Major League Soccer team previews: SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES

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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. 1 in the West is San Jose Earthquakes:

Significant additions and subtractions: As you might expect coming off San Jose’ 2012, the roster is relatively unchanged.

Simon Dawkins is the only major loss, but he’s a big one. There isn’t an obvious candidate to replace his eight goals.

Khari Stephenson’s gone (Real Salt Lake) as is Ike Opara (Sporting KC), but among Frank Yallop’s top 14 minutes-getters, 13 return.

The additions have all been spare parts, though some will prove valuable. Mike Fucito will get some early starts. Same for Dan Gargan at right back. Nana Attakora and Ty Harden replace Opara’s depth in defense.

Strengths: Thanks to Chris Wondolowski, goals shouldn’t be a problem, though with Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon out to start the year, San Jose’s attack won’t be the huge edge in March that it will be in October. Still, with modest production from Fucito (who has looked good in preseason), the Earthquakes should be fine.

San Jose also have a lot of tactical versatility, something that enabled last year’s last match heroics. With a few subs, a tweak to Wondolowski and Rafael Baca’s positioning, San Jose can easily shift from a two to three forward look. With Martin Chavez and Shea Salinas wide, they can go to a speed team, or they can stay more balanced by playing only one of their burners. They can play wingers or, with Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour, go narrow through the middle and rely on their fullbacks for width.

All teams can do this, but San Jose is actually good at it. It’s as if Yallop can spend 60 minutes figuring out your weaknesses before using his team’s versatility to exploit you. And other teams just don’t have this much versatility.

Pressure points: Injuries are the obvious one, with questions about Chavez and Beitashour joining a list that includes Lenhart and Gordon, but the real problem is replicating 2012. With the possible exception of goalkeeper Jon Busch, you can argue every player in Yallop’s starting XI had the best year of their career. That’s nearly impossible to replicate.

Let’s just look at the goal totals. Wondolowski had 27. He’s not going to do that again. In fact, he could score anywhere between five and 10 less, particularly when those bulldozing No. 9 strikers are hurt to start the year.

Gordon’s production will be down. Lenhart’s production will be down. And Simon Dawkins scored eight goals last season. San Jose’s losing a lot in attack.

source: Getty ImagesDifference maker: Even if Wondo merely competes for the Golden Boot, he’s going to keep contributing in other ways. Whether playing withdrawn, wide, or as an attacking midfielder, Wondolowski is the focal point of San Jose’s attack, and while he may be better be known for his scoring, his seven assists speak to his importance for others’ production.

Potential breakout player: If Shea Salinas picks up a bulk of Dawkins’ minutes, he’ll put up the best numbers of his career. The speedy Texan has seven assists in limited time last year, but he only had one goal. The assist number may be difficult to improve, but if he gets more than 1155 minutes, he’ll beat his career best for goals (two).

Bottom line: We have them at No. 1, but as we mentioned yesterday, it’s close, particularly with all the injuries. Like the rest of the West, San Jose is less concerned with where they finish in October than being ready for November. That may entail sacrificing points over the next eight months.

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

MLS 3 Things: Resurgent Zardes, Toronto up, New England down

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A busy Saturday in Major League Soccer sees three interesting results bolstering the story lines of the final few months of the season.

[ MORE: Unstoppable Josef | Zlatan, too ]

1) Imagine a world with the reigning champs as your reward for finishing first.

With 14 matches to play, Toronto FC has Jozy Altidore back in the fold and has pulled to within eight points of the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot after a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire on Saturday.

Sebastian Giovinco looks like Sebastian Giovinco in scoring another outstanding goal, just his fifth of the season, while Jonathan Osorio also scored in the win.

Before you watch Seba’s goal, picture you’ve won the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Now picture TFC as your semifinal reward.

2) New England is well and truly slumping

Brad Friedel‘s Revs are slipping after losing a third-straight league match, and New England has gained a solitary point since the calendar turned to July following a 2-0 loss at Red Bull Arena.

Fourth through ninth in the East are separated by nine points, and New England is very much in that mix now. Friedel is certainly at the most trying time of his tenure.

Second half goals from Bradley Wright-Phillips and Daniel Royer did the trick for RBNY, who have claimed 15 of the last 18 points available to them (The lone blemish is the Hudson River Derby).

The Red Bulls are now 8-1-1 at home this season, while New England is 1-4-4 away from Foxboro.

3) Gyasi Zardes’ return to form is surprising and wonderful

Columbus has its second win since May 19, and will be feeling much better about itself following a 3-2 comeback win over Orlando City which included a pair of equalizers.

