ProSoccerTalk’s MLS playoff picks and predictions

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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)

USMNT prospect Sargent signs for Werder Bremen

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Josh Sargent’s star is rising fast.

The 17-year-old is the latest U.S. national team prospect to head to the Bundesliga as Werder Bremen announced Wednesday that he will sign with the club in February 2018 when he turns 18.

[ MORE: Pulisic up for 2017 Golden Boy ]

Bremen stated that Sargent had “numerous offers from other top clubs in Europe” but was “convinced by our philosophy at SV Werder and that we can now oversee his development as a player and support him along the way.” It is believed Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich were interested in signing Sargent.

Sargent scored four goals and grabbed on assist for the U.S. U-20 side which reached the quarterfinals of the U-20 World Cup in South Korea over the summer and he will play for the USA’s U-17 side at the World Cup in India next month.

The promising striker, who currently plays for St. Louis Scott Gallagher Missouri Soccer Club, had this to say about his upcoming move to Germany.

“My full concentration is first and foremost on the World Cup and the time I have left in Missouri. But I am really looking forward to next year and the new challenge in Bremen,” Sargent said. “Werder made a huge effort with me and they have always shown in the past that they give young players like myself an ideal introduction to professional football. That meant that my decision to continue my career in Bremen was not a hard one to make.”

Bremen say that Sargent will spent his first few months in Germany training with the U-23 side and will then link up with the first team ahead of the 2018-19 campaign.

With Christian Pulisic ripping it up at Borussia Dortmund and Weston McKennie getting starts for Schalke, it seems like Bundesliga teams can’t get enough of teenage American talents.

Nominees for FIFPro World XI announced

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The best 55 players on the planet have been selected by their peers.

[ MORE: Pulisic up for 2017 Golden Boy ]

World Players’ Union FIFPro, in conjunction with its partner player associations across the globe, asked over 25,000 professional players to select their FIFPro World 11 for the 2016-17 season.

Each professional player could pick one goalkeeper, four defenders, three midfielders and three attackers to make up their best XI.

Real Madrid, the two-time reigning European champions, set a new record as 13 of their players were among the 55 nominees shortlisted, while 13 players from the Premier League are included with Antonio Valencia, Philippe Coutinho, Nemanja Matic, Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku all shortlisted for the first time.

David De Gea, David Luiz, Eden Hazard, N'Golo Kante, Mesut Ozil, Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alexis Sanchez make up the rest of the Premier League contingent.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar will be the frontrunners to make up the front three in this team, just as they did in 2015, and Messi and Ronaldo have both been in the FIFPro team in each of the last nine seasons.

Below are the 55 players who received the most votes as the FIFPro World 11 will be announced in London on Oct. 23 at the Best FIFA Football Awards where the World Player of the Year and other prestigious accolades will be dished out.


Goalkeepers
Gianluigi Buffon – Italy, Juventus
David de Gea – Spain, Manchester United
Keylor Navas – Costa Rica, Real Madrid
Manuel Neuer – Germany, FC Bayern Munich
Jan Oblak – Slovenia, Atletico Madrid

Defenders
David Alaba – Austria, FC Bayern Munich
Jordi Alba – Spain, FC Barcelona
Dani Alves – Brazil, Paris Saint-Germain
Jerome Boateng – Germany, FC Bayern Munich
Leonardo Bonucci – Italy, Juventus/AC Milan
Dani Carvajal – Spain, Real Madrid
Giorgio Chiellini – Italy, Juventus
Diego Godin – Uruguay, Atletico Madrid
Mats Hummels – Germany, FC Bayern Munich
Phillipp Lahm – Germany, FC Bayern Munich/retired
David Luiz – Brazil, Chelsea FC
Marcelo – Brazil, Real Madrid
Javier Mascherano – Argentina, FC Barcelona
Pepe – Portugal, Real Madrid/Besiktas
Gerard Pique – Spain, FC Barcelona
Sergio Ramos – Spain, Real Madrid
Thiago Silva – Brazil, Paris Saint-Germain
Samuel Umtiti – France, FC Barcelona
Antonio Valencia – Ecuador, Manchester United
Raphael Varane – France, Real Madrid

Midfielders
Thiago Alcantara – Spain, FC Bayern München
Sergio Busquets – Spain, FC Barcelona
Casemiro – Brazil, Real Madrid
Philippe Coutinho – Brazil, Liverpool FC
Eden Hazard – Belgium, Chelsea FC
Andres Iniesta – Spain, FC Barcelona
Isco – Spain, Real Madrid
N’Golo Kante – France, Chelsea FC
Toni Kroos – Germany, Real Madrid
Nemanja Matic – Serbia, Chelsea/Manchester United
Luka Modric – Croatia, Real Madrid
Mesut Ozil – Germany, Arsenal FC
Paul Pogba – France, Manchester United
Marco Verratti – Italy, Paris Saint-Germain
Arturo Vidal – Chile, FC Bayern Munich

