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Assessing MLS offseason needs in the Eastern Conference

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The offseason is a time for change, and there are now 21 clubs gunning for the Seattle Sounders to take home MLS Cup in 2017.

[ MORE: MLS reveals timetable for teams 25, 26; expansion fee at $150 million ]

With the arrivals of Atlanta United and Minnesota United, MLS just became a bit more challenging and with the offseason in full swing teams must now gear up to add as much talent as possible before preseason begins.

[ MORE: PST ranks top DPs of past 10 years ]

PST begins the first of its two-part series (check out the Western Conference here) examining the Eastern Conference and what each team needs to do to be a playoff contender in 2017.


Atlanta United

As a first year team it’s easy to argue that Gerardo Martino and co. need to address a lot, however, Atlanta has already had an unprecedented offseason for an expansion organization. The additions of Kenwyne Jones, Miguel Almiron and others have already given the team an exciting vibe, and this is all before the SuperDraft has taken place.

While the club’s attack looks potentially threatening to the rest of the Eastern Conference, Martino will certainly be looking to the address the backline as 2017 nears. The offseason pickups of veterans Michael Parkhurst and Jeff Larentowicz is a good start, however, Atlanta will have to add more talent behind the ball in order to keep goals from flying into net. Rumors of U.S. Men’s National Team goalkeeper Brad Guzan‘s arrival could certainly help with that aspect of the roster as well.


Chicago Fire

Finishing last in the East a year ago wasn’t unexpected but Year 2 of Veljko Paunovic’s tenure has to show improvement for a roster that boasts as much young talent as the Fire’s does. With Matt Polster, Brandon Vincent, David Accam and more already in place, the Fire need to attack this offseason to the best of their ability in order to become a playoff team in the Eastern Conference.

Vincent and Jonathan Campbell each showed promise in their rookie campaigns but the club would be wise to add another experienced veteran or two in the back in the event that their young players don’t progress, particularly after the defense conceded 58 times a season ago. Offensively, a striker should certainly be an area of need. Michael de Leeuw showed promise with seven goals in 18 matches, but he’ll need assistance up front, along with Accam, in order to make the attack a legitimate threat.


Columbus Crew

This is a team only two seasons removed from reaching the MLS Cup final, but 2016 surely wasn’t the year Greg Berhalter and his side expected. Between the exit of Kei Kamara and allowing just shy of 60 goals, the Crew have their work cut out for them next season despite boasting a roster mixed with experience and youth promise.

The Crew feature a solid core of players, so the gap between 2016 and 2017 should be focusing in on how to bring in some exuberance with youth, possibly through the draft, in order to wake this team up. Outside of Harrison Afful, the defense is lacking now that Parkhurst has moved on to Atlanta. The backline will surely be the biggest concern for Berhalter, while may be in the market for a backup to Ola Kamara.

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 27: Gyasi Zardes #11 of the Los Angeles Galaxy and Steve Birnbaum #15 of D.C. United chase after a ball during the second half against D.C United at StubHub Center on August 27, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

D.C. United

After making some midseason moves in 2016, D.C. United looked like a completely different team during the second half of the season. Patrick Mullins and Lloyd Sam reinvigorated the side’s attack, but there are still some questions regarding the strength of the roster.

While Mullins stepped up in a big way, it remains to be seen if he can become one of MLS’ top goalscorers, so expect Ben Olsen to look into another striker or two. With Steve Birnbaum’s name constantly thrown around in the transfer market, centerback is surely a concern for D.C. as well, especially as Bobby Boswell gets up in age.


Montreal Impact

This is a team ready-made to make a run in 2017 after already coming close to reaching MLS Cup this past season. Ignacio Piatti’s presence up front has made the Impact one of the league’s most dangerous attacks, while Laurent Ciman has established himself as a top defender in MLS.

Mauro Biello’s group could be one of the favorites heading into 2017, so a few pieces on the defensive side of the ball could be the difference between the conference final and the MLS final.


