Houston averaged over 21,000 fans for their two 2012 playoff games. On Thursday, they drew less than 11,000 for their playoff opener. (Photo: AP Photo.)

Not-so-wayback machine: Remembering the 2013 MLS preseason – Eastern Conference version

Leave a comment

We’re three weeks from Major League Soccer’s opening weekend, so expect the preseason hype machine to go into overdrive soon. Particularly as teams return home from their “spring training” locations, the coverage is going to start gathering momentum. As those last spots in squads and lineups are finally nailed down, anticipation for March 8 will build. Before we know it, Seattle and Sporting Kansas City will be kicking off at CenturyLink Field.

Along the way, just remember: A lot of what you’ll hear over the next three weeks will end up wrong. The outlook we have on the 2014 season will quickly change once teams start playing games that force them to adjustments. Once club make their big moves in the summer, squads may barely resemble their March selves.

Those moves, as well as the results, will put a quick end to February’s narratives, not that can’t a little fun looking back on how wrong we were. We’ll get to the Western Conference in a few hours, but for now, let’s just think back on some of the story lines we were focused on last preseason:

[MORE: Not-so-wayback machine: Remembering the 2013 MLS preseason – Western Conference version]

1. Houston Dynamo was an Eastern Conference favorite – Not only was Dominic Kinnear’s team coming off their second straight MLS Cup appearance, but they were about to get full season from Boniek Garcia and Ricardo Clark. What happened: Although the team made the playoffs, they never quite met expectations. The team struggled in the summer, had to deal with both scoring droughts (from Will Bruin, mostly) and defensive problems, and finished fourth in the conference. Sporting Kansas City saw them out of the playoffs in the conference finals.

2. D.C. United was ready to push on – A rebounding team with a young core had a year’s experience under their belts. With Perry Kitchen, Bill Hamid, and Nick DeLeon a year better, United were ready to build upon their second place finish. What happened: Ben Olson’s squad set a record for fewest wins in an MLS regular season (three) while claiming the U.S. Open Cup – a strange, dispiriting season.

3. Could Sporting Kansas City replace Roger Espinoza? – And Kei Kamara (though he briefly returned), and Julio Cesar. Coming off a first place finish in the East’s regular season, Sporting was forced into an offseason restructuring, one that saw Benny Feilhaber, Claudio Beiler, and Oriel Rosell move into the starting XI. Hopes were still high, but Houston loomed. What happened: Sporting dropped a place in the East, finishing second, but the team proved stronger in the postseason. Peter Vermes led Sporting to their second MLS Cup.

4. Toronto still looked like a train wreck – This time last year, Toronto’s biggest additions looked like Kyle Bekker and the midfield version of Julio Cesar. Robert Earnshaw would provide some early-season hope, but a team dig face-plant under Aron Winter couldn’t improve in their first offseason under Kevin Payne. With Danny Koevermans’ return uncertain, Toronto looked destined to take up residence at the bottom of the standings. What happened: They weren’t the worst team in the conference, but it took a historic season from D.C. United to save them from last place. Preseason doubts about TFC’s direction proved well-founded.

5. Nobody knew what was going on in New England- A team that finished ninth in the Eastern Conference in 2012 failed to make significant offseason additions. Jay Heaps was back. Saer Sene would start the season on the sidelines. It looked like the Revolution were stepping back into the box with the same broken bat. There’s no way number one pick Andrew Farrell was going to be that influential. What happened: New England survived the season’s early months with a surprisingly strong defense – the José Goncalves effect. Once the attack gelled around Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe, a surging Diego Fagúndez, and the rental of Juan Agudelo, the Revolution had a team capable of finishing third, forcing Kansas City into extra time before bowing out in the East’s semifinals.

New York ended up surprising, and Montréal spend half the season looking like the conference’s best team, but the narratives around those teams weren’t there. Chicago, Columbus, and Philadelphia? Mid-conference predictions functioned as a wait-and-see approach.

For Houston, D.C., Sporting, Toronto and New England, the consensus had a pretty good idea of what to expect in 2013. In most cases, that consensus was wrong.

