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.

Sweden announces Zlatan Ibrahimovic will not return for World Cup

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s public flirtation and seeming committal to returning to the Swedish national team for the World Cup was a big tease.

Whether it’s his call or not is up for debate.

The Swedish Football Association reports that it’s spoken with Ibrahimovic and the 35-year-old LA Galaxy striker has declined the chance to return to the fold.

[ MORE: Fulham, NFL owner to buy Wembley? ]

Sweden’s sporting director Lars Richt says Ibrahimovic has not changed his mind on international retirement despite his own words.

Sweden’s current team may have a role in that.

We imagine Richt and Sweden may be cushioning the blow for Ibrahimovic, especially if national team goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson is speaking on behalf of a team vibe when he speaks of Zlatan being “an individualist” who could ruin Sweden’s team-first concept.

Report: Fulham, NFL owner Khan agrees $700m price for Wembley

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Fulham owner Shad Khan also owns a National Football League team, and could have two top-flight teams from different nations playing in England soon.

For Fulham, the Cottagers are currently very much in the race for automatic promotion to the Premier League and at the least will have a chance at qualifying through the playoffs.

[ MORE: TFC loses CCL Final in PKs ]

For the Jaguars, who have rarely needed all the seats in their stadium, it could mean a move to London if Khan goes through with what’s being reported as an accepted $700 million bid to buy Wembley Stadium.

Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium was also built with the design to host NFL games.

Here’s how ProFootballTalk’s Michael David Smith puts a bow on it (on one of the biggest days of the NFL calendar, nonetheless):

So it’s possible that there could soon be two iconic soccer stadiums in London with strong NFL ties, one which was built with NFL games in mind, and another that is owned by an NFL owner. The league is pouring serious resources into London.

It seems unlikely Khan would move Fulham from Craven Cottage, but there are other repercussions of this move for soccer in England.

There’s the potential for the England national team to no longer utlizie a permanent home, and the FA Cup and League Cup both potentially requiring new or rotating venues for their final rounds.

A lot to monitor here, and we’ll surely have all the details as they emerge from Khan’s crew.

TFC on CCL loss: “Feels the heart has been ripped from the chest”

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Michael Bradley went 90 minutes at center back, Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco scored, and Toronto FC nearly, oh-so-nearly, became the first Major League Soccer side to win a continental title in the CONCACAF Champions League era.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

“We wanted to be the first (MLS side) to lift the CONCACAF Champions League trophy,” said goalkeeper Alex Bono, according to MLSSoccer.com. “We failed in that goal; that’s massively disappointing. … This is the way the game goes, it’s unjust; it feels the heart has been ripped from the chest sometimes.”

Bono made some big saves in regulation as TFC flipped its 2-1 first leg loss on its ear over 90 minutes, but Chivas Guadalajara scored all four of their penalty kick attempts as Jonathan Osorio hit the bar and Bradley set his effort on a path to the moon.

That part was possibly academic, as Chivas could’ve sealed it with their fifth penalty, but Marky Delgado’s miss of a perfect Sebastian Giovinco stoppage time cross is what sent the match into kicks.

Here’s how The Toronto Sun’s Kurt Larson framed his post-match interview with Delgado, described as one of the few players not to walk past the media after the loss:

“That’s football sometimes,” Delgado searched for words. “Sometimes you win. Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes it goes in. Sometimes it doesn’t. It’s heartbreaking.”

It felt cruel to keep him standing there any longer.

“Wherever we are, we want to win,” the soft-spoken American said. “Unfortunately today we didn’t, but we know we dominated the game.”

And Bradley, in the season after Toronto won a trouble but also 18 months removed from missing a PK in the MLS Cup Final — not to mention marshaling the USMNT midfield in its monumental failure to qualify for the World Cup was mostly good in playing out-of-position.

“In the biggest moments, we threw caution to the wind and played with balls, bravery, and pride in ourselves, in each other, in our club and our city,” Bradley said on Canadian television outlet TSN.

They did, and now they must hope to win the Canadian Championship, MLS Supporters’ Shield, or MLS Cup to get another shot at qualifying for the Club World Cup.

Toronto loses CONCACAF Champions League in PKs

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Chivas Guadalajara scored on all of its penalty kicks to clinch a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League Final, breaking the hearts of Toronto FC in Mexico on Wednesday and earning a berth in the 2018 Club World Cup.

Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore scored in regulation as Toronto FC picked up a 2-1 win to reverse their first leg loss and push it to kicks.

Orbelin Pineda scored Chivas’ goal.

Hometown kid Jonathan Osorio hit the cross bar on Toronto’s second PK and Michael Bradley sent the fifth offering into outer space.

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Toronto flew out of the gates, and Rodolfo Cota came flying off his line to deny Altidore a 10th minute chance.

Alex Bono collected a header off a Chivas corner kick earned by a counterattack.

Pineda then made Toronto’s task even harder with a 19th minute goal, cooking Auro’s mark to reach a through ball and dancing around Bono for 1-0.

But Altidore was somehow unmarked for Nic Hasler’s pass despite five Chivas defenders and Cota inside the six-yard box, and TFC leveled the second leg at 1.

And TFC got the next goal through Giovinco, slipped through by Marky Delgado and taking advantage of a yard of space and a second to shoot with his fourth goal of the CCL knockout rounds.

The Reds kept coming in the second half, with Delgado winning a big 50-50 ball deep in Chivas territory and Victor Vasquez ripping a shot that Cota dove to smother.

Chivas found its footing in 58th minute, sending a shot over the bar before Jesus Godinez hit the post in the 61st (though his dive seemingly had the near post covered). Bono the next knocked a free kick over the bar from a similar position as the ball that beat him in the first leg.

Javier Lopez curled a vicious attempt just over the goal in the 72nd. He’d have the next best chances moments after Altidore subbed off with an apparent hamstring injury, but dribbled onto Bono’s lap and fired off the keeper.

Giovinco worked a 1-2 with Osorio and cruised a shot just wide of the far post in the 87th minute. Delgado then mailed a sitter over the bar in the first minute of stoppage time.