MLS Season Preview: Chicago Fire

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The 2014 MLS MVP is back, their coach is not.

While Mike Magee and his strike partner return for a full season to pump in the goals, there is much change behind them.

Missing out on the playoffs by a tiebreaker last season hurt for sure, but the Fire had plenty of chances to grab that postseason spot, and they just couldn’t come up with the final answers.

One thing that hurt the Fire last season was their horrendous start, with just seven points through their first 10 games.  Over that span, they were shut out six times and conceded 16 goals. But of course, they didn’t have Mike Magee.

With a reshaped defense and a few key pieces gone, new coach Frank Yallop has plenty of work to do right off the bat to get the club off to a better start.

Players in: Patrick Ianni (trade from Seattle), Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (trade from Seattle), Lovel Palmer (trade from Seattle), Kyle Reynish (transfer, NY Cosmos), Harrison Shipp (homegrown, Notre Dame), Chris Ritter (homegrown, Northwestern), Giuseppe Gentile (waiver draft, UNC Charlotte), Benji Joya (weighted lottery – loan, Santos Laguna).

Players out: Jalil Anibaba (traded to Seattle), Austin Berry (traded to Philadelphia), Daniel Paladini (traded to Columbus), Paolo Tornaghi (waived), Brendan King (waived), Kellen Gulley (waived), Shaun Francis (released), Wells Thompson (released), Arevalo Rios (option declined), Michael Videira (option declined), Maicon (option declined), Corben Bone (option declined).

LATEST 2014 MLS SEASON PREVIEWS, RIGHT HERE

Key Player: Mike Magee

Shocker! The reigning MVP is your key player! While it’s clear that Magee is by far the most valuable and important single player on the team, the success of this club depends on much more than just their main man up front.

source: AP
The ability of Mike Magee to repeat his MVP form is going to be crucial to the Fire’s success in 2014.

Magee will be again supported by Patrick Nyarko at the front, with relief coming from Juan Anangono and Chris Rolfe. The Fire also picked up Guiseppe Gentile and Benji Joya in the offseason, and the two will add to the strike options for Chicago.  While it’s not the most star-studded attack outside of Magee, it’s a deep one, and that should help offset any possible issues at the back.

Speaking of at the back, there’s a saga developing at the back in the recent weeks. With the departure of Jalil Anibaba in the trade to Seattle, the defense has been completely shaken up, and Magee will have to offset the learning curve that comes with a crowded new back line.  The team also sent Austin Berry away to Philadelphia for allocation money, seeing a total of 6,109 minutes from last season out the door.

With Anibaba and Berry gone, coming in the other direction is Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni, a pair of center-backs who will battle for playing time alongside Bacary Soumare.

For what it’s worth, the Fire conceded just a single goal in their five preseason games, and the partnership of Soumare and Hurtado picked up the starts in their two most recent matches and played 106 minutes together.

Another important name we can’t leave off the list is Jeff Larentowicz, who will man the space just in front of the new center-back pairing, whatever it happens to be.  Often last season the 30-year-old Pasadena product played alongside a DM partner, but with Daniel Paladini gone and the midfield thin, he could be roaming the defensive middle by himself behind Benji Joya and Dilly Duka.

Manager: Frank Yallop is Chicago’s man. Coming over from San Jose, the Watford-born 49-year-old has seven prior years in Major League Soccer, and as far as league experience and accolades go, he’s got it all.

source: AP
Despite inheriting a formidable squad, Frank Yallop still has to cope with chemistry issues and get his team off to a better star than last year’s opening debacle.

Unfortunately, arguably the biggest knock on Yallop’s resume is the 2007 season with the Galaxy, failing to make the playoffs due to a squad with plenty of turnover.

That will be the challenge Yallop faces this season.  Thankfully for him, the front of his formation remains mostly intact, and he takes over a squad that boasts the reigning league MVP.  The defense has plenty of question marks, but it’s still experienced and has had a very promising preseason.

Yallop’s credentials are without question, and as far as head coaching openings go the Fire one was very attractive, but there remains work to be done, and with a pretty solid squad to boast, much of it rests on the coach to make sure everyone plays at their optimal level.

Outlook: This team could surprise. If they can recreate last year’s attacking form around Mike Magee, the top of the table squads are in for a surprise when the match up against the Fire.

