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2016 MLS Western Conference preview: Upsetting the establishment

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Have you heard of Major League Soccer’s Western Conference. Apparently it’s a murderer’s row of incredibly deep and talented squads yet again ahead of the 2016 season.

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Year after year, it’s been the likes of the LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders residing atop the West, with the likes of the Portland Timbers and FC Dallas following close behind, and Sporting Kansas City making their way westward last year.

If you’ve not already done so, check out our Eastern Conference preview. With that, let’s dig into the West.

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Colorado Rapids

Colorado Rapids logoThe story: 2010 MLS Cup winners; missed the playoffs the last two years; finished last in the West in 2015.

In/Outs: 15 departures, including Gabriel Torres, Marcelo Sarvas, Lucas Pittinari, Drew Moor, Clint Irwin and Michael Harrington; 9 newcomers, including Marco Pappa, Shkelzen Gashi, Eric Miller, Zac MacMath (permanently) and Conor Doyle.

3 Key Player/DPs: FW Kevin Doyle (5 goals in 20 appearances in 2015); FW Shkelzen Gashi (27 years old; 27 goals in 43 appearances for Swiss side Basel); MF Dillon Powers (2013 Rookie of the Year; 13 goals, 21 assists in 92 career games)

Head coach: Pablo Mastroeni. The early favorite to be the first coach fired in 2016, since he somehow survived the winter, and the year before, and the year before that. No new mustache.

Outlook: They can’t possibly be any worse than they were last year… right? Then again, we said that this time last year, and they were. If MLS had — gasp — relegation, they’d be early favorites to go down.

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FC Dallas

FC Dallas logoThe story: 2010 MLS Cup runners-up; 2006 and 2015 Supporters’ Shield runners-up; made the playoffs each of the last two years; finished 1st of the West in 2015.

In/Outs: 11 departures, including Blas Perez, Ezequiel Cirigliano, David Texeira, Michel, Je-Vaughn Watson and Dan Kennedy; 10 newcomers, including Maximiliano Urruti, Carlos Gruezo, Juan Esteban Ortiz, Maynor Figueroa and Mauro Rosales.

3 Key Player/DPs: MF Fabian Castillo (23 years old; 9 goals, 9 assists in 2015); MF Mauro Diaz (24 years old; 8 goals, 10 assists in 2015); FW Maxi Urruti (25 years old; 14 goals in 60 appearances in 2014 and 2015)

Head coach: Oscar Pareja. The youth whisperer. Not afraid to play his kids ahead of veteran players who cost three, four or five times as much. Because of this, he’s got the deepest squad to work with in MLS.

Outlook: Missed out on the Supporters’ Shield due to goal differential in 2015, and they’re much better heading into 2016, at least on paper. Consider them contenders (favorites?) for every trophy this season.

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Houston Dynamo

Houston Dynamo logoThe story: Back-to-back MLS Cup winners (2006, 2007); back-to-back MLS Cup runners-up (2011, 2012); missed the playoffs each of the last two years; finished 8th in the West in 2015.

In/Outs: 11 departures, including Brad Davis, Kofi Sarkodie, Jermaine Taylor and Luis Garrido; 11 newcomers, including Cristian Maidana, Andrew Wenger, Jalil Anibaba, Collen Warner and Abdoulie Mansally.

3 Key Player/DPs: FW Erick “Cubo” Torres (23 years old; 15 goals in 29 appearances in 2014 – Chivas USA; 0 goals in 11 appearances in 2015); MF Cristian Maidana (15 assists in 28 appearances in 2015 – Philadelphia Union; 11 assists in 26 appearances in 2014); DF DaMarcus Beasley (33 years old; made 28 starts in 2015)

Head coach: Owen Coyle. By all accounts, the players adore the former Bolton manager. 2016 will be his second season in charge, and a marked improvement will be necessary on his debut campaign. He’s got the talent to do it.

Outlook: Fighting for the 5th or 6th seed in the playoffs. The requisite talent is there this time around.

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LA Galaxy

LA Galaxy logoThe story: Five-time MLS Cup winners (2002, 2005, 2011, 2012, 2014); made the playoffs each of the last seven years; finished 5th in the West in 2015.

In/Outs: 13 departures, including Omar Gonzalez, Juninho, Donovan Ricketts, Dan Gargan and Todd Dunivant; 9 newcomers, including Nigel de Jong, Ashley Cole, Jelle van Damme, Mike Magee, Jeff Larentowicz and Emmanuel Boateng.

