2014 Season Preview: Welcome to the last year of MLS 2.0

7 Comments

This World Cup business is awfully inconvenient. Here’s Major League Soccer, turning its wallet inside out, embarking on its first major spending push since the 1990s, and FIFA has to throw this huge party in Brazil – in the middle of the MLS season! Then they go and invite all of the league’s best players, some of whom MLS just paid big bucks to bring back? World Cup, your timing couldn’t be worse.

Entering its 19th season, Major League Soccer is starting to transcend mere stability. Under commissioner Don Garber, the league now has a national footprint of viable teams, one that’s allowed it to become ambitious. Those days of contracting teams in Florida? Dead, gone, irrelevant.

With signings like Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley and Seattle Sounders attacker Clint Dempsey, MLS is reaching out to the casual fans, I really only watch the national team follower and saying “then watch your national team with us.” Dear mainstream sports fan: Drop on by; hang out; beers are on us.

But for the first three months of the 2014 season, those casual and mainstream fans are going to be all about the World Cup. The U.S. plays an exhibition against Mexico on April 2. They’ll call their preliminary roster into camp mid-May. Then the send-off tour begins. Even before festivities in Brazil kick-off in mid-June, the national team pops onto the radar just enough to keep MLS’s breakout season in the shadows.

At least, this is supposed to be MLS’s breakout season, what with all the Bradley-ness and Dempsey-ness happening. Former Tottenham striker Jermain Defoe’s in Toronto, Philadelphia brought Maurice Edu back from Stoke, and and teams’ new ability to use “retention funds” have kept the likes of Graham Zusi, Matt Besler, and Diego Fagundez in the league. If Garber’s goal is to make MLS a “league of choice,” recent choices say Major League Soccer’s climbing the ladder.

source: Reuters
New York City FC is on the horizon. Along with Orlando City they’ll help usher in a new era of Major League Soccer. (Photo: Reuters.)

The real breakout, however, won’t happen until next year. That’s when New York City FC comes in. Along with Orlando City SC, the Manchester City venture will push the league to 21 teams, starting an era that’s sure to see even more spending. With a new collective bargaining agreement on the horizon, the league will have a new set of rules meant to cultivate its new, dramatic growth.

2014 will be the end of an era, albeit a short one. Starting with Seattle’s move to MLS in 2009, the league welcomed a new identity, one that embraced the virtues of their new, ready-to-go markets. Major League Soccer was no longer picking spots on a map and hoping things work. Portland, Vancouver, Philadelphia, and Montréal were all to go from day one.

Their effects could even be seen on last year’s champions. The story of Sporting Kansas City’s success goes beyond the maturation of Zusi, Besler, and head coach Peter Vermes. It’s about a brand whose success has hinged on creating an exciting product that could capture imaginations in a competitive market. Part of that was a new name. Part of that was a new look. A great stadium had something to do with that, too. When the team claimed their second MLS title last December, that whole new, MLS 2.0 package came together.

(MORE: An alternate view of the 2014 Major League Soccer season.)

That’s where we stand, one day ahead of 2.0’s last season. This time next year, we’ll have fully embarked on a new, more ambitious era of Major League Soccer – a period that will couple ambition’s excitement with endeavor’s risk. Whereas the last five years have been defined by stability new teams brought, MLS 3.0 will see the league try to claim the ‘major’ status it’s sought for so long.

Enjoy 2.0’s farewell.

(MORE: LATEST 2014 MLS PREVIEWS, RIGHT HERE)

source: Getty Images
Peter Vermes and Sporting Kansas City broke through last season, claiming the club’s second MLS title. (Photo: Getty Images.)

Outlook: Eastern Conference

Sporting Kansas City finished second in last year’s regular season but went on to claim the title. If they falter before playoffs this year, it will be because Zusi and Besler will be gone for the World Cup.

New York is coming off their first major honor, having won the Supporters’ Shield. As a result, they’ve elected to roll with the team that worked, bringing in only two new starters.

Contrast that with D.C. United, who have completely made over a team that set an MLS record for fewest wins in a season (three). Toronto FC also engaged in an overhaul, albeit a more expensive one. With Bradley, Defoe, and Brazilian attacker Gilberto, Ryan Nelsen has a new set of Designated Players in a team that’s expected to make its first postseason.

