2015 MLS predictions: Cup winners? MVP? Lampard or Gerrard? Kaka or Giovinco?

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It’s prediction time! With the 2015 Major League Soccer season kicking off this week, we’ll tell you who wins every major trophy, award and how many goals some of the league’s biggest newcomers will score.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s 2015 MLS preview series ]

U.S. Open Cup winners

Joe Prince-Wright: Seattle Sounders. They love an Open Cup, don’t they?
Andy Edwards: FC Dallas. Semifinalists in 2014, it’s Oscar Pareja’s easiest route to a trophy in an unbelievably tough Western Conference.
Nicholas Mendola: New England Revolution.
Kyle Lynch: Seattle Sounders have dominated the Open Cup as of late, and they can do it again.
Duncan Day: Portland Timbers. They’ve made a few promising international acquisitions to put them in better playoff position, and I think Caleb Porter will see ideal result outside of league play.
Kyle Bonn: LA Galaxy.

Supporters’ Shield winners

JPW: LA Galaxy. Arena’s boys will kick on after Gerrard’s arrival.
Edwards: Seattle Sounders. Full season No. 2 for Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey will (somehow) be better than the first.
Mendola: New England Revolution, though look out for Toronto if they get steady play between the sticks.
Lynch: LA Galaxy. They won the league last season and aren’t looking back.
Day: NYCFC. Once Lampard comes to town I expect a surge from these guys. They have the capability to strengthen their squad before the window closes if the need dictates.
Bonn: Seattle Sounders are the favorite here, and with each team owning up to a heavy weakness, they’re the good pick.

MLS Cup matchup and winners

JPW: LA Galaxy vs. Toronto. Toronto to win. Bold statement, I know, but I’m feeling it.
Edwards: Seattle Sounders vs. Columbus Crew SC. Gregg Berhalter’s side is the most complete team in the Eastern Conference, capable of winning home-field advantage in the playoffs, and they’ll have learned from last year’s disappointment.
Mendola: Toronto FC vs. LA Galaxy, because the fix is in!
Lynch: LA Galaxy vs. New England Revolution. The Cup goes back to Hollywood.
Day: LA Galaxy 2-3 Orlando City SC: Orlando makes its way into the East finals against Toronto and manages a slim-margined win. Kaka really proves his worth in the playoffs.
Bonn: Toronto may not win the Supporters’ Shield, and they may not even get a #1 seed, but come playoff time they’ll have had a full season to play together, and will likely be a team geared for a playoff setting. It’s why I picked them in the Open Cup, and why I’ll pick them to get here. Toronto and Seattle, and the Sounders win it.

source: Getty Images
Sebastian Giovinco, Juventus (and now, Toronto FC)

MVP

JPW: Sebastian Giovinco. How they managed to get the “Atomic Ant” I don’t know, but I’m glad they did. Wonderful talent.
Edwards: Obafemi Martins. Dempsey will miss a month for the Gold Cup, and Martins showed last year he can carry the team when he’s not around.
Mendola: Michael Bradley. The new TFC captain has a wealth of talent in front of him and a better defense than you think.
Lynch: David Villa. The Spanish legend leads New York City to the playoffs.
Day: Sebastian Giovinco. I believe he has the opportunity to be the most dangerous player in MLS due to his combination of pace and skill. He will produce a fair amount of both goals and assists, and that’s where he will set himself apart in the MVP race.
Bonn: Giovinco. What a signing.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage | USMNT ]

Newcomer of the Year (including returning MLSers)

JPW: Jozy Altidore. Expect the big man to find the back of the net regularly. Man, I’m bullish on Toronto this year, huh?
Edwards: Jozy Altidore. Once we put our USMNTers-should-be-in-Europe biases aside, we all agree he’s going to score a hundred goals this season, right?
Mendola: David Villa. It almost feels like cheating to write this, as he’ll be going well with Mix Diskerud and company before he even gets the aid of Frank Lampard.
Lynch: David Villa. Even though he’s 33, the MLS rookie will light it up.
Day: Octavio Rivero of Vancouver Whitecaps. Goal leader of the Chilean Primera Division last year, he has buried 20 goals in his past 33 appearances. With Kenny Miller gone for good, Rivero looks to be the new target man for the Caps, whose midfield should mesh well with the Uruguayan.
Bonn: Frank Lampard is going to be monstrous for NYCFC, because he clearly has a ton left in the tank, but he’s only got a half year to make an impact. If Giovinco’s the MVP, he’d obviously qualify here as well.

