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MLS Season Preview: Ranking the top 10 midfielders

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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 midfielders as our season preview continues.

1. Michael Bradley

Toronto FC spent big to bring the U.S. international back from Roma. What they get in return is the most complete midfielder in Major League Soccer – a player capable of impacting a game in all phases. Farther down this list, you’ll see players who are among league’s best in discrete specialities: destroying; generating chances; providing goals from midfield. Given the circumstances of any particularly game, Bradley can flip a switch and become an elite midfielder in any of those areas, flashing a skill set that will help the Reds vault from bottom feeders to playoff contention.

2. Graham Zusi

This is where the list gets more contentious, but given how important Zusi is to 2013’s champions, it’s easy to see the influence of his maturation has had on Sporting Kansas City’s fortunes. As a creative threat alone, he became an Most Valuable Player candidate. Last year, as somebody who’s increasing effective running the whole show for Peter Vermes’ team, he was able to guide Sporting to their second title. He might not have as much pure talent as some others on this list, but in terms of overall output, Zusi had become a Major League Soccer elite.

3. Javier Morales

To truly appreciate Javier Morales, you need only hear opponents talk about his game. You don’t have to go far to find one of Real Salt Lake’s opponents call the Argentine veteran Major League Soccer’s best midfielder; and if not best, it’s most creative. While that isn’t a universally held opinion, it does speak to a player whose impact goes beyond the eight goals and 10 assists he posted last season – arguably his most productive since arriving at Rio Tinto.

source:  4. Osvaldo Alonso

The all-around skill set Michael Bradley boasts? That’s not Osvaldo Alonso, even if his contributions going forward are underappreciated. What Osvaldo Alonso does best — what he does to an unmatched degree in Major League Soccer — is destroy attacks. There is no midfield force that’s more disruptive than Alonso’s, and while some would prefer the more well-rounded game of Kyle Beckerman, Alonso is one of the few defense-first players that can dictate how a game is played – part of the reason Seattle willingly signed him to a Designated Player deal this offseason.

5. Kyle Beckerman

Beckerman has developed into the quintessential MLS regista – somebody who can organize a midfield, break up play for his defense, and spray the ball around with an enviable acuity. While he may not break open games in the same way his Argentine teammate can, Beckerman has a knack for contributing important goals, a trait that allows him to further transcend most of the league’s holders. He is as important as anybody to Real Salt Lake’s success, with the contributions he makes in training as well as games a big reason why he’ll be on the U.S.’s plane to Brazil.

6. Landon Donovan

On any given day, the league’s soon-to-be all-time leading scorer is still MLS’s best player, but in his slightly advancing years, those games are coming less frequent. As we saw in last year’s playoffs, the mere presence of Donovan is no guarantee of continued greatness. Still, even at 32-years-old, the Galaxy star can break open a game like few below him on this list. For one-game, if a title is on the line, most coaches would still pick him over the names above his.

7. Diego Valeri

In a completely different way, Portland’s Diego Valeri can match Donovan’s game-breaking ability, but whereas the LA star will typically does his damage while leading neck-snapping counters, Valeri’s ability to find seams in opposing defenses was a big part of the Timbers’ historic turnaround. He was the trequartista Caleb Porter needed to engineer that chance, part of the reason he was the franchise’s first big ticket acquisition after the former Akron boss signed on. With improved health, the former Lanus creator may be able to provide even more in 2014.

source:  8. Diego Fagundez

The numbers tell the story: 13 goals; seven assists; only 19 years old. Fagundez, not Darlington Nagbe, is the league’s best player under 24 years old, and while he may struggle to reproduce those eye-catching numbers, the potential to have a greater, more consistent minute-to-minute impact means the Uruguayan-born midfielder may have a better season. While Fagundez’s stats were beyond reproach, he will become even more influential as the more nuanced aspects of his game mature. It will be amazing to watch.

