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MLS Season Preview: Ranking the top 10 defenders


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.


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.

source: Getty Images
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.

source: Getty Images
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.

source: Getty Images
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
MORE: Top 10 goalkeepers in MLS

MLS Cup Playoffs: NY Red Bulls 1-0 (1-2 agg.) Columbus Crew SC

Tony Tchani, Michael Parkhurst

The game in 100 words (or less): Columbus Crew SC are headed to their second MLS Cup in club history (champions – 2008) after defeating the New York Red Bulls, 2-0 on aggregate, in the Western Conference finals (0-0 draw in an extremely chippy second leg on Sunday). Justin Meram and Kei Kamara scored the two-leg tie’s only goals — eight seconds and 85 minutes into the first leg, respectively — and Crew SC confidently managed the second leg by defending with numbers and wisely picking their spots to break out on the counter. RBNY held nearly 60 percent of possession in the second leg, but could muster just six shots on target over the 90 minutes. Crew SC will host the Portland Timbers in MLS Cup 2015 next Sunday (4 p.m. ET) at MAPFRE Stadium.

[ MORE: Previewing the MLS weekend ]

Three moments that mattered

38′ — Robles at full stretch to deny Kamara — What’s better: the first touch, second touch, turn and shot by Kei Kamara; or, the sprawled-out save by Luis Robles to swat away a ball clearly headed for the bottom corner? Quality on quality.

90+3′ — Abang heads home to make it nervy late — Anatole Abange rose above the crowd and headed home a recycled ball inside the penalty area after a Sal Zizzo cross was headed high into the air late into stoppage time.

90+5′ — Madness in the penalty area, RBNY hit the post — It was absolute scenes inside the Crew SC penalty area. Ball after ball pumped into the box, headed high into the air and briefly cleared. The final chance of the game fell to Bradley Wright-Phillips, who headed the ball toward the far post with Steve Clark rushing out quickly, only to see his slow dribbler bounce off the front side of the post and back into the field of play.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Wil Trapp

Goalscorers: Abang (90+3′)

MLS Cup Playoffs: FC Dallas 2-2 (3-5 agg.) Portland Timbers

Fanendo Adi, Portland Timbers FC
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The game in 100 words (or less): The Portland Timbers are headed to their first MLS Cup in club history after defeating FC Dallas, 5-3 on aggregate, in the Western Conference finals (2-2 draw in the second leg). Fanendo Adi scored in Sunday’s second leg, giving Caleb Porter’s side a 4-1 aggregate lead before Ryan Hollingshead and Blas Perez scored inside the last 25 minutes to give Oscar Pareja’s bunch a late lifeline, but Lucas Melano’s spectacular tap-in sealed the Timbers’ trip to MLS Cup. The third seed heading into the playoffs, Portland bounced Sporting Kansas City in an epic penalty shootout in the knockout round and outlasted the Vancouver Whitecaps in the conference semifinals before knocking off the West’s top seed over two legs to advance to MLS Cup 2015. No matter who advances from the East finals later on Sunday, Portland will play away in MLS Cup, to either the New York Red Bulls or Columbus Crew SC.

[ MORE: Previewing the MLS weekend ]

Three Four moments that mattered

54′ — Adi fires past Gonzalez to make if 4-1 — Oscar Pareja elected to go with Walker Zimmerman at center back on Sunday, dropping regular starter Zach Loyd to the bench. On the game’s opening goal, it was Zimmerman who wound up on the ground as Adi received the ball, turned and fired a massive away goal past Jesse Gonzalez.

68′ — Diaz’s magical ball curled home by Hollingshead — Mauro Diaz is a wonderful magician capable of playing the kill through ball from anywhere on the field — this we’ve known for quite some time. His chipped through ball to set up Hollingshead’s goal was extraordinarily brilliant, even for him.

73′ — Perez heads home the free kick to pull within one — Would you be surprised to hear that it was Diaz who set up FCD’s second goal? His free kick was Perez-finding missile and found the head of the Panamanian striker at the top of the six-yard box, where 34-year-old headed home with ease.

