MLS: MLS Cup-Houston Dynamo at Los Angeles Galaxy

ProSoccerTalk’s MLS playoff picks and predictions

10 Comments

Major League Soccer’s 18th playoff season begins Wednesday. ProSoccerTalk’s writers have a few thoughts on how they might play out:

Who will come out of the East?

Liviu Bird: The New York Red Bulls

The Red Bulls have proven that they are actual contenders this year. They have only briefly relinquished first place and deserved to win the Supporters’ Shield.

Kyle Bonn: Sporting KC

With the Red Bulls getting all the attention, Sporting KC quietly won six of their last eight matches, conceding just four goals. For all the goals NY is scoring, KC have it in them to be the team that stops the NY hot streak.

Steve Davis: Sporting Kansas City

I know New York is the hot pick, but SKC has the better defense and better goalkeeper. Plus, lessons learned over the last two years – when good Sporting KC teams got so close – will pay off now.

source:  Richard Farley: New York Red Bulls

As much as I want to pick Kansas City, I think New York has enough to defend that number one spot.

Joe Prince-Wright: New York Red Bulls

Expect Sporting KC and New York to battle it out for the Eastern Conference, but New York gets it done.

Mike Prindiville: New York Red Bulls

I love to watch Sporting KC play and think a potential matchup against NYRB in the Conference Semifinals will be an absolute blockbuster. But as long as the Red Bull’s play up to their potential, they are the superior team.

Who will come out of the West?

Liviu Bird: Portland Timbers

My pick is based on their strong season from start to finish. The turnaround Caleb Porter has engineered is nothing short of sensational, and they are the most consistent team in the league.

Kyle Bonn: LA Galaxy

LA did just enough to get in, and I’ll take experience over youth in crunch time any day of the week.

Steve Davis: L.A. Galaxy

The asterisk here is whether Landon Donovan and Omar Gonzalez are healthy. If they are, the Galaxy and all that collective playoff knowledge will be hard to beat. Plus, Robbie Keane is the best player in the MLS post-season.

Richard Farley: LA Galaxy

As hard-to-call as the West looks, I’ll take the proven commodity.

Joe Prince-Wright: Portland

I think the Timbers will get it done. Of course they’ve tailed off a bit, but I think they’ll come up big when it matters.

Mike Prindiville: Real Salt Lake

In a wide open and unpredictable West, those who grind the hardest, prevail.

Where we would PREFER to see MLS Cup (based on “best atmosphere,” or “not LA again,” or whatever):

Liviu Bird: Somewhere in Cascadia

Not just because it’s the shortest trip for me — the atmosphere here is the best in the country, and if you want to advertise MLS to the rest of the world, the Timbers Army is probably the best conduit.

Kyle Bonn: New York

What better way to complete the redemption story than in your own house? New York proved this weekend the stadium and atmosphere have what it takes.

source:  Steve Davis: New York

The Big Apple? As Christmas approaches? I mean, it’s so darned romantic! Plus, the Red Bulls were Supporters Shield winners, so there is a beautiful symmetry to it … in addition to all those pretty lights!

Richard Farley: Seattle

It’s all about the numbers. Also, Seattle’s not a bad place to throw a party.

Joe Prince-Wright: New York

It’s about time the Red Bulls won MLS Cup, and I think a sold out RBA would be a great advert for MLS.

Mike Prindiville: New York

A number of other stadiums are considered better atmospheres but to have Red Bull Arena finally filled to capacity and rocking-out for a final would be a thing of beauty.

Where are the dark horse favorites?

Liviu Bird: Seattle

It’s hard to call them dark horses because of the star power on the team, but Seattle could still make a run at the Cup. The Sounders have proven they can beat teams 5-0, be beaten 5-0, and everything in between. Anything can happen in the MLS playoffs.

