Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP

2018 MLS Western Conference preview

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The countdown is at three days until the MLS season returns.

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Yesterday, we took a look at the Eastern Conference ahead of the new campaign.

Now, Pro Soccer Talk shifts its focus to the West, where a new club will be introduced into the 23-team MLS fold this season.


Colorado Rapids

Record in 2017: 9-19-6 — 10th in Western Conference (Missed MLS playoffs)
Offseason evaluation: 
This club has bulked up defensively, adding onto what was already a pretty strong backline, with players like Edgar Castillo, Tommy Smith and Danny Wilson entering the fold. Meanwhile, Wolves forward Joe Mason was brought in to provide assistance up front, although the Englishman has struggled to find consistency throughout his career.
Key player: 
Niki Jackson — A SuperDraft selection from this January, Jackson will probably have a lot asked of him during his rookie campaign given Colorado’s lack of attacking options. He notched 16 goals last year at Grand Canyon University, so the Rapids will be hoping that translates to MLS.
Coach: 
Anthony Hudson — The first-year MLS manager has his work cut out for him, but in a short time with the Rapids it looks like his formula will mimic what Pablo Mastroeni used to when he was in charge. A heavy emphasis on defense.
Vague 2018 prediction: 
The Rapids will likely have a hard time scoring goals, yet again, but opponents won’t just waltz in and beat up on the Colorado club.


FC Dallas

Record in 2017: 11-10-13 — Seventh in Western Conference (Missed MLS playoffs) 
Offseason evaluation: 
The departure of Walker Zimmermann was a big blow to the team’s back line, but Dallas has stocked up defensively with a number of Homegrown talents and CSKA Sofia’s Anton Nedyalkov this offseason. Dallas also made the most of its early SuperDraft selections, nabbing midfielder Ema Twumasi and forward Francis Atuahene in the first round to bolster a strong attack.
Key player: 
Cristian Colman — The Paraguayan was brought in last season to help the FC Dallas attack reach another level, with just two goals in 26 appearances Colman was far below the mark that many expected. He’ll need to improve drastically in 2018, especially with rookie Atuahene waiting to get on the field.
Coach: 
Oscar Pareja — With a rejuvenated roster, Pareja’s first priority should be getting back into the postseason. His side is simply too good to not be in the playoffs.
Vague 2018 prediction: 
It’s difficult to imagine this club not making the playoffs given the talent throughout the roster, but then again, last season proved to many that this Dallas side can be exploited.


Houston Dynamo

Record in 2017: 13-10-11 — Fourth in Western Conference (Qualified for MLS playoffs) 
Offseason evaluation: 
Losing Erick “Cubo” Torres certainly wasn’t a shock given his up-and-down tenure in MLS, however, he was a key piece in the Dynamo attack last season, and his goal production will be missed. The club failed to go out and seek refuge with replacements in the attack, so it will be intriguing to see how Houston responds.
Key player: 
Tomas Martinez — The Young DP signed midway through 2017, and had some difficulty getting acclimated to his new side. The former Braga man will key for the buildup play in the Dynamo attack this season, if the team is to find success.
Coach: 
Wilmer Cabrera — Cabrera did a fantastic job in 2017 getting the most out of his roster, and he’ll need to do an equally as good job this year if the Dynamo are to get back into the playoffs.
Vague 2018 prediction: 
It’s very easy to see this team taking a step back, especially with other clubs in the West improving this offseason.


Los Angeles Galaxy

Record in 2017: 8-18-8 — Last in Western Conference (Missed MLS playoffs)
Offseason evaluation: 
Ola Kamara, Chris Pontius and David Bingham were three additions for the Galaxy that automatically upgraded three positions this offseason. Call it a success. Not to mention nabbing Perry Kitchen, who will be out to prove himself in his return to MLS> Meanwhile, the Galaxy selected one of the best defensive players in the SuperDraft with Stanford product Tomas Hilliard-Arce. 
Key player: 
Ola Kamara — The former Crew forward could very well be the best offseason transaction from any club. He’s in the prime of his career and surrounded by talented attackers like Giovani dos Santos. Kamara will thrive in LA.
Coach: 
Sigi Schmid — This man has found success everywhere he has gone, and with the offseason that the Galaxy have had, it’s difficult seeing this club miss out on the postseason.
Vague 2018 prediction: 
The Galaxy are used to having success in MLS, and they’ll almost certainly be back in the playoffs in 2018.


