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)

LATEST 2014 MLS PREVIEWS, RIGHT HERE

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.

Report: American teenager linked with Manchester United

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The U.S. Men’s National Team is always looking for more Christian Pulisic-like players, and another star-in-the-making could be on his way to Old Trafford.

[ MORE: Three keys for USMNT ahead of Panama clash ]

American teenager Will Vint is reportedly being pursued by Premier League giants Manchester United after previously having trialed with Fulham and Everton.

Vint, the 15-year-old son Everton academy director Peter Vint, has reportedly impressed the Red Devils while on trial as of late. Additionally, the teen’s Instagram page describes him as a “Footballer at Manchester United.”

The number of Americans in England’s top flight have dwindled down over recent years, however, USMNT mainstays like Geoff Cameron and Brad Guzan (moving to Atlanta United) still reside in the PL.

Chapecoense announces match against Colombia’s Nacional

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SAO PAULO (AP) Brazilian club Chapecoense will play Colombia’s Atletico Nacional on April 4 in what will be an emotional home match.

[ MORE: Aguero left out of Argentina XI to face Bolivia ]

In November, 19 members of the Brazilian team died in an air crash outside Medellin as they travelled to play Nacional in the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana final. Out of 77 passengers, 71 died in the incident, including players, journalists, and club officials.

Chapecoense says they will play at 22,000-seat Arena Conda in southern Brazil in the first leg of the Recopa Sudamericana.

The tragedy made Atletico Nacional pronounce Chapecoense as champions, and the South American confederation agreed.

The Recopa Sudamericana is between the champions of the Copa Sudamericana and the Copa Libertadores.

Aguero left off Argentina starting XI to face Bolivia

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Sao Paolo striker Lucas Pratto will receive a fantastic opportunity on Tuesday when Argentina faces Bolivia in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying.

[ PREVIEW: USMNT travels to Panama in CONCACAF WCQ ]

It just so happens that Pratto’s gain is a major letdown for one of the Premier League’s top strikers. The 28-year-old is tied for second this qualifying campaign for Argentina with two goals.

La Albiceleste have announced their starting lineup ahead of tomorrow’s clash in Bolivia, which features mainstays Lionel Messi, Angel di Maria and goalkeeper Sergio Romero.

Meanwhile, Aguero — who started in Argentina’s 1-0 win over Chile on Thursday — is the lone change from manager Edgardo Bauza.

The Copa America runners’ up are currently depleted with a combination of injuries and suspensions. Four players will miss Tuesday’s meeting in La Paz due to suspension, including Gonzalo Higuain, Nicolas Otamendi, Javier Mascherano and Lucas Biglia.

Elsewhere, Gabriel Mercado and Emmanuel Mas will each miss the match after sustaining respective hamstring and knee injuries.

Argentina currently sits third in the CONMEBOL table while Bolivia is in danger of elimination with a loss on Tuesday. La Verde have managed just seven points in the first 13 rounds of World Cup qualifying.

Three keys for USMNT against Panama

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Coming off of Friday night’s dominating effort against Honduras, the U.S. Men’s National Team looks for their second win in five nights when Bruce Arena and co. head to Panama.

[ PREVIEW: USMNT goes for second win in Hex on Tuesday ]

Strong performances from players like Clint Dempsey and Christian Pulisic have USMNT fans buzzing ahead of Tuesday’s clash in Panama City, but there are several questions that lie ahead for Arena as the U.S. goes for its second win in the Hexagonal.

How does Arena cope with injuries?

The only downside of the team’s 6-0 win over Panama on Friday was the aftereffects if the match. John Brooks, Sebastian Lletget, Michael Orozco and Jordan Morris are no longer with the USMNT after sustaining injuries/illnesses, leaving Arena shorthanded as the Stars and Stripes head into the Estadio Rommel Fernández.

While Clint Dempsey’s emphatic national team return will provide Arena with some assurances up front, along with the emergence of Borussia Dortmund star Christian Pulisic, there are some questions in the midfield and defense for the U.S.

Jermaine Jones is available to return from his one-match suspension and could potentially fill the void left by Sebastian Lletget after his injury on Friday. While, Alejandro Bedoya — who replaced Lletget in the Honduras match — will also be in line for a starting spot.

Defensively is where it gets a bit tricky though, as Arena has to make up for an already-depleted backline. There was no DeAndre Yedlin or Fabian Johnson coming into this round of qualifiers, and John Brooks’ release from camp leaves the defense even thinner. Tim Ream appears to be Arena’s next choice to start at centerback with Brooks unavailable, but will he stick with Omar Gonzalez in the center or slide Geoff Cameron back into the middle?

It seems like the latter choice, especially given Cameron’s experience in the central defense, but that would mean Arena has to slot somebody else into the right back position. Graham Zusi has had slight experience in that role as of late, but it could be a bit of a gamble for Arena in another high-stakes match.

Bradley must control the middle once again

Forget Michael Bradley’s superb goal, which lifted the U.S. lead to 2-0 on Friday, it was the captain’s overall performance that is exactly what should be expected from the center midfielder.

Bradley completions/MLSSoccer

In 90 minutes of play against Los Catrachos, Bradley only missed on six passes while also making several successful tackles and recoveries to limit the Honduras attack.

The loss of Lletget is definitely a significant one for the Americans, given his lively movement going both ways. However, LA Galaxy teammate will likely be in line to replace the vibrant midfielder on Tuesday as he returns from a one-match suspension.

In regards to Bradley though, the U.S. veteran is at his best when he is able to move freely throughout the midfield, but Jones’ inclusion could present more of a burden for the Toronto FC player.

Jones is still a very capable midfielder, but he simply doesn’t have the pace to match that of a Lletget, which leaves Bradley more liable for covering ground defensively in front of the backline.

On top of that, the back four will see more changes on Tuesday after Brooks’ exit from the USMNT, making Bradley’s role all the more critical when facing players like Luis Tejada and Gabriel Torres.

[ MORE: CONCACAF qualifiers resume Tuesday afternoon ]

Dempsey/Pulisic bond continues to evolve

It couldn’t have gone much better for the pair on Friday night as Clint Dempsey and Christian Pulisic were directly involved in five of the game’s six goals.

The budding relationship between the two key attackers though is an intriguing one, and will likely determine just how successful this USMNT can be down the road. At 34, Dempsey is certainly on the back end of his career, however, his effort against Honduras shows just how dangerous the Seattle Sounders man can be, even after missing significant time due to a heart problem.

Meanwhile, Pulisic continues to shine in European with giants Dortmund, appearing both in the Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League. The two likely won’t be together on the international scene for long, perhaps only until the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but the partnership is something to monitor over the next year-plus.

Not only does the duo represent a dangerous one-two punch in the attack but also a changing of the guard. Dempsey has been one of the most talented USMNT players in the nation’s history, and many believe Pulisic has the talent to match or even surpass that of the 55-time goalscorer.

We’ve seen it before when Landon Donovan was phased out of the U.S. squad and Dempsey was essentially handed the reigns of the attack, and this time Pulisic will be doing so with much more time to make an impact. The 18-year-old already has four international goals in 12 appearances, and if he improves on that goalscoring pace the U.S. will be enjoying his presence for many years to come.