The biggest questions will be with the turnover in defense.  With so many minutes from last season lost, it remains to be seen how the back line will gel (Yallop said it could get “a little disjointed”).  If the preseason is any indication, and the selected starters don’t need much – if any – time to find their form, the Fire could find themselves near the top.  However, there is much to prove and they begin the season as favorites in a battle for the final playoff spots.

The start to the season is crucial for Frank Yallop. They play three of their first four fixtures on the road, and take on a spectrum of opponents.  If the Fire can get through games against Portland and New York unscathed and take advantage of last year’s basement dwellers Chivas and DC United, the Fire can set themselves up for a strong season.

Preseason Premier League schedule

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The 2018-19 Premier League season is fast approaching and this week will see all 20 teams stepping up their preseason preparations.

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From the big International Champions Cup games between Manchester City and Liverpool and Manchester United and Liverpool across the USA, to Spurs, Arsenal and Chelsea all playing in high-profile games across the planet, there is plenty going on.

The likes of Leicester, Southampton and Newcastle will also spend time in Europe, while plenty of PL clubs have friendlies domestically as they begin to reach peak fitness during preseason.

Below is the full schedule for games to be played from July 23-29.


Arsenal
26 July v Atletico Madrid (Singapore Sports Hub) International Champions Cup (ICC)
28 July v Paris Saint Germain (Singapore Sports Hub)


AFC Bournemouth
27 July v Bristol City (Ashton Gate)
28 July v Nottingham Forest (City Ground)


Brighton & Hove Albion
24 July v Charlton Athletic (The Valley)
28 July v Birmingham City (St Andrew’s Stadium)


Burnley
26 July v Aberdeen (Pittodrie); UEFA Europa League 2nd qualifying round, first leg
29 July v Montpellier (Turf Moor)


Cardiff City
25 July v Rotherham United (New York Stadium)
28 July v Burton Albion (Pirelli Stadium)


Chelsea
28 July v Inter Milan (Allianz Riviera Stadium, Nice)


Crystal Palace
24 July v Stevenage (Lamex Stadium)
28 July v Reading (Madejski Stadium)


Everton
26 July v Blackburn Rovers (Ewood Park)


Fulham
No games scheduled


Huddersfield Town
25 July v Lyon (John Smith’s Stadium)


Leicester City
25 July v Akhisarspor (Villach, Austria)
28 July v Udinese (Klagenfurt, Austria)


Liverpool
25 July v Manchester City (MetLife Stadium, New York)
28 July v Manchester United (Michigan Stadium)


Manchester City
25 July v Liverpool (MetLife Stadium)
28 July v Bayern Munich (Hard Rock Stadium, Miami)


Manchester United
25 July v AC Milan (StubHub Center, LA)
28 July v Liverpool (Michigan Stadium)


Newcastle United
24 July v Hull City (KCOM Stadium)
28 July v Porto (Estadio do Dragao)


Southampton
28 July v Dijon (Complexe Sportif de Divonne)


Tottenham Hotspur
25 July v Roma (SDCCU Stadium, San Diego)
28 July v Barcelona (Rose Bowl Stadium)


Watford
27 July v Stevenage (The Lamex Stadium)
28 July v Brentford (Griffin Park)


West Ham United
25 July v Aston Villa (Bescot Stadium)
28 July v Ipswich Town (Portman Road)


Wolverhampton Wanderers
25 July v Stoke City (bet365 Stadium)
28 July v Derby County (Pride Park)

Pulisic urged to remain at Borussia Dortmund

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After his two goals and a glittering performance for Borussia Dortmund in their 3-1 win against Liverpool in Charlotte, NC on Sunday, Christian Pulisic is once again turning heads.

[ MORE: Pulisic stars in Dortmund win ]

The 19-year-old U.S. national team star took plenty of time off this summer and it looks to have paid dividends already as he’s been sharp in Dortmund’s opening two games of their preseason tour of the USA as he also won a penalty kick in a 1-0 win against Manchester City last week.

Yet along with his displays of powerful runs, clever passing and clinical finishing come more rumors that the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Manchester United is scrambling to buy him for around $70 million this summer.

His teammate at Dortmund, Marco Reus, has urged Pulisic to remain at Dortmund.

“Christian is a good guy, he has so much quality,” Reus told ESPN. “I hope he plays [for Dortmund] for many, many more years, but we will see over the next few years.”

This is becoming an often asked question in U.S. soccer circles. Where is best for Pulisic to develop into a truly world-class talent?

