MLS Season Preview: Ranking the top 10 midfielders

Leave a comment

The countdown to the 2014 Major League Soccer season is ticking away and very shortly MLS will be back with a bang, as a spectacular season awaits.

We’ve been rolling out season previews of every team at PST and now it’s time to focus on each position and share who we think are the top 10 players.

LATEST 2014 MLS PREVIEWS, RIGHT HERE

Let’s take a look at the best midfielders as our season preview continues.

1. Michael Bradley

Toronto FC spent big to bring the U.S. international back from Roma. What they get in return is the most complete midfielder in Major League Soccer – a player capable of impacting a game in all phases. Farther down this list, you’ll see players who are among league’s best in discrete specialities: destroying; generating chances; providing goals from midfield. Given the circumstances of any particularly game, Bradley can flip a switch and become an elite midfielder in any of those areas, flashing a skill set that will help the Reds vault from bottom feeders to playoff contention.

2. Graham Zusi

This is where the list gets more contentious, but given how important Zusi is to 2013’s champions, it’s easy to see the influence of his maturation has had on Sporting Kansas City’s fortunes. As a creative threat alone, he became an Most Valuable Player candidate. Last year, as somebody who’s increasing effective running the whole show for Peter Vermes’ team, he was able to guide Sporting to their second title. He might not have as much pure talent as some others on this list, but in terms of overall output, Zusi had become a Major League Soccer elite.

3. Javier Morales

To truly appreciate Javier Morales, you need only hear opponents talk about his game. You don’t have to go far to find one of Real Salt Lake’s opponents call the Argentine veteran Major League Soccer’s best midfielder; and if not best, it’s most creative. While that isn’t a universally held opinion, it does speak to a player whose impact goes beyond the eight goals and 10 assists he posted last season – arguably his most productive since arriving at Rio Tinto.

source:  4. Osvaldo Alonso

The all-around skill set Michael Bradley boasts? That’s not Osvaldo Alonso, even if his contributions going forward are underappreciated. What Osvaldo Alonso does best — what he does to an unmatched degree in Major League Soccer — is destroy attacks. There is no midfield force that’s more disruptive than Alonso’s, and while some would prefer the more well-rounded game of Kyle Beckerman, Alonso is one of the few defense-first players that can dictate how a game is played – part of the reason Seattle willingly signed him to a Designated Player deal this offseason.

5. Kyle Beckerman

Beckerman has developed into the quintessential MLS regista – somebody who can organize a midfield, break up play for his defense, and spray the ball around with an enviable acuity. While he may not break open games in the same way his Argentine teammate can, Beckerman has a knack for contributing important goals, a trait that allows him to further transcend most of the league’s holders. He is as important as anybody to Real Salt Lake’s success, with the contributions he makes in training as well as games a big reason why he’ll be on the U.S.’s plane to Brazil.

6. Landon Donovan

On any given day, the league’s soon-to-be all-time leading scorer is still MLS’s best player, but in his slightly advancing years, those games are coming less frequent. As we saw in last year’s playoffs, the mere presence of Donovan is no guarantee of continued greatness. Still, even at 32-years-old, the Galaxy star can break open a game like few below him on this list. For one-game, if a title is on the line, most coaches would still pick him over the names above his.

7. Diego Valeri

In a completely different way, Portland’s Diego Valeri can match Donovan’s game-breaking ability, but whereas the LA star will typically does his damage while leading neck-snapping counters, Valeri’s ability to find seams in opposing defenses was a big part of the Timbers’ historic turnaround. He was the trequartista Caleb Porter needed to engineer that chance, part of the reason he was the franchise’s first big ticket acquisition after the former Akron boss signed on. With improved health, the former Lanus creator may be able to provide even more in 2014.

source:  8. Diego Fagundez

The numbers tell the story: 13 goals; seven assists; only 19 years old. Fagundez, not Darlington Nagbe, is the league’s best player under 24 years old, and while he may struggle to reproduce those eye-catching numbers, the potential to have a greater, more consistent minute-to-minute impact means the Uruguayan-born midfielder may have a better season. While Fagundez’s stats were beyond reproach, he will become even more influential as the more nuanced aspects of his game mature. It will be amazing to watch.

