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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.)

Seven unheralded stars of this Premier League season

during the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and Tottenham Hotspur at Vitality Stadium on October 25, 2015 in Bournemouth, England.
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Look, it’s been a crazy year in the Premier League. Leicester City is top by five points, Chelsea is a bottom-half side, and not one of the league’s top three scorers hails from a team in last season’s Top Four.

So it follows that among the league’s other statistical leaders — advanced and traditional — are some surprisingly shining stars.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Or at least they aren’t mentioned a ton. We plan to rectify that here. By no means do we claim these statistical leaders without fault this season, but hats off to the good they’ve done (or, in some cases, the pain they’ve felt).

Most saves in a starring role

You wouldn’t know it from the goal totals these past few weeks, but Stoke City’s Jack Butland has been playing otherworldly between the sticks. His 87 saves lead the Premier League, and the Potters would be in the thick of a relegation battle if he hadn’t shone as brightly.

Ironman

Eleven players have played every minute of their side’s Premier League campaign this season (a 12th, Gareth Barry, has played all but one). Four of those 11 are goalkeepers, and six more are defenders. The only midfielder? Bournemouth’s South African standout Andrew Surman (above).

Top thief, too

Surman is also the league leader in interceptions with 92. The next seven players on the list, headed by Chris Smalling, are all defenders.

The most under-appreciated of the underdogs

Kante (Mark Thompson / Getty Images)

Leicester City has been fantastic, and people are quick to name Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy as big parts of the table-topping effort at King Power Stadium. Then, perhaps they’ll say something about goalkeeper Kaspar Schmeichel or defender Wes Morgan.

But how about the Premier League’s leader in tackles. Midfielder N'Golo Kante (right) has 115 tackles, 12 more than second-best Yohan Cabaye of Crystal Palace.

An all-expense paid journey to the massage parlor for…

Five players have been fouled more than 50 times this year, and you need to be around the ball a lot for that to happen. The four also-rans are Southampton’s Sadio Mane, Swansea City’s Andre Ayew, Everton’s Ross Barkley and Mahrez, but the man who deserved to skip to the head of the ice bath line is from Crystal Palace: Wilfried Zaha has been fouled 59 times. And that’s the amount of times the foulers were caught in the act.

Let Newcastle United’s captain climb in second, though; Fabricio Coloccini‘s 47 blocked shots are eight more than runners-up Neil Taylor (Swans) and Christian Fuchs (Leicester).

A man possessed

He hasn’t been heralded like a year ago, and most witnesses would tell you the midfielder’s been playing much worse. No, touches don’t equal success, but Cesc Fabregas‘ 2,027 credited touches are 74 more than the next player despite the fact that he’s the only player in the top four to have started less than 25 matches. He’s also completed 83 more passes than the closest competitor (Surman).

All-around stars

Advanced stats site Squawka uses an algorithm to generate statistics on who just might be the most complete player in the Premier League.

It’s certainly not foolproof, but the best player per-90 minutes would likely surprise you: Mousa Dembele of Spurs (Minimum 15 matches).

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As for who’s produced the most when numbers are averaged out over the entire game, one man rises to the top: Ross Barkley.

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Oft-targeted in the Premier League, Carvalho extends deal at Lisbon

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William Carvalho has been running through the rumor mill for ages, and Sporting Lisbon has made sure they’ll get their due if he ever stops somewhere else.

The Angola-born Portuguese defensive midfielder with 15 caps has extended his contract with Sporting through 2020, a date that carries him through his 28th birthday.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Carvalho is 23 now, and has been linked with loads of big name clubs from Manchester United to Chelsea, Arsenal to PSG.

His new buyout clause is said to be as high as $53 million, and Carvalho hopes his commitment calms his supporters.

“Sportinguistas, I say to you that I am very happy with the deal which I signed up to 2020 and that you will have total effort on my part to be champions.”

Sporting is tied with Benfica atop the Portuguese table, second on goal differential. The club leads third-place Porto by six points, and is still alive in the Europa League. Bayer Leverkusen is up next.

Klinsmann hints at Euro-heavy roster for World Cup qualifiers

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 08:  Danny Williams #14 of the United States looks on before an international friendly against Brazil at Gillette Stadium on September 8, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
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If your favorite Major League Soccer players don’t make the cut for Jurgen Klinsmann’s next roster, don’t think you won’t see them in the red, white and blue this summer.

[ JPW: What’s the best XI for USMNT’s World Cup qualifiers? ]

Perhaps it’ll be different for the players who were a part of January camp — stars Lee Nguyen and Steve Birnbaum chief among them — but Klinsmann says the late start of the MLS season can affect fitness for the critical qualifiers home and away to Guatemala.

That means there’s a better chance to see in-form Championship midfielder Danny Williams (above) or Pachuca’s Omar Gonzalez then, say, Orlando City’s Brek Shea or Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman.

From USSoccer.com:

“We are basically looking all over the place. We monitor all the players in Europe. We monitor all the players in Mexico, and obviously we can’t wait until MLS starts as well. It’s really kind of crucial that we see everybody getting in the best shape possible, everybody getting into a rhythm and making statements.

“Then you say, ‘Is the roster you see at the end of March the same one as Copa America?’ Probably not. The end of March comes early for MLS players. The European players are in the full swing, and also Mexican players because they started already a month ago with Liga MX. So we’ll be monitoring everyone.”

We’ve already covered the obstacle that is the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL Olympic qualifying playoff occurring at the same time as the Guatemala matches, but this is still good news for players in England, Germany and other European locales seeking caps in March.

Klopp on struggling Benteke: “He wants to score and we need him to score”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09:  Christian Benteke of Liverpool reacts as he foiled by goalkeeper Darren Randolph of West Ham United during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between West Ham United and Liverpool at Boleyn Ground on February 9, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Jurgen Klopp had his appendix removed this weekend, but it’s doubtful he’s feeling as sore as his big Belgian striker.

Christian Benteke had the opportunity to put himself in the good graces of Liverpool fans with a number of decent chances in Tuesday’s FA Cup loss to West Ham, but couldn’t get the job done.

[ MORE: Match recap | Watch Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

In one case, Benteke put himself in a prime spot only to lash his shot wide of the post. Instead, he’s now at 11 appearances without a goal (despite ripping nine shots against the Irons).

From the BBC:

“I don’t believe in the easy goal. He has to carry on like this. It’s not the nicest moment in his career but he has to work hard. He wants to score and we need him to score. We will work on it in the days, weeks and months.”

Klopp maintained that Liverpool was “the better team” on the night — counterpart Slaven Bilic disagreed — despite conceding a pair of very similar looking goals.

The game could’ve avoided extra time through Benteke’s boots and body, but he couldn’t find his finish again.

The 25-year-old has seen his goal production drop by nearly half since joining from Aston Villa in the summer, and it’s sure to return… just maybe not under Klopp.