The Gunners are in sensational form, can they keep it going?

Premier League Gradebook: Arsenal and Liverpool excel, Manchester United in detention

Leave a comment

With the current international break disrupting Premier League play for two weeks, now is a good time to take stock on the season so far.

So, that’s exactly what we’re doing at ProSoccerTalk.

Right here, we give each team each a grade on their start to the 2013-14 campaign, and also pick out their ‘star pupil’ who is excelling and a ‘class clown’ who must do better.


On Thursday we will look at each manager, but for now, here’s the lowdown on every single PL teams start to the season. Some big sides better hit the books between now and Christmas, because they’re barely passing…


A tremendous start to the season for the Gunners, as the signing of Mesut Ozil for $60 million on Transfer Deadline Day galvanized the squad. Coupled with the remarkable form of free-scoring Welshman Aaron Ramsey and Oivier Giroud’s sublime hold up play, Arsenal have gone from top four hopefuls to title contenders in the space of the last six weeks. Ramsey’s remarkable start, eight goals already, has been the shining light in a great start for Arsene Wenger’s men who sit top of the table. And at the back they looked settled and assured, could this be the year they finally win a trophy again? Record – (5-1-1)

source: Getty Images
Ramsey can’t stop scoring, ad the Gunners sit top of the tree.

Star Pupil: Aaron Ramsey
Class Clown: Nicklas Bendtner


A solid start for Villa this season, with two massive wins on the board already. Victories over Arsenal and Manchester City were slightly fortuitous, but they’re certainly getting the breaks that they missed out on for the majority of last season. Their squad is stronger after a full season in the PL together last term. Can Paul Lambert keep his side firing on all cylinders from now until Christmas? If they can keep Gabriel Agbonlahor and Christian Benteke fit, there’s no reason why not, while USMNT ‘keeper Brad Guzan is having another wonderful year. Record – (3-3-1)

Star Pupil: Brad Guzan
Class Clown: Ciaran Clark


A few disappointing results to end September has seen the Bluebirds take a bit of a nosedive, but they’ve fared pretty well in their first-ever season in the Premier League. Cardiff are solid and hard to break down, especially at home, but I do wonder where the goals are going to come from. Young Danish striker Andres Cornelius has been injured, and veterans Craig Bellamy and Peter Odemwingie may be just over the hill to cause teams too many problems. News of unrest in the boardroom could spell trouble in South Wales. Record – (2-3-2)

Star Pupil: Aron Gunnarsson
Class Clown: Andreas Cornelius


The screw is starting to turn for the Special One, slowly but surely. The first few weeks of the season has seen a very unsettled picture prevail at Stamford Bridge, with squad rotation the aim of the game. Keeping everyone happy isn’t easy, and Mourinho has certainly been feeling the pressure. However a promising second half against Spurs and a determined win away at Norwich sees his side sat just behind the leaders. I think Chelsea now know their best starting XI, with Juan Mata, Oscar and Ramires all slotting into midfield together. Watch out, because if Fernando Torres or one of their other forwards gets going, the Blues will be right up there. Record – (4-1-2)

Star Pupil: Oscar
Class Clown: Samuel Eto’o

source: Reuters
Oscar has been Chelsea’s main attacking threat, with four goals


One win and six defeats from their opening seven games… it’s going to be a long, hard season for the Eagles. You have to love Ian Holloway’s persona, but this Palace team just aren’t capable of playing all-out attack in the PL, like his Blackpool side were a few years ago. They’ve had tough trips to Manchester United and Liverpool, so now those are out of the way, Palace can focus on picking up big wins at home. Defensively they’re not bad, but like Cardiff, I’m not sure who will grab the goals they need to stay up. Youngster Dwight Gayle is their only hope. Record – (1-6-0)