9. Darlington Nagbe

Nobody takes care of the ball like Darlington Nagbe, who led all attacking players in passing percentage last season. Registering a career high in goals (nine), the third-year attacker started to come good on the prodigious talent be brought to Oregon. The one thing he lacks: that element of aggression that can make the difference between a very good player and an All-Star (or Most Valuable Player candidate). It’s why Portland brought in Valeri last season, but over the course of the 2013 season, Nagbe may have learned a few lessons from his more adventurers teammate. In 2014, Nagbe may yet add that cutting edge that’s keeping him from being one of the league’s elites.

10. Will Johnson

Yet another Portland Timber, but coming off a year where his name trickled into MVP conversations, it’s impossible to leave Will Johnson off this list. In Porter’s system, Johnson went from feisty foot solider at Real Salt Lake to driving force in Portland’s midfield, with diligent defensive pressure combining with a series of timely goals to make the Canadian international one of 2013’s most influential offseason acquisitions. After career highs in goals and assists, the question is whether Johnson can replicate last year’s production, but still likely to get the call on dead balls and penalties, the 27-year-old’s stats should match his considerable influence in the middle.

MORE: Top 10 rookies in MLS
MORE: Top 10 goalkeepers in MLS
MORE: Top 10 defenders in MLS

Reports: Conte to sue Chelsea over how firing was handled

Getty Images
Leave a comment

According to reports in Italy, and backed up by those in England, Antonio Conte is planning to sue Chelsea over the way the club handled his exit this summer.

Chelsea is reportedly planning to pay Conte the rest of his salary in full, but the reports state that the Italian is unhappy how long it took the club to confirm his exit, leaving him unable to secure a job commiserate with his experience level for this coming season.

The 48-year-old is set to receive nearly $12 million as compensation for the final year of his now-terminated contract, but is looking for additional damages given the timing of his departure. Despite the writing clearly on the wall, Conte had weeks of silence from the club, before being pulled back to London to begin pre-season training with the squad for just four days before he was then let go.

Upon his release, Conte released a relatively benign statement thanking the club, the fans, the staff, and the players, but notably did not thank the board or owner Roman Abramovich.

Things between Chelsea and Conte have been testy for some time now. It was reported earlier last month – before Conte was officially let go – that Chelsea was planning to withhold payment of Conte’s remaining salary and sue the Italian for costing the club money for former striker Diego Costa. Costa told the media he received a text message from Conte while on international duty last summer that he was no longer wanted at the club. If true, the club could have argued that Conte botched the situation and cost the club a significant amount of money. However, it seems the club has – for now – decided not to pursue the lawsuit, with reports stating that Conte is set to receive his salary in full.

WATCH: Jurgen Klopp crashes Alisson’s first Liverpool interview

LiverpoolFC.com
Leave a comment

Jurgen Klopp has had quite the summer, and it’s just become even better.

Liverpool officially acquired Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson for a world-record transfer fee, and with the former Roma netminder filling his first obligations in Red, things didn’t go exactly as the club’s media staff had planned. While sitting down for his first interview with the club staff to be used in the official release, Jurgen Klopp couldn’t resist crashing the party to say hello.

[ MORE: Alisson to Liverpool official ]

The language barrier made things a bit awkward, as did the rolling cameras, but it’s pretty clear both sides are quite happy with the recent developments, with smiles all around. Take a look:

Klopp asked if Alisson was in the middle of his post-World Cup vacation, which he confirmed as true, but smartly followed up with “But now I am working.”

We’re sure they’ll catch up on a more complete basis privately later, but it was pretty cool to see their first interaction caught on camera.

Ajax tells clubs to back off their young Dutch stars

Getty Images
Leave a comment

In the past, Dutch giants Ajax have looked to make a profit developing strong Dutch talent from the youth level and selling them to big clubs all across Europe. Today, Ajax sporting director Marc Overmars has told clubs not to bother inquiring about their rising young stars.

