Dax McCarty

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MLS stars begin endorsing USSF candidates ahead of election

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Several of Major League Soccer’s top players are voicing their opinions about the next U.S. Soccer presidential election.

There has been an overwhelming amount of support as of late for two candidates in particular though; former Fox Sports analyst Eric Wynalda and on-leave NBC Sports pundit Kyle Martino.

[ MORE: Leroy Sane says matter of “when” Man City wins PL title ]

Both Wynalda and Martino are former players, who are currently in the field of eight candidates that will go toe-to-toe in February’s election.

The other candidates are former SUM president Kathy Carter, former players Paul Caligiuri and Hope Solo, USSF vice president Carlos Cordeiro and lawyers Steve Gans and Michael Winograd.

Here’s what some of MLS’ biggest stars have had to say about their endorsements ahead of next month’s USSF election.

Player ratings: Pulisic, Altidore star as USMNT routs Panama

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Almost as badly as they needed a result and the accompanying three points, the U.S. national team needed to put forth a performance that once again inspired confidence — not only for USMNT fans, but for themselves as well.

Simply put, Bruce Arena’s bunch responded in a manner that left absolutely nothing to chance. Christian Pulisic and Jozy Altidore will (rightly) garner all the headlines, but they were far from the only standouts on Friday night…

[ MORE: Three things we learned ]

GK — Tim Howard: 6 — Asked to make only two saves on the night, but he did so with relative (to the 2014 game against Belgium, at least), and staked his claim to the no. 1 shirt after being selected ahead of Brad Guzan once again. It might just be a godsend the Colorado Rapids won’t sniff the MLS playoffs this year, as he’ll be 39 before next summer’s tournament kicks off.

RB — DeAndre Yedlin: 7 — So that’s what it’s like to have a right back who’s meant to be playing right back. I’ve defended Graham Zusi, Right Back, on a number of occasions (and I’ll continue to do so), but there’s no two ways about it: Yedlin, at age 24, is the right back of the present and the future. In a game that got a little too stretched for most Americans’ liking, his recovery speed snuffed out would-be chances before they could be taken on a number of occasions.

CB — Omar Gonzalez: 5 — I think Gonzalez could be good — I really do — in the right system which features a midfield that sits deep and clogs the space in front of him and beside him. Unfortunately for Omar, a midfield diamond where only one of the four actually plays centrally isn’t that. As an opposing attacker, face him up one-on-one, and enjoy.

CB — Matt Besler: 6 — Didn’t struggle as badly as Gonzalez, mostly because he’s more accustomed to playing in open space, but playing alongside Gonzalez really highlights his most problematic deficiency: a minor lack of pace and athleticism. A healthy Geoff Cameron should complement Besler very well, should the two partner one another between Tuesday and next summer.

LB — Jorge Villafaña: 5.5 — What’s to say about the left back position right now? Villafaña will continue to play there because no better option exists. If the midfield can remain solid in possession as they were in this one, limiting the direct counters thrown at him, he can pretty regularly avoid being a net-negative.

[ RECAP: USMNT routs Panama to boost World Cup dreams in a big way ]

CM — Michael Bradley: 6 — He was asked to do a lot in this one — run the entire middle third of the field as the only truly central midfielder — which he struggled to juggle at times in the first half, but that’s an impossible ask. He doesn’t need to be a 9/10 performer every night for the USMNT succeed. In fact, they need him to play a smaller part more frequently, and allow every one else to carry their own weight. He can still be Superman when it’s asked of him, but it’s not necessary all the time.

CM — Paul Arriola: 7 — Every team needs a Paul Arriola. The defensive cover he provided down the right side allowed Yedlin ample freedom to venture forward and stretch the field. His relentless pressing and winning of 50-50 balls makes for an uneasy evening for any opposition midfielder, and most importantly, takes that responsibility off Bradley’s plate, allowing him to sit deeper, read the game and dictate tempo.

CM — Darlington Nagbe: 6.5 — *checks boxscore* *checks boxscore again* Yup, Nagbe did indeed play on Friday. Nominally deployed as a shuttler in a diamond(-ish) midfield, it’s not the worst thing in the world to go unnoticed. He remains tidy with his passing and forever an outlet when Bradley is harried. You can make the case he’s “too talented” for such a role, but at this point in time, this is his role and he’s done it masterfully.

