Bernardo Anor

PST’s top 10 terrible (and spot-on) MLS preseason predictions

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The 2015 Major League Soccer (regular) season is in the books, and it played out exactly like everyone here at PST predicted it would. Yes, we were all exactly right.

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OK, that’s a big, fat lie, because we were smart silly enough to make predictions way back in March (read in full HERE), put our real, legal names to them and post them on the internet, where nothing is ever forgotten. In truth, some of us didn’t do so badly, while others (not naming names, you’ll have to read on) went for the upper-90 and skied our shots horribly.

Without further ado the best (and worst) of PST’s preseason MLS predictions…

10. Sporting KC win the Open Cup, to everyone’s surprise

Q: U.S. Open Cup winners?
Joe Prince-Wright and Kyle Lynch: Seattle Sounders
Andy Edwards: FC Dallas
Nicholas Mendola: New England Revolution
Kyle Bonn: LA Galaxy

Of the four unique picks found above, the PST braintrust selected two teams who were knocked out in the fourth round (Sounders and Revs – zero rounds advanced), one side that went out in the fifth round (FCD) and a single quarterfinalist (Galaxy – two rounds advanced). Congrats to Bonn, who came up only 270 minutes short of correctly picking the 2015 USOC winner.

9. Red Bulls win the Shield, to everyone’s surprise

Q: Supporters’ Shield winners?
JPW and Lynch: LA Galaxy
Edwards and Bonn: Seattle Sounders
Mendola: New England Revolution

We’re off to a pretty poor start here, but in our defense, let’s take a quick trip back in time, to early March. If anyone was predicting the New York Red Bulls to win the Shield in 2015, that’s because they are a Red Bulls supporter. The offseason they had just had — losing Thierry Henry, firing Mike Petke, the town-hall meeting — pointed toward a rebuilding year for RBNY, not a regular-season championship. *shrug* That’s MLS for ya.

8. MLS Cup winners still alive and kicking

Q: MLS Cup matchup?
JPW and Mendola: LA Galaxy vs. Toronto FC
Edwards: Seattle Sounders vs. Columbus Crew SC
Lynch: LA Galaxy vs. New England Revolution
Bonn: Toronto FC vs. Seattle Sounders

Hey, we all have a chance to be right about something. No one picked the top seed from either conference, though that’s OK because home-field advantage rarely translates to an MLS Cup appearance. I’m the only person to have picked a team with a knockout round bye (Crew SC). Any of the four unique matchups found above would be highly interesting finals.

7. TFC into the postseason

Q: Will Toronto FC (finally) make the playoffs?
All: Yes.

So, this one turned out to be fairly straightforward — TFC snuck in as the sixth seed (a full five points clear of the cut-off line, for what it’s worth). To have everyone on the same page, and no one thinking they’ll out-clever the rest of the group, was fairly impressive, though.

6. Gerrard and Lampard out-awful one another

Q: Better first six months in MLS — Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard?
JPW and Bonn: Gerrard.
Edwards, Mendola and Lynch: Lampard.

Nobody really wins here — most so fans of the Galaxy and NYCFC — because three months after their arrivals in MLS, neither Gerrard or Lampard have done anything to justify their 6.2 and $6 million annual salaries respectively (on the field, at least). Gerrard’s Galaxy are still alive in the playoffs, so he still has a chance to time warp and land in a much simpler time, say, 2010 or earlier, when he was still a mobile human being.

5. All aboard the NYCFC hype train

Q: Greater points tally — New York City FC or Orlando City SC?
All: New York City FC.

There were plenty of reasons to be skeptical of Manchester City’s experimental MLS spawn — and nearly every one of them came to pass — but how could you pick against Jason Kreis? The summer signing of Andrea Pirlo was an especially bitter pill to swallow for Kreis, who may or may not be around for a second season.

4. Picking Kaka over Giovinco, on an island all alone

Q: More goals/assists combined — Kaka or Sebastian Giovinco?
Edwards: Kaka. Caveat: If healthy, Kaka is the 2015 MVP. Let’s not forget this is the 2007 World Player of the Year, arguably the best player in the world for a time.

