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MLS 2017 Eastern Conference preview

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Toronto FC nearly hoisted MLS Cup on its home turf in 2016 but Greg Vanney’s side won’t be the only Eastern Conference contender this season.

[ MORE: MLS 2017 season previews

With the 2017 campaign set to kick off on Friday (yes, just two days away), 11 teams in the East will have the opportunity to reach the postseason as MLS continues its expansion.

Some of you may be thinking “11”? Yep. Welcome Atlanta United to the mix!

[ MORE: MLS 2017 schedule

Below is everything you need to know about the Eastern Conference heading into the 2017 season.


Atlanta United

Twitter/@ATLUTD

Record in 2016: N/A
Offseason evaluation:
It was about as good as any new club could have hoped for, and the team has already showed flashes of brilliance in preseason. With three quality, young Designated Players, savvy veterans like Kenwyne Jones and Michael Parkhurst and a crop of young studs led by first round draft pick Miles Robinson, Atlanta is already off and running.
Key player:
Miguel Almiron — The Paraguayan has made a name for himself in South American football, and now it’s his turn to live up to the billing in MLS. In addition to his club services, Almiron has made an impact for the Paraguayan national side at both the Copa America Centenario and also during 2018 CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying.
Coach:
Gerardo “Tata” Martino – He’s coached at the highest levels of the game, including at Barcelona, but Martino takes his talents to an expansion side that has arguably won the offseason. There’s no questioning his resume, however, in a league with as parity as MLS, the savvy manager will have to prove himself once again in the United States.
Vague 2017 prediction: 
This is a deep, deep roster and although expansion sides of the past have struggled to come out firing from the gate, this Atlanta side could very well buck that trend.


Chicago Fire

BRIDGEVIEW, IL - AUGUST 14: John Goossens #7 of Chicago Fire celebrates a goal against Orlando City FC with teammate Brandon Vincent #3 during an MLS match at Toyota Park on August 14, 2016 in Bridgeview, Illinois. The Fire and Orlando City SC tied 2-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Record in 2016: 7-17-10 – last in MLS’ Eastern Conference, last overall record in MLS (didn’t qualify for playoffs)
Offseason evaluation:
The East Conference bottom dwellers had themselves a strong winter, clearly highlighted by their blockbuster trade for veteran midfielder Dax McCarty from the New York Red Bulls. Add in Hungarian attack Nemanja Nikolic and one of the league’s youngest rosters and this has strong potential in the offing. 
Key player:
Nemanja Nikolic — The 29-year-old starred in Europe with clubs like Legia Warsaw Videoton, and the Fire hope he can bring his goalscoring presence to a team that just 42 goals all season in 2016.
Coach:
Veljko Paunovic — The young Serbian manager is still learning the ropes of MLS but he’s surely built a strong roster in just his second season in the U.S.
Vague 2017 prediction: 
Will the Fire make the playoffs? It looks a lot more likely than a season ago.


Columbus Crew

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12: Ethan Finlay #13 of the Columbus Crew SC and Fabinho #33 of the Philadelphia Union battle for control of the ball in the first half on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Record in 2016: 8-14-12 – 9th in MLS’ Eastern Conference, 18th overall in MLS (Did not qualify for playoffs)
Offseason evaluation:
The Crew didn’t bring about too many changes during the offseason but their strong core of players, led by Ola Kamara, Ethan Finley and Federico Higuain should pose a great threat to opposing defenses in 2017. Meanwhile, Jonathan Mensah’s addition should fill a void in the back after the exit of veteran defender Michael Parkhurst.
Key player:
Ola Kamara – The striker filled in nicely after Kei Kamara‘s move to the Revolution but he’ll have to avoid a sophomore slump in MLS if the Crew are to contend in the East once again.
Coach:
Gregg Berhalter – As he enters his fourth full season with the club, Berhalter must regroup and his get his side focused after missing the playoffs in 2016. 
Vague 2017 prediction: 
The Crew fell off big time from their MLS Cup appearance in 2015 but this is still a roster full of talent and will surely compete for a playoff spot in the East.


