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Biggest winners from the 2014 World Cup

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Germany was the big winner, of course, but that’s not exactly what we’re talking about here. At least, we’re not limiting ourselves to the results on the field.

Taking a broader view of the 2014 World Cup, which players, coaches, and teams came out as big winners? Who came into the tournament with one perception and, by virtue of what happened over the last four weeks, has crafted a new reputation for themselves? Who used Brazil 2014 raise their profile in the soccer world?

And let’s not limit this to what happened on the field.  When we look back on the 2014 World Cup, what other aspects will leap from our memories, serving as the surprise contributions that helped define the tournament’s second trip to Brazil.

Undoubtedly, there are too many to list; then again, that’s what comments sections are for. Still, here are the handful that jump out to us one day after festivities have ended in at this summer’s World Cup.

The Players

Tim Howard – The long-time Everton keeper had established a certain level of respect within England, but aside from the most loyal of U.S. Men’s National Team diehards, few would have listed him as one of the best goalkeepers in the world. While that status may still be slightly beyond the 35-year-old’s reach, after his Round of 16 performance against Belgium, his name’s going to come up more often. Germany’s Manuel Neuer is now recognized as the best goalkeeper in the world, but you don’t have to move too far down that list before asking whether Howard deserves recognition.

Miroslav Klose – He’s never going to be discussed among the best strikers in history, but after claiming the World Cup’s all-time scoring record, the 36-year-old has a claim to being the tournament’s best striker. Longevity is certainly on his side, as is his production, but perception is not, something we may want to reconsider. As Klose’s 2014 shows, it’s easy to take the reliable for granted. As German found out, there’s something to be said for somebody who “merely” does his job very, very well. Where Klose started the tournament as an as-needed number nine, he ended it as a starter.

Javier Mascherano – Do you realize there’s a team in the world that has both Sergio Busquets and Javier Mascherano? After seeing what the Argentina destroyer did in Brazil, it’s tempting to ask why those two can’t play in the same midfield with Barcelona. Yeah, the club’s preferred style and formation mean … blah, blah, blah … Why would you ever want to take Mascherano out of midfield? Crucial to protecting Argentina’s defense, the former Liverpool linchpin proved his still one of the best defensive midfielders in the game, even if he doesn’t get to play the position as often as he wants.

source: AP

Guillermo Ochoa – The former America goalkeeper’s promising international career was derailed when Javier Aguirre went away from him before the 2010 World Cup. It took four years and a pre-tournament injury to Jose de Jesus Corona to get that career back on track, but over four games in Brazil, the free agent goalkeeper reminded us of the promise he flashed in his early 20s. Now we wait and see what Memo’s World Cup breakthrough means for his club career.

Arjen Robben – Robben is recognized within the game as one of the world’s more dangerous attackers, but amid frequent injuries, playing in Germany, and a reputation for treating any contact like an artillery shell, his talents get overshadowed. In Brazil, however, the system Louis van Gaal implemented allowed Robben’s speed and skill to shine in transition, reminding the world that beyond the game’s absolute elite, there may be no player more dangerous than the Dutch star.

James Rodríguez – Radamel Falcao’s injury was a huge loss for the tournament, but Colombia may have been better for it. With James as the team’s focal point, the Cafeteros made a quarterfinal run, along the way establishing their 22-year-old as one of the world’s most exciting players. Back at Monaco, the five games James played in Brazil may become a distant memory, but if the 2014 World Cup provided any hint of his future, a new superstar was born.

[ MORE from our 2014 World Cup review ]

The Coaches

Jurgen Klinsmann – Group of Death or not, almost nobody expected the United States to get out of Group G. But advance they did, vindicating the controversial decisions Klinsmann has made in the run-up to Brazil. Though the team was again eliminated in extra time at the Round of 16, Klinsmann’s redemption continued, with the Germany program he helped build claiming the country’s first title in 24 years. In both his old and new homes, Klinsmann has begun converting doubters into fans, convincing some that his aloof confidence is based on a vision that may actually work.

