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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.

Sky Blue’s Sam Kerr named NWSL league MVP for 2017

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CHICAGO (AP) Sky Blue FC forward Sam Kerr has been named the National Women’s Soccer League’s Most Valuable Player for this season.

Kerr, a standout on the Australian national team, had a league-record 17 goals and became the league’s fifth Golden Boot winner to also be named MVP.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

She became the first NWSL player to score four goals in a game on Aug. 19 against the Seattle Reign. Kerr rallied Sky Blue from a 3-goal deficit to beat the Reign 5-4.

Kerr’s award was announced Friday. The league had earlier announced the season’s other award winners: North Carolina’s Abby Dahlkemper was named Defender of the Year, teammate Ashley Hatch was named Rookie of the Year, Portland’s Adrianna Franch was named Goalkeeper of the Year and the Thorns’ Mark Parsons was named Coach of the Year.

The Mendy Effect: Pep praises injured back

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Full back Benjamin Mendy cost Pep Guardiola and Manchester City $68 million, but perhaps he’ll be just as valuable as a very expensive sports psychologist.

The “Shark Team” member was amusing on social media even before his ACL injury sent him to the sidelines until at least April, but he’s become a must-follow Twitter fixture with his in-game messages (See some of his work below).

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

City faces Burnley at 10 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

It’s fairly clear his act has translated in private, too, as apparently Mendy is just as good in group messages (Let us in, Pep. We won’t tell anyone). From ManCity.com:

“Usually, players who are out for a long time with injury are sad. They sometimes train apart and feel isolated.

“Mendy decided to be present. He is communicating on social media, WhatsApp and he calls his teammates and messages me. He is going to be so important outside the pitch because people like him make the atmosphere much better.”

It’s not surprising for anyone who’s been following the former Le Havre, Marseille and Monaco man.

Keep in mind, these Tweets below are from the last few days alone!

Ozil to Manchester United?!? Wenger reacts to gossip

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Sometimes, even the biggest Arsene Wenger detractors have to feel for the guy.

Coming off a thrilling late win in Serbia, one that saw Olivier Giroud cap off a team goal straight out of the creative Wenger playbook, the manager should’ve been discussing how to stretch those good vibes into this weekend’s visit to Goodison Park.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

Yet no. Instead of talking about how the Gunners would respect the struggling Toffees, Wenger had to address speculation from several outlets claiming Mesut Ozil would move to Manchester United, perhaps as soon as January.

Feeling it? No, no Wenger was not feeling it. From Arsenal.com:

“We have to deal with all kinds of speculation when the players are at the end of their contracts. On the other hand, to be professional is to give 100 per cent as long as you are somewhere. For the rest, we came out many times and said that’s the situation. It [the media] can come out tomorrow and say that he extends his contract here. It will be exactly the same, it will not change anything. When you play the next game, commit 100 per cent. … When a player plays for Arsenal Football Club, his commitment cannot be linked with the length of his contract, it has just to be linked with the responsibility and the ambition he has to win the football game.”
Of course most big clubs have to deal with such drama on a year-to-year basis and, yes, having Ozil and Alexis Sanchez still in town was completely avoidable. But the idea that Ozil could leave, for free, to Manchester United? We’re sure Gooners the world over will be thrilled with the gossip.

MLS Decision Day preview: Much at stake

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Four teams can claim a Western Conference second round berth, while four more can earn a valuable first-round bye in the East.

Yep, there’s plenty to play for beyond the West’s final playoff spot Sunday during Major League Soccer’s Decision Day, when every team will take the pitch for 4 p.m. ET kickoffs.

[ MORE: Conte feels pressure ]

Here’s what we do know regarding the playoffs:

  1. Supporters’ Shield winning Toronto FC gets a first round bye, while No. 6 seed New York Red Bulls are headed to the road for a first round playoff
  2. New England, Montreal, Philadelphia, Orlando, DC, Minnesota, Colorado, and LA will not make the playoffs
  3. Full stop.

So, yes, this will be fun.

First, let’s look at the Eastern Conference Standings ahead of Sunday’s extravaganza:

Eastern Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Toronto FC 33 20 8 5 72 35 37 13-3-1 7-5-4 68
x – New York City FC 33 16 8 9 54 41 13 10-4-2 6-4-7 56
x – Chicago 33 16 7 10 61 44 17 12-3-2 4-4-8 55
x – Atlanta 33 15 9 9 68 38 30 11-2-3 4-7-6 54
x – Columbus 33 16 5 12 51 47 4 12-2-3 4-3-9 53
x – New York 33 13 8 12 51 46 5 9-6-2 4-2-10 47

— New York City FC controls its bye destiny, though Columbus could join them on 56 points and would pass them on tiebreakers (wins).

— If that happens, Chicago could claim the second bye with a win or draw in Houston (The Fire owns the goal differential tiebreaker).

— If New York City and Chicago lose or draw, Atlanta could finish second with a home win over TFC.

— Columbus can finish second with a win and non-wins for Chicago and Atlanta.

Western Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
x – Vancouver 33 15 7 11 49 47 2 9-5-3 6-2-8 52
x – Portland 33 14 8 11 58 49 9 10-4-2 4-4-9 50
x – Seattle 33 13 11 9 49 39 10 10-5-1 3-6-8 50
x – Sporting KC 33 12 13 8 39 27 12 10-6-1 2-7-7 49
x – Houston 33 12 11 10 54 45 9 11-4-1 1-7-9 47
San Jose 33 12 7 14 36 58 -22 9-5-2 3-2-12 43
FC Dallas 33 10 13 10 43 47 -4 7-7-2 3-6-8 43
Real Salt Lake 33 12 6 15 47 54 -7 8-4-4 4-2-11 42

Byes

— Vancouver finishes first with a win or draw at Portland. The ‘Caps could finish as low as third with a loss to Portland and a Seattle win versus Colorado.

— Portland finishes first — and wins the Cascadia Cup — with a win over visiting Vancouver.

— Seattle can claim a first round bye with a win over visiting Colorado and a Vancouver win over Portland.

— Sporting KC can finish second with a win at Real Salt Lake and non-wins for Portland and Seattle.

Final playoff spot

— San Jose claims the sixth seed with a home win over Minnesota. They can also finish sixth with a draw joined by non-wins for FC Dallas at home to LA and Real Salt Lake at home versus SKC.

— FC Dallas claims the sixth seed with a win over LA and a San Jose draw or loss versus Minnesota. FCD gets sixth with a draw, and a San Jose loss coupled with a RSL loss or draw versus SKC.

—  Real Salt Lake gets sixth with a win over SKC, and non-wins from San Jose and Dallas. RSL could also get sixth with a draw and losses for San Jose and Dallas.

(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

Schedule
FC Dallas vs. LA Galaxy
DC United vs. New York Red Bulls
San Jose vs. Minnesota United
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting KC
Houston vs. Chicago
Seattle vs. Colorado
Philadelphia vs. Orlando City
Portland vs. Vancouver
Montreal vs. New England
New York City vs. Columbus
Atlanta vs. Toronto

Predictions

— NYCFC hangs on for a draw against Columbus, earning a bye, leaving Chicago to host New York Red Bulls and Atlanta off to Columbus for the first round of the playoffs (We have Toronto beating Atlanta on Sunday).

— Vancouver and Portland draw, while Seattle beats Colorado. The ‘Caps and Sounders get byes, while Seattle takes back the Cascadia Cup.

— San Jose beats Minnesota, gaining the West’s sixth seed. The Quakes head to Portland for the first round, while SKC hosts Houston.