MLS Season Preview: New England Revolution

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After going three straight seasons without a winning record few people had the New England Revolution penned in as a 2013 playoff contender. But under the hardened eye of coach Jay Heaps emerged a courageous Revs side that would finish the 2013 regular season on a six game unbeaten streak, winning their last three in a row.

The form catapulted New England into the playoffs and things continued brightly as the Revs disposed of eventual MLS Cup champions Sporting KC 2-1 in the first leg of a two match playoff. In the end Sporting got the best of the Revs defeating them 3-1 in the return leg, but the loss was hardly a blight on New England’s season. They had far exceeded expectations, proving to doubters that the Massachusetts-based franchise was no longer a team to be glossed over.

Players In: Paolo DelPiccolo (Waiver Draft); Brad Knighton (trade from Vancouver); Charlie Davies (transfer from Randers); Steve Neumann (SuperDraft); Patrick Mullins (SuperDraft); Teal Bunbury (trade from Sporting KC); Jossimar Sanchez (Supp. Draft); Daigo Kobayashi (rights from Vancouver); Alec Sundly (SuperDraft)

Players Out: Chad Barrett (option declined); Ryan Guy (option declined); Tyler Polak (option declined); Matt Reis (retired); Clyde Simms (option declined); Juan Toja (option declined); Bilal Duckett (waived); Matt Horth (waived); Gabe Latigue (waived); Juan Agudelo (out of contract)

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source: APKey Player: Diego Fagundez

19 year-old Diego Fagundez was the toast of young talent in MLS last season, scoring 13 goals and registering seven assists in 31 games. That output earned the Uruguayan-born forward Most Valuable Player honors for the Revs with his goal haul making him the only teenager in MLS history to score 10 or more goals in a season.

The 5’8″ Fagundez is a versatile attacker who can impact a game from either wing or as a striker, breaking teams down with his electric speed, slick technique and clever footwork on the ball. Putting the “key player” label on a 19 year-old is a tough ask but if the maturity with which Fagundez has handled his rise to fame is any indication, the starlet is well-equipped to continue his skyrocketing status.

Manager: It took Jay Heaps only one season before he righted the ship at New England, bringing the club to the playoffs and nearly knocking off eventual MLS Cup champions, Sporting KC. Heaps has managed the turn-around by encouraging a possession-based style of play that features his side’s impressive young talent (Fagundez, Kelyn Rowe and Andrew Farrell). Heaps’ free-flowing offense is nicely complemented by a robust defense and an infectious team spirit that thrives on passionate play and a tireless work ethic.

In just one season Heaps took the Revs from 9-17-8 to 14-11-9, an improvement that makes him one of the most up-and-coming coaches in Major League Soccer.

Outlook: In 2014 there will be no underestimating the Revs. The biggest concern will be whether they can recover from losing Juan Agudelo, who was transferred to Stoke City and is currently on loan at FC Utrecht. Two-time MAC Hermann trophy winner Patrick Mullins, fourth overall in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft Steve Neumann and former Sporting KC stud Teal Bunbury could all provide cover for the loss of Agudelo. One or more of these gentleman will have to step up if the Revs are to continue to have offensive bite, and to reduce the physical/mental burden that young Fagundez will be facing.

Adding to New England’s worries is the loss of goalkeeper Matt Reis, who retired this offseason. His veteran leadership will be sorely missed on this young squad and it will be up to Heaps to ensure a new leader steps up.

Those issues aside, New England possesses the tools to be a playoff team come next fall. And while success beyond that is certainly possible it is not necessarily expected.

PL AT HALF: Chelsea battering West Brom; Liverpool, Man City up

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Goals? Where we’re going there are loads of goals.

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West Bromwich Albion 0-3 Chelsea

Alvaro Morata and Eden Hazard assisted each other to give Chelsea a 2-0 lead, and Marcos Alonso‘s too back post goal off a Cesc Fabregas free kick has the boo birds out at the Hawthorns.

Leicester City 0-1 Manchester City

Claude Puel would’ve been pleased with the Foxes’ muster against the Premier League leaders, who lost John Stones to an apparent hamstring injury. But the 45th minute saw a terrific team goal from Man City, as Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling moved the ball through traffic for David Silva, who slid across for Gabriel Jesus and 1-0.

Burnley 2-0 Swansea City

Jack Cork scored against his old side to complete a week which saw him earn his first England cap. Ashley Barnes has a goal and an assist as the Clarets are cruising at Turf Moor.

Crystal Palace 2-2 Everton

James McArthur and Wilfried Zaha gave Palace leads. Everton sandwiched a Leighton Baines penalty goal in between the Eagles’ markers thanks to an Oumar Niasse dive, then Niasse scored before half to level the score line.

