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.

Championship playoff contenders all but confirmed

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It was a pivotal day in England’s second-tier as the four playoff teams set to battle it out for a place in the Premier League have all but been confirmed.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game live

After the results in the penultimate weekend Huddersfield Town, Reading and Sheffield Wednesday are definitely in the playoffs (where they will finish in the standings is still up in the air) and Fulham have all but joined them after they drew 1-1 with Brentford at Craven Cottage.

That means they’re three points clear of Leeds United who are seventh and they also have a goal differential of +27 to Leeds’ +14. So, there needs to be a 13 goal swing on the final day of the Championship season for Leeds to finish above Fulham and nick the final playoff spot.

Yup. Not going to happen…

For fans of U.S. Soccer there will be plenty of intrigued in these playoffs as USMNT players Danny Williams (Reading) and Tim Ream (Fulham) will feature, plus German-American manager David Wagner has guided Huddersfield to the top six in his first full season in charge of the Terriers.

The two-legged playoff semifinals will take place after the regular season ends on May 5 and then the winners of those semifinals will compete in the Championship playoff final, known as the richest game in soccer, at Wembley on May 26 for a place in the Premier League.

Below is a look at the Championship table with one round of games to go as Brighton (already promoted automatically to the PL along with Newcastle) can seal the title with a win against Bristol City late on Saturday.


Relegated Sunderland “obviously distraught”; Moyes wants to stay

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Neither John O'Shea nor David Moyes had been relegated during their long careers in football.

That changed Saturday.

The former Manchester United defender and Everton manager saw Sunderland drop into the second tier after a bevy of wasted chances and a lapse at the back perfectly summed up their season in England.

[ RECAP: Sunderland 0-1 Bournemouth ]

Moyes wants to stick around and help Sunderland back to the Premier League the way Rafa Benitez did this season in the Championship. Here’s what he said on NBCSN after the match:

“I feel for the supporters. They put their hard-earned cash out there to support the team, and my thoughts are really with them today.

“Yeah, the job’s to make sure that we get ourselves prepared and ready but we’re in this position, to talk about it now is just too quick.”

As for O’Shea, he’s clearly gutted and exasperated. The veteran Irish back did not have a strong season along with the majority of his teammates, and is left grasping for answers.

“Look, we’re obviously distraught. We all wanted the support that we got today. It’s not a nice feeling.

“Performances, results, are the obvious things at the end of the season. The detail never lies. We haven’t kept enough clean sheets, we haven’t taken enough chances. We needed a miracle run to save us, and we couldn’t produce it.”

The Black Cats were kept alive by Jermain Defoe‘s heroics for most of the season, but the striker went ice cold with finishing from February onward. The club rarely looked the part this season, and this might not be a short spell away from the top flight.

Stoke City 0-0 West Ham: Stalemate in the Potteries

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  • Stoke, West Ham waste chances
  • Potters move on to 40 points
  • West Ham have 39 points

Stoke and West Ham played out a tense 0-0 draw at the bet365 Stadium on Saturday.

Marko Arnautovic went close for Stoke and so did Andre Ayew for the Hammers but both Adrian and Jack Butland were in fine form in goal.

The draw means Stoke reach the 40-point marker but they drop 12th place in the table, while West Ham remain in 14th and have 39 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The first big chance of the game fell to Stoke as Marko Arnautovic cut the ball back from the left side of the box to find Saido Berahino and his powerful effort was well blocked by Winston Reid.

Stoke continued to do most of the pressing early on and West Ham’s best chance came from a free kick as Jose Fonte’s header was deflected over the bar.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

West Ham then had a great chance to go ahead as Fernandes’ cross found Jonathan Calleri but he blazed over the bar. Moments later Andre Ayew’s overhead kick was then denied brilliantly by Jack Butland who made a phenomenal stop on his first appearance back at the bet365 Stadium.

Stoke finished the half well as Glen Johnson brilliantly burst into the box and his ball to the near post was poked wide by Fonte just as Arnautovic was ready to tap home and moments late Fonte blocked by Berahino as Joe Allen cut the ball back.

Right on half time Calleri then made a terrible mess of a great chance as he tried a rabona instead of slotting home. 0-0.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The second half started brightly as Allen had a volley just wide and Cheikhou Kouyate saw his effort go wide of Butland’s far post.

Good work from Arnautovic then led to a chance to Xherdan Shaqiri but he fired just wide under pressure. Allen’s shot from distance caused Adrian some problems and West Ham’s goalkeeper also pushed away an effort from Berahino.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Ayew then forced Butland into a save from a shot and a header as the Hammers pushed hard for a winner late on.

Stoke went close to snatching all three points as a fine ball into the box found Arnautovic but Adrian denied his volley superbly and scrambled clear at the second attempt.

Southampton 0-0 Hull: Jakupovic the hero in late PK drama

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  • Jakupovic saves Tadic’s late PK
  • Hull three points clear of bottom three
  • Saints move on to 41 points

Hull City held on at Southampton on Saturday to grab a vital point in their battle against relegation.

In a game which saw few goalscoring chances created, Edlin Jakupovic emerged as Hull’s hero as he saved Dusan Tadic‘s poor penalty kick in second half stoppage time.

With the point Hull move three clear of the relegation zone and have 34 points, while Southampton move on to 41 points and remain in ninth place in the table.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Hull looked lively early on as Kamil Grosicki broke on the counter and his low shot hit the side-netting.

The Polish winger went even closer moments later as he curled a free kick up and over the wall but the ball clipped the outside of the post and went wide.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Hull continued to launch long balls forward and one of those caught out Maya Yoshida as Oumar Niasse raced free but Jack Stephens deflected his effort wide.

The visitors looked the more likely to open the scoring in an even first half.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Saints started the second half brightly with Sofiane Boufal working some space on the edge of the box but Harry Maguire blocked well at the crucial moment and moments later Dusan Tadic had an effort deflected wide.

Puel then brought on Shane Long and Josh Sims for Boufal and Manolo Gabbiadini as he tried to spark fresh impetus into Saints’ attack.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Late on Saints pushed hard to find a winner as Tadic saw his shot saved by Jakupovic after Hull’s goalkeeper had initially punched a clearance down into the box. Niasse then had a good chance but got it all wrong and belted the ball over from the edge of the box.

Southampton then had a glorious chance to win the game in stoppage time as Yoshida was hauled down in the box by Alfred N'Diaye but Tadic’s penalty kick was superbly saved by Jakupovic who was once again the hero for Hull.

The Tigers almost snatched all three points late on as Niasse’s scrambled effort was cleared off the line by Cedric Soares.