90+5′ — Melano rounds Gonzalez, seals MLS Cup berth — Poor Jesse Gonzalez. Absolutely schooled and posterized by Lucas Melano. What a way to sew up a place in the championship final.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Mauro Diaz

Goalscorers: Adi (54′), Hollingshead (68′), Perez (73′), Melano (90+5′)

La Liga & Serie A: Real Madrid bounce back; Juventus on the charge

Gareth Bale, Real Madrid CF
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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights:

Eibar 0-2 Real Madrid

Real Madrid bounced back from back-to-back La Liga defeats with a 2-0 victory away to Eibar on Sunday. Gareth Bale (below video) and Cristiano Ronaldo (penalty kick) provided the goals to keep Rafa Benitez‘s bunch (27 points) third in the league, two points behind Atletico Madrid and six behind leaders Barcelona.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Getafe 2-0 Villarreal
Rayo Vallecano 0-3 Athletic Bilbao
Sevilla 1-0 Valencia

[ MORE: Saturday’s La Liga roundup ]

Roma 0-2 Atalanta

Losing at home to sides currently in a relegation battle — rarely a good idea, especially if you fancy yourselves title challengers, but that didn’t stop Roma from doing just that on Sunday. Alejandro Gomez and German Denis scored the goals to knock off a 10-man Roma side (Maicon – 81st minute) and keep Rudi Garcia’s bunch (27 points) from gaining ground on any of the three teams currently ahead of them — Inter Milan, Napoli and Fiorentina — all of whom play on Monday.

AC Milan 4-1 Sampdoria

M’Baye Niang scored twice, while Giacomo Bonaventura and Luiz Adriano (below video) added single tallies for AC Milan (23 points) to keep pace with the top-five pack in Serie A. After 14 rounds of games, the Rossoneri sit sixth, a point outside fifth (UEFA Europa League) and five points out of third (UEFA Champions League).

Palermo 0-3 Juventus

Don’t look now, but here come Juventus. Sunday’s 3-0 triumph over Palermo makes it four straight wins in the league for Massimiliano Allegri’s side — a run that pushes them all the way up to fifth in the league (24 points), just six points off the pace of leaders Inter, who play on Monday. Mario Mandzukic (below video), Stefano Sturaro and Simone Zaza scored the goals for the world’s most frightening fifth-place team.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Torino 2-0 Bologna
Chievo 2-3 Udinese
Frosinone 3-2 Hellas Verona
Genoa 1-2 Carpi
Empoli 1-0 Lazio

Monday’s Serie A schedule

Sassuolo vs. Fiorentina (1 p.m. ET)
Napoli vs. Inter Milan (3 p.m. ET)

Arsenal’s injury crisis — add Sanchez, Cazorla, Koscielny to the list

Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal FC
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From title challengers to just hoping to hold on to a top-four place while Arsene Wenger is forced to play reserves and academy players because half of his star players are currently out injured — the annual story of Arsenal.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Oct. 27, when Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain both went down with injuries in the same game, marked the unofficial start of Arsenal’s 2015-16 injury crisis, but things didn’t really get going full bore until the last seven days, when five more players — four of them full-time starters — picked up injuries that will keep them out of action for anywhere between three weeks and three months.

Added to the list last weekend: Francis Coquelin (knee – three months minimum), Mikel Arteta (calf – three weeks)

Added to the list on Sunday: Alexis Sanchez (hamstring – MORE DETAILS), Santi Cazorla (knee), Laurent Koscielny (hip)

Following Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Norwich City, Wenger said Koscielny “could not walk” due to the hip spasm that forced him out of the game after just 11 minutes. He also divulged that Cazorla, who could not be subbed off because Wenger had already used all three subs late on, played the second half “on one leg.” Sanchez came into Sunday injured after picking up a hamstring injury in Arsenal’s UEFA Champions League victory over Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Sunday’s PL roundup — Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs all draw ]

Arsenal fans were up in arms during the summer transfer window — let’s be honest, the following is true of every transfer window the last five years — crying out, “We must buy, we must buy.” Have a look at Arsenal’s complete injury list at the moment, and try to say, “They didn’t need to buy in the summer.”

In chronological order: Danny Welbeck (knee – early 2016 return), Tomas Rosicky (knee – Christmas time return), Jack Wilshere (leg – Christmas time return), Theo Walcott (calf – December return), Mikel Arteta (calf – three weeks), Francis Coquelin (knee – three months minimum), Laurent Koscielny (hip – to be assessed), Alexis Sanchez (hamstring – to be assessed), Santi Cazorla (knee – to be assessed)