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Assessing MLS offseason needs in the Eastern Conference

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The offseason is a time for change, and there are now 21 clubs gunning for the Seattle Sounders to take home MLS Cup in 2017.

[ MORE: MLS reveals timetable for teams 25, 26; expansion fee at $150 million ]

With the arrivals of Atlanta United and Minnesota United, MLS just became a bit more challenging and with the offseason in full swing teams must now gear up to add as much talent as possible before preseason begins.

[ MORE: PST ranks top DPs of past 10 years ]

PST begins the first of its two-part series (check out the Western Conference here) examining the Eastern Conference and what each team needs to do to be a playoff contender in 2017.


Atlanta United

As a first year team it’s easy to argue that Gerardo Martino and co. need to address a lot, however, Atlanta has already had an unprecedented offseason for an expansion organization. The additions of Kenwyne Jones, Miguel Almiron and others have already given the team an exciting vibe, and this is all before the SuperDraft has taken place.

While the club’s attack looks potentially threatening to the rest of the Eastern Conference, Martino will certainly be looking to the address the backline as 2017 nears. The offseason pickups of veterans Michael Parkhurst and Jeff Larentowicz is a good start, however, Atlanta will have to add more talent behind the ball in order to keep goals from flying into net. Rumors of U.S. Men’s National Team goalkeeper Brad Guzan‘s arrival could certainly help with that aspect of the roster as well.


Chicago Fire

Finishing last in the East a year ago wasn’t unexpected but Year 2 of Veljko Paunovic’s tenure has to show improvement for a roster that boasts as much young talent as the Fire’s does. With Matt Polster, Brandon Vincent, David Accam and more already in place, the Fire need to attack this offseason to the best of their ability in order to become a playoff team in the Eastern Conference.

Vincent and Jonathan Campbell each showed promise in their rookie campaigns but the club would be wise to add another experienced veteran or two in the back in the event that their young players don’t progress, particularly after the defense conceded 58 times a season ago. Offensively, a striker should certainly be an area of need. Michael de Leeuw showed promise with seven goals in 18 matches, but he’ll need assistance up front, along with Accam, in order to make the attack a legitimate threat.


Columbus Crew

This is a team only two seasons removed from reaching the MLS Cup final, but 2016 surely wasn’t the year Greg Berhalter and his side expected. Between the exit of Kei Kamara and allowing just shy of 60 goals, the Crew have their work cut out for them next season despite boasting a roster mixed with experience and youth promise.

The Crew feature a solid core of players, so the gap between 2016 and 2017 should be focusing in on how to bring in some exuberance with youth, possibly through the draft, in order to wake this team up. Outside of Harrison Afful, the defense is lacking now that Parkhurst has moved on to Atlanta. The backline will surely be the biggest concern for Berhalter, while may be in the market for a backup to Ola Kamara.

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 27: Gyasi Zardes #11 of the Los Angeles Galaxy and Steve Birnbaum #15 of D.C. United chase after a ball during the second half against D.C United at StubHub Center on August 27, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

D.C. United

After making some midseason moves in 2016, D.C. United looked like a completely different team during the second half of the season. Patrick Mullins and Lloyd Sam reinvigorated the side’s attack, but there are still some questions regarding the strength of the roster.

While Mullins stepped up in a big way, it remains to be seen if he can become one of MLS’ top goalscorers, so expect Ben Olsen to look into another striker or two. With Steve Birnbaum’s name constantly thrown around in the transfer market, centerback is surely a concern for D.C. as well, especially as Bobby Boswell gets up in age.


Montreal Impact

This is a team ready-made to make a run in 2017 after already coming close to reaching MLS Cup this past season. Ignacio Piatti’s presence up front has made the Impact one of the league’s most dangerous attacks, while Laurent Ciman has established himself as a top defender in MLS.

Mauro Biello’s group could be one of the favorites heading into 2017, so a few pieces on the defensive side of the ball could be the difference between the conference final and the MLS final.


New England Revolution

Kei Kamara’s move to the Revs in 2016 wasn’t enough to bring the side back to the postseason but with the talent on this roster it should only take a few moves for them to return to the playoffs next year. Teal Bunbury and Juan Agudelo provide solid support up top, but it is the defense that could use some adjustments in 2017 if the Revolution are to be considered contenders.

Despite boasting a veteran backline last season, the Revs allowed 54 goals. Jay Heaps and co. will have to address the defense in order to stop the rest of the high-flying attacks in the East.


