MLS Week in Review: Round 27

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source:  Fear the Galaxy

Every week we find another reason to see the Galaxy as one of the teams to beat, if not the team to beat, for MLS Cup. (It would mark an unprecedented third in a row for Bruce Arena’s star-strewn team.) This week we were reminded of three of them. Landon Donovan scored again, and that makes five in four league matches since returning from that sensational Gold Cup reminder that he is still the best attackers this country has produced. There was Robbie Keane, who continued to build a solid league MVP case with yet another goal and yet another assist. And there was Jaime Penedo, the Panamanian international who has stabilized the club’s formerly concerning situation in goal. It all came as the Galaxy made pretty easy work of rival San Jose in a 3-0 win at the StubHub Center.

The Galaxy is 4-0-1 in all competitions since the All-Star game, and has not conceded a goal in its last three matches.

Donovan inches closer to goals record

Already U.S. Soccer’s all-time leading scorer and the LA Galaxy’s all-time leading scorer, Donovan has drawn ever so close to Jeff Cunningham’s all-time mark in Major League Soccer. His strike on Saturday against the Earthquakes was No. 132, leaving the 31-year-old forward just two shy of the all-time league mark, which Cunningham took from Jaime Moreno just three years ago. Donovan, who made last week’s big off-field splash by re-signing with the Galaxy, will miss L.A.’s next match while pulling national team duty, but will have six chances after that for records chasing.

The big gamble

You really have to hand it to New York Red Bulls manager Mike Petke, who is not even a full year into his first pro coaching assignment. In polite company we would say it like this: the man has courage.

How else to describe Petke’s decision to bench French superstar and former World Cup winner Thierry Henry? Henry doesn’t always play well with others, wearing his lack of patience with lesser players on his Red Bulls sleeve, frequently showing up his teammates. But that’s nothing new, and everyone seems to tolerate it.

What Petke could not allow, apparently, was a training-ground blow-up on Thursday. They hashed it out, but the upshot was a place for Henry on the bench near Petke for a match the wildly inconsistent Red Bulls absolutely could not afford to squander.

Sure enough — and what a relief for the manager — the Red Bulls prevailed 2-1 over woeful D.C. United.

Eddie Johnson and the coming storm

Clint Dempsey is four games into his highly paid days with Seattle, still stuck on no goals and no assists. But Seattle is winning, so no real pressure points are being reached.

Well, they wouldn’t be except for Eddie Johnson’s brazen message to the club, his “pay me” celebration upon scoring he only goal in Seattle’s weather-delayed win at Columbus.

Johnson’s deal is up at year’s end, he wants to remain in Seattle, and now he is scoring while $5 million man Dempsey isn’t. So you do the professional contract math.

Dempsey and Johnson go way back, so there may not be tension between the pair; Dempsey probably wants to see Johnson get a big, fat raise,too.

But how will the this play with fans, who have right to wonder where Johnson’s true loyalties lie? And how will the rest of the Sounders see Johnson’s self-centered actions with the team in such a healthy place, on such a swell roll, steadily climbing in the West?

Real Salt Lake on a goal tear

Portland was the latest to find itself brushed aside by a Real Salt Lake team that has achieved top offensive gear. After hitting three versus Portland two weeks ago and then four versus Columbus last week, Javier Morales led the offensive way as RSL crushed Portland in Utah, 4-2. With the latest win in Utah, RSL extended its lead in the West and for the Supporters  Shield to five points, although all pursuers within bothering distance have games in hand.

“El Cubo” Torres rising

Chivas USA is getting something out of this season of misery. It’s Erick “El Cubo” Torres, the young striker on loan from mother Chivas, the Liga MX team in Guadalajara.

Torres had two more goals in Sunday’s 2-2 draw in Vancouver, including one very cool overhead kick. That followed last week’s two-goal evening, bringing the young striker’s total this year to six.

While it’s great that Chivas USA fans get something to feel good about this year, Torres is almost sure to be recalled for the Liga MX spring season – so he won’t be around the StubHub Center long.

