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Top 10 breakout players in MLS in 2018

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The 2018 MLS season is just around the corner, and with a new season comes a new crop of breakout stars.

The most-hyped name from the 2017-2018 offseason was unquestionably Atlanta United midfielder Ezequiel Barco, but there are plenty of others who have a chance to have breakout debut seasons after joining MLS clubs.

[MORE: MLS Eastern Conference Preview]

Here’s a look at what we project are the top 10 breakout players for the upcoming 2018 season:




Honorable Mention: Yohan Croizet – Sporting KC, Anthony Blondell – Vancouver Whitecaps, Cristhian Paredes – Portland Timbers, Cristian Penilla – New England Revolution, Diego Rossi – LAFC, Junior Moreno – D.C. United

10. Joao Moutinho – LA FC

The No. 1 overall selection in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft, Moutinho has a chance to win a starting place in the LAFC backline and make his professional debut this Sunday against the Seattle Sounders.

Moutinho came up from his defensive spot and scored for LAFC in its preseason finale against Sacramento Republic, and he could be a mainstay for years to come.

9. Alejandro Fuenmayor – Houston Dynamo

The Venezuelan First Division isn’t exactly the highest standard, even in South America, but Fuenmayor is a seasoned professional even at the age of 21. Fuenmayor played 72 times for Carabobo FC, including leading the team to a Copa Libertadores place and making the Venezuela Primera Division Best XI.

The young centerback joined the Dynamo this offseason and looks to slot in the backline alongside either Philippe Senderos, Adolfo Machado, or Leonardo, as the team looks to improve upon the 45 goals allowed last season.

8. Mason Toye – Minnesota United

Coming off an electric freshman season at Indiana University, Mason Toye went pro, signed a Generation Adidas contract and became the 11th overall selection in the draft.

Toye scored 10 goals and assisted on two others in his first season in college and he’s already impressed on the field for Minnesota during preseason. He probably won’t start at the beginning of the season, but Toye could break into the lineup in midseason and have a big impact.

7. Saphir Taïder – Montreal Impact

One of the few players joining MLS that isn’t from South America, Taider is looking for a fresh start in his career.

After failed stints at Inter Milan and Southampton, he’s looking for a chance to shine with the Impact, which is owned by the same co-owner of Bologna, Joey Saputo. Taider joined the Impact this offseason from Bologna and has been impressing both in terms of goals scored and the little things he does in midfield.

6. Milton Valenzuela – Columbus Crew

With the loss of Jukka Raitala, the Crew needed a new left back, and the club found one of South America’s brightest prospects in that position.

In comes Milton Valenzuela on a Young Designated Player contract, bringing another Argentine to join Federico Higuain, Gaston Sauro and co. Valenzuela is a former Argentine U-20 international and made his debut for Newell’s Old Boys as a 17-year-old. Now 19, he’ll step into the starting lineup for the Crew and has a chance to make his mark in MLS.

5. Josue Colman – Orlando City SC

Joining a talented and experienced group of attackers, Josue Colman has a chance to burst onto the scene in MLS with a bit less pressure than if he was expected to produce a ton out of the gate. But Orlando City’s new No. 10 has big shoes to fill – Kaka formerly wore that – and the club is looking to make the playoffs for the first time.

Colman has been sidelined most of preseason with injuries and is expected to miss the opening weekend. But once he’s on the field, the Paraguayan 19-year-old has a chance to show why Orlando City spent big to sign him.

4. Santiago Mosquera – FC Dallas

Josue Colman’s countryman Christian Colman had a tough first season at FC Dallas, and it appears Oscar Pareja may have already found a replacement in the speedy Colombian, Santiago Mosquera. The 23-year-old winger has pace to burn and has already made a strong impression in preseason, and could potentially become a lethal combination up top with Michael Barrios on the right and Maxi Urruti in the middle.

Honorable mention at this spot goes to Reggie Cannon, the FC Dallas Homegrown player, who is expected to play regular minutes this season and could become a serious U.S. Men’s National Team prospect at fullback.

