Liverpool:Second place in the final PL standings but top of the class this season. Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool exceeded everyone’s expectations. I did not see one preseason poll predicting the Reds would be in the top two. They only blot on their copybook was the late season collapse that cost them the title. That aside, tremendous progress at Anfield as a bright future beckons. Record: W 26 – D 6 – L 6
Manchester City: The Citizens won the PL title and deservedly so. Manuel Pellegrini, known as ‘the Engineer,’ built a solid foundation for City’s creative stars to flourish and they got over the line. They were only top for 14 days of the season but were there when it mattered most after banging in 102 goals to lift the PL crown. Record: W 27 – D 5 – L – 6
Everton: The Toffees came so close to sealing a top four spot, and in almost any other season their return of 72 points would have sealed a UCL berth. Roberto Martinez shouldn’t let that spoil a wonderful first season in charge at Goodison, as the Spanish coach has developed a silky style admired around the country and blooded talented youngsters like Ross Barkley and John Stones. Record: W 20 – D 9 – L 8
Southampton: Mauricio Pochettino’s young side have shown everyone just how good they are down on the South Coast. Saints finished in their best ever PL position of eighth, recorded their highest ever points tally and have three players off to Brazil with England. Possessing a squad brimming with talented teenagers (Luke Shaw etc.) and the likes of Jay Rodriguez, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert, the future is bright for the Reds. Record: W 15 – D 11 – L 12
Stoke City: A terrific campaign for the Potter as Mark Hughes’ men have turned on the style at the Britannia. Six wins from their last ten games saw Stoke finish ninth, their highest ever PL finish and their first time in the top 10, as they’ve finally shaken off that ‘long ball merchants’ tag. Can they challenge for the top six next season? Record: W 13 – D 11 – L 14
Crystal Palace: After Tony Pulis took charge of Palace in late November the Eagles never looked back. They ended up finishing in 11th place after picking up just four points from August to November. Pulis was rightly named PL Manager of the Year and the Eagles beat the likes of Chelsea at home and stunned Liverpool in a late comeback. Pride, passion and commitment, they battled their way to this B+. Record: W 13 – D 6 – L 19
Hull City:Many didn’t think Steve Bruce could keep the Tigers up, yet early in the season they were flying. Big wins over Liverpool at home and Newcastle away were crucial but their season did peter out. That was due to their run to the FA Cup final which inadvertently also handed them a place in next season’s Europa League. Record: W 10 – D 7 – L 21
Arsenal: A blip in the middle of the season curtailed the Gunners’ progress this campaign… but this still have plenty to be proud of. Up until January they pretty much led the way in the PL, as Arsene Wenger’s new signing Mesut Ozil ran the show. Then he dropped away and Arenal struggled, yet they still finished fourth and have an FA Cup final to look forward to. All in all, a good season and another top four finish. Record: W 24 – D 7 – L 7
Chelsea: The ‘Special One’ didn’t win any silverware on his return to Stamford Bridge, but he came mighty close. Chelsea’s young squad hung in the title race until the penultimate weekend of the season but their downfall was losing to Sunderland, Villa and Palace, despite picking up five wins and a draw in their games against the top four. A UCL semifinal defeat to Atletico Madrid was a bitter pill to swallow. Third place is a tough start for Mourinho in his second spell. Record: W 25 – D 7 – L 6
Sunderland: Gus Poyet asked for a miracle at the Stadium of Light… he got one. The Mackems became just the second club in PL history to avoid the drop after being bottom of the standings at Christmas. Paolo Di Canio was dismissed after a torrid start but four wins in a row in their last five (including victories at Chelsea and Man United) kept Sunderland up against all the odds. Oh, they reached the League Cup final too, but lost to Man City. Record: W 10 – D 8 – L 20
Tottenham: Spurs badly missed Gareth Bale, as the $130 million they reinvested from his transfer fee was very poorly spent. That ultimately cost Andre Villas-Boas his job as the Portuguese boss saw his team battered by Man City and Liverpool early on. Tim Sherwood stepped in, became Spurs’ best-ever PL manager (stats wise) and guided them to fifth…. Then Sherwood left after the season finished. Lots of uncertainty around White Hart Lane. Record: W 21 – D 6 – L 11
Swansea City: The Swans were in real danger of relegation for much of this season, as Michael Laudrup suffered ‘second-season syndrome’ badly. The Danish manager left and defender Garry Monk was put in charge as he led the Swans to a 12th place finish after flirting with the drop. A charge to the Europa League knockout stages didn’t help their league form. Wilfried Bony was their star pupil as the Ivorian banged in goals for fun. Record: W 11 – D 9 – L 18
