A six-pack of MLS questions as the 2021 season is upon us

MLS
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There are 27 teams in this Major League Soccer season and there’s enough intrigue around the new season to justify at least one thought on the task at hand for every team from Atlanta to Vancouver (unfortunately, we don’t have that kind of time).

[ MORE: 2021 MLS schedule ]

Which, by the way, is one of the longest road trips in MLS, the equivalent of going from Old Trafford to the Camp Nou, returning to Manchester, and then doing half of a second trip to Barcelona.

[ MORE: European transfer prospects in MLS ]

That’s not as much of a thing this MLS season, though, where the Western Conference and Eastern Conference are staying apart during the regular season, and the league’s three Canadian teams are posting up with American hosts for the start of the season (Vancouver will play early home matches at Real Salt Lake, Toronto at Orlando and Tampa, and Montreal at Inter Miami).

Who’s the worst?

Keeping in mind that this is a league in which more than half of the field will make the playoffs, it says something that five clubs are considered massive longshots to even make the postseason.

New boys Austin FC (80 percent), relatively new boys FC Cincinnati (91%), and much-changed DC United (87%) join displaced Montreal (75%) and Vancouver (89%) are the only clubs with missing the playoffs in more than 60 percent of simulations by fivethirtyeight.com.

Might the worst team come from outside this group? Absolutely, this is MLS, but I’m comfortable saying that FC Cincinnati has enough intrigue to be the biggest positive surprise of the group.

How will the Philadelphia Union replace the kids?

The Supporters’ Shield winners by three points, will Jim Curtin’s men be able to overcome the transfers of Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie? The latter may be the bigger loss given the lack of standout center backs of his ilk readily available in MLS.

How quickly can Ronny Deila settle much-changed NYCFC?

Gone are Alex Ring, Ronald Matarrita, and Alexandru Mitrita. with Alfredo Morales, Chris Gloster, and Thiago Andrade among those arriving in New York City.

That said, the union of Morales and Keaton Parks will be something to watch if NYC to adapt quickly to life without Ring, who chewed up minutes in every season after arriving from Koln.

Speaking of Morales, which moving USMNT alum or former prospect will have the best season?

Bobby Wood has joined Rubio Rubin at Real Salt Lake, a double addition in the same ballpark as NYCFC’s pickups of Morales and Gloster. Gedion Zelalem is with Delia, too, while FC St Pauli youngster Leon Flach has moved to Philadelphia while Wolfsburg II center back Michael Edwards went to Colorado but will head on loan to Switchbacks FC.

As for names who’ve had their most success in MLS, Djordje Mihailovic and Mason Toye are in Montreal, Matt Polster in New England, and Matt Besler, Nick Lima, and Joe Corona are with Josh Wolff in Austin.

Wil Trapp and Juan Agudelo join Adrian Heath’s Minnesota United, while Corey Baird hopes to kickstart his USMNT career under former national team coach Bob Bradley at LAFC.

Who will have a better first season: Greg Vanney at LA Galaxy or Chris Armas with Toronto?

Obviously we aren’t talking strictly about points, or are we? What Vanney did with TFC last season despite the Reds playing outside of their country was pretty remarkable, and he heads to an LA team which was bad but does have some pieces in the form of Efrain Alvarez, Jona Dos Santos, and Chicharito, old TFC pal Victor Vazquez, and arriving wild cards Kevin Cabral and Yony Gonzalez. As for Armas, he’s already got a banner CCL win over Club Leon and a well-established leadership group.

Who will be the most over-discussed personality in the league?

We bet you think we’re talking someone like Chicharito or Josef Martinez, alas, we are not.

Have you heard that Austin is owned by Matthew McConaughey? Well do you know David Beckham hired his old pal Phil Neville to manage Inter Miami and signed Stoke City’s Ryan Shawxcross?

Yes. Yes, you have.

European giants eye Bayern’s American center back

Chris Richards
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A report in Germany says four of the world’s biggest clubs are looking at FC Dallas export and Bayern Munich II defender Chris Richards.