Louis van Gaal – The Netherlands’ inability to qualify for World Cup 2002 was one of the blights on van Gaal’s résumé. Over the last four weeks, he’s earned redemption, taking a Dutch team picked to crash out in group stage to the tournament’s semifinals. Now on his way to Manchester United, van Gaal will have another reclamation project to master, but in his two years with the Dutch, he’s taken a team humbled by Euro 2012 embarrassment and restored its place among the best nations in the world.

The Countries

source: APAlgeria – The Fennec Foxes had never qualified for the knockout round, with the ghosts of Austria and Germany’s 1982 collusion lingering 32 years later. In South Africa, the team didn’t even score a goal, leaving few hopeful Vahid Halilhodzic’s team would make a big impact in Brazil. Yet employing a quicker, more ambitious approach, Algeria bested Russia for second in their group, eventually taking Germany to extra time in the Round of 16. Shunning their own limitations, the Foxes set a new standard for themselves, making waves at the World Cup in the process.

Costa Rica – Perhaps the biggest Cinderellas since Turkey and South Korea made the semifinals in 2002, the Ticos showed a five-man defense need not be boring. Jorge Luis Pinto’s men were among the hardest workers in the tournament, an ethic that allowed them to navigate one of the competition’s deepest groups. While drawing Greece provided some fortune in the Round of 16, the Costa Ricans took the Netherlands to penalty kicks in the quarters, becoming CONCACAF’s best performer at the 2014 World Cup.

France – For Les Bleus, 2014 went beyond getting results on the field. Looking to redeem the team that was a source of embarrassment in 2010, France played some of the most attractive soccer of the tournament, and while they eventually met their end in the quarterfinals, their run helped erase the lingering unease over what happened in South Africa. Now, France can push on knowing the likes of Paul Pogba and Antoine Greizmann are capable of ushering in a new era, one that will make 2010 less of a memory than a footnote.

Germany – Obviously, the biggest winners of the tournament, but coming off a disappointing Euro 2012, die Nationalmannschaft’s triumph represents something more than the world title. Though the reforms Klinsmann introduced helped move the program out of its 2004 nadir, the semifinal loss to Italy two years ago highlighted a fragility in the team – a fault that introduced new doubts for a squad with nearly unmatched talent. With their win in Brazil, though, there’s no more room for doubt. Even if this generation crashed out of the next two tournaments, they’d still have this moment on top of the world.

source: Getty ImagesThe Supporting Cast

Goal-line technology – From Ochoa’s save on Neymar in the group stage to Ron Vlaar’s near goal in Holland’s penalty kick shootout against Argentina, goal-line technology was implemented simply, elegantly, and without error, with the goal-no goal graphics sparking a number of memes through the competition. Perhaps FIFA should have implemented this sooner, once they did, they got it right.

Vanishing spray – While it was funny to hear the rest of the world’s reaction to a technology the Americas have used for some time, vanishing spray still represented a big win for world soccer. Perhaps that victory was lesson by some’s confusion the vanishing paint with an ability to make objects disappear, but that’s more about branding (and, education levels) than implementation. As Major League Soccer knows, there’s no reason why every major league shouldn’t use this stuff.

The World Cup – Seemingly from the tournament’s opening weekend, Brazil 2014 was lauded as one of the most entertaining World Cups in memory, and while there was some discussion of the tournament slowing as it reached its knockout rounds, drama in competition’s final rounds helped restore the competition’s last impression. With the last bastion of soccer nihilism watching in record numbers (at least, that’s how some want to see the U.S.), the World Cup was winning some of soccer’s final battles. Unless our memories fail us, Brazil 2014 will be remembered as one of the greatest World Cups.

Ranking the top 10 MLS players in each position for 2017

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco celebrates his goal against the Philadelphia Union during the first half of an MLS soccer playoff match in Toronto, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Pumped for the start of the 2017 Major League Soccer season?

Yup, us too.

[ MORE: MLS 2017 season previews

Hit the link above to devour all of the MLS 2017 season preview material ahead of the big kick off this weekend.

Below we have a go at ranking the top 10 players in each area of the pitch for 2017.