New England Revolution

Kei Kamara’s move to the Revs in 2016 wasn’t enough to bring the side back to the postseason but with the talent on this roster it should only take a few moves for them to return to the playoffs next year. Teal Bunbury and Juan Agudelo provide solid support up top, but it is the defense that could use some adjustments in 2017 if the Revolution are to be considered contenders.

Despite boasting a veteran backline last season, the Revs allowed 54 goals. Jay Heaps and co. will have to address the defense in order to stop the rest of the high-flying attacks in the East.


New York City FC

While David Villa remains one of the top goalscoring threats in MLS, NYCFC must attack this offseason in order to overcome the East’s elite. In addition to Villa, youngsters Jack Harrison and Khiry Shelton will be expected to emerge in the attack but the squad’s biggest concerns remain in the midfield and backline.

With Frank Lampard and Andoni Iraola gone from the midfield, NYCFC will be lacking a presence in the center, which is a major concern for manager Patrick Vieira. The backline was also one of the worst in MLS in 2016, making it a top priority for the Frenchman. Ronald Matarrita has been rumored for some time with a move away from the club, potentially leaving another gap in the team if he exits.

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 22: Bradley Wright-Phillips #99 of the New York Red Bulls kicks the ball towards the goal after slipping past Tyson Wahl #2 of the Columbus Crew SC during the second half on November 22, 2015 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. Columbus defeated New York 2-0. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

New York Red Bulls

The side from just west of New York City still can’t get over the elusive hump that has burdened them for years. Despite boasting one of the league’s deepest and most talented squads, Jesse Marsch and the Red Bulls must retool in order to get to the MLS Cup.

The team will bring back the regular host of attacking threats like Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan, but another presence up front could be what the side is missing when it comes down to the postseason. Defensively, the Red Bulls need to address the central defense with Aurelien Collin and Damien Perrinelle out of contract and Chris Duvall shipped off to the Impact.


Orlando City SC

Jason Kreis will have the opportunity to manage his side at the start of the season, so he will have the time he needs in order to get things running down in Orlando. With solid pieces in place like Cyle Larin and Kaka in the attack the Lions must turn its attention to the backline, which features promising youngster Tommy Redding.

While the club netted the third most goals in the East a season ago, Orlando’s backline was the worst in the league and surely needs addressing if Kreis and co. can make a run at the postseason for the first time.


Philadelphia Union

After making the playoffs in 2016, Jim Curtin’s team has a lot of potential in the future given the squad’s young talent. With Keegan Rosenberry and Josh Yaro emerging on the team’s youthful backline and C.J. Sapong and Roland Alberg in the attack, the Union have the potential to be one of the most exciting teams in 2017 if they add the proper pieces.

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The team struggled at times a season ago keeping goals out of their own net, despite having one of the league’s top keepers between the bites. A veteran presence in the back could be what the side needs most while also seeking stronger options on the wings to help out in the attack.


Toronto FC

Greg Vanney’s side is likely still feeling heartbreak from their defeat in the final, but the good news for Toronto is that they have a side built to last. Led by Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, TFC is poised to make another run at a title in 2017 so long as the team can remain healthy.

TFC boasted the conference’s top defense a season ago, so some depth in the attack and midfield could potentially put this team over the top as they look to avenge the loss to the Sounders.

Andrea Pirlo named Juventus manager

Pirlo named Juventus manager
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Andrea Pirlo has been named Juventus manager.

[ MORE: MLS restart to include games played in home stadiums, with fans ]

The legendary Italian midfielder has been named Maurizio Sarri’s replacement after the he was fired in the wake of the club’s shocking exit from the UEFA Champions League round of 16.

Pirlo was named manager of Juventus’ U-23 side less than two weeks ago, but the expectation is that he will now be promoted to first-team manager. Given the unexpected nature of Sarri’s departure, and in the timeframe in which it occurred, it would appear the Juve board was either fully prepared to install Pirlo in short order, or hadn’t even considered the possibility they might have to fire Sarri.

[ MORE: Chelsea reveal Christian Pulisic injury update ]

The 41-year-old has no prior experience in management. He retired his playing career in 2017 after three seasons with MLS side New York City FC.

