Major League Soccer team previews: COLORADO RAPIDS

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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. 8 in the West are the Colorado Rapids:

Significant additions and subtractions: Jeff Larentowicz, a midfield fixture in recent years around DSG Park, is now doing his ginger thing in Chicago.

Edson Buddle has moved over from the Galaxy, attempting to jump-start a career that hit the skids last year in Los Angeles. Given the departures of Conor Casey and Omar Cummings, among the league’s most lethal strike combos not so far back, expectations are piled up fairly high on Buddle, who continues to operate at the outer markers of the U.S. national team pool.

Nick LaBrocca is back for a second Rapids run. He joins fellow MLS vets Atiba Harris and the versatile Nathan Sturgis in new roles outside Denver.

Strangely enough, Pablo Mastroeni can almost be counted as “new” considering the longtime midfield enforcer missed all but 150 minutes of 2012 with concussion related issues. Everyone around Denver is excited to have the captain back.

Speaking of new-not really new: Colorado may also have a “new” right back. His name is Brian Mullan, and he speaks of the potential change here. Interesting.

Strengths:  First-year manager Oscar Pareja had a vision for how he wanted to play in 2012, but late arrival on the scene at DSG Park reduced the Colombian coach to hammering round pegs into square holes. With a roster more to his liking this season — technical expertise added, a little muscle-and-tussle subtracted — 2012 should offer a fairer test of his ability. It also presents an improved platform for a possible second run at more dynamic, fluid 4-3-3 soccer.

Expect center backs Marvell Wynne and Drew Moor to perk up after a so-so 2012 with the savvy and defensive-minded Mastroeni back to do the midfield screening. They have to; 50 goals allowed won’t cut it.

Pressure points: This is certainly not how Pareja wanted to begin what is probably a make-or-break year for him personally. Injuries will take his two premier attackers off the field to begin the season. A knee injury will keep do-all attacker Jaime Castrillon out until May at the earliest. The double whammy is that 2012 assist leader was already out; Martin Rivero broke his foot in a preseason contest and not expected back until mid-March, at least. That’s not as long as Castrillon, but still … Yikes!

Even when they come back, Pareja can forge his side into the best possession outfit this side of Barcelona FC, but if the Rapids’ finishing cannot improve over 2012, it won’t matter.source:

Difference maker: Mastroeni, a veteran of two World Cups with the United States, is such a leader that his presence is more than the sum of his passing and tackling parts. That club record tying six-game losing streak last year? It’s harder to see something like that happening with Mastroeni (pictured right) around to inspire something greater from everyone individually and collectively. 

Potential breakout player: Tony Cascio looked like an MLS Rookie of the Year candidate at times in 2012. At other times during an impressive sum of 29 appearances last year he looked like any other ol’ mid-first round draft pick. The thing about Cascio, who can play on the flank or as a forward, is that everything looks so instinctive and unforced. He has tremendous upside. 

Bottom line: It may be difficult for Rapids fans to hear that success or failure in 2013 is reduced to providence, but this is where we are with the Rapids, league champs as recently as 2010. If Mastroeni can hold out – far from a guarantee considering how close the head injury concerns came to forcing his retirement last year – and if Castrillon and Rivero return to timely good health, this is a pretty interesting team. If not, they could struggle again.

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

Watch Live: Everton vs. Crystal Palace

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Wilfried Zaha starts up top for Crystal Palace after passing his late fitness ahead of Crystal Palace’s clash with Everton at Goodison Park on Sunday (Watch live at 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Andre Gomes will make his Toffees debut after joining Everton from Barcelona in the summer — a hamstring injury has kept the Portuguese out of action thus far — while Yerry Mina, Everton’s other Barcelona buy, could make his debut from the bench.

LINEUPS

Everton: Pickford; Coleman, Zouma, Keane, Digne; Gueye, Andre Gomes; Walcott, Sigurdsson, Bernard; Richarlison | Subs: Stekelenburg, Bines, Mina, Davies, Tosun, Calvert-Lewin, Lookman

Crystal Palace: Hennessey: Wan-Biassaka, Sakho, Tomkins, Van Aanholt; Milovijevic, McArthurt, Kouyate; Schlupp, Townsend; Zaha | Subs: Guiata, Ayew Wickham, Kaikai, Kelly, Puncheon, Riedewald

Opposition to Wembley sale “bizarre” and led by “old men”

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Greg Dyke sees Shahid Khan’s capsized bid to buy Wembley Stadium as a massive missed opportunity for English soccer, and the former Football Association chairman is quite displeased by the “bizarre” opposition of the “old men” on the FA council.

[ MORE: What did we learn in the Premier League, Week 9? ]

With an offer of more than $780 million on the table, Dyke believes that unprecedented — and otherwise impossible — investments could have been made to grassroots soccer that might just create a brighter future for the English game. If only it wasn’t for those meddling kids “the council is living in the past, as it always has done,” as he put it — quotes from the BBC:

“If I’d been chairman, I would have said it is the board’s decision.

“I don’t think the council is equipped to make this decision — that is what the FA board is for.”

