Major League Soccer team previews: CHIVAS USA

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Each day from now until the beginning of Major League Soccer’s 18th season, we will preview one Eastern Conference team and one from the West. First kick is March 2.

No. 9 in the West is Chivas USA:

(MORE: the entire roster of ProSoccerTalk’s Major League Soccer previews and predictions)

Significant additions and subtractions: There’s the impression Chivas USA have undergone wholesale changes, but five of the club’s top seven in 2012 minutes played are still on the team. Right back James Riley, however, was number two on that list, and he was given away to D.C. United. Nick LaBrocca is also gone (Colorado), as are a number of significant contributors further down the list: Danny Califf (Toronto), Ben Zemanski (Portland), and Alejandro Moreno (Philadelphia’s TV booth).

Sharlie Joseph, who had become an albatross on the club’s payroll, was pawned off on Seattle yesterday. If that’s any indication, there are still more changes coming. And unfortunately for Chivas fans, the acquisitions of Eric Avila and Steve Purdy don’t quite make up for the losses. Carlos Alvarez, the No. 2 overall pick out of UConn, may end up being the team’s biggest player acquisition.

The biggest overall addition: El Chelís – new head coach José Luís Sánchez Solá. The former Puebla boss has injected personality into an organization that had gone catatonic during Robin Fraser’s last months.

source: Getty ImagesStrengths: There’s only one relative strength, and that’s in goal. Dan Kennedy is an All-Star caliber player, but as we saw last year, even the best keepers can be worn down  when over-exposed. Can Kennedy extend his excellence farther into this season? If he does, he’ll be doing it with less talent in front of him.

Pressure points: Unfortunately, they’re everywhere, leaving Chivas with a bunch of ifs, all of which need to come good for the Goats to be even average at their trouble spots:

  • [FORWARDS] IF Juan Agudelo plays to his potential and can produce like a league average striker, Chivas’s attack will be much improved. But for the attack as a whole to produce like a typical MLS offensive, they’ll need more production from Miller Bolaños, Jose Correa, and Tristan Bowan. All of them.
  • [MIDFIELDERS] Even IF Alvarez and Avila play to their potentials and Oswaldo Minda can stay on the field a bit more, the midfield looks weak. At best, it’s thin, though Sueño Villafaña could always help.
  • [DEFENDERS] IF the defense gels — and defenses can always gel with good coaching — Kennedy will avoid some of last year’s exposure. But Chelís has his work cut out of him crafting a viable back four from Purdy, Villafaña, Bobby Burling, and the returning Carlos Borja. Thankfully, Rauwshan MacKenzie and Ante Jazic are still around. For now.

Difference maker: Chivas only scored 24 goals in 34 games last season. That has to improve, and nobody is as capable of lifting that total as Juan Agudelo. Unfortunately, that means Chivas is relying on a player who has only scored 10 league goals in 3142 career minutes. That’s a goal every 3.5 games.

Potential breakout player: Eric Avila has all the skills to be an above-average MLS player, but in 107 career appearances, the former Dallas and Toronto midfielder has only made 37 starts. This year the 25-year-old will get all the time he needs to show he can be a part of a team’s core. If he breaks out, you could see corresponding improvement from Agudelo and Correa.

Bottom line: It all comes down to Chelís. If he finds the right formula, of course Chivas can improve. We’ve seen good coaches make meals of leftovers.

Unfortunately for Chivas fans, there just aren’t enough quality ingredients for this team to be competitive. It’s a transition year. Hopefully.

How will USMNT line up versus Costa Rica?

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Saturday brings a first look at the United States men’s national team in 2020, though Gregg Berhalter’s bunch won’t look anything like its best self.

The Yanks have an almost exclusively MLS roster for the match, with Hobro’s Christian Cappas, Wolfsburg II’s Uly Llanez and unattached 17-year-old Bryang Kayo in the fold.

Many of Berhalter’s best MLS stars won’t be in Carson either for the 3:55 p.m. ET Saturday kickoff. Jordan Morris, Jozy Altidore, and Michael Bradley are the biggest names.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]  

Ronald Gonzalez’s Ticos will be similarly hampered, although more of Costa Rica’s A-side play in MLS and domestically.

We’ll leave the breakdown of the visitors for a later date, but who will rep the U.S. in Saturday’s Starting XI?

The travel roster includes keepers Sean Johnson, Bill Hamid, and Matt Turner, as well as defenders Aaron Long, Walker Zimmerman, Reggie Cannon, Julian Araujo, Chase Gasper, Justen Glad, Mark McKenzie, and Sam Vines. Listed midfielders Sebastian Lletget, Jackson Yueill, Brenden Aaronson, Cappis, Kayo, and Brandon Servania are joined by forwards Gyasi Zardes, Paul Arriola, Jonathan Lewis, Jesus Ferreira, and Ulysses Llanez.

