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MLS Season Preview: San Jose Earthquakes

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Injuries, a shaky defense and some plain bad luck sent the San Jose Earthquakes crashing down in 2013, sliding down from the team that won the Supporters’ Shield in 2012 to a team that couldn’t even make the playoffs last season. But, provided the team hasn’t actually been cursed, it’s highly unlikely 2014 will be as disappointing for Quakes fans.

Why? They’ve got their new head coach locked down for the season. The side is healthy. Sensible, strong acquisitions were made since the start of the 2013 season. The defensive holes have been mended. And really, just how much bad luck can one team attract?

After scoring 27 goals in 2012, Chris Wondolowski scored just 11 last season, primarily due to playing most of the year with a broken toe. He’s back to health, as are Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon, so the goals should be coming more freely – particularly if Lenhart has learned to control his temper.

On the other end, bringing in Clarence Goodson midway through last season proved to be one of San Jose’s smartest moves, strengthening the defense to the point where the Quakes conceded just 10 times in their last 14 games. And with Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi now on board, Sam Cronin doesn’t need to spend quite as much time covering for the disappointing Rafael Baca, and can be more effective in his role as defensive midfielder.

LATEST MLS 2014 SEASON PREVIEWS, HERE

Players In: Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi (Discovery); Atiba Harris (Trade with Colorado); Billy Schuler (Weighted lottery); Tommy Thompson ( Homegrown); Bryan Meredith (Free); J.J. Koval (SuperDraft); Shaun Francis, Brandon Barklage (Re-Entry Stage 2)

Players Out: Ramiro Corrales (Retired); Nana Attakora, Dan Gargan, Marcus Tracy, Evan Newton, Peter McGlynn, Cesar Diaz Pizzaro (Option declined); Mehdi Ballouchy (Out of contract); Jaime Alas (Loan expired); Rafael Baca (Transfer to Cruz Azul); Justin Morrow (Trade to Toronto); Marvin Chávez (Trade to Colorado); Steven Beitashour (Trade to Vancouver); David Bingham, Sam Garza (Loan to San Antonio)

Key Player: Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi

source: AP
Can Pierazzi provide the missing link for San Jose?

Yes, it would be easy to put Wondolowski here. But we know what he can bring to a side when fully fit: goals, goals, and more goals. He will bother defenders and even create chances. But he, alone, cannot pull the Quakes out of the mire.

Enter Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi. The central midfielder, about at his prime at age 28, began his professional career with AC Ajaccio in 2006 and has been with the French club ever since. He’s not going to be a goalscorer (he’s had just two goals in his career) but Pierazzi is the man that San Jose are hoping can help with ball distribution in the center of the field. If he’s as good as they hope at winning the ball and getting it out wide to spark an attack, then calling him “key” is no exaggeration.

Manager: Mark Watson, who took over the reins as interim manager when Frank Yallop departed last June, was appointed as the Quakes head coach in October. He’s been with the team since 2010, when he came on as assistant coach. Watson earned his promotion by righting the sinking ship, patching up the defense to go unbeaten in the last seven games of the season. Plus, he must get some credit – and some adoration from the fans – for steering his side to a comeback win over the LA Galaxy, just a few weeks after taking over as head coach.

Outlook: If luck is on San Jose’s side, they’ll certainly have a much brighter season in 2014. The midfield’s been strengthened, the defense sorted out, and if Wondo can stay healthy, there’s no reason to think the Quakes won’t make an impression in the West. It may not be another Supporters’ Shield season, but they should easily make the playoffs.

Seven unheralded stars of this Premier League season

during the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and Tottenham Hotspur at Vitality Stadium on October 25, 2015 in Bournemouth, England.
Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images
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Look, it’s been a crazy year in the Premier League. Leicester City is top by five points, Chelsea is a bottom-half side, and not one of the league’s top three scorers hails from a team in last season’s Top Four.

So it follows that among the league’s other statistical leaders — advanced and traditional — are some surprisingly shining stars.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Or at least they aren’t mentioned a ton. We plan to rectify that here. By no means do we claim these statistical leaders without fault this season, but hats off to the good they’ve done (or, in some cases, the pain they’ve felt).

Most saves in a starring role

You wouldn’t know it from the goal totals these past few weeks, but Stoke City’s Jack Butland has been playing otherworldly between the sticks. His 87 saves lead the Premier League, and the Potters would be in the thick of a relegation battle if he hadn’t shone as brightly.

Ironman

Eleven players have played every minute of their side’s Premier League campaign this season (a 12th, Gareth Barry, has played all but one). Four of those 11 are goalkeepers, and six more are defenders. The only midfielder? Bournemouth’s South African standout Andrew Surman (above).

Top thief, too

Surman is also the league leader in interceptions with 92. The next seven players on the list, headed by Chris Smalling, are all defenders.

The most under-appreciated of the underdogs

Kante (Mark Thompson / Getty Images)

Leicester City has been fantastic, and people are quick to name Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy as big parts of the table-topping effort at King Power Stadium. Then, perhaps they’ll say something about goalkeeper Kaspar Schmeichel or defender Wes Morgan.

But how about the Premier League’s leader in tackles. Midfielder N'Golo Kante (right) has 115 tackles, 12 more than second-best Yohan Cabaye of Crystal Palace.