9. Darlington Nagbe

Nobody takes care of the ball like Darlington Nagbe, who led all attacking players in passing percentage last season. Registering a career high in goals (nine), the third-year attacker started to come good on the prodigious talent be brought to Oregon. The one thing he lacks: that element of aggression that can make the difference between a very good player and an All-Star (or Most Valuable Player candidate). It’s why Portland brought in Valeri last season, but over the course of the 2013 season, Nagbe may have learned a few lessons from his more adventurers teammate. In 2014, Nagbe may yet add that cutting edge that’s keeping him from being one of the league’s elites.

10. Will Johnson

Yet another Portland Timber, but coming off a year where his name trickled into MVP conversations, it’s impossible to leave Will Johnson off this list. In Porter’s system, Johnson went from feisty foot solider at Real Salt Lake to driving force in Portland’s midfield, with diligent defensive pressure combining with a series of timely goals to make the Canadian international one of 2013’s most influential offseason acquisitions. After career highs in goals and assists, the question is whether Johnson can replicate last year’s production, but still likely to get the call on dead balls and penalties, the 27-year-old’s stats should match his considerable influence in the middle.

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Ronaldo after Champions League win: “Our team showed more experience”

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 28:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid takes off his shirt in celebration after scoring the winning penalty in the penalty shoot out during the UEFA Champions League Final match between Real Madrid and Club Atletico de Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 28, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images
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The world was treated to the rare sight of a shirtless Cristiano Ronaldo as he celebrated the clinching penalty in a win over Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League final in Milan on Saturday.

Jokes aside, one of the greatest players of his generation did get a moment to remember despite having a rather forgettable 120 minutes beforehand. Ronaldo buried the final penalty to give Real a 5-4 win in kicks after a 1-1 score line post-regulation.

[ MORE: Match recap | Bale reacts to second title ]

He almost sounded apologetic after the match, one that saw Real struggle to assert itself after a strong 45 minutes.

From the BBC:

“The penalties are always a lottery, you never know what will happen but our team showed more experience and we showed it by scoring all the penalties. A fantastic night for us.

“It is the end of the season and people are not fit, we have to rest and we have to go for the Euros.”

Thrilling.

Then again, when you’re a superstar and have a trio of UCL crowns, you can feel however you like. Ronaldo’s never been a man for John Wooden-style quotes — heck, we’d even take David Beckham’s personality from him — but he’s won it all thrice.

And to be fair, the other two were better games (and performances from him). Ronaldo scored for Manchester United against Chelsea and capped off the scoring in the 2014 Real win over Atleti.

Gareth Bale after winning second UCL title with Real: “We deserve it”

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 28: Gareth Bale of Real Madrid in action  during the UEFA Champions League Final match between Real Madrid and Club Atletico de Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 28, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
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It took 120 minutes and penalty kicks, but Real Madrid outlasted Atletico Madrid for the second time in three seasons to win its 11th UEFA Champions League final on Saturday in Milan.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

Welsh star Gareth Bale made his spot kick before Cristiano Ronaldo took advantage of Juanfran hitting the post on his attempt, and Real won 1-1 (5-4) on the night.

Bale was thrilled.

From the Fox Sports broadcast:

“What an amazing feeling. In extra time a lot of people became cramped but we showed resilience, what we’re made of and we won the 11th.

“They gave it a great game. We feel a little bit sorry for them but you have to win a final.”

Afterwards, Bale said Wales would try to win the Euro 2016 because, “Why not?”

Why not, Gareth? Why not?

Ronaldo scores clincher as Real Madrid wins the UEFA Champions League in penalty kicks

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 28:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid reacts during the UEFA Champions League Final match between Real Madrid and Club Atletico de Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 28, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
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  • Real snares 11th European Cup
  • Second in three years
  • Ramos nabs controversial early goal

Cristiano Ronaldo scored the match-clinching penalty kick after 120 minutes couldn’t separate Real and Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League final on Saturday in Milan.