Southampton: Van Dijk won’t leave, selling days likely done

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - MARCH 29:  Ralph Krueger the Southampton Chairman looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Newcastle United at St Mary's Stadium on March 29, 2014 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ralph Krueger doesn’t plan on selling any more big Southampton stars, and there’s none brighter than Virgil Van Dijk.

The Dutchman is perhaps the best center back in the Premier League, regularly linked with transfers to anywhere from Manchester City to Liverpool.

[ MORE: Liverpool hires new CEO ]

But Krueger says Saints have had enough of selling big assets. Southampton has sold Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Sadio Mane, and Nathaniel Clyne in the past three seasons, and those are just the names to go to Liverpool. Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama have also moved on from St. Mary’s.

From Sky Sports:

“We would like to move away from that and we feel confident this summer will be a lot quieter in Southampton and we can keep the core of this team moving forward for a few years.

“That is going to be important when you see how excellent the group is right now and how exciting the football is. The game we are playing is a pleasure to watch and a pleasure to be part of.”

Saints were the more effective side in a 3-2 EFL Cup Final loss to Manchester United this weekend, but are well off the pace in the race to make back-to-back trips into Europe.

It will be hard to hold onto Van Dijk and even new bright light Manolo Gabbiadini without Europe, but Krueger is a strong leader with the ability to convince almost anyone to buy into a plan.

Real Salt Lake signs Plata to multi-year DP deal

Real Salt Lake forward Joao Plata (8) gestures while walking during an MLS soccer game against New York City FC Saturday, May 23, 2015, in Sandy, Utah. (Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP) DESERET NEWS OUT; LOCAL TELEVISION OUT; MAGS OUT
Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP
Leave a comment

SANDY, Utah (AP) Real Salt Lake has re-signed forward Joao Plata to a multi-year contract and he will continue to hold a designated-player spot.

The 24-year-old was acquired from Toronto FC before the 2013 season and he has 30 goals and 30 assists in regular-season play with RSL.

[ MORE: Liverpool flops vs LCFC ]

Plata ranks No. 3 on the team’s all-time assists list and No. 5 in goals. He has 33 goals and 35 assists during his MLS career.

Real Salt Lake begins the season Saturday when it hosts Toronto FC.

Gotze out indefinitely with metabolism disorder

ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - NOVEMBER 06:  Mario Goetze (R) and Ann-Kathrin Broemmel attend the MTV Europe Music Awards 2016 on November 6, 2016 in Rotterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images for MTV)
Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images for MTV
Leave a comment

Mario Gotze’s last few seasons have not fulfilled the expectations thrust about the World Cup-winning attacker.

Gotze, 24, scored the 113th minute goal that lifted Germany past Argentina in the 2014 World Cup, but has endured successive disappointing seasons between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.

[ MORE: Liverpool hires new CEO ]

With just two goals this season, Gotze has played just 24 minutes since BVB came back from winter break. On Monday, the club revealed why: a metabolism disorder that will keep him out for an indefinite period of time. From Sky Sports:

“We are glad to know the reasons for Mario’s complaints and we are convinced that after recovering he will give us extra quality with his exceptional abilities,” said Dortmund’s director of sport Michael Zorc.

“Mario gets the full backing and maximum support from all of us at Borussia Dortmund on his way back.”

It’s been a while since we’ve seen Gotze at his best, and here’s hoping this problem is both curable and the reason for his struggles.

Liverpool hires EA Sports executive as new CEO

Leave a comment

Liverpool has named Peter Moore as the successor to chief executive office Ian Ayre.

Ayre, 53, is off to 1860 Munich this summer, and has stepped down early to allow Moore to take over.

[ MORE: Liverpool flops vs LCFC ]

A Liverpool-born executive, Moore was the chief operating officer at EA Sports and has also worked with Microsoft and SEGA.

The move “completes a transitional phase” which saw several new names join the fray. From The Liverpool Echo:

The appointment completes a transition plan by FSG which included appointing Michael Edwards as sporting director while Billy Hogan was promoted to the role of managing director and chief commercial officer.