Major League Soccer Preview: An alternate view of the 2014 regular season

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source: Reuters

The various outlets that cover Major League Soccer (including ProSoccerTalk) have spent the better part of February telling you how the 2014 season will go. This post is definitely not part of that coverage. With a broken crystal ball and an ill-advised disregard for common sense, PST’s Richard Farley gives you this version of the 2014 regular season:

March 

Telling moment: The Major League Soccer season opens with a bang when Aurélien Collin converts a corner kick 38 seconds into Sporting Kansas City’s game in Seattle. Running across the front of the Emerald City Supporters, Collin lifts his jersey to reveal a picture of Eddie Johnson above the caption, “You can hate me now”. “I’m not sure about that one,” Peter Vermes says after his team’s 1-0 win at CenturyLink, with the early goal allowing Sporting to hold 68 percent of the ball and limit both sides to that single shot on goal. Disillusioned Seattle Fan (legal name) mumbles, “I don’t know what the hell I just saw, but I’m assuming the Seahawks are still good.” One Seattle blog hastily suggests replacing Sigi Schmid with Russell Wilson.

source:  Highlights: MLS’s Champions League entrants (San Jose, Sporting KC, LA Galaxy) sweep their Mexican opposition (Toluca, Cruz Azul, Tijuana) out of the competition. Asked for comment, MLS commissioner Don Garber says:

“We’re the best league in the region. When you try us with a sorry trio like that, that’s the result you gonna get! Don’t you ever talk about us! … Liga MX! Don’t you open your mouth about the best, or MLS gonna shut it for you real quick! Single-entity, baby!”

Chivas USA finishes the month on top of the West with nine points, prompting Major League Soccer to put a $101 million price tag on the franchise; Montréal starts the season with four straight draws before confessing “we have no idea if we’re any good”; With 10 points and a spot in the Champions League semifinals, Sporting KC concedes “We’re kind of bored. It’s too easy playing in temperatures so far above freezing. When there’s no threat of toes breaking off, the game lacks obstacles.”

At month’s end, reporter Franco Panizo from the league’s website asks Thierry Henry about March:

“What can you say? It is a word that can mean two things. You ask me about a month. I think about a walk. Maybe the questions should be better?”

Franco decides to stop writing his Henry biography in favor of a wall calendar of Henry quotes.

source: AP

April

Telling moment: After being eliminated from both the U.S. Open Cup and MLS Cup playoffs by Real Salt Lake in 2013, Portland gets their first crack at the Western Conference champs on April 19 at Rio Tinto. An early header from Norberto Paparatto and a late first half goal from Gastón Fernández prompts Caleb Porter to confess at halftime, “We were just that little bit away last season, so this isn’t too much of a surprise.” With his team down 2-0 in stoppage time, Kyle Beckerman cuts a lock out of Sebastian Velazquez’s mullet, laying it on the center line in sacrifice to the spirit of Andy Williams. RSL goes on to win, 3-2.

source:  Highlights: Celebrating the one year anniversary of their scoreboard catching on fire, Columbus shows a lighter side by bringing a 20 ft. fire extinguisher replica to the center circle, firing confetti out of its nozzle after the national anthem. The replica then proceeds to spontaneously combust, with damage from the flames forcing the game against New York to be postponed.

Chivas USA ends April on top of the West with 17 points. “I have this great balanced budget proposal, too,” Nelson Rodríguez admits, “but nobody in Washington listens to me”; Montréal’s streak of draws hits eight, forcing Frank Klopas to confess “we have no idea if we’re any good”; still without a goal, Seattle’s Clint Dempsey says, “it will come, I’m not worried,” while head coach Sigi Schmid derides the media for not counting the goals Clint “really, really wanted”; Sporting KC draws all three of their April games, with players responding to the spring heat with Instagram explanations: “Way too warm.”

With the Red Bulls in first place, Franco Panizo asks Thierry Henry to summarize April:

“It doesn’t waste my time. It starts with the first letter of the list. It has two syllables, like my name. It was a wise choice. I will miss April, just like I miss all great things. You have to appreciate art.”

source: Getty Images

May

Telling moment: The last day of May finally comes for a Sporting team forced to play seven games over the course of a month. “What is this crap,” Oriol Rosell asked, in Catalan, before the team kicked off on May 4 again Columbus, noting Matt Besler and Graham Zusi would leave for the U.S.’s World Cup camp halfway through the month. After a 2-0 May 31 loss in RFK Stadium’s humidity leaves the team exhausted, Collin notes, “As the rats are to this building, so are we to May. I will not be sorry when both go.”

source: APHighlights: With Michael Bradley on international duty, Toronto GM Tim Bezbatchenko convinces Tim Leiweke to sign another Designated Player. “Don’t worry, I’m a salary cap expert,” he assures his boss, only to have the league’s New York office explain a temporary exemption will not be approved for Peter Crouch’s three-month loan.