[ MORE: MLS 2017 schedule

Sure to be some debate about some of these picks…


Goalkeepers

COMMERCE CITY, CO - JULY 23: Tim Howard #1 of the Colorado Rapids celebrates after making a first half save against the FC Dallas at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on July 23, 2016 in Commerce City, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

  1. Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids)
  2. Brad Guzan (Atlanta United – Will arrive in May)
  3. Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union)
  4. Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
  5. Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls)
  6. Jake Gleeson (Portland Timbers)
  7. Brian Rowe (LA Galaxy)
  8. Bill Hamid (D.C. United)
  9. David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes)
  10. Clint Irwin (Toronto FC)

Center backs

Los Angeles Galaxy defender Jelle Van Damme (37) congratulates forward Alan Gordon (9) for scoring against the Real Salt Lake during the first half of a knockout round MLS playoff soccer match in Carson, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  1. Jelle Van Damme (LA Galaxy)
  2. Axel Sjoberg (Colorado Rapids)
  3. Matt Hedges (FC Dallas)
  4. Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas)
  5. Laurent Ciman (Montreal Impact)
  6. Steve Birnbaum (DC United)
  7. Roman Torres (Seattle Sounders)
  8. Drew Moor (Toronto FC)
  9. Liam Ridgewell (Portland Timbers)
  10. Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City)

Full backs

ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 04:  Ronald Matarrita #22 of Costa Rica chases the ball during the 2016 Copa America Centenario Group A match between Costa Rica and Paraguay at Camping World Stadium on June 4, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Alex Menendez/ Getty Images)

  1. Ronald Matarrita (New York City FC)
  2. Keegan Rosenberry (Philadelphia Union)
  3. Justin Morrow (Toronto FC)
  4. Ashley Cole (LA Galaxy)
  5. Greg Garza (Atlanta United)
  6. Andrew Farrell (New England Revolution)
  7. Robbie Rogers (LA Galaxy)
  8. March Burch (Colorado Rapids)
  9. DaMarcus Beasely (Houston Dynamo)
  10. Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders)

Midfielders

Osvaldo Alonso (top)

  1. Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle Sounders)
  2. Michael Bradley (Toronto FC)
  3. Sam Cronin (Colorado Rapids)
  4. Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City)
  5. Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy)
  6. Andrea Pirlo (New York City FC)
  7. Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls)
  8. Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union)
  9. Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire)
  10. Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers)

Attacking midfielders/Forwards

Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC

  1. Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC)
  2. Nicolas Lodeiro (Seattle Sounders)
  3. Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas)
  4. Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers)
  5. Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy)
  6. Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders)
  7. Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact)
  8. Kaka (Orlando City)
  9. Kevin Molino (Minnesota United)
  10. Joao Plata (Real Salt Lake)

Strikers

David Villa, New York City FC

  1. David Villa (New York City FC)
  2. Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls)
  3. Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC)
  4. Fanendo Adi (Portland Timbers)
  5. Cyle Larin (Orlando City)
  6. Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders)
  7. Dom Dwyer (Sporting Kansas City)
  8. Ola Kamara (Columbus Crew)
  9. Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
  10. Kei Kamara (New England Revolution)

How can Arsenal, Liverpool mount a title challenge?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 21: Lucas Leiva of Liverpool challenges Francis Coquelin of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Arsenal at Anfield on December 21, 2014 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Ahead of Liverpool host Arsenal this Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) there’s plenty of talk about how both teams have seen their title challenges fade away once again.

[ MORE: Full PST Extra archive

For Liverpool, the aim this season was always going to be a top four finish but after leading the Premier League early on, they’re now fighting for their lives to finish in the top four after grabbing just one win in their seven games in 2017 so far.

As for Arsenal, well, it’s the case of the same old story for Arsene Wenger‘s men as they plod along in the PL’s top four, are all but out of Europe and look set to go far in the FA Cup. With the futures of Wenger, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil up in the air there’s a lot of uncertainty at the Emirates.

In truth, there’s a lot of uncertainty for both these clubs as they continue to set themselves up to play attractive, attacking soccer but continue to fall short.

That’s where Jenna Corrado and I come in as we discuss their issues ahead of the big game at Anfield this Saturday.