Star Pupil: Mile Jedinak
Class Clown: Adrian Mariappa


The Toffees have to be happy with their start under new manager Roberto Martinez, I for one was skeptical but he’s been a revelation on Merseyside. With just one loss in seven games coming away at Man City, Everton have started brightly and despite three draws to open up, they record three straight wins with stunning 3-2 victories against West Ham and Newcastle. Switching between the 3-5-2 system and a flat back four is working, and Martinez has brought attractive and free-flowing soccer to Goodison Park. I’d be very surprised if they don’t make the top six this season. Record – (3-1-3)

Star Pupil: Romelu Lukaku
Class Clown: Nikica Jelavic


Having seen the relief at Craven Cottage first hand following their win over Stoke last weekend, you can tell it’s been a struggle so far from Fulham. A core of experienced players has failed to gel and Martin Jol is still under the cosh, with defensive lapses late in games proving costly. If they can get Dimitar Berbatov and Darren Bent playing together, they will cause problems. But with a new owner and tough games ahead, I worry for Jol. Maybe that scrappy win against the Potters will be the turning point? Record – (2-4-1)

Star Pupil: Patjim Kasami
Class Clown: Giorgos Karagounis


What a tremendous start for the Tigers, with 11 points form their first seven games. Hull are exceeding everyone’s expectations and despite not playing an attractive brand of soccer, plenty of people are pleased to see Steve Bruce’s side excel. Hull have only scored six goals, with Robbie Brady grabbing three of them and a big win at Newcastle gave them confidence. They’ve only let in seven and have plenty of PL experience throughout their team, but I still expect Hull to get sucked into the struggle later on in the season. Record – (3-2-2)

Star Pupil: Sone Aluko
Class Clown: Danny Graham

source: Reuters
S.A.S. have been a mean double act in the past few games. Can they keep it going?


The Reds have been exceptional in the opening weeks of the season, with Daniel Sturridge the star of the show. Leading the league for long spells, Brendan Rodgers’ side have looked great going forward and their aim to make the top four seems to be well within reach. However, they’ve struggled to create since losing Philippe Coutinho through injury. But with Luis Suarez returning and no European competition this season, league play is the sole focus for Liverpool and that’s a great thing. The 3-5-2 system is looking good, how long can they keep this momentum going? Record – (5-1-1)

Star Pupil: Daniel Sturridge
Class Clown: Iago Aspas


A real mixed bag for City so far, but Manuel Pellegrini’s side are still set up nicely. They’ve been Jekyll and Hyde, with tremendous displays at home, four wins from four, but no wins on the road after two shock defeats to Cardiff and Aston Villa. When they’re on form, they’re unstoppable, as the 4-1 derby demolition of Manchester United proved, but the Citizens must be more consistent if they’re going to win the PL title. Joe Hart’s form in goal is worrying, but up front new signings Alvaro Negredo and Jesus Navas have slotted in well with Sergio Aguero and Sami Nasri. Record – (4-2-1)

Star Pupil: Yaya Toure
Class Clown: Joe Hart


Well, this isn’t going to plan. Sitting in ninth and suffering three defeats in their first seven matches, David Moyes’ reign at United has been underwhelming so far. The big problem is that this isn’t Moyes’ side, with hardly under roster changes form the Sir Alex Ferguson era. That aside, Wayne Rooney is looking fresh and hungry, but new signing Marouane Fellaini has struggled. However, youngster Adnan Januzaj is a star in the making following his two goals giving United a win vs. Sunderland on his full-debut. Defensively, United look old, with Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra exposed on several occasions and teams picking them off. There’s certainly work to do, can United drag themselves bag into the title race by December? Record – (3-3-1)

Star Pupil: Wayne Rooney
Class Clown: Rio Ferdinand

source: Getty Images
Worrying times at United, as the old guard look fragile.