New York City FC

While David Villa remains one of the top goalscoring threats in MLS, NYCFC must attack this offseason in order to overcome the East’s elite. In addition to Villa, youngsters Jack Harrison and Khiry Shelton will be expected to emerge in the attack but the squad’s biggest concerns remain in the midfield and backline.

With Frank Lampard and Andoni Iraola gone from the midfield, NYCFC will be lacking a presence in the center, which is a major concern for manager Patrick Vieira. The backline was also one of the worst in MLS in 2016, making it a top priority for the Frenchman. Ronald Matarrita has been rumored for some time with a move away from the club, potentially leaving another gap in the team if he exits.

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 22: Bradley Wright-Phillips #99 of the New York Red Bulls kicks the ball towards the goal after slipping past Tyson Wahl #2 of the Columbus Crew SC during the second half on November 22, 2015 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. Columbus defeated New York 2-0. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

New York Red Bulls

The side from just west of New York City still can’t get over the elusive hump that has burdened them for years. Despite boasting one of the league’s deepest and most talented squads, Jesse Marsch and the Red Bulls must retool in order to get to the MLS Cup.

The team will bring back the regular host of attacking threats like Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan, but another presence up front could be what the side is missing when it comes down to the postseason. Defensively, the Red Bulls need to address the central defense with Aurelien Collin and Damien Perrinelle out of contract and Chris Duvall shipped off to the Impact.


Orlando City SC

Jason Kreis will have the opportunity to manage his side at the start of the season, so he will have the time he needs in order to get things running down in Orlando. With solid pieces in place like Cyle Larin and Kaka in the attack the Lions must turn its attention to the backline, which features promising youngster Tommy Redding.

While the club netted the third most goals in the East a season ago, Orlando’s backline was the worst in the league and surely needs addressing if Kreis and co. can make a run at the postseason for the first time.


Philadelphia Union

After making the playoffs in 2016, Jim Curtin’s team has a lot of potential in the future given the squad’s young talent. With Keegan Rosenberry and Josh Yaro emerging on the team’s youthful backline and C.J. Sapong and Roland Alberg in the attack, the Union have the potential to be one of the most exciting teams in 2017 if they add the proper pieces.

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The team struggled at times a season ago keeping goals out of their own net, despite having one of the league’s top keepers between the bites. A veteran presence in the back could be what the side needs most while also seeking stronger options on the wings to help out in the attack.


Toronto FC

Greg Vanney’s side is likely still feeling heartbreak from their defeat in the final, but the good news for Toronto is that they have a side built to last. Led by Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, TFC is poised to make another run at a title in 2017 so long as the team can remain healthy.

TFC boasted the conference’s top defense a season ago, so some depth in the attack and midfield could potentially put this team over the top as they look to avenge the loss to the Sounders.

Mourinho: Midseason international friendlies don’t make sense

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Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United has a big challenge thanks to injuries and a club with far more international participants than the weekend’s Premier League rival.

It has the manager asking, frankly, why the friendlies?

While Phil Jones and Chris Smalling were injured in England training, not the friendly against Germany nor the World Cup qualifier versus Lithuania, Mourinho wonders why the national teams need to play relatively meaningless matches in the middle of club season.

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

Mourinho says he is being careful not to be too vocal about his disappointment given that he’ll probably one day need those friendlies as an international boss. From Sky Sports:

“A couple of weeks before the Euros or a couple of weeks before the World Cup makes sense. But mid-season friendly matches mixed with qualification matches, I don’t think that makes sense.

“On top of that the matches are not really big matches so I am not a big fan. But I think one day I will be there so I cannot be very critical.”

Mourinho will be without Jones, Smalling, and Paul Pogba this weekend. He also has several internationals who won’t arrive back at Old Trafford until Thursday. United hosts West Brom on Saturday.

Lamela needs hip surgery, out for rest of Spurs season

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Tottenham Hotspur won’t be getting an Erik Lamela boost any time soon.

The 25-year-old winger will undergo surgery on his ailing hip this Saturday, costing him availability for Spurs’ stretch run and Argentina duty.

[ MORE: RSL hires Petke ]

Lamela has been missing since Oct. 29, and left Spurs lineup with the team unbeaten in the Premier League (5W-4D).

He registered a goal and an assist in PL play, adding a goal and four helpers in the side’s first two rounds of the EFL Cup and two assists in three Champions League matches.

Real Salt Lake introduces Mike Petke as new head coach

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Mike Petke is getting a deserved next kick as an MLS coach.

The New York Red Bulls icon, 41, is taking over at Real Salt Lake, where he had been leading USL side Real Monarchs since December.

“They’re an animal waiting to be released from a cage,” Petke called RSL’s roster.

