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2018 MLS Western Conference preview

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

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

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.

NCAA D1 soccer to vote on expanded season

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A report by the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jonathan Tannenwald has revealed that NCAA Division 1 men’s soccer is close to heading towards a full-season schedule, expanding the current fall schedule that sees the College Cup finish up around mid-December.

Tannenwald’s report, which cites Maryland head coach Sasho Cirovski who has led the charge for a full calendar season, states that the new proposal would drop the regular season schedule from 25 to 23 total games, but would expand the campaign across the entire school year. The first half would consist of 13 games and end around Thanksgiving, before picking back up in the spring with nine official games. Three exhibitions would be spread around the season, as opposed to the current setup of five meaningless exhibition games all set in the spring offseason.

The main goal of the plan, which is years in the making, is to eliminate midweek games, helping to cut down on missed class time for players. At least, that’s what Cirovski is selling to the NCAA. His true goal is to help players get used to a full professional schedule, knowing that currently, collegiate players tend to hit a wall in their first few professional seasons, holding their careers back.

Tannenwald reports that the eventual vote, which will be held in April, will consist of 64 total submissions. Each Power 5 conference will have four votes each, while the Group of 5 conferences get two votes each and the remaining conferences get one vote each. To pass, the proposal needs a full majority, meaning 33 yes votes are required out of the 64. The report states that the Atlantic 10 confirmed to the Inquirer that they will vote yes to the proposal, while the Ivy League said it will vote no.

“The college coaches on the men’s side are going to be working hand in hand for the next three months to try to get us to the finish line, to do something that is transformational, an evolutionary and positive change, and a game-changer in this country for not only college soccer, but we feel for soccer in general,” Cirovski said.

The report states that Cirovski has solid support from inside the college soccer space, and also in the pro soccer community where there is excitement that the new proposal will help development and transition from college soccer to professional life. It says that while this would only cover the Division 1 men’s schedule for now, it’s likely that the women’s ranks would follow soon after should this initial proposal pass through, and D2 and D3 could also tag along.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Chelsea searching for striker

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Chelsea is still determining how long the club will be without talismanic striker Tammy Abraham after an ankle injury saw him limp his way through the final few minutes of the 2-2 draw with Arsenal. Chelsea had run out of substitutes so Abraham was forced to stay on, but he was clearly struggling at the end and now the club waits on further testing.

While the Blues were already linked with strikers before Abraham’s ankle trouble, they have now reportedly stepped up the chase for a short-term injury replacement. Widely reported as the club’s first choice, it appears that Edinson Cavani – who handed in a transfer request at PSG, the French club confirmed – will likely move to Atletico Madrid.

That has seen Chelsea look to other options, and according to multiple tabloids across England as well as some fringe reports in France, the Blues have reopened talks with Lyon over the availability of Moussa Dembele. The 23-year-old former Fulham youth product has been prolific this season for the French club, scoring 11 goals in 19 Ligue 1 games plus another four in four domestic cup matches. Still, Lyon reportedly rebuffed a $44 million bid earlier this month which at the time ended the conversation.


Manchester United’s public chase of Sporting CP midfielder Bruno Fernandes has taken yet another twist.

According to a report by Portuguese publication Record, an unnamed agent of Fernandes has a signed agreement with the club for a $5.5 million fee should he arrive with a $55 million transfer bid that the club rejects. This could potentially put pressure on Sporting to sell the 25-year-old whereas the club had been playing hardball on his valuation.

The report does not specify which agent the clause is connected to, which is notable because it could either be Fernandes’s personal agent or superagent Jorge Mendes who reportedly struck a deal with the club to help broker this transfer. Mendes is on record saying that Fernandes will leave Sporting, but they may wait until the summer to pull the trigger.

Even former Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho had jokes about the drawn out transfer saga regarding Bruno Fernandes. After Tottenham’s win over Norwich on Wednesday, Mourinho jabbed with a reporter, approaching him about his assignment in Portugal covering the transfer rumor. “How was Lisbon?” Mourinho asked in jest. “Lisbon was good? So Bruno Fernandes come to United or no?” Mourinho said. “So you go to Lisbon and he’s not coming? But coming or no?”


According to Italian journalist Gianluca di Marzio, Newcastle is nearing a loan deal for 23-year-old Inter wide player Valentino Lazaro. The report states that Newcastle has entered a loan bid involving a $1.7 million fee that includes a $26 million option to buy at the end of the season.

