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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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PL stars Rashford, Alli, Iheanacho on nominees list for 2016 Golden Boy award

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10:  Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates his goal during the Premier League match between Stoke City and Tottenham Hotspur at Britannia Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Stoke on Trent, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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The end of 2016 is quickly approaching, which means it’s nearly time to hand out a bunch of awards to players who performed exceptionally well over two halves of two completely different seasons during the calendar year.

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While we already know one of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will likely take home the Ballon d’Or for a ninth straight year, the field is much larger and wide open for the 2016 Golden Boy award, which goes to the best player under the age of 21 currently plying his trade in Europe.

Headlining the list of 40 nominees are 10 players currently contracted to Premier League clubs, including the likes of Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, Tottenham Hotspur’s Dele Alli, and Manchester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho.

The full list of nominees:

Dele Alli (Tottenham), Marco Asensio (Real Madrid), Leon Bailey (Genk), Riechedly Bazoer (Ajax), Gabriel Boschilia (Monaco), Julian Brandt (Bayer Leverkusen), Carlos Fernandez (Sevilla), Andreas Christensen (Borussia Monchengladbach), Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich), Ante Coric (Dinamo Zagreb), Amadou Diawara (Napoli), Mahmoud Dahoud (Borussia Monchengladbach), Danilo Barbosa (Benfica), Moussa Dembele (Celtic), Ousmane Dembele (Dortmund), Gianluigi Donnarumma (Milan), Breel Embolo (Schalke), Gabriel Barbosa (Internazionale), Aleksandr Golovin (CSKA Moscow), Goncalo Guedes (Benfica), Demarai Gray (Leicester), Marko Grujic (Liverpool), Alen Halilovic (Hamburg), Kelechi Iheanacho (Manchester City), Alex Iwobi (Arsenal), Viktor Kovalenko (Shakhtar Donetsk), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea), Lucas Hernandez (Atletico Madrid), Emanuel Mammana (Lyon), Nathan (Vitesse), Olivier Ntcham (Genoa), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Renato Sanches (Bayern Munich), Jairo Riedewald (Ajax), Ruben Neves (Porto), Tonny Sanabria (Real Betis), Leroy Sane (Manchester City), Jonathan Tah (Bayer Leverkusen), Youri Tielemans (Anderlecht), Almamy Toure (Monaco)

[ MORE: PL power rankings — Man United soar; City still the standard ]

The last five winners of the Golden Boy award reads as such: Anthony Martial, Raheem Sterling, Paul Pogba, Isco and Mario Gotze. While that’s a not-so-bad list to potentially join, the three winners before them: Mario Balotelli, Alexandre Pato and Anderson. So, it’s a less-than-perfect gauge for the trajectory of a player’s career. Although, some guys named Sergio Aguero, Cesc Fabregas, Messi, Wayne Rooney and Rafael van der Vaart took home the first five awards.

Howe calls England “the ultimate job,” says he’s “committed” to B’mouth

BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 20: Eddie Howe, Manager of AFC Bournemouth looks on  during the EFL Cup Third Round match between AFC Bournemouth and Preston North End at Goldsands Stadium on September 20, 2016 in Bournemouth, England.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Eddie Howe makes no bones about the fact he aspires to one day manage the English national team — one day.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

That day is not today, however, according to the 38-year-old Bournemouth boss, whose name was one of the first, and most frequent, linked with the now-vacant England post after the abrupt dismissal of Sam Allardyce earlier this week.

Speaking Thursday, ahead of his side’s Premier League clash with Watford on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSports.com), Howe all but excused himself from consideration for the job — this time around, at least. He said England is still “the ultimate job,” presumably for English managers, but reaffirmed his commitment and focus on the job at hand: his beloved Cherries — quotes from the Guardian:

“I’m absolutely committed here. Nothing has changed from the summer. They haven’t come to me and my message is very similar. I am committed here, I love the job. The England job is the ultimate job. I have signed players very recently and I am committed to them. I need to show them the same loyalty that they showed me. It’s all hypothetical. It’s not been a great week for football. It’s not ideal the England situation has come up again but I won’t get distracted.”

