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2019 MLS Eastern Conference Preview

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Red Bulls, Atlanta, and everyone else?

In any other league, you’d take a peek at how 2018 went and expect much of the same; Throw some league legends leaving the East — David Villa and Sebastian Giovinco — and you’d consider whether some records might be broken by the returning Top Two.

But this is Major League Soccer, where no power is permanent. Here’s a quick way to keep you up to speed, in reverse order of 2018 finish.


FC Cincinnati — Manager Alan Koch brings a deep midfield and defense into MLS, hoping that Emmanuel Ledesma and Fanendo Adi can combine to get enough goals to surprise the league.

Star player: Ledesma. Yes, that Ledesma. He’s a wizard, but moving from USL to MLS will take some acclimation.

Realistic expectation: Miss the playoffs but use a rowdy stadium and signs of progress to scare plenty of people along the way.


Orlando City SC — This team is going to look massively different, as former Burnley player James O’Connor gets a full season to do what worked for him as a USL manager at Louisville City.

Star player: Nani. It’s difficult to imagine him not having an incredible amount of success in attack.

Realistic expectation: Find consistency and chemistry, challenge for a playoff spot.


Bastian Schweinsteiger  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Chicago Fire — Possibly adding Nicolas Gaitan to a crew of creators which includes Djordje Mihailovic should give Veljko Paunovic a chance to succeed, but can the Fire defend their own area?

Star player: Bastian Schweinsteiger. Whenever he plays, Chicago is simply the best version of itself.

Realistic expectation: Compete for a playoff spot, but likely fall just short.


Toronto FC — An absolute mess made more remarkable by the fact that arguably the same unit destroyed MLS in 2017. A healthy Jozy Altidore may be more important than many thought, but he’s not quite healthy now, is he?

Star player: Jonathan Osorio. Yes, really. Until we know that Jonathan Pozuelo is coming through the door or that Altidore’s fit enough to dominate, count on the hometown midfielder to continue as a leader after a 10-goal season.

Realistic expectation: Altidore stays healthy, Terrence Boyd feasts off his rebounds, and Toronto gets back into the Top Six.


New England Revolution — The are a lot of ifs for Brad Friedel‘s men, who have to hope that Edgar Castillo’s resurgent 2018 was not a one-off, and that Carles Gil is ready to bring consistent performances from Spain.

Star player: Gil. It’s going to have to be.

Realistic expectation: The opposite of last season; A slow start will eventually turn into some young pieces finding positive roles.


Montreal Impact — Remi Garde turned the Quebecois side into a good group of competitors down the stretch, and will hope either Orji Okwonkwo or Maxi Urruti finds the form to feast on the wizardry of Saphir Taider and Ignacio Piatti.

Star player: Piatti. He’s among the most overlooked superstars in MLS history.

Realistic expectation: A playoff spot and hopes for lightning in a MLS Cup Playoffs bottle.


Philadelphia Union — This is by far Philly’s best chance to make a run in its history, from Andre Blake at the back to new playmaker Marco Fabian.

Star player: Fabian. Will he be patient enough with the Union to allow them to gel? Because he’s got the gifts to dominate the East.

Realistic expectation: A home first round playoff game.


Caleb Porter (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

Columbus Crew SC — Caleb Porter’s back in Ohio, hoping to burnish his reputation by producing more consistent success than the brutal highs and lows of his tenure in Portland. Remember: Gregg Berhalter consistently out-performed the club’s budget.

Star player: Gyasi Zardes. Forget your USMNT impression of him; In MLS, he just scores goals.

Realistic expectation: A fight for the final playoff spot.


DC United — Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta get a full season together, and DC fans will rightly be dreaming of the postseason.

Star player: Acosta. Rooney’s a star and an engine, but Acosta’s the one who nearly had Paris Saint-Germain on his shirt this winter.

Realistic expectation: Multiple home playoff games.


New York City FC — Dome Torrent has not yet replicated Patrick Vieira’s success and lost David Villa to Vissel Kobe; Will an offseason of preparation and Alexandru Mitrita and Keaton Parks be the right additions to keep up playoff spirit?