Two of those clubs play in the Premier League, the others are from La Liga.

Richards celebrated his 20th birthday on Saturday and was set to star in the U.S. Olympic team should it had qualified for Tokyo 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic changed the schedule.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Bild claims that Arsenal, Chelsea, Valencia, and Barcelona are monitoring Richards, who also plays right back.

Three of the four have experience with Americans in the fold, including current Chelsea man Christian Pulisic and budding Barcelona starlet Konrad de la Fuente. Gedion Zelalem was a highly-touted Arsenal prospect and now plays with New York City FC.

The report also speculates that it will not be too long before Richards gets called into regular training with the first team, noting that Richards went 45 minutes in January against for Bayern’s first team.

Richards has started 22 of 23 matches for Bayern II, scoring twice and playing nearly 2000 minutes. Bayern II sits seventh, six points back of leaders MSV Duisburg.

The pathway to Valencia’s first team might be a bit easier to walk, but Richards will have a big battle to get into the first teams of all of the aforementioned teams. Staying with Bayern may make the most sense.

MLS Week 1 preview: New teams, players, and stars

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AThe 2020 Major League Soccer season is here. This weekend, the new campaign gets under way with two new teams, a new defending Supporters’ Shield winner, and a new superstar.

Debuts are the theme as Inter Miami and Nashville SC both take the field for the first time this weekend across Saturday and Sunday. The defending champions Seattle Sounders host the Chicago Fire and their new logo. Chicharito leads the L.A. Galaxy as the visit the Houston Dynamo.

The new clubs both get tough welcomes to the league, with Nashville hosting Atlanta United and Inter Miami traveling to Western Conference finalists LAFC. Atlanta has plenty of new faces of its own, with captain Michael Parkhurst retired while both Darlington Nagbe and Julian Gressel having departed. Miles Robinson is injured to start the season, and given how Atlanta started the season last year, they could be vulnerable this weekend. LAFC has seen Walker Zimmerman and Tyler Miller move on, and after playoff disappointment last season, they have plenty to prove themselves.

Last year’s Eastern Conference regular season champions NYCFC starts the season on the road at Columbus on Sunday afternoon, under new management in Ronny Deila. Gedion Zelalem also joins, although he struggled last season at Sporting KC. The Philadelphia Union, off a 55 point season last campaign, visit FC Dallas who doesn’t have much new of note except new contracts for Paxton Pomykal and Jesus Ferreira.

The defending champs host the Chicago Fire, with Seattle seeing a designated player depart in Victor Rodriguez with Joao Paulo arriving in his stead. RSL, who finished third in the West last season, announced Thursday the addition of Guiseppe Rossi and he could be in line to see time as they travel to Orlando S.C. on Saturday. After a promising season of growth, Minnesota United switched out goalkeepers, bringing in LAFC’s Miller for Vito Mannone. Abu Danladi is also gone, having departed for Nashville in the expansion draft, and Luis Amarilla has arrived in his place with a promise of goals, with a West Coast trip to Portland his first challenge.

Full MLS Week 1 slate

Saturday:
D.C. United v. Colorado Rapids (1:00 p.m. ET)
Montreal Impact v. New England Revolution (3:00 p.m. ET)
Houston Dynamo v. LA Galaxy (3:30 p.m. ET)
San Jose Earthquakes v. Toronto FC (5:30 p.m. ET)
FC Dallas v. Philadelphia Union (6:00 p.m. ET)
Orlando S.C. v. Real Salt Lake (6:00 p.m. ET)
Nashville S.C. v. Atlanta United (8:00 p.m. ET)
Vancouver Whitecaps v. Sporting KC (10:30 p.m. ET)

Sunday:
Columbus Crew v. NYCFC (12:30 p.m. ET)
New York Red Bulls v. F.C. Cincinnati (1:00 p.m. ET)
Seattle Sounders v. Chicago Fire (3:00 p.m. ET)
LAFC v. Inter Miami (5:30 p.m. ET)
Portland Timbers v. Minnesota United (7:30 p.m. ET)

Main takeaways from MLS contract deadline day

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Major League Soccer saw a lot of big names in the news as “Contract Deadline Day” played out across the U.S. and Canada.

