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.

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

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Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”