3. Jesus Medina – NYCFC

If FC Copenhagen coach Stale Solbakken is to be believed, the Paraguayan attacker was all set to join Copenhagen before NYCFC and the City Football Group stepped in. New York City FC is the ultimate beneficiary, as Patrick Vieira adds one of the most promising South American attacking midfielders to his squad.

Medina comes in just as Jack Harrison departs for Middlesborough via Manchester City, and he could help alleviate any issues in midfield with Harrison’s absence.

2. Alejandro “Kaku” Romero Gamarra – New York Red Bulls

The on-again, off-again, back on-again saga of Kaku was finally completed on February 16 and Kaku became a Red Bulls player.

Because of the long saga, there are huge expectations on Kaku’s shoulders, perhaps too high for a Young Designated Player who will have to replace the production of Sacha Kljestan, which is nearly impossible. Either way, barring injuries, Kaku should start plenty of games, and will have a chance to become the latest young South American star in MLS.

1. Ezequiel Barco – Atlanta United

Ah, the man of the hour. The 18-year-old man who Atlanta United reportedly spent around $15 million to sign from Independiente, breaking the MLS transfer record for the second consecutive year.

Barco emerged in the second half of 2017 for Independiente and helped give the club a Copa Sudamericana title, scoring the decisive penalty kick in the final. Atlanta United fans will be hoping Barco can lead Atlanta farther in the MLS Cup playoffs in year two. If he lives up to the hype, there’s no doubt he’ll be a household name in MLS living rooms.

Pique finds solidarity with criticized NBA players

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There have been a number f outstanding pieces in The Players’ Tribune since its launch, but few as colorful and entertaining as Thursday’s entry from Gerard Pique.

The Barcelona star center back spilled the beans on any number of funny stories in his post, from Roy Keane’s cell phone anger and Sir Alex Ferguson‘s guiding hand to Lionel Messi’s greatness and more.

[ MORE: Zlatan in MLS an auto success ]

But perhaps most interesting was his take on the grief he’s received for supporting the vote for Catalan independence. Pique points out that he’s been proud to represent the Spanish national team, but won’t veer from his democratic beliefs.

And guess what? Even in Spain, athletes rightly bristle at the “Stick to Sports” crowd.

It’s funny, I noticed some people in America have started telling the NBA players to “just shut up and dribble” when they express their opinions on real problems in society.

It’s ridiculous, no?

It’s the same here in Spain. They say, “Just shut up and play football. It’s all you know.”

Sorry, but I will not just shut up and play. It’s not all I know. There’s a lot more depth to footballers than most people realize, and I think it’s important that we express ourselves and our views.

Given relative health, Zlatan’s success MLS is close to automatic

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The only question is his knee at his age.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is coming to Major League Soccer. Having confirmed his departure from Manchester United, the announcement that the living Swedish legend is joining the LA Galaxy is expecting next week.

[ MORE: MLS Weekend Preview ]

Some have asked whether he’ll cut muster in the league, to which we point to the lead: Few players have arrived to MLS with as dominant a career as Ibrahimovic, and the Swede would need his knee to fall apart in order to fail in California.

The man’s game isn’t based on speed, but it does require his abnormal power and grace. He scored just once for United in very limited time this season, but don’t forget how dangerous he was against Premier League and Europa League defenses last season.

He scored 28 goals with 10 assists last season, with 17 and 5 coming in league play. He was suspended for three matches and injured for seven, meaning this is a 20-goal Premier League scorer arriving in MLS within a calendar year of doing so.

Try putting his resume in perspective: Didier Drogba was extremely good for Montreal but a half-decade removed from his last double-digit goal PL season (Don’t forget that Drogba bagged 11 in 11 to start life on our shores). Robbie Keane was about the same time removed from his run of 10-plus goal seasons in the Premier League. He was good for LA.

The only risk here is that Ibrahimovic never gets healthy and LA takes a bit of a loss on his salary (one which is at least partially negated by the sheer number of Ibrahimovic Galaxy jerseys sold).

