Photo credit: @NYCFC

Three (final) things we learned from MLS’s opening weekend

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The opening weekend of MLS 2018 is in the books.

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PST’s Joe Prince-Wright talked us through the first three lessons of the newborn season yesterday, followed by three more later in the evening, and three more earlier today…

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Throw NYCFC into the “incredibly well-coached” category

It’s time to put Patrick Vieira into the “best coach in MLS” conversation. It’s one thing to swarm and press and overwhelm teams with numbers, but it’s another thing to do so with the discipline and the tidal wave of energy that have become synonymous with New York City FC.

Starting with David Villa up top and all the way back to Yangel Herrera and Alexander Ring in central midfield, NYCFC are simply relentless and forever in sync with one another. The way they rotate and step into passing lanes is not only impressive, but it’s also exhausting to watch. For nearly an hour of Sunday’s 2-0 victory away to Sporting Kansas City — until they had their two goals and called off the dogs — they squeezed the life out of a side that’s done precisely that to so many opponents over the last decade.

The sheer number of defensive actions from the front six — again, spearheaded by Villa (7) and made possible by Ring (8) — will make NYCFC one of the toughest teams to break down and fashion more than a handful of decent chances against this season, whether at home or on the road.

Creative hub (still) required in KC

The (presumed) idea behind Sporting KC’s offseason roster moves — trading away Benny Feilhaber, after trading away Dom Dwyer last summer; replacing them with Yohan Croizet, Johnny Russell and Felipe Gutierrez — was that the former two additions would wreak havoc on the wings and serve as the primary danger men, while the latter teams up with Roger Espinoza and presses teams to death all over the field, thus putting Croizet and Russell into counter-attacking chances aplenty.

Against a team that presses as frequently and effectively as NYCFC — which is to say just as well, if not better than, Sporting — that all falls apart rather quickly when you’ve no one with the patience to dwell on the ball and open the field up (that was Feilhaber), nor a striker with the size, strength and aerial presence to serve as a totally different type of outlet altogether.

That sounds an awful lot like the struggles of Sporting foes from years gone by, only this time the shoe was on the other foot.

Croizet struggled terribly and lasted just 57 minutes before he was subbed off; striker Diego Rubio offered very little in terms of hold-up play to rescue a suffocating midfield; Russell being heavily involved was a promising sign, even if the final ball was always lacking; and Gutierrez was the most effective of the newcomers, but expecting no. 10-type playmaking from an all-action box-to-boxer isn’t going to lead to a ton of, if any, quality chances.

If your highest value chance of the game is an extremely difficult scissor kick to finish a chipped through ball over the defense, I’m still of the mind that you don’t have a striker problem, so much as you’ve got a chance-creation problem for the fifth year running.

Having a midfield makes a difference

The LA Galaxy spent each of the last three seasons — and even prolonged periods of 2014, en route to winning MLS Cup on David Beckham’s swan song — attempting to play the game of soccer without a functioning midfield. Neither Steven Gerrard nor Jermaine Jones — shockingly — proved to be the cure to what ailed Bruce Arena in his final two-plus seasons in LA, nor Curt Onalfo and Sigi Schmid in 2017.

Then, the Galaxy tried something truly whacky and zany this winter: they signed Perry Kitchen, a well above-average MLS defensive midfielder. We’re only one game into the 2018 season, but if Sunday’s 2-1 home victory over the Portland Timbers is any indication whatsoever, Kitchen makes the Galaxy a real-life, functioning, professional soccer team again.

Not only was his final stat line of defensive actions (5 recoveries, 2 interceptions, 2 clearances, 1 tackle won and 1 block) far in excess of any Galaxy d-mid in recent memory, the majority of his contributions are done on the front foot, as he reads the game and snuffs out chances before they come to pass. There are still plenty of questions to be asked about who’ll ultimately start at center back for this team, but regardless of who it is in the end, they’ll be infinitely better protected with Kitchen patrolling the midfield in front of them.

Surely there’s someone on this team that wants to drop deep into midfield, get their foot on the ball and drive the attack forward. Once they get that (significant) kink worked out, they’re pretty easily a playoff team.

Reports: Napoli agree record fee for Hirving Lozano

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Mexico’s most expensive player ever will soon be Hirving “Chucky” Lozano.

According to multiple reports, PSV Eindhoven and Napoli have agreed to a $46 million transfer fee for the Mexican international. According to Sky Sport 24‘s Francesco Modugno, the 24-year-old will travel to Rome on Tuesday and complete his medical on Wednesday morning, ending the Serie A club’s summer-long pursuit.

Lozano will reportedly sign a five-year deal with Gli Azzurri worth $4 million per year plus bonuses.