With two more wins in May, Chivas USA are three points clear at top of the West. Nelson Rodríguez admits he’s considering running for Congress; After a win against visiting Sporting, New England’s communications department sends an exuberant update to executives at Kraft Sports. The email doesn’t receive a response; Bruce Arena, tired of his team’s inattention to detail, spends 15 minutes explaining why coffee cups should be placed top-down on their shelves (“There’s no secret here.”); and after watching his team draw their 12th game in a row, Montréal owner Joey Saputo admits “we have no idea if we’re any good.”

Now with a potential buyer for his calendar, Franco Panizo asks Thierry Henry about May:

“When I was in Europe, it was the best month, because we would say good bye and I would go to Monaco or Tibet and practice answering questions. Sometimes I would sigh. Other times, I would not. But now, I’m caught off guard. Please ask me again next month.”

source: AP

June

Telling moment: “We’re back,” MLS announces when Vancouver hosts Montreál on June 25, the league returning after a break for most of the World Cup’s group stage. Two days later, the league headquarters hits “resend” on the same email before New York hosts Toronto. “We’re seriously back now,” the league’s web site says on Monday, June 30, trying to draw attention from the festivities in Brazil. At 5 p.m., Don Garber authorizes the site to float a “Beckham planning July return” rumor. When fan interest increases, Garber allows “Unnamed Miami Franchise” to begin play in July, snickering “maybe they can earn a spot in Soccer Bowl.”

source:  Highlights: Depleted by World Cup call ups, Real Salt Lake defeats Portland 2-1 at Rio Tinto, with Caleb Porter calling his luck against RSL “absolutely ridiculous”; Despite the loss, the Timbers claim first in the West, prompting Major League Soccer to lower Chivas USA’s franchise asking price to “OBO”; Amid World Cup call ups, D.C. United temporarily claims first in the East. The team celebrates by hanging an “OBO” banner outside RFK; With its team playing only two times in the month, Kansas City proclaims itself “Recovery City USA,” not bothering to see if another place had already claimed the title; Montréal loses their first game of the season in Vancouver, with Marco Di Vaio conceding “we now have a good idea of how good we are.”

When Panizo asks Henry about June, the New York forward says,

“It’s too much. June in New York is terrible. June in New Jersey: Slightly worse.”

source: Getty Images

July

Telling moment: Tired from making up games crammed together by the World Cup break, MLS’s teams complete the nine-match, July 18-20 weekend with nine 0-0 draws. “Please help,” Omar Gonzalez says after the Galaxy’s game in Kansas City. “I promise I’ll never go to a World Cup again.” The Players Association demands a 20-game schedule in World Cup years. MLS threatens to make Spirit Airlines the league’s official carrier.

Highlights: A winless month sees D.C. slide to fifth in the East. “What did you expect,” Ben Olsen asks a set of incredulous reporters. “Do you think last year never happened?”; Chivas USA reclaim first in the West, prompting Nelson Rodríguez to lose a friendly bet when he tries to walk across the top of his pool; After helping the U.S. national team into the second round of the World Cup, Clint Dempsey scores at hat-trick in his first game back, with Seattle beating rival Portland. “You guys are funny,” he says, sarcastically, to swarming reporters afterward. “Really funny.”

“Franco!” Thierry Henry says on July 31, “I love this month, so much. Ask me what it means.” Panizo’s iPhone shatters as it drops to the pavement. Henry gives him a hug.

source: Getty Images

August

Telling moment: With Bayern Munich in town to face the MLS All-Stars, Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson declares “I wouldn’t trade Caleb [Porter] for Pep Guardiola. That’s just how I feel.” Coaching MLS’s team, Porter sees his side lose 1-0 while maintaining just 14 percent possession. “That’s a great team, but we were right there,” Porter says after the game. “You don’t need to control the ball to control the game.”