Star player: Maxi Moralez. At his best, he’s MVP caliber good.

Realistic expectation: A home playoff game.


Atlanta United — There are questions here; Miguel Almiron is already showing the Premier League how fortunate Atlanta was to have a player of his elite quality, and Frank De Boer is implementing a season quite different than Tata Martino. But Atlanta won it all in Year Two, and has a gifted squad.

Star player: Josef Martinez. It’s reasonable to think the answer will be Pity Martinez by the end of the season, but you’re not the star player when the MLS single season goal record holder is returning for another season and committed to Georgia.

Realistic expectation: Compete for the Supporters’ Shield, MLS Cup, and the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.


New York Red Bulls — The only question here is not how good Tyler Adams was, rather how difficult it will be to find someone to do what he did so well at a functional level. RBNY should again be one of the best teams in the league.

Star player: Kaku. A playmaker of the highest order.

Realistic expectation: Compete for every bit of hardware they want while blooding the next wave of Red Bulls through their prolific set-up.

Alejandro Romero Gamarra … Kaku! (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Report: Paunovic close to returning to Fire, Casillas on team’s radar

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The Chicago Fire brass appear to be sticking with embattled manager Veljko Paunovic for the foreseeable future.

Despite being out of contract, the Athletic reports that the Fire and Paunovic have been negotiating for weeks and are close to bringing the Serbian back on a multi-year contract. Keeping Paunovic could be a way for the Fire to keep one of its marquee players, Bastian Schweinsteiger, who is also out of contract this summer.

[READ: O’Neill, Keane out as Republic of Ireland coaches]

The Fire are coming off a disastrous season, in which the side finished second-last in the MLS Eastern Conference and fourth-worst overall. It was a huge change from 2017, when Paunovic, Schweinsteiger and co. led the Fire to third place in the Eastern Conference regular season standings. The season ended on a sour note though as the New York Red Bulls came to Chicago and romped past the Fire, 4-0.

It was all downhill from there, as the Fire struggled to build momentum and keep clean sheets in 2018. The 61 goals allowed was third-worst in the Eastern Conference.

While Paunovic will be looking to upgrade his defense, his side could be adding another huge name from European soccer. According to a report in Spain, former Real Madrid great Iker Casillas is on the Fire’s radar, and should he announce his intention to leave FC Porto, the Fire would be ready to make an offer.

Considering that Paunovic started Richard Sanchez, Stefan Cleveland and Patrick McClain at various times last season, the team could use an experienced goalkeeper who can give the backline come confidence.

It’s a big leap of faith for the Fire ownership group to stay with Paunovic after a horrendous 2018, but they must see something that they like in him to bring him back. Hopefully for the club’s sake, they have more performances like they did in 2017 to bring fans back to Toyota Park.

Wayne Rooney loving life at DC United

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Wayne Rooney is loving the quiet life in the United States of America.

The all-time leading goalscorer for England and Manchester United made his MLS debut on Saturday, coming on for the final 33 minutes as D.C. United won 3-1 against the Vancouver Whitecaps in their own debut at their new $500 million Audi Field home.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage

Rooney, 32, impressed in his brief spell on the pitch as DCU’s loyal fans celebrated a marque moment for the franchise in their new stadium and with a big-name Designated Player wearing the No. 9 jersey.

The former Manchester United and Everton man assisted Paul Arriola for D.C. United’s third goal and was involved in the build-up for their second as his clever touches and flicks impressed in his brief cameo. With 14 of their final 19 games of the season at their new home due to Audi Field opening on July 14, Rooney will be hoping to drag DCU up the Eastern Conference standings as they currently sit bottom.

Speaking to the Daily Mail around his arrival in MLS, Rooney lauded life off the pitch in the capital city as he hasn’t been recognized strolling through a mall or going to a coffee shop.

