MLS Week In Review (plus a quick playoff teaser)

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Covering what happened in Major League Soccer’s final round, Week 35 — then it’s time to turn our attention to the “Second season.”

The final round playoff clinchers

Big props to New England and Houston, which needed wins on the final day of regular season action to clinch playoff spots, and stamped “Mission Accomplished” on the thing.

Also wearing the flight jacket beneath the “Mission Accomplished” banner: the New York Red Bulls, whose comprehensive final-day win over Chicago was as meaningful  as it was impressive (see the next item), and also the Portland TImbers. Portland needed a win at Chivas USA to take the Western Conference’s top spot … and Caleb Porter’s team did it with a big flourish in a 5-0 result.

Supporters Shield decided

Congratulations to the New York Red Bulls, who needed just 18 years, 13 managers and hundreds of players to finally win a major trophy. So … nailed it!

Mike Petke’s team clinched the Supporters Shield (awarded to the team with best regular season record) with that mighty win (5-2) Sunday over Chicago.

Yes, that was the team’s very first major piece of silverware. (No truth to the rumor that workers were busy all night at RBNY headquarters actually building a trophy case.)

(MORE: Top story lines for the MLS playoffs)

The Golden Boot decided

With his early strike Sunday against New York, Chicago’s Mike Magee grabbed the Golden Boot — but he didn’t keep hold for long. Vancouver’s Camilo scored once before half and then twice on either side, seizing the league’s final goals leadership in high hat trick style at BC Place. (And putting a little Golden Boot bow on an otherwise humdrum season for his club.) His 22 goals trumped Magee’s total (21) and Montreal’s Marco Di Vaio’s (20).

And a potential MVP lost, too

As for Magee, his breakout season was a superb story for MLS, doing so much to rescue a season gone sideways around Toyota Park … but if may not be enough to get Magee a league MVP. Remember, only one MVP has come from a team that didn’t make the post-season (Dwayne De Rosario in 2011). And since Chicago finished sixth, one spot out of the post-season …

D.C. United’s dubious records – yuk!:

With its loss on Sunday, D.C. United sealed the statistical deal on what the eye test showed us all along: that this team was absolutely awful. Historically awful, in fact. The club set MLS all-time season records for fewest wins (just three for United this year, “beating” the old record by one) and worst goal difference (-37 this year, also setting the record by one goal). More on it here from Richard Farley.

Clint Dempsey gets one

It took him nine games, but the Sounders big summer signing (and the league’s highest wage earner) scored his debut goal for the Sounders in the league’s final regular season game. He came into the match with no goals and no assists in eight previous 2013 matches.

The goal that wasn’t — more controversy

Periodic calls for goal line technology arrive in the form of a close call along the line, between the pipes. But the one missed late Sunday in Seattle? Not. Even. Close.

Omar Gonzalez’s header off an LA Galaxy corner kick was a goal. Period. End of story. No “didn’t get a good angle” or any of that. Officials on site blew this one. More about that one here.

Weekend’s best goal

Thierry Henry has scored just three goals since July, but there can be no denying that that the Red Bulls’ fabulous Frenchman still has that “something special” about him. How else to talk about his first-half bit of awesome, chesting a ball inot the air (and away from a defender) with one touch, and then volleying splendidly into the corner with his second touch. Here it is:

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And now …. the MLS Playoffs

More on the MLS playoffs later today at ProSoccerTalk

For now, here are the matchups, with the single elimination matches set for Wednesday or Thursday:

  • East: Montreal Impact vs. Houston Dynamo

— Winner hosts New York Red Bulls this weekend in first leg conference semifinal

— New England hosts Sporting Kansas City this weekend in first leg conference semifinal

(MORE: MLS Eastern Conference playoffs are set)

  • West: Colorado Rapids at Seattle Sounders

— Winner hosts Portland Timbers this weekend in first leg conference semifinal

— Real Salt Lake hosts LA Galaxy this weekend in first leg conference semifinal

(MORE: MLS Western Conference playoffs are set)

The playoff schedule ahead:

Conference elimination matches (4th place vs. 5th place), Wednesday and Thursday

Conference Semifinals, Leg 1: Nov. 2-3 (Sat.-Sun.)