3 Key Player/DPs: FW Robbie Keane (35 years old; 116 goals and assists combined in 108 MLS appearances); MF Giovani dos Santos (26 years old; 3 goals, 5 assists in 10 appearances in 2015); MF Nigel de Jong (32 years old; enforcer to hold down the midfield behind Steven Gerrard)

Head coach: Bruce Arena. What’s there to say? He’s won five MLS Cup (two with D.C. United, three with LA) and three Supporters’ Shields (one with United, two with LA). He’s the greatest figurehead in MLS history, and he’s likely to win himself another trophy in 2016.

Outlook: Contenders (favorites?) for every trophy this season. There’s arguably never been a better collection of top-end talent in MLS history, and Arena’s just the man you want in charge of such a squad.

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Portland Timbers

Portland Timbers logoThe story: The defending champs – 2015 MLS Cup winners.

In/Outs: 9 departures, including Will Johnson, Rodney Wallace, Jorge Villafaña, Maxi Urruti and Noberto Paparatto; 8 newcomers, including Jack McInerney, Ned Grabavoy, Chris Klute, Jermaine Taylor and Zarek Valentine.

3 Key Player/DPs: MF Darlington Nagbe (25 years old; 23 goals, 20 assists in 160 career appearances); FW Lucas Melano (23 years old; 1 goal, 3 assists in 10 appearances in 2015; now a starter in his first full season in Portland); DF Liam Ridgewell (31 years old; made 32 starts in 2015)

Head coach: Caleb Porter. He got the monkey off his back in December, and would be playing with house money with any other fanbase and/or owner in MLS. At 41 years old, he’s already accomplished more than most coaches in MLS history.

Outlook: MLS Cup contenders once again, assuming they don’t fall into complacency and suffer the dreaded championship hangover.

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Real Salt Lake

Real Salt Lake logoThe story: 2009 MLS Cup winners; 2013 MLS Cup runners-up; missed the playoffs in 2015 for the first time in eight years; finished 9th in the West in 2015.

In/Outs: 8 departures, including Luis Gil, Chris Schuler, Luis Silva and Sebastian Jaime; 6 newcomers, including Yura Movsisyan and Chris Wingert.

3 Key Player/DPs: MF Javier Morales (36 years old; 122 goals and assists combined in 211 MLS appearances); FW Yura Movsisyan (28 years old; returned from Europe this winter; scored 80 goals since leaving MLS in 2009); FW Juan Manuel “El Burrito” Martinez (30 years old; 1 goal, 1 assist in 8 appearances in 2015)

Head coach: Jeff Cassar. A rocky second season as RSL’s top dog, when he was tasked with building his own squad, rather than furthering the work of Jason Kreis.

Outlook: They’ll be much better and competing for a playoff spot, but with the West so top-heavy once again, they’re still on the outside looking in.

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San Jose Earthquakes

San Jose Earthquakes logoThe story: Two-time MLS Cup winners (2001, 2003); two-time Supporters’ Shield winners (2005, 2012); missed the playoffs each of the last three years; finished 7th in the West in 2015.

In/Outs: 7 departures, including Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi, JJ Koval, Khari Stephenson and Mike Fucito; 6 newcomers, including Simon Dawkins, Chad Barrett and Alberto Quintero.

3 Key Player/DPs: FW Chris Wondolowski (33 years old; 102 goals in 176 appearances from 2010-2015); FW Innocent Emeghara (27 years old; 1 goal in 7 appearances in 2015; tore his ACL on May 1, 2015); MF Anibal Godoy (26 years old; 2 goals in 10 appearances in 2015; 6W-3D-1L in his 10 appearances in 2015)

Head coach: Dominic Kinnear. A two-time MLS Cup champions (in Houston) and two-time runner-up (also in Houston); back with the Quakes for the second season of his second stint.

Outlook: Would be competing for a playoff if they were in the East, but the West is simply unforgiving.

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Seattle Sounders

Seattle Sounders logoThe story: 2014 Supporters’ Shield winners; four-time U.S. Open Cup winners (2009, 2010, 2011, 2014); made the playoffs all seven seasons in MLS; finished 4th in the West in 2015.

In/Outs: 13 departures, including Obafemi Martins, Lamar Neagle, Marco Pappa, Gonzalo Pineda, Leo Gonzalez and Chad Barrett; 7 newcomers, including Jordan Morris, Joevin Jones and Michael Farfan.

3 Key Player/DPs: FW Clint Dempsey (32 years old; 26 goals, 20 assists in 55 appearances since joining Seattle in 2013); FW Jordan Morris (21 years old; most heralded homegrown signing in MLS history; U.S. national team regular); MF Andreas Ivanschitz (32 years old; 1 goal, 1 assist in 6 appearances in 2015)

Head coach: Sigi Schmid. Two-time MLS Cup winner (2002 – LA, 2008 – Columbus Crew); three-time Supporters’ Shield winner (2002 – LA, 2008 – Columbus, 2014 – Seattle); five time USOC winner (2001 – LA; 2009, 2010, 2011, 2014 – Seattle).

