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

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For each naive narrative we identified in the Eastern Conference, we had one to match in Major League Soccer’s West, though in our defense, the conference went through a lot of changes last winter. The league’s biggest star was leaving LA. One of the best players in league history went on walkabout. A contender from the Rockies was forced to shuffle the deck, while one of 2012’s failures was rolling the dice on a college coach. Add in the continued skepticism about whether Goonies ever die and the Western Conference was impossible read.

That didn’t stop us from making assumptions, but in a season where the Portland Timbers would go from eighth to first, most people’s prognostications were destined for failure.

That doesn’t mean we can’t look back and learn our lessons. We did the East earlier tonight. Here are Western Conference story lines we were dwelling on in the 2013 preseason:

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

1. Landon was in Cambodia;t the Galaxy was destined to replace Becks with another star – Would it be Ricardo Kaká? How about Frank Lampard? One way or another, the league’s big-ticket franchise has to replace David Beckham. It was Hollywood, after all, and with Landon Donovan off finding himself in Cambodia, getting another name on the marquee was inevitable. Come November, LA would be ready to challenge for a third straight title. What happened: Donovan came back early in the season, meaning the most significant time he’d miss would be during the summer Gold Cup. The player that eventually took Beckham’s Designated Player spot was already in-house: defender Omar Gonzalez. After finishing third in the regular season, the Galaxy’s title run came to an end in the conference semifinals.

2. Real Salt Lake was rebuilding; don’t expect very much – Jamison Olave? Gone. So were Fabian Espindola and Will Johnson. The success cycle was finally turning against Real Salt Lake, and after three attempts to defend their 2009 title, the team was forced to break up its core. RSL would take a step back in 2013. What happened: The exact opposite. Though they slipped into second at the end, RSL spent much of the season looking down on the Western Conference. Olave, Espindola and Johnson had been with the team since they claimed MLS Cup in Seattle, but having been cast off in the offseason, the true core of RSL became clear. The likes of Nick Rimando, Nat Borchers, Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales got Kreis back to the final, where the team lost in 10 rounds of penalty kicks.

3. Chivas USA was going to be an unmitigated disaster – After Robin Fraser’s team left fans in a coma, Jorge Vergara decided to take the team back to its roots. An emphasis on latino players returned, one that saw the club cast off talent at a discount rate while trying to homogenize its squad. What happened: Though the team became a running joke, some of the soccer was actually pretty good. At least, it was good compared to expectations the team would be one of the worst in MLS history. Instead, Chivas USA would win six games, claim 26 points, but still finish bottom of the Western Conference.

4. Caleb Porter? You mean the guy who couldn’t get Team USA to the Olympics? – Portland went into 2012 expecting to make the playoffs. Instead, they slipped to eighth, firing John Spencer midseason. In his place, Portland brought University of Akron head coach Caleb Porter into the professional ranks, but having failed to qualify the U.S.’s under-23s for London 2012, Porter was better known for his international failure than his collegiate success. What happened: Within months, Porter had eared all doubt. Portland went on to finish first in the West, eliminating the rival Sounders in the Western Conference semifinals. Along the way, Porter earned Coach of the Year honors, putting his name in the conversation as one of the best coaches in Major League Soccer.

5. With the rest of the West in flux, San Jose was looking pretty good – LA needed to replace Beckham. Real Salt Lake was dismantling. Seattle was about to say goodbye to Christian Tiffert (remember him?), and Vancouver had undermined their team in the middle of the 2012 season. The rest of the West’s playoff teams had significant doubts, but San Jose? For the most part, they managed to keep the band together. The Earthquakes were set for another season at the top of the Western Conference. What happened: We underestimated the loss of Simon Dawkins, whose production from wide was never replaced. Chris Wondolowski’s record-setting production regressed, as did the rest of the squad’s. With the possible exception of goalkeeper Jon Busch, every San Jose regular took a step back in 2013. The results led to Frank Yallop’s early departure.

Between our Eastern and Western Conference lists, is there anything we can learn? Probably not. Every year, we’re going to make predictions (that’s just what you do in the preseason), but our crystal balls are really cloudy. Between the parity in Major League Soccer, teams’ abilities to shake things up in the summer, and the nature of a league where making the playoffs (not winning the league) is the priority, trying to read tea leaves will always be difficult.

If anything, last February’s narratives tell us no matter what we know now, 2014’s going to be an unpredictable season.

Everton loses Coleman to leg break on Ireland duty

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A horror tackle from Wales’ Neil Taylor snapped Seamus Coleman‘s leg in gruesome fashion on Friday.

Taylor was given a red card, and Coleman was stretched off the pitch in the 0-0 draw.

[ MORE: UEFA World Cup qualifying wrap ]

Ireland manager Martin O’Neill confirmed what was apparent from the match replay: the Everton man has a broken ankle.

“It’s a bad break. He’s a fantastic player and character. It’s a major blow for the lad, his club and us.