Juan Agudelo’s gone, but New England remains young and talented; Columbus lost Chad Marshall but still has the criminally overlooked Federico Higuaín; Chicago needs Mike Magee to continue to be an MVP to replicate last year’s mid-table performance; Houston will be looking to move past a season of chronic absences and sporadic scoring; Philadelphia’s hopes rest on Conor Casey and Jack McInerney producing a viable attack; while Montréal looks in flux, with Plan A on the verge of becoming plan AARP.

Favorites: Sporting KC, New York
Contenders: Toronto FC, Houston
Playoff hopefuls: Everybody else
No chance: I’m being nice here

MORE, Team-by-Team previews: Chicago | Columbus | D.C. United | Houston | Montréal | New England | New York | Philadelphia | Sporting KC | Toronto

source: Getty Images
Will Johnson’s first season in Portland helped the Timbers climb from eighth to first, with the former Real Salt Lake midfielder garnering MVP consideration for his contributions. (Photo: Getty Images.)

Outlook: Western Conference

Portland and Real Salt Lake, last year’s top two finishers, look as strong, but whereas the Timbers have brought in Argentines Norberto Paparatto (defense) and Gastón Fernández (attack), last year’s conference champions lost head coach Jason Kreis.

Dallas also has a new coach, with former Rapids boss Óscar Pareja eventually bring Honduran destroyer Hendry Thomas to Frisco with him. Colorado replaced Pareja with nobody (yet) but still offers Major League Soccer’s best core of young talent (Deshorn Brown, Dillon Powers, Shane O’Neill, Chris Klute, Clint Irwin).

Vancouver also switched coaches, swapping the youth and promise of Martin Rennie for the youth and MLS experience of Carl Robinson. A full year of Jay DeMerit and the acquisition of Matías Laba make then playoff contenders. San Jose is in that category, too, with Mark Watson hoping his first full year on the sidelines returns the Earthquakes to there 2012 selves.

LA Galaxy retained Omar Gonzalez with last year’s Designated Player deal and have added significant depth in attack and midfield. Their StubHub Center co-tenants, Chivas USA, were bought by the league in February and are set for another year of transition.

And then there’s Seattle, the league’s ultimate wild cards. Among MLS’s most talented teams, the Sounders face-planted at the finish line in 2013, sparking an offseason mark over. Still among the league’s most talented, they’ll start 2014 with the same problem that killed them last fall: A lack of familiarity with each other.

Favorites: Portland, Real Salt Lake, LA Galaxy
Contenders: Seattle
Playoff hopefuls: San Jose, Vancouver, Colorado, FC …
No chance: … Dallas (this conference is tough), Chivas USA

MORE, Team-by-Team previews: Chivas USA | Colorado | Dallas | LA Galaxy | Portland | Real Salt Lake | San Jose | Seattle | Vancouver