One of those came in the 88th minute, as Gyasi Zardes completed his brace by converting a penalty won by new arrival Patrick Mullins.

The Crew won late via a rare Wil Trapp goal — the USMNT midfielder has just two in 161 matches — but let’s focus on Zardes.

Zardes’ 13th goal of the season continues an amazing turnaround under striker whisperer Gregg Berhalter. It’s Zardes’ second double-digit season, and his first since 2014. He is firmly in frame for another USMNT look, this time as a center forward, but first there’s plenty to like about the big man.

Surging Galaxy ride Ibrahimovic magic to 3-1 win (video)

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a man on fire, and the LA Galaxy are rounding into form.

The Galaxy overcame an early deficit in Chester to clobber the Philadelphia Union 3-1 on Saturday behind a goal and an assist from their world-class striker.

[ MORE: Neymar on diving ]

Romain Alessandrini had two assists, while Michael Ciani and Ola Kamara also scored for LA. CJ Sapong scored for Philly, assisted by Borek Dockal.

Unbeaten-in-seven LA moves into fourth in the West with the win, while Philadelphia remains three points back of sixth in the East.

Ibrahimovic has now scored in six of his last seven matches, and has 12 goals and two assists in 21 matches overall.

Let’s start with the assist, which we must’ve seen two dozen times when the big Swede was with Paris Saint-Germain.

Ibrahimovic takes a difficult pass out of the air with absurd touch, then waits for the right time to send an impeccable through ball into the path of Kamara.

As for the goal, you almost feel for Mark McKenzie.

The Union’s Homegrown defender has to choose between Alessandrini darting into his box and allowing Ibrahimovic a lick of space.

He gives it, understandably, then rushes to close down Ibrahimovic.

It wasn’t fast enough. Boom.

Americans on both sides, Weah scores as PSG fall to Bayern (video)

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Two hopes of the USMNT’s future — one more immediate than the other — squared off in the International Champions Cup on Saturday.

Paris Saint-Germain teenager Timothy Weah, 18, went 90 minutes and scored his side’s only goal in the 3-1 loss in Austria.

[ MORE: Neymar on diving ]

On the other side of the field was 62nd minute substitute Chris Richards, far less known to the American supporter.

Richards is on loan from FC Dallas, where he’s a Homegrown Player. The 18-year-old center back is going to play for Bayern’s U-19 side following a successful trial in April.

Both Bayern and PSG were without key pieces, as Weah went up against a decent Bayern back line of Juan Bernat, Javi Martinez, Josip Stanisic, and Rafinha.

Arjen Robben, Sandro Wagner, and Franck Ribery were the biggest names in Bayern’s XI, while David Alaba, Kingsley Coman, and Serge Gnabry came off the bench.

For PSG, Gianluigi Buffon started as did Adrien Rabiot.

Weah’s goal is below, and here’s what he had to say about it:

“It’s an amazing feeling and getting a well-done job. Me scoring goals, I was really happy to get my first goal for PSG and first goal in this competition. We’re going to Singapore with our head on our shoulders. We’re going to be really humble and keep playing.”

Klopp talks Pulisic, Liverpool’s spending

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Jurgen Klopp admits he’d love to work with Christian Pulisic again, but isn’t going to butt his nose into Borussia Dortmund’s business.

Speaking ahead of Liverpool’s International Champions Cup match against BVB, Klopp was asked about his interest in the American teenager.

[ MORE: Josef Martinez bags 3 more ]

Klopp was quick to point out that Pulisic is under contract to Dortmund and not for sale, as much as he’s aware.

From The Liverpool Echo:

“He had not his best season last year but he was still a decisive player but it’s important in that age group that there’s no rush. He still has 14 or 15 years to play in his career and that’s good and he wants to be the best Pulisic he can be. For this, there is still space for development.

“If – at one point – he will join us, I don’t know. I like him, it’s not that that could be the problem, but we respect contracts still and there’s no market I know about at the moment. We did our business and Dortmund are doing theirs. All good.”

Also all good? Klopp’s evolution on spending after blasting other Premier League clubs for big money buys in the past.

Klopp said he would quit football if transfer fees like Paul Pogba‘s became the norm. Well, they have, and no club has spent as much money as the Reds this summer.

“That’s the problem these days, hey? Whatever b.s. you say, nobody will forget it. On the other side, it’s still kind of true. I couldn’t have imagined since then that the world would change like it has. Two years ago £100million was a crazy number. Since then the world has changed completely.”

He said he’s going to do whatever it takes to make Liverpool successful, and Klopp now has the world’s most expensive goalkeeper and most expensive defender in his squad.