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MLS Season Preview: New York Red Bulls

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Whenever a team reaches new heights, the next year is defined by whether it falls back to earth. For the New York Red Bulls, 2013 featured unprecedented heights, with the club claiming its first major honor: the Supporters’ Shield. Now, with Mike Petke entering his second season on the sidelines, the question is whether the team can offset a series of indicators that hint they’ll decline.

The big one is age. Thierry Henry, who took a small step back last year, is staring at the grind of a Major League Soccer season as a 36-year-old. Tim Cahill, so crucial to the team’s surge to first in the East, is now 34. Jamison Olave, indispensable at the back, turns 33 in April. If any of these veterans slip, New York may not have enough to hold of Sporting Kansas City. If they fall flat, the Red Bulls may have to completely rethink how they approach the 2014 season.

Right now, three days away from the team’s season opener in Vancouver, a team that eschewed changes in the offseason looks primed to compete for another Shield. Spanish important Armando has joined former Toronto FC fullback Richard Eckersley as reinforcements at the back. A midfield built on the ethic of Dax McCarty, Eric Alexander, and Jonny Steele is capable of out-working most teams – effort that will create chances for Cahill and Henry.

It’s a formula that worked in 2013. Short of another contender surging past the field, it’s one that should allow New York to compete in 2014. Though another year on some worn wheels means there’s an increased chance of a blowout, the Red Bulls could also roll to another successful season.

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Players in: Armando (signed, Cordoba (Spain)), Bobby Convey (trade, Toronto), Richard Eckersley (trade, Toronto)

Players out: Brandon Barklage (option declined, San Jose), Fabian Espindola (re-entry draft, D.C. United), Markus Holgersson (contract terminated), Rafhinha (released), Amando Moreno (signed in Mexico), David Carney (signed in Australia)

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Jamison Olave will carry New York’s defense this season.

Key Player: Eckersley. Miller. Armando. On paper, New York’s defensive doesn’t seem too impressive, but if you add Jamison Olave’s name to the mix, all of a sudden the back line looks workable. With a center back capable of playing like one of the league’s best over long stretches of time, Olave is capable of raising the level of over an otherwise unspectacular group.

Henry and Cahill grab the headlines, and they are undeniably important pieces, but if Jamison Olave doesn’t give another borderline Best XI performance, it’s difficult to see this defense holding up. He is as “key” as either of his more famous teammates.

Manager: Mike Petke’s 2013 success earned him Coach of the Year votes, carving a place for him among a growing class of young, recently ex-MLS players who are making an impact on the sidelines. Relying almost exclusively a conventional 4-4-2 formation, Petke opted for simplicity over sophistication. In the process, he did what good coaches do best: Give his most influential players a platform to succeed.

Even amid a drop of in production from Henry (2012: 15 goals, 12 assists; 2013: 10 and 9), Petke produced historic results. If he can keep his team focused and humble, Petke should be able to maintain his 2013 results, even if that doesn’t necessarily mean another Supporters’ Shield.

Outlook: Given how Sporting Kansas City finished the season (raising MLS Cup), it’s difficult to call New York favorites in the East, and with Toronto FC assembling a sold (and star-studded) lineup up north, the conference looks more competitive than last season. Whereas last season saw New York and Kansas City fight it out (after a fade from Montréal), this year the Reds and Houston could also factor into the equation.

But in a managerial world where coaches prefer to focus on their own teams, Petke has is own internal obstacles. The threat of further regression from Henry is real, and with Cahill set to miss a large chunk of the season at the World Cup, the team could find itself short on scoring options. If Olave starts experiencing some of the same injury concerns that defined his last years in Salt Lake, New York suddenly looks like a candidate to collapse.

That would require a lot of ifs to fall in line; then again, when things go south, the negatives often start complementing each other (see San Jose, 2013). New York is capable of competing near the top of the East once more, but in 2014, Petke’s likely to see a new set of problems.

