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


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:


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.

Serie A: Napoli go top for first time in 25 years; Inter a close 2nd

Gonzalo Higuain, SSC Napoli
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A quick roundup of Monday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

Napoli 2-1 Inter Milan

For the first time since the final day of the 1989-90 season, Napoli are top of Serie A all by themselves after a top-of-the-table clash with previous leaders Inter Milan.

Gonzalo Higuain bagged both goals for the Azzurri, the first of which came after just 65 seconds. His tally on 62 minutes held up as the game-winner after Adem Ljajic pulled one back for Roberto Mancini’s side in the 67 minute. The opener (below video) was a powerful finish from inside the penalty area which served as a strong reminder as to why a club like Arsenal is consistently linked to the Argentine striker.

Sassuolo 1-1 Fiorentina

Fiorentina, who had a chance to stake their own claim to the top spot, dropped two points away to seventh-place Sassuolo earlier in the day, opening the door for Napoli to go top with their victory. After shooting out of the gates red hot (6 wins in their first 7 games), the Viola have now drawn back to back games — to Empoli and Sassuolo — and find themselves third, two points behind Napoli.

Borja Valero put Fiorentina ahead after five minutes on Monday, but Sassuolo equalized through Sergio Floccari just before halftime to keep their own dreams of European qualification alive.

Serie A table

Matchup by matchup: Picking a favorite for MLS Cup 2015

Portland Timbers FC
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We’re T-minus 137 hours to the kickoff of MLS Cup 2015, between Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

When the two sides meet at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday (4 p.m. ET), the general public will have picked a slight favorite to hoist MLS Cup, just like any other game. Only, this one’s a bit tougher to call — there’s no clear-cut favorite as is usually the case in MLS Cup, so we’ll do our best to explore a few key matchups that might slant Sunday’s title tilt in one direction or the other…

Crew SC width (Waylon Francis, Harrison Afful, Justin Meram, Ethan Finlay) vs. Timbers width (Jorge Villafana, Alvas Powell, Rodney Wallace, Dairon Asprilla)

  • Pinning the wingers back — There’s two ways to beat Crew SC: 1) sit with eight or nine men behind the ball and frustrate them through a lack of space to attack; or, 2) pin Finlay and Meram deep inside their own half, defensively, by getting your full backs forward and forcing them to defend. It’s doable, but it’s not easy. On the other side, best of luck to Wallace and Asprilla with the tracking back they’ll be forced into with perhaps the best attacking right back in MLS, Afful, and Francis overlapping on either side. Fanendo Adi could find himself on an island very quickly if the Crew SC full backs get forward as often as they’d like.
  • Where the help comes from — That’s the biggest issue for Portland, who ever since dropping Darlington Nagbe into midfield, play with a lone defensive midfielder, Diego Chara. He’s great at covering the entire field and providing help to blow up an opposing attack, but he can only be on one side of the field at a time. This means Borchers and Ridgewell will be stretched wider and forced to defend Finlay and Meram in space, where they’re oh so deadly.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Crew SC announce MLS Cup sold out 15 hours after qualifying ]

Kei Kamara vs. Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell

  • All it takes is one chance — Neither one of Borchers or Ridgewell can physically compete with Kamara’s rare combination of speed and athleticism — to be fair, few center backs this side of the world can. Therefore, 90 percent of “defending” Kamara will be staying tight to the 22-goalscorer during the regular season and, with any luck, not losing track of him once the ball gets out to the wings. Once Kamara gets that yard of space in any direction and the ball goes up on the cross, the center backs’ chances of winning the next ball are much, much lower. That said, Kamara will find far less space against Borchers and Ridgewell (and Diego Chara) than he enjoyed against Montreal and New York thus far in the playoffs. There’s very few center back duos with the experience and nous of the Timbers’ backbone.
  • Advantage: Timbers

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Timbers midfield three (Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri) vs. Crew SC midfield three (Tony Tchani, Wil Trapp, Federico Higuain)

