MLS accommodates FIFA window with playoff schedule, causes congestion

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Seattle Sounders FC won its play-in game on Wednesday, and it now faces a short turnaround before hosting the Portland Timbers on Saturday. The Major League Soccer playoff schedule does teams no favors this year, with an erraticism caused by accommodating the FIFA November international window.

“Some could call it rhythm; some will call it, you’re playing three games in seven days,” Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid said after the game on Wednesday. “So it all depends how you choose to look at it. I think right now, it’s mind over matter, and you’ve just got to go out there and play.”

The first stretch of the playoffs is particularly brutal. The first leg of the conference semifinals follow the play-in games by three days, and the second legs taking place five days later. Teams that advance to the conference finals have three days until they play again.

“The schedule this year is very awkward, the way it’s set out,” Los Angeles Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said. “I think the play-in game could take its toll on some teams because it’s going to be a number of games over a 10-day period.”

But just as soon as they start, they stop.

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After the first leg of the conference finals, the league takes nearly a two-week break before resuming, which allows U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann to call in whomever he wants for friendlies in Scotland and Austria. Extenuating circumstances of it being the final year of preparation for the 2014 FIFA World Cup caused the league office to reconsider its plan to play through the November international window.

Other national teams also have matches on their slate, and many playoff teams missed key players at different stretches of the season due to international duty. Real Salt Lake forward Álvaro Saborío plays for Costa Rica, and Galaxy forward Robbie Keane traveled to Europe to play for Ireland, besides the multiple U.S. players on the Galaxy, RSL and Sounders.

RSL heads into its first playoff series, against the Galaxy, on the back of a 10-day break.

“I believe it’s our third opportunity this year to have a long break between matches,” head coach Jason Kreis said. “Our guys are a bit used to it. We’ve worked extremely hard. We’ve been able to get in a lot of training sessions.”

After the second leg of the conference finals, finalists have the week of Thanksgiving off before the MLS Cup final on Dec. 7.

“I would say that it’s not the most ideal schedule in the world, but it seems like it never is in this league,” Kreis said.

RSL might be set up best to handle the tough first stretch, coming off that week and a half of rest and avoiding the play-in game. The Galaxy played on Sunday, giving it six days between games, while Seattle played on Sunday and Wednesday before taking the field again Saturday.

However, Schmid refused to make any excuses for his team, and all three coaches pointed out that the schedule is the same for each franchise.

“There’s no tomorrows,” Schmid said. “You’ve got to go out there and play.”

Vancouver adds versatile Juarez, formerly of Monterrey, Celtic

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Efrain Juarez is bringing his game to Major League Soccer.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 39-times capped Mexico veteran has inked a deal with the Vancouver Whitecaps, joining a strengthened unit which came within a point of winning the West last season.

Juarez, 29, was unveiled as a midfielder by the ‘Caps, though he’s primarily played right back in his club career. He’s played at Celtic, Real Zaragoza, Club America, Monterrey, and Pumas.

Last capped by El Tri in 2012, Juarez has played every position except goal, center attacking mid, and center forward in his career (picture a ‘U’ on the pitch).

“I’m so happy and excited for this new stage in my career,” Juarez said. “It’s an opportunity for me to keep growing in a new league and to be a part of an amazing club in Vancouver. From the moment they showed interest me, Carl Robinson and the Whitecaps staff have made me feel very important. I promise to put all my effort into this club and do my best to help us achieve our goals.”

VIDEO: Asensio goal ends Real Madrid’s winless run

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Marco Asensio’s eighth goal of the season and second of this Copa del Rey put an end to an unlikely Real Madrid winless run in a 1-0 victory at Leganes.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 21-year-old darted in front of a defender to volley home from in-tight, giving Real Madrid a first leg lead in the tournament quarterfinals.

More importantly, perhaps, it gives struggling Real a boost in morale after draws with Celta Vigo and Numancia, and a loss to Villarreal.

