Donovan

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.

MORE: Top 10 rookies in MLS
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Premier League Preview: Man City vs. Tottenham

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  • Spurs aiming to win seven-straight PL games
  • Man City 10 points off leaders Chelsea
  • Tottenham beat City 2-0 in October

A massive clash between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur takes place on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) at the Etihad Stadium.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ]

Pep Guardiola has all but conceded the Premier League title following City’s humbling 4-0 defeat at Everton last time out, but Tottenham and Mauricio Pochettino are on a roll with six-straight PL wins under their belt and are seven points off leaders Chelsea.

Guardiola and Pochettino clashed as both players and managers during their time living and playing in Barcelona (Guardiola at FC Barcelona and Pochettino at Espanyol) and after Guardiola’s dominance in Spain and Germany as a coach, it is Pochettino who goes into this game as the favorite with Harry Kane and Dele Alli in superb form for in-form Spurs.

[ VIDEO: Spurs’ stunning new stadium

In team news City will be without the suspended Fernandinho but Gabriel Jesus could make his debut, while Spurs will be without the injured duo of Jan Vertonghen and Erik Lamela.

What they’re saying

Pochettino on Spurs’ improvement since he took charge: “It’s true that now we are in a very good period and all that is related to Tottenham is exciting – you can see here, the new stadium, the squad – all that is happening is very positive. It is true that in two-and-a-half years before I arrived here, you related Tottenham some good, some not so good and today it is looking like we are the best team in the world. That is very good. The hard work is to keep that feeling. It will be difficult but we will try.”

Guardiola on Tottenham’s style of play: “Tottenham dominate really high and are one of the best teams in the Premier League. They are quite similar to Chelsea but they move a little bit more. They know exactly where the other players are. They have the quality to move in small spaces.”

Prediction

Somehow I just think Man City will come out flying after all of the recent criticism and put in a big performance. In the big games this season they’ve stood up, beating Manchester United and Arsenal and leading against Chelsea before collapsing in the second half. Call me crazy, but I think Pep’s men will bag a big 2-0 win to momentarily close the gap to Chelsea to seven points.

Klopp says Liverpool have “had things harder” than title rivals

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Jurgen Klopp is happy with the resilience shown by his Liverpool side as they’ve won just once in five games in all competitions so far in 2017.

[ VIDEO: Spurs’ stunning new stadium ]

Klopp’s men have drawn two Premier League encounters, while a weakened Reds side also drew with lower league Plymouth Argyle in the FA Cup third round (before beating them in a replay) and lost at Southampton in the first leg of their EFL Cup semifinal.

Ahead of their clash with Swansea City on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) Klopp believes his team are battling through well after having four games in 10 days.

“In recent weeks we’ve had things harder than any of the other top teams and I’m really pleased with how my team has coped,” Klopp said. “We’re really looking forward to this game. I don’t know when it happened but in England every game now is like a final. Swansea are trying to survive. I don’t know when the title run-in will start, maybe now and we’re in the race. I hope for a special atmosphere tomorrow.”

Klopp has come under criticism for fielding weakened teams against Plymouth and Southampton in the cup competitions, but surely Liverpool’s focus has to be on the Premier League and challenging for the title? If they beat bottom of the table Swansea on Saturday then Klopp’s side will momentarily go four points behind leaders Chelsea who play against Hull City on Sunday.

Still, Klopp complaining about the amount of games Liverpool has to play is nothing compared to what the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham and Arsenal will face in the coming weeks. With European action starting back next month, plus all four of the aforementioned sides still in the FA Cup (Manchester United are also in the EFL Cup too), Liverpool won’t be the club complaining about a fixture backlog.

The Reds may be struggling to stay on top of things right now but this time next month Klopp can have no complaints as Liverpool’s competitors battle with severe fixture congestion. That said, there are plenty of theorists out there suggesting that Klopp’s Gegenpressing methods often leave his teams tired towards the end of the campaign. If that is the case then Liverpool must get as many points on the board as soon as possible, starting with what looks like an easy home win against Swansea on Saturday.

There is never an easy game in the Premier League and it seems like Klopp knows his players are feeling the strain after a busy few weeks.