Inconsistency has riddled the Magpies season, with scintillating attacking displays often followed up by inept defense in the same game. Loic Remy has scored five goals so far, and a great win down at Cardiff will spur Alan Pardew’s men on after the international break. But poor defeats at home to Hull City and away at Man City have been the low points. A fully-fit squad will see Newcastle steer safe from relegation, but can they keep sneaking up the table? Record – (3-1-3)

Star Pupil: Loic Remy
Class Clown: Papiss Demba Cisse


So far the Canaries are just passing, but Chris Hughton will be disappointed with a lack of goals once again. Last season they struggled offensively, and the expensive additions of Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Gary Hooper have failed to click due to injury and loss of form. They’ve scored just four times in seven games so far, the lowest total in the entire league. Norwich are solid but unspectacular, and I worry about them slipping into a relegation scrap if goals continue to evade them. Record – (2-4-1)

Star Pupil: Nathan Redmond
Class Clown: Ricky van Wolfswinkel


What an incredible start to the season for the Saints, and could be even better. Four wins and just one defeat sees Mauricio Pochettino’s team in fourth spot and home draws against Sunderland and West Ham should have been wins. Five clean sheets from seven games gives them the best defense in the league and their massive win at Anfield to burst Liverpool’s bubble proved just how good they are. Their high pressing style is breaking down every team, and expensive new additions Victor Wanyama, Dejan Lovren and Daniel Osvaldo have slotted in seamlessly. Can the Saints break into the top six in just their second season back in the big time? Record – (4-1-2)

Star Pupil: Artur Boruc
Class Clown: Gaston Ramirez

source: Getty Images
Surprise package of the season so far… Can the Saints keep marching in?


The Potters are much more ‘aesthetically pleasing’ than in recent season, as Mark Hughes’ team are playing attractive, attacking soccer. They still have an edge and their gigantic team get stuck in, but they’re almost too scared to revert back to the direct play that won them so many games in the Tony Pulis era. This season they have been unlucky with a few decisions and should have beaten Fulham. They’ve held Man City and pushed Arsenal hard at the Emirates, but there’s still plenty of work to do at the Britannia. Definitely a work in progress, but some promising signs. Record – (2-4-1)

Star Pupil: Steven N’Zonzi
Class Clown: Kenwyne Jones


As starts to the season go, this was one of the worst in living memory. Paolo Di Canio added 13 players over the summer and those new additions failed to impress, gel and eventually cost the Italian his job. Just one point form seven games tells the story, but the Black Cats really have been woeful and lacking in every single department. New manager Gus Poyet has a huge  job on his hands to stave off relegation, the last time a team didn’t win any of their first seven games and stayed up in the PL was in 1999-00, when Newcastle did so. Jozy Altidore hasn’t scored in seven, and has looked devoid of confidence and cutting edge. Can he get going under Poyet? Record – (0-6-1)

Star Pupil: Emanuele Giaccherini
Class Clown: Jozy Altidore


A really tumultuous start for the Swans, who’ve excelled in the Europa League but struggled in the PL. As normally is the case when a small squad makes it to Europe, Michael Laudrup has found it hard to rest players and mix his squad up between the midweek and weekend games. New addition Jonjo Shelvey had that crazy game against Liverpool where he was involved in all four goals in a 2-2 draw, but has failed to prove he can be their ‘go-to’ guy. Swansea look good going forward, but a little suspect defensively this season. The Welsh team haven’t strayed away from the possession first approach, but they could do with having a plan B every now and then. Lackluster start. Record – (2-1-4)

Star Pupil: Wilfried Bony
Class Clown: Jonjo Shelvey


Just one defeat from their first six games, a narrow loss to North London rivals Arsenal, saw Spurs right at the top of the table. But they unraveled against West Ham in a 3-0 home loss on Sunday. Andre Villas-Boas has overseen a terrific overhaul this summer, with the likes of Roberto Soldado, Erik Lamela, Paulinho and Christian Eriksen all impressing as they replaced Gareth Bale. Solid at the back and hugely powerful in midfield, Spurs will be pleased with a good start. Expect more good things from AVB’s side. Record – (4-2-1)

Star Pupil: Paulinho
Class Clown: Nacer Chadli

source: Getty Images
Spurs’ new-look side are gelling quickly at White Hart Lane.


