Steven Beitashour

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Which players should Minnesota, Atlanta target in Expansion Draft?

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Tuesday afternoon may not fully determine the future of either squad, but the Expansion Draft can certainly help both Atlanta United and Minnesota United as they enter their first MLS season.

[ MORE: Arena hopeful Dempsey will be ready when WCQ resumes ]

On Monday, all 20 current MLS clubs released their lists of protected players (11 players that cannot be selected in the Expansion Draft) so at PST we want to take a look at which options make the most sense for Atlanta and Minnesota.

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In order to assess which players are likely fits for MLS’ two newest additions, we have to first take a quick glance at the players that both Minnesota and Atlanta currently possess. While Atlanta has been extremely active in its lead up to entering the league in 2017, Minnesota currently has three players signed, two of which were on the team’s NASL squad last year.

Gerardo Martino and Atlanta have gone after several high-profile talents thus far, including Designated Players Kenwyne Jones and Miguel Almiron, as well as MLS veteran Michael Parkhurst.

With a plethora big names available in Tuesday’s Expansion Draft, let’s take a look at who Atlanta and Minnesota should target.

Jermaine Jones

While age, cost and injuries certainly play a factor for the 35-year-old midfielder, Jones’ veteran presence would surely lift either side in the event that he is selected on Tuesday. Not only was Jones a key figure in the Colorado Rapids midfield in 2016, but he continues to be involved in the U.S. Men’s National Team setup, proving that he can still play in his mid-30s.

Cristian Maidana

The three-year MLS attacker had a bit of a quiet year in 2016 with the Houston Dynamo, but the Argentine possesses plenty of creativity and skill to make Atlanta or Minnesota an immediate contender. Just two seasons ago, Maidana led MLS in assists (15) and at 29 years old he likely has a lot left in the tank.

Steven Beitashour

While Beitashour and Toronto FC just fell short in the MLS Cup final, either expansion side would be getting a top-end defender to bolster their backline. A seven-year veteran, Beitashour has established himself as one of the league’s best outside backs and can provide a major boost in both the attacking and defensive thirds.

Tranquillo Barnetta

Barnetta hasn’t been earth-shattering since joining MLS, but he has provided the Philadelphia Union in their attack. His ability to handle set piece situations makes him a top commodity, while the 31-year-old’s European experience also gives him strong leadership qualities in the locker room. Despite traditionally playing on the wing before coming to the United States, Barnetta has become a solid central midfielder and can play facilitator in the attack.

Clint Irwin

While reports have surfaced linking Brad Guzan to Atlanta, Minnesota could be a very good destination for the veteran goalkeeper, who nearly helped his TFC side win its first MLS Cup. At 27, Irwin should be on the eyes of Adrian Heath’s side after a strong campaign for the Eastern Conference side.

New-look Toronto backline continues progression with positive result

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When you have Sebastian Giovinco on your team, sometimes it’s a bit difficult to find the spotlight.

[ MORE: MLS Snapshot: New York City FC 2-2 Toronto FC (Video) ]

Toronto FC underwent significant changes on the defensive side of the ball over the offseason, with the hopes of creating a more well-rounded squad. The high-profile additions of Drew Moor and Steven Beitashour, along with several other moves, made the Canadian club winners of the offseason, but now the team’s acquisitions are proving their worth.

[ MORE: NYCFC lacks discipline on defense, settles for draw vs. TFC ]

After falling behind 2-0 in the first half, Toronto rallied for a 2-2 draw against New York City FC, which Moor declared a testament to his team’s passion.

“It’s a sign of our character of this squad,” Moor said following the match. “Obviously we don’t want to put ourselves down 2-0 anywhere, but on the road, in a tough environment, against a good team, to fight back and stay calm with a chance there to win it at the end  it’s a good sign of things to come.”

Coming off of a 2-0 victory against the reining Eastern Conference champion New York Red Bulls, TFC can begin to feel encouraged about their squad. After conceding a league-high 58 goals in 2015, it seems as though Greg Vanney’s side will be much more stout this season.