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David Villa has been the leading man for NYCFC so far.

Golden Boot winner

JPW: David Villa. I think the Spanish veteran will rip MLS defenses apart. Clinical and from the Robbie Keane school of finishing.
Edwards: Obafemi Martins.
Mendola: Josmer Volmy Altidore.
Lynch: Villa, Villa, Villa. As you can see, I think David Villa is going to be good. Really good.
Day: David Villa. The best forward talent in MLS, Villa scored a solid amount of goals last year (15 in all competitions) with Atletico Madrid as the No.2 man to Diego Costa, so a big goal tally in MLS should naturally suit the Spaniard.
Bonn: Dom Dwyer.

Who’s the Lee Nguyen-esque (veteran) Breakout Player of the year?

JPW: Nat Borchers leading Portland’s defense. I expect the Timbers to have an impressive season.
Edwards: Bernardo Anor. Quick — tell me what team Anor plays for. If you don’t know now, you will be April or May. Can’t believe Berhalter let him go.
Mendola: Sam Cronin, Colorado Rapids.
Day: Benny Feilhaber. Sporting KC have a good squad as usual, and Dom Dwyer will likely serve as the team’s main impact player still, while Feilhaber will build off one of his best seasons in MLS on a similar but smaller scale than Nguyen did.
Bonn: I’m not so sure this is a breakout, but I love Jamison Olave back at RSL. Their new-look defense is well put together.

Who’s the Gyasi Zardes-esque (young) Breakout Player of the year?

JPW: Umm…Tony Taylor for NYCFC?
Edwards: Luis Gil. We’ve been waiting, and waiting, and waiting for Gil to have the breakout year. This is finally it.
Mendola: Thomas McNamara of New York City FC. He showed plenty of promise for Chivas USA last season before a crushing injury. If he can get get on and stay on the field in NYC, he will shine.
Lynch: Erik Palmer-Brown. The 17 year old is one of America’s brightest prospects, and this could be the year he becomes a household name in MLS.
Day: Patrick Mullins, NYCFC. The former New England Revolution players showed great flashes of skills for the Revs. Mullins could provide an immediate impact, especially with the service of Mix and Lampard.
Bonn: Love me some Khiry Shelton.

Cascadia Cup winners

JPW: Seattle Sounders will just edge out Portland and Vancouver. Expect it to be a tight race up in the Pacific Northwest.
Edwards: Vancouver Whitecaps.
Mendola: Vancouver Whitecaps. Carl Robinson is doing things, man.
Lynch: It’s a toss-up, but I’m taking the Portland Timbers.
Day: The Whitecaps are set to extend their recent streak and success against Seattle and Portland, but may not enjoy a better league finish than both the Timbers and Sounders.
Bonn: This is going to be FUN this year…but when isn’t it? I’m going with the boring pick of Seattle simply because of my pick to get them the Shield, but it will be close. The other two teams are very much improved.

source: Getty Images
Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard

Better first six months in MLS — Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard?

JPW: Steven Gerrard. He can slot into LA seamlessly, while NYCFC will hit plenty of speed bumps along the way during their inaugural season as a club.
Edwards: Lampard. His team will need him to do more from day one, and I still don’t know how Gerrard is going to fit into that Galaxy team.
Mendola: Lampard. Honestly, it feels like Lampard has more left in the tank, or at least in his legs. Maybe it all comes down to who finishes more, Nemec and Villa or Keane and Zardes, but I think Lampard is better at this stage in his career.
Lynch: Lampard’s great form for Manchester City carries over to New York City.
Day: Both will be coming off Premier League seasons, so I wouldn’t expect very quick impacts, but over the course of the year, I see David Villa and Lampard combining to create the best attacking combo in MLS, with the Chelsea great enjoying top-notch performances.
Bonn: Gerrard is beyond his best and Lampard is looking sluggish down the stretch after a full year in the Premier League. Father Time has stricken both, but Lampard still has more left in the tank. I like him more once he returns from England.

Greater points tally — New York City FC or Orlando City SC?