Steve Clarke’s men had a horrendous start to the season, but in the last few weeks they’ve turned things around. A big win against Sunderland, followed by a shock win at Old Trafford and a home draw with Arsenal, has seen the Baggies grow in confidence. Deadline day signings of Victor Anichebe and Stephane Sessegnon have certainly bolstered their attack, West Brom should be fine this season and showed they have what it takes to hang with the big boys. Record – (2-2-3)

Star Pupil: Saido Berahino
Class Clown: Nicolas Anelka


Big Sam Allardyce has seen his side depleted by injuries, but they just keep plugging away. A big win at Spurs and an opening day victory against Cardiff have been the highlights so far. But the Hammers have definitely found it hard to create goals with Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing out injured. Ravel Morrison is a real talent in midfield, and things should only get better when the treatment tables clear. Things are looking up after a sluggish start to the 2013-14 campaign. Record – (2-3-2)

Star Pupil: Ravel Morrison
Class Clown: James Collins

Biggest omissions from the Ballon d’Or shortlist

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal (R) is chased by N'Golo Kante of Chelsea (L)  during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium on September 24, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

France Football released the 30-man shortlist for the Ballon d’Or award given to the world’s best player.

As expected in a EURO year, there are several Portuguese standouts to go with the usual suspects.

There are also some odd omissions.

[ MLS: Pre-playoff power rankings ]

Alexis Sanchez was Arsenal’s second-leading scorer as the Gunners finished second in the Premier League, and the South American attacker scored three goals as Chile won its second-straight Copa America, this one on American soil. It’s baffling that he’s not on the list.

N'Golo Kante enjoyed a season as the engine of the best story in Premier League history, manning the midfield for Leicester, and followed it up by helping France reach the EURO 2016 final. Pretty good, right?

Javier Mascherano and Ivan Rakitic were key pieces in Barcelona’s run to the La Liga crown despite being limited by the transfer ban. Mascherano followed it up by captaining Argentina to the Copa America Centenario final, while Rakitic starred alongside Ivan Perisic as Croatia won a tricky EURO 2016 group before falling to eventual winners Portugal.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 11: Fernando Torres of Club Atletico de Madrid is surrounded by (L-R) Javier Mascherano, Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic, Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez of FC Barcelona during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Club Atletico de Madrid at Camp Nou on January 11, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
Mascherano (far left) and Rakitic (second from right) are among several Barcelona players who didn’t make the cut (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images).

Harry Kane may’ve not been a good choice to take corner for England, but he also was one of the best all-around attackers in the world as Tottenham surged into the Top Four of the Premier League.

With four goalkeepers making the cut, it shows that club success is more important than performance. David De Gea‘s season was certainly on the same plane as Buffon, though the latter won the league with Juventus and edged Spain at EURO 2016.

Marcelo, Leonardo Bonucci, and David Silva were also players who succeeded for both club and country and could’ve found their way onto the 30.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

Finally, let’s see how I fared in projecting the 30 men back in mid-September:

— I got 24 on the nose, wrongly guessing that Kante, Kane, Alexis, Mascherano, Rakitic, and Olivier Giroud would make the cut. Giroud led Arsenal and France in scoring, but if Alexis wasn’t going to make it the coiffed Frenchman had no hope.

— Of the six I didn’t get, only one brings me great shame: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should’ve been in the first 15 names on any list, not missing the post entirely. Paulo Dybala is a bit of a shocker from the crew, and Koke is a tricky miss. Luka Modric was our No. 31, while Rui Patricio was our 35. Diego Godin was a bad miss.