Real is home to Deportivo de la Coruna in La Liga before hosting Leganes in the second leg.

Hopeful Newcastle buyer Staveley: Offer still on the table

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Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley is probably happy that his for-sale club is away this weekend, even though his side’s up against Manchester City.

[ MORE: Top PL storylines — Week 24  ]

That’s because hopeful buyer Amanda Staveley has responded to claims that her hopeful takeover of the team won’t be happening any time soon.

Talks had stalled, said Tuesday reports, much to the chagrin of an #AshleyOut brigade that at times can make Arsenal’s #WengerOut brigade look like a yard full of happy puppies.

A “source” had said, “Attempts to reach a deal have proved to be exhaustive, frustrating and a complete waste of time,” but Staveley shot back on Thursday to reignite the fire. From the BBC, taken from The Times:

“Our bid remains on the table. This is an investment, but it has to be a long-term investment. Newcastle would be run as a business, but we want it to be a successful, thriving business that is an absolutely integral part of the city.”

She also said that popular manager Rafa Benitez is integral to her interest in the team, and that fact combined with her insistence that an offer remains on the table will have many Newcastle fans seething with current ownership (and there have been protests for years). It’s Ashley’s move now.

2018 MLS Mock Draft: LAFC, Galaxy hold the keys

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Major League Soccer’s latest batch of hopeful rookies learn the next steps of their professional careers beginning Friday with the first two rounds of the MLS SuperDraft.

There are several intriguing prospects, including accomplished Stanford center back Tomas Hilliard-Arce and dangerous Michigan winger Francis Atuahene.

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An MLS mock draft is always tricky given the wildly varying opinions on players from the college game. This year, it’s even trickier as clubs without picks and some with multiple first round picks may be looking to move up and down even more than the norm.

Here’s how we think the draft could play out:

  1. LAFC – Tomas Hilliard-Arce, CB, Stanford
  2. LA Galaxy – Jon Bakero, FW, Wake Forest
  3. DC United – Francis Atuahene, FW, Michigan
  4. Montreal – Joao Moutinho, LB, Akron
  5. Minnesota – Wyatt Omsberg, CB, Dartmouth
  6. Orlando City – Ema Twumasi, FW, Wake Forest
  7. Montreal – Chris Mueller, FW, Wisconsin
  8. New England – Mo Adams, MF, Syracuse
  9. New England – Chris Lema, MF, Georgetown
  10. Real Salt Lake – Justin Fiddes, LB, Washington
  11. FC Dallas – Marcelo Acuna, FW, Virginia Tech
  12. San Jose – Brandon Bye, RB, Western Michigan
  13. Sporting KC – Ed Opoku, FW, Virginia
  14. Atlanta – Alex Roldan, MF, Seattle
  15. Chicago – Mason Toye, FW, Indiana
  16. New York Red Bulls – Alan Winn, MF, North Carolina
  17. Vancouver – Tristan Blackmon, RB, Pacific
  18. Sporting KC – Jon Gallagher, FW, Notre Dame
  19. New York City FC – Daniel Musovski, FW, UNLV
  20. Houston – Mo Thiaw, FW, Louisville
  21. Columbus – Brian White, FW, Duke
  22. Seattle – Tim Kubel, MF, Louisville
  23. Toronto FC – Oliver Shannon, MF, Clemson

There are a few players to keep an eye on for the later rounds that I won’t project for the first round due almost exclusively to first person bias (Some I’ve seen play in college, others at other levels). Afonso Pinheiro from Albany produced like crazy until this season, and Bowling Green defender Alexis Souahy has a skill set that could really transmit to the MLS level.

Mac Steeves (Providence) is a prototypical big body scorer, while Evansville’s heady Ian McGrath has a flair for the absurd and can play almost every position up the center of the pitch. Charleston’s Thomas Vancaeyezeele was a D-2 monster and is probably worth a shot earlier than people suspect.