Hit play on the video above to get your latest PST Extra fix.

MLS 2017 Western Conference preview

Members of the Seattle Sounders celebrate after winning the MLS Cup soccer final over Toronto FC in Toronto, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016. Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
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The new Major League Soccer season is approaching fast.

Like, it starts this Friday fast.

[ MORE: MLS 2017 season previews

With that in mind it’s time to take a closer look at all 11 teams in the Western Conference as new boys Minnesota United boost the ranks of the “power conference” which provided six of the top nine teams in MLS in 2016.

[ MORE: MLS 2017 schedule

Below is a what you need to know about each team heading into the 2017 campaign.


Colorado Rapids

COMMERCE CITY, CO - JULY 23: Tim Howard #1 of the Colorado Rapids stands in the goal against the FC Dallas at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on July 23, 2016 in Commerce City, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)


Record in 2016:
15-6-13 – 2nd in MLS’ Western Conference, 2nd overall in MLS (Knocked out in MLS Cup Conference finals)
Offseason evaluation:
It was a case of not having too much to do after such a successful season. Jermaine Jones leaving was a blow, however bringing in Alan Gordon and talented youngster Bismark Adjei-Boateng will bolster the squad. The Rapids are aiming for another solid season led by a brutish defense and the goals of Kevin Doyle and Shkelzen Gashi. 
Key player:
Tim Howard – Struggling with injury over the offseason, Howard may miss the first few weeks. That said, his presence for an entire campaign should have a huge impact on Colorado’s chances of making another deep run in the playoffs.
Coach:
Pablo Mastreoni – A wonderful season in 2016 for Mastreoni’s men as he took the Rapids from shambles in 2015 to the brink of the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup. Just keep on trucking. Things are heading in the right direction in Commerce City, Colo. 
Vague 2017 prediction:
Rapids will start the season well off the back of their 2016 success, then fade badly to just hang onto a playoff spot.


FC Dallas

FC Dallas, 2016 Supporters Shield winners (Photo credit: FC Dallas / Facebook)
Record in 2016: 17-8-9 – 1st in MLS’ Western Conference, 1st overall in MLS (Knocked out in MLS Cup Conference semifinals)
Offseason evaluation:
Dallas had another superb season in 2016 but came up short in their quest for MLS Cup, despite winning the Supporters’ Shield. Losing Fabian Castillo to Trabzonspor was a blow and with Mauro Diaz out long-term they’ll have to rely heavily on Javier Morales and Cristian Colman in the early months of the season. Overall, Oscar Pareja’s plan has been to get in younger talent to replace experience. Let’s see how this works but it promises to be another exciting season in Frisco, Texas. They look incredibly strong once again.  
Key player:
Kellyn Acosta – The young U.S. national team product is growing in confidence and will be a key man for FCD with his versatility. Also, with Diaz out for so long, Dallas need as many contributors as possible to chip in with goals and assists. Over to you, Colman, Akindele and Urruti. Acosta will continue to keep things ticking over. 
Coach:
Oscar Pareja – He is working wonders in Dallas and adding plenty of young attackers in the offseason will add even more intrigue to his team. He’s put together a fun team to watch.
Vague 2017 prediction:
FC Dallas will make another deep run to the playoffs. If injuries are kind to them, MLS Cup is a real possibility.


Houston Dynamo

HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 08: Erick Torres #9 of Houston Dynamo works the ball in the second half against the San Jose Earthquakes during their game at BBVA Compass Stadium on August 8, 2015 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Record in 2016: 7-14-13 – 10th in MLS’ Western Conference, 19th overall in MLS (Did not qualify for playoffs)
Offseason evaluation:
Lots of change in Houston and it was needed. The Owen Coyle experiment didn’t work out and after moving out Giles Barnes, Will Bruin and Sheanon Williams, the Dynamo will go with a young squad. That’s a lot to ask in a stacked Western Conference but Leonardo and DeLaGarza coming in from LA will provide some experience. Once again, all change at the Dynamo. 
Key player:
Erick “Cubo” Torres – He has returned from his loan spell at Cruz Azul and it looks like he will get his chance to lead the Dynamo’s attack. Now, can he fulfill his obvious potential?
Coach:
Wilmer Cabrera – Promoted from their USL affiliate, the former Chivas USA coach will try to galvanize the group and get them heading in the right direction. He has perhaps the toughest job in MLS.
Vague 2017 prediction:
Houston will finishes in 10th position in the West after making a brief midseason run towards the playoffs.