— What to learn from this: Atletico Madrid was obviously credited for its return to the UCL final, so Godin and Koke prove that carried a bit more weight than Kante and Giroud making the final with France, and Alexis thriving at the Copa America.

Whose historic hiccup was worse: Portland or Columbus?

PORTLAND, OR - MARCH 6: Kei Kamara #23 of Columbus Crew and Liam Ridgewell #24 of Portland Timbers go after a ball during the second half of the game at Providence Park on March 6, 2016 in Portland, Oregon. The Timbers won the match 2-1. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images
1 Comment

It’s been less than a year since we discussed who was best suited to return to the MLS Cup Final following Portland’s 2-1 win over Columbus in the 2015 title match.

Now we’re wondering who’s fall was more shameful, the Portland Timbers and Columbus Crew each missed the playoffs, just over 11 months after contesting the final. That’s never happened before.

[ MORE: Pre-playoff power rankings ]

We asked our staff to take a stand on the matter of who flubbed worse: Gregg Berhalter’s Crew or Caleb Porter’s Timbers.

Andy Edwards

Columbus: 2016 was Gregg Berhalter’s third season in charge in Columbus, and in each of his first two years, Crew SC took a gigantic step forward — from non-playoff side to in the playoffs in 2014; from young, naive playoff team to MLS Cup hosts in 2015 — which meant 2016 was supposed to be the culmination of a truly great revolution in Columbus.

They started the season slow, with no wins in their first five games. But they had done the same thing just 12 months earlier and there they were playing for the Cup in December. The Crew looked to be slowly turning this season’s corner when the Kei Kamara/Federico Higuain thing exploded and effectively ended their season in May.

Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

The big knock on Crew SC last year, at least for me, was that they never seemed to figure out a Plan B — if “hit it long for Kei, he’ll knock it down, and Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram will run onto it and toss the alley-oop back to him inside the six” wasn’t working, you’d already beaten them.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

2016 exposed Berhalter, perhaps more than any player on the roster, because of the elongated nature of those struggles — literally the entire season. Finlay (6 goals, 9 assists) and Meram (5 goals, 13 assists) put up fine numbers once again, but they rang hollow for a losing team going nowhere all season long.

Wil Trapp’s age-23 season was completely wasted — he’s no longer “a young player” — and I’d take a long, hard look at Europe this winter if I were him. The defense has been an unmitigated disaster the last two season (53 and 58 goals conceded), mostly due to the all-out attacking nature of Berhalter’s game plans — hint: defending 2-on-4 against counter-attacks almost never ends well. The “other” Kamara, Ola, actually panning out was the saving grace that kept them within a mile of the playoff race.

Nick Mendola

Portland: Maybe it’s an odd year thing; Portland won the 2015 MLS Cup after claiming the West’s best record in 2013.

Or maybe, just maybe, the Timbers ran out of luck under newly-extended Caleb Porter in his fourth season on the job. This time, no one bailed them out.

Portland came out of nowhere to claim the West’s No. 1 seed in 2013, as Porter engineered an astounding 15 draws including 10 on the road. The tactics and lineup selection helped, but so did the arrivals of Diego Valeri and Will Johnson (pretty important, no?).

The Timbers missed the playoffs by a point in 2014, a 3W-1D end to the season not enough to make up for a horrible start to the season.

The next season saw the Timbers win it all, but not without needing a three-match winning streak to leap ahead of four teams and claim the third-seed (Seattle, LA, and KC all finished two points back). Six games later, they went from almost out to on top of the MLS world.

So what happened this year, with many falling all over ourselves to praise the long-term prospects of a Timbers dynasty? A giant failure. The Timbers failed to win a single road game, tossing aside their strong home field advantage (Portland was 12W-3L-2T at Providence Park).

SANDY, UT - APRIL 19: Head coach Caleb Porter of the Portland Timbers encourages his team during their game against Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium April 19, 2014 in Sandy, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)

The Timbers scored the second-most penalties in the league this year, with five, so it’s not like fortune avoided them (The Red Bulls didn’t score one).

