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Assessing MLS offseason needs in the Western 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 finishes its two-part series (check out the Eastern Conference here) by examining the Western Conference and what each team needs to do to be a playoff contender in 2017.


Colorado Rapids

The league’s stingiest defense (32 goals conceded in 34 games) was just enough to finish second in the West during the regular season, but when push came to shove and they needed a goal (or two) against the Sounders in the playoffs, the cupboard was bare for Pablo Mastroeni. Thus, the lack creativity, in all of the four attacking positions, wide and central, must be addressed this winter. They’ll get by just fine without Jermaine Jones — Sam Cronin was fantastic this year — and hopefully fill his place in the starting lineup with a no. 10.


FC Dallas

What do you advise for the team that has it all (two deep at just about every position)? Mauro Diaz (torn achilles) will likely miss a sizable chunk of the early season, but the trio of Carlos Gruezo, Kellyn Acosta and Victor Ulloa should be able to bridge the gap until the Argentine magician returns. Former Swansea City winger Roland Lamah has already been inked to bolster FCD’s attack out wide — a glaring need prior to his signing this week — just as Ecuadorian left back Anibal Chala has done defensively — another would-be need. With the CONCACAF Champions League group stage on tap in 2017, Oscar Pareja will require a two-deep roster at every position, and he’s got two-plus months to spare with most of his squad already in place.


Houston Dynamo

Newly-named head coach Wilmer Cabrera has some work to do. Let’s work backwards here. Here’s a list of things the Dynamo don’t need: starting goalkeeper — Tyler Deric and/or Joe Willis are fine; one starting center back, in theory — Keyner Brown is expected to win a starting job; starting defensive midfielder, about half the time — Ricardo Clark and Eric Alexander are mostly fine, when they’re healthy, which isn’t all that often; attacking Swiss army knife — Andrew Wenger; legitimate star striker in the making — Mauro Manotas, when given a modicum of service, is a lethal goal-getter. That’s five-ish contributors Cabrera can count on from day one. They Dynamo are halfway to fielding a full starting 11.


LA Galaxy

With the departure of Robbie Keane this winter, it’s Giovani dos Santos’ team now. As such, a strong center forward capable of holding the ball up and bringing Dos Santos, who’ll be at his best when playing underneath a mobile monster, into play. Perhaps you think that’s Gyasi Zardes, who’ll be back after breaking his foot at the end of the summer, which, sure, maybe. That means the Galaxy need a winger or two. If Jones is the “answer” at defensive midfield, there’s still a question at defensive midfield. The 35-year-old played in nine (regular-season) games in 2016 (he played in 18 the year before last). Also of importance: finding a permanent positional home for Sebastian Lletget. Theory: we’re about to see a wave of signings from LA Galaxy II, the club’s southern California breeding ground of young talent, ushered in by former II head coach, and new Galaxy head coach, Curt Onalfo.


Minnesota United

Adrian Heath has plenty of building to do, again. Through the expansion draft and early-offseason trades, he’s managed to fill out the following spots on the field: two defensive midfielders, Collen Warner and Mohammed Saeid, who’ll fit perfectly into his 4-2-3-1 system. That’s just about it. The Tim Ream rumors are intriguing and would certainly fill a need at center back. As far as MLS veterans (and free agents) go, Marco Pappa, Chance Myers, Dominic Oduro, Will Johnson and Marvell Wynne would also be largely cost-effective options just about everywhere on the field.


Portland Timbers

A revolving door at the heart of defense was the Timbers’ most glaring weakness in 2016. Liam Ridgewell has been largely fine since arriving in 2014, but he endured nearly a half-dozen different partners at center back after Nat Borchers (ruptured achilles) was lost for the season. Steven Taylor wasn’t the answer, and he’s already left the club after three short months. Jack Jewsbury and Ned Grabavoy have retired, which means Diego Chara and Darlington Nagbe (not that Caleb Porter will play him there ever again) are the only central midfielders capable of playing behind Diego Valeri. They’re two or three starting-caliber center mids from having a deep enough squad to get through a 34-game season. If Lucas Melano isn’t going to be the outside-in winger the Timbers have so handsomely paid him to be, they’ll have to figure out who starts opposite of a poorly miscast Nagbe on the wing. Advice: bring back Rodney Wallace.

