Major League Soccer Preview: An alternate view of the 2014 regular season

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source: Reuters

The various outlets that cover Major League Soccer (including ProSoccerTalk) have spent the better part of February telling you how the 2014 season will go. This post is definitely not part of that coverage. With a broken crystal ball and an ill-advised disregard for common sense, PST’s Richard Farley gives you this version of the 2014 regular season:

March 

Telling moment: The Major League Soccer season opens with a bang when Aurélien Collin converts a corner kick 38 seconds into Sporting Kansas City’s game in Seattle. Running across the front of the Emerald City Supporters, Collin lifts his jersey to reveal a picture of Eddie Johnson above the caption, “You can hate me now”. “I’m not sure about that one,” Peter Vermes says after his team’s 1-0 win at CenturyLink, with the early goal allowing Sporting to hold 68 percent of the ball and limit both sides to that single shot on goal. Disillusioned Seattle Fan (legal name) mumbles, “I don’t know what the hell I just saw, but I’m assuming the Seahawks are still good.” One Seattle blog hastily suggests replacing Sigi Schmid with Russell Wilson.

source:  Highlights: MLS’s Champions League entrants (San Jose, Sporting KC, LA Galaxy) sweep their Mexican opposition (Toluca, Cruz Azul, Tijuana) out of the competition. Asked for comment, MLS commissioner Don Garber says:

“We’re the best league in the region. When you try us with a sorry trio like that, that’s the result you gonna get! Don’t you ever talk about us! … Liga MX! Don’t you open your mouth about the best, or MLS gonna shut it for you real quick! Single-entity, baby!”

Chivas USA finishes the month on top of the West with nine points, prompting Major League Soccer to put a $101 million price tag on the franchise; Montréal starts the season with four straight draws before confessing “we have no idea if we’re any good”; With 10 points and a spot in the Champions League semifinals, Sporting KC concedes “We’re kind of bored. It’s too easy playing in temperatures so far above freezing. When there’s no threat of toes breaking off, the game lacks obstacles.”

At month’s end, reporter Franco Panizo from the league’s website asks Thierry Henry about March:

“What can you say? It is a word that can mean two things. You ask me about a month. I think about a walk. Maybe the questions should be better?”

Franco decides to stop writing his Henry biography in favor of a wall calendar of Henry quotes.

source: AP

April

Telling moment: After being eliminated from both the U.S. Open Cup and MLS Cup playoffs by Real Salt Lake in 2013, Portland gets their first crack at the Western Conference champs on April 19 at Rio Tinto. An early header from Norberto Paparatto and a late first half goal from Gastón Fernández prompts Caleb Porter to confess at halftime, “We were just that little bit away last season, so this isn’t too much of a surprise.” With his team down 2-0 in stoppage time, Kyle Beckerman cuts a lock out of Sebastian Velazquez’s mullet, laying it on the center line in sacrifice to the spirit of Andy Williams. RSL goes on to win, 3-2.

source:  Highlights: Celebrating the one year anniversary of their scoreboard catching on fire, Columbus shows a lighter side by bringing a 20 ft. fire extinguisher replica to the center circle, firing confetti out of its nozzle after the national anthem. The replica then proceeds to spontaneously combust, with damage from the flames forcing the game against New York to be postponed.

Chivas USA ends April on top of the West with 17 points. “I have this great balanced budget proposal, too,” Nelson Rodríguez admits, “but nobody in Washington listens to me”; Montréal’s streak of draws hits eight, forcing Frank Klopas to confess “we have no idea if we’re any good”; still without a goal, Seattle’s Clint Dempsey says, “it will come, I’m not worried,” while head coach Sigi Schmid derides the media for not counting the goals Clint “really, really wanted”; Sporting KC draws all three of their April games, with players responding to the spring heat with Instagram explanations: “Way too warm.”