Liverpool 2-0 Southampton

Mohamed Salah has two, including a wonderful 31st minute goal from distance to put the Reds in front of Saints at Anfield.

Bournemouth 2-0 Huddersfield Town

Callum Wilson has a pair as the Cherries continue their up turn in form.

Wenger believes Ozil, Sanchez will stay at Arsenal

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LONDON — Fresh from Arsenal’s first Premier League victory over North London rivals Tottenham since 2014, there was a spring in Arsene Wenger‘s step as he strode into his post-match press conference.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Arsenal’s boss saw his attack-minded lineup dominate Tottenham at home  as the Gunners secured an 11th-straight home win and sixth-straight of the 2017-18 season to breath new life into their season.

With a dangerous three-pronged attack of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Alexandre Lacazette destroying Spurs’ usually rock-solid defense on numerous occasion, Arsenal gave a taste of what can be achieved this season.

Consistency is key for Arsenal but keeping Sanchez and Ozil is more important. Their futures at Arsenal remain uncertain with the duo free to talk to non-English teams in  January about a free transfer on July 1, with both likely to see what other clubs can offer them outside of the Premier League.

Speaking to the media afterwards, Wenger reaffirmed his belief that Sanchez and Ozil want to stay at Arsenal beyond the end of their contracts next summer despite the situation being totally out of his hands.

“The quality of the contract of the contract has to be good and enough for them as well, you know. I am convinced they love the club, they love the team but all the rest will be decided, when? I don’t really know,” Wenger said. “I’m not alone to master that. [Quality of the contract] is part of it. The whole thing has to be right, they have to be happy. I believe they love the club and they want to stay but there are other top clubs out there who offer good contracts as well.”

So, Wenger is bracing himself for Sanchez and Ozil to be offered big contracts from European giants as soon as Jan. 1 rolls around, then a barrage of transfer offers from other PL giants as they believe the duo will be available in cut-price deals. At this point, the Gunners must keep hold of the duo until the end of the season, even if it means they leave on a free.

With Sanchez scoring a cheeky goal, racing free on numerous occasions and forcing Hugo Lloris into numerous saves, his signature on a new deal is essential for Arsenal to haul themselves back into the top four on a consistent basis.

His desire and hunger was evident and he even had time to joke around in the second half, diving on his stomach to the delight of the home fans as he tried to slide towards a loose ball in the pouring rain in north London.

You can never question the Chilean’s desire but his displays have become more erratic over the past 12 months with this contract saga hanging over his head. Sanchez’s goal against Spurs was his first in 12 games against the so-called “big six” in the Premier League.

Ozil’s display yielded an assist and numerous eye-catching balls as Lacazette’s runs allowed Arsenal’s two contract rebels to have plenty of space in front of Spurs’ back three.

Wenger pointed to the fact that he has never once questioned their commitment and although Ozil and Sanchez’s futures remain uncertain, he believes they will continue to put their bodies on the line for the Arsenal cause.

“I know them well and I know when it is their turn to go on the football pitch they want to win a football game. They’ve shown their commitment again today. I’ve never questioned their commitment,” Wenger said. “They can have bad games but the problem is, but the problem is that when a player goes to the end of a contract and has a bad game everybody says ‘of course, because he goes.’ Their interest is to play anyway.”

Man City: John Stones limps off with leg injury

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One Man City center back took a yellow card in the third minute, while another is in even more trouble on Saturday at King Power Stadium.

John Stones pulled up with an apparent hamstring injury in the 28th minute of Man City’s visit to Leicester City.

[ MORE: Arsenal 2-0 Spurs | 3 things ]

Running stride for stride for Demarai Gray, Stones grabbed at his upper left leg and crumpled to the pitch.

Eliaquim Mangala replaced the improving English big back, and City will hope Stones’ absence isn’t as long as some hamstring ailments.

Defiant Pochettino: “Football was fantastic” in loss

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Mauricio Pochettino is defiant following Tottenham Hotspur’s 2-0 loss at Arsenal in the North London Derby on Saturday.

The Spurs manager thinks his team was pretty good in the loss, and it’s true that both Petr Cech and Shkrodan Mustafi intervened critically for the victors.

[ MORE: Recap | 3 things ]

But overall Arsenal was better on the day, which makes Pochettino’s almost buoyant post-match interview a bit awkward.

“It was an even game in terms of shooting, on target, possession,” Pochettino said.

“I’m disappointed for the rest of my team. You saw what happened. I’m disappointed because the small details went against us. … It’s true that they scored and we didn’t but I’m very proud cause the football was fantastic.”

We won’t go as far as to say we watched different games — Pochettino knows a bit more about the game than us — but that’s quite a spin we doubt his players will buy. Back to work for Spurs with a visit to Dortmund before West Brom visits next weekend.