“Apparently it wasn’t the best challenge in the world – I haven’t seen it. He’s gone to hospital. I saw his reaction immediately and it didn’t look good. He was holding is leg up and it didn’t look good.

This is not only awful for the player, but causes stress as Everton mounts its assault on the Top Six. The right back has also manned right mid for Ronald Koeman this season, and has four goals and four assists in 26 Premier League matches.

Mason Holgate, Muhamed Besic, and Phil Jagielka have played some right back for Everton, while Ramiro Funes Mori has deputized at left back.

Emotional McClean speaks after honoring deceased teammate (video)

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After wearing the No. 5 to honor of his recently deceased teammate, James McClean met with the media following Ireland’s 0-0 draw with Wales in World Cup qualifying on Friday.

McClean played with Ryan McBride at Derry City, and left Ireland camp to attend funeral services after McBride died following a match last weekend. McClean was also mourning the death of friend and Sinn Féin politician Martin McGuinness.

Throw in a gruesome injury to teammate Seamus Coleman and, in McClean’s words, “I’ve had better weeks”.

[ MORE: UEFA World Cup qualifying wrap ]

McClean, 27, spoke with evident emotion following a Man of the Match turn in Ireland’s draw (video below).

“It was a really tough week. The lads here have been great. They rallied around me. The manager was first class as well. He let me go up to Derry there on Tuesday and say my goodbyes. It’s been a tough week with Seamus injury as well. It’d been nice if we had have got a win and ended on a positive note, but it wasn’t to be.

“(McBride and McGuinness) were going through my thoughts today. I wanted to put in a performance that would make them proud. In the national anthem and the moment’s applause, holding my wee girl, it was emotional but I tried to put that in the right way into my performance. Hopefully tonight I’ve done the lads proud.”

World Cup qualifiers: Wales in trouble; Buffon hits 1000

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Friday’s matches mark the midway point of the main round of qualifying in UEFA, and the tables remain tight near the top of Groups D and G.

[ MORE: Smalling hurt, Gibson called up ]

Group I, however, is seeing some distance between first and second thanks to Croatia’s result versus Ukraine.

Republic of Ireland 0-0 Wales

Neil Taylor was sent off in the 69th minute for Wales, whose World Cup hopes are in trouble.

Seamus Coleman was stretchered off after the tackle, with a scary-looking injury that will leave Everton fans sick in more ways than one. Coleman’s leg was broken, and left dangling by the challenge.

Ireland couldn’t take advantage of the sending off, and failed in a bid to overtake Serbia for first in Group D. The Irish trail on goal differential, and will host Serbia on Sept. 5.

But Wales will rue the result more, remaining four points back of second-place Ireland. Chris Coleman’s side drops a point behind Austria as well, and will not have Taylor or Gareth Bale (card accumulation) in its next match. That comes against leaders Serbia.

Italy 2-0 Albania

Daniele De Rossi scored a 12th minute penalty kick won by Andrea Belotti, and Ciro Immobile scored late to provided the goals in Gianluigi Buffon’s 1000th appearance for club and country. Fittingly, it ended in a clean sheet. The match was briefly delayed after flares were thrown onto the field.

Spain 4-1 Israel

David Silva, Vitolo, and Diego Costa stakes the Spaniards to a three-goal lead, with Lior Refaelov ruining David De Gea‘s clean sheet with 11 minutes to play. Isco scored the match’s final goal.

Spain remains atop Group G on goal differential, eight better than second place Italy. Israel is four points behind both.

Croatia 1-0 Ukraine

Fiorentina’s Nikola Kalinic’s 38th minute goal was enough for the hosts, and Croatia is now five points clear of Ukraine and three above Iceland midway through qualifying.

Elsewhere
Austria 2-0 Moldova — RB Leipzig’s Sabitzer nabs winner
Liechtenstein 0-3 Macedonia — Ilija Nestorovski bags brace
Kosovo 1-2 Iceland — Sigurdsson PK the match winner
Georgia 1-3 Serbia — Mitrovic, Tadic lead the way
Turkey 2-0 Finland — Brace for Cenk Tosun

Boro’s Gibson called to England after injury to Man Utd’s Smalling

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Scoring goals has been the biggest problem for Middlesbrough in its return to the Premier League, and that overshadows how well the Northeast club has defended its own goal.

Ben Gibson has been a huge part of that, and now he’ll earn the chance to represent his nation thanks to an injury to Chris Smalling. Gibson will join England ahead of Sunday’s home World Cup qualifier against Lithuania.

[ MORE: Podolski leads Germany past England ]

Gibson has far and away been Boro’s best player, leading the side in blocked shots and clearances. The blocked shots total is tied for ninth in the Premier League, 11 behind current leader and new England teammate Michael Keane.

Smalling’s undisclosed injury is a bigger problem for Manchester United, which had already lost center back depth on England duty when Phil Jones was hurt.