JPW: New York City FC. Having the likes of David Villa, Frank Lampard and Mix around will win you plenty of points. I’m pretty confident Jason Kreis’ boys will make the playoffs.
Edwards: New York City FC. The trust I have in Jason Kreis outweighs the questions that come with the Frank Lampard saga, but only by a little.
Mendola: New York City FC. And they’ll make the playoffs.
Lynch: New York City FC. I fully expect to see a playoff game at Yankee Stadium this season.
Day: New York City FC has the greater point tally. I don’t think Orlando will have that flashy of a regular season, but in the playoffs, their Designated Players will start to flourish in critical situations.
Bonn: Liking NYCFC. They may be somewhat even through the first half, but Lampard will make a significant difference.

[ WATCH: Diskerud hits a screamer from 20 yards ]

Will Toronto FC (finally) make the playoffs?

JPW: Yes. 100 percent. Gulp… I hope I’m right but with players like they have, it’s difficult to see them not making it and going deep.
Edwards: No. 3 seed behind the Crew and Revolution.
Mendola: Yes.
Lynch: This is the year, Toronto. Jozy Altidore scores some big goals and Toronto FC find themselves in the postseason.
Day: Toronto is poised to be a big contender in the East because I think the additions of Jozy and Giovinco will also help spur Bradley’s play, making for an especially dynamic group.
Bonn: Absolutely. They’re much better put together this time around. They might sputter early, but they’ll get it together.

[ REPORT: Orlando City using Kaka to lure Mario Balotelli to MLS ]

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Joze Altidore, Toronto FC

Jozy Altidore — over/under Jermain Defoe’s 2014 goal tally (11 in 19 games)?

JPW: Over. Jozy will rip it up.
Edwards: Over, by nearly 10.
Mendola: Over, if only because Giovinco and Bradley will be in Toronto all year, and Defoe had to deal with the World Cup absence of Bradley.
Lynch: Jozy Altidore finds the form that made him one of America’s most feared strikers, and scores at least 15 times for Toronto.
Day: Very close if you’re looking at the number goals per game. But Jozy will probably play a few more games, and I expect his tally to be around 20.
Bonn: Over. In the first half of the season.

[ WATCH: Bradley, Giovinco combine for Altidore’s first TFC goal ]

More goals/assists combined — Kaka or Sebastian Giovinco?

JPW: Giovinco. I still think he’s an incredible addition and will become a star of MLS for many years to come.
Edwards: Kaka. Caveat: If healthy, Kaka is the 2015 MVP. Let’s not forget this is the 2007 World Player of the Year, arguably the best player in the world for a time.
Mendola: Giovinco. Sorry, Kaka fans, but as bizarre as this sounds he has far more to prove this season.
Lynch: Giovinco is teaming up with Michael Bradley in the midfield and Jozy Altidore up top, while Kaka is walking into a brand new club. I’ll take the Italian, and look for Giovinco’s name to be near the top of the MVP discussion  as well.
Day: Giovinco. The ex-Juve man will work well with Jozy and Bradley, while Kaka will tend to be more of a one-man show.
Bonn: Giovinco. Kaka is nice but, at his age, nowhere near a Sebastian Giovinco in his prime.

Who misses the playoffs in the West?

JPW: Colorado, Vancouver, FC Dallas and San Jose.
Edwards: Colorado, San Jose, Houston and Real Salt Lake.
Mendola: San Jose, Colorado, Portland and Houston.
Lynch: San Jose, Colorado, Real Salt Lake and Vancouver.
Day: San Jose, Houston, FC Dallas and Colorado.
Bonn: San Jose, Vancouver, Colorado, Portland. Tough pick here. Will be very, very tight.

First head coach fired

JPW: Tough to say. I’m thinking Colorado continue to struggle and Pablo Mastreoni will be out. Legend of MLS, but not sure the Rapids will flourish once again this season.
Edwards: Frank Klopas in Montreal. Joey Saputo has the track record for having a quick trigger finger, and if Klopas don’t make the playoffs in the East, he’s out.
Mendola: Caleb Porter. I’m kidding, because I don’t think Portland will pull the trigger during another disappointing year. i think there’s something to be said for no one being fired this season. Lot of new faces, lot of established ones. Jesse Marsch?
Lynch: Ben Olsen’s entire playing and coaching career has been in the nation’s capital, but if DC United start slow, he could be the first to go.
Day: We’ll see if any team sinks way below expectations that warrants a quickly-decided firing, but by the end of the season, it may be Fire coach Frank Yallop under scrutiny.
Bonn: Frank Klopas is going to struggle at Montreal, and I think he’s the first to go.