Kyle Bonn: Portland

It’s not often first-place teams fall under the “dark horse” category, but with everyone off the bandwagon thanks to their poor(er) form down the stretch, they qualify. First order of business in playoffs: don’t lose. They don’t.

Steve Davis: Real Salt Lake

Alvaro Saborio’s scoring rate (52 goals in 97 MLS matches) is prodigious. Nick Rimando is tops in goal. Kyle Beckerman commands that strong midfield and some of those “kids” are going to be something else.  So remind me again why we aren’t talking about this team a little more?

Richard Farley: Portland

Only five losses all year.

Joe Prince-Wright: Colorado Rapids

On their day they can beat anyone in the league. So many good young players, and having come up against Dillon Powers and Tony Cascio in their college days, I know how good those guys are.

Mike Prindiville: Colorado Rapids

Probably the darkest of all dark horses but with Seattle’s poor form, Portland’s playoff inexperience and a little bit of luck, it could happen.

The 18th MLS Cup champion will be …

Liviu Bird: Portland

It’s Portland, for all the reasons I listed above. One final nugget: on only five occasions in 2013 have the Timbers failed to get at least one point on the road and all three at home — and that’s a formula for playoff success if I’ve ever heard one.

Kyle Bonn: LA Galaxy

It’s that experience thing again. So hard to pick against. I know, I know. I hate myself for going here too, but with having put New York out in the semifinals, the Galaxy get it done.

source:  Steve Davis: Sporting Kansas City

The league’s best road team (8-5-4 away in 2013) won’t mind playing in New York, so they’ll get through to the final … and they’ll host MLS Cup in KC.

Richard Farley: LA Galaxy

In the absence of a truly convincing alternative, I’m picking three-peat.

Joe Prince-Wright: New York Red Bulls

I just don’t think the big boys out West, Seattle, LA, and RSL, are in top form heading into the playoffs and the Red Bulls are flying.

Mike Prindiville: New York Red Bulls

The time has come. Mike Petke’s passion and dedication is what this squad has been in dire need of for a long time. Most importantly, this is a team that’s peaking at the right time. The stars have aligned in New York.

(MORE: Are there too many playoff teams?)

(MORE: MLS playoff schedule and TV times)

(MORE: Top story lines for the MLS playoffs)

(MORE: MLS Week in Review for Round 35)

(MORE: MLS Eastern Conference playoffs are set)

(MORE: MLS Western Conference playoffs are set)

Van Gaal: We cannot let Leicester win the title

Leave a comment

Louis Van Gaal is a party pooper. He wants Manchester United to beat Leicester City this Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) at Old Trafford.

Au contraire.

[ MORE: How are Leicester here? ]

Van Gaal, 64, wants his side to beat Leicester this weekend so they can have an even bigger celebration at the King Power Stadium the following weekend against Everton when they will likely win the Premier League.

He’s a sly old fox. No pun intended.

Anyway, with United pushing for a top four finish after winning six of their last eight games in the PL, Van Gaal is adamant his team must win on Sunday to deny Leicester the one win they need to secure the title.

“I think we have to beat Leicester because we are still in the race for the first positions, so we have to beat them,” Van Gaal said. “We cannot allow that they are the champions this weekend at Old Trafford. I think they shall be the champion a week later, so we don’t spoil the party, just postpone it a little bit.

“I was the first who said that they could be champions and now a presenter [Match of the Day’s Gary Lineker] has to wear underwear when they are the champions. For me it is not a surprise; I say that many, many times. I believe in team building and the manager has done that with this team. They had the circumstances to play always with the same team as they did not play so many matches as the other teams in the league, so it is always possible. It is good for the Premier League and the sport of football that not always the same teams are the champion.”

With Leicester missing Jamie Vardy, plus United losing just once at home against Leicester in the league in the last 44 years, the Red Devils will be confident of dashing the Foxes title hopes. At least for this week.