Watch Live: Man City, Spurs looking for opener after scoreless half

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at Etihad Stadium on February 14, 2016 in Manchester, England.
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Three points push either Manchester City or Tottenham Hotspur within a win of the Premier League’s top spot, but Sunday’s first half at the Etihad Stadium shows both look quite cognizant of what the reverse would mean to their title hopes.

A loss for City or Spurs would see the defeated side five points back of Leicester City with three teams ahead with 12 to go in the PL season.

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The first half featured plenty of cautious play and feeling out from both sides, as well as some testy tackles.

Danny Rose paid for making a great shot block on Raheem Sterling in the 24th minute. The Spurs defender slid hard to get in Sterling’s blast radius and took the shot off his chest.

Rose also pushed forward plenty in giving City’s left side fits.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

WATCH: USMNT’s Bobby Wood scores fast-break goal for Union Berlin

BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 15:  Bobby Wood poses during the offical team presentation of 1.FC Union Berlin at Stadion an der Alten Foersterei on July 15, 2015 in Berlin, Germany.  (Photo by Matthias Kern/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Photo by Matthias Kern/Bongarts/Getty Images
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When the United States takes on Guatemala in next month’s World Cup qualifiers, might we see Bobby Wood go from super sub to starter?

The Union Berlin striker with a pair of memorable USMNT goals to top the Netherlands and Germany is doing more of the same in 2.Bundesliga.

[ MORE: Fabian Johnson nabs fifth goal of Bundesliga season ]

The 3-0 win saw Wood race down the field for this fast break goal, his fourth in as many matches. On the season, the Hawaiian-born 23-year-old has nine goals and four assists, though Union doesn’t have a look at promotion this season.

Still, as Dr. Dre might say, “Bobby Wood… Bobby Wood always up to no good.” If Jurgen Klinsmann is thinking 4-4-2 with Wood and in-form, slimmed-down Jozy Altidore, we’d be happy to have a look at it.

Aston Villa 0-6 Liverpool: Reds demolish out-of-sorts Villans in historic fashion

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 14:  Daniel Sturridge of Liverpool scores the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Liverpool at Villa Park on February 14, 2016 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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  • Milner, Sturridge score early
  • Villa eight points off 17th place
  • Can scores great low goal in 59th
  • Most home goals allowed by Villa in PL history

Even Kolo Toure scored!

Six different Liverpool players scored a goal as Liverpool piled misery on Aston Villa with a 6-0 win at Villa Park on Sunday.

Daniel Sturridge, James Milner, Divock Origi, Nathaniel Clyne, Emre Can and Toure scored for the Reds.

The loss is Aston Villa’s first in five at home, and stops them from moving toward 19th place Sunderland.

The Villans are seven back of the Black Cats, and Liverpool pulls into eighth. The Reds sit three points back of fifth-place Manchester United.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Sturridge’s celebratory dance was back on display, as he nodded down Coutinho’s cross to make it 1-0 in the 16th minute.

Milner’s free kick from the right slipped just over Mamadou Sakho‘s head but tricked Mark Bunn enough to give Liverpool a 2-0 lead after 25 minutes of play.

Villa was booed off the pitch at halftime after struggling to show any semblance of a comeback pulse.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Liverpool added a third on a counterattack, as Can picked up a square pass from Roberto Firmino and buried a low shot past Bunn.

Origi subbed on for Sturridge, and scored moments later. Twenty-seven seconds after the move, the Belgian buried a goal. Clyne netted a minute later to make it three goals conceded in less than seven minutes.

By the time Toure added his first goal in five years, it was clear this was an onslaught. In a year that could see Villa relegated for the first time in Premier League history, the club added another first.

VIDEO: Man City youngster’s glee at Dad’s surprising gift of tickets

Man City kid dad
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This Man City fan dad gets high marks for Valentine’s Day after he combined with mom to give a big Etihad Stadium surprise for their son.

[ WATCH: USMNT’s Fabian Johnson scores fifth for ‘Gladbach ]

The child’s reaction could even warm a United fan’s heart, as he leaps into dad’s arms after learning their Sunday morning trip to the team shop was really a date at the big game against Spurs.

Now will their club make it an even better day? Doubt it matters all that much to the kid right now!