Diego Valeri and Fanendo Adi, Portland Timbers FC
Diego Valeri and Fanendo Adi, Portland Timbers FC (AP Photo/Bob Levey)

Real Salt Lake

It’s time to rebuild the defense and midfield at Rio Tino Stadium. 19-year-old center back Justen Glad was one of the breakout stars of 2016, so there’s a solid building block in place in the back, just as Kyle Beckerman and Sunny provide in midfield. Glad reads the game and reacts extremely well, so RSL would do well to pair him with a strong physical presence who can dominate the game in the air and break up play in front of the backline. The departures of Javier Morales (expected) and Juan Manuel “El Burrito” Martinez (unexpected) mean a new no. 10 and a wide attacker capable of combing with Joao Plata and Yura Movsisyan, as Martinez did so well in 2016, likely sit near the top of Jeff Cassar’s wish list this holiday season.


San Jose Earthquakes

Goalkeeper David Bingham, midfielders Anibal Godoy and Darwin Ceren, and forward Chris Wondolowski are about the only players on the ‘Quakes’ roster whom you could say would start for half of the league’s teams. Translation: this might be the worst roster in MLS — worse than the Dynamo, because at least some of Houston’s promising talent is still young — and much work lies ahead for Dom Kinnear.


Seattle Sounders

Despite the fact they’ll be the defending champions, the 2017 Sounders will probably look quite a bit different than the 2016 edition. For starters, Clint Dempsey is expected to slowly return to the field beginning with the U.S. national team’s January camp, which means he’ll be in the starting lineup once healthy and fit, which means the “where does he fit in?” question must once again be addressed, this time by Brian Schmetzer. Andrea Ivanschitz and Nelson Valdez are gone, which leaves just Nicolas Lodeiro, Jordan Morris and Alvaro Fernandez as attackers returning from this year’s improbable title run. Beyond that, at some point Osvaldo Alonso is going to have to be replaced in the long-term — Cristian Roldan will extend his career by a year or two, if paired together — or, at the very least, a ready-made replacement must be added to the roster in the event of Alonso missing a month with injuries.

Alvaro Fernandez; Jordan Morris, Nicolas Lodeiro, Seattle Sounders (Photo credit: Seattle Sounders / Facebook)
Alvaro Fernandez, Jordan Morris, Nicolas Lodeiro, Seattle Sounders (Seattle Sounders / Facebook)

Sporting Kansas City

When Krisztian Nemeth left Kansas City a month before the start of the 2016 season, he took not only the 10 goals and six assists he tallied the season prior, but more importantly, the secondary scoring and creation threats to Dom Dwyer and Benny Feilhaber. With Feilhaber operating deeper and deeper as his career unfolds, Sporting desperately require an attacker who’s comfortable playing in between the opposition’s midfield and defensive lines. Midfield depth is also a serious concern after the retirement on Paulo Nagamura, who was the only reserve central midfielder on the roster in 2016. Will Johnson would be the perfect backup at multiple spot in Sporting’s midfield, which means he’d get the 20-24 appearances he presumably desires.


Vancouver Whitecaps

On paper, the Whitecaps possess quite an impressive, talent-rich roster. In practice, very few of those pieces actually fit together into anything resembling a cohesive unit. If they’re going to continue trying to play fast — why wouldn’t you with Kekuta Manneh and 16-year-old Alphonso Davies? — they’re going to need a striker who can, 1) finish from 12 yards and in, and 2) keep pace with those blazing fast wide players. Many of the pieces are in place to replicate the Montreal Impact’s counter-attacking juggernaut with three defensive-minded midfielders in the center and speedsters on the wings — Matias Laba is as good as the get right in front of defense, and Russell Teibert should be able to play as the most advanced of the three, pressing high and reducing the workload of those behind him. A new temper for hot-headed Kendall Waston probably wouldn’t hurt, either.

Manchester United breaks through Copenhagen in extra time

Manchester United - Copenhagen
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Manchester United – Copenhagen: The Europa League’s biggest underdogs of the quarterfinals took the tournament favorites to extra time before succumbing 1-0 in Cologne.

Bruno Fernandes highlighted his Man of the Match performance by converting an Anthony Martial-won penalty in the 95th minute for Manchester United, the only way past Copenhagen’s terrific goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson.

But Fernandes gave United a scare, needing care for his hamstring at the final whistle.

[ MORE: Liverpool announces new left back ]

Johnsson made 13 saves, seven from inside the box, to keep Copenhagen within a sucker punch of eliminating the Red Devils over 90 minutes.

Manchester United heads to Dusseldorf for an Aug. 17 semifinal against the winner of Tuesday’s tilt between Wolves and Sevilla.