Goalkeeper is anyone’s guess, but Johnson’s got the most run of the three during the Berhalter era. The younger Turner or more accomplished Hamid may step in there.

It would be surprising to see any other center backs besides Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long given what we know of Berhalter and his respect for regulars. Reggie Cannon should start at right back and it’s between Chase Gasper and Sam Vines for the left. We’ll choose Vines out of intrigue.

Jackson Yueill, Paul Arriola, Sebastian Lletget, and Gyasi Zardes are safe bets to start, and this would seem a spot to give Jonathan Lewis more than subs’ run. That leaves one spot, and we’re pegging Brandon Servania to be the one chosen of four midfielders aged 17-20.

There’s also the matter of whether FC Dallas striker Jesus Ferreira will be internationally cleared to play Saturday. We sure hope he will be!

How do you think Berhalter will line them up?


How Berhalter may go

Johnson

Cannon — Zimmerman — Long — Vines

Yueill — Servania

Arriola — Lletget — Lewis

Zardes


What we’d like to see

Turner

Cannon — Zimmerman — McKenzie — Vines

Yueill — Cappis — Servania

Arriola — Ferreira — Lewis

Watch our transfer deadline day show from 6-8 p.m. ET on Jan. 31, live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com.

Report: Sheffield United in ‘advanced talks’ for $22M Norway star

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Sheffield United is ready to add one of the game’s brightest young talents to its blossoming Premier League side.

Norway midfielder Sander Berge is the name, and he’s been linked with Liverpool amongst others over the past few months.

Berge turns 22 next month and already has 20 caps for Norway in addition to 113 senior appearances for Genk in Belgium and 43 more for Valerenga in his home country.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The defensive midfielder has chipped in six goals and four assists. He won the Belgian Super League with Genk last year and has a career-best four goals so this season.

It shows what success brings to a club, as Sky Sports reports that Berge turned down a move to Bramall Lane in the summer.

The fee is said to be $22 million, which isn’t small but completely reasonable given his stature for club and country.

This may move may join the Lys Mousset purchase as one of the Blades’ smartest bits of business, especially as Chris Wilder‘s men look for success on multiple fronts. Their success as a newly-promoted side is one of the great stories of the European season, and a place in Europe would be a fantastic achievement.

From The Yorkshire Post:

“It is going well, no doubt about it,” Wilder said. “On the Premier League front and in the Cup. You probably would not think it, but the win at Millwall has given me an enormous amount of pleasure in confirming, not even seeing, what my team is about. Players have come in with the likes of the skipper (Billy Sharp) and other players who are really driving it forward and want to produce individual performances and the atmosphere is good.”

Watch our transfer deadline day show from 6-8 p.m. ET on Jan. 31, live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com.

Espanyol identify 12 fans who racially insulted player

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BARCELONA, Spain — Spanish club Espanyol says it has identified 12 fans who racially insulted an Athletic Bilbao player in the Spanish league last weekend.

Espanyol said on Monday in a statement that nine of the fans were club members and would face punishment that could include suspension or a full-time ban.

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It said a report of its analysis of the video images of Saturday’s game at RCDE Stadium were sent to authorities.

The club reiterated its “categorical condemnation of any displays of violence and racism.”

The fans made monkey noises directed at Athletic forward Inaki Williams, who is black. Television images showed Williams confronting the section of Espanyol fans who taunted him after he was substituted late in the game in Barcelona.

The Spanish league said it will seek a partial stadium closure for Espanyol and will raise the incident with the Spanish soccer federation’s competition committee, which handles disciplinary issues.

Transfer rumors: West Ham want $44M midfielder, Barca eyes Rodrigo

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West Ham United is being linked with a big transfer splash, and it’s not even a striker.

Uruguayan midfielder Nahitan Nandez is the man in question, and West Ham is reportedly tempting Cagliari with a $44 million offer this January.

Nandez, 23, arrived from Boca Juniors for less than half that fee this summer, and has chipped in a goal with three assists for Tommaso Giulini’s sixth-place Serie A side.

He’s got 31 caps for his national team, and is averaging 1.5 tackles per match with Cagliari. Nandez is also averaging a key pass and 1.1 successful dribbles per league outing.

Football-Italia says that Cagliari will try to tie Nandez to a new deal with a $44 million release clause if the move to West Ham is unsuccessful.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Meanwhile Barcelona’s pursuit of a Luis Suarez replacement isn’t limited to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, according to Marca.

Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu admits that Valencia striker Rodrigo Moreno is interesting his coaches.

“We don’t talk about players from other teams. But [Rodrigo’s] name is on the table of the coaches, and a replacement will arrive. I do not know whether it will be from Barcelona B or from outside. I like many players.”

The Spaniard has eight goals in 21 caps, and turns 29 in March. Rodrigo has four goals and 10 assists in 23 matches across all competitions this season.

Valencia beat Barcelona this weekend to send the Blaugranas three points back of La Liga leaders Real Madrid.