LA Galaxy

CARSON CA - AUGUST 9: Making his MLS debut Giovani Dos Santos #10 of the Los Angeles Galaxy congratulates Gyasi Zardes #11 after he scored a goal against Seattle Sounders during the first half at StubHub Center August 9, 2015, in Carson, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Record in 2016: 12-6-16 – 3rd in MLS’ Western Conference, 6th overall in MLS (Knocked out in MLS Cup Conference semifinals)
Offseason evaluation:
It’s been a huge shift in the offseason for LA with Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard, Alan Gordon and Landon Donovan (after his second coming) all moved on. Plus, Bruce Arena was out the door to the U.S. national team. Simpy put, the times they are a changing. Can LA’s talented youngsters help the transition go smoother than expected? Six Homegrown players are on the roster with Gyasi Zardes the main man, plus Jermaine Jones’ arrival will add some experience alongside Sebastian Lletget and new DP Romain Alessandrini from Marseille to help out star man Giovani dos Santos.
Key player:
Giovani dos Santos – This is his team now. The Mexican star has shown flashes of brilliance after arriving in MLS midway through 2015 but with Keane and Gerrard gone, Gio is front and center. With 20 goals and 21 assists in his 47 games so far for LA, he could be the new face of the league. 
Coach:
Curt Onalfo – Promoted from LA Galaxy II, Onalfo was the safe hire in a time of transition for the five-time MLS Cup champs. It will be intriguing to see how these young players develop under his tutelage. 
Vague 2017 prediction:
LA’s bold new plan will hit a few speed-bumps in the early months but then, predictably, they’ll finish the season strong and make a deep run in the playoffs.


Minnesota United

ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 08: Orlando head coach Adrian Heath salutes fans during an MLS soccer match between the New York City FC and the Orlando City SC at the Orlando Citrus Bowl on March 8, 2015 in Orlando, Florida. This was the first game for both teams and the final score was 1-1. (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)
Record in 2016: N/A
Offseason evaluation: 
It has been a busy few months years up in the Twin Cities. They have finally arrived in MLS with plenty of roster changes, a new coach and a new stadium being built and ready for 2018. Like pretty much every expansion franchise, it’s tough to know how this first season will go. There is a real mix of international talent on this roster and no big-name DPs. Kevin Molino links up with Adrian Heath once again and will provide pace and nous, while international defenders Francisco Calvo and Vadim Demidov will play in central defense. 
Key player:
Miguel Ibarra – He burst onto the scene a few years ago with his goals in NASL which earned him a USMNT call up in 2014 but his career stalled after moving to Liga MX. Now, everything is in place for him to lead Minnesota into a new era alongside his potent partner from the NASL days, Christian Ramirez.
Coach:
Adrian Heath – He will be desperate to prove doubters wrong after he was fired by Orlando last season. Heath built an exciting team in Orlando and the hope will be that Ibarra and Ramirez will translate their attacking success seamlessly to MLS. That said, you can clearly see that Minnesota is working on a small budget and with a squad full of players from smaller European leagues it will be intriguing to see how they adapt to the rigors of MLS as the Loons play in the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium for the 2017 campaign. 
Vague 2017 prediction:
Early struggles will give way to some key midseason additions and the Loons will finish the campaign challenging for the playoffs.


