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.

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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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Klopp played three positions in Liverpool staff team’s draw with Stanford

Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool FC (Photo credit: @StanfordMSoccer)
Photo credit: @StanfordMSoccer
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From the Endearing Jurgen Klopp Tales file, the Liverpool manager reportedly starred in defense, midfield and attack for a squad full of Reds coaches against Stanford on Sunday.

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Liverpool, who have based themselves on the sunny, warm Stanford University campus as part of their preparations for the 2016-17 Premier League, took on the collegiate side and played the youngsters to a 1-1 draw.

Klopp failed to get his name on the scoresheet, though the former Mainz striker had one golden chance turned away by Stanford’s goalkeeper. The same couldn’t be said for physiotherapist Ruben Pons, who scored from beyond the halfway line on a mishit long ball over the top.

With all the goodwill Klopp has banked with Reds fans in his first nine months at the club, he’s now only a PL title away from securing his place as an eternal Liverpool legend.

Liverpool will take on Chelsea in each side’s first International Champions Cup fixture Wednesday night (11 p.m. ET) in Pasadena, Calif.

Former Fergie assistant Phelan wants Hull job — “I want to be a manager”

SCUNTHORPE, ENGLAND - JULY 23:  Hull City interim manager Mike Phelan prior to kick off in the pre-season friendly between Scunthorpe United and Hull City at Glanford Park on July 23, 2016 in Scunthorpe, England.  (Photo by Daniel Smith/Getty Images)
Photo by Daniel Smith/Getty Images
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Following Steve Bruce’s sudden and unexpected resignation this week, Hull City find themselves without a first-team manager 20 days before the 2016-17 Premier League opener, which will pit the PL newcomers (again) against the reigning PL champions (not again) Leicester City on Aug. 13.

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The man presently in charge of the club, Mike Phelan, who served as Sir Alex Ferguson‘s no. 2 for a number of years at Manchester United, has essentially no first-team managerial experience, but he’s eager to cut his teeth and wants the job anyway — quotes from the Hull Daily Mail:

“I want to be a manager. I don’t really see why I shouldn’t want to be a manager. Time will tell. That decision doesn’t sometimes come down to you.

“I’ve had a small chat and I was asked if I would carry on being in charge for now. We have games, we have preparations, we’ve still got three weeks to go.

“My job is no different to what it has been except now I’m stood on the touchline in games doing my bit. We just have to do our job, there’s nothing else we can do until the powers that be make their decisions.”

Here’s why it’s (obviously) crazy for the club to delay a final decision any longer than absolutely necessary: with every passing day, important preparations for a PL season, a campaign in which the Tigers will almost certainly be fighting for their top-division status, are being undertaken by an interim boss who, based upon the daily whims of an outgoing owner, may or may not be the man to lead Hull into that 38-game battle.

Phelan previously served as interim manager for Norwich City in 2015, for a period totaling four days.

Int’l Champions Cup: Aurier scores twice as PSG throttle Inter Milan

Paris Saint-Germain's Serge Aurier, right, gets a shot past Inter Milan goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, left, in the first half of the International Champions Cup soccer match at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore., Sunday, July 24, 2016. (Andy Nelson/The Register-Guard via AP)
Andy Nelson/The Register-Guard via AP
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EUGENE, Ore. (AP) Serge Aurier scored twice and Paris Saint-Germain beat Inter Milan 3-1 on Sunday at the University of Oregon’s Autzen Stadium.

Layvin Kurzawa also scored for PSG on a free kick in the 61st minute in the International Champions Cup match. Stevan Jovetic scored for Inter Milan on a penalty kick in stoppage time following the first half.

Autzen Stadium, the home football field of the Oregon Ducks, hosted the match, part of the International Champions Cup. Real grass was laid down on the artificial turf field, obscuring the yellow `O’ at midfield.

The International Champions Cup is an exhibition tournament involving 17 teams playing on four different continents. It serves a tuneup for the regular season.

Inter Milan was coming off a 2-1 victory over Real Salt Lake earlier in the week in Utah. Striker Mauro Icardi played in that match, and was given the day off against PSG.

Paris Saint-Germain, which beat West Bromwich Albion 2-1 its last time out on July 14 in Austria, is embarking on its first season under Unai Emery, who took over for Laurnet Blanc. In addition to the new manager, PSG will also need to adjust to the departure of enigmatic forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who signed with Manchester United earlier this month.

Ibrahimovic had 38 goals in 31 French league games last season, helping PSG to a fourth successive title. On Sunday midfielder Javier Pastore wore No. 10.

Angel Di Maria, Edinson Cavani and Thomas Meunier entered as subs for Paris Saint-Germain in the second half.

Di Maria had just returned to his club team earlier in the week after taking some time off following the Copa America tournament. He played for his native Argentina in the final, which Chile won on penalty kicks.