CM — Christian Pulisic: 9 — 10/10 ratings are reserved for hat tricks (or three goals and assists combined, at the very least), so the wonderboy checks in with a 9/10 for the parts he played in the first (scoring) and second (assisting) goals, plus the attention (and fouls) he now commands are truly game-changing for everyone else in the attacking third.

[ VIDEOS: Pulisic makes it 1-0 after 8′Pulisic to Altidore for no. 2 ]

FW — Bobby Wood: 7 — Wood’s partnership with Altidore has required some kinks be worked out over the course of the last year, but Friday’s game showed what so many thought possible for the duo: Altidore drops into midfield to 1) pulling center backs out of shape; 2) be the playmaker that he is, and Wood capitalizes on that space by running the channels until his lungs explode. Every goal that Wood scores is oh so deserved.

FW — Jozy Altidore: 9 — Also, no 10/10 when one of the three is a penalty. So sorry, Sir Josmer. I’m not really sure what more needs to be said. When healthy, and in the form of his life as he is right now, Altidore is an impossible nightmare.

SUB — Dax McCarty: 6.5 — Arena brought him on just before the hour mark to 1) save Pulisic’s life; 2) plant someone alongside Bradley at the base of midfield. McCarty accomplished a ton in his 33 minutes on the field, winning the ball back eight times, connecting just about every one of his passes, and threading an inch-perfect through ball to Arriola late in the game.

SUB — Clint Dempsey: 5.5 — The thought of Dempsey as a late-game super-sub next summer should provide all USMNT fans with a wealth of hope and excitement. Provided he remains accepting of the role, he will change one or two games in unbelievably meaningful ways.

SUB — Alejandro Bedoya: 5.5 — Only got 10 minutes, but continues to make his case as a lock-down central midfielder who offers more than most think when he surges forward.

Three keys for USMNT in 2017 Gold Cup

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Many of the familiar faces aren’t with the USMNT for the group stage of this summer’s Gold Cup, but that shouldn’t stop Bruce Arena’s Yanks from making a run deep into the knockout rounds.

Either the U.S. or Mexico has won 12 of the 13 Gold Cups, but both are sending B-sides to this edition in moves that have sides like Costa Rica, Jamaica, Panama, and Honduras hoping to make a memory.

It’s not like Arena nor suspended Mexican coach Juan Carlos Osorio have selected chopped liver in uniform for the group stages, but the list of who won’t be wearing red, white, and blue for the Yanks is a who’s who: Christian Pulisic, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Fabian Johnson, Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Tim Howard. The list goes on.

[ MORE: Gold Cup predictions ]

That does open up the door to so many players, though, some familiar and others not. What do the Yanks need to do to make a deep run?

1) Get off on the right foot (and arrive at the quarters) — The U.S. will progress to the knockout rounds even with a stumble out of the gates against Panama on Saturday in Nashville, but winning Group B is a huge boon to those who fear Mexico’s B-side more than Costa Rica.

The Group B winners could not face the winners or runners-up of Group C — Mexico’s group — until the Final. Even if Mexico faltered big time in group play, El Tri will likely still finish in one of the top two spots. Beating Panama essentially ensures nine points and no worries about a goal differential problem from Los Canaleros.

So, yeah, the U.S. will make the quarters, when any of its roster flaws can be corrected by any number of top assets.

2) Find your central steel — Without Brooks, Cameron, and Bradley, the heart of the defense is a bit of an unknown. Seeing as a successful Yanks run would eventually need to deal with either Costa Rica’s Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell or Mexico’s Erick Gutierrez or Erick Torres, sorting it out quickly is important.

Arena will be tempted to lean on World Cup veteran and long time LA Galaxy buddy Omar Gonzalez, and Matt Besler has the experience to get the job done as well. But wild cards Matt Hedges and Matt Miazga present different styles of defense and either is four inches taller than Besler, who has been pretty great for Sporting KC this season.

On top of the center backs will likely be Dax McCarty and Kellyn Acosta, or perhaps Cristian Roldan in a pinch. Again, the skills are there and Acosta will likely be a USMNT player for a long, long time, but he’s still young as we saw when he made a pair of rookie mistakes on Mexico’s equalizer in the last World Cup qualifier at Azteca.

3) Finish chances early — This one’s simple and sweet: Buses will be parked by all three Gold Cup group stage foes, and it’s incumbent upon forwards Dom Dwyer, Jordan Morris, and Juan Agudelo to make sure the might of the Americans is felt within the opening throes of each match. For all of the above concerns with central steel, the absence of Altidore, Clint Dempsey, and Pulisic from the substitutes could cause nerves for the attack if it stays 0-0 for too long.