Conference Semifinals, Leg 2: Nov. 6-7 (Wed.-Thurs.)

Conference Finals, Leg 1: Nov. 9-10 (Sat.-Sun.)

Conference Finals, Leg 2: Nov. 23-24 (Sat.-Sun.)

MLS Cup: Dec. 7 (Sat.)

Report: American teenager linked with Manchester United

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The U.S. Men’s National Team is always looking for more Christian Pulisic-like players, and another star-in-the-making could be on his way to Old Trafford.

[ MORE: Three keys for USMNT ahead of Panama clash ]

American teenager Will Vint is reportedly being pursued by Premier League giants Manchester United after previously having trialed with Fulham and Everton.

Vint, the 15-year-old son Everton academy director Peter Vint, has reportedly impressed the Red Devils while on trial as of late. Additionally, the teen’s Instagram page describes him as a “Footballer at Manchester United.”

The number of Americans in England’s top flight have dwindled down over recent years, however, USMNT mainstays like Geoff Cameron and Brad Guzan (moving to Atlanta United) still reside in the PL.

Chapecoense announces match against Colombia’s Nacional

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SAO PAULO (AP) Brazilian club Chapecoense will play Colombia’s Atletico Nacional on April 4 in what will be an emotional home match.

[ MORE: Aguero left out of Argentina XI to face Bolivia ]

In November, 19 members of the Brazilian team died in an air crash outside Medellin as they travelled to play Nacional in the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana final. Out of 77 passengers, 71 died in the incident, including players, journalists, and club officials.

Chapecoense says they will play at 22,000-seat Arena Conda in southern Brazil in the first leg of the Recopa Sudamericana.

The tragedy made Atletico Nacional pronounce Chapecoense as champions, and the South American confederation agreed.

The Recopa Sudamericana is between the champions of the Copa Sudamericana and the Copa Libertadores.

Aguero left off Argentina starting XI to face Bolivia

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Sao Paolo striker Lucas Pratto will receive a fantastic opportunity on Tuesday when Argentina faces Bolivia in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying.

[ PREVIEW: USMNT travels to Panama in CONCACAF WCQ ]

It just so happens that Pratto’s gain is a major letdown for one of the Premier League’s top strikers. The 28-year-old is tied for second this qualifying campaign for Argentina with two goals.

La Albiceleste have announced their starting lineup ahead of tomorrow’s clash in Bolivia, which features mainstays Lionel Messi, Angel di Maria and goalkeeper Sergio Romero.

Meanwhile, Aguero — who started in Argentina’s 1-0 win over Chile on Thursday — is the lone change from manager Edgardo Bauza.

The Copa America runners’ up are currently depleted with a combination of injuries and suspensions. Four players will miss Tuesday’s meeting in La Paz due to suspension, including Gonzalo Higuain, Nicolas Otamendi, Javier Mascherano and Lucas Biglia.

Elsewhere, Gabriel Mercado and Emmanuel Mas will each miss the match after sustaining respective hamstring and knee injuries.

Argentina currently sits third in the CONMEBOL table while Bolivia is in danger of elimination with a loss on Tuesday. La Verde have managed just seven points in the first 13 rounds of World Cup qualifying.

Three keys for USMNT against Panama

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Coming off of Friday night’s dominating effort against Honduras, the U.S. Men’s National Team looks for their second win in five nights when Bruce Arena and co. head to Panama.

[ PREVIEW: USMNT goes for second win in Hex on Tuesday ]

Strong performances from players like Clint Dempsey and Christian Pulisic have USMNT fans buzzing ahead of Tuesday’s clash in Panama City, but there are several questions that lie ahead for Arena as the U.S. goes for its second win in the Hexagonal.

