2012 MLS Cup - Houston Dynamo v Los Angeles Galaxy

ProSoccerTalk’s preseason predictions for: Conference champs, MLS Cup winner

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ProSoccerTalk’s Noah Davis says …

As for conference champions, I like D.C. United and the LA Galaxy. Ben Olsen can work magic, except it’s not really magic, it’s just hard work. Perry Kitchen will continue to develop into a leader and Nick DeLeon and Chris Pontius will lead the attack (barring injury of course, a big if with those two). As for the Galaxy, it’s a boring pick, but it’s the right one. The squad is too good, too skilled, too well-coached to suffer through another early-season slump.

On MLS Cup: Seattle Sounders. I don’t know; I just have a feeling. The playoffs are such a crapshoot, and it’s about time, you know?

ProSoccerTalk’s Richard Farley says …

As conference champions, I like D.C. United and the LA Galaxy.

Confession: I was the main push behind putting San Jose number one on our list two weeks ago, but now knowing a bit more about the Earthquakes and Galaxy, I’m flipping the script. I think San Jose is in survival mode to start the season, given their injuries. I also get the feeling they’re taking the long view of the season and might be willing to sacrifice points in April and May to get their guys ready for September and October. I think LA’s defense and Robbie Keane will keep them decent through the third act of the Donovan saga, and given how tight the West could be, I think that’s enough to switch the order.

In the East, I like D.C.’s team to continue improving. I’m not sold on the changes Sporting’s had to incur, and I think Ben Olsen and team will take a lot of pride in not only competing for the conference but potentially taking the Supporters’ Shield. This is D.C., after all.

For MLS Cup, I’ll take the Houston Dynamo.

Why now when they couldn’t win in 2011 or 2012? Because come December, I think Houston’s going to have the best team in the league. I’m not sure Dominic Kinnear is going to ride them so hard that they take the East, but come playoff time, I expect them to make their now-typical run. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a third-straight LA-Houston final, and nine months out, I like the Dynamo to take that one.

ProSoccerTalk’s Steve Davis says …

I’d like to be bold and pick Seattle to make the big breakthrough in the West – but I just cannot quite get there. The LA Galaxy back line is just too much better, and Robbie Keane will get 14-16 goals easily if he can carry all that momentum from the back half of 2012 into this year.

In the East – Here’s where I rescue this post from the rather boring prospect of all three of us picking the same doggone teams! – I’ll take the New York Red Bulls to slip past a D.C. United team that I do like a lot. (Man, the East is just stacked and packed this year, eh?) RBNY is just a shade under-strength on the outside midfield spots, but powerful everywhere else. Plus, if the look under Mike Petke most closely resembles a 4-2-3-1, they don’t really have flank midfield spots. Speaking of Petke, the players seem to be taking to him, and that added element of chemistry will go far. So, yes, I’m going there. I am picking the Red Bulls, ignoring the flashing red lights of history!

MLS Cup champion? I’m going back to the LA Galaxy. Reason: By summer, Landon Donovan will be dashing about at Full Donovan, and I can only assume a Frank Lampard or a Kaka will be bouncing around and getting the job done at the Home Depot Center. Three-peat! I’m calling it.

(MORE: full roster of PST preseason predictions and previews)

CONCACAF Champions League gets reboot; MLS benefits

Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey, right, clears the ball away from Club America midfielder Rubens Sambueza (14) during the first half of a CONCACAF Champions League soccer quarterfinal, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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Changes to the CONCACAF Champions League will benefit Major League Soccer in a big way.

Long requested by MLS, the North American league will only have to send its clubs to the CCL for the final four rounds, which will be home-and-away affairs.

Previously, clubs competed in a group stage from August to October, then joined the knockout rounds in February.

[ MORE: Transfer window names to watch ]

While MLS sides may still be just starting their seasons and have to contend with clubs who have been playing meaningful games, they will also be less likely to draw successful Liga MX sides in the Round of 16.

All of the details are here, but here’s a simplified takeaway:

— The 16 teams that qualify for the CCL, which will begin in February, will include four U.S. teams, one Canadian team, and four Mexican teams.

— The next six sides will be the Caribbean Club Championship winner and the champions of Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Panama.

— The remaining side will win its spot via a new tournament which includes 13 Central American teams and three from the Caribbean.

For those of us hoping to see an MLS side in the Club World Cup, the odds will become better come the 2018 CCL. As for this year, MLS will again have to deal with the split season.

Ten names to watch in Premier League transfer window

BERGAMO, ITALY - DECEMBER 11:  Franck Kessie of Atalanta BC in action during the Serie A match between Atalanta BC and Udinese Calcio at Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia on December 11, 2016 in Bergamo, Italy.  (Photo by Dino Panato/Getty Images)
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National team veterans from France, England, and Spain are in a 10-man mix of players we think could have big impacts on the fortunes of teams in the Premier League this January transfer window.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

10) Lassana Diarra, Marseille — Twice in London, the French-born midfielder is said to be interesting Manchester United and Valencia amongst others.