Outlook: Contenders for every trophy up for grabs, as always.

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Sporting Kansas City

Sporting KC logoThe story: Two-time MLS Cup winners (2000, 2013); 2000 Supporters’ Shield winners; three-time USOC winners (2004, 2012, 2015); made the playoff each of the last five years; finished 6th in the West in 2015.

In/Outs: 6 departures, including Krisztian Nemeth, Erik Palmer-Brown, Jalil Anibaba, Mikey Lopez and Amobi Okugo; 6 newcomers, including Brad Davis, Justin Mapp and Nuno Andre Coelho.

3 Key Player/DPs: FW Dom Dwyer (25 years old; 12 goals in 30 appearances in 2015; 22 goals in 33 games in 2014); MF Graham Zusi (29 years old; 2 goals, 5 assists in 25 games in 2015; 21 goals, 38 assists in 116 appearances from 2011-2014); DF Matt Besler (29 years old; averaged 28.4 starts per season since 2011; anchored league’s stingiest defense in 2012 and 2013)

Head coach: Peter Vermes. Already an MLS Cup-winning and two-time-USOC-winning head coach, Vermes has built the empire that is the entire Sporting KC soccer system. He also serves as the club’s technical director.

Outlook: Contenders for every trophy up for grabs, as always. Avoiding the late-summer swoon and rash of injuries of the last two seasons will be priority no. 1 in 2016.

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Vancouver Whitecaps

Vancouver Whitecaps FCThe story: 2015 Canadian Championship winners; two-time Cascadia Cup winners (2013, 2014); made the playoffs each of the last two years; finished 2nd in the West in 2015.

In/Outs: 8 departures, including Gershon Koffie, Steven Beitashour, Mauro Rosales and Robert Earnshaw; 5 newcomers, including Masato Kudo, Christian Bolaños, Blas Perez and Fraser Aird.

3 Key Player/DPs: MF Kekuta Manneh (21 years old; 7 goals, 6 assists in 32 appearances in 2015); MF Matias Laba (24 years old; 62 appearances in two seasons with Vancouver); DF Kendall Waston (28 years old; 4 goals in 38 appearances in a season and a half with Vancouver)

Head coach: Carl Robinson. Under Robinson’s guidance, the 2015 Whitecaps conceded the fewest goals in the league (36). Unlocking Manneh’s potential and helping him to realize his invisible ceiling will see Vancouver go from competitive to champions.

Outlook: Contenders for every trophy up for grabs. Bringing their home form (8th in the West) up to par with that of their road successes (1st in the West) could see them lift the Supporters’ Shield in October.

Gold Cup: Mexico secures place in knockout round with win over Canada; Martinique over Cuba

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The Mexico National Team at the 2019 Gold Cup has been very focused on introducing inexperienced players into the squad, and yet, it was a veteran on Wednesday that reminded everyone how much he still has left in the tank.

Mexico captain Andres Guardado, who came off the bench for the injured Erick Gutierrez in the first half, scored a brace as Mexico held off a surging Canada late in the match. Guardado’s first goal was an absolute golazo from 30-yards out, while his second showcased his poise and calm in the box.

[READ: Transfer Rumor Roundup]

Mexico – as is custom for El Tri – controlled possession and looked very confident on the ball, zipping it around midfield and at times, playing on a faster speed than Canada, it seemed. However, with Canada sitting in a low defensive block, it took until the 40th minute for Mexico to get on the board through Roberto Alvarado finishing into an empty net after a big save from Canada goalkeeper Milan Borjan.

Canada pushed higher up the field in the second half and seemed to be turning the tide before Guardado picked up a loose ball – and there may have been a foul on Canada – and el Principito unleashed a rocket that Borjan had no chance to keep out.

Canada made six changes in the starting lineup from its first game and it was the introductions of Scott Arfield, Jonathan Osorio and Jonathan David in the second half that began to get Canada back into the game. A mistake by centerback Nestor Araujo in the 75th minute, trying to be fancy with a Cruyff turn allowed David to advance down the Mexico goal on a breakaway. After a cutback, David played Luca Cavallini in the box and Cavallini scored to cut it to 2-1.

However, Guardado, and LA Galaxy winger Uriel Antuna, put the game away for good two minutes later. Antuna got around his defender and centered to Guardado. The wily midfielder took three Canada defenders out of the play with a quick touch to his right, before scoring a deflected goal off the post and in.

