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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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Tottenham 1-1 Liverpool: High-press derby ends all square

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27:  Danny Rose of Tottenham Hotspur scores his sides first goal past Simon Mignolet of Liverpool during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at White Hart Lane on August 27, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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LONDON — Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool battled it out in a breathtaking encounter on Saturday at White Hart Lane as they drew 1-1.

James Milner‘s penalty kick gave Liverpool a lead they deserved but to their credit Spurs responded well in the second half and equalized through Danny Rose.

With the draw Spurs remain unbeaten through their opening three games and have five points, while Liverpool has four points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Liverpool should’ve been 1-0 up inside the opening five minutes as Roberto Firmino teed up Philippe Coutinho at the back post but his shot was saved superbly by Michel Vorm down low.

At the other end Christian Eriksen had a free kick pushed away by Simon Mignolet as the game began at a frantic pace.

[ MORE: Premier League standings ]

Dele Alli skewed a shot wide from the edge of the box and then Sadio Mane broke and his deflected effort caused havoc with Coutinho flicking it goalwards and Vorm clawed it out, but the offside flag was raised against Coutinho.

Vorm then made two telling tackles as Mane raced clear behind Tottenham’s defense and the Dutch goalkeeper twice slid in to make tremendous last-ditch tackles and clear the danger.

Kyle Walker was then forced off injured and Spurs brought on Vincent Janssen as a major reshuffle saw Eric Dier move to right back, Alli back into central midfield with Victor Wanyama and Harry Kane dropping underneath Janssen in a 4-1-4-1 formation.

Spurs looked disjointed after that change and in the 43rd minute Liverpool took full advantage as Firmino raced in down the left and Lamela clipped his heels to give away a penalty kick. Milner slammed the spot kick home and Liverpool led 1-0 at half time.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

In the second half Liverpool continued to look dangerous on the break as Lovren flashed a header wide and Mane thought he had made it 2-0 but Adam Lallana was flagged for offside in the build up just before Mane slotted the ball home.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

Spurs pushed hard late on for the equalizer but Eriksen sidefooted over from a glorious position in the center of the box, Lamela had a free kick tipped over and then Toby Alderweireld‘s header was tipped around the post by Mignolet.

However, Tottenham’s equalizer finally arrived in the 72nd minute as Dier’s cross from the right was flicked on by Lamela and Rose took one touch to settle himself before slamming home. 1-1.

Despite both teams pushing for a winner, they canceled each other in the dying stages and a frantic game ended all square.

STREAM: Chelsea vs. Burnley, Watford vs. Arsenal; every 10am ET game

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Eden Hazard of Chelsea is challenged by Michael Keane of Burnley during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Burnley at Stamford Bridge on February 21, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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Six games are coming your way at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday with Chelsea hosting Burnley and Arsenal heading to Watford.

[ STREAM: Watch live online here

Crystal Palace welcome Bournemouth to Selhurst Park, while Southampton and Sunderland clash as they both aim to grab their first win of the new season. Reining champs Leicester City host Swansea City and Everton welcome Stoke City to Goodison Park at 10 a.m. ET as the PL action comes thick and fast.

[ STREAM: Watch “Goal Rush” ]

There is also a new feature during this 10 a.m. ET games as Premier League “Goal Rush” debuts this weekend. You can see every goal from all six games on NBCSports.com or via the app. All the details you need to stream that are above.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

So, here is your one-stop streaming shop for every PL game kicking off at 10 a.m. ET.


Saturday, 10 a.m. ET kick offs

Chelsea vs. Burnley – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Watford vs. Arsenal – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Southampton vs. Sunderland – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) –[STREAM]

Crystal Palace vs. Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) –[STREAM]

Everton vs. Stoke City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Leicester City vs. Swansea City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Arsene Wenger vehemently denies panic buying at Arsenal

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 25:  Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is seen in the stand prior to the UEFA EURO 2016 round of 16 match between Wales and Northern Ireland at Parc des Princes on June 25, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
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With Arsenal about to spend close to $70 million on two new players in the final days of the window, Arsene Wenger has been accused by many of “panic buying” to help quell fan unrest.

Seriously, can this guy win?

[ MORE: Pulisic to Liverpool? ]

So often the subject of discontent for Arsenal not spending enough cash, now Wenger is being slatted for lining up deals for center back Shkodran Mustafi and striker Lucas Perez.

Speaking to the media ahead of Arsenal’s trip to Watford on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBC Sports) Wenger smiled as he delivered this opening comment when asked if the imminent arrival of Mustafi and Lucas were a result of panic late in the transfer window.

“Look at my face. Is this the face of someone who tends to panic buy?” Wenger said. “No, it is the case that everybody is waiting to get the deals done. When a [foreign] club wants to sell to an English club today they ask for a huge amount of money. So it takes a long time to settle [on a price]. In the next two or three days everybody will find agreements.”

Wenger is right.

With the huge influx of cash across the PL, teams across Europe know the PL has a lot more money to spend this summer and the prices are going through the roof.

In fairness to Wenger, the deal for Mustafi has been rumbling on all summer long with Valencia driving a hard bargain and Arsenal finally agreeing to pay $46.2 million for the 24-year-old German international.

Perez seems  like more of a panic buy with the Deportivo La Coruna striker costing $22.5 million after scoring 17 times in La Liga last season. The 27-year-old Spaniard has had a nomadic career to date but with Everton interested in his services, Arsenal have jumped in at the last minute with concerns around the long-term fitness of Danny Welbeck and only Olivier Giroud around.

If these two deals do go through then Arsenal and Wenger will have spent the third-highest amount in the PL this summer behind Manchester City and Manchester United who have completely obliterated the transfer market.

Even if these are “panic buys” from Wenger, you can no longer accuse Arsenal of not spending money. Arsenal’s fans will have to find something else to moan about now as Wenger enters the final year of his contract.

Watch Live: Tottenham vs. Liverpool (Lineups, Live Stream)

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 02: Jordan Henderson of Liverpool and Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield on April 2, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Tottenham Hotspur host Liverpool at White Hart Lane on Saturday  (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports) as two teams with title aspirations collide in north London.

Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp are two of the brightest minds in the game and both teams will press high to cause mistakes from the other. Expect a rambunctious and passionate encounter.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

Last season both games ended in draws — 0-0 at the Lane and 1-1 at Anfield — between these teams but heading into the international break, both will be going for broke to grab another three points.

In team news Tottenham bring back Dele Alli and drop Vincent Janssen to the bench.

Liverpool start with Matip in central defense and Milner at left back.

LINEUPS

Tottenham: Vorm; Walker, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose; Wanyama, Dier; Lamela, Alli, Eriksen; Kane. Subs: McGee, Son, Janssen, Onoma, Winks, Davies, Carter-Vickers

Liverpool: Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Matip, Milner; Henderson, Wijnaldum, Lallana; Mane, Firmino, Coutinho. Subs: Manninger, Sturridge, Grujic, Moreno, Leiva, Origi, Stewart