He is well on the way to becoming that already at Dortmund with regular minutes under his belt in the Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League and at a club where young players are given a chance to flourish.

With two years left on his current contract, Pulisic is sought after by the Premier League big boys not only because of his obvious talent on the pitch but his marketability off the pitch with U.S. fans desperate for a new USMNT hero.

Pulisic seems settled and happy at Dortmund whenever we’ve spoken to him and his father, Mark, has said recently that there’s nothing in the reports that he is moving to the PL this summer. Yet with Jurgen Klopp talking Pulisic up over the past few days and the attacker from Hershey, PA delivering, the hype around Pulisic seems to be gathering steam once again after an up and down 2017-18 campaign.

Right now remaining at Dortmund seems his best option but another season of ripping it up as a teenager will no doubt keep the rumors growing.

UCL, Europa League third round qualifying draw

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The third qualifying round draw for the UEFA Champions League and Europa League took place on Monday, with some intriguing clashes set up for the next few weeks.

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Premier League side Burnley face Scottish Premiership side Aberdeen in their Europa League second qualifying round game this week and if the Clarets are victorious they now know they will face Turkish outfit Istanbul Basaksehir.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule ]  

The likes of Gael Clichy, Emmanuel Adebayor, Gokhan Inler and Arda Turan all play for Basaksehir who finished third in the Turkish Super Lig last season, just three points behind first-place Galatasaray.

Celtic will play against AEK Athens if they get past Rosenborg in their UCL second qualifying round ties, while there is a big clash set up in the UCL third qualifying round in the League Path as Benfica play against Fenerbahce.

[ MORE: Europa League schedule

Below is a look at the draws in full for the UCL and Europa League third qualifying rounds.


UEFA Champions League (to be played August 7/8, 14)

Champions path
Celtic (SCO)/Rosenborg (NOR) v AEK Athens (GRE)
Salzburg (AUT) v Shkendija (MKD)/Sheriff (MDA)
Crvena zvezda (SRB)/Sūduva (LTU) v Legia Warszawa (POL)/Spartak Trnava (SVK)
Kukes (ALB)/Qarabag (AZE) v BATE Borisov (BLR)/HJK Helsinki (FIN)
Astana (KAZ)/Midtjylland (DEN) v Dinamo Zagreb (CRO)/Hapoel Beer-Sheva (ISR)
CFR Cluj (ROU)/Malmo (SWE) v Ludogorets Razgrad (BUL)/Vidi (HUN)

* clubs who lose in this round qualify for the Europa League champions path playoff round

League path
Standard Liege (BEL) v Ajax (NED)/Sturm Graz (AUT)
Benfica (POR) v Fenerbahce (TUR)
Slavia Praha (CZE) v Dynamo Kyiv (UKR)
PAOK (GRE)/Basel (SUI) v Spartak Moskva (RUS)

* clubs who lose in this round qualify for the Europa League group stage


UEFA Europa League, third qualifying round (to be played August 9, 16)

Champions path
Ludogorets Razgrad (BUL)/Vidi (HUN) v Zrinjski (BIH)/Valletta (MLT)
Legia Warszawa (POL)/Spartak Trnava (SVK) v F91 Dudelange (LUX)/Drita (KOS)
Sutjeska (MNE)/Alashkert (ARM) v CFR Cluj (ROU) v Malmö (SWE)
Olimpija Ljubljana (SVN) v Crusaders (NIR) v BATE Borisov (BLR)/HJK Helsinki (FIN)
Shkendija (MKD)/Sheriff (MDA) v FC Santa Coloma (AND)/Valur Reykjavík (ISL)

Cork City (IRL) v Celtic (SCO)/Rosenborg (NOR)
Spartaks Jurmala (LVA)/La Fiorita (SMR) v Crvena zvezda (SRB)/Suduva (LTU)
The New Saints (WAL)/Lincoln Red Imps (GIB) v Astana (KAZ)/Midtjylland (DEN)
Dinamo Zagreb (CRO)/Hapoel Beer-Sheva (ISR) v APOEL (CYP)/Flora Tallinn (EST)
Torpedo Kutaisi (GEO)/Vikingur (FRO) v Kukes (ALB)/Qarabag (AZE)