But, oh, this was ugly.

Portland took three of its the final 12 points available to it. The Timbers lost big in Vancouver and Houston, two non-playoff destinations. In its last 13 games, Portland lost nine and won four.

[ MORE: Yedlin on Newcastle, EFL Cup ]

The Timbers completed the fewest passes in Major League Soccer, 400 less than the closest competitor and 4,300 behind the league-leading Revs. Portland couldn’t take the ball away, either, with the second-fewest interceptions in the league.

You could even argue that losing 4-1 in Vancouver on Decision Day — a loss to a knocked-out Cascadia Cup rival — makes it worse than Columbus’ season alone. This was awful stuff, albeit schadenfreude for the anti-Porter brigade.

Oh, and they bombed out of a poor CONCACAF Champions League group without a Liga MX or MLS opponent in it.

Alright, so Andy tabbed Columbus and Nick took Portland. Let’s get a tiebreaker in here.

Matt Reed

Every champion has a target on its back but the Timbers managed to essentially bring back all of its key starters from a season ago, despite losing Maxi Urruti. The Timbers were involved in 22 games separated by one goal or less in 2016, with Caleb Porter’s side winning only seven of those contests. Had one more game gone in their favor the Timbers would likely be back in the postseason. 

The case for (and against) every Eastern Conference playoff team

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 13: Benoit Cheyrou #8 of Toronto FC defends Andrea Pirlo #21 of New York City FC free kick at Yankee Stadium on March 13, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Of the six teams remaining in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference, you could argue there are three distinct pairings.

You have red-hot traditional sides in DC United and the New York Red Bulls; There are the big-name driven, deep squads from Toronto FC and New York City FC, and finally the two relative unknowns truly deserving of “wildcard” status in the Philadelphia Union Montreal Impact.

[ MORE: Yedlin on Newcastle, EFL Cup ]

Sure the table tends to tell us who’s who in the pecking order. It’s hard to bet against the Red Bulls seeing they haven’t lost since July 3, and Frank Lampard has somehow quietly been a wrecking ball thanks to dynamite performances from captain David Villa and world-class maestro Andrea Pirlo.

But there are reasons those teams may not be the true favorite to advance to the MLS Cup final, just as there are ways to imagine Philly can punch their way through the East. We’re here to give you both.

Philadelphia Union (6)

Why they’ll win: The young unit might be too green to know it isn’t expected to knock off Toronto in Toronto, or a New York team in New York or New Jersey. Chris Pontius and Tranquillo Barnetta add veteran skill and savvy, while Andre Blake is capable of stealing some of the league’s more terrific strikes.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

Why they won’t: Their last win was Aug. 27, and we’re supposed to expect the Union to win on the road at Toronto, RBNY, and then either NYCFC or DC. Nah, dog (though it’d be quite a story and we’d be happy to watch it).

Montreal Impact (5)

Why they’ll win: Didier Drogba may not be mentally in it, but he’s still a fierce competitor who can score with the best of them. By the way, the “best of them” definitely includes Ignacio Piatti. The Argentine has been one of the top players in the league this season, and can take over any game (Yes, even three on the bounce).

Why they won’t: The dysfunction and fall-out from Drogba’s benching permeates the room before match against red-hot DC United, and an average road team fails to meet expectations.

Montreal Impact forward Didier Drogba heads the ball in front of D.C. United midfielder Marcelo Sarvas during the second half of an MLS soccer match Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016, in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)
(Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)

DC United (4)

Why they’ll win: A four-match win streak earned most of DC’s starters a well-deserved rest on Decision Day, and there will be a “Why not us?” cry coming from the DC dressing room. Patrick Nyarko has been a lot of fun to watch. Luciano Acosta is legit as well. Bill Hamid is an excellent shot stopper, and the four-time champion Black-and-Red is overdue for a final, having been absent since beating KC in 2004.