Tottenham’s stunning new stadium taking shape

Tottenham Hotspur has released the first images of the premium experiences inside their new stadium.  One of the premium spaces, the Sky Lounge on level nine, will offer panoramic views of the pitch and across London. The stadium is set to open in 2018, but premium packages are now available to buy.
Tottenham Hotspur
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LONDON — Over the past few months Tottenham Hotspur’s new 61,000 stadium adjacent to their current White Hart Lane home seems to have been rising another 10 meters into the sky on a weekly basis.

Like Tottenham’s current Premier League title challenge, momentum is building.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live

On Thursday Pro Soccer Talk was invited to check out the new premium seating options at the stadium which will become the largest club venue in London when it opens in 2018, and also home to at least two NFL games per season from 2018 until 2028. The National Football League will become a big part of this stadium when it is up and running.

The tour included augmented and virtual reality, as a virtual tour around the swanky Tunnel Club area, H Club and Sky Lounge were backed up by the incredible pitchside view of the 17,000 one-tier south stand which will resemble something similar to the Kop at Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund’s Yellow Wall, making it the largest single-tier stand in the UK.

[ PHOTOS: Check out Spurs’ new stadium ]

Hanging out in Lilywhite House, Tottenham’s club offices currently in the shadows of the cranes which encircle the new stadium, manager Mauricio Pochettino spoke to the press on Thursday ahead of their massive clash against Manchester City this Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

Pro Soccer Talk asked Pochettino if the project at Tottenham is further along the line than he expected at this point and the Argentine coach said they are currently “a thousand miles ahead” in football terms compared to the 2014-15 campaign when he took charge.

“I don’t know, that is too difficult for me to judge because we are ambitious and we want to win every game. I think if we go backwards to our first season and we now start to see, analyse and judge and I think we are a thousand miles ahead but in football it’s about belief, it’s about faith, it’s about working hard and it’s true that the club has moved on in two-and-a-half years,” Pochettino said. “That was our expectation – to push and move the club quickly, but sometimes it’s not possible.

“It’s true that now we are in a very good period and all that is related to Tottenham is exciting – you can see here, the new stadium, the squad – all that is happening is very positive. It is true that in two-and-a-half years before I arrived here, you related Tottenham some good, some not so good and today it is looking like we are the best team in the world. That is very good. The hard work is to keep that feeling. It will be difficult but we will try.”

I have to admit I felt slightly dizzy as I popped on the virtual reality goggles, such was the vividness of the experience as I took a trip around the premium areas of the new stadium. It felt like I was there walking around, bumping into fans enjoying a drink and then I walked out (using a controller to guide me) of a tunnel and into the stadium bowl itself. What a view.

tunnel-club

What struck me was just how close you still are to the pitch at the new White Hart Lane. In many new stadiums across the globe that isn’t the case. One of White Hart Lane’s best current features, and most favorable for Spurs, is how close the fans are to the pitch and that in turn creates an intimidating and inspiring atmosphere.

The new White Hart Lane is set up to not only be a place where the premium experience is mind-blowing, but also where the average fan can generate a phenomenal atmosphere. It all knits together perfectly as the premium seating is located on the east and west stands and the atmosphere will be generated by Tottenham’s hardcore fans behind both goals.

One of the most impressive premium areas is the Tunnel Club, where you can see the players walking out for games in a one-way window as you see in many sporting venues in the U.S. but this is the first-time you can experience anything like this in the Premier League. It will cost a cool $11,681 to have a season ticket there, which can only be bought in pairs. So, $23,362 all in for a season. However, getting the chance to see Harry Kane and Co. in the tunnel in the final moments before kick off, plus maybe a bit of a scuffle at half time or full time with opponents after a fiery encounter, can you really put a price on that?

“It’s dangerous, dangerous,” Pochettino laughed when asked about the Tunnel Club view. “Because there have been a lot of things in the tunnel. It is for that reason that it will be very expensive.”

Overall, premium seating can be purchased for as little as $109 per game, while suites can be purchased by companies and not only used on matchdays but also during the week as their hub.

But this project is about more than creating more luxurious seats for Spurs fans.

stadium-south-transport

It is no secret that the area surrounding Tottenham’s home is one of the most deprived in London. It hasn’t received much funding from the council or government and if it wasn’t for this new stadium project — dubbed the Northumberland Development Project — then the area wouldn’t have a bright future.