Entering this season, Ibrahimovic had failed to score 15 goals once since 2006. He’a also had a fairly religious assist output (10+ most years). With names like Alessandrini, Kamara, and dos Dos Santos, this should be a stand-up double if not a homer for LA and for MLS.

Plus the vicious looks after teammates miss him badly with a pass, let alone the press conferences and paparazzi hits: This should be a lot of fun.

MLS Weekend Preview: Friedel’s Revs get NYCFC test

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It’s an international break, and Major League Soccer is only sorta observing it.

More than half of the league’s clubs will participate on Saturday match days, with several shorthanded by national team duty.

[ MORE: Southgate on racism in football]

Columbus won’t have Zack Steffen and Wil Trapp for a visit from DC United — who is missing Zoltan Steiber, Bruno Miranda, and Oniel Fisher — while the Red Bulls will be without Tyler Adams, Kemar Lawrence, and Michael Murillo for Minnesota United’s visit.

NYCFC won’t have Alexander Ring, Ronald Matarrita, and Rodney Wallace, Portland’s without David Guzman and Andy Polo, and Sporting KC loses Daniel Salloi.

The Whitecaps won’t have center back Kendall Waston, while opponents LA Galaxt are without Ola Kamara.

New England Revolution vs. New York City FC — 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday

Brad Friedel‘s New England revolution, purposely lower case, is making believers out of its players. It would take a giant step if it could slow the NYCFC juggernaut. The visitors have allowed just one goal in their 3-0 start.

As for the hosts, Friedel has made his mark in a way that mostly makes you wonder what in the world Jay Heaps was doing:.

(Bunbury) pointed to a fine system in the locker room, increased accountability, how Friedel posts the starting XI on game day, and occasional two-a-day training sessions, which never occurred in the forward’s four years under Heaps.

“I think it unifies the team,” Bunbury said. “The broad sense of professionalism, it’s about having respect for each other and making sure you are held accountable in every part of this club.”

Never occurred under Heaps? Woof.

FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers — 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday

FCD had an uninspiring ending to their CONCACAF Champions League dreams, but that’s little compared to the Timbers’ 0-2 start under Gio Savarese. A trip down South isn’t a surefire way to right the ship.

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. LA Galaxy — 10 p.m. ET Saturday

A long trip up North is only made worse by a laundry list of injuries for Sigi Schmid’s Galaxy. We’re only listing it amongst our Top Three because an LA win would be wildly impressive given the ‘Caps strong start.


Columbus Crew vs. DC United — 6 p.m. ET Saturday
New York Red Bulls vs. Minnesota United — 7 p.m. ET Saturday
Colorado Rapids vs. Sporting KC — 9 p.m. ET Saturday

Mourinho: “People with brains” understand Man Utd in transition

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Jose Mourinho’s been having a little fun on his international break, “managing” a team of superstars including Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt in a charity match.

[ MORE: Southgate talks racism in football ]

Speaking CNN as part of a publicity run, Mourinho was asked about Manchester United’s second place campaign and disappointment after dropping out of the UEFA Champions League.

Mourinho reiterated his position that United is a team in transition, and that the season is going along at an acceptable clip.

“I understand the frustration, I understand the sadness of being knocked out in the Champions League, but I don’t understand anything more than that,” Mourinho said to CNN’s Amanda Davies.

United has scored the third-most goals in the Premier League, and allowed the fourth-fewest. It’s drastically reduced its propensity to draw matches, which hurt its table position last season, and has already surpassed last season’s goal total.

Two more wins, 10 goals better differential, and the list goes on but unfortunately also includes crosstown rivals running away with the league and still alive in the UCL.

“Of course in the future we want to have 19 clubs behind us but this is the reality,” said Mourinho. “And the reality is for people with brain, with sense, with common sense, with knowledge of what sports is, we are in a moment of transition. Being in a moment of transition and still manage to do what he did last season and win trophies and to do what we are trying to do this season, which is still trying to win a trophy, and try to be second, because in this moment it’s the only top position that is possible for us to get. I think we are in a good position.”