Sacha Kljestan ready to take reigns as Red Bulls captain

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When news began to spread of a trade regarding one of Major League Soccer’s most recognizable faces, Sacha Kljestan was with his New York Red Bulls teammate at the U.S. Men’s National Team’s January camp.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

The clarity over Dax McCarty’s move to Eastern Conference foe Chicago Fire is very much uncertain — even a month after the fact — but the veteran midfielder’s absence left an opening for the Red Bulls captaincy.

[ MORE: PST talks with Atlanta president Darren Eales ahead of 2017 ]

And that was an opportunity that Kljestan was honored to be named.

“I was just proud. My first feeling was that I’m thankful for Jesse [Marsch] having that trust in me and my teammates having that trust in me as well, which is very important,” Kljestan said. “But I just feel very proud to represent Jesse and the coaching staff and represent every member of the club that works with the New York Red Bulls. Most importantly I want to represent the fans in a way that they are proud of.”

Fortunately for the Red Bulls, what they have had over the past two seasons in Kljestan is a player that not only provides flash and brilliance on the pitch but also stability off the field and in the locker room.

Since making his return to MLS in 2015, Kljestan has notched an astounding 34 assists — the most of any player during that span — to go along with his 14 goals.

Red Bulls manager Jesse Marsch has been impressed with Kljestan’s work ethic since bringing in the Designated Player, and he says little thought needed to be put into naming the U.S. international his squad’s next captain.

“It almost wasn’t even a choice at all,” Marsch said in regards to naming Kljestan his primary captain. “He had served as basically a vice-captain for two years and it was an natural fit. There were discussions with the staff but I think it was pretty clear that this is a guy that is a top leader. That being said, we’ve said all along that the captain isn’t a one man job.

“It’s about a community of people and certainly the two guys that will support Sacha the most will be Luis [Robles] and Brad [Wright-Phillips]. I think the three of them will take on big leadership roles and there’s room for young guys to blossom into bigger leadership positions as well.”

The Red Bulls have undoubtedly proven their success in the regular season since rebranding to the aforementioned name in 2006 when the Global giant, Red Bull, acquired the franchise.

The last 11 seasons have provided the club with plenty to cheer about, including two Supporters’ Shield crowns and only missing out on the postseason once, but the Red Bulls have struggled to get past one major hurdle.

Winning an MLS Cup is challenging.

It’s only something that 11 teams have accomplished in the league’s history. Of those 11 teams, only five of them have won two or more titles since MLS’ inception in 1996.

Marsch’s approach since day one has been very clear to both his team and the opponents that the Red Bulls face. The goal has been to play an attacking-minded press, similar to that of Barcelona in the club’s hay day.

While that pressing style likely won’t change, the team is prepared to add another dimension to its attack by switching to a two-forward setup starting in 2017.

“With our little tweak in formation that we’re doing now, we’re trying to be less susceptible to opening ourselves up and creating too much space between our lines,” Kljestan said. “We’re working on ways now to become more connected and become harder to break down and really make teams earn their chances against us. We might go through some growing pains with the formation but I think it’ll make us stronger in the long run.”

The Red Bulls begin their 2017 journey on Wednesday when they face the Vancouver Whitecaps in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. The two sides will meet a second time on March 2 in Vancouver.

Evans has a dig at new Whitecaps forward Montero, MLS

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The Vancouver Whitecaps made a potentially big loan addition to their roster on Wednesday, one that caused an amusing exchange on Twitter between two USMNT players.

Fredy Montero scored 47 goals in four seasons with Seattle Sounders, where he plied his trade alongside defender and now captain Brad Evans.

[ MORE: NYCFC signs new DP ]

On Wednesday, Montero joined Cascadian rivals Vancouver, and Evans was not amused at his former teammate’s decision. He even ventured into curse territory.

That inspired fellow American midfielder Dax McCarty, himself traded from New York Red Bulls to Chicago Fire this winter, to ask for Evans’ thoughts on his move.

As for Montero, he went on to play for Millonarios in Colombia before spending two and a half seasons with Sporting CP. Last season, he netted nine goals in 30 matches for Chinese Super League side Tianjin Teda.

Will he be the answer to Vancouver’s needs at striker? The Caps also added Peruvian striker Yordy Reyna this offseason, and have Giles Barnes, Kekuta Manneh, and Erik Hurtado in their ranks.