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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)

Nani arrives in MLS, signs for Orlando City

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Nani has arrived in Major League Soccer.

Orlando City SC announced the Portugal national team star has arrived from Sporting Lisbon on a free transfer and has signed a three-year deal as a Designated Player.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage

Nani, 32, will be a huge draw for Orlando as they look to get things back on track after a rough few years in MLS.

Speaking about Nani’s move to MLS with Orlando, EVP of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi was delighted to welcome the experienced attacker.

“This is an exciting day for our organization,” said O. “Nani brings tremendous experience to our roster. He’s a dynamic winger with quality abilities to move and cross the ball, impact games and lead the offensive play.”

The former Manchester United, Fenerbache, Valencia and Lazio winger won the 2016 European Championships with Portugal and appeared at the 2014 World Cup for his national team. USMNT fans will remember his goal against the U.S. in Manaus…

Nani has scored 24 goals in 112 games for Portugal and although his arrival isn’t as big as Kaka leading Orlando in their first three seasons as a franchise, he is a huge get for a team which hasn’t made the playoffs in their four MLS campaigns and finished way off the pace in each of the last two years in the Eastern Conference.

Manager James O’Connor has a mix of youth and experience in this Orlando squad but he must make a fast start in 2019 after winning just two of his 17 games after arriving midway through the 2018 campaign.

Orlando need a total rebuild and Nani’s arrival should shake things up a little, even if a veteran winger may only solve a few of their problems for a few seasons.

Reports: Ex-Manchester United winger Nani to MLS

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TFW the Sporting Lisbon player to MLS report you posted earlier isn’t even the most notable Sporting Lisbon player to MLS report in a 24-hour period.

Sure, Fredy Montero is likely to return to Vancouver, bringing a two-time MLS All Star resume with him.

But Nani won the EURO and the Champions League, you know?

Multiple reports say Nani, 32, will join Orlando City this summer, giving the club its biggest star since the retirement of Kaka.

The longtime Manchester United man has 112 caps with 24 goals for Portugal — including a goal against the USMNT at the 2014 World Cup — and has won six leagues between the Premier League and Portugal’s top flight.

He can also count the 2007-08 Champions League title on his resume, as well as Portugual’s EURO 2016 crown. He scored three times in that run.

Europa League: Arsenal rolls, Chelsea cruises, Milan saves it late

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The Europa League group stage is nearing a finality, and while Premier League sides Arsenal and Chelsea had already confirmed safe passage to the knockout stage before Thursday’s matches, both had successful results.

Arsenal played in the early slate, with their game in Ukraine moved to Kiev from Poltava for safety concerns amid the tense political climate. The Gunners won 3-0 on a trio of first-half goals, with 18-year-old Emile Smith-Rowe opening the scoring just 10 minutes in. Many of Arsenal’s first-teamers, including Mesut Ozil, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreira, and others stayed home and did not make the trip. That gave teenagers like Smith-Rowe, Joseph Willock, and Eddie Nketiah an opportunity to start, with Smith-Rowe’s opener leading the way as Willock also found the back of the net. Aaron Ramsey scored as well, bagging a penalty after being clumsily fouled by Igor Perduta.

Chelsea, meanwhile, stayed at home to welcome Greek side PAOK to Stamford Bridge, and the Blues cruised 4-0 after the visitors went a man down just seven minutes in. 31-year-old Ukranian international Yevhen Khacheridi was sent off in the early stages of the match for a last-man foul, tackling Olivier Giroud just outside the box. It took 27 minutes before Chelsea was able to break through, but Giroud would get the first of his brace with a pinpoint left-footed strike. Giroud would hit again before halftime, before Callum Hudson-Odoi ripped the third for the Blues and substitute Alvaro Morata finished it off in the 78th minute.

Villarreal drew 0-0 with Scottish side Rangers to put them in pole position of a crowded Group G. Rangers striker Daniel Candeias was sent off just before halftime for a second yellow, leaving the hosts in a position of peril, but they held on the rest of the way. All teams came into the matchday within two points of each other, and after Thursday’s results the Spanish club sits atop the group with seven points, while Rapid Vienna is also on seven after beating Spartak Moscow 2-1 in Russia, but the Austrian club has a far worse goal differential.

AC Milan – this season’s cardiac pack – came back from 2-1 down to beat Luxembourg club F91 Dudelange 5-2. They drew level in the 66th minute on an own-goal, and then stormed by with a trio inside the final 20 minutes. Hakan Calhanaglou got the winner in the 70th minute, while Fabio Borini added one late with 10 minutes to go. Milan has not officially secured advancement to the knockout round in Group F, but would need to lose to Olympiakos by three or more goals on the final day to see the Italian side out.

Meanwhile, Olympiakos ended up on the outside looking in with a 1-0 loss at Real Betis, which sent the Spanish side officially through Group F. Sergio Canales scored his third goal in his last four matches across all competitions to put Betis into the knockout stages.