Lazaro joined Inter this past summer from German club Hertha Berlin for about $25 million, but has failed to make an impact at his new home, with just six Serie A appearances to date and just three of those starts. He has not collected a goal and has just one assist, resulting in significant time on the bench. With the arrival of Victor Moses and Ashley Young this winter, Inter is hoping to offset the additions to the squad with the sale of Lazaro.

The Austrian international scored three goals and assisted seven others last season with Hertha, earning his move to Inter. As a right-sided player, he would be direct competition for USMNT international DeAndre Yedlin who is currently on the shelf after suffering a hand injury.


Multiple Italian tabloids have picked up on the rumor that Carlo Ancelotti has plugged back into his Napoli roots in the hopes of convincing Brazilian midfielder Allan to join Everton this winter.

According to both Gianluca di Marzio and Tuttomercadoweb, Ancelotti has made contact with Napoli regarding the striker, although he has heavy competition from Inter. The 29-year-old has been with Napoli since joining in 2015 from Udinese, and he has logged significant time this season, making 14 Serie A appearances and five more in Champions League play.

Known as a tough tackler, Allan would take a significant investment by Everton to pry him loose mid-season, given his importance in the Napoli squad and his current contract that runs through the summer of 2023.


Italian publication Tuttosport thought it prudent to report that Manchester United is considering bringing Carlos Tevez back to the Premier League on loan. He’s started one game for Boca Juniors since late August. Yea, that ain’t happening.

Aston Villa signs 16-year-old Barry from Barcelona youth squad

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On Thursday morning, Aston Villa announced the signing of 16-year-old Barcelona youth player Louie Barry, who will move straight into the academy squad at Villa Park.

Barry, an England youth international who moved from West Brom’s youth program to Barcelona last summer, has reportedly struggled to integrate in Spain and eventually opted to move back to his home country. According to the Barcelona release on Barry’s departure, Villa paid the Spanish club around $1.16 million for Barry’s signature, and reports suggest that could increase significantly with bumpers in the deal.

“It sends a powerful message about the ambition of this football club,” Academy manager Mark Harrison told VillaTV upon the initial club release of the news. “We’re delighted – Louie is a local person and his family are all Villa fans, as is Louie. He is still a very young man but as he’s developed, he’s always been one player that you always recognize as having outstanding attributes. He’s got a fantastic mentality, he’s desperate to do well for this football club.”

Barry’s departure from West Brom is still being resolved, with Barcelona still yet to pay the English club the standard $308,000 fee for international youth players that turn down professional contracts.

Aston Villa has dipped significantly into its academy products this season, with Indiana Vassilev, Cameron Archer and Jacob Ramsey all making first-team debuts at certain points. Vassilev, a USMNT youth international, has made two Premier League appearances at just 18 years old, coming off the bench for decent spells against Brighton and Watford this month. Archer played a substitute role in an EFL Cup game against Crewe Alexandria, while Ramsey played in an EFL Cup game against Brighton and saw action in the FA Cup loss to Fulham.

Chelsea winger Victor Moses moves to Inter on loan

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Thursday morning Inter Milan confirmed yet another acquisition from the Premier League, securing Victor Moses on loan from Chelsea with an option to buy.

Moses has been on loan at Turkish club Fenerbahce for the last calendar year, moving to the Super Lig last winter. The 29-year-old made 23 appearances for Fenerbahce across all competitions, scoring five goals and assisting two more. Fenerbahce finished last season in a disappointing eighth, meaning they did not qualify for European play this season. He has not played much this season, making just six league appearances thanks to a thigh injury.

Moses, who retired from international competition with Nigeria after the 2018 World Cup, had been a consistent presence in the Chelsea lineup under former Chelsea and current Inter boss Antonio Conte, reinventing himself as a wing-back opposite Marcos Alonso in Conte’s 3-CB system. However, he was dropped from the consistent starting lineup at the start of the 2018/19 season and was sent out on loan that winter.

The former Chelsea player becomes the fourth player either sold or loaned to Inter from a Premier League club this season, joining Manchester United trio Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku, and Ashley Young, with the latter joining this winter as well. It is the first time Conte has dipped into the well of his former Chelsea players. They have also been heavily linked with Tottenham midfielder Christian Eriksen.

Conte has Inter challenging for the Scudetto this season, with the club sitting second in the Serie A table. However, draws with Atalanta and Lecce in the last two matches have seen them drop to four points back of leaders Juventus after challenging them for much of the season to date.