Most notably, England is in desperate need of artificial playing fields up and down the country, as well as a tidal wave of newly licensed coaches to begin working at younger and younger age groups.

“The FA has only owned Wembley for 10 to 15 years, before that it was a private business.

“The idea you are going to lose something of value to Britain because it is not owned by the FA is the wrong one compared to spending [$784 million] doing what is desperately needed in this country and that is to spend money on grassroots facilities.

“If you want to have a step change in grassroots facilities in this country, you need this sort of money to be spent.

“It’s bizarre that the old men of the FA Council have stopped this.

“One of the tragedies of English football in recent years is that all the extra money that has come into the Premier League has by and large gone to players or agents, and not to football generally.”

Oftentimes, tradition and history come at the expense of revolution and progression, only to later realize that a golden opportunity has come and gone.

Agent says Usain Bolt has contract offer

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Usain Bolt’s agent claims that his client has received an A-League contract offer from Central Coast Mariners after spending more than two months on trial with the Australian club.

[ MORE: What did we learn in the Premier League, Week 9? ]

The eight-time Olympic goal medalist, who’s 32 years old after retiring from track and field last year, scored twice in a Mariners exhibition last week. Now, his agent says he’s been offered an official contract — quotes from the AP:

“In response to the media stories, yes, Usain has been offered a contract. I do not want to make any further comment at this stage.”

Mike Mulvey, the Mariners manager, not only claims to be unaware of any such offer, but sounds rather dubious and unenthusiastic about the prospects of Bolt being a first-team player.

“You have a look at our front line today and you wonder whether he could get into any of those positions, wouldn’t you? I do appreciate how important this story is for the rest of the world.

“You’re just talking about speculation, I don’t know anything about what you’re talking about and that’s the honest truth.”

“We’re going to go back, have some dinner, have a little look at the game that’s on … then get on a plane tomorrow, go home and start preparing for Melbourne City next week. That’s the plan.”

La Liga: Messi breaks his arm; Real Madrid lose again

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MADRID (AP) Barcelona ended its slump and regained the Spanish league lead but there was little to celebrate as Lionel Messi broke his right forearm and will be sidelined for three weeks.

[ WATCH: Messi scores, assists, breaks arm in first 16 minutes ]

Also, Real Madrid lost again while suffering its worst scoring drought.

Messi scored and walked off injured in the first half of Barcelona’s 4-2 win over Sevilla at Camp Nou Stadium, while Real Madrid players and coach Julen Lopetegui were jeered off the field after they lost to Levante 2-1 at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

Messi was taken to a clinic, and Barcelona said he broke the radial bone. At the least, he will miss the Champions League match against Inter Milan on Wednesday, and El Clasico against Barcelona next Sunday.

“We will notice his absence,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. “But we’ve played without him in the past. We will be prepared to overcome this.”

Messi was trying to reclaim the ball when he ran into the back of a defender and fell in the 17th minute. Trying to cushion his fall, his right elbow bent badly and he was in visible pain. Doctors wrapped his arm with bandages and the playmaker tried to continue but gave up.

“We shouldn’t let Messi’s injury affect us,” defender Gerard Pique said. “We have a team good enough to do well in the matches that we have ahead.”

Messi scored their second goal with a shot from outside the area in the 12th, about 10 minutes after Phillipe Coutinho opened the scoring. Luis Suarez added the third by converting a second-half penalty kick.

[ MORE: What did we learn in the Premier League, Week 9? ]

Sevilla replied through Pablo Sarabia, Ivan Rakitic increased Barcelona’s lead in the 88th, and Sevilla netted again thanks to Luis Muriel in injury time.

Barcelona struggled more than the scoreline showed, with goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen having to make a pair of remarkable double-saves, but the result was enough to give Valverde’s team a one-point lead over surprising Alaves.

Sevilla, which had won four in a row in the league, including 3-0 against Real Madrid, dropped to third place, two points off the lead.


Atletico Madrid, which drew at Villarreal 1-1, also was two back after nine matches.

Real Madrid was four points behind Barcelona, in fifth place.

Real Madrid fans ran out of patience after seeing their team suffer its worst scoring drought and lose for the fourth time in five matches.

Fans loudly jeered after Madrid reached 481 minutes without finding the net in the loss to Levante, which entered the game with the league’s third-worst defense.

Levante scored early with goals by Jose Luis Morales in the sixth minute and Roger in the 13th after a penalty awarded following a video review. Marcelo pulled one back in the 72nd.

Madrid began the match without Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, who are coming off injuries. It still created enough chances, striking the woodwork three times and having a goal by Mariano Diaz disallowed for offside in the final minutes. Marco Asensio also had a first-half goal disallowed by VAR.

Madrid finished with 70 percent possession and more than 30 attempts.

Local media immediately questioned whether Madrid should fire Lopetegui before El Clasico next weekend at Barcelona or give him a chance to try to save his job against the rival.

“Football matches are won by scoring goals and not according to who deserves to win,” said Lopetegui, who is only three months into his stint with the club after being fired from Spain’s national team.

Before El Clasico, Madrid hosts Viktoria Plzen on Tuesday in the Champions League to try to rebound from a 1-0 loss at CSKA Moscow.