MLS Week 1 preview: Sounders vs. Revs, Timbers vs. RSL headline First Kick weekend

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It’s here. It’s. Finally. Here.

The 2015 Major League Soccer season kicks off today. Then there’s more MLS action on Saturday. Followed by more MLS on Sunday. This is what our lives are going to be like for the next nine months. Learn it, live it, love it.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS previews for 2015 ]

MLS returns with a bang-up schedule of games for First Kick weekend as all 20 teams are in action, highlighted by the following matchups.

Seattle Sounders vs. New England Revolution (Sunday, 9:30 pm ET, Fox Sports 1)

Could it be a preview of the 2015 MLS Cup final? It’s obviously too early to tell (unless you’re the PST staff), so as far as Week 1 of the regular season goes, we’ll enjoy this one for what it is certain to be: entertaining, attacking soccer played by two of the league’s most formidable attacking units.

Obafemi Martins is poised to score a ton of goals this season (17 with 13 assists last year wasn’t enough) and put his name in the MVP race once again. Clint Dempsey (15 and 10 in 2014) and Lamar Neagle (9 and 9) figure to give the Revolution backline plenty of trouble, as well. Juan Agudelo returns to the Revs, who were missing only a consistent goalscoring center forward in their run to MLS Cup 2014. Lee Nguyen (18 goals, 5 assists) and Co. will be left to fill the void left by the absence of Jermaine Jones (hernia surgery).

Prediction: Sounders 2-1 Revs

Portland Timbers vs. Real Salt Lake (Saturday, 10:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE)

Neither team made a ton of major moves in the offseason, which would lend itself to a fast, functional start for both sides to begin the season, if not for a number of key injuries. Will Johnson is out the first few weeks of the season, if not the first month, so a heavier workload falls on the shoulders of Diego Chara, who’s more than capable of picking up the slack. Diego Valeri (11 goals, 14 assists in 2014) will also miss a few games, and it remains to be seen whether Darlington Nagbe can replace the Argentine’s production.

Joao Plata was a revelation for RSL last year (13 and 6), but a broken foot in preseason means he’s out until the summer. Javier Morales can ease the pain of losing Plata’s creative work, while Sebastian Jaime needs to strike up a fruitful strike partnership with Alvaro Saborio even more quickly now.

Prediction: Timbers 2-2 RSL

[ MORE: Now that it’s happening, MLS’s 20th season is sure to be the best one yet ]

Orlando City SC vs. New York City FC (Sunday, 5 pm ET, ESPN2)

Two expansion teams set to play in front of 62,000 fans inside a sold-out Citrus Bowl. Welcome to MLS, Orlando, be sure to bring the ruckus just like this every single week and we’ll gladly have you back again and again.

The MLS debut of Kaka, David Villa and Mix Diskerud. Need more? OK, one of these teams is likely to make the playoffs in a somewhat weakened Eastern Conference. Since the season hasn’t even started yet, we can pretend this game is going to decide which team is playing in November.

Prediction: Orlando 1-1 NYCFC

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Toronto FC (Saturday, 6 pm ET, MLS LIVE)

Perhaps no player will be under more intense scrutiny in 2015 than Jozy Altidore. Having made the switch back to MLS, he was, predictably, greeted by the “Couldn’t hack it with the big boys, huh, Jozy?” crowd. A goal or two in his TFC debut should buy him a few weeks of silence.

The Whitecaps are probably going to be the most entertaining MLS team to watch this year (again). Pedro Morales will be in the MVP conversation come the end of the season. Kekuta Manneh is always going to be exciting, if unpredictable. The midfield is as solid as could be with Matias Laba and Gershon Koffie. Octavio Rivero, 23-year-old forward, is the wild card. If the ‘Caps find someone to put away all those chances, they’ll be a nightmare.

Prediction: Whitecaps 2-3 TFC

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Sporting Kansas City vs. New York Red Bulls (Sunday, 7 pm ET, Fox Sports 1)

Two teams largely rebuilt during the offseason, but trending in very different directions. Sporting KC gutted the middle-third of their roster and upgraded on every level of the field. Luis Marin takes over in goal; Ike Opara (broken ankle) returns in defense while Jalil Anibaba makes for a solid backup; Roger Espinoza returns from Wigan and is joined by Bernardo Anor, who’s poised for a big year in KC; Krisztian Nemeth could be the second consistent scoring option Sporting needed behind Dom Dwyer.

Meanwhile, the Red Bulls lost Thierry Henry (10 goals, 14 assists in 2014) and Tim Cahill, while adding Sacha Kljestan and Felipe Martins. The sense is that’s not enough to replace Henry’s genius, but for the first time in a long time, Jesse Marsch’s bunch might be a better functioning unit than they were before.

Prediction: Sporting KC 1-0 Red Bulls

LA Galaxy vs. Chicago Fire (Friday, 10 pm ET, UniMas)

The defending champions get things started Friday night, kicking off the 20th MLS season. Landon Donovan has retired, leaving a massive hole in the Galaxy attack (10 goals, 19 assists in 2014), but don’t worry, Bruce Arena will fix it one way or another because that’s just what he does.