Earlier in the evening, Martinique recorded a dominant 3-0 victory over ten-man Cuba. Star striker Kevin Parsemain didn’t score, though he did play a role in Martinique’s third goal with an outstanding back-heel pass.

Copa America: Watch Newcastle’s Almiron sets up Paraguay opener with 60-yard sprint (video)

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For the second time in as many games, Argentina has allowed it’s opponent to score the first goal. This time, it has Miguel Almiron to thank.

Starting with a dummy that lead to a more than 60-yard sprint to the end-line, Almiron showcased his top-line speed, strength, and dribbling ability as he lead Paraguay down the field in transition, eventually crossing into the middle. It was there that Olimpia’s Richard Sanchez met the cross and sliced it home to put Paraguay up 1-0 in the first half.

[READ: Transfer Rumor Roundup]

Atlanta United fans saw plenty of that blazing speed during Almiron’s two years in the U.S. If Newcastle fans get to witness this in person more this coming season, Almiron will be a fan-favorite.

 

 

Transfer Roundup: Neymar to cost $337 million? Could Jorginho follow Sarri to Juve?

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Will he stay or will he go?

That’s the main question surrounding Neymar this summer. If reports out of France – and there are many – are to be believed, Neymar will have to stay.

[READ: Landon Donovan to lead USL franchise]

Le Parisien reported on Wednesday that if Neymar was to leave Paris Saint-Germain this summer, it would cost an insane $337 million (€300 million) in transfer fees. With that price, and UEFA Financial Fair Play rules, it pretty much rules out any club from Europe from signing the Brazilian star. Neymar has recently been linked with a move back to Barcelona, with $112 million and other players reportedly included in a deal from Barcelona to PSG.

There’s so many moving pieces involved in any case. Antoine Griezmann is expected to leave Atletico Madrid, with Barcelona the rumored destination. But if Neymar goes to Barcelona, could Griezmann head to PSG? Meanwhile PSG president Nasser al-Khelaifi pretty much called out Neymar for some of his off the field – and on the pitch – antics, likely hurting their relationship.

So while it seems like Neymar – and PSG – may want the relationship to end, PSG won’t miss out on getting its money back.

Here’s more transfer stories from around Europe:


Jorginho to Juventus? 

Jorginho is to Maurizio Sarri like red wine is to a medium-rare steak. They just go great together.

With Sarri moving to Juventus, that raises the question that Jorginho, who moved with Sarri to Chelsea, could move back to Italy this summer. There’s plenty of reasons why it could make sense. Despite playing 56 times for the Blues, including helping lead them to the UEFA Europa League title, he took plenty of criticism from the media and fans for his lack of defensive ability. Fans were also upset with Sarri’s insistence of playing Jorginho at the 6, and not at the 6 or as part of a double pivot with N’Golo Kante. In Premier League games that Chelsea was undone, it was because Jorginho was overrun in midfield.

Jorginho meanwhile could go back to Italy, where he has citizenship, plays for the national team and enjoyed so much success with Napoli.

According to reports out of Italy, Jorginho’s agent said that the player is happy in London, but they would wait and see what happens next from Juventus.

“Chelsea have a four-year contract with the man,” Joao Santos said, via Football Italia. “We’ll wait a few days to figure out whether there is any truth in this interest mentioned in the papers. His past at Napoli won’t be an issue, because Jorginho is a professional. Right now, Jorginho is happy at Chelsea. He found a great atmosphere and we can’t really say that he’d like to go elsewhere, but anything can happen on the transfer market. We’ll wait and see…”

Follow Live: Mexico faces Canada in Gold Cup doubleheader nightcap

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From Mile High USA, Denver, Colo., the 2019 Gold Cup continues with a highly-anticipated matchup between Mexico and Canada.

El Tri is coming off a 6-0 rout of Cuba in the opener at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena last week, while Canada thrashed Martinique, 4-0 in its opener. All of which leads to Wednesday, when an up-start Canada faces a young and firing Mexico in the 10 p.m. ET nightcap.

[ LIVE: Latest Gold Cup scores ]

The LA Galaxy’s Uriel Antuna, a late addition to the squad, scored a hat-trick against Cuba and is one of the many young players getting their first chance to impress new Mexico coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino. Meanwhile, Canada is having a recent resurgence, with young stars Jonathan David, Alphonso Davies and Mark-Anthony Kaye all making an early impact.

Meanwhile, Cuba and Martinique now battle it out in the first match of the night from Denver at 8 p.m., with both sides hoping for three points and a chance to emerge from the group in third place. Cuba has already lost one player to asylum in the U.S., but it’s unclear what kind of impact that will have on the team.

Follow along with us on the link above and in the comments below.