Three things we learned

1. Copenhagen plays prime tournament soccer: The heaviest underdogs in the quarterfinals, Copenhagen executed a traditional 4-4-2 in a less-traditional low block for much of the match. The low block wasn’t the surprise, but instead of two banks of five, the rows of four with two men hassling up front challenged United for time and helped spring a number of dangerous counters. The Danes opened up in extra time after going behind, but taking it to extra time was more than many expected out of them.

2. VAR denies the Red Devils: A rout would’ve been on if this match was staged a year ago without VAR, as the assistant referee twice allowed United goals to go to video. Harry Maguire was offside before assisting the first would-be Red Devils goal, while Mason Greenwood was off before ripping a rocket off the far post and into the goal.

3. Bruno is a beast: Fernandes was everywhere, cueing up his teammates for chances when he wasn’t smashing them off the frame in a bid to win it himself. The Portuguese playmaker registered three key passes, put three of his five shots on target, and won the majority of his duels on top of scoring the game’s lone goal (SofaScore). Now United must hope his late leg injury was just a product of 120 minutes and nothing major.

Man of the Match

Fernandes, and yes we had him here before he smashed his penalty home. Fernandes is now the Europa League’s leading scorer with seven goals between Sporting Lisbon and United.


Manchester United – Copenhagen recap

United has plenty of the ball in the first 10 minutes but Copenhagen provided legitimate danger that Eric Bailly managed in his own six.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka blocked a cross with his face and needed treatment, looking quite dazed before returning to the game.

Another Copenhagen chance was blocked in the six by Bailly (again), who proved a wise choice over Victor Lindelof.

VAR had a look at an early United goal and rightly chalked Harry Maguire offside in the build-up. And it took Mason Greenwood’s hammer off the far post off the board for offside early in stoppage time.

Copenhagen was in it at the break. Would United pay?

[ MORE: Lukaku leads Inter past Bayer Leverkusen ]

The early stages of the second half remained with the Red Devils, Copenhagen parking all its men behind the ball at times.

Rashford flubbed a chance to shoot or pass to Paul Pogba when Bruno Fernandes spotted him at the back post just after the hour mark.

Fernandes tried his luck from distance in the 63rd, ripping a shot off the far post.

Ex-Everton man Bryan Oviedo nearly put Copenhagen ahead in the 66th only to see Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Bailly clog his shooting lane after Rasmus Falk dazzled to get into the box.

Karl-Johan Johnsson made a flying save on Anthony Martial to force an 84th-minute corner that came to nothing for United.

Johnsson denied Martial again in-tight at the start of stoppage time, but the high was short-lived as the Frenchman was dropped in the box moments later.

Fernandes stepped to the spot and used a stuttering run-up before blasting his penalty home.

Martial nearly had it 2-0 after the restart when he dribbled through the Copenhagen 18 but took it himself instead of laying off to Juan Mata in what would’ve been a fairly straight-forward chance for the Spaniard.

Johnsson denied Fernandes at the end of the first 15 minutes of extra time, United unfortunate to not score on the ensuing corner when Mata’s shot was blocked to Lindelof, who fired off the outside of the post.

Lindelof made a fine intervention to block a close-range equalizer bid in the 116th.

Inter Milan rides early goals past Bayer Leverkusen

Inter Milan - Bayer Leverkusen
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While Manchester United and Copenhagen played chess across the country, Inter Milan and Bayer Leverkusen were staging double jumps all over a checkerboard in Dusseldorf.

Romelu Lukaku and Nicolo Barella scored twice in six first-half minutes before Kai Havertz answered in the 24th to account for all the goals in Inter’s 2-1 defeat of Bayer.

Lukaku has scored in nine-straight UEL matches, a new record.

[ MORE: Liverpool announces new left back ]

Inter now waits for an Aug. 16 semifinal in Cologne, where it will meet the winner of Tuesday’s match between Basel and Shakhtar Donetsk

Bayer now must settle for the Europa League again via its fifth-place finish in the Bundesliga.

The three goals in the nine minutes were highlighted by Lukaku doing his best “Harry Kane versus Leicester City” falling down finish.

Nicola Barella put Inter ahead after a quarter-hour when he made the most of a loose ball outside the 18.

A Manchester United connection saw Inter ahead by two when Ashley Young found Romelu Lukaku and the Belgian striker maintained his composure while being dragged to the ground, beating Lukas Hradecky with a low shot.

Kai Havertz and Kevin Volland’s interplay near the box ended with the transfer rumor mainstay slipping a shot home to bring Bayer back within one.

Lukaku had penalty decisions taken off the board by VAR in each half.

Who’s next for Manchester United if Sancho stays at Dortmund?

