MLS Preview: Colorado Rapids

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Four months after a surprise run to the Western Conference playoffs, Colorado has morphed from 2013’s feel good story to 2014’s mystery. The cause of all the drama: What’s going on with the team’s head coaching position. Óscar Pareja, the man trusted to bring a talented generation of Rapids players into the first team, bolted for FC Dallas, but not until after a fight that cast his future into a month of limbo. Even now, two months after Pareja was allowed to leave for Frisco, Colorado has no clear plan of succession, with recently retired former Rapid Pablo Mastroeni operating as the interim boss.

Thankfully for Colorado, that interim tag — one which has become the preseason’s dominant story — has done little to diminish the talent that helped the team transcend last year’s expectations. Though Honduran international Hendry Thomas followed Pareja to Dallas, Rookie of the Year Dillon Powers remains. Jamaican international Deshorn Brown, Panamanian Designated Player Gabi Torres, and former U.S. international Edson Buddle form a deep strike force supported by a former Schalke wide man Vicente Sanchez and offseason acquisition Martín Chávez. Drew Moor, Shane O’Neill, and Chris Klute underpin a defense more likely to improve than regress, with a year’s experience in goal sure to bolster 24-year-old Clint Irwin.

LATEST 2014 MLS SEASON PREVIEWS, RIGHT HERE

Players In: John Berner (draft), Marc Burch (re-entry draft), Martín Chávez (trade, San Jose), Carlos Eloundou (free agent), Marlon Hairston (draft), Joe Nasco (free agent), Grant Van De Casteele (draft), Jared Watts (draft)

Players Out: Diego Calderón (loan expired), Tony Cascio (loan, Houston), Jaime Castrillón (out of contract), Steward Ceus (option declined), Kevin Harbottle (released), Atiba Harris (trade, San Jose), Kory Kindle (return to college), German Mera (loan expired), Jamie Smith (retired), Martín Rivero (loan expired), Hendry Thomas (trade, Dallas), Anthony Wallace (out of contract)

Key player: Gabriel Torres

Colorado only had one player score more than five goals last season, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Deshorn Brown (10 goals) take a small step back in 2014. Finding a second person to provide goals could prove crucial, and while [insert permanent coach’s name here] will have Edson Buddle at their disposal, the franchise’s first Designated Player, Gabriel Torres, will be expected to pick up the slack.

The 25-year-old Panamanian will have plenty of chances to succeed. With Chávez, Powers, and Sanchez creating opportunities, Torres should be able to continue (if not improve on) last year’s pace: three goals in 507 regular season minutes. With Brown capable of complementing him as part of a tandem or from wide, Torres won’t be the sole focus of opposing defenses.

Even if Brown does take a step back, Colorado will be able to make up the goals.

Manager: The most common reaction to Pablo Mastroeni’s plight: Why don’t they just give him the job? The recent Rapids captain, a veteran on both the MLS and international stages, is highly respect. In a world where a new generation of former players is making waves as MLS coaches, Mastroeni’s would be a defensible hire, if not an outright perfect fit. The Rapids could certainly do worse than commit to a man who is as familiar with the Rapids as anybody who will suit up March 15 in New York.

The whole situation speaks to the degree the Rapids mismanaged Pareja’s departure. While its understandable why you’d want to keep a Coach of the Year-caliber boss from a conference rival, in the soccer world, it’s also unrealistic to hold on to people who don’t want to stay with your team. Combine that naiveté with a lack of a backup plan and you end up in Colorado’s current predicament.

MLS’s is a long season. In eight months, this will look like ancient history. But in a tight Western Conference, the small hiccups can matter. Just ask San Jose, who saw a slow start to the 2013 season drop them from Supporters’ Shield to out of the playoffs.

Outlook: Talent won’t be a problem for Colorado, and with no obvious candidates for regression, a return to 2012 shouldn’t be a worry, either. The bigger issue is whether the Rapids can keep up. Both San Jose and Vancouver have the talent to reclaim their 2012 playoff spots, with Dallas also harboring hopes their early 2013 form can play out over the entire 2014 season.

If the Rapids do stumble on account of their coaching situation — if Mastroeni doesn’t make a smooth transition from field to sidelines — it may be enough to drop Colorado into the West’s have nots.

Wagner on Huddersfield Town’s 2-0 start: “This is unbelievable”

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Huddersfield Town manager David Wagner is glowing with the knowledge that his newly-promoted side is 2-0 in the Premier League.

