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)

Conte praises Hazard’s style, wouldn’t want him to be “more selfish”

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Antonio Conte made two bold decisions on Saturday afternoon as his Chelsea side prepared to take on Tottenham in their FA Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Oriol Romeu shines with Saints as he prepares for Chelsea return ]

The Italian manager has been known for his innovation and risk-taking in the past, but many were critical of the 47-year-old when his team sheet came out ahead of the match.

Conte left key attacking duo Eden Hazard and Diego Costa on the bench, allowing out-of-favor striker Michy Batshuayi and Pedro to get the starting nod.

Although Hazard nor Costa saw the field for the opening hour, the former made his presence known when he was summoned by Conte in the second half.

Often times Hazard has been known as a facilitator, someone that can pick apart defenses with his tremendous foot skills and clever passing. But the Belgian international has also shown his capabilities of scoring on a regular basis as well, which has prompted great interest from other giant clubs around Europe.

When Conte was asked about Hazard and if his attacker should be more selfish, the Italian gave an emphatic “NO” as his response.

“No, no, no, absolutely not,” Conte said. “I don’t think that a player like Messi is a selfish player. The first target for every great champion is to play for the team and to put your talent into the team. If you do this, the team [increases] your talent.

“The best players in the world don’t exist without a team. For me, it’s sad to listen to this, that a player must ‘be more selfish’ to reach the top level. That’s very sad. It’s not my idea of football and I will never understand this. Never, never. In my team, I don’t want selfish players.

“I prefer to lose a game than to have a selfish player. For me, I don’t want this and I can’t accept this. I don’t want my club to buy me a selfish player one day. Never. No.”

Newcastle joins Brighton in promotion to Premier League

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Two sides have now booked their trips to England’s top flight after Newcastle United rattled off its 27th win of the season.

[ MORE: Oriol Romeu — The perfectly poised destroyer ]

The Magpies earned a decisive 4-1 victory over Preston North End on Monday afternoon at St. James’ Park as the second-place side ensured its finish inside the top two in the English Championship.

Newcastle joins already-promoted club Brighton & Hove Albion, who currently sit atop the Championship on 92 points.

Ayoze Perez paced the hosts with goals on both sides of halftime, while Christian Atsu and Matt Ritchie also converted for Newcastle.

U.S. Men’s National Team defender DeAndre Yedlin was on the bench for the Magpies but didn’t feature in Monday’s match.

The third and final team to be promoted from the Championship will be decided by the league’s annual promotion playoff, which is held at the end of the season and contested by four sides that finish third through sixth position.

As it stands, Reading, Sheffield Wednesday, Huddersfield Town and Fulham occupy the four playoff positions.

Marseille making Olivier Giroud top transfer target this summer

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Marseille did well to bring in one star this season but could the French side have another trick up its sleeve this summer?

Sky Sports is reporting that the Ligue 1 club is preparing to sign Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud over the summer and the sixth-place side is “willing to pay up to £20m (roughly $25 million).

Marseille made a splash this season when the club re-signed Dimitri Payet, who was playing with Premier League side West Ham at the time.

The team does boast several quality attacking options such as Payet and Bafetimbi Gomis, but Giroud could serve as an ideal target man in the Marseille attack.

Prior to joining the Gunners in 2012, Giroud starred for Montpellier and with a potential link-up in the attack with a creator like Payet, it could present a dangerous attacking threat to the rest of Ligue 1.

Giroud, 30, has scored 95 goals in all competitions since arriving in London with Arsenal.

Report: Chicharito talks heating up with Los Angeles FC

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We’ve seen MLS teams make major splashes in the past, and one of next year’s newcomers could be a really big draw if they can manage to seal the deal on a Mexican international.

[ MORE: Schweinsteiger shares thoughts on MLS and more in interview ]

According to Metro New York, Los Angeles FC is continuing its talks with Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez about a potential deal that would prove massive in terms of MLS spending.

While LAFC won’t debut in MLS until 2018, the club could potentially make the Mexico striker the highest-paid player in league history with an average salary of roughly $10 million.

The 28-year-old Hernandez currently plays in Germany with Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen, where he’s plied his trade since joining the club during the 2015/16 season.

Additionally, the former Manchester United man has dominated the international scene for El Tri, scoring 46 goals in 90 appearances for the CONCACAF nation.