Hyndman, Hamid seal permanent MLS deals

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Two players who have featured for the U.S. Men’s National Team in the past signed permanent MLS deals on Monday, after spending the all or parts of the 2019 MLS season on loan in the league.

The question is, should we be disappointed? It’s two USMNT-eligible players in their prime who are leaving Europe for regular playing time? Will that playing time get them back in the USMNT picture? Or were their old club teams simply the problem before?

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

It was a return for Bill Hamid, who was a D.C. United homegrown player and arguably the first player on the team sheet between 2009-2017. Hamid actually returned from Europe in 2018 and spent all of the last year and a half on loan from FC Midtjylland in Denmark.

Hyndman on the other hand signed a permanent deal with Atlanta United, after the former MLS Cup champions signed the 23-year-old midfielder on a loan deal from Bournemouth in the Premier League. It was Hyndman’s fourth club in four years – including three loan moves – and perhaps Atlanta is a place he can put down roots and stay for the long term.

Per both D.C. United and Atlanta United, both players signed multi-year deals. D.C. United reportedly even paid a transfer fee for Hamid.

Both players are solid to good players in MLS, and as Americans, they add quality and don’t cost a team an international spot. But for the U.S. Men’s National Team, it’s unclear how this could affect the pair.

On one hand, USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter has shown a preference to certain players he had in the 2019 January camp, including guys like Nick Lima, Paul Arriola and Christian Roldan, even if performances don’t necessarily merit them playing each match. On the other hand, as someone who has played in Germany, and England, Berhalter surely understands the benefits of challenging yourself every few years to play and train at a higher level. It doesn’t have to be Jurgen Klinsmann levels, where every single year they have to step it up, but finding a new way to freshen things up in a tough environment can have positive benefits for everyone, assuming there is playing time.

For Hyndman, who moved to Fulham’s academy in 2011 at the age of 15, it marks the end of seven years in Europe trying to break in. He had decent half-season spells with Hibernian and Rangers in the Scottish Premier Division, but one can argue that Atlanta United is itself on a higher level of play. That being said, Hyndman has clearly decided that regular gametime is best for his development as a player than relocating to the Netherlands, Italy or Germany to play. He wasn’t likely to get any at Bournemouth, even with their current Premier League struggles.

In Hamid’s case, he took a chance on Europe with FC Midtjylland. However, pretty quickly he realized that it wasn’t the right situation for him and within six months, he was back on D.C. United on loan for the next year and a half.

In both cases, there may have been options to continue their European adventures. Whether it was in the Championship or another “mid-major” European league, in the past, two players entering their primes might have tried to stay in Europe a little longer. But the lure of MLS, with a decent salary, less competition for places and the opportunity to play at home in front of family is a strong one, and the national team will have to adjust with it.

 

Would Saul make sense at Man United?

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As Manchester United prepares its roster construction for the future, one player that’s reportedly on the shortlist is Atletico Madrid central midfielder Saul Niguez.

Although originally from Elche, in southeast Spain, Saul has been on the books of Atletico Madrid since 2008 (other than a season on loan with Rayo Vallecano), making his first team debut in 2012 and growing from a scrawny midfielder into an international-calibre box-to-box star for both club and country. Per Diario AS, Man United has been interested in signing Saul before, and now it’s been revived. The report states, “The interest from Manchester is very real, and strong.”

[READ: Arsenal comes back to beat West Ham]

So, what kind of a player is Saul?

As mentioned before, he’s a sturdy, powerful box-to-box midfielder who can win headers defensively and knows how to play well in a Diego “Cholo” Simeone system. At the same time, he’s certainly not afraid to make a late run into the box. Last season he tied a career high with four goals in La Liga and also scored in the UEFA Champions League.

At 25-years old, he’s a hardened veteran player. But is he what Man United needs?

If you look at the current squad at Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s disposal, he’s got quite a few No. 8’s, right? There’s Paul Pogba, Andreas Pereira, and Fred. You can argue Scott McTominay has at times played like an 8, as has Jesse Lingard on occasion. One might argue that what Man United really needs is a better No. 6, someone who can be a destroyer and cover a lot of ground, freeing up that side of the game so Pogba could feel more comfortable attacking.