With the Red Bulls in first place, Franco Panizo asks Thierry Henry to summarize April:

“It doesn’t waste my time. It starts with the first letter of the list. It has two syllables, like my name. It was a wise choice. I will miss April, just like I miss all great things. You have to appreciate art.”

source: Getty Images

May

Telling moment: The last day of May finally comes for a Sporting team forced to play seven games over the course of a month. “What is this crap,” Oriol Rosell asked, in Catalan, before the team kicked off on May 4 again Columbus, noting Matt Besler and Graham Zusi would leave for the U.S.’s World Cup camp halfway through the month. After a 2-0 May 31 loss in RFK Stadium’s humidity leaves the team exhausted, Collin notes, “As the rats are to this building, so are we to May. I will not be sorry when both go.”

source: APHighlights: With Michael Bradley on international duty, Toronto GM Tim Bezbatchenko convinces Tim Leiweke to sign another Designated Player. “Don’t worry, I’m a salary cap expert,” he assures his boss, only to have the league’s New York office explain a temporary exemption will not be approved for Peter Crouch’s three-month loan.

With two more wins in May, Chivas USA are three points clear at top of the West. Nelson Rodríguez admits he’s considering running for Congress; After a win against visiting Sporting, New England’s communications department sends an exuberant update to executives at Kraft Sports. The email doesn’t receive a response; Bruce Arena, tired of his team’s inattention to detail, spends 15 minutes explaining why coffee cups should be placed top-down on their shelves (“There’s no secret here.”); and after watching his team draw their 12th game in a row, Montréal owner Joey Saputo admits “we have no idea if we’re any good.”

Now with a potential buyer for his calendar, Franco Panizo asks Thierry Henry about May:

“When I was in Europe, it was the best month, because we would say good bye and I would go to Monaco or Tibet and practice answering questions. Sometimes I would sigh. Other times, I would not. But now, I’m caught off guard. Please ask me again next month.”

source: AP

June

Telling moment: “We’re back,” MLS announces when Vancouver hosts Montreál on June 25, the league returning after a break for most of the World Cup’s group stage. Two days later, the league headquarters hits “resend” on the same email before New York hosts Toronto. “We’re seriously back now,” the league’s web site says on Monday, June 30, trying to draw attention from the festivities in Brazil. At 5 p.m., Don Garber authorizes the site to float a “Beckham planning July return” rumor. When fan interest increases, Garber allows “Unnamed Miami Franchise” to begin play in July, snickering “maybe they can earn a spot in Soccer Bowl.”

source:  Highlights: Depleted by World Cup call ups, Real Salt Lake defeats Portland 2-1 at Rio Tinto, with Caleb Porter calling his luck against RSL “absolutely ridiculous”; Despite the loss, the Timbers claim first in the West, prompting Major League Soccer to lower Chivas USA’s franchise asking price to “OBO”; Amid World Cup call ups, D.C. United temporarily claims first in the East. The team celebrates by hanging an “OBO” banner outside RFK; With its team playing only two times in the month, Kansas City proclaims itself “Recovery City USA,” not bothering to see if another place had already claimed the title; Montréal loses their first game of the season in Vancouver, with Marco Di Vaio conceding “we now have a good idea of how good we are.”

When Panizo asks Henry about June, the New York forward says,

“It’s too much. June in New York is terrible. June in New Jersey: Slightly worse.”

source: Getty Images

July

Telling moment: Tired from making up games crammed together by the World Cup break, MLS’s teams complete the nine-match, July 18-20 weekend with nine 0-0 draws. “Please help,” Omar Gonzalez says after the Galaxy’s game in Kansas City. “I promise I’ll never go to a World Cup again.” The Players Association demands a 20-game schedule in World Cup years. MLS threatens to make Spirit Airlines the league’s official carrier.

Highlights: A winless month sees D.C. slide to fifth in the East. “What did you expect,” Ben Olsen asks a set of incredulous reporters. “Do you think last year never happened?”; Chivas USA reclaim first in the West, prompting Nelson Rodríguez to lose a friendly bet when he tries to walk across the top of his pool; After helping the U.S. national team into the second round of the World Cup, Clint Dempsey scores at hat-trick in his first game back, with Seattle beating rival Portland. “You guys are funny,” he says, sarcastically, to swarming reporters afterward. “Really funny.”

