
  • Hull three points clear of bottom three
  • Saints move on to 41 points

Hull City held on at Southampton on Saturday to grab a vital point in their battle against relegation.

In a game which saw few goalscoring chances created, Edlin Jakupovic emerged as Hull’s hero as he saved Dusan Tadic‘s poor penalty kick in second half stoppage time.

With the point Hull move three clear of the relegation zone and have 34 points, while Southampton move on to 41 points and remain in ninth place in the table.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Hull looked lively early on as Kamil Grosicki broke on the counter and his low shot hit the side-netting.

The Polish winger went even closer moments later as he curled a free kick up and over the wall but the ball clipped the outside of the post and went wide.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Hull continued to launch long balls forward and one of those caught out Maya Yoshida as Oumar Niasse raced free but Jack Stephens deflected his effort wide.

The visitors looked the more likely to open the scoring in an even first half.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Saints started the second half brightly with Sofiane Boufal working some space on the edge of the box but Harry Maguire blocked well at the crucial moment and moments later Dusan Tadic had an effort deflected wide.

Puel then brought on Shane Long and Josh Sims for Boufal and Manolo Gabbiadini as he tried to spark fresh impetus into Saints’ attack.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Late on Saints pushed hard to find a winner as Tadic saw his shot saved by Jakupovic after Hull’s goalkeeper had initially punched a clearance down into the box. Niasse then had a good chance but got it all wrong and belted the ball over from the edge of the box.

Southampton then had a glorious chance to win the game in stoppage time as Yoshida was hauled down in the box by Alfred N'Diaye but Tadic’s penalty kick was superbly saved by Jakupovic who was once again the hero for Hull.

The Tigers almost snatched all three points late on as Niasse’s scrambled effort was cleared off the line by Cedric Soares.