Sporting KC back on track

Peter Vermes’ team found a rough patch in August, losing three times in league play losing ground in the tightly packed Eastern Conference playoff jostle, naturally)  and finding goals in awfully short supply lately. So a commanding 2-1 victory over visiting Colorado should go far in helping to fortify any sagging confidence around Sporting Park.

Speaking of that match …

The weekend’s top goal

Benny Feilhaber’s can be maddeningly inconsistent, but Sporting KC’s former U.S. national teamed always has a special goal or two lurking about him. He sure dropped a doozy on helpless Colorado goalkeeper Clint Irwin in Round 27, an outside of the foot bender that was as gorgeous as it was audacious. Watch and enjoy …

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The case for Geoff Cameron in midfield for USMNT

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Geoff Cameron extended his stay at Stoke City until 2020 on Friday, signing a new two-year extension with the Potters.

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Cameron, 31, has been a regular for Stoke since arriving in 2012 from Houston Dynamo in Major League Soccer and he will become the first U.S. outfield player to play in eight-straight seasons in the PL if he sees out his contract at the bet365 Stadium.

The new deal for the Boston native came off the back of a strong second half of the season in central midfield after he missed almost four months with a serious knee injury he suffered in October.

Cameron was named Man of the Match for Stoke in their PL games against Liverpool and Chelsea in narrow home defeats and his play as a holding midfielder made his re-signing a top priority for manager Mark Hughes and the Stoke board.

So, with the USMNT veteran ready to roll for the upcoming 2018 World Cup qualifiers against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico on June 8 and June 11, should Bruce Arena consider using Cameron in the holding midfield role he’s been excelling in for Stoke?

He should, but if he takes Cameron out of his central defense role alongside John Brooks, who slots in? That’s the dilemma facing Arena.

There’s no doubt that the USMNT’s best defensive lineup is DeAndre Yedlin at right back, Cameron and Brooks in the center and Fabian Johnson at left back, yet Cameron’s qualities as a destroyer who can possess the ball and spring attacks would see him make the U.S. midfield stronger.

My mind always casts back to a World Cup qualifier against Panama in Seattle in 2013 when Cameron and Michael Bradley were partners in central midfield. They dovetailed perfectly and Cameron snapped in the tackles, provided a shield to the back four and allowed Bradley to roam further forward where he does his best work unlocking defenses and linking midfield with attack. Both also had key roles in a goal each as their poise on the ball seems them find one another easily.

For these crucial World Cup qualifiers it would be a gamble to take Cameron out of the backline, especially given his superb displays at the 2016 Copa America Centenario last summer, plus his heroics in the CONCACAF playoff against Mexico in October 2015.

If Cameron is pushed into midfield alongside Bradley it would make sense as Jermaine Jones, a favorite of Bruce Arena, is likely to miss the qualifiers through injury. Tim Ream, Steve Birnbaum or Matt Besler could slot in alongside Brooks in central defense and you would arguably make the U.S. a stronger defensive unit with Cameron shielding them.

It may not happen, but switching Cameron to defensive midfield, his natural position, should be something Arena considers heavily in the crucial qualifiers coming up.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Mendy to Man City; Keita to Liverpool

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Manchester City are ready to head back to AS Monaco to sign another one of their stars from this season, according the Daily Mail.

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Just a day after attacking midfielder Bernardo Silva joined City for $55 million, Benjamin Mendy, 22, could join City for $50 million after the French international left back had a hugely impressive season for the Ligue 1 champions.

With Bacary Sagna, Gael Clichy and Pablo Zabaleta all leaving City this week following the end of their contracts at the Etihad, Guardiola needs to retool in defense and powerful full back Mendy could be the perfect solution.

Monaco’s Brazilian right back, Fabinho, is also said to be an option for City as Guardiola looks to get his business done early in the transfer window this summer. It’s also good to see that, you know, Pep is actually going to try and sign some defenders…

Silva’s arrival sparked some confusion as to what formation City would play as alongside David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Yaya Toure, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane, City is awash with attack-minded midfielders. But rebuilding City’s defense should remain the main offseason project for Pep and Mendy would be a huge upgrade on the full backs at his disposal for the 2016-17 campaign.