“Franco!” Thierry Henry says on July 31, “I love this month, so much. Ask me what it means.” Panizo’s iPhone shatters as it drops to the pavement. Henry gives him a hug.

source: Getty Images

August

Telling moment: With Bayern Munich in town to face the MLS All-Stars, Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson declares “I wouldn’t trade Caleb [Porter] for Pep Guardiola. That’s just how I feel.” Coaching MLS’s team, Porter sees his side lose 1-0 while maintaining just 14 percent possession. “That’s a great team, but we were right there,” Porter says after the game. “You don’t need to control the ball to control the game.”

Highlights: Losing a long-standing bet to Garth Lagerwey, Kyle Beckerman shaves his head after scoring four goals in Colorado on Aug. 2. “You say one stupid thing in Miami and some smart guy remembers it 10 years later. I don’t know, man.”; Tim Bezchatchenko, obsessed with a high-end Keurig coffee maker Daryl Morey told him about at Sloan , defies the office budget and orders a new machine online. Tim Leiweke eventually packs up the unit and sends it to Carl Robinson; With 50 points, Chivas USA is one point ahead of RSL in the West, earning Nelson Rodríguez an interview with the Lakers for Mitch Kupchak’s job; With all their stars back, Sporting Kansas City has a five-point lead in the East, but as Matt Besler notes, “Winter is coming,” words that prompt Collin to rise out of his locker and start walking south.

“Franco, you look sad,” Henry asks on Aug. 30. Panizo says he’s lost interest in his calendar. Inside, he wants another hug. “I have lost interest in many things in life, Franco,” Thierry explains. “Apathy is my muse.”

source: AP

September

Telling moment: After scoring nine goals in four games, lifting his total to a league-leading 15 on the season, Clint Dempsey holds a press conference on the docks outside the Seattle Yacht Club. Arriving in a restored Toyota Land Cruiser and wearing beige cargo shots with flip-flops, Dempsey announces his immediate retirement from soccer. “I just decided I’m done with you, and you, and you,” he says, pointing at various reporters before tossing the Land Cruiser’s keys to the Seattle Times’ Joshua Mayers. One day later, Adrian Hanauer reveals the team secretly registered Didier Drogba before the end of the summer transfer window, with the league agreeing to pay the Ivorian’s entire 2014 salary.

Highlights: At the beginning of the month, the league announces a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Players Association that will eliminate the salary cap, allow promotion-relegation, and shift the competitive calendar to an August-to-May schedule. “It’s just time,” Don Garber confesses. After taking a series of questions from assembled press, the league commissioner finally cracks: “Ha! Got you, bad. It’s five Designated Players and 15 percent annual cap increases. We’re not doing any of that other crap.”; As the Galaxy clings to the edge of the playoff race, Bruce Arena tells the team “it’s about commitment to the little things. The toilet paper goes over, not under.”; With Chivas still in first place, Nelson Rodríguez starts parking in Galaxy president Chris Klein’s spot at StubHub Center. “Sometimes I even park diagonally, across two spaces,” he explains. “I just really like it that way.”

In New York, Henry buys himself and Panizo matching berets. “You get me,” he says. Panizo’s calendar is dead.

source: AP

October

Telling moment: A 1-0 loss to LA on the final day of the season sees Seattle miss the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, with the high-priced forward combination of Didier Drogba and Obafemi Martins injured over the season’s last six games. Twenty-four hours later, Joe Roth and Hanauer announce Sigi Schmid will return for a seventh season. “Dempsey retired and both our big forwards got hurt,” Hanauer explains, offering, “I take as much of the blame as anybody.”

Chivas USA finishes first in the West, one point ahead of both Real Salt Lake and Portland. “Chris [Klein] keyed my car, though,” Rodríguez admits. “Totally worth it.”

In the East, Sporting Kansas City claims the Supporters’ Shield, with Vermes accidentally confessing “Oh, it’s totally easier to win this thing in the East.” Toronto finishes second, closing the season with an eight-game winning streak that prompts Michael Bradley to stop shaving his head.

After New York finishes in third place, Henry shows up to training on Oct. 31 dressed like Panizo. “You are my hero now, Franco,” he explains. “Happy Halloween, friend.”

The Red Bulls are again eliminated in the conference semifinals.

James stars for Bayern Munich in Bundesliga win at Schalke (video)

AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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BERLIN (AP) James Rodriguez starred on his first Bundesliga start for Bayern Munich, scoring one goal and playing a role in the others for a 3-0 win at Schalke on Tuesday.’