Pirlo takes over an aging squad which, while it has won nine straight Serie A titles, is in desperate need of a rebuild.

MLS restart to include games played in home stadiums, with fans

MLS return
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UPDATE: MLS commissioner Don Garber has since clarified that none of the league’s teams have been granted final permission from the league to host fans inside their stadiums, contrary to what press releases from two teams stated.

MLS restart: MLS announced on Saturday its intention and preliminary schedule for resuming the 2020 regular in its teams’ home markets — with fans in attendance in  stadiums where permitted — beginning with an Aug. 12 bout between FC Dallas and Nashville SC, a matchup of two teams forced to withdraw from the MLS is Back tournament due to a significant number of positive cases of COVID-19.

[ MORE: Chelsea reveal Christian Pulisic injury update ]

Each team is expected to play 18 additional games, taking the total number of regular-season games played by each team to 23 in 2020. The regular season will wrap up on Nov. 8, assuming no further stoppages. 18 clubs will then qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs, leading up to MLS Cup on Dec. 12.

Sporting Kansas City and FC Dallas have announced that they will welcome fans into their respective stadiums upon the restart of the season. Sporting KC will allow 14 percent (roughly 2,500) of the total capacity of Children’s Mercy Park, while Dallas announced that 5,110 (roughly 25 percent) will be allowed into Toyota Stadium.

From the league’s press release:

At this time, the majority of the matches in local markets will be played without fans in attendance. MLS and club leadership are working with local health authorities and government officials on a plan for limited capacity at certain games where allowed.

At this time, the league’s three Canadian teams — Toronto FC, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — do not have any games scheduled.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, MLS announced the initial phase of the league’s revised schedule with each U.S. club playing six matches against other U.S. teams by Sept. 14.
Major League Soccer continues to work with the league’s three Canadian clubs regarding plans to continue the regular season. More details on schedules for the Canadian teams will be announced in the near future.

MLS revealed that regular testing of players and staff for COVID-19 will continue during the resumed portion of the regular season, a protocol which proved effective with 24 of the 26 teams inside the bubble in Orlando, Fla.

As with the MLS is Back tournament, COVID-19 testing protocols will again play an important role in MLS’ competition framework. MLS continues to work closely with the league’s infectious disease advisors as well as advisors for the MLSPA on the plan for testing. All clubs are forming testing partnerships with a local certified lab, and all players, technical staff, and essential club staff will be tested every other day, including the day before each match day. Also, guidelines will be provided to players, coaches and essential staff to avoid the risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19 during their time away from club facilities.

Travel protocols will also be different for the remainder of 2020, with teams exclusively traveling via chartered flights, or buses. In most instances, teams will arrive the day of a game and return to their home market that night, aiming to limit time spent out of market.

3 things learned: Man City v. Real Madrid

Manchester City - Real Madrid
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Manchester City – Real Madrid was a fairly straightforward win for the hosts, as they reached the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals by beating the 13-time European champions 2-1 on the night and 4-2 on aggregate.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions ]

Raheem Sterling opened the scoring for Man City after a bad mistake from Raphael Varane was ruthlessly punished. Real’s Eden Hazard and Karim Benzema combined well at times and although Ederson denied them early on, Benzema pulled one back in the first half as Rodrygo’s cross was nodded home by the French striker.

Benzema and Jesus both went close for either team in the second half and the latter made the most of another big mistake from Varane to make it 2-1 and seal Man City’s spot in the quarterfinals for the third-straight season with relative ease.

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

Here’s a look at what we learned from the Etihad, as Manchester City – Real Madrid was an open affair but the hosts always looked in control.