Now it does as Spurs are the main stimulus for regeneration as over $360 million is expected to be generated for the area each year.

Over 3,500 new jobs will be created in various capacities thanks to the project, with the London Academy of Excellence opening up a site in the complex this year, plus housing, shops, bars and restaurants all adding to the matchday experience around the Lane.

Local companies and produce will be used and infrastructure will improve drastically in this forgotten section of north London.

Much like the Barclays Center rejuvenated Downtown Brooklyn and the surrounding areas, you can expect Tottenham High Road to be unrecognizable in years to come as the entire area gets a massive boost and gentrification takes place.

When it comes to the NFL, a separate artificial turf pitch is ready for NFL games right away as the grass pitch Spurs play on will slide out and be looked after in a designated area outside the stadium bowl. Four separate locker rooms and areas just for the NFL teams visiting will be built and it will bring over $160 million in extra revenue to the area over the 10-year deal.

With the NFL looking to bring a franchise to London in the years to come, everything is set up to house a potential London NFL team at the new White Hart Lane.

nfl-wide-image

With this incredible stadium rising from the ground at a rapid rate while the old heart of Spurs sits in its shadows on adjacent ground, there will be a nod to the old White Hart Lane in the “Tottenham Experience” museum. That is set to guide fans through just what the old stadium was like and some of the original White Hart Lane buildings and monuments will still be kept.

The past will still be present.

Striking a balance between bringing in cutting-edge technology and keeping tradition is difficult in the modern era, but so far Spurs seem to be hitting the nail on the head.

Plus, Spurs’ new home will feature the world’s first stadium micro-brewery which will produce 1 million pints of craft beer per year and 10,000 pints per minute and also the longest general admission bar in a UK stadium at 86.8 meters long. It will also have a cheese room, artisan bakery and Michelin star dining. Cheers indeed.

Exciting times ahead for Tottenham and their local community as one of the most ambitious stadium projects in Premier League history continues to take shape.

Chelsea confirm Diego Costa available for selection

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Diego Costa is once again available for Chelsea.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ]

In his press conference on Friday, Chelsea boss Antonio Conte revealed that Costa would be available for selection against Hull City at Stamford Bridge on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Costa, 28, is Chelsea’s leading scorer in the Premier League with 14 goals and five assists and he also leads the PL charts in scoring. However, he was not in the squad for their 3-0 win at Leicester City last weekend after news broke of a possible training ground bust up with Conte and his staff amid a back injury.

Since then reports have stated that clubs from the Chinese Super League were offering Costa over $368,000 per week which may have unsettled him, but after training on his own earlier this week and then rejoining the team in the past few days he is now ready to return and lead Chelsea’s title charge once more.

Speaking to the media, Conte revealed that Costa is no longer struggling with a back issue and is fully fit to participate for the Premier League leaders.

“He is available for the game against Hull City. He started to have a training session on Tuesday with the rest of the team. He trained very well. He trained very well. He is good fitness. His pain in his back, he hasn’t had pain in his back. For this reason he is available for the game against Hull City. On Sunday and Monday Diego trained not for himself but for Tuesday to have the training session with us. He trained with a fitness coach. Not alone.”

Conte also stated that he usually has a chat with his players every week with his players, both individually and together. But what about Costa’s future after plenty of links with a move to China? His agent Jorge Mendes was reportedly discussing a move to Tianjin Quanjian which broke down last week and Conte believes Costa will remain at Stamford Bridge for the rest of this season.

“I think the player wants to stay at Chelsea, he is happy to stay here and play for us,” Conte said. “I don’t see any problem with our team. I heard a lot of speculation about Diego, but now the most important thing is he trained with us this week, he does not have any pain in his back and can play.”

This is a massive boost for Chelsea as they look to extend their seven point lead at the top of the table, but Conte wouldn’t confirm if Costa was fit enough to start against Hull.

“Diego is an important player for us. We all know this. When he stays in a good form he has always played for me,” Conte said. “I will see on Sunday [if he starts against Hull]. I don’t want to give an advantage to our opponents.”

With Costa’s mind seemingly back on matters at Chelsea despite a monster contract offer from China lingering in the background, news that he is back fit and ready to score goals will send a shudder of disappointment through Chelsea’s title rivals in the Premier League.