Portland Timbers

COLUMBUS, OH - DECEMBER 6: Diego Valeri #8 of the Portland Timbers celebrates after scoring within the first minute of the first half against the Columbus Crew SC on December 6, 2015 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. Portland defeated Columbus Crew SC 2-1 to claim the MLS Cup title. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Record in 2016: 12-14-8 – 7th in MLS’ Western Conference, 12th overall in MLS (Did not qualify for playoffs)
Offseason evaluation:
Portland have added two key players in the offseason in David Guzman and Sebastian Blanco and plenty of experience elsewhere as they try to rebound from not making the playoffs. Nobody really expected that failure but after not winning on the road throughout 2016, the outcome was always clear. Jewsbury, Grabavoy and Borchers all retired to leave Caleb Porter will plenty of work to do to rebuild his roster. 
Key player:
Diego Valeri – The Argentine attacker will have even more freedom this season after the arrival of Guzman and he should link well with Blanco and Nagbe to feed Adi. He has won so many games for the Timbers over the past few seasons.
Coach:
Caleb Porter – A really big year for the former Akron coach as he looks to shake off the tag of the Timbers being “one season wonders” after they won MLS Cup in 2015. Once again, he needs to improve the defensive play of Portland. 
Vague 2017 prediction:
Portland will be an offensive powerhouse, blowing teams away early in games. Expect a trip back to the MLS postseason.


Real Salt Lake

Real Salt Lake forward Joao Plata (8) gestures while walking during an MLS soccer game against New York City FC Saturday, May 23, 2015, in Sandy, Utah. (Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP) DESERET NEWS OUT; LOCAL TELEVISION OUT; MAGS OUT
Record in 2016: 12-12-10 – 6th in MLS’ Western Conference, 9th overall in MLS (Knocked out in MLS Cup knockout round)
Offseason evaluation:
The big news was Javier Morales leaving RSL after a decade, he will be replaced by young Slovakian playmaker Albert Rusnak. He has a DP deal and big shoes to fill at the Rio Tinto. There were sweeping changes in terms of the roster with Liverpool youngster Brooks Lennon arriving on loan as RSL got a lot younger, but Beckerman, Rimando and Movsisyan are still around. 
Key player:
Joao Plata – He will be the spark in the RSL offense and he is capable of moments of magic. Now, can he string it together for an entire season? 
Coach:
Jeff Cassar – The jury was out after his first season as RSL started well but faded badly in the final few months of the season. The Utah outfit have been loyal to coaches but if Cassar’s side start poorly he could be on the hotseat rather quickly.
Vague 2017 prediction:
RSL will battle through the season and pick up unexpected wins like they usually do. Don’t expect a playoff spot.


San Jose Earthquakes

SAN JOSE, CA - MARCH 06: Chris Wondolowski #8 of San Jose Earthquakes looks to pass the ball towards the goal against Colorado Rapids during the second half of their MLS Soccer game at Avaya Stadium on March 6, 2016 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Record in 2016: 8-12-14 – 9th in MLS’ Western Conference, 17th overall in MLS (Did not qualify for playoffs)
Offseason evaluation:
Massive amount of change this offseason as Goodson, Goitom and Emeghura were all let go plus Stewart, Lenhart and Barrett all moved on too. New GM Jesse Fioranelli has big plans for San Jose. Marco Urena will support Chris Wondolowski, while Panamanian defender Harold Cummings will add strength to the backline. 
Key player:
Chris Wondolowski – He just keeps doing it. Wondo is a predator and as long as San Jose create chances he will be there to finish them. 
Coach:
Dom Kinnear – This is a very big season for Dom. After seeing San Jose struggle badly in 2016, especially away from the Avaya Stadium, he has a new GM and it appears a new approach is needed. A veteran MLS coach will need his veteran striker Wondolowski to get him back in the playoffs.
Vague 2017 prediction:
San Jose look likely to struggle once again and they will be outsiders for the playoffs. Wondo can’t do it all, you know.


