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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.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

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.

Jamaica upsets Mexico to reach Gold Cup final, face USMNT

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For the second straight tournament, Jamaica are headed to the final of the Gold Cup after knocking off Mexico, the side which beat them in the 2015 final, in the 2017 semifinal on Sunday.

New York Red Bulls defender Kemar Lawrence scored the game’s only goal in the 88th minute, making the most of Andre Blake’s man-of-the-match goalkeeping performance which spanned the entirety of 90 minutes.

[ RECAP: Super-sub Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica ]

Blake put forth a stellar display of goalkeeping in the game’s opening 45 minutes, facing three shots on target and denying El Tri’s attackers on each and every occasion.

The pick(s) of the litter came in the 12th minute, when the Philadelphia Union ‘keeper pulled off a stunning double-save to deny Jesus Dueñas and Erick Torres. Dueñas fired first, aided by a wicked deflection, but Blake pulled off the reflexive kick-save, followed by Torres’ powerful strike through traffic seconds later.

15 minutes later, Torres earned himself a yellow card for what was undoubtedly, unquestionably a red-card, lunging “challenge” against Damion Lowe.

[ USA 2-0 CRC: Player ratings | Three things we learned ]

The second half consisted of much the same things as the first, as Blake continued his clinic in the 65th minute. Jesus Gallardo fired a free kick through the Raggae Boyz’ wall, a knuckling shot which Blake didn’t see until very late but managed the put two fists behind the ball and punch it anyway anyway.

Blake’s counterpart, Jesus Corona, joined the fun in the 78th minute. Lowe rose highest to get to Owayne Gordon’s free kick, heading it inside Corona’s right-hand post, but the Cruz Azul ‘keeper was quick to scramble across his goal and palm the ball away at full-stretch.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Gold Cup coverage ]

Two minutes before full-time, Lawrence produced the game’s only piece of purge magic, a curling peach of a free kick from 24 yards out. Corona went one way, Lawrence went the other and Jamaica are headed to their second straight Gold Cup final.

Jamaica will take on the U.S. national team in Wednesday’s final, at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

MLS: Rookie Ebobisse stars as Timbers win in Vancouver

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The game in 100 words (or less): The Portland Timbers, thanks to a standout performance in rookie striker Jeremy Ebobisse’s first MLS start, put to bed a six-game winless skid with a 2-1 win away to the Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday. The run of poor form stretched back to early June, and saw Caleb Porter’s side slip from contention for the Western Conference’s top spot, into the jumbled mess surrounding the playoff cut line (four teams separated by one point, either side of sixth place, coming into Sunday). Ebobisse scored the opening goal less than a quarter-hour into the game, and delivered the beautiful backheel assist to Sebastian Blanco to restore the Timbers’ lead four minutes into the second half, after watching it disappear just before halftime. The victory sees Portland leapfrog Vancouver to move into fourth place in the West, just four points off the top spot once again.

[ RECAP: Super-sub Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica ]

Three moments that mattered

14′ — Ebobisse touches home his first MLS goal — Sometimes you don’t really have to do much beyond simply existing in the right place. Ebobisse existed in the right place.

45′ — Jacobson heads home before halftime — Update: Portland still have issues defending set pieces.

49′ — Blanco slots past Ousted for 2-1 — No one really stepped up to deny Blanco’s marathon dribble, and Ebobisse did so much more than simply existing on this one.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Jeremy Ebobisse

Goalscorers: Ebobisse (14′), Jacobson (45′), Blanco (49′)

FOLLOW LIVE: Mexico vs. Jamaica — who’ll face USMNT in final?

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It’s Mexico versus Jamaica in the second semifinal of the 2017 Gold Cup on Sunday, facing off for the right to play the U.S. national team in Wednesday’s final.

When: 9 p.m. ET
Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California

[ LIVE: Gold Cup scoreboard ]

It’s the second time these sides have met this summer, having already played to a scoreless draw in the second game of Group C play, en route to Mexico finish top of the group, besting Jamaica by two points on the final day of the group stage.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Gold Cup coverage ]

Hit the link above, or click here, to follow along with Sunday’s semifinal action.

Gonzalez follows heart in switch from Mexico to USMNT

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Jesse Gonzalez started in the 2015 Under-20 World Cup for Mexico, his parents’ homeland. Then last month, the 22-year-old FC Dallas goalkeeper switched his affiliation to join the United States, his home country.

Gonzalez just felt more comfortable in the red, white and blue.