How does Arena cope with injuries?

The only downside of the team’s 6-0 win over Panama on Friday was the aftereffects if the match. John Brooks, Sebastian Lletget, Michael Orozco and Jordan Morris are no longer with the USMNT after sustaining injuries/illnesses, leaving Arena shorthanded as the Stars and Stripes head into the Estadio Rommel Fernández.

While Clint Dempsey’s emphatic national team return will provide Arena with some assurances up front, along with the emergence of Borussia Dortmund star Christian Pulisic, there are some questions in the midfield and defense for the U.S.

Jermaine Jones is available to return from his one-match suspension and could potentially fill the void left by Sebastian Lletget after his injury on Friday. While, Alejandro Bedoya — who replaced Lletget in the Honduras match — will also be in line for a starting spot.

Defensively is where it gets a bit tricky though, as Arena has to make up for an already-depleted backline. There was no DeAndre Yedlin or Fabian Johnson coming into this round of qualifiers, and John Brooks’ release from camp leaves the defense even thinner. Tim Ream appears to be Arena’s next choice to start at centerback with Brooks unavailable, but will he stick with Omar Gonzalez in the center or slide Geoff Cameron back into the middle?

It seems like the latter choice, especially given Cameron’s experience in the central defense, but that would mean Arena has to slot somebody else into the right back position. Graham Zusi has had slight experience in that role as of late, but it could be a bit of a gamble for Arena in another high-stakes match.

Bradley must control the middle once again

Forget Michael Bradley’s superb goal, which lifted the U.S. lead to 2-0 on Friday, it was the captain’s overall performance that is exactly what should be expected from the center midfielder.

Bradley completions/MLSSoccer

In 90 minutes of play against Los Catrachos, Bradley only missed on six passes while also making several successful tackles and recoveries to limit the Honduras attack.

The loss of Lletget is definitely a significant one for the Americans, given his lively movement going both ways. However, LA Galaxy teammate will likely be in line to replace the vibrant midfielder on Tuesday as he returns from a one-match suspension.

In regards to Bradley though, the U.S. veteran is at his best when he is able to move freely throughout the midfield, but Jones’ inclusion could present more of a burden for the Toronto FC player.

Jones is still a very capable midfielder, but he simply doesn’t have the pace to match that of a Lletget, which leaves Bradley more liable for covering ground defensively in front of the backline.

On top of that, the back four will see more changes on Tuesday after Brooks’ exit from the USMNT, making Bradley’s role all the more critical when facing players like Luis Tejada and Gabriel Torres.

[ MORE: CONCACAF qualifiers resume Tuesday afternoon ]

Dempsey/Pulisic bond continues to evolve

It couldn’t have gone much better for the pair on Friday night as Clint Dempsey and Christian Pulisic were directly involved in five of the game’s six goals.

The budding relationship between the two key attackers though is an intriguing one, and will likely determine just how successful this USMNT can be down the road. At 34, Dempsey is certainly on the back end of his career, however, his effort against Honduras shows just how dangerous the Seattle Sounders man can be, even after missing significant time due to a heart problem.

Meanwhile, Pulisic continues to shine in European with giants Dortmund, appearing both in the Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League. The two likely won’t be together on the international scene for long, perhaps only until the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but the partnership is something to monitor over the next year-plus.

Not only does the duo represent a dangerous one-two punch in the attack but also a changing of the guard. Dempsey has been one of the most talented USMNT players in the nation’s history, and many believe Pulisic has the talent to match or even surpass that of the 55-time goalscorer.

We’ve seen it before when Landon Donovan was phased out of the U.S. squad and Dempsey was essentially handed the reigns of the attack, and this time Pulisic will be doing so with much more time to make an impact. The 18-year-old already has four international goals in 12 appearances, and if he improves on that goalscoring pace the U.S. will be enjoying his presence for many years to come.