Newcastle: It all started so well for Newcastle as Alan Pardew’s side challenged for the top four before Christmas. Then the wheels fell off as Pardew was banned for headbutting an opposition player, the Magpies plummeted to 10th and their were huge protests from fans against the owner and their manager. All is not well at St. James’ Park. Record: W 15 – D 4 – L 19
West Brom: Somehow the Baggies weren’t relegated as they won just seven games, the lowest total in the PL. They missed the goals of last season’s loan striker Romelu Lukaku and Steve Clarke lost his job ludicrously early in the campaign. From eighth last year to three points and one place above the relegation zone, the decline at the Hawthorns was shocking. Spanish boss Pepe Mel was brought in but after many issues with the playing staff, he left at the end of the campaign. Record: W 7 – D 15 – L 16
Aston Villa: No wonder American owner Randy Lerner wants to sell Villa, two seasons of struggle for the Midlands giants has pushed the fans’ patience to the brink. Manager Paul Lambert has failed to kick the club on and Villa only secured their safety a week from the end of the campaign. There needs to be a clean sweep at Villa as they keep scraping by. Record: W 10 – D 8 – L 19
West Ham: Sam Allardyce could well be on his way out of Upton Park as fans of the Hammers have turned against his direct style of play. It was a real rollercoaster ride for West Ham as they started poorly, then picked up in the New Year, before finishing with a whimper on 40 points. Losing Andy Carroll for over half of the season through injury didn’t help but overall it was a season to forget. Record: W 11 – D 7 – L 20
Manchester United: What a simply wretched season for the Red Devils. David Moyes lasted 10 months before he was fired and put out of his misery. United lost 12 PL games for the first time in a season, finished out of the top four for the first time in PL history and failed to qualify for Europa for the first time since 1990. An aging squad is finally being broken up but that should’ve happened last summer. A new manager is on the way this summer, after Ryan Giggs stepped in on an interim basis, but the reigning champions surrendered their crown in embarrassing fashion. Record: W 19 – D 7 – L 12
Fuham: Three managers had a crack at keeping the Cottagers in the top-flight, as Fulham made a right pig’s ear of this season. Martin Jol assembled an aging, yet talented, squad which struggled early on. Jol was fired and his assistant Rene Muelensteen was put in charge, however he lasted less than two months as German boss Felix Magath arrived. A string of late wins gave Fulham hope but their awful defending sent them down as they had the second worst defense in PL history with 85 goals conceded. Record: W 9 -D 5 – L 24
Cardiff City: Cardiff’s first-ever PL campaign became the ‘Vincent Tan show’ as their eccentric Malaysian owner is now the number one villain in the Welsh capital. Memorable home wins over South Wales rivals Swansea and Manchester City gave Bluebirds fans hope, then Tan fired manager Malky Mackay and new boss Ole Gunnar Solksjaer just wasn’t given enough money, or time, to turn things around. Back to the Championship as they struggled for goals all season and bagged just 32. Record: W 7 – D 9 – L 22
Norwich City: Talking of struggling for goals, Norwich were the PL’s lowest scorers with 28. Chris Hughton was fired with five games to go as his expensive summer signings, Gary Hooper and Ricky van Wolfswinkel, failed to score the goals Norwich needed. Sacking Hughton was pointless as Norwich’s last four games were against Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Man United. Relegation was inevitable but it was an awful season at Carrow Road as the players massively underperformed. Record: W 8 – D 9 – L 21
Griezmann wins best player award in Spain for last season
Alexis Sanchez was Arsenal’s second-leading scorer as the Gunners finished second in the Premier League, and the South American attacker scored three goals as Chile won its second-straight Copa America, this one on American soil. It’s baffling that he’s not on the list.
N'Golo Kante enjoyed a season as the engine of the best story in Premier League history, manning the midfield for Leicester, and followed it up by helping France reach the EURO 2016 final. Pretty good, right?
Javier Mascherano and Ivan Rakitic were key pieces in Barcelona’s run to the La Liga crown despite being limited by the transfer ban. Mascherano followed it up by captaining Argentina to the Copa America Centenario final, while Rakitic starred alongside Ivan Perisic as Croatia won a tricky EURO 2016 group before falling to eventual winners Portugal.
Harry Kanemay’ve not been a good choice to take corner for England, but he also was one of the best all-around attackers in the world as Tottenham surged into the Top Four of the Premier League.