An all-expense paid journey to the massage parlor for…

Five players have been fouled more than 50 times this year, and you need to be around the ball a lot for that to happen. The four also-rans are Southampton’s Sadio Mane, Swansea City’s Andre Ayew, Everton’s Ross Barkley and Mahrez, but the man who deserved to skip to the head of the ice bath line is from Crystal Palace: Wilfried Zaha has been fouled 59 times. And that’s the amount of times the foulers were caught in the act.

Let Newcastle United’s captain climb in second, though; Fabricio Coloccini‘s 47 blocked shots are eight more than runners-up Neil Taylor (Swans) and Christian Fuchs (Leicester).

A man possessed

He hasn’t been heralded like a year ago, and most witnesses would tell you the midfielder’s been playing much worse. No, touches don’t equal success, but Cesc Fabregas‘ 2,027 credited touches are 74 more than the next player despite the fact that he’s the only player in the top four to have started less than 25 matches. He’s also completed 83 more passes than the closest competitor (Surman).

All-around stars

Advanced stats site Squawka uses an algorithm to generate statistics on who just might be the most complete player in the Premier League.

It’s certainly not foolproof, but the best player per-90 minutes would likely surprise you: Mousa Dembele of Spurs (Minimum 15 matches).

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As for who’s produced the most when numbers are averaged out over the entire game, one man rises to the top: Ross Barkley.

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Oft-targeted in the Premier League, Carvalho extends deal at Lisbon

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William Carvalho has been running through the rumor mill for ages, and Sporting Lisbon has made sure they’ll get their due if he ever stops somewhere else.

The Angola-born Portuguese defensive midfielder with 15 caps has extended his contract with Sporting through 2020, a date that carries him through his 28th birthday.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Carvalho is 23 now, and has been linked with loads of big name clubs from Manchester United to Chelsea, Arsenal to PSG.

His new buyout clause is said to be as high as $53 million, and Carvalho hopes his commitment calms his supporters.

“Sportinguistas, I say to you that I am very happy with the deal which I signed up to 2020 and that you will have total effort on my part to be champions.”

Sporting is tied with Benfica atop the Portuguese table, second on goal differential. The club leads third-place Porto by six points, and is still alive in the Europa League. Bayer Leverkusen is up next.

Klinsmann hints at Euro-heavy roster for World Cup qualifiers

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 08:  Danny Williams #14 of the United States looks on before an international friendly against Brazil at Gillette Stadium on September 8, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
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If your favorite Major League Soccer players don’t make the cut for Jurgen Klinsmann’s next roster, don’t think you won’t see them in the red, white and blue this summer.

[ JPW: What’s the best XI for USMNT’s World Cup qualifiers? ]

Perhaps it’ll be different for the players who were a part of January camp — stars Lee Nguyen and Steve Birnbaum chief among them — but Klinsmann says the late start of the MLS season can affect fitness for the critical qualifiers home and away to Guatemala.

That means there’s a better chance to see in-form Championship midfielder Danny Williams (above) or Pachuca’s Omar Gonzalez then, say, Orlando City’s Brek Shea or Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman.

From USSoccer.com:

“We are basically looking all over the place. We monitor all the players in Europe. We monitor all the players in Mexico, and obviously we can’t wait until MLS starts as well. It’s really kind of crucial that we see everybody getting in the best shape possible, everybody getting into a rhythm and making statements.

“Then you say, ‘Is the roster you see at the end of March the same one as Copa America?’ Probably not. The end of March comes early for MLS players. The European players are in the full swing, and also Mexican players because they started already a month ago with Liga MX. So we’ll be monitoring everyone.”

We’ve already covered the obstacle that is the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL Olympic qualifying playoff occurring at the same time as the Guatemala matches, but this is still good news for players in England, Germany and other European locales seeking caps in March.

Klopp on struggling Benteke: “He wants to score and we need him to score”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09:  Christian Benteke of Liverpool reacts as he foiled by goalkeeper Darren Randolph of West Ham United during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between West Ham United and Liverpool at Boleyn Ground on February 9, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Jurgen Klopp had his appendix removed this weekend, but it’s doubtful he’s feeling as sore as his big Belgian striker.

Christian Benteke had the opportunity to put himself in the good graces of Liverpool fans with a number of decent chances in Tuesday’s FA Cup loss to West Ham, but couldn’t get the job done.

[ MORE: Match recap | Watch Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

In one case, Benteke put himself in a prime spot only to lash his shot wide of the post. Instead, he’s now at 11 appearances without a goal (despite ripping nine shots against the Irons).

From the BBC:

“I don’t believe in the easy goal. He has to carry on like this. It’s not the nicest moment in his career but he has to work hard. He wants to score and we need him to score. We will work on it in the days, weeks and months.”

Klopp maintained that Liverpool was “the better team” on the night — counterpart Slaven Bilic disagreed — despite conceding a pair of very similar looking goals.

The game could’ve avoided extra time through Benteke’s boots and body, but he couldn’t find his finish again.

The 25-year-old has seen his goal production drop by nearly half since joining from Aston Villa in the summer, and it’s sure to return… just maybe not under Klopp.