“We have a very mature backline now, with guys that have played a lot of matches as professionals,” Vanney said. “Three out of the four of them have played a lot of matches in this league in particular, and Damien [Perquis] now has a year under his belt as well. Between those four and Michael [Bradley] in front of them, I think they’re very confident. Again, for us it helped when we started to get the organization of people in front of them and then their reads became much easier.”

An untimely challenge inside the penalty area by Marco Delgado led to New York’s first goal on the night, while a lack of clearance allowed for David Villa to find his second of the game, despite protest over a handball that occurred before the forward finished the chance.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

One thing that must be considered is that we’re only two matches into the season. While Toronto’s first half breakdowns weren’t ideal, the fact that Vanney’s new-look defense was able to rebound and preserve the game without another goal conceded shows the improvements from a season ago.

With the task of playing their first eight matches on the road, while BMO Field renovation is completed, Toronto will really have a gauge on how good their defense and team will be heading into the summer months.

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This should finally be the year Toronto FC lives up to the hype

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From a personal standpoint, I understand keenly why Toronto FC fans feel burnt. As a soccer fan less than 100 miles from BMO Field, splitting TFC season tickets with friends was an easy decision. Major League Soccer so close to home? Why not give it a go?

Know what was an easier decision? Not renewing after a few years of profound disappointment. Despite a great stadium with a better skyline and an unbelievable group of nascent supporters in the Red Patch Boys, TFC was an on-field disaster.

That’s not to say it should be easy for a team created from scratch to thrive in any league, even one as young as Major League Soccer. But we’re talking eight years without playoffs, not a single conference standing finish higher than fifth, in front of a buzzing group of supporters who started to buzz, well, a lot less.

[ MLS: Can San Jose make noise in the West? ]

Toronto FC never had a chance to gel. Nine seasons in, the club has only seen eight players make more than 75 appearances. Only three — Stefan Frei, Jim Brennan and Julian de Guzman — have tempted 100 (Now with Seattle, Frei leads with 96).

How’s this for a sense of history? Sebastian Giovinco’s MVP season last year saw him score 22 goals. That places him second all-time for TFC. Second. All-time.

Toronto FC forward Sebastian Giovinco (10) celebrates after scoring on a penalty kick with teammates Jozy Altidore (17), Michael Bradley (4) and Jackson Goncalves (11) during the first half of an MLS soccer match against the Philadelphia Union, Saturday, May 2, 2015, in Chester, Pa. Toronto FC won 1-0. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)
(AP Photo/Michael Perez)

This year feels a bit different. For one, there’s continuity in attack. Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Giovinco (right) are all back in the fold. The first two can be expected to have much improved second seasons, while Giovinco just needs to whiff the greatness of his first to lift TFC higher in the standings. The Copa America Centenario break won’t help much, but it’ll hurt others, too.

Plus, coach Greg Vanney can change the game plan when Bradley and Altidore are gone. Benoit Cheyrou was very good in the midfield last season, while Toronto-born midfielder and reigning MLS champion Will Johnson is now playing at home and will add even more steel to the middle of the park.

Toronto also took proper steps to firm up their porous defense, which was a laughingstock last season, stung by the loss of captain Steven Caldwell.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

The Reds had some pieces in Damien Perquis, Nick Hagglund and Justin Morrow, the latter a mainstay who has flown under the radar. Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has brought in back liners with quantifiable MLS experience. Steven Beitashour arrives from Vancouver, and Drew Moor moved over from Colorado.

Clin Irwin, Colorado Rapids
Irwin

TFC found some steadiness in goal when they picked up Clint Irwin (right) from Colorado, a veteran who can properly tutor 2015 draft pick and USMNT prospect Alex Bono.

With fellow Toronto sides thriving in their respective leagues — the Jays are an AL East contender and the Raptors lead their division — this could be the year TFC finally delivers on expectations. There’s enough depth in the fold to think that, given a relatively healthy campaign, Toronto should be able to place high enough in the East to set itself up for a bye.

There’s plenty to be hopeful, but it’s still cool if you don’t believe it ’til you see it. We’ve learned that much, right?

Toronto FC adds another piece to defense with Beitashour

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California-born Iranian defender Steven Beitashour is adding to his international regimen by moving across Canada to join Toronto FC.