Los Angeles FC

Record in 2017: N/A
Offseason evaluation: 
Atlanta set the bar in their 2017 debut season, and now LAFC is looking to equal, or potentially top, anything that the Eastern Conference side did. Carlos Vela, Benny Feilhaber, Latif Blessing and Diego Rossi are just a few of the names that LA can feature up front. Then, the club’s ability to go out and sign arguably the best defender in MLS with Laurent Ciman’s introduction added another dimension to the team. He’ll partner with another promising talent in Walker Zimmerman from Dallas.
Key player: 
Carlos Vela — His form in La Liga was sporadic at times, but when Vela is at his best he’s a scary threat for any opposition. The El Tri forward has the weapons around him to thrive in his first MLS campaign.
Coach: 
Bob Bradley — The former USMNT coach is in a great spot with current roster, and it doesn’t look like the expansion side is done in the transfer market.
Vague 2018 prediction: 
It takes a lot to get integrated as a new club, but this team has the makings of one that will make a run in the West. The perfect combination of MLS experience and foreign talent.


Minnesota United

Record in 2017: 10-18-6 — Ninth in Western Conference (Missed MLS playoffs) 
Offseason evaluation: 
The addition of Tyrone Mears defensively will provide some stability, but Minnesota still looks to be inept at the back. The good news for this club is that they remain an attacking threat, and have added Wisconsin forward Mason Toye in the draft.
Key player: 
Abu Danladi — After a tremendous rookie campaign, the Loons will be looking for the former UCLA striker to pick up where he left off in 2017. Minnesota undoubtedly boasts a strong attack, it’s definitely more about the defense that is worrisome.
Coach: 
Adrian Heath — We saw a number of coaches fired in 2017, and if things don’t go the right way early for Minnesota it’s very likely that Heath is sacrificed at the second-year MLS side. 
Vague 2018 prediction: 
This team will be fun to watch at times in the attack, but after conceding 70 goals a season ago and showing little sign of defensive improvement, the Loons will probably be on the outside looking in once again in the playoff picture.


Portland Timbers

Record in 2017: 15-11-8 — First in Western Conference (Qualified for MLS playoffs) 
Offseason evaluation: 
This is a club that still boasts the reigning league MVP with Diego Valeri, however, losing Darlington Nagbe this offseason cannot be overstated. The Timbers did well to bring in Benevento forward Samuel Armenteros, Cristhian Paredes and Andy Polo, though, so they’ll still be a strong side in 2018.
Key player: 
Andy Polo — The Peru international has big expectations resting on his shoulders after joining MLS from Mexican side Morelia on loan. With the ability to play up front and on the ing, the 23-year-old gives new manager Gio Savarese flexibility as to where he plays the dynamic player.
Coach: 
Giovanni Savarese — It was only a matter of time until the ex-Cosmos manager ended up in MLS, and the situation that Savarese has been granted is almost as perfect as it could be for a first-time MLS boss.
Vague 2018 prediction: 
Definitely envision this club at the top of the West once again, and should be in the thick of things when it comes closer to MLS Cup.


Real Salt Lake 

Record in 2017: 13-15-6 — Eighth in Western Conference (Missed MLS playoffs) 
Offseason evaluation: 
This club continues to get younger and younger, and while the biggest concern will be where the goals come from, RSL is building towards a bright future. The club secured the rights to Brooks Lennon this offseason, while San Luis midfielder Pablo Ruiz also entered the fold for the Claret and Cobalt. Re-signing Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando added the veteran presence that has sustained the club for years.
Key player: 
Jefferson Savarino — The Venezuelan notched six goals in his first season with the Western Conference side, and he’ll be expected to build off of that as he’s with RSL for his first full campaign. 
Coach: 
Mike Petke — The former Red Bulls coach has done everything right since taking over RSL. He’s utilizing one of the top academies in MLS, while bringing in the proper pieces to supplement the squad.
Vague 2018 prediction: 
RSL might still be a year away from really challenging in the West, but don’t be surprised if they make the leap into the playoffs. After all, they finished just a point outside of the postseason in 2017.