D.C. United

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)

Record in 2016: 11-10-13 – 4th in MLS’ Eastern Conference, 9th overall in MLS (Knocked out in MLS Cup Conference semifinals)
Offseason evaluation:
The Eastern Conference side has found a solid mix of youth and veteran pieces to help be in the mix for a playoff spot again in 2017. Ian Harkes will be one of the most watched youngsters this season after signing a Homegrown contract, while Luciano Acosta hopes to continue his impressive play in his second season with the club.
Key player:
Patrick Mullins – After getting a new contract this offseason, Mullins will have some high expectations to carry over his goalscoring form from a season ago.
Coach:
Ben Olson – Historically, D.C. has been one of the most successful franchises, but it’s been over 13 years since the club’s last MLS Cup. Olson knows that feeling back from his playing days, but it’s now his job to step up and help deliver one as a manager.
Vague 2017 prediction: 
This is a squad that is built to win now, particularly at the back, so Olson and co. will have to take advantage of the current roster.


Montreal Impact

Montreal Impact players celebrate Matteo Mancosu's goal against Toronto FC during the first half of an MLS Eastern Conference final soccer match in Montreal, Tuesday, Nov.22, 2016. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP)

Record in 2016: 11-11-12 – 5th in MLS’ Eastern Conference, 11th overall in MLS (Knocked out in MLS Cup knockout round)
Offseason evaluation:
There’s no more Didier Drogba but the Impact still boast a squad that nearly qualified for MLS Cup last season. 
Key player:
Ignacio Piatti – He’s easily one of MLS’ most dynamic attackers, and without Drogba, Piatti will be able to influence this Impact side that much more. 
Coach:
Mauro Biello – Biello knows the club in and out, and he’s done everything right to this point. 2017 looks to be the season where the team can take the next step and contend for an MLS Cup title.
Vague 2017 prediction: 
The Impact have reached the postseason two consecutive seasons, and look to be on pace for a third and potentially have bigger sights set.


New England Revolution

Juan Agudelo & Diego Fagundez, New England Revolution

Record in 2016: 11-14-9 – 7th in MLS’ Eastern Conference, 14th overall in MLS (Did not qualify for playoffs)
Offseason evaluation: 
The Revs were relatively quiet during the winter period, suggesting the club is content with its current core. There’s unquestioned talent on the roster, especially in the attack, but the Eastern Conference side has to back up its lack of moves early in the season.
Key player:
Kei Kamara – Considering his track record in MLS, seven goals after joining the Revs was surely a disappointing season for Kamara. He’ll have to do better in 2017 to compete with the beasts in the East.
Coach:
Jay Heaps – The Revs have made the postseason in three of their last four campaigns, but with the attacking group that the team boasts, Heaps will surely feel some pressure if the club doesn’t start off right.
Vague 2017 prediction: 
Kamara, Nguyen and Fagundez. If those guys click, this could be a top four side in the East.


New York City FC

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 13: David Villa #7 of New York City FC celebrates his first half goal with teamate Andrea Pirlo #21 againd the Toronto FC at Yankee Stadium on March 13, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Record in 2016: 15-10-9 – 2nd in MLS’ Eastern Conference, 4th overall in MLS (Knocked out in MLS Cup knockout round)
Offseason evaluation:
Losing Frank Lampard was a big blow, but Patrick Vieira and co. have done a fantastic job of bringing in younger options around the squad. The jury is still out on how the backline will look on opening day, but there isn’t really any question regarding how good the attack will be again.
Key player:
Maxi Moralez – The club’s third DP has big boots to fill after Frank Lampard’s production last season, but the South American attacker has already brought big expectations and is expected to help easy David Villa’s load.
Coach:
Patrick Vieira – The Frenchman has done everything he said he would in terms of bringing in a younger core. Now, it’s up to Vieira to grind out results for NYCFC in the regular season and beyond.
Vague 2017 prediction: 
This is surely a playoff team barring injury, but the backline will once again be the area to watch if they are to make a run.


