Photo credit: Seattle Sounders/Twitter

2016 MLS Western Conference preview: Upsetting the establishment

Leave a comment

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.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s MLS season preview coverage ]

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

Last-16 games to be hosted by home teams in Champions League

UEFA Champions League
UEFA Champions League
Leave a comment

GENEVA (AP) The remaining four games of the Champions League’s round of 16 can be hosted by the home team, UEFA announced Thursday, instead of playing them in neutral Portugal.

The competition was halted in March because of the coronavirus and is set to conclude with a mini-tournament at an empty stadium in Lisbon next month, starting with the quarterfinals.

However, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus and Manchester City will be allowed to host the second leg of their last-16 matches at home.

[ MORE: New Premier League TV schedule ]

UEFA confirmed Thursday it had clearance from public authorities in Spain, Germany, Italy and England to let the teams play at home on Aug. 7 and 8. Few or no fans will be allowed in the stadiums.

UEFA also said no tickets will be sold to fans for mini-tournament in Lisbon.

“In light of the current situation, the UEFA executive committee felt it prudent to conclude that UEFA matches should take place behind closed doors until further notice,” the governing body said.

In the Europa League, six clubs including Manchester United can also host their outstanding second-leg games in the round of 16 ahead of a mini-tournament in Germany.

Starting on Aug. 12, the Champions League quarterfinals will be played on four straight nights in single-leg knockout games at the home stadiums of Benfica and Sporting Lisbon.

The semifinals are on Aug. 18 and 19, and Benfica’s Stadium of Light hosts the final on Aug. 23.

In the remaining round-of-16 games, Bayern is the clearest favorite to advance having won 3-0 at Chelsea in the first leg in February.

Man City leads 2-1 over Real Madrid, Juventus trails 1-0 against Lyon, and Barcelona resumes at 1-1 against Napoli.

Atalanta, Atlético Madrid, Leipzig and Paris Saint-Germain already advanced to the quarterfinals in March.

[ MORE: Solskjaer hopeful of new long-term Pogba deal ]

The quarterfinals and semifinals pairings will be drawn Friday at UEFA headquarters.

The final was postponed from May 30 at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul. It will host the 2021 final.

In the Europa League, six second-leg games will now be hosted on Aug. 5 and 6 by Man United, Bayer Leverkusen, Shakhtar Donetsk, Wolverhampton, Basel and Copenhagen.

The first-leg games were played in March with four in empty stadiums. Only İstanbul Başakşehir and Rangers had fans in the stands for games against Copenhagen and Bayer Leverkusen, respectively.

The two remaining pairings – Inter Milan-Getafe and Sevilla-Roma – could not be played in Italy or Spain in March as those countries were hit hard by the spreading coronavirus. Those pairings will be settled in single knockout games in neutral Germany, also on Aug. 5 and 6.

The quarterfinals are scheduled for Aug. 10-11 in Cologne, Duisburg, Düsseldorf and Gelsenkirchen. The semifinals are Aug. 16-17.

The final is Friday, Aug. 21 in Cologne, replacing the postponed May 27 final in Gdansk, Poland.

By GRAHAM DUNBAR
AP Sports Writer

Aston Villa – Manchester United stream: How to watch, start time, prediction

Aston Villa - Manchester United preview
Photo by Neville Williams/Aston Villa FC via Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Aston Villa – Manchester United preview: Manchester United can pull within a point of fourth place by beating desperate Aston Villa at Villa Park on Thursday (Watch live at 3:15 pm ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)

There’s also the potential for Premier League history, as United can become the first team to win four-straight matches by three or more goals come Thursday.

STREAM ASTON VILLA – MANCHESTER UNITED LIVE

Villa sits 18th place, four points behind West Ham and Watford for the last two safe spaces on the PL table. Villa plays West Ham on the last day of the season.


Team news

United does get Victor Lindelof despite an injury suffered versus Bournemouth, while Axel Tuanzebe and Phil Jones remain out.

Tyrone Mings and Jack Grealish are both ready to go despite minor knocks, while Matt Targett and Bjorn Engels are out for Villa.


What they’re saying

Dean Smith on Villa needing to get production from forwards“I’ve just been talking to our front three. They want to get involved with our build-up play at times, but I want them to go and get inside our six-yard box. As I get judged by results, they get judged by goals. Our goals return hasn’t been great for the five games but we have actually created chances. We’ve put some really good crosses into the box at Newcastle, Sheffield United and Liverpool but we weren’t able to execute them chances so it’s something been working on this week.”