[ MORE: Pre-playoff power rankings ]

Why they won’t: Let’s be honest, most arguments against DC sound quite political. “Well, they can’t win because of the other guys being so good.” DC doesn’t have the firepower of TFC, NYCFC, and RBNY; Would you bet on them beating two of the above, which they likely would have to? (Actually, kinda).

Toronto FC (3)

Why they’ll win: Frankly, this is the best defensive team in the East, with a minimum of three game attacking breakers in Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley, and Jozy Altidore. Imports Drew Moor and Clint Irwin aren’t scared of the spotlight, and Will Johnson will be putting on for his city. And they’re good away from BMO Field. This could be TFC’s season, y’all.

Why they won’t: This is Toronto’s 10th season, and happens to be the first one in which it won more matches than it lost. TFC’s debut home match comes on Wednesday evening, and there’s something to be said for experience. While some of its players have plenty, the club does not possess much at all.

New York City FC (2)

Why they’ll win: One of only two teams (Toronto) to finish their road schedule with a .500 record, Patrick Vieira has been able to get the best out of the superstars and the lesser-known members of NYC’s squad. Tactically, we’re not sure there’s another coach in the East with his acumen.

Why they won’t: It’s also Vieira’s first playoffs as a manager, and the whole franchise hasn’t done that dance, either. They have one win in five combined matches against RBNY and TFC.

New York Red Bulls

Why they’ll win: Frankly, as stated above, because they don’t lose. Jesse Marsch hasn’t overseen a loss in three-and-a-half months, has two legit claimants to MVP honors in Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan, and have been reinforced by one of the deepest Academy production lines in MLS.

Why they won’t: New York won just three road matches all year, even if it managed 7 draws away from Red Bull Arena. On top of that, this is year No. 20 of MLS, and founding members RBNY have zero titles and one final appearance. Those ghosts could come creeping up to the door.

USMNT’s Yedlin talks Newcastle challenge, EFL Cup quarters

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 26:  DeAndre Yedlin of Tottenham Hotspur controls the ball during the 2016 International Champions Cup match between Juventus FC and Tottenham Hotspur at Melbourne Cricket Ground on July 26, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Leave a comment

USMNT standout DeAndre Yedlin is gaining valuable experience fighting for promotion with Championship-leading Newcastle United, and will likely get the chance to help the Magpies into the EFL Cup quarterfinals this week.

Newcastle hosts Preston North End on Tuesday at St. James Park, and the 23-year-old Yedlin has been providing plenty to the Magpies under Rafa Benitez.

[ MORE: EFL Cup Tuesday preview ]

Yedlin has appeared four times at right mid and four more at right back as Newcastle sits atop the Championship through 14 matches. He’s been in the 18 for every match since he arrived from Tottenham.

Manager Rafa Benitez has employed a lot of rotation in his squad given the congested schedule, and Yedlin has competed for time at the back with Magpies veteran Vurnon Anita and ex-Atleti back Jesus Gamez. The club’s right-sided attackers include even more options, headlined by the electric Matt Ritchie.

From The Chronicle:

“If you aren’t in form there’s always one guy will step in. They could take your place,” Yedlin said.

“That means every opportunity you get you must take and make the best of it.”

That’s the sort of competition we like to see abroad, and the reason players like Perry Kitchen (Hearts) and Matt Miazga (Vitesse via Chelsea) are lauded for taking steps out of their insta-starter status domestically (and again, I hate having to repoint out that it’s okay to feel this way and love MLS).

As for Tuesday’s match against Preston, here are Yedlin’s thoughts on being in the final 16 of the EFL Cup:

“It’s an important game. We are getting to the final stages of the cup now and obviously we want to win everything we can.

“It’s important to us. Like I’ve said the depth in this team is unbelievable. So I am sure whatever team goes out there will be extremely strong.”