[ MORE: How will USMNT line up this summer? ]

Wayne Rooney is back to his creative best, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial are looking razor sharp and David De Gea is on top form. You would think United could win this and significantly boost their top four hopes.

Than again, this is Leicester. This season they’ve proved that just when you think you have things figured out, they surprise you again.

Not LVG, though. He will have his party hat and streamers ready just in case…

WATCH: Premier League TV schedule, stream links – Week 36

PremierLeagueNBC
Leave a comment

Week 36 of the 2015-16 Premier League season and this is the week we could have a brand new champion.

It all kicks off at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday as Stoke City hosting relegation battler Sunderland (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) to the Potteris. Can Sam Allardyce‘s side keep their good run going and grab a vital win in the race against the dreaded drop? At the same time fellow relegation rivals Newcastle United host Crystal Palace (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra) at St James’ Park. Former Magpies boss Alan Pardew will be the villain but the Magpies are three games unbeaten.

[ WATCH: Premier League via Live Extra ]

Rounding things off on Saturday, Arsenal welcome Norwich City (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via Live Extra) to the Emirates Stadium. Arsene Wenger is under pressure from the fans as the Gunners are battling for a top four finish, while the Canaries are battling for their lives and are currently in the drop zone.

A busy Sunday sees three games back-to-back with Swansea hosting Liverpool (Watch live, 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) at the Liberty Stadium. The Reds are still chasing a top six finish but will be distracted by their Europa League exploits. Then, the big one. Leicester City head to Manchester United (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) knowing a win will win them the Premier League title. Can Claudio Ranieri‘s men clinch the PL trophy at Old Trafford?

Top six chasing Southampton then host top four hopefuls Manchester City at St Mary’s (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra). Will Ronald Koeman‘s men keep their good run going against a Man City side who drew with Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League semifinal in midweek?

Then, Week 36 finishes off on Monday with a massive London derby. Tottenham know that if Leicester slip up at Manchester United, then they will need at least a win or a draw at Chelsea on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) to keep the title race alive. Can Mauricio Pochettino‘s men capitalize on any slip up from the Foxes to keep the title race going?

You can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports Live Extra and the NBC Sports Live Extra App. If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here. They are available soon after the final whistle, but rights limit us to a certain number each week. Looking for game highlights? Try this.

Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.

FULL TV SCHEDULE

Saturday

10 a.m. ET: Stoke City vs. Sunderland – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Newcastle United vs. Crystal Palace – USA [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Watford vs. Aston Villa – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Everton vs. Bournemouth – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Brom vs. West Ham – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
12:30 p.m. ET: Arsenal vs. Norwich – NBC [STREAM]

Sunday

7 a.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Liverpool – NBCSN [STREAM]
9:05 a.m. ET: Manchester United vs. Leicester City – NBCSN [STREAM]
11:30 a.m. ET: Southampton vs. Manchester City – NBCSN [STREAM]

Monday

3 p.m. ET: Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur – NBCSN [STREAM]

The contenders to replace Martinez if he leaves Everton

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 11:  The Manchester City Manager Manuel Pellegrini poses with the Premier League trophy at the end of the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and West Ham United at the Etihad Stadium on May 11, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Multiple reports claim that Everton’s board of directors is meeting on Friday to discuss the future of manager Roberto Martinez among many other things.

With new majority shareholder Farshad Moshiri now in charge and the Toffees languishing in a disappointing 11th place, plus losing in the FA Cup semifinal against Manchester United last weekend, the pressure continues to mount on Martinez.

[ INSIDER: Martinez on the brink? ]

The Spanish manager is in his third season in charge at Goodison and after guiding the Merseyside club to fifth-place in his first season, then 11th last season with a run to the Europa League Round of 16 curtailing their league form, a disjointed campaign in 2015-16 could spell the end for him at Everton.

But who would take over from Martinez?