Forwards
Gareth Bale – Wales, Real Madrid
Karim Benzema – France, Real Madrid
Edinson Cavani – Uruguay, Paris Saint-Germain
Paulo Dybala – Argentina, Juventus
Antoine Griezmann – France, Atletico Madrid
Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Sweden, Manchester United
Harry Kane – England, Tottenham Hotspur
Robert Lewandowski – Poland, FC Bayern Munich
Romelu Lukaku – Belgium, Manchester United
Kylian Mbappe – France, Paris Saint-Germain
Lionel Messi – Argentina, FC Barcelona
Neymar JR – Brazil, Paris Saint-Germain
Cristiano Ronaldo – Portugal, Real Madrid
Alexis Sanchez – Chile, Arsenal FC
Luis Suarez – Uruguay, FC Barcelona

James stars for Bayern Munich in Bundesliga win at Schalke (video)

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BERLIN (AP) James Rodriguez starred on his first Bundesliga start for Bayern Munich, scoring one goal and playing a role in the others for a 3-0 win at Schalke on Tuesday.’

James, who switched from Real Madrid in the offseason, earned a penalty and then scored in the first half, before brilliantly setting up Arturo Vidal to wrap up the win in the second.

[ WATCH: Alex Morgan smashes USWNT goal ]

While the Colombian midfielder made his first league start for Bayern, American teenager Weston McKennie did likewise for the home team. Despite the efforts of the 19-year-old Texan midfielder – who covered more ground than any other player in the first half – Schalke had no answer to James’ individual brilliance.

“We created the goals very well, so we deserved to win,” said Bayern’s reserve goalkeeper Sven Ulreich, playing in place of Germany No. 1 Manuel Neuer. Neuer has been ruled out until January with another hairline fracture of the metatarsal in his left foot.

The home side was first to have the ball in the net, but Amine Harit’s goal was ruled out as Bastian Oczipka was offside. Ulreich had done well with two saves beforehand.

Bayern got the penalty after referee Marco Fritz consulted his video assistant to see if Naldo had handled the ball when James cut it back. The Brazilian defender was going to ground but had his arms raised when the ball struck.

Protests by Schalke players had no effect and Robert Lewandowski duly converted from the spot.

[ MORE: NASL suing U.S. Soccer ]

It got worse for the home side four minutes later, when Bayern scored after a Schalke throw-in. Thomas Mueller, Lewandowski and Corentin Tolisso worked the ball to the unmarked James, who wrong-footed Ralf Faehrmann to score his first Bundesliga goal.

Mueller hit the post with a header from a cross by James after the break, before substitute Yevhen Konoplyanka went close at the other end.

Schalke coach Domenico Tedesco brought on Swiss forward Breel Embolo for McKennie with just over half an hour remaining.

Any hopes of an equalizer ended when James eluded two defenders and delivered a perfect ball for Vidal to strike with a volley to the top corner.

“Altogether there’s no denying that Bayern had a very good day. Then it’s hard for any team,” Schalke general manager Christian Heidel said.

WOLFSBURG FRUSTRATION, AUGSBURG ELATION

Fin Bartels’ second-half header earned Werder Bremen a 1-1 draw at Wolfsburg and denied Martin Schmidt a winning start as coach. Schmidt was appointed Monday when Wolfsburg fired Andries Jonker after the team had claimed just four points in its opening four games.

Michael Gregoritsch’s fourth-minute strike was enough for Augsburg to beat visiting Leipzig 1-0 for its third win from five games.

Two goals from Brazilian midfielder Raffael gave Borussia Moenchengladbach a 2-0 win at home over promoted Stuttgart.

USWNT rides brace from super sub Morgan to big win (video)

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Alex Morgan scored two goals, the second with gusto, as the United States women’s national team hammered New Zealand 5-0 at Nippert Stadium in a Tuesday night friendly.

After Cincinnati native Rose Lavelle made a 30-minute cameo in her return from injury, the USWNT poured forth with goals.

[ MORE: NASL suing U.S. Soccer ]

Coming off the bench, Morgan scored within a minute of her second half introduction.

And then, after an electric dribble from Mallory Pugh, Morgan rang an aesthetically-pleasing rocket off the proverbial woodwork to make it 5-0.