If Man United were to sign Saul in January – or next summer – we could potentially see him line up in a midfield three, though he’d be center right with Pogba to his left. Behind the pair would be McTominay to clean up the messes.

On paper, it’s a decent midfield for sure, but it’s just one step on Man United’s path towards becoming a team that can challenge for the Premier League and Champions League.

Of course, this is all theoretical. Saul carries a $166 million transfer release clause, and for the player he is, considering he doesn’t score many goals and affects the game in little ways, it’s a lot to spend for a guy who isn’t a guarantee to improve his team enough to make it back to the Champions League.

But if Man United was able to negotiate a better transfer fee for Niguez, they could do worse than a talented midfielder from Atletico Madrid. The question then will be – is Saul a system player (only successful under Simeone), or can he find success in the Premier League too?

USWNT’s Rapinoe named SI Sportswoman of the Year

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In 2019, Megan Rapinoe won a World Cup title, Golden Ball, Golden Boot, FIFA World Cup MVP, and the Ballon d’Or. Now, she can add her name to another distinguished list.

Sports Illustrated on Monday revealed that Rapinoe had been named SI’s 2019 Sportsperson of the Year. She’s the first individual soccer player from any gender to win the award, and she follows the 1999 U.S. Women’s National Team as the second USWNT-related athlete to garner the award.

[READ: Rapinoe wins 2019 Ballon d’Or]

Other notable winners of this award are Serena Williams, LeBron James, the Golden State Warriors, Michael Jordan, and Muhammad Ali.

“Even in a year with many great candidates, choosing Megan as the Sportsperson of the Year was an easy decision,” Steve Cannella, co-editor-in-chief of Sports Illustrated said in a statement released by the magazine. “She is a force of nature on and off the field, a trailblazing soccer player who also proves every day how large and loud a voice a socially conscious athlete can have in 2019.”

Rapinoe has had about as good of a year as a player can have, and she did it under enormous pressure. She withstood verbal and online taunts from the U.S. president for her noted opposition against his political decisions, as well as dealt with injuries during the tournament. Even if she wasn’t always at her best on the field, she found a way to score key goals at important moments.

Every Women’s World Cup seems to raise the profile of the USWNT and soccer in this country, but beyond her work on the field, Rapinoe’s hair, media savvy and ultimately, her performance won over any critic she could have. What she’s done for soccer in this country is immeasurable, and hopefully there are people that have a desire to keep watching the beautiful game after the World Cup, thanks in some part to Rapinoe.

Rapinoe will grace the cover of Sports Illustrated for the Dec. 16 issue.

Ljungberg on Pepe: He ‘showed his quality’

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Arsene Wenger used to say that players needed around six months once they came to the Premier League to get adjusted to both living in England and getting acclimated to the pace and physicality of the league.

For Nicolas Pepe, it was advice well heeded.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Offensively, Pepe was outstanding as he scored a goal and an assist in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over West Ham. At the same time, Pepe worked hard on the defensive end, making life difficult for West Ham left back Aaron Cresswell and anyone down West Ham’s right flank.

On Monday, Pepe showed that he was worth his $87 million transfer fee, and he only needs a yard of space to create something magical.

“People always ask me about Nico and I try to explain,” Ljungberg after the game. “He comes from the French league, he comes to the Premier League – in my opinion the best league in the world – and it’s a lot faster and a lot harder. He needs to adapt. People put pressure on him but that’s not so easy, and I thought what he did today was he worked really hard offensively and defensively and showed his quality.

“I’m so pleased for him because at the same time he was a big, big buy for the club and then comes pressure with that as well. He will fall asleep with a smile tonight.”

In the 66th minute, Pepe found himself isolated on the wing with just Cresswell to beat. After cutting inside, Pepe curled home a beauty which ended up being the game-winning-goal. It was just his second Premier League goal of the season and his first from open play. Perhaps now after five months of bedding in at Arsenal, Pepe is ready to shine.

There’s no doubt that with Arsenal’s defensive issues, they need their attacking stars to score in bunches from here on out. If Pepe can finish the season with ten goals and ten assists, it will be a wild success, and set him up well for the next season.