Sergio Ramos scored an early goal before Yannick Carrasco equalized late, and it took penalty kicks to separate Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Antoine Griezmann missed a penalty kick early in the second half, and Juanfran was the only player to miss in kicks.

Here’s how kicks played out:

Real Madrid — Lucas Vasquez scores
Atletico Madrid — Griezmann scores
RM — Marcelo scores
AM — Gabi scores
RM — Gareth Bale scores
AM — Saul scores
RM — Ramos scores
AM — Juanfran hits the post
RM — Ronaldo scores

[ WATCH: Griezmann misses PK | Carrasco equalizes, makes out ]

Chippy was the name of the game early, and Atleti clearly wanted to do whatever it took to perturb and even wound Real.

Jan Oblak made a fantastic instinctive save on a sixth minute free kick from Gareth Bale that Casemiro redirected on frame.

Real’s Dani Carvajal picked up an 11th minute yellow card for a late slide tackle on Antoine Griezmann.

The opener came in the 15th minute, as Gareth Bale flicked Toni Kroos’ header onto the doorstep and Ramos ever-so-slightly redirected the chance across the line. He may have also been offside, but the goal counts.

[ MORE: Tottenham to play CL matches at Wembley next season ]

The 33rd minute found Griezmann trying his luck on goal, as Keylor Navas caught the ball for his first real save of the day. Griezmann was firing at will, though the majority of his chances were off frame.

It stayed 1-0 into the break, but changed soon afterwards.

Combustible defender Pepe stamped on Fernando Torres’ ankle in the box, but Griezmann cranked the ensuing penalty attempt off the cross bar.

[ MORE: Lewandowski headed to Real? ]

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 28: Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the UEFA Champions League Final match between Real Madrid and Club Atletico de Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 28, 2016 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Savic just missed being the toe to Diego Godin and Griezmann’s tic-tac when his left-footed tap went wide of the frame in the 55th minute.

Saul knifed a shot wide from the center of the box with a fantastic athletic shot, as Atleti kept control of the play but not the scoreboard.

Real countered with a rare chance in the 70th minute, but Oblak stopped an onrushing Benzema point blank to keep the deficit 1-0.

Cristiano Ronaldo was fairly anonymous for most of the match, and saw Oblak stop his first real shot in the 78th minute. Gareth Bale then tried a cheeky finish that failed when perhaps an easy shot would’ve done the trick. Would it haunt them?

Sure enough, Atleti dialed up an equalized moments later when Carrasco slid onto the end of Juanfran’s cross to make it 1-1 in the 80th.

[ MORE: Latest on Messi injury ]

We headed to extra time, where an advantage was distinctly in Atletico Madrid’s hands. Diego Simeone had used just one substitution to Real’s three, as Zinedine Zidane exhausted his options in trying to close out his rivals.

The first 15 minutes saw Atleti have some success working down the right side, but Real had the better of the dangerous chances aside from Griezmann flashing an overhead kick high off a corner, the last act of the frame.

The second segment was just as Real-framed, and several chances fell to a trigger shy Lucas. Aside from more silliness from Pepe, the only conclusion was penalty kicks.

WATCH: Carrasco levels Champions League final, finds partner for long kiss

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 28:  Yannick Carrasco of Atletico Madrid celebrates afte scorig the equalizing goal during the UEFA Champions League Final match between Real Madrid and Club Atletico de Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 28, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images
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Milan on a starry night sounds romantic. Add in a massive match-tying goal, and it was all too much for Yannick Carrasco.

The 22-year-old Belgian attacker got on the end of Juanfran‘s cross and beat Keylor Navas at the near post.

[ MORE: Griezmann’s PK miss ]

In celebration, Carrasco raced toward a pitch side suite and into the arms and lips of what we presume is his partner for a gift that must count as much as a few dozen roses (but probably smelled much worse).