“We have now reached a point where we simply say that we are not selling these players,” Overmars told Dutch publication De Telegraaf.

While Overmars did suggest they could reconsider in a year’s time, for now, young stars like Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs De Ligt are Ajax players now and for the future.

“He [De Jong] is not for sale, and I have communicated this to all parties involved,” Overmars said. “It is the same for Matthijs. Clubs that are interested are free to come back next year. Of course, Davinson Sanchez’s move [to Tottenham] last year showed that it is not always easy to stand firm.

“They are still only 19, 20 years old. I have told these players and their agents that a transfer after this season could be an option if the right offer comes in. Frenkie de Jong, Donny van de Beek and Matthijs de Ligt are not for sale as far as we are concerned, not even for an insane amount. They should play about 40 games for Ajax first in 2018-19.”

De Ligt, now 18, is the most well-known name of the group, having made headlines when he because the youngest Dutch international since 1931, making his debut at just 17 years old. Meanwhile, a 21-year-old box-to-box midfielder, De Jong is often considered the most talented young star with the highest ceiling.

Finally, others that Ajax could see develop into special talent include 21-year-old wide player Donny van de Beek, 21-year-old right winger David Neres, 20-year-old striker Kasper Dolberg, 20-year-old defender Max Wober, 20-year-old defensive midfielder Carel Eiting, and 20-year-old Noussair Mazraoui among many others who received playing time towards the end of last season.

Ajax has been on the hunt this summer, not only keeping the youth talent to itself, but also spending on incoming stars Dusan Tadic and Daley Blind, both of whom return to the club after spells in the Premier League.

It’s official: Goalkeeper Alisson completes record transfer to Liverpool

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Liverpool fans finally have a highly-touted goalkeeper to mind the net as they look to continue the upward trajectory under Jurgen Klopp.

After much speculation, courtship, and negotiation, AS Roma accepted a world-record transfer fee of $85 million, the highest ever paid for a goalkeeper. It obliterates the record held for nearly 17 years by Gianluigi Buffon for his $62 million transfer from Parma to Juventus in 2001. According to reports, the breakdown is a $73 million fee plus $12 million in potential add-ons.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Alisson’s Liverpool medical was completed on Thursday, and the deal was complete. First, Roma gave Alisson an official send-off on social media, confirming the Brazilian had left the club.

Then came the official confirmation from Liverpool about a half-hour later.

“In terms of my life and my career, it’s a huge step for me being part of this club and this family,” Alisson said in the official club release. “You can be certain that I’ll give my all.”

Alisson comes highly rated from his time in the Italian top flight. Originally a youth product of Brazilian Serie A club Internacional, Alisson moved to Roma in the summer of 2016 after three professional seasons in his home country. Statistically, Alisson was the best goalkeeper in Serie A last season, with not only the best save percentage in the league (77%) but also the best distribution rate.

“When you have the opportunity to sign one of the world’s best goalkeepers then it’s not a long thought to be honest,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said after the signing was announced.

At the 2018 World Cup this summer, Alisson started for Brazil and played every minute of their World Cup journey in Russia. While he wasn’t terribly impressive, he didn’t have too many chances to put on a starring performance, but again his distribution out of the back was stellar. Alisson was the only player at the World Cup to play the entirety of his team’s first two matches and not misplace a single pass, reaching all the way to Brazil’s third group stage match against Serbia before failing to complete a pass. He went 31 straight pass attempts over those two-plus matches without a miss.

“When a very substantial bid comes in, you have to consider it,” Roma sporting director Monchi said about the transfer. “We thought about the pros and cons and decided to talk to Liverpool about the deal.”

The 25-year-old will now likely slot straight into the Liverpool starting lineup, and the club will need to figure out what to do with its other goalkeepers Loris Karius, Simon Mignolet, and Danny Ward. Mignolet began last season as the starter before conceding the gloves to Karius who infamously committed a pair of egregious errors in the Champions League final.