Highlights: Losing a long-standing bet to Garth Lagerwey, Kyle Beckerman shaves his head after scoring four goals in Colorado on Aug. 2. “You say one stupid thing in Miami and some smart guy remembers it 10 years later. I don’t know, man.”; Tim Bezchatchenko, obsessed with a high-end Keurig coffee maker Daryl Morey told him about at Sloan , defies the office budget and orders a new machine online. Tim Leiweke eventually packs up the unit and sends it to Carl Robinson; With 50 points, Chivas USA is one point ahead of RSL in the West, earning Nelson Rodríguez an interview with the Lakers for Mitch Kupchak’s job; With all their stars back, Sporting Kansas City has a five-point lead in the East, but as Matt Besler notes, “Winter is coming,” words that prompt Collin to rise out of his locker and start walking south.

“Franco, you look sad,” Henry asks on Aug. 30. Panizo says he’s lost interest in his calendar. Inside, he wants another hug. “I have lost interest in many things in life, Franco,” Thierry explains. “Apathy is my muse.”

source: AP

September

Telling moment: After scoring nine goals in four games, lifting his total to a league-leading 15 on the season, Clint Dempsey holds a press conference on the docks outside the Seattle Yacht Club. Arriving in a restored Toyota Land Cruiser and wearing beige cargo shots with flip-flops, Dempsey announces his immediate retirement from soccer. “I just decided I’m done with you, and you, and you,” he says, pointing at various reporters before tossing the Land Cruiser’s keys to the Seattle Times’ Joshua Mayers. One day later, Adrian Hanauer reveals the team secretly registered Didier Drogba before the end of the summer transfer window, with the league agreeing to pay the Ivorian’s entire 2014 salary.

Highlights: At the beginning of the month, the league announces a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Players Association that will eliminate the salary cap, allow promotion-relegation, and shift the competitive calendar to an August-to-May schedule. “It’s just time,” Don Garber confesses. After taking a series of questions from assembled press, the league commissioner finally cracks: “Ha! Got you, bad. It’s five Designated Players and 15 percent annual cap increases. We’re not doing any of that other crap.”; As the Galaxy clings to the edge of the playoff race, Bruce Arena tells the team “it’s about commitment to the little things. The toilet paper goes over, not under.”; With Chivas still in first place, Nelson Rodríguez starts parking in Galaxy president Chris Klein’s spot at StubHub Center. “Sometimes I even park diagonally, across two spaces,” he explains. “I just really like it that way.”

In New York, Henry buys himself and Panizo matching berets. “You get me,” he says. Panizo’s calendar is dead.

source: AP

October

Telling moment: A 1-0 loss to LA on the final day of the season sees Seattle miss the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, with the high-priced forward combination of Didier Drogba and Obafemi Martins injured over the season’s last six games. Twenty-four hours later, Joe Roth and Hanauer announce Sigi Schmid will return for a seventh season. “Dempsey retired and both our big forwards got hurt,” Hanauer explains, offering, “I take as much of the blame as anybody.”

Chivas USA finishes first in the West, one point ahead of both Real Salt Lake and Portland. “Chris [Klein] keyed my car, though,” Rodríguez admits. “Totally worth it.”

In the East, Sporting Kansas City claims the Supporters’ Shield, with Vermes accidentally confessing “Oh, it’s totally easier to win this thing in the East.” Toronto finishes second, closing the season with an eight-game winning streak that prompts Michael Bradley to stop shaving his head.

After New York finishes in third place, Henry shows up to training on Oct. 31 dressed like Panizo. “You are my hero now, Franco,” he explains. “Happy Halloween, friend.”

The Red Bulls are again eliminated in the conference semifinals.

Solskjaer warns “could have been one of those nights” for Manchester United

Manchester United Solskjaer
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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was clearly relieved after his dominant but wasteful Manchester United finally beat goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson and Copenhagen in extra time of their Europa League quarterfinal in Cologne.

“I think it was just one of those nights,” he said after the win. “I think we deserved to win, that’s clear, but they made it very hard for us.”

Johnsson made 13 saves as United out-attempted the minusM-1000 underdogs from Denmark by a 26-9 margin. The Red Devils blocked several Copenhagen chances in tight, making the Danes’ total of zero shots on target a bit deceiving.

[ RECAP: Manchester United 1-0 Copenhagen ]

“Their keeper was unbelievable and we hit the post a few times,” Solskjaer said. “It could have been one of those nights that you end up with a shootout. We had to block, defend well and they made it hard for us.”

But United was clearly the better team on the day, as expected. Juan Mata entered late in the game and was an influential sub in extra time.

He says the Red Devils were a bit beat up on a hot night in Germany.

“The team is quite tired physically,” Mata said. “At this stage of this season it is important to win games like today and we go through. We stay in Germany for quite some time and hopefully we can win.