With Moshiri set to spend big this summer on new players and the club already possessing talented youngsters such as John Stones, Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku, there will be plenty of interested suitors. Everton’s history is all about playing attacking soccer which Martinez has carried on but this season their poor home form and woeful defensive displays have shown that the Spaniard is losing his touch and the respect of the dressing room.

[ MORE: How have Leicester got to this point? ]

Below are the five bookies favorites to become the next manager at Goodison Park should Martinez leave this summer. By the way, the bookies rarely get it wrong and Martinez is the favorite to be the next PL manager to leave.

Here’s a look at the contenders who could take charge at Everton.


Manuel Pellegrini – Odds to be next Everton manager: 5/2

He lives within an easy commute to Finch Farm and the Chilean will be looking for a new job this summer as he steps away from Manchester City. Cool, calm and able to cultivate an attractive style of play, this seems like a very good fit at a very good time for both the club and Pellegrini. He’s the favorite to take over.

David Moyes – 4/1

Ah, who said never go back? Moyes is still loved at Everton but the way he left for Manchester United has left a sour taste in the mouth of some Evertonians. The Scotsman would bring stability back to Goodison but shouldn’t both parties be looking for something new?

Eddie Howe – 6/1

Perhaps the brightest young talent in England, the 38-year-old has all-but secured safety for Bournemouth in their debut season in the PL. A young, hungry manager who loves to play attractive, attacking soccer, Howe could be a great dark horse for this job. That said, it would take a huge contract offer to tempt him away from his special connection with Bournemouth. You get the sense it may be a year or two early for Howe.

Ronald Koeman – 7/1

The Dutchman has already stated he wants to remain at Southampton for the third and final year of his initial contract but he will hold talks this summer to see if his ambitions are matched by the the club. If they aren’t, maybe Everton’s war chest will tempt the legendary Dutchman? Another manager who loves to play attacking soccer but he has a little more defensively solidity to his teams.

Mark Hughes – 8/1

Seems like Hughes could be at a crossroads following his third season in charge at Stoke. How much further can he take the Potters? Will he be able to work with better players at Everton and get more transfer funds? His stock has risen considerably with Stoke set to achieve yet another top 10 finish under Hughes. A solid option.

PST and the ultimate Leicester City roundtable: How did we get here?

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 24:  during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Swansea City at the King Power Stadium on April 24, 2016 in Leicester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
Leave a comment

No one’s catching the Foxes, and their story hasn’t ruined anything about this special Premier League campaign (aside from the dreams of Spurs and Arsenal fans).

Leicester City’s run often gets the label of “fairytale” thanks to its marvelous manager and a trio of afterthought superstars in N'Golo Kante, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez.

[ EUROPA: Villarreal 1-0 Liverpool | Shakhtar 2-2 Sevilla ]

Barring the most ridiculous finish in ages, one more absurd than the Foxes’ run to get here, Leicester will be the Premier League champions. From Ted Lasso quip to the UEFA Champions League… what is going on here?

PST’s staff discusses.


Nick Mendola: Obviously this Leicester City run is very difficult to describe and even harder to put in perspective. So let’s start here: What is your favorite thing about this remarkable Foxes season?

Joe Prince-Wright: My favorite thing about this season has to be seeing the looks on the faces of Leicester’s fans. Having been at the KP and in and around the city on a match day, it is electric. Everyone is smiling, the team has given them so much joy and to me, that’s what sport and football is about. The fans. The atmosphere they generate leaves the stadium shaking, mini earthquakes have been recorded nearby and the players have all responded to the incredible support.

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 26: A beer called 'Vardy's Volley' on sale in a city center pub. General views in and around Leicester on April 26, 2016 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

[ PL DOWNLOAD: The Leicester City story ]

Although it’s been wonderful to see the gentleman that is Claudio Ranieri work his magic with a squad many had pegged for relegation at the start of the season, seeing the overjoyed reaction of Leicester fans young and old has been my favorite thing. You can tell they are in dreamland.