This wasn’t my worst pick of the preseason (don’t worry, that’s still to come), not by a long shot. Kaka wasn’t bad in his first MLS season (9 goals, 7 assists in 28 games played), but Giovinco was unreal in a way that MLS has never seen before (22 goals, 16 assists).

3. Faith in the Atomic Ant

Q: 2015 MLS MVP?
JPW: Sebastian Giovinco. How they managed to get the “Atomic Ant” I don’t know, but I’m glad they did. Wonderful talent.
Bonn: Giovinco. What a signing.

Any other player (read: human being) would have required some sort of an adjustment period upon coming to MLS. Giovinco? Nope. His first five MLS games: 3 goals, 2 assists. His next five games: 2 goals, 2 assists. His next 23 games: 17 goals, 12 assists. There is no debate about the 2015 MVP, so props to JPW and Bonn for nailing that one.

2. Nailed the West

Q: Who misses the playoffs in the West?
Edwards: Colorado, San Jose, Houston and Real Salt Lake

Obviously I get to toot my own horn here a bit, because 1) I’m writing this post, and 2) I was the only one to correctly predict the six playoffs teams in the Western Conference. It felt wrong to leave out RSL, but the proof is in the pudding. 34 weeks of soccer don’t lie. I’m pretty sure I would have gone 6-for-6 in the East if we had done it, too. /end sarcasm

1. Bernardo who?

Q: Who’s the Lee Nguyen-esque (veteran) Breakout Player of the year?
Edwards: Bernardo Anor. Quick — tell me what team Anor plays for. If you don’t know now, you will be April or May. Can’t believe Berhalter let him go.

There’s really no defense of this one. On paper, it seemed like a great signing — skilled wing player on a team lacking natural width, brings a load of MLS experience and in need of a change of scenery. Little did I know back then that Krisztian Nemeth would basically have the season I thought Anor would.

Agudelo goal in Columbus puts New England back in MLS playoffs

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It’s been a long road for New England Revolution fans, a group who saw eight-straight playoff appearances between 2002 and 2009 give awy to their recent drought: sixth, ninth and ninth place finishes in the Eastern Conference. That run, however, evened today at Crew Stadium, with a first half goal from Juan Agudelo giving New England a 1-0 win and a spot in the MLS playoffs.

The win temporarily vaults the Revolution into third place in the East, a spot that would allow them to avoid the four-five game. If Chicago wins in New York (3-1 New York at the time of this post), the Fire will claim that spot, leaving New England to host that mid-week one-off. If New York wins, New England will welcome Kansas City to Gillette Stadium next weekend, while a draw would see the Red Bulls visiting Massachusetts to start the playoffs.

Regardless, New England will get at least one more match at Gillette Stadium, a status they owe to another flash of ingenuity from the departing start. Agudelo, the soon-to-be Stoke City attacker, had been played a ball a the edge of the Columbus area in the 28th minute. The U.S. international spun and dragged a back heel, left-footed pass into the path of Lee Nguyen, the New England creator making a run into the right side of the Columbus area. The move startle the Crew defense, leaving them spectators as Nguyen played back to Agudelo, who finished past Andy Gruenebaum for the game’s only goal.

If it wasn’t for Matt Reis, however, Columbus would have been on top early. Just over two minutes into the match, Dominic Oduro pounced on an A.J. Soares giveaway, dribbling past New England’s center defenders for a left-footed blast from just outside the Revolution area. Reis only had time to lift his right hand, getting his palm to a ball that was heading for the upper-left hand corner.

It was the best chance of a match Columbus would control, if benignly so. While Bernardo Anor also came close early, the Crew were limited to four shots on goal despite holding two-thirds of the game’s possession (67.7 percent). In a must-win game, the New England defense that was so stingy at the start of the season (yet regressed through the summer) came up big, leaving a team missing their best player (Frederico Higuían) without the means to break through.