With four goalkeepers making the cut, it shows that club success is more important than performance. David De Gea‘s season was certainly on the same plane as Buffon, though the latter won the league with Juventus and edged Spain at EURO 2016.
Marcelo, Leonardo Bonucci, and David Silva were also players who succeeded for both club and country and could’ve found their way onto the 30.
— I got 24 on the nose, wrongly guessing that Kante, Kane, Alexis, Mascherano, Rakitic, and Olivier Giroud would make the cut. Giroud led Arsenal and France in scoring, but if Alexis wasn’t going to make it the coiffed Frenchman had no hope.
— Of the six I didn’t get, only one brings me great shame: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should’ve been in the first 15 names on any list, not missing the post entirely. Paulo Dybala is a bit of a shocker from the crew, and Koke is a tricky miss. Luka Modric was our No. 31, while Rui Patricio was our 35. Diego Godin was a bad miss.
— What to learn from this: Atletico Madrid was obviously credited for its return to the UCL final, so Godin and Koke prove that carried a bit more weight than Kante and Giroud making the final with France, and Alexis thriving at the Copa America.
Columbus: 2016 was Gregg Berhalter’s third season in charge in Columbus, and in each of his first two years, Crew SC took a gigantic step forward — from non-playoff side to in the playoffs in 2014; from young, naive playoff team to MLS Cup hosts in 2015 — which meant 2016 was supposed to be the culmination of a truly great revolution in Columbus.
They started the season slow, with no wins in their first five games. But they had done the same thing just 12 months earlier and there they were playing for the Cup in December. The Crew looked to be slowly turning this season’s corner when the Kei Kamara/Federico Higuain thing exploded and effectively ended their season in May.
The big knock on Crew SC last year, at least for me, was that they never seemed to figure out a Plan B — if “hit it long for Kei, he’ll knock it down, and Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram will run onto it and toss the alley-oop back to him inside the six” wasn’t working, you’d already beaten them.
2016 exposed Berhalter, perhaps more than any player on the roster, because of the elongated nature of those struggles — literally the entire season. Finlay (6 goals, 9 assists) and Meram (5 goals, 13 assists) put up fine numbers once again, but they rang hollow for a losing team going nowhere all season long.
Wil Trapp’s age-23 season was completely wasted — he’s no longer “a young player” — and I’d take a long, hard look at Europe this winter if I were him. The defense has been an unmitigated disaster the last two season (53 and 58 goals conceded), mostly due to the all-out attacking nature of Berhalter’s game plans — hint: defending 2-on-4 against counter-attacks almost never ends well. The “other” Kamara, Ola, actually panning out was the saving grace that kept them within a mile of the playoff race.
Portland: Maybe it’s an odd year thing; Portland won the 2015 MLS Cup after claiming the West’s best record in 2013.
Or maybe, just maybe, the Timbers ran out of luck under newly-extended Caleb Porter in his fourth season on the job. This time, no one bailed them out.
Portland came out of nowhere to claim the West’s No. 1 seed in 2013, as Porter engineered an astounding 15 draws including 10 on the road. The tactics and lineup selection helped, but so did the arrivals of Diego Valeri and Will Johnson (pretty important, no?).
The Timbers missed the playoffs by a point in 2014, a 3W-1D end to the season not enough to make up for a horrible start to the season.
The next season saw the Timbers win it all, but not without needing a three-match winning streak to leap ahead of four teams and claim the third-seed (Seattle, LA, and KC all finished two points back). Six games later, they went from almost out to on top of the MLS world.
So what happened this year, with many falling all over ourselves to praise the long-term prospects of a Timbers dynasty? A giant failure. The Timbers failed to win a single road game, tossing aside their strong home field advantage (Portland was 12W-3L-2T at Providence Park).
The Timbers scored the second-most penalties in the league this year, with five, so it’s not like fortune avoided them (The Red Bulls didn’t score one).
But, oh, this was ugly.
Portland took three of its the final 12 points available to it. The Timbers lost big in Vancouver and Houston, two non-playoff destinations. In its last 13 games, Portland lost nine and won four.
The Timbers completed the fewest passes in Major League Soccer, 400 less than the closest competitor and 4,300 behind the league-leading Revs. Portland couldn’t take the ball away, either, with the second-fewest interceptions in the league.
You could even argue that losing 4-1 in Vancouver on Decision Day — a loss to a knocked-out Cascadia Cup rival — makes it worse than Columbus’ season alone. This was awful stuff, albeit schadenfreude for the anti-Porter brigade.
