MLS Season Preview: Ranking the top 10 rookies

4 Comments

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.

Mourinho: Mkhitaryan “disappeared” during games, got dropped

Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images
Leave a comment

It would appear that Henrikh Mkhitaryan has become the new Luke Shaw, who not so long ago became the new Juan Mata, who had become the new Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Pepe, who all previously become the new Kaka and Mesut Ozil — players previously perceived to be undroppable, only to fall out of favor and be dropped from Mourinho’s side.

[ MORE: Carrick back in training after operation to fix irregular heartbeat ]

Similarly to many of the aforementioned stars of Manchester United, Chelsea and Real Madrid sides of the not-so-distant past, Mourinho recently singled out Mkhitaryan for not working hard enough for the team and failing to meet expectations with his performances.

Mkhitaryan last featured in Man United’s 1-0 loss to Chelsea on Nov. 5, prior to the most recent international break. He played just 62 minutes, to follow an UEFA Champions League appearance of just 45 minutes against Benfica. Mkhitaryan was then absent from the substitute’s bench for a victory over Newcastle United and a defeat to Basel.

[ MORE: Pochettino sees Sanchez as one of world’s best defenders already ]

In Mourinho’s mind, Mkhitaryan hasn’t merited a place in the team — quotes from the Guardian:

“I was not happy with his last performances. I’m not speaking about one or two, I’m speaking about three, four or five. He started the season very well and after that, step by step, he was disappearing. His performance levels in terms of goalscoring and assists, pressing, recovering the ball high up the pitch, bringing the team with him as a no. 10, were decreasing.

“That was enough [to drop him] because the others worked to have a chance. Everybody works to have a chance. It’s as simple as that.”

“I don’t know if Mkhitaryan will start but, for sure, he will be back in the group. For him to be back to the group, it means that somebody is going to leave the group.”

Davinson delights Pochettino, who predicts “massive” strides

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s still very early days for Davinson Sanchez as a Tottenham Hotspur player, but the early returns are extremely positive as the Colombian center back has featured in 14 of the club’s 17 games in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League this season.

[ MORE: Spurs beat Dortmund again to win group with Real Madrid ]

What’s more encouraging than Sanchez’s initial performances? The 21-year-old’s “massive” room for improvement and the expectation he’ll one day soon be one of the world’s best defenders, according to manager Mauricio Pochettino.

After signing for Spurs in August, Sanchez went straight into Pochettino’s starting lineup, slotted in between stalwarts Toby Aldeweireld and Jan Vertonghen, who together last season led the defense with the PL’s best record (26 goals conceded in 38 games), as part of a back-three. Sanchez has taken to Tottenham like a duck to water, in Pochettino’s estimation — quotes from ESPN FC:

“You saw against against Dortmund how many times he was with [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang one-versus-one. How many central defenders can play one-versus-one and escape and go, be tight and press? If you run, I run because I am so confident when running. I think not many center backs in the world can do this.

“Or against Swansea against Tammy Abraham: how many times he was one vs. one and the ball was behind him, he was on the halfway line and running was not a problem? And against Cristiano Ronaldo, too?”

“We expect more from him, but I am so happy with him. He is doing well, very well. He’s only 21 years old, but he shows more maturity [than that], and he’s so aggressive when he’s marking, his concentration [is good] and then with the ball he’s good, but I think he can improve.

“There is massive scope to improve potentially, it’s massive for him. In only a few months, he’s showing he’s doing a fantastic job for us. [He can improve in] every single aspect, tactic, physical condition, technique.

“We need with him one and a half months or two months preseason every day, and then I’m sure he’s going to show a different level. I think he’s one of the best today, but has potential to improve a lot more.

“Because he’s so clever, and he’s very humble, and he’s very open to learn, he’s a player when you tell something his reaction is to be open, and be critical with himself, and that is a massive skill from a player, when he’s so open to improve, and then the conditions he has are amazing to be one of the best center halves in the world.”

To state the completely obvious, Pochettino was wise to utilize Aldeweireld and Vertonghen as training wheels for Sanchez, if you will, upon his arrival. His athleticism and pace make him 1) the ideal complement to a pair of players who read the game so well; and, 2) perfectly positioned to operate as the last-man, emergency defender on the rare occasion either Belgian is breached.

[ MORE: Liverpool host Chelsea in massive top-four clash ]

For the first time all season, Sanchez started out wide in Alderweireld’s absence (hamstring) against Arsenal last weekend, and for the first time since his arrival, he appeared a flawed — which is to say, human — defender. To his credit, Sanchez gave a quality account of himself on the whole, and finished the game much stronger than he’d started.

No one was more aware of this than Pochettino, though, as he slid Eric Dier into Aldeweireld’s spot for Tuesday’s Champions League triumph over Borusia Dortmund, again deploying Sanchez in the middle. With Aldeweireld expected to miss a couple more weeks at minimum, the Tottenham teamsheet should routinely read Vertonghen-Sanchez-Dier from left to right until he returns.

Lille appoint four interim managers to replace Bielsa

Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LILLE, France (AP) A four-man coaching team will take provisional charge of French soccer club Lille in the wake of Marcelo Bielsa’s dismissal.

Lille says Fernando Da Cruz, Joao Sacramento, Benoit Delaval and Franck Mantaux will be in charge of the team until further notice.

Lille announced earlier this week that Bielsa had been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club” following a 3-0 loss at Amiens.

The northern side is in 19th place and next travels Saturday to Montpellier, which has the best defense in the league.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but failed to make the club competitive. After finishing a disappointing 11th last season, Lille hired the coach – affectionately known as El Loco Bielsa (Crazy Bielsa) – with the aim of returning to the Champions League.

Irregular heartbeat the cause of Carrick’s recent absence

Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manchester United captain Michael Carrick hasn’t played for his club since Sept. 20, a confounding period of more than two months now, and the reason for the 36-year-old midfielder’s absence has finally come to light: an irregular heartbeat.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams critics (again), gives injury updates ]

The condition, which Carrick announced himself on Friday, was first detected after Man United’s League Cup victory over Burton Albion. He has since undergone a cardiac ablation, a procedure to scar or destroy tissue in your heart that’s allowing incorrect electrical signals to cause an abnormal heart rhythm, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Carrick was named the new United captain this summer following the departure of Wayne Rooney. As told in the above statement, he is working toward full fitness and once again being available for selection in Jose Mourinho’s side.

Hooray for modern technology and medicine, which allow otherwise baffling medical conditions to be diagnosed, treated and recovered from in a matter of weeks or months.