Frank Yallop, on the other hand, needs a fast start to his second season in Chicago after finishing ninth in the East last year. Visiting the defending champs on opening day isn’t typically a recipe for success, so we’ll be wishing Frank and his troops, new Designated Player Shaun Maloney included, all the luck we can give.

Prediction: Galaxy 2-1 Fire

Rumored Neymar for Bale swap: Who wins?

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Who would gain more of an advantage from the rumored, sensational Gareth Bale for Neymar swap: Paris Saint-Germain or Real Madrid?

Both players are currently problems for their clubs, though neither is known as a true rabble-rouser; Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane wants to be done with the newly-minted 30-year-old Bale, while PSG knows Neymar wants to leave and would love to satiate Kylian Mbappe’s appetite to be the man at their club.

[ REPORT: Man Utd, Leicester agree Maguire fee ]

Presumably some money would be headed PSG’s way in addition to Bale, and both clubs would be getting a motivated megawatt star.

Neymar doesn’t turn 28 until February, but the difference in age may be offset by the Brazilian’s track record of injuries.

In fact, his injury status last season combines with an off-field accusation of sexual assault and a red card for confronting a fan to overshadow his production: Neymar’s 23 goals and 13 assists in just over 2300 minutes last season, including five and two in the Champions League (and a goal and an assist against defensively-stout Liverpool).

Bale presents very few personality challenges, and PSG won’t have a problem with his massive wages (especially with Neymar off the books). His numbers have dipped in two of three seasons since his otherworldly 2015-16, but La Liga is a more difficult scoring league than Ligue 1.

Neymar has twice been a Ballon d’Or finalist and, presuming his legal troubles don’t persist, could be a title fight changer in La Liga. Imagine the Neymar, Eden Hazard, and Luka Jovic trying to outgun Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, and Luis Suarez? Insane.

We’d say Real would be winning the straight-up swap, and that it’s pretty unlikely to go down that way. So it depends what PSG does with the relative Financial Fair Play freedom that would come with the money that also arrives from Spain. Is it Idrissa Gana Gueye? Someone else who helps take PSG’s Champions League hopes to the next level?

Manchester United in ‘concrete talks’ with Lille over Pepe

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Manchester United are reportedly in “concrete talks” to agree a fee with Lille for much-tracked playmaker Nicolas Pepe.

The 24-year-old attacking midfielder has been linked with Liverpool and Arsenal amongst others, and Lille has admitted he’ll be leaving the club.

[ REPORT: Man Utd, Leicester agree Maguire fee ]

United’s reported salvo was around $87.5 million. He’d give them a star who could play across from Anthony Martial or as an attacking midfielder under Romelu Lukaku.

Only Kylian Mbappe and Teji Savanier garnered better season-long ratings than Pepe in the 2018-19 Ligue 1 campaign, and Pepe’s 22 goals and 11 assists stand out from the pack. Only Mbappe had more goals and only Savanier more assists.

Pepe has four goals in 11 caps for the Ivory Coast, and made three starts in Les Elephants’ five-match run at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations. He’s a fit for the Premier League, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s system. And if the Red Devils can keep him from Liverpool, well, all the better we’re sure.

Report: Manchester United, Leicester agree to monster Maguire fee

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Manchester United and Leicester City have agreed a fee for Harry Maguire, clearing the way for the English center back to join the Old Trafford set.

That fee is a whopping $100 million, according to Bleacher Report’s Dean Jones. That’s about $4 million more than the world record for a defender, set when Liverpool purchased Virgil Van Dijk from Southampton.

[ MORE: USMNT CB to West Ham? ]

Maguire has been a statistical monster for Leicester City, and he passes the eye test, too.

Manchester United has needed to upgrade its stable of center backs for some time, and now the biggest question is who will work best alongside the 6-foot-4 26-year-old.

The former Sheffield United, Wigan Athletic, and Hull City defender is now 20-times capped by England.

The move could have a ripple effect on the Premier League, as the Foxes have been expected to bid for Burnley star James Tarkowski should Maguire leave the King Power Stadium.

Transfer rumor roundup: USMNT’s Long to London, Newcastle linked with pair

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Could USMNT center back Aaron Long be headed to the Premier League?

The 26-year-old could join West Ham United’s stable of center backs, which includes Issa Diop, Fabian Balbuena, and Angelo Ogbonna.

Sky Sports says that the Red Bulls defender has drawn the interest of Lyon and Fiorentina, but been offered to the Irons should they match his $5 million release clause.

Unable to find a place with Portland and Seattle, Long spent a few seasons in the USL before earning a place with RBNY.

Now 11-times capped by the USMNT with two goals, Long could be bringing his talents to London’s Olympic Stadium.

Elsewhere in the Premier League, Newcastle United has the chance to sign oft-injured Danny Welbeck on a free transfer.

The longtime Arsenal striker, weaned at Manchester United, scored five times in 12 matches last season in a return to injury woes following a 43-match season the prior year.

Newcastle is also being linked with a former defender. James Tavernier has gone on to captain Glasgow Rangers, and the 27-year-old would cost around $10 million.

Surely Steven Gerrard would want more for the defender, but prices haven’t met quality for Scottish Premiership players as we’ve seen with Kieran Tierney at Celtic.