If we are to now cross Howe’s name off the listAlan Pardew made comments similar to those of Howe this week — that leaves the likes of Steve Bruce and Harry Redknapp as potential permanent replacements. Gareth Southgate has been handed the job on an interim basis, and will undoubtedly be auditioning for the full-time job when he leads the Three Lions into their final four games of 2016 in October and November.

[ MORE: PL power rankings — Man United soar; City still the standard ]

At this point, nearly two months into the European club season, it’s probably in England’s best interest to stick with Southgate for until next summer at the earliest. None of the currently available names inspire any level of confidence or excitement, which is fine, because you and/or I could steer England to a top-two finish in a 2018 World Cup qualifying group that also includes Scotland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Lithuania and Malta.

Steer clear, Eddie Howe. The England job will be open again in 20 months’ time, then again 24 or 48 months after that, and 24 or 48 months after that, and so on forever and ever.

Liverpool to postpone further Anfield expansion after fan protest

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: General view of the new stand during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Leicester City at Anfield on September 10, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Liverpool owner John Henry says fan protests against ticket prices are causing the club to reassess plans to further redevelop Anfield.

Henry’s Fenway Sports Group apologized to fans earlier this year and reversed planned rises in ticket prices after a walkout during a game.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

But having funded the redevelopment of Liverpool’s main stand over the last year, the next phase of the expansion program might not make economic sense if the club can’t recoup the construction cost. The Anfield Road stand had been next in line for rebuilding at the 54,000-capacity Anfield.

“I don’t know if there is a next step because ticket prices are an issue in England,” Henry said. “That may foreclose further expansion. We’ll have to see.”

Henry was speaking Tuesday at Yankee Stadium where his baseball team, the Boston Red Sox, was playing the New York Yankees.

Liverpool has opened its first full season with Juergen Klopp in charge by winning four of its six Premier League games. The German signed a contract extension in July through 2022.

[ MORE: PL power rankings — Liverpool fall, through no fault of their own ]

“He was a perfect fit for Liverpool, for the culture of the club, for the supporters, for the kind of team that we were trying to build,” Henry said. “We couldn’t have asked for a better fit.”

With no European matches this season, Liverpool is chasing a top-four finish to return to the Champions League.

From the 2018-19 season, entry into the Champions League group stage is easier for English clubs with the Premier League’s fourth-place team no longer having to go through a playoff.

The “market pool” system, which steers UEFA prize money to clubs in England, Germany, and Italy, where the broadcasting deals are bigger, will be changed to reward better historical results in the competition. That should help Liverpool as a five-time European champion but see income drop for Manchester City, which has never won the continent’s top prize.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s Champions League roundup | Wednesday ]

The Champions League changes were agreed by a small number of club officials and UEFA, with the rest of Europe not knowing the outcome until the announcement in August.

Henry said he was aware of other teams in England “obviously not happy with the UEFA deal.”

“The changes weren’t really discussed with us, they were implemented essentially. They unilaterally made changes to the market pool and there should have been I think more discussion. But I can tell you that the (Premier League) owners were not happy … at least among the clubs that I speak with.”

AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum in New York contributed to this report.

Premier League Power Rankings: Red Devils on the rise; City still the standard

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United reacts  during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Old Trafford on September 24, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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The 2016-17 Premier League season is a month and a half old now, which means we think we know who some of these teams are.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Of course, that’ll change a handful of times between now and the end of the season, but it’s fun to pretend every Thursday before the latest round of shocking results completely upset the applecart.

