Kelyn Rowe 2

Winless New England needs to see progress Saturday against Vancouver

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If New England had gone to Houston and Philadelphia, given two strong performances, and returned to Foxborough with two losses, we’d blame tough opposition for the team’s slow start. But with the Revolution returning home with a -5 goal difference and no goals scored, there’s only so much credit we can give their opponents. New England has problems.

In our Power Rankings we alluded to the Jose Goncalves situation. The 2013 Defender of the Year was left out of the team that lost in Philadelphia, fueling speculation that the contract impasse that created resentment in preseason is having an effect on the field. Jay Heaps said last week’s exclusion was a performance-based decision, something that became more justifiable after New England went from four to one goal allowed. From a distance, it looked like a coach telling his player to get his head on straight.

The defense as a whole needs to get its act together before Saturday’s game. Vancouver has the deepest collection of attacking talent in Major League Soccer, and while little of that came through before the closing moments of Sunday’s game at Chivas USA, a week’s reflection (and a switch back to turf) will produce a renewed Whitecaps attack. For a New England attack giving up 2.5 goals per game thus far — one that may not have the team speed to deal with the likes of Darren Mattocks and Kekuta Manneh —  that’s bad news.

At the other end of the field, there may be reason for hope. Though the team has yet to score a goal, they have created some isolated chances, most notably Diego Fagundez’s first half shot that forced Philly’s Zac MacMath into one of the week’s best saves. But they’re not generating enough chances to overcome those moments, something that shouldn’t be too surprising given Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe (pictured), and Saer Sene have yet to hit the field at the same time. Without its two creative midfielders working in tandem, it’s hard to get this New England team to tick.

The good news is all three are working their way back. After missing the opener, Nguyen went 90 in Philadelphia. Rowe, left out of the game at PPL Park, appears on track to return against Vancouver. Sene, who has come off the bench in each of the first two games, could see increased time against the Whitecaps.

All of which may make Saturday’s performance more important than the result, particularly this early in the season. New England needs to get their attacking trio back together and see if they can produce chances. If they don’t lead to actual goals, whether by bad luck or a great performance from David Ousted, so be it. The parts need to sync up, though.

And in defense, the Revolution midfield has to do more to get the ball off their opponents. Once Philadelphia took the lead (and survived that Fagundez chance), they were able to play out the game with the ball at their feet. Vancouver’s midfield is capable of doing the same, perhaps more so. In addition to avoiding the obvious mistakes that led to openers in Houston and Philly, the Revolution have to be stronger in front of the defense.

If they can do that, the results will come. At least, over the course of the season, they will. Over the course of 90 minutes on Saturday, though? Progress should be the only measuring stick.

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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