The Daily Mirror suggests that Liverpool will break their transfer record to sign RB Leipzig midfielder Naby Keita.

The Guinea international is valued at $65 million by the Bundesliga upstarts and Liverpool appear ready to splash the cash for the smooth central midfielder. Keita, 22, has he same agent as Sadio Mane and the report suggests that the Reds have already agreed to pay the RB Leipzig man in excess of $160,000 per week.

Keita is a true box-to-box midfielder and would be a big upgrade on the Reds’ current central midfield options of Lucas Leiva and Emre Can. Alongside Georginio Wijnaldum he would certainly be the more attacking of the two but they could dovetail superbly. Keita scored eight goals form midfield in his debut season for RB Leipzig in 2016-17 as they finished second in the Bundesliga behind Bayern Munich.

Other names linked with Liverpool in this report include Virgil Van Dijk, Ryan Sessegnon, Alexandre Lacazette, Luan and Leon Goretzka, as the paper suggests that Klopp will spend over $190 million following Liverpool’s qualification for the UEFA Champions League playoff round after finishing fourth in the Premier League in 2016-17.

Maybe he won’t spend that much, but Liverpool is two or three star players away from being genuine title contenders. If Klopp can sign Keita and Van Dijk, watch out the rest of the Premier League…

Watford appoint Marco Silva as new manager

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Watford have appointed Portuguese coach Marco Silva as their new manager.

The 39-year-old has signed a two-year deal at Vicarage Road.

Walter Mazarri was fired by Watford before their final game of the season as a dramatic slump in the second half of the season saw them finish one place above the relegation zone.

Silva left Hull City earlier this week, exercising a clause in his 18-month contact that he could leave the Tigers if they were relegated from the Premier League.

After successful stints at Sporting Lisbon and Olympiacos, Silva arrived at Hull in January for his first job in England and made sweeping changes to their squad and almost kept the Tigers up against all the odds.

In a statement on Watford’s website Chairman and CEO Scott Duxbury revealed his excitement at Silva’s arrival.

“Marco was one of the most sought after Head Coaches in the Premier League,” Duxbury said. “His pedigree and promise speaks for itself with his achievements in top divisions elsewhere across Europe, as well as his work at Hull City last season.”

The managerial merry-go-round at Watford continues.

Why Southampton should consider keeping Claude Puel

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It has all gone quiet at Southampton. But for how long?

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Media speculation has been rampant over the past few weeks that Claude Puel, Southampton’s first-year manager, would be shown the exit door at St Mary’s this summer amid fan unrest about the style of play and their regression from a team challenging for the top six.

But, even in these times where fans demand instant success and patience is severely lacking, is that really the right answer?

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Puel, 55, delivered an eighth place finish, the fourth-straight season Southampton have finished eighth or higher, which is the first time they’ve achieved that feat in club history.

Yet many supporters point to the fact that Southampton finished just five points above Swansea City who finished in 15th place, plus they complain about Puel’s dull demeanor in his press conference as he struggles to express himself in English. He is a figure which truly divides the fanbase between those wanting him fired and those wiling to give him another chance.

Saints are a club who finished in a higher league position in seven-straight seasons before this campaign, so perhaps the vast majority of the fanbase have become too accustomed to overachieving and this reality check was always on the horizon.

A top 10 finish and a cup run should always be a superb season for a club of Southampton’s size but fans want more. With talk of a potential Chinese takeover this summer, they want to dream that they can push for a top six finish and qualify for Europe each season and aren’t sure Puel is the right man to deliver it.

That’s fair enough, but when you dissect the entire season and the key stats which came from it, getting rid of Puel seems incredibly hasty. He had many unfortunate obstacles to overcome in his first season in England and it’s unlikely he’ll have so much to deal with next season, and possibly beyond.

Club captain Jose Fonte was sold midway through the season after a disagreement with directors, while leading scorer Charlie Austin (yes, he was out since December but still finished top scorer, with nine) was injured for five months in early December and star center back Virgil Van Dijk was also injured in January as it ended his season. Along with all of this Puel had to deal with Saints’ first-ever Europa League group stage campaign and the agony of missing out on the knockout stages by one goal.