source:
The United States’ all-time leading scorer will secure the same status in MLS early in 2014.
  • Landon Donovan, LA Galaxy – It may happen on Saturday, or we may have to wait until spring. At some point, the Galaxy legend is going to score his 135th career goal, leaving him alone at the top of MLS’s all-time scoring list. It you can’t love that, even for a moment, this list is not for you.
  • Michael Bradley, Toronto FC – Major League Soccer has no shortage of talented midfielders, but there are very few guys that can command games from box-to-box. Welcome back, Michael Bradley. Take this thing over.
  • Diego Valeri, Portland Timbers – One of a slew of talented playmakers in MLS, Valeri is a man of action. Whereas other trequaristas can be pensive, thoughtful on the ball, Portland’s Argentine import is the most decisive playmaker in the league, a quality that makes him easy to love.
  • Diego Fagundez, New England Revolution – The best young player in Major League Soccer and arguably the best 19-year-old to ever play in the league, Fagundez is coming off a 13-goal, seven-assist season … as an 18-year-old! Often a step ahead of the game, imagine what the Uruguayan-born attacker can do once he really hones his talents.
  • Aurélien Collin, Sporting Kansas City – When he’s on, he’s the league’s best defender, but he does so behind a mask that means he’s often the heel. Collin led the league in yellow cards last year, but watch what he does when he’s not drawing cards. You’ll come to love the duality.
  • DeAndre Yedlin, Seattle Sounders – If Fagundez is the best young player in the league,  Yedlin is the best young defender. Only 20, even Yedlin’s faults are endearing. Ambitious going forward while still growing into his game in defense, Yedlin has already drawn the attention of the U.S. national team.
  • Jay DeMerit, Vancouver Whitecaps – DeMerit missed most of 2013 recovering from an Achilles injury. Back, healthy, and looking as good as he did during his 2012 All-Star season, the former U.S. international can be one of the league’s best defenders. Welcome back.
  • Federico Higuaín, Columbus Crew – Don’t love him for his game breaking skill or a command of play that makes every moment of Columbus transition into must see TV. Love Higuaín because, despite his famous name and a year-and-a-half in the league, he’s still overlooked. Love Higuaín’s game because you can still get in on the ground floor. When people finally start seriously talking about All-Star and Best XI spots, you can say you were there all along.
  • Deshorn Brown, Colorado Rapids – The second year pro out of Central Florida is a handful, so much so that the Jamican national team has already brought him into the fold. Be it through the middle or out wide, Brown can tear you up with the ball or blow past you without it. If he wasn’t also 6’2″, his game might have a weakness.
  • Amobi Okugo, Philadelphia Union – This is his time. A natural midfielder, Okugo has been fully converted to central defense, a place where his intelligence and skill can thrive. Entering his second full season at the position, the 22-year-old is poised for a break through. Couple that with one of the more endearing personalities in the league, and Okugo’s game becomes easy to love.

MORE: Top 10 Rookies | Goalkeepers | Defenders | Midfielders | Forwards

What now?

You know the teams. You know the stars. Now, watch. The league season of Major League Soccer 2.0 kicks off Saturday, with Seattle hosting Sporting Kansas City, with coverage available on NBCSN and NBC Live Extra beginning at 3:00 p.m. ET.

Brighton – Liverpool preview: How to watch, start time, stream, odds, prediction

Brighton - Liverpool preview
Photo by Visionhaus
Leave a comment

Brighton – Liverpool preview: Liverpool continues its pursuit of history when it visits safer but not secure Brighton and Hove Albion on Wednesday (Watch live at 3:15 pm ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Reds bounced back from a blowout loss to Man City and beat Aston Villa over the weekend and will now turn its attention to a Brighton team that took them to the wire earlier this season.

STREAM BRIGHTON – LIVERPOOL LIVE

The Seagulls have been quite good for a bottom-half side, very unlucky until a recent surge propelled them nine points clear of the bottom three.


Team news

Liverpool is waiting on the statuses of James Milner and Dejan Lovren for the trip down south.

Brighton won’t have Jose Izquierdo, and Steven Alzate is a doubt.


What they’re saying

Jurgen Klopp on getting ready for challenging Brighton“First and foremost, I want us to be lively, I want us to be active, I want us to be creative and I want us to be really solid, especially in protecting the counter-attacks. Whatever setup Brighton will choose and they used to change a lot for the specific opponent system-wise. So against us when we played here, it was kind of a 4-3-2-1, maybe they play that again. But we have only two days’ time, so we cannot prepare for all the different systems. Most of the things the boys have to learn on the pitch and then use our principles, our patterns. Hopefully it will work out.”

Graham Potter on facing the champs“It would be nice to get a result against them. Whenever you play the best it is an opportunity to test yourself and learn about yourselves. Liverpool have been amazing this season and are thoroughly deserved champions. It’s great for us to have that level of opposition. We have to make sure we retain Premier League status and keep fighting so that means trying to take points off every team between now and the end of the season.”


Odds and ends (Full matchweek odds)

Brighton’s a solid underdog at home (+510), with Liverpool expected to keep up its march on history at -182 favorites.

Liverpool beat Brighton 2-1 with 10 men in a November match in which the Seagulls angered Jurgen Klopp.


Prediction

The Seagulls have an underrated team and they will certainly hang around in this game if they can avoid an early concession. Let’s say they do, and fight valiantly in a second 2-1 loss this season.