— The New York Red Bulls watched two all-timers walk out the door, as Bradley Wright-Phillips did not get a new contract and the club declined its option on Luis Robles (STORY).

— Not a player move, but Austin FC announced the hiring of former NYCFC sporting director Claudio Reyna to the same position.

[ MORE: PST’s talk 1v1 with Reyna earlier this season ]

— Toronto FC is yet to reach a deal to keep Michael Bradley in town, but remains in contract talks with its captain. The same is true for Nicolas Benezet, while Drew Moor is out-of-contract.

— And that’s also what’s happening in Portland with Diego Valeri, the longtime star in talks with the team despite not having his option picked up.

Chicago Fire announced a new branding initiative, changing its logo from a classic crest to something else and dropping the SC for an FC. Like Columbus before them, everyone will still call them the fire and ignore the SC, FC, or whatever see. It’s what happens when you take a formal nickname.

The club also cut ties with playmakers Nico Gaitan and Aleksandar Katai.

— Minnesota United remains in talks to bring back Reading loanee and reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year winner Vito Mannone, and that means longtime backstop Bobby Shuttleworth will hit the open market.

— Orlando declined its option on Dillon Powers, and also let the clock run out on the contract of one-time megastar Sacha Kljestan.

— Real Salt Lake did not reach an agreement with Kyle Beckerman on a new deal, though MLSSoccer.com thinks he’s still in the mix.

— New England is letting Juan Agudelo walk into free agency.

— Atlanta United exercised the contract option for Julian Gressel, but he’s being badly underpaid and the club needs to find salary room for a proper new deal.

— Thierry Henry is keeping his two brightest attacker, with Ignacio Piatti getting another year at the club and Saphir Taider seeing his loan from Bologna made permanent.

— The Philadelphia Union did not exercise their option on Marco Fabian, and are letting Haris Medunjanin leave without a new deal.

— Roman Torres did not see his option exercised by the Sounders, and Kim Kee-hee is also leaving the club.

— Sporting KC waves goodbye to Seth Sinovic, Krisztian Nemeth, Benny Feilhaber, and Gedion Zelalem.

US U-17 stars Reyna, Ocampo-Chavez graduate to U-23 team

U.S. Soccer
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CHICAGO (AP) Sixteen-year-old Gio Reyna and 17-year-old Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez were invited to the U.S. under-23 team training camp by coach Jason Kreis.

Reyna, a son of former U.S. national team captain Claudio Reyna, scored a team-high six goals for the Americans at last month’s CONCACAF Under-17 Championship, where the Americans lost to Mexico in the final. Ocampo-Chavez scored four goals in the tournament.

Twenty-one players were asked to the training camp, which started Sunday in Herriman, Utah, and runs through June 16.

The under-23 team is preparing for Olympic qualifying.

FULL ROSTER

Goalkeepers: JT Marcinkowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Andrew Thomas (Stanford), Justin Vom Steeg (LA Galaxy)

Defenders: Marco Farfan (Portland Timbers), Justen Glad (Real Salt Lake), Aaron Herrera (Real Salt Lake), Jack Maher (Indiana University), Sam Rogers (Seattle Sounders), Auston Trusty (Philadelphia Union)

Midfielders: Brenden Aaronson (Philadelphia Union), George Acosta (unattached), Mukwelle Akale (Villarreal), Cameron Lindley (Orlando City SC), Sebastian Saucedo (Real Salt Lake), Eryk Williamson (Portland Timbers), Jackson Yueill (San Jose Earthquakes), Gedion Zelalem (Sporting Kansas City)

Forwards: Brooks Lennon (Real Salt Lake), Benji Michel (Orlando City SC), Alfonso Ocampo Chavez (Seattle Sounders), Gio Reyna (unattached)