Bayer Leverkusen secured advancement to the knockout stage after Mitchell Weiser rescued a 1-1 draw with Ludogorets Razgrad with a ridiculous 85th minute goal. The 24-year-old German struck a bouncing right-footed volley from an incredibly tight angle that snuck in under the crossbar to put Leverkusen on 10 points with a match to go.

Sevilla had a chance to secure a place in the knockout stage with a win in Belgium, but they were stunned by Standard Liege 1-0 on a goal from 20-year-old Mali international Moussa Djenepo who struck in the 62nd minute. Six minutes later, Sevilla saw substitute Pablo Sarabia sent off for a second yellow, and while they still finished with 70% possession, the Spanish side could not find a breakthrough. That leaves Standard and Sevilla level on nine points, although Sevilla still holds a far superior goal differential.

A messy Group I got no clarity as Jermaine Lens gave Besiktas a 3-2 road win over Sarpsborg with a 90th minute goal, leaving the top three teams in the group all within a point headed into the final day. Genk and Malmo drew 2-2, leaving Genk atop the group with seven points and a better goal differential, while Besiktas sits at seven as well and Malmo is behind them at six, and Sarpsborg is still in the mix with five.

The goal of the day came from Apollon Limassol, as David Faupala stunned Italian side Lazio with a bicycle kick just past the half-hour mark in Cyprus. The home side eventually won 2-0, but Group H has already been decided, with the Italian club already into the knockout round.

Elsewhere, French side Marseille suffered a disappointing defeat in Germany at Eintracht Frankfurt 4-0. The visitors had already been eliminated from the competition before stepping on the field, but they saw Serbian striker Luka Jovic bring his good Bundesliga form to Europe, with the opener inside the first minute. It got worse for the French club when Luiz Gustavo was credited with an own-goal when he put a back-pass in his own net as goalkeeper Yohann Pele was in a haze outside his own post.

Red Bull Salzburg won the battle of the Red Bulls as they defeated RB Leipzig 1-0 in Austria. Fredrik Gulbrandsen had the game’s only goal in the 74th minute which confirmed Salzburg’s way through to the knockout round, and left the German side in a precarious position in Group B, three points and two goals back of second-placed Celtic. Speaking of the Scottish club, Brendan Rodgers saw former Manchester City winger Scott Sinclair score the game’s only goal in a 1-0 victory for Celtic over Rosenborg in Norway.

Sporting CP put six past FK Qarabag in a 6-1 victory which included a brace from former Arenal midfielder Abou Diaby. Bas Dost opened the scoring just five minutes in, while former Manchester United veteran Nani also grabbed a goal 33 minutes in. The win officially saw Sporting qualify for the knockout stage behind Group E leaders Arsenal.

Dynamo Kiev beat Kazakhstani club Astana 1-0 to take control at the top of Group K, while Dinamo Zagreb played to a 0-0 draw with Turkish side Fenerbahce in a match between two teams that are already through into the knockout stage. Stade Rennes stayed in contention in Group K with a 1-0 road victory over Czech club FK Jablonec. French international Clement Grenier scored the lone goal in the 55th minute to pull Rennes within two of Astana.

FULL RESULTS:

Vorskla 0-3 Arsenal
Zenit St. Petersburg 1-0 FC Copenhagen
AC Milan 5-2 F91 Dudelange
Rosenborg 0-1 Celtic
Real Betis 1-0 Olympiakos
FK Qarabag 1-6 Sporting CP
Standard Liege 1-0 Sevilla

Bayer Leverkusen 1-1 Ludogorets Razgrad
FC Astana 0-1 Dynamo Kiev
Fenerbahce 0-0 Dinamo Zagreb
FC Zurich 1-2 AEK Larnaca
FC Salzburg 1-0 RB Leipzig
Bordeaux 2-0 Slavia Prague
BATE Borisov 2-0 Vidi
Anderlecht 0-0 FC Spartak Trnava
Krasnodar 2-1 Akhisar Belediyespor

Vardy: Leicester playing to make Srivaddhanaprabha proud

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The Leicester City fanbase, employees and squad have been in mourning since the tragic events following Leicester City’s 1-1 draw last Saturday. It’s been an unthinkably tough week for the team and the family of former owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, and according to striker Jamie Vardy, the players were offered the chance to postpone this Saturday’s game against Cardiff City.

Instead, Vardy and the team came to a unanimous decision. They’ll play the game.

“We need to make sure we do him proud on the pitch,” Vardy told the BBC. “Everyone came to a unanimous decision, we get out there and make sure we prepare for an important game. “It was a tough decision [to play at Cardiff]. But knowing what Vichai would have wanted meant it was an easier decision to make.”

Leicester City manager Claude Puel has said that the match result is “not important,” and it will be interesting to see the emotion the Leicester players play with when they take the field. Following the match, the squad will all travel to Bangkok to pay their respects at Srivaddhanaprabha’s funeral.

The club had already canceled its Carabao Cup match with Southampton that was set to take place on Tuesday.