Kyle Bonn: I can’t get enough of Claudio. Let’s not kid ourselves, Leicester has been the beneficiary of a cannibalistic league season and a spotless bill of health (which can’t be understated). But the way Ranieri has brought a band of professional athletes together to fight for one another is unparalleled in this profession. Jose Mourinho was often hailed as an expert in manipulating the media to his benefit. Ranieri instead has proven a mastermind in player psychology. His tactics have also been world-class this season, but seeing him bring this squad together through plenty of adversity is marvelous.

[ EUROPA FALLOUT: Klopp reacts | No Sturridge? ]

NM: I’ve stopped worrying about the American sports equivalent of Leicester, because salary caps sure stop the comparison from being interesting at all. But I do wonder who is the U.S. sports version of Claudio Ranieri, N’Golo Kante, and Jamie Vardy? Which coach over here could say some of the things Ranieri did — think “Dilly Ding, Dilly Dong” — and not be laughed out of the room as “not serious enough”? Culture clash, sure, but this guy is a special breed.

Leicester City's Claudio Ranieri takes to the touchline before his team's English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Leicester City at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, England, Saturday Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
(AP Photo/Jon Super)

Matt Reed: I think it’s interesting how people have tried to compare Leicester’s improbable run to other sports, but realistically I love their story because we’ve never seen a Leicester before. You’re talking about a team that has only two multi-goal losses all season. Even in what some may consider a down season in the PL, that is still something to tip your hat to. Then, there’s obviously the players. You have guys like Christian Fuchs, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, who all wear their heart on their sleeve and you can truly see their raw emotions when they play. What’s not to like about this team?

NM: The thing about a new ‘power’ is that there isn’t a lot of real emotional tumult when they win, especially when you consider that rivals in Nottingham Forest and Derby County aren’t even in the Premier League. And the marvelous thing for other teams’ supporters, aside from Arsenal and Spurs, is that they can take this sort of pride in Leicester’s story like, “My club didn’t win this year, but a mostly inoffensive side has done it! Take that, other teams I hate.”
And aside from some referee’s decisions and Jamie Vardy’s unfortunate casino incident, there’s such little controversy.
KB: Well, Claudio Ranieri reminds me a lot of Lon Kruger. Maybe not with some of the funny stuff he says, because Kruger isn’t known for that, but think about it. Lon is a player’s coach who is loved by every fan base he’s touched. He’s come close to championships (2 Final Fours, 1 Elite 8) but has never won one. And he’s always wearing a smile. They’re very similar to me. I hope Lon wins a title someday because he deserves it, and Ranieri deserves this one this year.
Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri congratulates Daniel Drinkwater, right, and Ngolo Kante, left, after the English Premier League soccer match between Leicester City and Newcastle United at the King Power Stadium in Leicester, England, Monday, March 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
(AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

As far as the players, it’s hard to say. Kurt Warner comes to mind when thinking of Vardy’s improbable rise, but their personalities don’t really line up. Kante can be likened to a guy like Howard Griffith. A 9th round draft pick, Griffith ended up as a bruiser out of the backfield, a guy who wasn’t a big name given that he was lining up behind future Hall of Famer John Elway and lead blocking for Broncos superstar Terrell Davis, but he was a crucial part of that offense in the trenches and ended up scoring 2 touchdowns in Super Bowl XXXII, one of 2 Super Bowls he’d win.

