MLS Season Preview: Ranking the top 10 defenders

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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

Let’s take a look at the best defenders as our season preview continues.

1. Matt Besler

The hometown kid won his first MLS Cup for Sporting Kansas City last season, is a starter for the U.S. national team at center back and has just been named SKC’s captain for the 2014 season. His reading of the game is superb and with a quick turn of pace Besler is as solid as they come. From ball-boy to captain of KC, Besler’s the best of the best in MLS.

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Will Gonzalez lead LA to another MLS Cup this season?

2. Omar Gonzalez

Besler’s central defensive partner for the USA, Gonzalez has certainly earned his Designated Player status with LA Galaxy in the last few years. Towering above most MLS attackers, the giant center back has poise on the ball and he’s reading of the game is improving all the time. Could easily be playing in Europe somewhere but has rebuilt his career as an MLS star after that bad injury set him back in 2011. Gonzo is great.

3. Jose Goncalves

The Portuguese center back had a sublime season for New England in 2013 and played every single second for Jay Heaps’ side. The Revs are a mean defensive outfit and with Goncalves anchoring things from the middle, it’s no wonder. In his debut season in MLS he won Defender of the Year honors and was also named in the Best XI. He has all the tools to do even better in 2014.

4. Victor Bernardez

San Jose have seen other defenders like Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow leave the franchise but Bernardez has stuck around. The Honduran defender is a man mountain at the back and has an impressive turn of pace to go along with his aggressive style of play. At 31 the Honduran has a wealth of experience and he’ll likely be the first name on Mark Watson’s team sheet in 2014.

5. DeAndre Yedlin

This young man continues to divide opinion in MLS, but in my view he’s the best right back out there. At the age of 20, he still has plenty to learn. But with the fans in Seattle driving him on and the experience of being involved in a couple of Jurgen Klinsmann’s U.S. squad’s, Yedlin will continue to grow. Exciting prospect who already has bags of MLS experience.

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Collin was the MLS Cup 2013 MVP, as the French defender excelled in the postseason.

6. Aurelien Collin

Besler’s partner in crime at KC, Collin scored the crucial penalty kick in the MLS Cup final last season and is key to Peter Vermes plans at Sporting Park. Many would question his distribution but Collin’s job, first and foremost, is to defend and he does that superbly. The 27-year-old will be in his fourth season for Sporting and the French defender should be around a long-time after that, too.

7. Clarence Goodson

Another San Jose man makes it into our list, as Goodson’s return to MLS towards the end of last season showed how good he is. The former Brondby defender is aiming to get into Klinsmann’s USMNT squad and a strong start to the 2014 MLS season will likely see Goodson heading to Brazil. With Bernardez, the Earthquakes have a veteran partnership that should shut down most offenses. Cool on the ball and good in the air, Goodson is a coaches dream.

8. Carlos Bocanegra

Boca can still do it in MLS and with Chivas USA having a brighter future on the horizon, expect the former U.S. national team captain to pull everyone together in L.A. The future franchise, whatever they’re called, will likely see Boca still around, as the former Chicago Fire, Glasgow Rangers and Fulham star has so much to offer. His lack of pace may worry some, but that first yard is in his head.

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Will Farrell kick on during his Sophomore season?

9. Bobby Boswell

Yes, he was waived by Houston but Boswell has bags of MLS experience and D.C. United will build their defense around him. His time was up at Houston and going back to D.C. will do him the world of good. An experienced man with a great attitude, D.C. United coach Ben Olsen could have pulled a masterstroke by getting Boswell on board. A young core of defenders will look up to Boswell as their leader.

10. Andrew Farrell

As a rookie, Farrell got better as the season went on. A beast at right back for New England and able to play elsewhere, expect him to kick on this season for the Revs. 32 games last year saw the Louisville product grow in stature and his pace and power suit MLS perfectly. Will we see him partner Goncalves?

MORE: Top 10 rookies in MLS
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Serie A: Juve keep winning to remain 1 point back of Napoli

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus closed the gap on Serie A leader Napoli back to just one point as the six-time defending champion eased past Genoa 1-0 on Monday.

Douglas Costa scored in the 16th minute, the first conceded by Genoa in five league matches. It was a less than convincing performance from Juventus but it was never really troubled, as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – standing in for the still-injured Gianluigi Buffon – was little more than a spectator.

“What was important was to win,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “At the end there was a bit of nervousness because we were lacking in energy a bit.

“We could have finished off the match in the first half, and again with a couple of occasions after the break. We didn’t manage to so compliments to Genoa.”

The battle for the Serie A title is shaping into a two-horse race. Juventus moved 10 points clear of third-placed Lazio, although the capital side has a match in hand.

“The season is still long and all those who are behind us can still get back into the race,” Allegri said. “It was important to stay in Napoli’s slipstream.”

Juventus needed to win after Napoli beat Atalanta 1-0 on Sunday.

Allegri’s side started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead but Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin did well to keep out a free kick from specialist Miralem Panic.

However, it did not take much longer to strike. Douglas Costa passed out left to Mario Mandzukic, who played a delightful return ball for the Brazil midfielder to slot into the bottom left corner.

League Cup semi: Man City take 2-1 lead into 2nd leg vs. Bristol

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Manchester City can move one step closer on Tuesday to claiming their first of four potential trophies this season, when Pep Guardiola‘s men take on Bristol City in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday ]

After coming back to beat the Robins in the first leg at home, Man City must now go on the road and take care of business to reach the Feb. 25 final at Wembley Stadium. As he has done so many times — and so famously — in the sky blue of City, Sergio Aguero grabbed the late winner (91st minute — WATCH HERE) 14 days ago.

For a few not-so-insignificant periods of the game, Bristol were very much the aggressors and appeared more likely to make the score 2-0 than for City to get back to 1-1. Bobby Reid converted from the penalty spot in the 44th minute after her was brought down under John Stones‘ wild, sliding tackle. Kevin De Bruyne leveled things up 10 minutes into the second half, setting the stage for Aguero’s late heroics.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

Since the first leg on Jan. 9, City have failed in their bid to finish the PL season with an unbeaten record before bouncing back to beat Newcastle United on the weekend, courtesy of a hat trick from Aguero — Guardiola quotes, from Sport24:

“I said many times it was going to happen, we can lose, so (it is) important the reaction we have. Still we have 42 points to play (for). It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like Saturday and like Liverpool. It is important to show the team is still there but I don’t have the feeling we give up.

“We want to go through to the final in the (League) Cup and the FA Cup, so (we have) a lot of games but I think the people have the desire to keep going, to keep going, to keep going.”

[ MORE: One dream January signing for each top-six side ]

Bristol, meanwhile, have fallen on hard times: it’s been nearly a month (Boxing Day, to be specific — five losses, one draw) since Lee Johnson’s side last won a game in any competition, and they’ve fallen from second to fifth in the Championship table — Johnson quotes, from the Guardian:

“We don’t want to be brave losers, we want to compete to win. It’s up to the players to be focused and tactically aware, and who knows what will happen if we can show the same quality as we have shown in the previous rounds?

“We have to make sure we’re really bold. If you’re going to deliver a corner, do it like you mean it. I’d rather fail bold than fail timid. We know we have to score. I hope Pep picks his absolute best team and we can give them a right go. I’m not sure you could go and play an under-23 side against us at the moment and I think he’ll know that.”

The winner of Arsenal versus Chelsea (0-0 after the first leg) awaits in the final.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.