  • Nagbe the key to balance — Darlington Nagbe will, one day, be an MLS Best XI central midfielder. Today is not that day, though. He’s still a work in progress, and probably the most exploitable individual on the field in Crew SC’s eyes. Tchani and Trapp are, in my opinion, the best deep-sitting midfield duo in the league, and they’ll press, harry and harass Nagbe for 90 (0r 120) minutes, probably starting a fair few of those deadly counter-attacks in the middle third of the field.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Timbers reach first MLS Cup | Crew SC to host MLS Cup 2015 ]

Gregg Berhalter vs. Caleb Porter

  • Lineups set themselves — Neither coach is likely to throw out a huge surprise before kickoff — dance with one that brought you, or something like that. Up until recently, I was completely convinced that Porter was vastly overrated and didn’t understand the constant adoration that surrounded the man his first two or three years in charge. Everything was a bit stale and rigid, organized, but lacking flair. Then he moved Nagbe into midfield to allow his biggest game-changer more opportunities on the ball to affect the game much more. This leads me to believe Porter is a bit more flexible in seeing his team and system operate in slightly different ways, but only barely.
  • Advantage: Timbers

Crew SC announce MLS Cup 2015 sold out 15 hours after qualifying

Wil Trapp, Columbus Crew SC
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The building formerly known as Crew Stadium has hosted its fair share of famous soccer games since it opened in 1999 — dos a cero, anyone? — and Sunday’s MLS Cup 2015 looks set to rank right up there among them.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Roughly 15 hours after advancing to this year’s MLS Cup, which they will host this Sunday (4 p.m. ET), Columbus Crew SC announced on Monday that MAPFRE Stadium is officially sold out.

Crew SC president of business operations Andy Loughnane addressed the fanbase in a blog post on the club’s official site Monday afternoon and said, “As of late this morning we are sold out of the extra capacity seating that was created for MLS Cup at MAPFRE Stadium. While there is a small chance that additional seats could be released for purchase as a result of MLS holds being returned, we are sold out of all known available seats.”

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Crew SC, making their second MLS Cup appearance in club history (2008 champions), will host first-time MLS Cup contestants, the Portland Timbers, on Sunday.

PL clubs combined to pay out $200 million in agent fees in 2015

Liverpool Unveil New Signing Christian Benteke
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What a time to be an agent in the footballing world, eh? The rich just keep getting richer and richer and richer.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The steady increase in transfer fees being paid for players — bad, good, great and amazing alike — has made quite a few “selling” clubs rich reach over the last decade or two, to be sure, but it’s also made another group of people obscenely rich: player agents.

As the soccer world has gone crazy with its “now, now, now” approach — managers must win now, or they’re fired; new signings must become stars now, or they’ll be sold; etc. — agents are the ones making out like bandits — no losses to be sustained on players who turn out to be flops; no future loss of wages due to taking “too long” to settle in and being labeled a flop — at the expense of clubs and, most cruelly, the players.

More than $195 million was paid out agents by Premier League clubs across the January and summer transfer windows, with Liverpool — ever the club in constant change — paying out $21.5 million in agents fees to remain top of the table for a second straight year. Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal were the four other clubs to top $15 million.

[ MORE: Premier League Payback — The Diego Costa era over at Chelsea? ]

Agents not only receive a fee when players change clubs through transfers, but can only be compensated again and again when one of their clients signs a new contract with their current club.

For instance, Wayne Rooney has signed at least four new contracts since joining Manchester United in 2004, the latest of which came barely three years after he was given a new five-year deal in Oct. 2010 upon handing in a transfer request in an attempt to force a move to Manchester City. Rooney’s current weekly wage is reported to be in the neighborhood of $450,000. His agent, Paul Stretford, will have received a sizable payday upon negotiating the deal in Feb. 2014.

At the end of the day, sports are little more than a business, and it’s the ones who play the game — the political game, that is — the best, and most ruthlessly, who are making out like bandits.