Oh, and they bombed out of a poor CONCACAF Champions League group without a Liga MX or MLS opponent in it.
Every champion has a target on its back but the Timbers managed to essentially bring back all of its key starters from a season ago, despite losing Maxi Urruti. The Timbers were involved in 22 games separated by one goal or less in 2016, with Caleb Porter’s side winning only seven of those contests. Had one more game gone in their favor the Timbers would likely be back in the postseason.
Of the six teams remaining in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference, you could argue there are three distinct pairings.
You have red-hot traditional sides in DC United and the New York Red Bulls; There are the big-name driven, deep squads from Toronto FC and New York City FC, and finally the two relative unknowns truly deserving of “wildcard” status in the Philadelphia Union Montreal Impact.
Sure the table tends to tell us who’s who in the pecking order. It’s hard to bet against the Red Bulls seeing they haven’t lost since July 3, and Frank Lampard has somehow quietly been a wrecking ball thanks to dynamite performances from captain David Villa and world-class maestro Andrea Pirlo.
But there are reasons those teams may not be the true favorite to advance to the MLS Cup final, just as there are ways to imagine Philly can punch their way through the East. We’re here to give you both.
Philadelphia Union (6)
Why they’ll win: The young unit might be too green to know it isn’t expected to knock off Toronto in Toronto, or a New York team in New York or New Jersey. Chris Pontius and Tranquillo Barnetta add veteran skill and savvy, while Andre Blake is capable of stealing some of the league’s more terrific strikes.
Why they won’t: Their last win was Aug. 27, and we’re supposed to expect the Union to win on the road at Toronto, RBNY, and then either NYCFC or DC. Nah, dog (though it’d be quite a story and we’d be happy to watch it).
Montreal Impact (5)
Why they’ll win: Didier Drogba may not be mentally in it, but he’s still a fierce competitor who can score with the best of them. By the way, the “best of them” definitely includes Ignacio Piatti. The Argentine has been one of the top players in the league this season, and can take over any game (Yes, even three on the bounce).
Why they won’t: The dysfunction and fall-out from Drogba’s benching permeates the room before match against red-hot DC United, and an average road team fails to meet expectations.
DC United (4)
Why they’ll win: A four-match win streak earned most of DC’s starters a well-deserved rest on Decision Day, and there will be a “Why not us?” cry coming from the DC dressing room. Patrick Nyarko has been a lot of fun to watch. Luciano Acosta is legit as well. Bill Hamid is an excellent shot stopper, and the four-time champion Black-and-Red is overdue for a final, having been absent since beating KC in 2004.
Why they won’t: Let’s be honest, most arguments against DC sound quite political. “Well, they can’t win because of the other guys being so good.” DC doesn’t have the firepower of TFC, NYCFC, and RBNY; Would you bet on them beating two of the above, which they likely would have to? (Actually, kinda).
Toronto FC (3)
Why they’ll win: Frankly, this is the best defensive team in the East, with a minimum of three game attacking breakers in Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley, and Jozy Altidore. Imports Drew Moor and Clint Irwin aren’t scared of the spotlight, and Will Johnson will be putting on for his city. And they’re good away from BMO Field. This could be TFC’s season, y’all.
Why they won’t: This is Toronto’s 10th season, and happens to be the first one in which it won more matches than it lost. TFC’s debut home match comes on Wednesday evening, and there’s something to be said for experience. While some of its players have plenty, the club does not possess much at all.
New York City FC (2)
Why they’ll win: One of only two teams (Toronto) to finish their road schedule with a .500 record, Patrick Vieira has been able to get the best out of the superstars and the lesser-known members of NYC’s squad. Tactically, we’re not sure there’s another coach in the East with his acumen.
Why they won’t: It’s also Vieira’s first playoffs as a manager, and the whole franchise hasn’t done that dance, either. They have one win in five combined matches against RBNY and TFC.
New York Red Bulls
Why they’ll win: Frankly, as stated above, because they don’t lose. Jesse Marsch hasn’t overseen a loss in three-and-a-half months, has two legit claimants to MVP honors in Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan, and have been reinforced by one of the deepest Academy production lines in MLS.
Why they won’t: New York won just three road matches all year, even if it managed 7 draws away from Red Bull Arena. On top of that, this is year No. 20 of MLS, and founding members RBNY have zero titles and one final appearance. Those ghosts could come creeping up to the door.