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MLS Season Preview: Ranking the top 10 forwards

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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 attackers in Major League Soccer as our season preview continues. With the league’s top scorer from last year gone, the field is wide open.

1. Marco Di Vaio

Let’s face it – at the end of the day, it’s a striker’s job to put up the numbers and keep the scoreboard ticking.  Last year, just two players were better than Montreal’s ageless wonder at putting the ball into the back of the net, and one of them is gone.  What the 37-year-old is doing is nothing new in his book; Di Vaio has 11 seasons in his 16-year career where he put up double-digit scoring totals, with many of those coming in European leagues.  Oh, and he’s done it in each of the last 5 season, all at the age of 32 and older. Add the fact that he’s by far the best player on his team, and it’s no wonder he tops this year’s list, despite stiff competition.

2. Robbie Keane

Despite a down year for the LA Galaxy as far as they are concerned, Robbie Keane helped his squad remain a force on the attack, one of six MLS teams to score over 50 goals last year – 27 of which came directly from his foot.  What makes the Irishman so dangerous is not only did he bag 16 goals last year, but he assisted 11 as well. It helps that his strike partner is also on this list, but at 33 Keane remains effective and lethal on the attacking end, and his ability to play a multifaceted game helps him climb our list.

3. Mike Magee

Like we said with Di Vaio, in the end all that matters is an ability to keep the scoreboard ticking, and Magee’s breakout year last season singlehandedly allowed the Chicago Fire to challenge for a playoff spot. They fell just short, but with a full season on Magee’s back, the Fire should be a serious contender for the final playoff positions in the East.  Don’t be surprised if his pure numbers fall, as he will be sure to attract added attention, but it will open up spaces for Patrick Nyarko, Chris Rolfe, and the rest of his strike force.

4. Jermain Defoe

While his MLS canvas remains blank, the Toronto newcomer is a force at the front, and that is not debatable.  With his Spurs career petering out, Defoe had to make a switch, and he is ready to return to his form. His numbers from his final Spurs season are misleading, as any player’s form will dip sharply when forced into a reserve role.  Still, he managed a pair of impressive matches in his final two appearances at the club, scoring a goal off the bench against Crystal Palace.  He immediately becomes a marked man in Major League Soccer, and with a proven Premier League track record in his recent past, he has more than earned his place on the list.

5. Landon Donovan (Even though he was in the top 10 MF’s list too, LD is a proper ‘tweener’ so he made it)

Do we really need to explain Donovan’s presence in the MLS top 5? It’s a bit redundant at this point. 10 goals and seven assists last season in a down year, the important player in one of the league’s most prolific attacks, needs just one goal to set an all-time scoring record, yata yata yata, you know who he is. Next.

source: AP
Thierry Henry has been a fixture at Red Bull Arena, and the New York faithful can count on him to bag goals yet again.

6. Thierry Henry

In a list bursting at the seams with proven age, Henry tops the “body of work” category.  At 36, he’s still got it, and that’s not even up for debate.  Last year he bagged 10 goals and set up seven more, and let’s not forget this is the same guy who two years ago picked up two goals in 96 Premier League minutes for Arsenal in an emotional winter return.  One of the most purely skilled players in MLS, Henry looks to lead New York back to the Supporters Shield.

7. Chris Wondolowski

Wondo may not have the national team pedigree that Landon Donovan has, but in Major League Soccer, he’s just as deadly.  A busy summer for the USMNT in which the 31-year-old had his best go-around yet, it put a dent in his MLS production, with 11 goals marking his lowest league goal tally in the last four years.  But don’t think he’s slowing down – he played half the season broken foot. Suddenly those 11 goals don’t seem so mediocre. He’s a force.

8. Alvaro Saborio

Saborio gets lots of mentions as the most underrated, under-appreciated striker in MLS.  While that’s true, it’s largely because he doesn’t put up flashy numbers.  But in a RSL system that midfield solidity above all else, Saborio remains a consistent threat at the top.