Sunday’s win over Newcastle United was closer than an opening weekend win at Crystal Palace, with Aaron Mooy’s 18-yard beauty a moment the record crowd at The John Smith’s Stadium will remember for a very long time.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Wagner, the one-time USMNT midfielder, pumped his fist for the home fans in a post-match salute, then waxed poetic about Mooy and the club.

From the BBC:

“It was top-class quality for the goal, Premier League quality and that is why Mooy is playing in this league. The atmosphere was incredible today, the support was Premier League quality. First Premier League game at home, a win and clean sheet.”

“We are Huddersfield Town, nobody should forget this. We got promoted at Wembley but we have started the season with two wins and six points. This is unbelievable. Everybody has invested so much and I am happy for them.”

The mark of a decent club is outperforming expectations and picking up wins regardless of luck. Town probably wasn’t three goals better than Palace, and it failed to outchance a lifeless Newcastle United team but remains unbeaten to start life in the Premier League.

And these six points could stand up as a difference in whether Town are fighting a relegation battle or planning for next season before this one’s through.

Borussia Dortmund boy wonder the next big thing?

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Remember the name: Youssoufa Moukoko.

The 12-year-old has scored eight goals in three games for Borussia Dortmund’s U-17 side to start the season and scored four goals against Viktoria Cologne in a 6-1 win on Saturday.

Originally from Cameroon, Moukoko joined Dortmund from St Pauli in 2016 and starred for BVB’s U-15 team last season, scoring 33 goals.

Take a look at the video below to see Moukoko in all his glory.

Maybe we have a new star youngster to talk about with Karamoko Dembele stealing the show for the past 12 months.

Huddersfield Town 1-0 Newcastle United: Mooy magic tops Magpies

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  • Town starts PL life 2-0
  • Newcastle 0-2
  • Mooy scores on lone attempt

In a game with very few chances, Aaron Mooy made his count as Huddersfield Town topped Newcastle United 1-0 at the John Smith’s Stadium on Sunday.

A match between two promoted sides looked very much like a second-tier affair aside from Mooy’s moment of brilliance just after halftime.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

A boisterous stadium greeted the teams, and Town’s support was at full throat only to see Newcastle get the first chance when Dwight Gayle played Ayoze Perez into the 18 and saw the Spaniard’s shot blocked.

Town’s Elias Kachunga cut Chancel Mbemba with a high challenge, but it failed to see a card unlike two similar sending offs in the league on Saturday.

A series of sloppy plays by Newcastle allowed Aaron Mooy to test Rob Elliot, but he didn’t get enough on his low attempt to best the diving keeper.

Town remained the better money for an opener, and Tom Ince laced a hard shot at Elliot off a Christian Atsu turnover well into Newcastle’s end.

Matt Richie nearly opened the scoring against the run of play in the 16th minute when he thumped a far post effort that Jonas Lossl pushed wide for a corner.

The Magpies settled into the match, though, and had the better of the play for the final 15-20 minutes of the first half.

A terrible giveaway from Mikel Merino allowed Town a prime chance to take the lead, but Chancel Mbemba made a terrific sliding tackle inside his 18 and the Magpies handled a pair of corners.

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[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Town took the lead in the 50th minute through Mooy, who worked a perfect 1-2 with Kachunga to curl home inside the far post from the paint of the 18-yard box.

That spurred Rafa Benitez to insert new signing Joselu for Gayle.

Quality chances remained at a premium when Merino played a long diagonal ball into the box for Javier Manquillo, but Lossl collected the pass back into the fray.

Atsu and Joselu traded passes before Lossl tipped Joselu’s low shot out for a corner. Ciaran Clark headed the ensuing corner to Perez who, alone in front of goal, blazed over the bar.

Joselu flicked another header into Lossl’s arms in the 84th minute.

Stream Live: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Chelsea

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A rivalry which has escalated in recent years rears its ferocious head when Tottenham hosts Chelsea at Wembley Stadium on Sunday (Watch live at 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

[ STREAM: Spurs vs. Chelsea ]

Spurs boast a steely midfield with Victor Wanyama, Mousa Dembele, and Eric Dier behind the skillful Christian Eriksen.

As for Chelsea, Alvaro Morata moves into the starting lineup following a strong substitute’s performance in last week’s loss to Burnley.

LINEUPS

Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris, Trippier, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Davies, Dier, Wanyama, Dembele, Eriksen, Dele, Kane. Subs: Vorm, Walker-Peters, Wimmer, Winks, Sissoko, Son, Janssen.

Chelsea: Courtois, Azpilicueta, Christensen, Alonso, Luiz, Rudiger, Kante, Bakayoko, Moses, Willian, Morata. Subs: Caballero, Musonda, Kenedy, Pedro, Batshuayi, Tomori, Scott.