MLS Season Preview: Ranking the top 10 rookies

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The countdown to the 2014 Major League Soccer season is ticking away and very shortly MLS will be back with a bang, as a spectacular season awaits.

We’ve been rolling out season previews of every team at PST and now it’s time to focus on each position and share who we think are the top 10 players.

LATEST 2014 MLS PREVIEWS, RIGHT HERE

First up, let’s take a look at the new kids on the block, as the latest crop of MLS rookies arrive with plenty to prove in 2014.

1. Steve Neumann

An absolute stellar career at Georgetown, I was lucky enough to see this kid up close and personal and he does it all. Scores goals and easy on the ball, New England Revolution have a real player on their hands. I expect Neumann to help quell the loss of Juan Agudelo and become a future star of the Revs and MLS.

2. Patrick Mullins

New England lucked out by getting this guy in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft too. Mullins is an intelligent forward with an eye for goal who shone for Maryland in the ACC throughout his college career. Winner of the MAC Hermann trophy in 2012 and 2103, Mullins was the best player in college soccer for two-straight seasons. The Revs are full of young talent, can Neumann and Mullins link up and take MLS by storm?

3. Andre Blake

source:
Patrick Mullins, right, scored 16 goals last year for the University of Maryland.

The no. 1 overall draft pick, Blake is a beast in goal and should be a star for the Philadelphia Union. Current ‘keeper Zac MacMath will be a worried man, as Blake will push him all the way for minutes in his rookie season. Right now MacMath is the starter, but I’m not sure he can he hold off Jamaican youngster and former UConn star Blake.

4. Eric Miller

With Alessandro Nesta retiring and Adrian Lopez out through injury, Montreal suddenly look weak in defense. That means plenty of minutes for Miller, and the young full back has got that in preseason. Frank Yallop loves to develop young defenders, as we saw at San Jose. Can Miller, a former U.S. U-20 international, develop into a key player on Montreal’s backline?

5. Thomas McNamara

A talented winger who can also play full back, expect McNamara to get plenty of minutes right away at Chivas. The long-haired left footer is good on the ball and at 5 foot 9 inches he packs a punch. Much more comfortable going forward, he got some big minutes in preseason so expect him to be in the mix for Chivas USA.

6. Steve Birnbaum

D.C. United have had a massive overhaul this offseason and drafting Birnbaum gives them plenty of depth at the back. Ben Olsen has given U.S. youth international Birnbaum decent minutes in preseason and the Cal standout should be involved heavily in 2014. Plus the likes of Bobby Boswell will pass on a wealth of MLS experience.

7. Ryan Hollingshead

After being drafted in 2013, Hollingshead took time away from the game to help his brother build a church in Sacramento. Now he’s back and ready to tear it up in Texas. A pacey winger or forward, the UCLA product can learn plenty from Dallas’ talented attackers. Expect him to get minutes off the bench straight away.

8. Mark Sherrod

source: AP
Can Andre Blake oust MacMath as the Union’s no. 1?

A product of the Portland Timbers U23’s, Sherrod is a bustling forward who really gets at opposition defenders. Houston have a record of unearthing gems in the past, if he can learn from Will Bruin and gain knowledge from Brain Ching in Houston’s front office, this kid could go far.

9. Jordan Allen

A talented midfielder who has come through the ranks at RSL’s academy, Allen is somebody to get excited about. A wide player by trade, the U.S. youth international will perhaps slot in at full back for RSL this season. A real talent who spent one year at the University of Virginia before switching the college game for the pros.

10. A.J. Cochran

Landing with Houston, Cochran is set to get some minutes right away in MLS. The towering defender has shown well in preseason by all accounts and with Bobby Boswell moving on and no settled central defensive partnership at BBVA, it could be a big year for the St. Louis native.

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.