“Both teams got a little tired and there were more spaces and more chances. They played some good football and credit to them. We could have scored more goals in extra time but we are through.”

United will meet either Sevilla or Wolves in a dynamite semifinal in one week.

Manchester United breaks through Copenhagen in extra time

Manchester United - Copenhagen
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Manchester United – Copenhagen: The Europa League’s biggest underdogs of the quarterfinals took the tournament favorites to extra time before succumbing 1-0 in Cologne.

Bruno Fernandes highlighted his Man of the Match performance by converting an Anthony Martial-won penalty in the 95th minute for Manchester United, the only way past Copenhagen’s terrific goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson.

But Fernandes gave United a scare, needing care for his hamstring at the final whistle.

[ MORE: Liverpool announces new left back ]

Johnsson made 13 saves, seven from inside the box, to keep Copenhagen within a sucker punch of eliminating the Red Devils over 90 minutes.

Manchester United heads to Dusseldorf for an Aug. 17 semifinal against the winner of Tuesday’s tilt between Wolves and Sevilla.


Three things we learned

1. Copenhagen plays prime tournament soccer: The heaviest underdogs in the quarterfinals, Copenhagen executed a traditional 4-4-2 in a less-traditional low block for much of the match. The low block wasn’t the surprise, but instead of two banks of five, the rows of four with two men hassling up front challenged United for time and helped spring a number of dangerous counters. The Danes opened up in extra time after going behind, but taking it to extra time was more than many expected out of them.

2. VAR denies the Red Devils: A rout would’ve been on if this match was staged a year ago without VAR, as the assistant referee twice allowed United goals to go to video. Harry Maguire was offside before assisting the first would-be Red Devils goal, while Mason Greenwood was off before ripping a rocket off the far post and into the goal.

3. Bruno is a beast: Fernandes was everywhere, cueing up his teammates for chances when he wasn’t smashing them off the frame in a bid to win it himself. The Portuguese playmaker registered three key passes, put three of his five shots on target, and won the majority of his duels on top of scoring the game’s lone goal (SofaScore). Now United must hope his late leg injury was just a product of 120 minutes and nothing major.

Man of the Match

Fernandes, and yes we had him here before he smashed his penalty home. Fernandes is now the Europa League’s leading scorer with seven goals between Sporting Lisbon and United.


Manchester United – Copenhagen recap

United has plenty of the ball in the first 10 minutes but Copenhagen provided legitimate danger that Eric Bailly managed in his own six.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka blocked a cross with his face and needed treatment, looking quite dazed before returning to the game.

Another Copenhagen chance was blocked in the six by Bailly (again), who proved a wise choice over Victor Lindelof.

VAR had a look at an early United goal and rightly chalked Harry Maguire offside in the build-up. And it took Mason Greenwood’s hammer off the far post off the board for offside early in stoppage time.

Copenhagen was in it at the break. Would United pay?

[ MORE: Lukaku leads Inter past Bayer Leverkusen ]

The early stages of the second half remained with the Red Devils, Copenhagen parking all its men behind the ball at times.

Rashford flubbed a chance to shoot or pass to Paul Pogba when Bruno Fernandes spotted him at the back post just after the hour mark.

Fernandes tried his luck from distance in the 63rd, ripping a shot off the far post.

Ex-Everton man Bryan Oviedo nearly put Copenhagen ahead in the 66th only to see Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Bailly clog his shooting lane after Rasmus Falk dazzled to get into the box.

Karl-Johan Johnsson made a flying save on Anthony Martial to force an 84th-minute corner that came to nothing for United.

Johnsson denied Martial again in-tight at the start of stoppage time, but the high was short-lived as the Frenchman was dropped in the box moments later.

Fernandes stepped to the spot and used a stuttering run-up before blasting his penalty home.

Martial nearly had it 2-0 after the restart when he dribbled through the Copenhagen 18 but took it himself instead of laying off to Juan Mata in what would’ve been a fairly straight-forward chance for the Spaniard.

Johnsson denied Fernandes at the end of the first 15 minutes of extra time, United unfortunate to not score on the ensuing corner when Mata’s shot was blocked to Lindelof, who fired off the outside of the post.

Lindelof made a fine intervention to block a close-range equalizer bid in the 116th.

Inter Milan rides early goals past Bayer Leverkusen

Inter Milan - Bayer Leverkusen
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While Manchester United and Copenhagen played chess across the country, Inter Milan and Bayer Leverkusen were staging double jumps all over a checkerboard in Dusseldorf.