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on stopping Jack Grealish“There’s been lots said and talked about him and we need to be aware of him. Whoever is close to him, if he’s off the left, in the middle, on the right. What he does is attract players to him and create space for others, so there’s not just one player in that Villa team. There’s many of them.”


Odds and ends (Full matchweek odds)

Villa’s a big underdog at +900, while DraftKings sees United at -315.

A Victor Lindelof goal completed a United comeback in a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford earlier this year, Jack Grealish and Tyrone Mings on the board for the Villans.


Prediction

The question is whether United will tempt blowout history. They may come up just short. 2-0 United.


How to watch Aston Villa – Manchester United stream, start time

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

Bournemouth – Tottenham, Everton – Southampton: Stream, how to watch

Bournemouth - Tottenham
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Bournemouth – Tottenham and Everton – Southampton take place on Thursday as the Cherries need the win to try and save themselves from relegation, while Spurs need to stay in the top four hunt. (Watch live at 1pm ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth have been awful since the restart, losing all four games, and are in deep trouble in the bottom three with a very tough run of games to end the season.

Jose Mourinho and Tottenham beat Everton 1-0 last time out and they are still in the hunt to finish in fifth place, which could be a Champions League spot.

BOURNEMOUTH – TOTTENHAM STREAM LIVE

EVERTON – SOUTHAMPTON STREAM LIVE

As for the other early game on Thursday, Everton host Southampton with just one point and one place between them. Everton sit in 11th on 44 points, while Saints are in 12th on 43 points after their shock win against Man City last weekend.

Here’s a look at the team news for the two games at 1pm ET.


Team news

Bournemouth bring back Callum Wilson as he returns from suspension, while Dan Gosling comes back into the midfield.

Tottenham bring Jan Vertonghen into central defense to replace the injured Dier, while Steven Bergwijn and Erik Lamela come into the starting lineup with Heung-min Son on the bench.

Everton bring Anthony Gordon and Yerry Mina into the team with Gylfi Sigurdsson on the bench and Mason Holgate out injured.

Ralph Hasenhuttl names the same Southampton team which beat Manchester City on Sunday, while Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is fit enough for a place on the bench.


 

Odds and ends (Full matchweek odds)

DraftKings have Tottenham (-157) as the heavy favorites at Bournemouth (+425) with the tie at +310. Anything other than a big Spurs win would be surprising but we all know the Cherries have a few shocks up their sleeves.

As for the game at Goodison, Everton have a great all-time home record against Southampton and the Toffees are the favorites (+100) but Southampton (+270) have been in sensational form away from home for most of this season. The draw at +255 looks very interesting.


How to watch Bournemouth – Tottenham stream, start time

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

How to watch all Premier League games

Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

MLS: Black Lives Matter protests; Nashville out due to COVID; Orlando, Philly win

MLS is Back
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The MLS is Back tournament kicked off in Orlando, Florida over the last 24 hours and the headlines have been centered around the moving Blacks Lives Matter protests, Nashville SC leaving due to COVID-19 cases and wins for Orlando and Philadelphia.

[ MORE: MLS is Back schedule, how to watch ]

First up, the Black Lives Matter protests on Wednesday evening before the Orlando City SC v. Inter Miami CF game lasted for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

That was the length of time police officer Derek Chauvin had his knee on the neck of George Floyd.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage

Players from all teams got together to lead the protests, as the Black Players for Change in MLS group organized the show of solidarity for the movement.

The other main headline off the pitch is that first-year MLS team Nashville SC is heading home after nine players tested positive for COVID-19.

Reports had surfaced from The Athletic about multiple cases within the squad ahead of their arrival in Orlando and MLS commissioner Don Garber said late Wednesday a decision would be made on Nashville’s involvement in the tournament.

Sources have told ProSoccerTalk that Nashville are out of the tournament, although official confirmation has yet to arrive. If confirmed, as expected, then the tournament will now consist of 24 teams after FC Dallas were also unable to compete. Chicago would move from Group A to Group B so that all groups have four teams for the tournament.

On the pitch, the first-ever meeting between Orlando City SC and Inter Miami saw the tournament hosts win 2-1 thanks to a late winner from captain Nani. Juan Agudelo had given Miami the lead but Chris Mueller equalized off Nani’s cross before the Portuguese legend secured the win.

The first early morning game took place on Thursday as the Philadelphia Union beat New York City FC 1-0 thanks to a fine strike from captain Alejandro Bedoya. Union goalkeeper Andre Blake made a string of fine saves to deny NYCFC.

Before the game the Union players all wore the names of Black people who have been killed by police on the back of their jerseys rather than their own surnames as a moving tribute to their memory.