New York Red Bulls

HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 6: Sacha Kljestan #16 of New York Red Bulls dribbles past Steven Beitashour #33 of Toronto FC during their match at Red Bull Arena on March 6, 2016 in Harrison, New Jersey. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Record in 2016: 16-9-9 – 1st in MLS’ Eastern Conference, 3rd overall in MLS (Lost in MLS Cup knockout round)
Offseason evaluation:
The Dax McCarty trade is still mind-boggling to some, but the Red Bulls were simply looking to get younger in the midfield. Sean Davis is a suitable replacement at defensive mid, and it’s now just up to the rest of the attacking players to support Bradley Wright-Phillips during the critical junctures.
Key player:
Gonzalo Veron – It’s safe to say the DP hasn’t lived up to the billing just yet, but there is promise. Veron’s speed and technical abilities are fun to watch, and a potential partnership up front with BWP could be what the Red Bulls need to make a deeper run in the playoffs.
Coach:
Jesse Marsch – Some of the events that transpired during the offseason are still a bit unclear, but Marsch has fully proven himself as a manager in his two seasons with the Red Bulls. Now, he just has to be focused on getting the team over the hump and into MLS Cup.
Vague 2017 prediction: 
Like NYCFC, this is a playoff team. How far they can go is left to be determined.


Orlando City SC

BRIDGEVIEW, IL - AUGUST 14: Cyle Larin #9 of Orlando City FC controls the ball in front of Jonathan Campbell #16 of Chicago Fire during an MLS match at Toyota Park on August 14, 2016 in Bridgeview, Illinois. The Fire and Orlando City SC tied 2-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Record in 2016: 9-11-14 – 8th in MLS’ Eastern Conference, 15th overall in MLS (Did not qualify for playoffs) 
Offseason evaluation:
 Adding veterans like Will Johnson and Jonathan Spector this offseason will do wonders for the Lions defensively, but now the club just needs to hold up without injury to prevent opposition from breaking down their backline after conceding a league-leading 60 goals a year ago.
Key player:
Cyle Larin — One of the most exciting young attackers in MLS, Larin has done everything to entice the Orlando City fan base thus far. It’s up to the rest of his team to help support the Canadian to help the club reach its first postseason.
Coach:
Jason Kreis – The former U.S. striker has the chance to manage from the start of the season, so this will be a real opportunity to see how he can take charge of the Lions. 
Vague 2017 prediction: 
Again, it’s on the defense. If they can keep goals out, this is a playoff-worthy team.


Philadelphia Union

CHESTER, PA - MARCH 20: Diego Fagundez #14 of New England Revolution kicks the ball away from Keegan Rosenberry #12 of Philadelphia Union at Talen Energy Stadium on March 20, 2016 in Chester, Pennsylvania. The Union won 3-0. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

Record in 2016: 11-14-9 – 6th in MLS’ Eastern Conference, 13th overall in MLS (Knocked out in MLS Cup knockout round) 
Offseason evaluation:
Giliano Wijnaldum was one of the more underrated signings during the offseason for the Union, who can bring European experience to the backline, while Fafa Picault will be an intriguing American prospect to watch over.
Key player:
Keegan Rosenberry – The Union struggled to keep goals out last season, largely due to injuries at the back. However, Rosenberry’s presence was a resounding bright spot, and his second MLS season could surely propel his USMNT stock further.
Coach:
Jim Curtin – The Union boss has built a very strong roster both with youth and veterans, so it’s time to take the next step in 2017.
Vague 2017 prediction: 
Curtin and co. will be expected to reach the postseason, but they might still be a step behind the likes of Toronto, Red Bulls and NYCFC.


Toronto FC

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)

Record in 2016: 14-9-11 – 3rd in MLS’ Eastern Conference, 5th overall in MLS (Lost in MLS Cup final on penalty kicks)
Offseason evaluation:
Losing a veteran presence such as Will Johnson is definitely a significant loss, but look at the rest of this Toronto roster and say it’s not scary. Can’t do it, right?
Key player:
Jozy Altidore – The only question regarding Altidore over recent years has been his health. We saw last year what he can do when he is on the pitch, especially with someone like Sebastian Giovinco playing alongside him. 
Coach:
Greg Vanney – It’s pretty easy when you have the most dynamic player in MLS on your team, but Vanney has built a team that can last. 
Vague 2017 prediction: 
Expect Toronto to be a contender to win the East for years to come. Oh yeah, and they should be among the favorites to hoist MLS Cup too.