[ MORE: Zlatan to stay at United?

Petke won better than 41 percent of his matches as RBNY boss, leading the club to the 2013 Supporters’ Shield. This came after 351 matches between Colorado, the Red Bulls/MetroStars, and DC United.

He leaves Real Monarchs with a perfect 1-0 record. Unbeaten!

“The vision that he laid out, along with Craig and Rob, was music to my ears,” Petek said. “They really showed me what was ahead for the RSL organization, and it was an easy thing to be a part of.”

Petke thanked the Monarchs for restoring some of his love for managing, something he said was “kicked out of me”. The Red Bulls shockingly parted ways with Petke in January 2015, moving onto Jesse Marsch.

This is a low risk hire for Real, who gains a respected coach and soccer mind. The optics aren’t great coming so early into the season and so soon after his hiring at Monarchs raised eyebrows.

The hiring comes four days after RSL drew the Red Bulls 0-0 at Red Bull Arena, which is the only disappointment of this whole ordeal: Not getting to see the response at his old home.

Referee leaders want on-field official to see video replays

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LONDON (AP) Antoine Griezmann headed the ball into the net and was in full celebration mode with his France teammates when referee Felix Swayer pinned a finger into his left ear to block out the stadium noise.

[ VIDEO: VAR system used correctly

An assistant in front of a bank of monitors was assessing replays and had some bad news for Griezmann. Swayer was told through his earpiece that a player was offside in the buildup.

The goal was then ruled out, without Swayer seeing a replay. But that won’t necessarily be the case by the time video replays are fully approved to be rolled out across soccer.

For now, the experimental phase is still in full flow but if refereeing leaders get their way officials should always have access to the footage themselves around the field.

“The subjective decisions should be made by the on-field referee because they have got the feel for the game,” Mike Riley, general manager of English refereeing organization, told The Associated Press. “They can put it in the context of everything else. So as part of the process we have got to work out how we can do that as effectively as possible … without interrupting the flow of the game.”

The International Football Association Board, the game’s lawmaking body, is in its second year of trials with various versions of video assistant referees (VAR). Some games, like the France-Spain friendly, do not allow the referee to evaluate incidents and instead by rely on the VAR.

But VAR could end up only ruling on what Riley describes as “decisions of fact,” such as whether a ball was inside or outside the penalty area.

Ultimately, if you are appointing one of the top referees to preside over a major game, that person is seen as ideal for making the big calls, according to IFAB.

“Fundamentally we are told very much by players and coaches they want the referee to be making the most important decisions,” IFAB technical director David Elleray said, referencing England’s top referee. “They don’t know who is in a van out in the car park or 300 miles away in a match center.”

Soccer’s lawmakers only envisage video replays being used to correct game-changing decisions involving four situations: penalties being awarded, red cards, cases of mistaken identity and goals being scored.

That situation arose twice in the Stade de France on Tuesday as France lost 2-0 to Spain. After Griezmann’s goal was disallowed, video replays worked against France again but in Spain’s favor when an incorrect offside call against Gerard Deulofeu was overturned and his goal stood.

Swayer again relied on the information from a colleague benefiting from replays.

“Nicola Rizzoli was appointed to referee the last World Cup final because he is the best referee,” Elleray said. “But if actually the two most important decisions in the match are made by somebody watching a TV screen … the most important person is the man you put behind the TV screen not the man on the field.”

The challenges are how referees are able to view replays without lengthening the delay. For now the technology isn’t satisfactory for officials to use wearable devices and receive footage in real time. That means going to the side of the field to watch incidents with the eyes of thousands of fans in the stands on them. The screens are likely to be on the opposite side to the technical area to avoid coaches being able to surround and harangue the referee.

“Some of our stadiums don’t lend themselves to monitors by the side of the pitch because they are really tight,” said Riley, a former Premier League referee who is now in charge of appointments for games in the world’s richest soccer competition. “Is it right for referees to have to run 30 yards to go and look? Can you get the footage to the referee on the field somehow? All these things have to be explored through the experiment and come out with a solution that works for football.”

Live experiments are taking place in about 20 competitions this year, including the Confederations Cup in Russia in June and July that will serves as a World Cup test event.

Once IFAB adds video replays to the laws of the game, any competition meeting the requirements will be able to use them.

For Riley, permitting replays is “the most significant change in refereeing in the game for generations,” far more significant than the 2012 decision to allow technology that simply determines whether the ball crossed the goal line.

“If you are making such a significant change,” Riley said, “you need to really explore and understand all the potential implications.”

Rob Harris can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports