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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.

Bilbao’s Williams: ‘I suffered racist insults’ at Espanyol

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Athletic Bilbao forward Inaki Williams says that he was a victim of racial abuse from fans while playing at Espanyol in a Spanish league game on Saturday.

Williams said after the 1-1 draw that “I suffered racist insults, something that no one wants to hear and has no place here.”

Williams, who is black, played 82 minutes of the match before being substituted.

“People should come to enjoy themselves, to help their team. This is a sport about friendship,” Williams said.

More AP soccer https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

FA Cup: Chelsea survive trip to Hull, advance to 5th round (video)

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With their 2-1 victory away to EFL Championship side Hull City, Chelsea joined Leicester City, Sheffield United and Norwich City as Premier League sides to reach the fifth round of the FA Cup on Saturday.

[ FA CUP ROUNDUP: West Ham bounced; Sheff Utd, Norwich advance ]

Frank Lampard‘s side got off to a flying start courtesy of Michy Batshuayi‘s deflected finish in the 6th minute, and the Blues were well on their way to a first half of total dominance.

Hull looked more prepared for a fight after halftime, but it mattered very little after Fikayo Tomori was gifted a free header two yards off the goal line. Ross Barkley‘s free kick was well placed at the back post and there was nothing that anyone could do to stop it.

[ MORE: Report: Spurs, Inter close to deal for Christian Eriksen ]

Hull pulled the game back to 2-1 in the 78th minute, and they were more than a little fortunate in how they managed to do so. Kamil Grosicki smacked a free kick with plenty of power and got the deflection of all deflections to wrong-foot Willy Caballero and find the back of the net.

The draw for the fifth round will be held on Monday at 2:20 p.m. ET, prior to kickoff of Bournemouth v. Arsenal.

FA Cup roundup: West Ham bounced; Sheff Utd, Norwich advance (video)

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s FA Cup fourth-round (early) action…

[ MORE: Saints hit Spurs late to force 4th-round replay ]

The draw for the fifth round will be held on Monday at 2:20 p.m. ET, prior to kickoff of Bournemouth v. Arsenal.

West Ham United 0-1 West Bromwich Albion

West Ham were the lone Premier League side to be knocked out by a lower-division side on Saturday, as David Moyes‘ side failed to find the back of the net and were beaten 1-0 by EFL Championship leaders West Brom.

Conor Townsend scored the game’s only goal in the 9th minute, and though the Hammers controlled possession the rest of the way, they created very little in terms of scoring chances and finished the game with just three shots on target. West Brom finished the game with 10 men, but West Ham could do nothing with their 18-minute advantage following Semi Ajayi‘s second yellow card in the 72nd minute.

Millwall 0-2 Sheffield United

Sheffield United’s dream season continued with a comfortable 2-0 victory away to Championship side Millwall. Both goals came inside the final half-hour, but the Blades were unquestionably the better side even before breaking the deadlock.

That came in the 62nd minute, when Muhamed Besic placed a stunning curler inside the far post for 1-0. Not long before full-time, in the 84th, Oliver Norwood drove his effort hard and low and into the corner to make it 2-0.

Burnley 1-2 Norwich City

Norwich and Burnley were largely inseparable for the majority of Saturday’s clash at Turf Moor, save for a four-minute period early in the second half in which Norwich scored twice and booked their place in the fifth round.

Grant Hanley made it 1-0 in the 53rd and Josip Drmic added to the advantage in the 57th minute. Erik Pieters pulled Burnley back to within a goal in the 73rd, but that’s as close as the Clarets would get.

FA Cup fourth-round scoreboard

Southampton 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur — FULL RECAP
Newcastle United 0-0 Oxford United
Portsmouth 4-2 Barnsley
Coventry City 0-0 Birmingham City
Reading 1-1 Cardiff City

RB Leipzig beaten, Bundesliga title race thrown wide open

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BERLIN (AP) Eintracht Frankfurt defeated Bundesliga leader RB Leipzig 2-0 to throw the title race wide open on Saturday.

[ MORE: Report: Spurs, Inter close to deal for Christian Eriksen ]

Frankfurt defender Almamy Toure scored a brilliant goal just after the break and Filip Kostic sealed the win in injury time to deal Leipzig its first defeat since a 2-1 loss at home to Freiburg in October.

Borussia Monchengladbach cut the gap at the top to two points with a 3-1 win at home over Mainz, thanks largely to goals in each half from French striker Alassane Plea.

Bayern Munich has the chance to cut the gap to one point with a win at home over Schalke in the late game.

[ FA CUP: Saints hit Spurs late to force 4th-round replay ]

Borussia Dortmund is just four points off the top after its 5-1 win over Cologne on Friday.

Also Saturday, Union Berlin defeated Augsburg 2-0 at home, Hertha Berlin came from behind to win 2-1 at Wolfsburg, and Paderborn moved off the bottom with a 2-0 win at Freiburg.