“The U.S. has given me a lot. I’m grateful for what they have given me and the opportunity they have given me,” he said after joining the U.S. roster for the knockout rounds of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

[ RECAP: Super-sub Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica ]

Tim Howard, now 38, remains the top U.S. goalkeeper as the Americans try to qualify for next year’s World Cup. Brad Guzan, who will be 33 in September, is entrenched as the No. 2.

After that, no keepers have emerged at the top level in the next generation. Gonzalez, and fellow 20-somethings Sean Johnson, Bill Hamid, Cody Cropper and Ethan Horvath all figure to compete with Guzan for the starting job in the 2019-22 World Cup cycle.

“I don’t have any doubt that he will be one of the best keepers in America,” Dallas coach Oscar Pareja said of Gonzalez after discovering the teen prospect when he was playing in a youth tournament.

Gonzalez’s parents emigrated from Mexico, and he was born in Edenton, North Carolina.

“My parents didn’t really find anything around North Carolina,” Gonzalez said. “They thought it was a lonely state, so they got out of there.”

His family moved to Houston and then on to Dallas when Gonzalez was a child. After spotting Gonzalez on a recreational team, Pareja persuaded the family to switch the keeper to the FC Dallas youth academy. He played there alongside midfielder Kellyn Acosta, who has broken into the U.S. starting lineup this year.

“They taught me how to be more responsible,” Gonzalez said. “It was almost like a job at the time, just waking up early and being on time to training.”

[ USA 2-0 CRC: Player ratings | Three things we learned ]

Pareja, a Colombian national team midfielder in the early 1990s, said the 6-foot-4 Gonzalez’s long arms and quick reflexes immediately reminded him of late Colombian keeper Miguel Calero. Gonzalez debuted for Dallas’ under-16 team in September 2010 and was signed to a professional homegrown player contract in March 2013. Just more than two years later, he became the youngest keeper to start in team history: at 20 years, 89 days.

By then, Mexican team scouts had noticed Gonzalez at a showcase in Sarasota, Florida, and asked whether he had interest in playing for El Tri.

“Richard Sanchez, one of my old teammates, he was there. He talked very well about them,” Gonzalez recalled.

Gonzalez started Mexico’s first four matches at the 2015 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship, then had a pair of saves during penalty kicks to lift Mexico over Panama in the final. At the Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand, he played in Mexico’s second and third games,

The following January, Gonzalez turned down an invitation from U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann to attend a national team training camp in Carson, California. Instead, Gonzalez went to a Mexican Under-23 team camp ahead of the Olympics, but he was not picked for El Tri’s Rio de Janeiro roster.

Gonzalez spent a long time before deciding this spring to apply to FIFA for a change of affiliation. Because he had not played a competitive match for Mexico’s senior national team, he was allowed a one-time switch.

“Whatever you decide, you’re going to be right, because that’s going to be your heart,” Pareja recalled telling him.

“Any time a soccer player is making a choice, whether it’s club or country, it’s important that they analyze the options carefully, they seek input from people they trust, and that they come to a decision that they’re happy with,” said Gonzalez’s agent, Richard Motzkin. “That’s the process Jesse took in making his decision and, rest assured, it wasn’t done lightly or without a lot of forethought. Ultimately, Jesse was fortunate in that he had two very good choices.”

After the switch was announced, Gonzalez received text messages from surprised friends.

“They were funny,” he said without going into detail.

[ MORE: Mexico blocking out drama during deep run at Gold Cup ]

Howard is the U.S. starter as the Americans head into Wednesday’s Gold Cup championship against Mexico or Jamaica, and Hamid is the backup while Guzan settles in with Atlanta. For now, Gonzalez’s role is limited to training and pushing others on the practice field.

“We just want to see what he’s about,” U.S. coach Bruce Arena said.

Gonzalez is with the national team to learn. A full international debut might take a while.

“He’s not much of talker, which is good. I think young guys talk too much nowadays,” Howard said. “You’re naive in a good way and you think you know it all, and really it’s the opposite. You have it all to learn. At this age they’re using their athletic ability and their raw talent to keep their head above water, and through that process you learn. It is a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week operation. It’s got to be everything to you. You’ve got to make a lot of sacrifices to get there.”

Gonzalez is willing to wait. He just hopes his absence from Dallas doesn’t cost him playing time in Major League Soccer.

“My backup could come in and have great games. He could stay there,” he said. “It’s difficult for me. I want to be over there, but I want to be here because this is an amazing opportunity for me.”