CHAMPIONS LEAGUE DREAM ALIVE FOR MAN CITY

Pep Guardiola is like Indiana Jones entering the desert on his way to reaching the holy grail. Lisbon is now his ‘Canyon of the Crescent Moon’ as Man City have a quarterfinal, semifinal and final between them and footballing immortality. Man City have longed for Champions League glory and given their successful appeal against their two-season UEFA ban, they will now stride into Lisbon, Portugal as the favorites to be crowned champions of Europe. They strolled past Real Madrid and even without the injured Sergio Aguero, you’d fancy them to sweep all before them to reach the promised land. Man City have always found a way to mess things up in the Champions League but this season feels different. They gave up their Premier League trophy easily to Liverpool but it seemed like the Champions League was always the main focus this season. They now face Lyon in the quarterfinals and then their toughest test, likely either Barcelona or Napoli in the semifinals. Guardiola knows the holy grail is within reach as he is closer than ever to finally delivering the trophy Man City’s Abu Dhabi owners have built this whole project to win.


SLOPPY REAL MADRID EXIT WITH A WHIMPER

Missing captain and legendary Sergio Ramos through suspension from the first leg, Real Madrid needed young defender Edgar Militao to step up in is place. They did not need silky smooth defender Raphael Varane to give the ball away early on to give up a cheap and avoidable goal. Although Real recovered from that early error, they failed to get Luka Modric on the ball as much as they wanted to and Eden Hazard and Benzema only showed flashes of promise. Just when it seemed like Real would push hard for a second goal which would have taken the game to extra time, Varane made another big mistake. And that was that. After impressing in La Liga since the restart and winning the Spanish title, Real Madrid looked remarkably subdued as perhaps a few weeks off before this game impacted them. The Kings of Europe will have to wait another year to add another crown to their collection. Manchester City – Real Madrid was historic, as it marked the first time Zinedine Zidane has ever lost a Champions League game in the knockout rounds. The way his team limped out of Europe was surprising and disappointing for Real Madrid.


PEP BEATS ZIZOU, BUT FALSE NINE FAILS

It was a surprise to see Phil Foden start ahead of David Silva, Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva in a game of this magnitude but there’s always a method to Pep’s madness. And it isn’t madness, is it? It’s genius. Just like he did in the first leg at Real Madrid, Pep raised eyebrows as he started a central midfielder (Foden this time, Kevin de Bruyne in the first leg) as a false nine. Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling were rampant from each flank early on, putting defenders under pressure in their own box, and that was how they opened the scoring. But Man City then failed to build on that lead and let Real back into the game. Pep changed things around at half time and Jesus looked more comfortable centrally and so too did Foden. It was a small tweak but it got Man City back on track and Guardiola’s tactical nous made the difference, even though Man City were handed the win on a platter thanks to Real Madrid’s shaky defensive display.

Chelsea reveal Pulisic injury update

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The latest Christian Pulisic injury news has arrived and it is not as bad as it could have been, but not great either.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

In the FA Cup final last Saturday, Pulisic, 21, scored a superb opener at Wembley as he dazzled for Chelsea early on but right at the start of the second half he raced clear of the Arsenal defense, again, but injured his right hamstring and was in agony before he took a shot.

Speaking ahead of Chelsea’s UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg game at Bayern Munich on Saturday (they trail 3-0 from the first leg), Lampard confirmed that the latest Pulisic news is that he’s expected to be out for six weeks with his hamstring injury.

“We will get him fit and ready, if he misses the first one or two games, then we can wait for a firing Christian like he was from restart,” Lampard told reporters.

The latest Pulisic injury news means he will likely miss the whole of preseason and the opening few weeks of the 2020-21 Premier League season, as the new season kicks off on Sept. 12 due to the quick turnaround and the delays following the coronavirus pandemic.

When Pulisic came off injured against Arsenal, Chelsea missed him badly as they ended up losing the FA Cup final and the USMNT star being injured was a big reason for that defeat.

Right now Christian Pulisic is the first name on the team sheet for Chelsea and he was named as one of the nominees for the Premier League young player of the season during his debut campaign in England, plus he was one of the best players in the league since the restart.

It is good to hear Lampard said he will not rush Pulisic back, as it was clear for all to see how much more impactful and dynamic he was after having a few months rest. Before joining Chelsea he had played for many years straight as he played for the USMNT during the summers and with Borussia Dortmund.

Chelsea need Pulisic to be fit and firing if they’re going to improve on their fourth-place Premier League finish this season.