The move for the defense-starved Reds comes one day after they announced the addition for former Colorado defender Drew Moor.

[ MORE: Diskerud responds to Wambach’s “foreigner” comments ]

Beitashour, 28, has spent the last two seasons with Vancouver after starting his career with his hometown Quakes. He’s six-times capped for Iran.

TFC GM Tim Bezbatchenko is obviously pleased with the addition.

Toronto allowed the most goals in MLS this season, but made the playoffs due to a high-powered offense that managed to score the second-most goals in the league.

MLS roundup: Quakes down Sounders; RSL in 3-3 draw; FC Dallas rout Sporting KC

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Wow. Week 2 of the 2015 season — at least, so far — was a little bit crazy and out of control.

First things first, refereeing controversies dominated more than half of Saturday night’s games, as questionable (read: very poor; wrong) calls greatly impacted results, and in most cases, the quality of the game.

Furthermore, just when you think you’ve figured out a team — let alone, the league — think again. Saturday’s results will leave more than a few casual and hardcore onlookers scratching their heads all week. MLSsoccer.com’s Matthew Doyle said it best:

Missed you last week, real MLS.

Chicago Fire 0-1 Vancouver Whitecaps

Missed chances galore in the first half, particularly by Vancouver’s Pedro Morales and Kekuta Manneh, and a pair of strong performances from goalkeepers Jon Busch and David Ousted were just enough to keep things scoreless for 85 minutes.

Octavio Rivero finally showed the composure in front of goal the game had been missing and beat Busch with five minutes of regular time to play. Steven Beitashour’s overlapping run down the right and subsequent cross set up Rivero near the penalty spot and the Uruguayan hit it low, to the back post and found the back of the net.

Columbus Crew SC 2-0 Toronto FC

A first-half red card to Toronto’s Justin Morrow completely changed what was an even, back-and-forth game for 45 minutes. At their best, both of these teams look likely be at the top of the Eastern Conference come October.

Justin Meram and Kei Kamara tallied for the Crew, who pick up their first victory of the season. | FULL RECAP WITH HIGHLIGHTS

FC Dallas 3-1 Sporting Kansas City

FC Dallas, on the back of two Blas Perez goals, brushed aside Sporting KC at Toyota Stadium on Saturday night. Fabian Castillo provided FCD’s third goal, while Roger Espinoza was the lone SKC goalscorer.

The game, however, was tarnished by a brutal missed call from the assistant referee on the game-winning goal. | FULL RECAP WITH HIGHLIGHTS

Real Salt Lake 3-3 Philadelphia Union

Nothing about this game screamed “goalfest” before kickoff. RSL regularly have one of the most stable defenses in MLS and the Union were extremely poor in the final third in last week’s 0-0 draw with Colorado.

On Saturday, the RSL defense was in tatters and Philadelphia punished them at every opportunity. And then, a night of unjust refereeing decisions continued, robbing the Union of two points. RSL, down 3-2, were awarded a undeserved penalty in the 85th minute and Alvaro Saborio converted, stealing a point for the hosts.

RSL goalscorers: Morales (29′), Olave (55′), Saborio (86′) | Union goalscorers: Aristeguieta (34′, 38′), Olave (OG – 58′)

Seattle Sounders 2-3 San Jose Earthquakes

Are you surprised? You shouldn’t be, because this is MLS. It’s what MLS does.

Don’t ever forget about Chris Wondolowski, scorer of two goals. He’ll score 15 this year, easily. Not even a Clint Dempsey goal 18 seconds into the game could stop Wondo on Saturday night. | FULL RECAP WITH HIGHLIGHTS

Houston Dynamo 0-1 Orlando City SC (Friday night)

Kaka hounded Houston ‘keeper Tyler Deric, who was up to the tasking of turning away the 2007 World Player of the Year, all night. Unfortunately for Deric, it was his Gaffe of the Year candidate that cost Houston all three points. | FULL RECAP WITH HIGLIGHTS

Sunday’s MLS schedule

New York City FC vs. New England Revolution (5 pm ET, ESPN2)
Portland Timbers vs. LA Galaxy (7 pm ET, Fox Sports 1)