“I know I can relax a bit more. At home, you are looking over your shoulder and having to think to yourself, ‘What is going on there?’ You don’t know who is watching you and you have to be careful with what you are doing all the time,” Rooney said. “I think I can have a quiet life now and, when the children come over, I’m sure the time I get to spend with them in public will be a lot better now. It has been very easy to settle. I’ve been made to feel very comfortable. I’ve got freedom to be me, which hasn’t always been the case.”

And here is exactly why a move to MLS appeals to so many superstars who, like Rooney, have been followed everywhere for their entire career. Tales of Steven Gerrard hanging out at the beach with his kids and Thierry Henry jumping on the subway in NYC are plentiful as star players get the chance of that “freedom” Rooney talked about.

Rooney has been in the public eye for 16 years since he burst onto the scene as a teenager in the Premier League and now he’s enjoying the quiet life in the D.C. suburbs. Can you blame him?

With Zlatan Ibrahimovic loving the attention in LA and the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger and David Villa also seen out and about at events in Chicago and New York City respectively, Rooney will no doubt take on a similar role to interact with the sports community in D.C.

That said, it seems like he’s enjoying popping down to the local coffee shop and hanging out at the mall right now.

Schweinsteiger, Accam trade stoppage time goals in MLS thriller

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MLS gives us finishes this silly seemingly on the regular, so why does it surprise us when they arrive on our doorstep?

Ex-Chicago Fire man David Accam bagged a goal for his Philadelphia Union in the fourth minute of stoppage time on Wednesday. It was the seventh goal of the game, and came one minute after the Fire scored their third equalizer of the night.

Got all that?

Haris Medunjanin scored a pretty goal and Cory Burke netted twice, and the Union won a wild, back-and-forth 4-3 draw win over the Fire on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Medina leads NYCFC win ]

The win boosts Philly into seventh, tied on points with sixth place Montreal and a point clear of the Fire.

The scoring started with Medunjanin’s cool as a cucumber finish. The Bosnian midfielder took advantage of a bad Chicago giveaway, punctuating the effort with a classy finish.

Soon-to-be Designated Player Aleksandar Katai scored and earned a PK for Chicago, converted by Nemanja Nikolic for a ninth goal of the season, and

Katai also scored his ninth goal, and it comes on the day Chicago announced his permanent transfer from Alaves.

Burke scored his first go-ahead goal in first half stoppage time, adding a second minutes after Katai bagged his marker.

But Bastian Schweinsteiger made it 3-3. Well, for a minute or so.

MLS Things: Dockal leading Philly, Atlanta draws New England

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We have four nice midweek tilts in Major League Soccer this week, broken up nicely into early 7:30 ET kickoffs and a pair of late ones.

[ MORE: Other MLS Things — The Archive ]

Here’s what we picked up from the first two.

Philadelphia can factor in the East and Borek Dockal is the real deal

Two assists and a clinical penalty are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Earnie Stewart’s Czech import.

The 29-year-old Dockal doesn’t waste much and is pretty wise about when he takes risks on the pitch, something culled from a series of decent Europa League runs with Sparta Prague and Rosenborg.

Only 12 players are averaging more than Dockal’s 2.4 key passes per game. Philly’s now unbeaten in four, having allowed just two goals in those matches, and right in the thick of the playoff race.

Ilsinho posterizes Schweinsteiger’s ankles

Bastian Schweinsteiger has been very, very good in a disappointing early season for the Fire, but he’ll be rueing his appearance in this highlight for some time.

Ilsinho absolutely cooks the World Cup winner with a lightning quick move just inside the box, then hammers a furious effort into the back of the net that leaves Chicago keeper Patrick McLain clawing for spirits.

What did we learn? Let me just keep watching this to find out.

For every great goal, there’s an equal and opposite

Now maybe I’m not the world’s top guy to analyze defending — nor amongst the top 10,000 — but what in the world is Antonio Delamea Milnar doing as Josef Martinez, who is pretty darn good, waits nine years for the world’s slowest cross to reach him in one of the most dangerous places on the pitch?

[ MORE: Arsenal could sell Ramsey ]

Asking for a friend. A late Teal Bunbury penalty did allow New England to pick up a nice 1-1 draw.