9. Eddie Johnson

A set-piece machine, Eddie Johnson has found a new home in DC United’s rebuilding project. He’s streaky to say the least, but when Eddie Johnson’s on, he’s one of the best in the biz. He has a lot to be thankful for from his time with the Sounders, but with his new Designated Player contract, it had to be outside of Seattle. He’s ready to be the guy in DC.

10. Federico Higuain

He’s a flashy player, and while like the man above him the goals come in streaks, but there’s no doubt he’s the most important person in the Columbus squad. His numbers from last year rival those of Robbie Keane, with 11 goals and nine assists, and the best part about his assists total – his nine dishes were served up to six different teammates.  Higuain gets everyone involved, and it speaks volumes that he’s known for his assists and yet the Argentine’s 11 goals flew under the radar.

Honorable Mention:

I felt it necessary to add some names to this list even if they didn’t crack the top 10, because all those names up on the list – not surprisingly – are established strikers with proven track records.  However, there are players who remain just as important to their club – like Claudio Bieler, Blas Perez, and Obafemi Martins – who simply don’t have the numbers to crack the top 10. There’s Tim Cahill who falls not because of his skill or ability, but because he’s second fiddle in the strike pair with Thierry Henry. There are also a number of younger players such as Jack McInerney and Kekutah Manneh who haven’t shown the consistency to be a top striker but have all the talent in the world and could easily be here as soon as next year.

Finally, there’s one glaring miss on this list – Clint Dempsey. The American has shown not just poor, but horrific form since the latter part of the 2013 MLS season, and the 30-year-old has to prove his career isn’t tumbling down the stairs before he can return to the league’s elite. In both his final matches with Seattle and his loan stint at Fulham, Dempsey looked like he was running with shackles on his ankles, and he wasted most of the precious few chances he could muster.  He didn’t look much better in the friendly against Ukraine either, and it’s clear much work is left to be done for the forward from Nacogdoches.

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Brazilian midfielder Fred has doping ban extended to club, out until June

VIENNA, AUSTRIA - AUGUST 19:  Fred of Donetsk goes for a header during the UEFA Champions League: Qualifying Round Play Off First Leg match between SK Rapid Vienna and FC Shakhtar Donetsk on August 19, 2015 in Vienna, Austria.  (Photo by Christian Hofer/Getty Images)
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Shakhtar Donetsk striker Fred, a regular for the Brazilian national team, has seen his CONMEBOL doping ban extended worldwide to all competitions.

A FIFA disciplinary committee announced that Fred’s suspension now covers “all types of matches, including domestic, international, friendly and official fixtures.”

The 22-year-old tested positive for the diuretic hydrochlorothiazide during last summer’s Copa America, and has not played for the Brazilian national team since, having been banned for a year by CONMEBOL. He had been playing for his Ukranian club while FIFA was reviewing the case, making 12 appearances in league play and scoring two goals. He also played six times in the Champions League without scoring a goal.

The one-year ban is back-dated to Fred’s last international squad appearance, when he was on the bench for the Copa America quarterfinals on June 27 of last summer. That date will allow Fred to be eligible for the Rio Olympics, which start August 5.

Men In Blazers podcast: Irvine Welsh Pod Special

Men In Blazers - Sept. 22
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Rog talks with “Trainspotting” author Irvine Welsh about his new novel “A Decent Ride,” unconventional career arc, and love for West Ham United/Hibernian.

Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

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LA Galaxy newcomer Ashley Cole takes responsibility for previous MLS quote

CARSON, CA - FEBRUARY 5: Ashley Cole #3 of the Los Angeles Galaxy speaks after he was introduced during a news conference at StubHub Center February 5, 2016, in Carson, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Wireimage)
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During Ashley Cole‘s introductory press conference today, where the former Chelsea legend was officially unveiled by the LA Galaxy to the media alongside Belgian defender Jelle Van Damme, a predictable question came his way.

Cole was asked about comments he made a year and a half ago when he joined AS Roma, where he said he turned down offers from Major League Soccer because he didn’t want to go “relax on the beach.”

The 35-year-old took responsibility for the quote, saying, “Of course, I hold my hands up, it was said.” However, he defended himself saying he was baited into the comments by the Italian reporter.