How to watch Brighton – Liverpool stream, start time

Kickoff: 3:15 pm ET Wednesday
TV Channel: NBCSN
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Arteta eager for Ceballos to stay; laments missed chances, VAR

Leave a comment

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta has revealed he is eager for Dani Ceballos to stay long term and he also lamented their missed chances as they drew 1-1 at home against Leicester City.

Arteta’s side dominated the first half and should have gone in more than 1-0 up as a combination of fine saves from Kasper Schmeichel and poor decision cost the Gunners.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

A red card to Eddie Nketiah and a late Jamie Vardy equalizer, but checked by VAR, cost them what would have been a big win in their battle to get back in the Champions League race.

ProSoccerTalk asked Arteta after the game about Ceballos’ future, as his loan from Real Madrid is due to end in a few weeks’ time when the 2019-20 season is over.

“I am really happy with him. I think it is something the club has to go a little bit further with Real Madrid on that. At the moment he is playing really well, I am really happy with him and he is a player with a big talent and still a lot of things to improve,” Arteta said.

So, Arteta wants Ceballos to stay longer at Arsenal.

Watch this space as the Gunners aim to make a permanent move or loan deal for Ceballos who played a lovely ball to Bukayo Saka on their goal and continues to form a superb, and unlikely, partnership with Granit Xhaka as a holding midfielder instead of being a No. 10.

“He was superb again,” Arteta said of Ceballos. “Him and Granit are creating a really good understanding. They give us a lot of balance and a lot of stability with the ball as well to make the first decision in transition moments. They are evolving a lot together and I think defensively Dani has made a big step forward with the way he is pressing, the amount of interceptions and the tackles he is putting in. He is enjoying it.”

Arteta didn’t enjoy Arsenal’s finishing, though, as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s opener wasn’t enough for the win. Bukayo Saka, Alexandre Lacazette and others popped up in dangerous positions but Arsenal just couldn’t find that killer second goal that Arteta craved.

That lack of a killer instinct in the final third is something Arteta and Arsenal will look at.

“It is very difficult to do. The hardest thing to do is to score goals. When you are generating more than enough opportunities, you should go in with a much bigger margin into half time,” Arteta said. “We will make a lot of reviews about situations like that and how important they are in crucial moments to make the right decisions and be clinical and ruthless. But if you don’t do that, you cannot give anything to the opponent and you cannot play this type of game with 10 men.”

VAR, as it always seems to do now, will have the last word, as Arteta couldn’t believed that Nketiah was sent off for his challenge on James Justin and believed that Jamie Vardy should have been sent off in the first half for a similar challenge.

“I am extremely proud of our team, the way we played against this kind of opposition. We should have been three or four-nil up. With the red card you have to know he is a young kid. Leicester should play with 10 men after 42 minutes. For a challenge between the 40th and 45th minute,” Arteta said. “I don’t understand the rules. I never see a referee check any of the images. But I can do nothing now, it is the rules. We lost two points, we lost Eddie and we will see now for how many games. But we go to Spurs now and try to win three points.”

Arsenal remain in the hunt for fifth place — which could still be a Champions League spot depending on whether or not Man City’s European ban is overturned — but they are five points off Man United with four games to go and it will be tough for the Gunners to qualify for the Champions League this season.

That was always going to be the case given their poor start but since Arteta arrived in December things have changed. The fact that they are in with a shout, and disappointed to not be closer to fifth place, shows you how much progress the Gunners have made since the Spaniard arrived.

Arsenal are getting there, step-by-step, but this draw against Leicester feels like a ‘what if’ moment when all is said and done in their 2019-20 season.

Manchester City – Newcastle preview: How to watch, start time, stream, odds, prediction

Manchester City - Newcastle preview
Photo by Manchester City FC/Manchester City FC via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manchester City – Newcastle preview: Man City looks to take another step toward sealing second place on the table as plucky Newcastle United visits the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday (Watch live at 1 pm ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)

The nine losses Pep Guardiola’s overseen this season are the most in a single league season over his celebrated career, but City’s still second and the advanced stats say they’re playing the best football in the league.