James, who switched from Real Madrid in the offseason, earned a penalty and then scored in the first half, before brilliantly setting up Arturo Vidal to wrap up the win in the second.

[ WATCH: Alex Morgan smashes USWNT goal ]

While the Colombian midfielder made his first league start for Bayern, American teenager Weston McKennie did likewise for the home team. Despite the efforts of the 19-year-old Texan midfielder – who covered more ground than any other player in the first half – Schalke had no answer to James’ individual brilliance.

“We created the goals very well, so we deserved to win,” said Bayern’s reserve goalkeeper Sven Ulreich, playing in place of Germany No. 1 Manuel Neuer. Neuer has been ruled out until January with another hairline fracture of the metatarsal in his left foot.

The home side was first to have the ball in the net, but Amine Harit’s goal was ruled out as Bastian Oczipka was offside. Ulreich had done well with two saves beforehand.

Bayern got the penalty after referee Marco Fritz consulted his video assistant to see if Naldo had handled the ball when James cut it back. The Brazilian defender was going to ground but had his arms raised when the ball struck.

Protests by Schalke players had no effect and Robert Lewandowski duly converted from the spot.

[ MORE: NASL suing U.S. Soccer ]

It got worse for the home side four minutes later, when Bayern scored after a Schalke throw-in. Thomas Mueller, Lewandowski and Corentin Tolisso worked the ball to the unmarked James, who wrong-footed Ralf Faehrmann to score his first Bundesliga goal.

Mueller hit the post with a header from a cross by James after the break, before substitute Yevhen Konoplyanka went close at the other end.

Schalke coach Domenico Tedesco brought on Swiss forward Breel Embolo for McKennie with just over half an hour remaining.

Any hopes of an equalizer ended when James eluded two defenders and delivered a perfect ball for Vidal to strike with a volley to the top corner.

“Altogether there’s no denying that Bayern had a very good day. Then it’s hard for any team,” Schalke general manager Christian Heidel said.

WOLFSBURG FRUSTRATION, AUGSBURG ELATION

Fin Bartels’ second-half header earned Werder Bremen a 1-1 draw at Wolfsburg and denied Martin Schmidt a winning start as coach. Schmidt was appointed Monday when Wolfsburg fired Andries Jonker after the team had claimed just four points in its opening four games.

Michael Gregoritsch’s fourth-minute strike was enough for Augsburg to beat visiting Leipzig 1-0 for its third win from five games.

Two goals from Brazilian midfielder Raffael gave Borussia Moenchengladbach a 2-0 win at home over promoted Stuttgart.

USWNT rides brace from super sub Morgan to big win (video)

AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
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Alex Morgan scored two goals, the second with gusto, as the United States women’s national team hammered New Zealand 5-0 at Nippert Stadium in a Tuesday night friendly.

After Cincinnati native Rose Lavelle made a 30-minute cameo in her return from injury, the USWNT poured forth with goals.

[ MORE: NASL suing U.S. Soccer ]

Coming off the bench, Morgan scored within a minute of her second half introduction.

And then, after an electric dribble from Mallory Pugh, Morgan rang an aesthetically-pleasing rocket off the proverbial woodwork to make it 5-0.

Klopp’s reliance on top CB pair nothing new, but a problem

Mike Egerton/PA via AP
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When Jurgen Klopp was hired at Borussia Dortmund in 2008, he did something right away that would set the stage for BVB’s run back into Bundesliga power.

Klopp brought defender Neven Subotic with him from Mainz, and took Mats Hummels on loan from Bayern Munich.

The 19-year-old Subotic played 38 times for BVB that season, and Hummels played well on way to a permanent transfer.

[ MORE: Klopp left fuming at defending ]

Largely, Klopp seemed to “set it and forget it” with his center backs from that point forward: No big summer buys, and neither Subotic nor Hummels was headed anywhere.

That didn’t change until 2013-14, when Klopp bought Sokratis Papastathopoulos from Werder Bremen, adding Matthias Ginter the next season.

Klopp left BVB after a disappointing 2014-15, taking the job at Liverpool in October 2015.

