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)

West Ham sign Arnautovic from Stoke for club-record fee

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LONDON (AP) West Ham signed attacking midfielder Marko Arnautovic from Stoke for a club-record fee on Saturday.

The fee wasn’t disclosed, but British media said West Ham paid an initial 20 million pounds ($26 million) that could rise to 25 million pounds ($32.5 million) for the 28-year-old Austria international.

Arnautovic is West Ham’s third signing of the summer, after right back Pablo Zabaleta on a free transfer and goalkeeper Joe Hart on loan.

“We have brought in three players with vast Premier League experience this summer,” West Ham co-chairman David Sullivan said, “and that was one of our key targets.”

Arnautovic, who has 62 caps for his country, joined Stoke from Werder Bremen in 2013. He scored 26 goals in 145 appearances for Stoke.

MLS Snapshot: 10-man NYCFC too much for McCarty-less Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less): New York City FC spent 78 minutes at a man disadvantage, fewer than 72 hours after drawing MLS-leading Toronto FC midweek, against the second-place Chicago Fire on Saturday. It the end, this week shall go down as the back-to-back which put to bed any lingering questions regarding NYCFC’s MLS Cup-contending credentials. Four points from two games against the league’s top-two teams — Patrick Vieira’s side (37 points) now sits a single point back of Chicago, two back of Toronto. As is typically the case, David Villa’s fingerprints were all over Saturday’s win at Yankee Stadium, as the reigning MVP scored the opening goal (in typically stunning fashion) before so nearly setting up one or two more as the back-and-forth, frantic second half wore on. Frederic Brilliant scored what turned out to be the winner just three minutes later, as David Accam canceled out Villa’s opener to make it three goals scored in seven minutes.

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Three Four Five moments that mattered

4′ — Kappelhof slides through Herrera, no penalty given — Maybe VAR will be good?

12′ — Herrera sees yellow again, and he’s gone — Herrera’s first yellow was questionable, but there’s no doubt about the second, just four minutes later.

47′ — Villa smashes on the full volley for 1-0 — This is approximately the 197th time I’ve written the phrase, “David Villa, take a bow,” since Spain’s all-time leading scorer came to MLS.

50′ — Brilliant heads home in traffic for 2-0 — It takes guts to put your head into a sea of flying feet the Brilliant does here. Fortunately, his face is intact and the Frenchman was duly rewarded.

54′ — Accam hits and prays, makes it 2-1 — Don’t think; just hit it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

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Man of the match: David Villa

Goalscorers: Villa (47′), Brilliant (50′), Accam (54′)

Pele’s son’s in jail on drug trafficking charges in Brazil

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SAO PAULO (AP) A son of Brazilian soccer legend Pele has returned to jail to serve a sentence of more than 12 years on drug trafficking and money laundering charges.

A Brazilian court Friday ordered Edson Cholbi do Nascimento returned to jail after turning down his appeal.

He is a former goalkeeper with Pele’s old club Santos and was first arrested in 2005, though he remained free pending the outcome of his appeals.

In 2014 a court convicted him to 33 years in prison. That sentence was later reduced to 12 years, 10 months.

In late February he turned himself in to complete his sentence and in early March a court ordered his release and allowed him to remain free while fighting the sentence.

He has denied any wrongdoing.

Texas-born Dempsey at home 1 goal from record, 1 win from Final

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ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) Clint Dempsey is back in his home state of Texas, one goal away from a national scoring record for the United States team that is one win from playing in another CONCACAF Gold Cup final.

The Americans play a semifinal game Saturday night against Costa Rica in a stadium synonymous with American football – the home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, the Cotton Bowl and where the first College Football Playoff championship game was played three seasons ago.

That is only about 180 miles from Dempsey’s hometown of Nacogdoches.

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“It’s always great to be home and play in front of family and friends, especially for a big game,” Dempsey said Friday. “I have a lot of great memories of playing in Dallas as a kid, and I’m proud to represent Nacogdoches. Being from there made me who I am today.”

Dempsey, one goal from matching Landon Donovan’s American record of 57 national team goals, wasn’t part of soccer’s only Gold Cup games at the $1.2 billion AT&T Stadium.

In a 2013 semifinal game there when the Americans were on the way to their fifth Gold Cup championship, they beat Honduras 3-1. Donovan scored twice in that game – his 55th and 56th goals for the national team – and assisted on the other goal. About two months later, Donovan scored his final goal in a World Cup qualifier win over Mexico.

Within a week after Costa Rica beat the U.S. team 4-0 in World Cup qualifying last November, Jurgen Klinsmann was out as the U.S. coach and Bruce Arena was rehired to the position he had been fired from a decade earlier.

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Costa Rica coach Oscar Ramirez said Friday that Arena has seemingly had a positive impact on the U.S. team.

“They look more relaxed in terms of what they’re doing on the field,” Ramirez said through an interpreter.

This U.S. roster for the Gold Cup knockout rounds also is much different than the one that played in Costa Rica eight months ago – not just the change at coach. Only five players from that game that are set for this semifinal game – Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez and Graham Zusi.

“That’s in the past,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t think about that game. … This is just another game. It’s another opportunity for us to see what we’re made out of.”

Altidore, Dempsey, Bradley, Darlington Nagbe, and goalkeeper Tim Howard were all added to the lineup before a 2-0 win over El Salvador in the quarterfinal on Wednesday night in Philadelphia.

Dempsey set up Eric Lichaj‘s goal in extra time before halftime to make it 2-0 against El Salvador. Dempsey also fed Gyasi Zardes for a breakaway, though that apparent goal didn’t count after he was ruled offside.

That game was Dempsey’s 135th appearance for the national team, trailing only Cobi Jones (164) and Landon Donovan (157) on the U.S. list.

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Dempsey isn’t the only player with Texas ties with the U.S. team. Three players from FC Dallas, the MLS team that plays its home games about 40 miles away from the big stadium in Frisco, are on the roster: Kellyn Acosta, Matt Hedges and Jesse Gonzalez.

Acosta, the homegrown midfielder who turns 22 next week, was recently named to the MLS All-Star team. He was born in nearby Plano, Texas, and signed by FC Dallas five years ago.

“It’s definitely a proud moment, to get to represent my community, play before my friends and family,” Acosta said. “To be back in my hometown, I’m definitely excited about it.”

Notes: Costa Rica is trying to get to its first Gold Cup final since 2002, when it lost 2-0 to the Americans. “Obviously, we want to look for that reward, that happiness, and go after that,” Ramirez said. “We have a difficult team in front of us.” … The United States’ nine goals are the most in this Gold Cup, while Costa Rica has allowed only one in its four games.