[ ARCHIVE: All of PST’s Power Rankings ]

With that said, feast your eyes on the latest round of PL power rankings…


TEAM RANKING
source: 20 (17) West Ham: Four straight losses, by a combined score of 14-5, see the Hammers fall three more places to last place in the Power Rankings. They’re currently just two points clear of the bottom in the real-life table. Slaven Bilic needs a win, badly.
source: 19 (19) Sunderland: Six games into the season, one of two sides without a win. Blew a 2-0 lead against Crystal Palace, and lost 3-2, at home. Yet another fight against relegation looks on the cards for the Black Cats.
source: 18 (20) Stoke City: The other winless side. PL-worst four goals scored. The scheduled has gotten easier the last two weeks, but the Potters managed just one point from games against Crystal Palace and West Brom. Up next: Man United. Dun dun dun dunnnnn.
source: 17 (16) Swansea CityJust a win and a draw thus far, but they’ve been in just about every game. Haven’t lost a game by more than two goals this season, unlike the aforementioned cellar dwellers. Don’t be surprised if that changes this weekend, against Liverpool.
200px-Middlesbrough_crest
16 (13) MiddlesbroughThree straight losses after winning five points from their first three games. Palace, Everton and Tottenham isn’t an easy stretch, though. Away to West Ham this weekend — just what the doctor ordered?
Hull City logo 15 (14) Hull City: With just one point in their last four games, the early-season honeymoon is over. Fortunately for the Tigers, there have been far worse teams thus far. Unfortunately, they’re all more talented and figure to snap out of it eventually.
source: 14 (18) Bournemouth: Handed Everton their first defeat of Toffees’ season, while keeping the second clean sheet of their own. Unexpected points are the best kind.
burnley fc crest 13 (15) Burnley: Unbeaten in their last three games at home following a 2-0 victory over Watford. Still without a point away from home. Arsenal visit Turf Moor this weekend. They wouldn’t, would they?
source: 12 (8) Leicester City: Beating the side you’d expect them to do, and losing to the big boys with ambitions for the title. Exactly what you’d have expected from them last season. Southampton at home this weekend — it’s right in the coin-flip zone.
source: 11 (11) Chelsea: Totally no-showed the first half against Arsenal, the biggest game of their season so far. A disaster defensively, Antonio Conte has a tall task ahead of him. And, Arsenal just scored again.
source: 10 (6) Watford: The best, so far, of the five sides currently on seven points. That said, after topping Man United at home one week, you’d have expected a better showing away to Burnley the next.
source:
9 (9) West Brom: Took a 1-0 lead into stoppage time against Stoke, but threw away a pair of points at the Britannia. 20 percent of the way to 40 points for the season, with just 15.7 percent of fixtures played.
source:
8 (10) Southampton: Sure it was only West Ham, but that’s more like it. Anytime you win 3-0 away in the PL, it’s cause for celebration.
source: 7 (12) Manchester United: With Wayne Rooney dropped to the bench, the sky is the limit for Jose Mourinho’s United. I kid, I kid … kind of. It needed to be done, and now it must persist.
source: 6 (7) Crystal Palace: Three straight wins, including the comeback against Sunderland, has Pardew’s Eagles all the way up to 7th in the league table. A massive test at Everton this week, under the lights on Friday. 
source: 5 (3) Everton: No longer unbeaten, but still a worthy candidate for European qualification. Romelu Lukaku is still only 23 years old (finally?), and he looks the best striker in the PL this season. Sky’s the limit under Ronald Koeman

source:
4 (5) Tottenham: For the second straight season, PL-best defensive record (three goals conceded). Eeked out a win (and two goals) without Harry Kane. Heung-Min Son has five goals in Spurs’ last three games (all competitions). Harry who?
source: 3 (2) Liverpool: Three straight wins, by a combined score of 11-3. Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds are a terrifying attacking juggernaut, but a clean sheet would be nice. Most goals conceded (9) of any side in the top half, to go with 2nd-most goals scored (16) in the PL.
source: 2 (4) Arsenal: Four straight wins, by a combined score of 12-3. Since the Gunners have started the season so brightly, they’ll fade around Christmas time and limp to a fourth-place finish. That’s how this works, right? They’re beyond brilliant to watch right now, though.
Logo_Manchester_City 1 (1) Man City: Suffered their first blemish under Pep, but still perfect in the league. PL-best 18 goals scored. The season’s first adversity: Kevin De Bruyne is out three weeks. Will the onslaught of goals continue?