David Luiz apparently did not make the trip to Eugene from Los Angeles, where PSG was training.

Aurier, who played in the 2014 World Cup for his native Ivory Coast, left-footed the rebound of a free kick off goalkeeper Samir Handanovic into the bottom left corner.

Inter Milan evened it on Jovetic’s penalty kick into the top right corner in extra time following the first half. The penalty was awarded when Lucas Moura was called for a handball.

Aurier had a good chance in the 57th minute but his shot hit the crossbar. A few minutes later, Kurzawa struck a perfectly placed free kick that Handanovic couldn’t reach that put PSG in front.

Aurier’s second goal was a header off a cross from Alec Georgen in the 87th minute.

Is MLS MVP a three-horse race at the All-Star “break”?

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco laughs after being named Major League Soccer's 2015 Most Valuable Player in Toronto, Wednesday, Dec.  2, 2015. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)
Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP
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With the 2016 MLS All-Star Game set to be played Thursday night (versus Arsenal, at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, Calif.), it got me thinking about the race for this year’s Most Valuable Player award. (If MLS is going to continue holding the All-Star Game every year — and they are — it should include an actual break, as is the case in all other America sports.)

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While the field is a small one at this point of the campaign, it’s also much closer than it was last year, when Sebastian Giovinco took home the honor in an absolute landslide of a vote.

Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC

The reigning MVP is on pace for something of a come-down in his second season in MLS, but when you put up 22 goals and 16 assists in your debut campaign, can you really expect to replicate that kind of production from one year to the next? Still, 11 goals (on the most shots in the league – 124) and 7 assists through 20 games (Giovinco has played in 19) has him on pace for 18 goals and 12 assists. Of course, when you consider he snapped a skid of eight games without a goal with a hat trick Saturday night, and that he’s unlikely to endure such a slump through the final 14 games, 18 and 12 should be considered the proverbial floor.

TFC have scored just 25 goals this season, and Giovinco has scored or assisted 18 of them (72 percent).

As for TFC’s present standing and how that impacts Giovinco’s MVP candidacy, fifth place through 20 games is a disappointment considering this was to be “the year” where they were less of a collection of talent, and more a functional team. Of course, injuries (and national team call-ups) have robbed the Reds of Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Will Johnson for lengthy periods already. That TFC find themselves presently a playoff team, and a measly six points back of the Eastern Conference’s top spot with two games in hand, should benefit Giovinco’s case more than hurt it.

David Villa, New York City FC

This one’s pretty simple: NYCFC weren’t supposed to be anywhere near the top spot of the East this season, yet that’s where they find themselves at the break, and Villa has spearheaded their unlikely run by scoring 13 goals (most in MLS – on 117 shots – 46 more than the next-closest player) and one assist through 22 games (Villa has played in 21). The question is this, though: will Patrick Vieira’s side still be there come the end of the season? So much of Villa’s claim to MVP is that he’s been the best player on one of the best (and certainly most surprising) teams in MLS this year.

If they’re to fall back into the pack (they’re just two points clear of the New York Red Bulls following Sunday’s 4-1 derby disaster, and only four points from fourth), Villa will quickly fall from MVP candidate to “the best best player on a subpar team.”

New York City FC forward David Villa, left, and New York City FC defender Chris Wingert celebrate Villa's early goal during the first half of the match between New York City FC and Toronto FC, Sunday, July 12, 2015, at Yankee Stadium in New York. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)
(AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)

Ignacio Piatti, Montreal Impact

The Impact have, for my money, the most complete roster in the Eastern Conference. Didier Drogba is arguably the most dominant goal-scoring force MLS has ever seen (8 goals in 12 appearances this season; 11 in 11 last year), and the depth in midfield and defense is unparalleled, yet Piatti has been the unrivaled star through the first 20 games of the season (he has played in 18). His 12 goals and 5 assists are rivaled only by Giovinco’s numbers, and he’s been a far more consistent contributor than the Italian (never more than three games without a goal, while playing as a non-forward, unlike Giovinco).

The knock on Piatti has always been his inability to stay healthy and approach a pace of 30 appearances in a single season. Finally consistently healthy in 2016, he’s taken his short-term production and replicated that same kind of output over 90 percent of his team’s games this season. If he can reach 30 games played this year, Piatti has the best chance of stopping Giovinco from becoming the first back-to-back MVP winner in league history.

Montreal Impact's Ignacio Piatti, left, of Argentina, scores a goal as Vancouver Whitecaps' Kendall Waston, of Costa Rica, defends during first half MLS soccer action, in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Sunday, March 6, 2016. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
(Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)

On the fringe, with a chance to catch the leaders: Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls – 5 goals, 12 assists), Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers – 9 goals, 5 assists)