San Jose Earthquakes

Record in 2017: 13-14-7 — Sixth in Western Conference (Qualified for MLS playoffs) 
Offseason evaluation: 
Yeferson Quintana and Joel Qwiberg were brought in to help improve the back line this season, while Eric Calvillo and Magnus Eriksson can help improve an attack that features one of the greatest goalscorers to ever play in MLS, Chris Wondolowski.
Key player: 
Magnus Eriksson — The 27-year-old has scored double-digit goals five times in his career, and the Quakes will be banking on their new DP to come in and help take some of the pressure off of Wondolowski, and perhaps become the heir apparent.
Coach: 
Mikael Stahre — The first-year MLS manager has already put his stamp on the Quakes with several Swedish signings, and his club looks improved from a season ago.
Vague 2018 prediction: 
After getting thrashed in the first round of the playoffs last season, this team will be out to prove that they can take another step forward.


Seattle Sounders

Record in 2017: 14-9-11 — Second in Western Conference (Qualified for MLS playoffs, Reached MLS Cup final) 
Offseason evaluation: 
The news couldn’t have been worse for the Sounders when word came down that Jordan Morris will miss the entire season with an ACL tear. The Sounders didn’t add any more depth up top, or at least not yet, so while the club is still wildly talented, they will likely be without one of their top finishers for all of 2018.
Key player: 
Will Bruin — The veteran MLSer knows what he needs to do now that Morris has gone down with an injury. His 11 goals in 2017 was one short of a career-high, so the West winners will want him to recreate that brilliance.
Coach: 
Brian Schmetzer — Two straight MLS Cup appearances, and a title in one of those seasons, isn’t too shabby from the long-time Sounders employee. He’s already one of the best managers in the league.
Vague 2018 prediction: 
The Morris injury is massive, but considering the Sounders played great without him for much of last season, the loss isn’t a deal breaker. They’re still very much a title contender.


Sporting Kansas City

Record in 2017: 12-9-13 — Fifth in Western Conference (Qualified for MLS playoffs) 
Offseason evaluation: 
This squad lost a number of big names this offseason, highlighted by Benny Feilhaber, Latif Blessing and Erik Palmer-Brown. Not to mention having lost Dom Dwyer to Orlando City during the middle of last season. Now, SKC will be relying on a bunch of new faces, including Frenchman Yohan Croizet and Derby County midfielder Johnny Russell.
Key player: 
Yohan Croizet — The DP midfielder enters the fold for Sporting KC as he looks to fill the void left by the departed Benny Feilhaber. Croizet will have to replace one of the top playmakers in the league, which isn’t a small task.
Coach: 
Peter Vermes — The long-time manager has struggled to find success in the postseason over the last several years, and with a host of new additions this season, the former MLS Cup champions could be on track to rebuild.
Vague 2018 prediction: 
This is a club searching for its identity. They’ll always be well-coached and a tough out, but the playoffs aren’t a guarantee in 2018.


Vancouver Whitecaps

Record in 2017: 15-12-7 — Third in Western Conference (Qualified for MLS playoffs) 
Offseason evaluation: 
Kei Kamara, Brian Rowe and Anthony Blondell from Monagas are just a few of the big-time names that the Whitecaps have added this offseason, despite losing Christian Bolanos and Fredy Montero. Additionally, the Whitecaps have lost Tony Tchani in a trade to the Chicago Fire, which creates a void in front of the back line.
Key player: 
Kei Kamara — The veteran has been a streaky scorer throughout his career, but he’ll be the main option up top for the Whitecaps in 2018, and he should be good for at least 10 goals.
Coach: 
Carl Robinson — The manager will have to deal with a host of departures this offseason, but he’s proven to be one of the better coaches in MLS when dealing with change.
Vague 2018 prediction: 
They’ll be in contention in the West once again, especially after nabbing one of the better strikers in MLS.

Pogba misses 2nd half penalty in Man Utd-Wolves draw

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Ruben Neves scored an amazing goal and Rui Patricio stopped a Paul Pogba penalty as Wolves took a point from Manchester United in a 1-1 match at the Molineux on Monday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 

United has two-thirds possession but could not find what would’ve been a deserved winner as Wolves flummoxed the Red Devils attack.