Chiesa to Manchester United
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The transfer rumor mill is usually buzzing this time of year, but it’s nearly a cacophony following Michael Zorc’s announcement that Jadon Sancho will be staying at Borussia Dortmund.

[ MORE: Liverpool announces new left back ]

Reports say Manchester United is not quitting on the idea of Sancho at Old Trafford, but here are some other targets if the Red Devils have to look away from the English phenom.

Federico Chiesa, Fiorentina

Linked with United for some time including a Monday nod from Football-Italia, Chiesa’s approximately $80 million price tag is high but half of what Dortmund is asking for Sancho.

The versatile playmaker has often been linked with Juventus, though Fiorentina is loathe to do business with The Old Lady unless absolutely necessary after big sales of Roberto Baggio and Federico Bernardeschi to Juve in the past.

The 22-year-old already has 17 Italian caps and scored 10 goals with six assists for La Viola this season in Serie A play, career bests in both.

Douglas Costa, Juventus

This one could become even more feasible if Juve latched onto Chiesa.

Juve desperately needs to get younger and Costa doesn’t figure to fit into the plans of Andrea Pirlo, a month away from his 30th birthday.

Costa works better on the right side and would be a worker bee looking to set up Rashford and Martial or cut back for Bruno Fernandes. He boasts double-digit assist seasons in the Bundesliga (Bayern), Serie A (Juve), and Ukraine (Shakhtar Donetsk).

TURIN, ITALY – MAY 19: Douglas Costa (Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images)

Raul Jimenez, Wolves

This one still feels like a long shot of long shots given the players’ age and status at Wolves, but the El Tri star has been linked with United in the past.

Jimenez doesn’t solve the wing issue presented by Sancho staying at BVB, and you’d fancy the Red Devils to go after one of Wolves’ wingers before Jimenez.

But Solskjaer enjoys Marcus Rashford at left wing and could use Anthony Martial at right wing a bit more often than center forward. Throw in Mason Greenwood and the boss would have a lot of permutations to use around Bruno Fernandes in a front three or four.

Ivan Perisic, Inter Milan

Mentioned as part of a swap deal for Alexis Sanchez, that’s less on the cards after the Chilean accepted a Man United payoff to move to Inter for free.

The 31-year-old favors the left wing and Inter would be happy to offload him after Bayern declined its option to buy the loanee who managed seven goals and 10 assists in just over 1600 minutes.

That’s pretty good output for a part-time player who kept some tread on the tires.

Perisic to Manchester United
MOSCOW, RUSSIA – JULY 15: Ivan Perisic of Croatia (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

James Rodriguez, Real Madrid

If you’re sensing a thread amongst most of these players, it’s no surprise considering United has a wage scale to meet the needs of many wantaways.

Real desperately wants to get something for Colombian star James, who at 29 played less than 800 minutes for La Liga’s champions this season.

His two-year loan stint at Bayern also saw him as a part-time player, but like Perisic a productive one. James scored 15 times with 20 assists over two seasons with the Bavarians.

Kingsley Coman, Bayern Munich

This would cost a lot of dough.

The 24-year-old has been a part of nine-straight league winners between Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, and Bayern.

Okay that’s cheating a bit considering his Ligue 1 crowns came off a handful of appearances over two seasons at the Parc des Princes.

But the left and right winger might be on for a change of scenery with Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sane set to dominate the preferential places at Bayern.

Liverpool confirms signing of Greek left back

Tsimikas signs with Liverpool
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Well that escalated quickly (or has been on the cards and needed to wait for Olympiacos to bow out of the Europa League).

It took less than 24 hours for the rumored move of Kostas Tsimikas from Olympiacos to Liverpool to become a reality, giving the Reds valuable depth behind Andy Robertson.

[ MORE: Atleti without Correa, Vrsaljko ]

Tsimikas, 24, is thrice-capped by Greece and has 86 appearances for Olympiacos with 12 assists. He will wear No. 21 for the Reds.

From LiverpoolFC.com:

“I’m very happy, I’m very proud to be here. For me, the biggest club in the world. It’s an honour to be here and I will give my best. The league here, I like a lot. I watch it on the TV and it was always one dream I had from when I was a kid to come to play in this league and to come through.

“With a lot of work and focus on what I do and what the coach wants, and every day working hard in training, I can be on the highest level. [I want] to achieve [our] goals. To win the league again and also to win the Champions League.”

Tsimikas is about two years Robertson’s junior.

He played 384 minutes over four appearances versus PL sides in the Europa League, helping Olympiacos beat Arsenal before falling to Wolves last week.