STREAM MANCHESTER CITY – NEWCASTLE LIVE

It’s a funny game, and the same wisdom can be applied to Steve Bruce’s strong season at Newcastle. The well-traveled and well-liked boss has led the Magpies to a better season that Rafa Benitez did in 2018-19, though it’s pivotal to note that Bruce has been blessed with much better transfer outlay.


Team news

Sergio Aguero remains out for Man City after undergoing knee surgery, while Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker face late fitness tests.

Newcastle star Allan Saint-Maximin was dinged up in a weekend draw with West Ham but could play, while Florian Lejeune, Ciaran Clark, Isaac Hayden, and Sean Longstaff are unlikely to play.


What they’re saying

Man City’s Pep Guardiola on bouncing back from Southampton: “Of course we have confidence in the players and we are the same guys. We’ve done it in previous seasons. The way we played is similar, but we have to win the games. Next season will be next season. We will try to score more goals and avoid conceding chances. The control is there, the way we play is there. We need to try to increase these kind of things.”

Magpies boss Steve Bruce on leading scorer Jonjo Shelvey“It becomes easy, the game of football, like a game of golf, to him. He’s blessed with a natural ability. He can see a pass that other people can’t. He can deliver a pass. He can score a goal. Physically and mentally, he’s bought into everything we’ve tried to put over to him and fair play to him. At the minute, he’s reaping the benefits of how good he looks, and of course he’s playing at the top of his game, which is always good to see because he has been outstanding in the last few games.”


Odds and ends (Full matchweek odds)

DraftKings’ heads will explode if Newcastle gets this one done, +2000 being attached to the Magpies as opposed to Man City’s -835.

Newcastle and Man City have been twice already this season, both at St. James’ Park. The Magpies drew City 2-2 in league play via Jonjo Shelvey’s late goal before losing 2-0 to City in an FA Cup quarterfinal in late June.


Prediction

Gabriel Jesus is due for a goal, presuming he starts again. The 23-year-old has been sitting on 10 PL goals since February 22, and we suspect he finds a way past Martin Dubravka in a 3-0 win.


How to watch Man City – Newcastle United stream, start time

Kickoff: 1 pm ET Wednesday
TV Channel: NBCSN
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Serie A: Top 2 both lose as Lazio player bites opponent (video)

Lazio player bites opponent
Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Juventus had a chance to effectively put another scudetto race to bed after chasers Lazio lost to relegation-threatened Lecce on Tuesday, a Lazio player biting an opponent to get a late red card to add insult to injury.

But Juve blew a 2-0 second-half lead at AC Milan in remarkable fashion, conceding four times at the San Siro.

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Juve leads Lazio by seven points with seven matches to play for both teams and they meet July 20 in Turin. Inter Milan is third with 64 points and Atalanta fourth with 63, both with a match-in-hand on the top two.


Lecce 2-1 Lazio

The latest manner in which Lazio threw away a chance to dethrone Juventus definitely leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Lazio lost Tuesday for the third time in five post-coronavirus pause outings, seeing a defender sent off for a biting incident in a 2-1 loss to previously-bottom three Lecce.

Patric did not like Giulio Donati’s arms boxing him out of a set piece situation, and clearly latches onto the Lecce man’s left arm.

It was already 2-1 when the red card was shown, Lazio frustrated when Felipe Caicedo’s early goal was countered by goals from Khouma Babacar and Fabio Lucioni.

AC Milan 4-2 Juventus

Milan pulls into fifth in the race for a Europa League place that will leave either Roma, Napoli, or Tuesday’s victors out of Europe.

It was nil-nil at halftime when the game really found its footing.

Adrien Rabiot scored a stunner just after the break and Juan Cuadrado cued up Cristiano Ronaldo for an insurance goal six minutes later.

Ronaldo’s 26th of the season puts him three back of league leader Ciro Immobile of Lazio.

Milan took one back through Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 62nd, and the Swede then set up Franck Kessie for an equalizer before departing in the 67th minute.

Rafael Leao scored right after restart, stunning Juventus. Giacomo Bonaventura, who’d come on for Ibrahimovic, then set up Ante Rebic for the fourth goal of the match.

The Rabiot goal, though…