Over the course of the past few months, Napoli were also linked with Arsenal’s Nicolas Pepe and Real Madrid’s James Rodriguez. In the end, Carlo Ancelotti, who is planning to give Juventus a run for their money this season, is adding the speedy winger to his attacking corps that features the likes of Lorenzo Insigne and Arkadiusz Milik.

Despite coming off injured in the 50th minute against ADO Den Haagg in his last PSV appearance, it is believed it won’t influence Lozano’s medical. He will break the transfer record for a Mexican player set by Raul Jimenez in his summer move to Wolverhampton Wanderers from Benfica worth $43 million.

Having sold Memphis Depay for nearly $39 million in 2015 to Manchester United, Lozano’s departure would set a new record for the Dutch giants as well.

La Liga roundup: Atletico Madrid win first opener in four years

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Spain’s top flight is two days into a new season, and here’s a roundup of all of Sunday’s action.

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Atletico Madrid 1-0 Getafe

It wasn’t done in aesthetically pleasing fashion, but Atletico Madrid won their first opening season game in four years.

In fact, the first half was rough with both Atletico and Getafe loosing players to straight red cards. Getafe’s Jorge Molina saw red for a studs-up challenge in the 38th minute, while Renan Lodi was asked to leave the field in his debut for Los Colchoneros. 

Summer signing Alvaro Morata proved to be the difference for Atletico, however. Assisted by former Tottenham fullback Kieran Trippier, the team’s academy product scored early on in the 23rd minute – the goal made Atletico one of eight clubs to start the season with three points.

$140 million signing Joao Felix also made his La Liga debut, and impressed the home crowd with a dazzling run in the second half that ended drawing a penalty for Atletico. Morata missed.

Not the smoothest of games for Diego Simeone’s side, but like Real Madrid, they already have an edge on Barcelona.

Espanyol 0-2 Sevilla 

Julen Lopetegui can finally breathe (and coach) in peace.

Following a series of unfortunate events with the Spanish national team and Real Madrid, Lopetegui and Sevilla started their new era in a winning way.

Sergio Reguilon got things started for the visiting side with a tap in inside the six-yard box. And in the final minutes, no stranger to stepping up for Sevilla, Nolito slotted one past Diego Lopez.

With only two shots on frame to speak for them, Espanyol was one, two steps behind Los Hispalenses, who look for another top-six finish in Spain’s top-flight league.

Sevilla’s young quest for that continues as they travel to Granada. Meanwhile, Espanyol have no time to waist with a Europa League play-off bout against Ukrainian side Zorya lined up midweek.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Real Betis 1-2 Real Valladolid

Alaves 1-0 Levante

Report: Edinson Cavani set to join Inter Miami next summer

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Edinson Cavani is reportedly set to make a big splash in Florida.

According to Uruguayan journalist Alvaro Izquierdo, Cavani, 32, is set to join David Beckham’s Inter Miami next summer. The club will make their MLS debut next season.

The specifics of the supposed move are not know, but per the report from Izquierdo, Cavani will join Miami on a free transfer after his contract with PSG expires in June. Since joining in 2013, El Matador has been irreplaceable for the French giants, scoring over 160 goals and becoming the club’s all-time leading goalscorer. This season, Cavani is off to a perfect start -scoring in the first two games of the Ligue 1 season.

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The striker is one of the first superstars linked to Miami, but the general vibe given off by owners Jorge Mas and Beckham is that the club will look to spend big – similar to Atlanta United, LAFC and LA Galaxy.

Miami has signed three players so far ahead of their 2020 MLS debut – Christian Makoun, Julian Carranza, and Matias Pellegrini all currently makeup the squad.

‘But hey this is MLS’: Wayne Rooney slams MLS’ travel arrangements

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Wayne Rooney is not a fan of MLS’ travel arrangements.

D.C. United lost 1-0 to the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday in Canada, and had to fly back to the nation’s capital before prepping for a midweek showdown with visiting New York Red Bulls. To the 33-year-old Englishmen the trip should’ve taken six hours, not half a day.

MLS is notoriously known for the lack of charter flights it offers its teams, a mere four per season is the reported amount each team is allocated. Traveling on commercial flights has caused routine delays for a slew of team’s this season, with certain teams arriving only hours before the first whistle in some cases.

Players, however, will reportedly push for better travel in the upcoming CBA negotiations. Not only for Rooney, but for the majority of professional athletes around the world, flying charter is customary.

Upon his arrival to D.C. in 2018, Rooney turned down first-class flights offered by the Black-and-Red, among other fine accommodations. “If you are going to be part of the team, you have to be part of the team,” Rooney said on his decision to reject first-class flights and private hotel rooms. “All in and do the same things. I don’t want special treatment — I wanted to be treated the same as the players. I’m part of this team.”

Rooney, despite being on his way out of D.C. to join Derby County in January, is certainly a part of the team.

He is also now a part of the complex fight for better travel in MLS.