KB: I have a question for everyone that I also think makes for a fascinating topic:
Will Leicester have staying power at the top of the league, or will they suffer a quick demise?
I hate that I’m saying this, but I think their time at the top is short-lived. Countless teams new to the top have found the fixture congestion with European play impossible to navigate, and Leicester’s bill of health this season was practically unparalleled. Nobody got hurt. There’s no way their fortune remains that high through next year. Depth is nearly impossible for many smaller clubs to attain, so I think they may be doomed. I hope I’m wrong.
MR: I think you bring up a great point, Kyle. I’ve been asking myself this all season long, and I think this also plays into how special their season is. They could very well be a one hit wonder considering the coaching additions of Conte and Guardiola at Chelsea and City. You’d imagine there will be retooling jobs with Man United, Arsenal and Liverpool as well.
WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - APRIL 11: Jamie Vardy of Leicester City (R) with Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City (L) celebrates scoring the third goal with team mates during the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Leicester City at The Hawthorns on April 11, 2015 in West Bromwich, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
In most cases, outside of Messi and Ronaldo, one or two players don’t make a team but in Leicester’s case I think Vardy and Mahrez do. You can throw Kante in there as well. I’m not sure if they’ll be able to keep all these guys, but if they don’t this has been one heck of a ride.

JPW: I was with you on this theory for quite some time, Kyle. And although I don’t think Leicester will repeat this season or even finish in the top four again… I think they have the financial muscle of their Thai-based owners to really go out and spend big and potentially make it out of the UCL group stage next season. After all, with the way the tournament seeds are now picked, Leicester will be a top seed. In theory, they should make it to the last 16. Should be some memorable European nights at the KP.

The biggest concern is adding too many players this summer. They have to get the balance right. Throwing this out there to the group: what if they sold Mahrez, Kante and Vardy this summer? How disappointing would that be? Or is that the harsh reality of the big boys having more cash? For me, I can’t understand why they’d pass up the opportunity to see this through and stay one more season to play in the Champions League with Leicester. I know money talks… But come on!

NM: There are similarities to a sophomore slump in other sports here. On top of Leicester’s issues dealing with the European schedule, the Foxes also have to negotiate the opposition spending all summer learning what worked best against them.

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 02: Ngolo Kante of Leicester City and Roberto Firmino of Liverpool compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Liverpool at The King Power Stadium on February 2, 2016 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Kante is their MVP, and he’s going to fetch Leicester a load of dough. I have concerns whether he can go at his breakneck pace and physical play without facing injury woes (long-term). They should cash in on a 29-year-old Vardy to be honest and do whatever they can to hold onto Mahrez. Then find someone to slot in next to Drinkwater — maybe Idrissa Gueye, who’s been massively overlooked because Aston Villa has been a trash tornado — and find a pair of hard-working strikers to help adapt and stay in the top half.

It will be very difficult, but it won’t be hard for the club to stay in the mix for European qualification. In a way, though, that makes the story even better. This is a perfect storm, a force of nature, not a manufactured storm like Blackburn in the mid-1990s.

Kyle Lynch: I think you also have to remember how poor the rest of the league was this season. Teams dropped a lot of points you wouldn’t expect, and it’s hard to imagine things don’t shift a little bit back to “normal” next year.

With the money coming in this summer, you know the top teams are going to spend big, and Leicester shouldn’t be afraid to either. But what makes Leicester so great is their spirit and togetherness as a team, so the ownership has to be careful not to disrupt that. With Champions League matches and the uncertainty of injuries, I don’t know if they’ll be playing in Europe for more than one season.

NM: The rub on Kyle’s point here has two big points.

1) Leicester will need to start well and pile up points before the Champions League group stage begins, and they’ll likely have to do it while integrating new players. It’s easy to forget that the Foxes didn’t find their true title form until Ranieri found Kante’s spot on the pitch (He started on the left, and also played a bit more advance before settling alongside Drinkwater).

during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Southampton at Goodison Park on April 16, 2016 in Liverpool, England.

2) It’s not just the big boys seeing that influx of money. Clubs like Swansea, Stoke, Southampton and Everton all have zero reason not to spend more than their usual. That’s also why being one of the 20 clubs in the league next season is so critical for all the Championship promotion chasers, and the three teams hoping to avoid one of the final two relegation spot.

But now we’re talking way too much about the future. The title’s not even clinched yet! What a year… and what could still remain in the Leicester City tale?