He didn’t do much in January, but agreed to terms with Schalke center back Joel Matip in February and landed Ragnar Klavan from Augsburg in the summer. The Reds already had bought Dejan Lovren from Southampton in the Summer of 2014, and Klopp seemed set.

[ MORE: League Cup Weds. wrap ]

Lovren improved a lot with Matip next to him, and Klavan made just 15 appearances for the Reds last season. The Reds went hard at Southampton’s Virgil Van Dijk, but failed to get him for any number of reasons. Still, Klopp figured his quartet, including young Joe Gomez in a pinch, would be just fine this season.

And maybe they will be, but there are daunting signs for the Reds in the first couple months of the season. Klopp has used Matip in eight matches, tied for the most on the team with Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino. He’s used Lovren six times, and Klavan four.

Liverpool’s record by CB pair (admittedly a tiny sample size):

Matip-Lovren: 3W-2D
Matip-Klavan: 1W-1D-1L
Gomez-Klavan: 1L (today)

The center backs, sans Matip and Lovren, especially hurt the Reds in the 2-0 loss to Leicester on Tuesday. All three moments of Leicester threat in this highlight package find either Klavan or Gomez cooked or out-of-place.

Look, a lot of teams are going to be hurt when using their second-choice CB pair, and many won’t be bothered by Liverpool’s exit from the League Cup. Furthermore, it’s not like anyone has been mistaking Lovren and Matip for Puyol and Pique.

But look at every English team in Europe, including the ones with far fewer defensive frailties heading into this summer than Liverpool.

Chelsea bought Antonio Rudiger.

Everton added Michael Keane.

Manchester United bought Victor Lindelof.

Spurs bought Davinson Sánchez and Juan Foyth.

Arsenal didn’t buy anyone besides Alexandre Lacazette, while Man City bought full backs and has received plenty of criticism for failing to add to its center back corps of Vincent Kompany, John Stones, and Eliaquim Mangala.

Liverpool? They sold Mamadou Sakho.

It’s problematic, yes, and it can’t be fixed until January. The question is whether Klopp sees a need to spend in the winter window. As illustrated above, he loves to ride his horses, even if Lovren and Matip aren’t quite Hummels and Subotic.

Think of what’s ailed Liverpool in recent seasons: Are some of those flops against lesser Premier League teams changed with more rest for their top pair or a better option for the mix?

League Cup Weds. preview: Top teams mind the underdogs

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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The giant killers aim their arrows at Premier League foes on Wednesday in the final five matches of the League Cup’s third round.

[ MORE: League Cup Tues. wrap ]


Arsenal vs. Doncaster Rovers

March 29, 1902 — Doncaster beat Arsenal 1-0. In the century-plus since, Arsenal has won five and drawn once with Doncaster.

Pretty safe to say the in-form Gunners’ and their back-ups will run through the Rovers, though as the old cliche goes, “That’s why they play the games.”

Chelsea vs. Nottingham Forest

For a long time, this was a Premier League fixture each season. Now Chelsea welcomes the Championship’s Forest for the third time since 1999.

Everton vs. Sunderland

The Toffees could badly use a nice win after its Europa League beatdown in Italy and a series of tough results against Premier League giants.

Enter Bryan Oviedo, Darron Gibson, Aiden McGeady, Jack Rodwell, and James Vaughn in a Sunderland squad with plenty of experience playing at Goodison Park (The Black Cats have two further players, Tyias Browning and Brendan Galloway, on loan from Everton). USMNT youngster Lynden Gooch could get a starting run versus PL opposition.

Manchester United vs. Burton Albion

The visitors surprised United by forcing an FA Cup replay in 2006, and the Red Devils repaid them with a 5-0 lashing. Burton was in the Conference then, and have risen dramatically in the last few seasons and surprised by surviving a Championship campaign in 2016-17. This one won’t be close, but it’ll be better than 5-0 for Nigel Clough’s Brewers.

West Bromwich Albion vs. Manchester City

Tony Pulis has been able to stymy a lot of teams, but Man City isn’t one of them. West Brom boasts 11-straight wins over the Baggies, the last of which have been by multiple goals. West Brom’s last draw vs. City was Boxing Day 2011. Its last win? Sept. 22, 2010 in the League Cup. Can the Hawthorns be the venue for a surprise?