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.

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

[ PREVIEW: Tuesday’s Premier League action ]

“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.