“I’m not going to come here and try to defend myself,” Cole said. “It was said, but it was for sure taken out of content. I was talking to the reporter, and he kind of said it to me, ‘We’re glad to have you at Roma. We didn’t expect you to be here, we thought you would go and relax on the beach.'”

“Of course you have to understand, I was at a new team, I have to tell the fans at Roma I was here to fight, I was there to win things and play in the Champions League.”

Cole said he spoke to Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, and Robbie Keane about the league before deciding to join Major League Soccer. “I know it’s going to be hard for me for sure, but I’m happy to be here, I’m going to work as hard as I can, change a few views on me being here, and we’ll see. I’m a winner, I always want to win, I didn’t come here to sit on the beach – to rest – I’m here to play football and work hard. I’m not a diva, I’m not this egotistical guy that comes and thinks he’s bigger than anyone.”

3 key battles for USMNT against Canada

CARSON, CA - JANUARY 31:  Jozy Altidore #17 of the United States chases down a pass against Iceland during the first half at StubHub Center on January 31, 2016 in Carson, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The United States takes on Canada in the second of two matches throughout January camp to test those brought in and see who stands out.

They took out Iceland in the first match, and now the Canadians stand in the way at the Stubhub Center in Carson, CA at 10:30 on Friday night.

[ PREVIEW: Get the full look at US vs Canada ]

Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann no doubt has already run through is list of positives and negatives in the win over Iceland. While the win is nice, the overriding purpose here is to both evaluate certain players and determine the best formula for success moving forward into World Cup qualifying, the Copa America, and the Olympics.

So, with that in mind, here are three key matchups to keep an eye on as the USMNT players battle both Canada and each other for spots on the roster in future meaningful games.

1) United States attack vs Canada’s organization

The US was solid in possession against Iceland, but it came against an opponent that showed a more attacking intent and also appeared to have limited motivation. Canada would not be what you call a “defensive” team, but they are very organized under Benito Floro, and it shows. They’ve conceded 1 or 0 goals in each of their last 13 matches, losing just once across that time. Their goalscoring numbers have suffered, but it’s translated into marginal success.

To hold the ball against Iceland, the US used a slow build-up process beginning with Jermaine Jones (who stayed surprisingly composed and centralized during his time on the field) who fed Michael Bradley and Lee Nguyen further up the pitch. That tactic may not be as effective against a less erratic opponent, but it will be interesting to see how Klinsmann decides to break down the Canadian defensive unit. The wide areas may be vital.

The 0-0 scoreline has been a fixture in this matchup, finishing goalless the last two times and in four of the last eight, so the US will no doubt be looking to break that deadlock early lest they get frustrated as time progresses.

2) USMNT full-backs vs wide play

Michael Orozco and Brad Evans were sent back to their clubs, leaving the United States incredibly thin at a position the nation has already been weak at for years. Jurgen Klinsmann has been searching far and wide for an answer to this question, and with young Kellyn Acosta slightly out of his depth or potentially star-struck in his debut against Iceland, there are a few other question marks.

The options are limited. Acosta could get another shot if Klinsmann likes what he sees in training, or he could move to the likes of Brandon Vincent or Matt Polster. The latter logged 30 matches for Chicago last year as a rookie, while Vincent was just drafted by FC Dallas and has yet to even make a professional appearance. Either way, it’s likely Canada targets the wide areas as a point of weakness for the US, so whoever plays will be in the spotlight.

[ VIDEO: Bobby Wood scores skillful goal for club ]

3) Central defenders vs Akindele and Larin

Whether Floro decides to play Larin centrally by himself, or partner him with Akindele, the striker(s) will be the main target for Canada’s attack. Larin and Akindele both have not seen the scoresheet since a 4-0 win over the Dominican Republic in World Cup qualifying last June, so they will be itching to get back on board. Should one be deployed centrally, look for the lone wolf to split the central defenders and receive service from wide areas where Canada may exploit the aforementioned weaknesses along the outside of the US back line.

How do you see the US matching up against Canada, and visa-versa?