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.

Atletico Madrid roster for MLS All-Star Game includes Felix

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Major League Soccer fans will get a good luck at one of the hottest prospects in world soccer when the MLS All Stars take on Atletico Madrid in next week’s MLS All Star Game.

Joao Felix, the $142 million 19-year-old, is among the roster announced by Diego Simeone for the match.

[ MORE: Newcastle in for $28M Saint-Maximin ]

Felix scored 20 times with 11 assists in 40 matches for Benfica before moving to Atleti in the summer. Those numbers include a hat trick against Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League quarterfinals first leg.

The other stars will be there, too, provided no transfers happen in the interim. Koke, Thomas Lemar, Diego Costa, and Saul Niguez are in the squad.

New Atleti defender Kieran Trippier and longtime El Tri hero Hector Herrera will also be sure to help drive attendance in Orlando City.

The full roster is here.

Leagues Cup preview: MLS gets its next shot at Liga MX

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It’s not a typo; The s is very real.

The Leagues Cup — not the League Cup — is the new competition pitting Major League Soccer sides against some of the top sides from Mexico’s Liga MX.

The tournament has been expanded before it’s even seen a ball kicked in competition, as the second edition with go from eight to 16 teams.

[ MORE: Newcastle in for $28M Saint-Maximin ]

For now, though, we’ve got four American and four Mexican sides meeting over the next two months in a bid for North American supremacy not unlike a CONCACAF Champions League stripped of all the minnows.

Much like the CCL, the Mexican sides will be expected to triumph, even with all of the quarterfinals being staged in the United States.

Chicago Fire hosts Cruz Azul on Tuesday, followed by the LA Galaxy’s visit from Club Tijuana.

Wednesday will see the Houston Dynamo host Club America, and Tigres UANL at Real Salt Lake.

The winners meet Aug. 20, while the final will be played Sept. 18 in Las Vegas.

There’s a lot of promise in this, and it gives MLS another chance to make some statements about the distance between it and Liga MX. The Mexican sides have flat out dominated the CCL, and it’s not difficult to make the same prediction for this tournament.

But, like many tournaments, it also gives success-starved clubs a chance to give their fans something big and their players a tonic. For Bastian Schweinsteiger‘s Chicago, for one, it’s a huge opportunity. And for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the Galaxy, it’s a look toward another piece of silverware for one of the world’s biggest trophy cases.

USMNT prospect Ledezma earns praise from van Nistelrooy

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Even for talents of the highest levels with top soccer education, sometimes a kid’s gotta learn how to eat.

Richard “Richie” Ledezma, 18, is in the midst of his first year at Eredivisie side PSV Eindhoven, a spot which beckoned after a five-match, one-goal season in the USL with Real Monarchs of the USL.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

Ledezma starred for U.S. U-20 team at the World Cup after his first half-season with PSV, which saw him play with the U-19s while trying to lose some weight.

From Goal.com:

“PSV help me with my nutrition, with my food and how I eat. It’s the quantity of food you eat, I guess,” he added. “Because I came a little chubby, when I got here, I guess. They all called me ‘fatty’ and stuff, so I was like, cool, you know? So no more McDonald’s.”

Goal’s James Westwood had a wide-ranging interview with Ledezma and also spoke with soccer royalty: longtime Real Madrid and Manchester United scorer Ruud van Nistelrooy was Ledezma’s coach with the U-19s.

“He’s making a difference in midfield with very quick-thinking passes, movement, can score a goal, play people in, he’s creating chances for the whole team.”

That’s not just good praise from a legend, but a solid sign for fans of the United States men’s national team. A proper No. 10 or playmaking midfielder could allow Gregg Berhalter or another future USMNT coach to use Christian Pulisic on the wings.

Ledezma has some work to do before he breaks into the first team of the Dutch runners-up, who have signed former Stoke City man Ibrahim Afellay and has Gaston Pereiro in the fold as well.

Newcastle reportedly in for $28M mercurial Nice attacker

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L’Equipe says that Newcastle United have returned to Nice in the hopes of landing Allan Saint-Maximin.

The Ligue 1 outfit wants $28 million for the playmaker, who could team up with Miguel Almiron and (maybe) Joelinton to give the Magpies a much-improved attack.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

Saint-Maximin, 22, has 10 goals and 10 assists across his last two seasons with Nice, and played everywhere in attack for Patrick Vieira: both wings, center forward, second striker, attacking mid… even some left and right midfield.

The player, however, has been a headache for Vieira at times, with the manager saying Saint-Maximin believes that he has enough talent to reach the highest level without the required amount of work.

That said, the youngster’s skill set is electric. He’s a March birth date, too, so a relatively young 22. That $28 million would be another transfer record broken for Newcastle, assuming it happens ahead of the Joelinton move.

Or… as Newcastle fan knows, neither could go through.