Boyd brace enough for USMNT v. Guyana

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Tyler Boyd scored a pair of goals including the 1,000th in United States men’s national team history as Gregg Berhalter’s USMNT opened its Gold Cup run with a somewhat misleading 4-0 defeat of Guyana in Minnesota late Tuesday.

Paul Arriola had a goal, an assist, and a shot that took two deflections including one off of Gyasi Zardes’ face in the win.

Weston McKennie had an assist in an impactful performance before leaving with injury in the second half. USMNT boss Gregg Berhalter said the injury was a cramp. Let’s hope so.

Next up for the USMNT is a Saturday match-up with Trinidad and Tobago in Cleveland. Guyana will meet Panama, who beat T&T 2-0 on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

The United States had plenty of possession to start, and Christian Pulisic was looking lively. Though positioned centrally in the formation, he often drifted to the left to get the ball and work toward the middle.

It was Guyana who nearly struck for an opener against the run of play, lashing over the goal off a short corner. Gyasi Zardes thought he’d forced a goal moments later, but the offside flag was up.

Weston McKennie played a gorgeous through ball into Tyler Boyd, and Boyd sent a promising pass to the middle of the box only to see a shot blocked by the packed-in defense. Then Pulisic was stopped point-blank by Akel Clarke.

McKennie then set up Arriola for the opener, with the DC United man slapping the side of his right foot through the ball to sent it around Clarke and into the goal.

Boyd the stung a shot wide of the far post after missing with a low drive earlier in the match. Clarke then made an outstanding save on a Nick Lima drive — again set up in part by McKennie — before Boyd hit a ball into outer space.

A nervy moment early in the second half gave way to relief, as Boyd struck with vigor off a delightful ball from Michael Bradley. This was a “Bradley in his AS Roma prime” long ball, and Boyd delivered with a fine low strike.

Zardes then made it 3-0 with a header he knew little about:

Berhalter would soon remove Pulisic and Bradley, and then an injury forced his hand on the third substitution.

That one could echo deep into the tournament if it’s anything more than precaution, with McKennie exiting the field.

Boyd then scored another terrific goal. It looked even better than his first until replays revealed a significant deflection en route to the scoreboard.

Zardes later cued up Boyd for a chance at the hat trick, but the Kiwi-born attacked hit his shot into the outside of the goal. He could’ve had five goals.

3 things from USMNT’s win v. Guyana

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Injuries, early inefficiency, and a newcomer making a statement were the biggest talking points of the United States men’s national team’s first match of the 2019 Gold Cup.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

Christian Pulisic was back, but not on the score sheet, and was able to be rested over the final half hour or so, and the USMNT scored its 1000th goal in program history.

[ MORE: Player ratings ]

Beyond that, here’s what we’re thinking after the 4-0 win.

Ouch, ouch, stop that, ouch: Injury worries

Weston McKennie started slow but eventually played a series of sensational passes en route to an assist on the night.

His industry moving forward and backward were remarkable on the night, but Schalke’s Swiss army knife had to leave the match with a leg injury with a quarter hour to play.

That’s a problem for a side which also saw Tyler Boyd pull up following his bid for a hat trick and is also without Tyler Adams, Sebastian Lletget, and Duane Holmes in the midfield alone.

John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin are also missing from a U.S. side hoping to make a serious bid for another final at the Gold Cup.

Berhalter said the injury that cost McKennie the final 16 minutes was a cramp. Let’s hope so.

Tyler Boyd shoots his shot

No, he’s not the Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver.

Yes, he’s inspiring a bit of hope for the American Outlaws.

The New Zealand-born 24-year-old likes to shoot, and boy did he in bagging a brace on Wednesday.

Capped five times by New Zealand but now cap-tied to the USMNT by participating in this match, Boyd scored twice and could’ve probably scored two or three more on the day.

The son of an Kiwi father and American mother, Boyd delivered the goods in front of both of them in Minnesota.