Seattle Sounders

Seattle Sounders midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro (10) exults as FC Dallas midfielder Carlos Gruezo (7) lies on the turf at the end of an MLS soccer western conference semifinal playoff match Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016 in Frisco, Texas. Though Dallas won 2-1, Seattle advanced in the playoffs on aggregate score. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)
Record in 2016: 14-14-6 – 4th in MLS’ Western Conference, 7th overall in MLS (Won MLS Cup 2017) 
Offseason evaluation:
The reigning MLS Cup champs have momentum on their side and Clint Dempsey back fit and ready to roll. They lost plenty of defenders in the offseason with Zach Scott retiring and Tyrone Mears moving to Atlanta United. Adding Will Bruin and Harry Shipp will add depth to their midfield and forward options, but Seattle is set in terms of goals and assists. 
Key player:
Nicolas Lodeiro – What an impact the Uruguayan playmaker made after arriving in MLS last season. He will be handed the keys for the Sounders once again and alongside Dempsey it will be fun to see it all play out.
Coach:
Brian Schmetzer – He’s a hero in Seattle. Simple. Replacing Sigi Schmid in 2016, he had a tough job on his hands but his team gained momentum and were exhilarating to watch throughout their glorious MLS Cup run. 
Vague 2017 prediction:
Seattle will build on their success of 2016 and go deep in the playoffs once again as Lodeiro and Dempsey feed Morris.


Sporting Kansas City

Sporting Kansas City's Connor Hallisey, left, and Dom Dwyer react after Dwyer's second-half goal against the Seattle Sounders during the second half of an MLS soccer match Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015, in Kansas City, Kan. (Jill Toyoshiba/The Kansas City Star via AP)
Record in 2016: 13-13-8 – 5th in MLS’ Western Conference, 8th overall in MLS (Knocked out in MLS Cup knockout round) 
Offseason evaluation:
Not much changed at SKC over the offseason. Brad Davis retired but Peter Vermes was able to keep the core of his squad together. Gerso Fernandes is the big offseason addition as the striker comes in as a DP with plenty of experience in Europe. 
Key player:
Dom Dwyer – He remains their main man up top after scoring 16 goals in 36 games last season. He needs more support and it looks like he has it this season. Could soon be playing for the USMNT too. 
Coach:
Peter Vermes – He rallied his squad to clinch a playoff spot last season and Vermes will be hoping for much more than that in 2017. Besler and Zusi are his go-to guys and he needs Fernandes to hit the ground running. Level-headed, Vermes knows what he is doing.
Vague 2017 prediction:
SKC will make a run towards MLS Cup and will feed off the disappointment of last season. They’ll get the balance right between defense and attack.


Vancouver Whitecaps

VANCOUVER, BC - MARCH 6: Kekuta Manneh #23 of the Vancouver Whitecaps looks on as Donny Toia #25 of the Montreal Impact plays the ball during their MLS game March 6, 2016 at BC Place in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Montreal won 3-2. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

Record in 2016: 10-15-19 – 8th in MLS’ Western Conference, 16th overall in MLS (Did not qualify for playoffs)
Offseason evaluation:
They have been trying to rebuild and rebound from a bad 2016 which saw them fade dramatically in the second half of the season. Losing playmaker Pedro Morales was a blow but they have lots of talented attackers this season. 
Key player:
Fredy Montero – If he can get anywhere near the kind of form and production he had in Seattle then Fredy will be a hero in Vancouver.
Coach:
Carl Robinson – A big, big year for Robinson. After a solid start to life as an MLS head coach in 2015, things unraveled in the second half of last season. Badly needs a good start to 2017 to get things going in the right direction. 
Vague 2017 prediction:
Vancouver will be sniffing around the playoff spots all season long. Watching Montero, Bolanos and Manneh play together could be a lot of fun at BC Place.

TOMBOY documentary series on gender in sports

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This month a documentary series focusing on gender and its role in sports will be aired on NBCSN and across all  NBC Sports Regional Networks.

TOMBOY  is a multi-platform documentary project which aims to elevate the conversation about gender in sports told through the voices of many of the world’s most prominent female athletes, broadcasters and sports executives. The first-of-its-kind integrated initiative culminates with a special one-hour documentary, also titled TOMBOY, which will air across all NBC Sports Regional Networks, nationally distributed NBCSN, and select NBC Owned Television Stations in March.

Former U.S. women’s national team defender Danielle Slaton has spoken about her experiences with gender in sport and how she got her start in the game by playing on an all-boys team.

Click play on the video above to hear Slaton’s story, while here you can find out how you can watch all of the TOMBOY content coming up this month.