Anthony Martial scored for the second-straight match for United, who failed in a bid to go atop the Premier League.


Three things we learned

  1. Paul Pogba is to penalties as Shaquille O’Neal is to free throws – You just can’t understand how someone so good at his sport is so poor at what should be the easiest part of his game.
  2. Martial is a beauty, and is fully released from the shackles of Jose Mourinho. Whether he can take the next step is another story, but the Frenchman is a fitting winger for a Champions League club (even if United isn’t quite in the UCL).
  3. Patricio didn’t show the Premier League his very best last season, but has looked more like the Portugal national team goalkeeper so far in his sophomore PL campaign.

Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men were content to let the visitors have the ball and work on the counter, and United quickly moved the ball in possession over the first stages of the game.

United took a deserved lead through Martial who ran onto a Marcus Rashford through ball and belted a rocket over a flailing Rui Patricio.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Neves brought Wolves level with a sublime bit of shooting, curling a majestic shot above and around the United back line to make it 1-1.

Watching the footage as it was being reviewed showed the margins so thin, but the goal held up and anyone hoping for some semblance of sanity was relieved.

United looked set to go back in front when Pogba drew a penalty off Conor Coady with a cutthroat move in the 18, but the Frenchman slammed his effort into the path of a diving Patricio.

WATCH: Ruben Neves spins an otherworldly ball over David De Gea

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Let us introduce you to your latest Goal of the Season contender.

Ruben Neves, who seemingly only scores beauties, struck again on Monday at the Molineux.

[ MORE: Neymar to Barca ]

The 22-year-old Portuguese playmaker loves to shoot as much as anyone, and set himself up clinically for his latest amazing marker.

Once Neves collected the ball atop the 18, he spun this magnificent effort over the flying David De Gea and off the underside of the bar to restore the deadlock in Wolverhampton.

De Gea may well have responded to this goal by quoting Ron Burgundy when Baxter ate the entire wheel of cheese.

Sensational.

AT HALF: Martial, Rashford team up for impressive opener

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Manchester United has a stylish opening goal in its quest to go a perfect 2-for-2 in Premier League play.

After quality passing in traffic ended with Marcus Rashford slipping a through ball in to both Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial, the Frenchman bolted a ball into the upper reaches of the net.

[ STREAM: Wolves – Man Utd ]

To be honest, Rui Patricio had little recourse.

The goal is Martial’s second of the season, and United is 45 minutes away from moving atop the league.

Report: Barcelona will make Neymar loan offer

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The most expensive player in the world may be going back to his old club…on loan.

According to a report by ESPNFC, Barcelona will make an official approach for Neymar on a loan with an option to buy next summer, similar to the switch Philippe Coutinho made from the Camp Nou to Bayern Munich earlier today. In fact, the report specifically states that Barcelona will look to copy Bayern’s approach of a one-year loan with a fee ($9.4 million for Coutinho’s loan) plus all wages paid, followed by an option to buy ($133 million).

Barcelona prefers this approach as they have already racked up a massive transfer bill this summer, spending over $220 million on the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Frenkie de Jong, Junior Firpo, and Neto.

While there have been numerous reports of potentially creative offers for Neymar over the past few weeks that mention players included in a swap deal, the ESPNFC report specifically states no players will be included in any current or future deal for Neymar either in the terms of the loan or as part of the option to buy. While Barcelona considered this approach in the past, Paris Saint-Germain was reportedly not interested in any players Barca offered, other than Coutinho. They apparently made an official offer already, ponying up $89 million plus Coutinho and Ivan Rakitic, but that was turned down.

The ESPN report does state that Coutinho’s loan to Bayern is seen by those close to Neymar as “a huge setback” as the Brazilian’s camp saw Coutinho as the key to making the deal happen, given that Barcelona is unwilling to put up a straight cash offer this summer. Unnamed Barcelona officials are also quoted in the report as stating that a for a potential Neymar deal, “it will be complicated,” but they are hopeful of progress.

The option to buy in Barcelona’s offer has reportedly not been decided upon as of yet, although previous reports have stated that PSG is unlikely to consider an offer that does not net them back what they paid for Neymar two years ago, to the tune of $245 million.