Romelu Lukaku and Nicolo Barella scored twice in six first-half minutes before Kai Havertz answered in the 24th to account for all the goals in Inter’s 2-1 defeat of Bayer.

Lukaku has scored in nine-straight UEL matches, a new record.

[ MORE: Liverpool announces new left back ]

Inter now waits for an Aug. 16 semifinal in Cologne, where it will meet the winner of Tuesday’s match between Basel and Shakhtar Donetsk

Bayer now must settle for the Europa League again via its fifth-place finish in the Bundesliga.

The three goals in the nine minutes were highlighted by Lukaku doing his best “Harry Kane versus Leicester City” falling down finish.

Nicola Barella put Inter ahead after a quarter-hour when he made the most of a loose ball outside the 18.

A Manchester United connection saw Inter ahead by two when Ashley Young found Romelu Lukaku and the Belgian striker maintained his composure while being dragged to the ground, beating Lukas Hradecky with a low shot.

Kai Havertz and Kevin Volland’s interplay near the box ended with the transfer rumor mainstay slipping a shot home to bring Bayer back within one.

Lukaku had penalty decisions taken off the board by VAR in each half.

Who’s next for Manchester United if Sancho stays at Dortmund?

Chiesa to Manchester United
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The transfer rumor mill is usually buzzing this time of year, but it’s nearly a cacophony following Michael Zorc’s announcement that Jadon Sancho will be staying at Borussia Dortmund.

[ MORE: Liverpool announces new left back ]

Reports say Manchester United is not quitting on the idea of Sancho at Old Trafford, but here are some other targets if the Red Devils have to look away from the English phenom.

Federico Chiesa, Fiorentina

Linked with United for some time including a Monday nod from Football-Italia, Chiesa’s approximately $80 million price tag is high but half of what Dortmund is asking for Sancho.

The versatile playmaker has often been linked with Juventus, though Fiorentina is loathe to do business with The Old Lady unless absolutely necessary after big sales of Roberto Baggio and Federico Bernardeschi to Juve in the past.

The 22-year-old already has 17 Italian caps and scored 10 goals with six assists for La Viola this season in Serie A play, career bests in both.

Douglas Costa, Juventus

This one could become even more feasible if Juve latched onto Chiesa.

Juve desperately needs to get younger and Costa doesn’t figure to fit into the plans of Andrea Pirlo, a month away from his 30th birthday.

Costa works better on the right side and would be a worker bee looking to set up Rashford and Martial or cut back for Bruno Fernandes. He boasts double-digit assist seasons in the Bundesliga (Bayern), Serie A (Juve), and Ukraine (Shakhtar Donetsk).

TURIN, ITALY – MAY 19: Douglas Costa (Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images)

Raul Jimenez, Wolves

This one still feels like a long shot of long shots given the players’ age and status at Wolves, but the El Tri star has been linked with United in the past.

Jimenez doesn’t solve the wing issue presented by Sancho staying at BVB, and you’d fancy the Red Devils to go after one of Wolves’ wingers before Jimenez.

But Solskjaer enjoys Marcus Rashford at left wing and could use Anthony Martial at right wing a bit more often than center forward. Throw in Mason Greenwood and the boss would have a lot of permutations to use around Bruno Fernandes in a front three or four.

Ivan Perisic, Inter Milan

Mentioned as part of a swap deal for Alexis Sanchez, that’s less on the cards after the Chilean accepted a Man United payoff to move to Inter for free.

The 31-year-old favors the left wing and Inter would be happy to offload him after Bayern declined its option to buy the loanee who managed seven goals and 10 assists in just over 1600 minutes.

That’s pretty good output for a part-time player who kept some tread on the tires.

Perisic to Manchester United
MOSCOW, RUSSIA – JULY 15: Ivan Perisic of Croatia (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

James Rodriguez, Real Madrid

If you’re sensing a thread amongst most of these players, it’s no surprise considering United has a wage scale to meet the needs of many wantaways.

Real desperately wants to get something for Colombian star James, who at 29 played less than 800 minutes for La Liga’s champions this season.

His two-year loan stint at Bayern also saw him as a part-time player, but like Perisic a productive one. James scored 15 times with 20 assists over two seasons with the Bavarians.

Kingsley Coman, Bayern Munich

This would cost a lot of dough.

The 24-year-old has been a part of nine-straight league winners between Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, and Bayern.

Okay that’s cheating a bit considering his Ligue 1 crowns came off a handful of appearances over two seasons at the Parc des Princes.

But the left and right winger might be on for a change of scenery with Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sane set to dominate the preferential places at Bayern.