9) Leonardo Ulloa, Leicester City — The pressure doesn’t get to the Foxes’ 30-year-old striker, who has scored plenty of big goals for Leicester City. Might he be the perfect bench piece to push a team into the second half of the season? Spanish side Alaves have reportedly had a $2 million bid rejected by Leicester.

8) Phil Jagielka, Everton — Older, yes, but the English national team veteran could be just what the doctor-ordered for relegation candidates and lower-half sides looking for a PL-experienced CB.

7) Victor Lindelof, Benfica — His arrival at Old Trafford went from Tomorrowland to Lost in recent weeks, but Jose Mourinho could still act to bring in the center back before the summer.

6) Scott Hogan, Brentford — The Championship striker isn’t quite as prominent in the rumor mill as Jordan Rhodes was last season, but the 24-year-old could be a promising buy for a PL side. West Ham is said to have the inside track.

5) Goncalo Guedes, Benfica — As for Lindelof’s teammate, Guedes was tipped to join Manchester United with his center back. Will another side jump into the fray before Guedes joins Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford? Paris Saint-Germain is said to be interested.

4) Franck Kessie, Atalanta — The defensive midfielder has chipped in six goals for his Serie A side, and has been the major reason for Atalanta’s run into the top half.

3) Robert Snodgrass, Hull City — The Scottish wizard has been a big part of what little success has come the Tigers way this season, but West Ham and several other Premier League sides are tempting Hull.

2) Alvaro Morata, Real Madrid — He starred for Juventus last season and triggered a Real Madrid return. Slowed by an Achilles injury for much of this season, he’s been tipped for a summer move to Chelsea. If it can happen then… why not now? The Blues could order the title confetti if they landed the Spanish striker.

1) Dimitri Payet, West Ham United — Yes, we’re tired of his act — and reading about it — but Payet is a game-changer who could inject excitement into any offense in the world. If Marseille wants him, it had better pay up.

Transfer rumor roundup: Man City after two backs; Zelalem to Holland?

NAPLES, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 17: Napolis player Faouzi Ghoulam vies with Bologna FC player Simone Verdi during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Bologna FC at Stadio San Paolo on September 17, 2016 in Naples, Italy.  (Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images)
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Here are your transfer rumor headlines on a day when Gerard Deulofeu moves to AC Milan and Lazar Markovic heads to Hull City on loan.

[ MORE: Three players leave USMNT camp ]

Two Premier Leaguers could be heading down to help the Championship leaders. Newcastle United is said to be close to bringing Andros Townsend back from Crystal Palace after just a half-season, while Swansea City’s Mo Barrow is also on Rafa Benitez‘s radar.

An Arsenal blog says USMNT prospect Gedion Zelalem may have found his loan destination. The 19-year-old could be leaving the Emirates Stadium for a loan stint at VVV Venlo, with the Dutch side sitting first in the second tier and in a promotion push.

The Manchester Evening News brings reports of two backs on the radar of Manchester City. Rai Sport is the source for Man City’s interest in Napoli left back Faouzi Ghoulam, who has six assists in 21 appearances for Partenopei between Serie A and the UEFA Champions League. Pep Guardiola may also want to be reunited with Juan Bernat, though that story comes from the wild swings of The Daily Mirror.

Sunderland is going to lose one of its two brightest lights in a dark, dismal season. The Black Cats have taken a lot of calls on Jermain Defoe, but it’s Patrick Van Aanholt who is on the move to rejoin Sam Allardyce at Crystal Palace. The Dutch standout is said to be purchased for $15 million, and would be the equivalent of a transfer six-pointer in the Premier League’s relegation race.

Report: West Ham turns down another Payet bid

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 14:  The Dimitri Payet of West Ham United sign is seen outside the stadium prior to the Premier League match between West Ham United and Crystal Palace at London Stadium on January 14, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
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West Ham United has rejected a third bid for wantaway midfielder Dimitri Payet, according to Sky Sports.

Marseille upped the ante to $28 million when it comes to the French midfielder, who has said he wants to go back to the club for “family reasons“.

[ MORE: Three players leave USMNT camp ]

Payet was given a $1.2 million loyalty bonus from West Ham earlier this season, but has continually tempted the rumor mill. He’s also winked at Arsenal.

He has 15 goals in parts of two seasons with the Irons, the same figure he boasted in two full years with Marseille. Payet has also played Lille, Saint-Etienne, Nantes, and AS Excelsior.

It’s been a rocky month for Payet, who could be doomed to purgatory at West Ham. Will any Premier League suitors come calling at the Irons’ $38 million asking price.