Main path
Tobol Kostanay (KAZ)/Pyunik (ARM) v Maccabi Tel-Aviv (ISR)/Radnicki Nis (SRB)
Dunajska Streda (SVK)/Dinamo Minsk (BLR) v Zenit (RUS)
Ajax (NED)/Sturm Graz (AUT) v Dundalk (IRL)/AEK Larnaca (CYP)
St. Gallen (SUI)/Sarpsborg (NOR) v HNK Rijeka (CRO)
İstanbul Basaksehir (TUR) v Aberdeen (SCO)/Burnley (ENG)

Zorya Luhansk (UKR) v Braga (POR)
Hapoel Haifa (ISR)/FH Hafnarfjordur (ISL) v Atalanta (ITA)/Sarajevo (BIH)
Genk (BEL)/Fola Esch (LUX) v Shakhtyor Soligorsk (BLR)/Lech Poznań (POL)
Viitorul (ROU)/Vitesse (NED) v PAOK (GRE)/Basel (SUI)
Nordsjælland (DEN)/AIK (SWE) v Partizan (SRB)/Trakai (LTU)

Hibernian (SCO)/Asteras Tripolis (GRE) v Molde (NOR)/Lac (ALB)
Hajduk Split (CRO)/Slavia Sofia (BUL) v Rudar Velenje (SVN)/FCSB (ROU)
Sevilla (ESP)/Ujpest (HUN) v Zalgiris Vilnius (LTU)/Vaduz (LIE)
Sigma Olomouc (CZE) v Kairat Almaty (KAZ)/AZ Alkmaar (NED)
Balzan (MLT)/Slovan Bratislava (SVK) v Rapid Wien (AUT)

Djurgarden (SWE)/Mariupol (UKR) v Ventspils (LVA)/Bordeaux (FRA)
CSKA-Sofia (BUL)/Admira Wacker Modling (AUT) v Stjarnan (ISL)/Kobenhavn (DEN)
Olympiacos (GRE) v Luzern (SUI)
Osijek (CRO)/Rangers (SCO) v Chikhura Sachkhere (GEO)/Maribor (SVN)
Gornik Zabrze (POL)/Trencin (SVK) v Feyenoord (NED)

Jagiellonia Białystok (POL)/Rio Ave (POR) v Gent (BEL)
Spartak Subotica (SRB)/Sparta Praha (CZE) v Brondby (DEN)
Ufa (RUS)/Domžale (SVN) v Budapest Honved (HUN)/Progres Niederkorn (LUX)
B36 Torshavn (FRO)/Besiktas (TUR) v LASK (AUT)/Lillestrom (NOR)
Zeljeznicar (BIH)/Apollon Limassol (CYP) v Dinamo Brest (BLR)/Atromitos (GRE)
Leipzig (GER)/Hacken (SWE) v U Craiova (ROU)

Mourinho on Man United: “We are not a team”

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Manchester United drew 0-0 with the San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer on Sunday and it’s safe to say Jose Mourinho didn’t seem impressed.

The stalemate at Levi’s Stadium continued Mourinho’s theme of complaining about the players he doesn’t have at his disposal as many are still on a break after the World Cup and won’t link up with United until they return to the UK ahead of the Premier League season starting on August 10.

Speaking to MUTV after the game, Mourinho had the following to say on United’s second consecutive draw after their 1-1 result against Liga MC side Club America on Thursday.

“We are not a team. We’re a group of players from different teams,” Mourinho said. “Some are first-team, some under-23s, some coming from loans and going on loan, some are younger, under-18s. We don’t have a team to play much better than we did but [it’s] one more training session.”

That assessment is fair enough, preseason is about practice rather than results, but these sessions are about to step up with games against AC Milan, Liverpool and Real Madrid in the next week.

Mourinho still has the likes of Juan Mata, Eric Bailly, Luke Shaw, Anthony Martial, Ander Herrera and now Alexis Sanchez on tour after the latter sorted out a visa issue. Hardly just the U-18 team.

He’s missing Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Maraoune Fellaini, Jesse Lingard, Phil Jones, Ashley Young, Marcus Rashford and Victor Lindelof after their deep runs at the World Cup this summer, plus David De Gea, Marcos Rojo and new signing Fred. So, he does have a point about United’s options being depleted for preseason.

But he’s known this would be the case for months and the likes of Pep Guardiola at Manchester City seems delighted to give youngsters a chance rather than focus on all of his stars who won’t return until right at the start of the PL season.

If United have a slow start to the PL campaign, I wonder what Mourinho will point to as the main reason for that…