“It’s for my family,” Boyd said on Fox after the game. “I’m really proud to be able to represent this country. To do it on this stage is an honor and a blessing. Just a dream come true. It’s been years and years and years of work. It’s been my dream since (I was) a kid. I don’t have the words to describe it.”

Boyd was injured — more on that later — but it looked like it could’ve been minor. His creativity and desire for the ball will be needed moving forward, as he was a fine complement to Paul Arriola in industry and desire.

It still wasn’t good enough

Do not forget that Guyana is the 177th ranked team in the FIFA rankings  — a lofty 166th in EloRatings — and the Yanks simply didn’t have the quality or understanding to pile up the goals.

The Guyanese held the U.S. in check for the first half hour before Weston McKennie and Paul Arriola teamed up for a classy goal, and Bradley’s link up with Tyler Boyd for the second was even better.

But Zardes’ goal was a blocked shot that unknowingly pinged off his pace to the point that the American striker appeared dazed for the duration of the celebration. And Boyd’s good-looking second goal took a turn off a Guyanese defender on the way into the net.

As it stands, this looks like a team that wouldn’t beat Panama and might struggle against anyone should Pulisic go down (and especially if McKennie stays down).

USMNT player ratings from defeat of Guyana

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The United States men’s national team was solid, but not particularly impressive in its 4-0 defeat of Guyana early Wednesday to start its Gold Cup.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

There were stars in this one, with Weston McKennie and Tyler Boyd finding their strides, but still a lot of question marks (in some ways due to the competition).

Let’s get into it. As always, “6” is the baseline for ratings: a passable performance.

Starting XI

Zack Steffen — 6 — Had very little to do, even in possession, as expected.

Nick Lima — 6 — Looking comfortable moving forward and was aggressive in defense.

Walker Zimmerman — 7 — Passed the ball well, but like his goalkeeper and fellow defenders, was largely untested.

Aaron Long — 6 — A step up from his nightmare against Venezuela.

Tim Ream — 6 — An okay cog in the back three after a rough pair of friendly losses.

Michael Bradley (Off 63′) — 6 — For the first 20 minutes, it was clear this was his first match in a month. But his game improved, capped by a remarkable assist to Boyd for the 1,000th goal in USMNT history. Fitting.

Weston McKennie (Off 74′) — 7 — A slow start, but on the night not only assisted a goal but played three or four world-class touch passes. Gregg Berhalter said the injury that cost him the final 16 minutes was a cramp. Let’s hope so.

Paul Arriola — 8 — His aggression and ambition paid off, as he rebounded from some questionable performances to get a goal and set up two others (*thou

Christian Pulisic (Off 63′) — 7 — Instantly the most dangerous player on the field, would’ve likely had a couple assists with a capable finisher up top.

Tyler Boyd — 8.5 — The former New Zealand international made a lot of fans tonight, scoring two goals, and was in position to score four or even five.

Gyasi Zardes — 5 — Credit the motor, but look forward to Jozy Altidore being back at full fitness.

Substitutions

Wil Trapp (On 63′) — 6 — Better than his miserable pair of friendlies.

Cristian Roldan (On 63′) — 6 — Looked more lively in attack, but given the opposition that’s not terribly impressive.

Djordje Mihailovic (On 74′) — N/A —

Tyler Boyd scores 1,000th goal in USMNT history (video)

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The 700th game in USMNT history has birthed the 999th and 1,000th goals in program history.

The Yanks led Guyana 1-0 at halftime of their 2019 Gold Cup debut on a Paul Arriola goal set up by Weston McKennie when they hit their milestone.

Fittingly, the goal was produced by a vintage ball from one of the program’s all-timers.

[ LIVE: Latest Gold Cup scores, stats, lineups ]

Michael Bradley swept a delightful diagonal ball to a seemingly offside Tyler Boyd, who scored his first goal for the USMNT via a low driven shot across the goal and into the side netting.

The first goal came on Aug. 20, 1916 from a fella named C.H. Spalding, who later played baseball for the Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Senators.

The 1,000th came via a New Zealand-born dual national who played last season in Turkey on loan from a Portuguese club.