The constant chopping and changing of the team dominated Puel’s reign in the early months as he made 97 lineup changes throughout the season. Only Manchester City and Manchester United made more in the PL in 2016-17. Perhaps one of the major criticisms was that he tinkered too much to try and keep his squad fresh as they pushed to qualify for the Europa League knockout stage, with the previous high-tempo style of play impossible to replicate across a 53 game season.

Hence the slower pace of play which frustrated many fans and perhaps failed to get the best out of a team built by Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman to play a fast, high-pressing style, which in turn led to reports of many senior players unhappy at the tactics deployed by the Frenchman.

Another big factor of the rotation was reaching the EFL Cup final where Saints, again, agonizingly came up short as they lost 3-2 to Manchester United at Wembley in a game which they should have won.

In the Premier League his team scored just 17 goals in 19 home games with no goals in any of their final five home games of the season which led to fans booing and plenty calling for Puel to be fired. But if you look a little deeper, the chances are being created but with Austin out, Manolo Gabbiadini‘s hot streak over after his initial burst and the duo of Shane Long and Jay Rodriguez failing to step up, Saints’ shot conversion rate was the lowest in the PL.

That’s right, Southampton converted just 7.47 percent of the 549 shots that had at goal, which was the seventh-highest number of shot attempts in the PL. Saints created chances but could Puel really do much about his players not converting them? It sounds simplistic, but think about it. With Austin back fit next season, plus Gabbiadini and Sofiane Boufal acclimatized to life in England, will this shot conversion rate really be this low again?

Saints also had two players in the PL’s top 18 in terms of chances created, Dusan Tadic and Nathan Redmond, and away from home they had the seventh best record but had the 17th best record at home, suggesting their prowess as a counter-attacking team. Had Saints scored penalty kicks against Hull City and Manchester United in two of their final three home games then they would have finished more comfortably in eighth place and had a much better home record.

Small margins.

Southampton also had the second youngest starting XI in the PL at 26 years and 169 days, with Redmond and James Ward-Prowse making their full England debuts, plus no PL club had more than Saints’ seven players in the full and U-21 England teams when they were announced at the end of the season.

As well as English talent like Sam McQueen, Ward-Prowse, Redmond and Jack Stephena improving drastically, Puel helped the likes of Oriol Romeu, Maya Yoshida and Cedric Soares reach new heights too. It shouldn’t be all doom and gloom and Puel is a man who can deliver steady progression at a club which lost its past two managers, Pochettino and Koeman, to bigger teams in the PL just when it appeared they were on the verge of great things at St Mary’s.

Another reason to keep the faith, for at least another season, is the fact that wherever Puel has been he has delivered improved results beyond his first season. There’s a hope he can do that at Southampton, especially without the extra rigors of European action next season.

He took charge of AS Monaco in January 1999 and they won the French title in May 2000. He took charge of Lille in 2002 and improved them from 14th to 10th to 2nd place finishes in his first three seasons at the club. Puel spent six seasons at Lille and helped the likes of Eden Hazard and Yohan Cabaye break into the team.

In 2008 he took charge of Lyon and in his second full season he took the French outfit to the UEFA Champions League semifinal for just the first time in club history, plus Hugo Lloris and others broke through under his guidance. In 2012 he took charge of Nice and in his first season he led them to fourth in Ligue 1 (their highest Ligue 1 finish since 1976), then did it once again in 2015-16 with 17th and 11th place finishes in-between. The Nice team he left behind last season just finished third in Ligue 1.

All of this proves that Puel can improve teams given time.

What is Saints’ alternative to Puel? Some reports suggest Marco Silva would be the main man but he appears to be joining Watford after impressing at Hull City, while the names of Slavisa Jokanovic and Alan Pardew have also been mentioned as potential replacements.

Do Southampton really want to become a club know for hiring and firing managers after a season which presented plenty of challenges but still ended up with a top half finish, a decent run in Europe and a EFL Cup final appearance?

If Saints put faith in Puel, he may just surprise everyone. Of course, like every manager, he needs a bit of luck to drop his way but fans calling for his head should think closely about what the alternative would be.