The performance was a testament to Jay Heaps and his staff, who’ve been able to forge a defense out of parts few saw coming together at the season’s onset. Heaps has also found a way to get his various attacking threats to work, instilling Lee Nguyen and Kelyn Rowe in the middle of a formation that sprinkles talents around them.

That formula has New England back in the playoffs for the first time since 2009, and given what we’ve seen from their attack and defense, the Revolution have the potential to do some damage in the playoffs. Unlike during much of the postseason, New England needs both facets clicking at the same time, but if that happens, their three-year playoff drought may soon become a distant memory.

Are they one the same level as New York and Kansas City? Probably not, but player-for-player, they may be close enough to pull an upset. Regardless, thanks to Sunday’s result, we’re about to find out how Jay Heaps’ team stacks up in the postseason.

Playoff push: Columbus puts four up on Dallas, takes win out of Frisco (Video)

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If you can deal with speed, you’re going to have a lot of success defending Columbus’s Dominic Oduro. Unfortunately for Dallas, the Crew attacker burned them badly on two Sunday goals, the result seeing FCD’s playoff hopes a debilitating blow.

Columbus, on the other hand, are the hottest team in the East. Winners of four of their last five, the Crew find themselves one point out of a playoff spot after Sunday’s 4-2 win in Frisco, one which saw goals from Federico Higuaín, Jairo Arrieta, Oduro and Bernardo Anor push them into a tie for sixth in their conference.

But although the goals were spread out, it was Oduro, in combination with poor defending by Dallas, that decided this one. On the second goal, the Crew’s leading scorer pulled away from Dallas midfielder Erick before setting up Arrieta. And on Columbus’s third goal, after Dallas had closed to within one, Oduro beats Matt Hedges to a bouncing ball in midfield, eventually putting himself in alone on Raul Fernandez.

Columbus wasn’t immune to their own terrible defending, as Dallas’s second goal shows, but once Anor’s insurance tally went in, Brian Bliss had yet another win, one that pushes his team to 41 points on the year. Though they’ve played one more game than their Eastern Conference competition, the Crew sit one point back of fifth place Philadelphia (and even with sixth place New England).

Dallas, on the other hand, are left five points back of idle Colorado with four games left. Arguably more important: They’ll have to beat out three teams to claim that final postseason spot.

Given the performance we saw tonight, that’s unlikely to happen. If one of these teams is going to be playing soccer in November, it’s going to be Columbus.

Early red card helps Columbus hand Portland first loss since March

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The lost potential for 19-in-a-row should make Portland appreciate what it took for 2010’s FC Dallas to get to that mark. After an early goal from a corner kick and a Pa-Modou Kah red card, Columbus was up a goal and a man after 11 minutes, advantages that persisted as full-time blew on the Crew’s 1-0, streak-ending win.

For much of the match, despite Columbus’s man advantage, Portland looked like their typical selves, their ball-hogging ways allowing them to keep 55.8% percent of possession. But as is often the case with Caleb Porter’s Timbers, that advantage didn’t necessarily translate into shots on goal, with Columbus putting four on Donovan Ricketts to Portland’s one test of Matt Lampson.

By match’s end, after Porter went to three at the back, Columbus looked likely to counter attack their way to a second goal, with the final whistle calling time on a game the Crew were going to decide one way or another. The longer the match went, the more fatigued Portland’s out-manned team looked, the more space Federico Higuaín had to play balls through Portland’s stretched defense.

Ultimately, it was a game that was never going to go Portland’s way. On another day, they may have been able to find an equalizer to Bernardo Anor’s opener, or Higuaín’s missed penalty after Kah’s red card may have given them a second life. But between the opening goal, the lost man, and the absences of Will Johnson and Frédéric Piquionne, the deck as stacked against the Timbers in this one.

Porter’s second loss as a professional coach ends Portland’s unbeaten run at 15, reminding us how difficult it must have been to go unbeaten since early March, let alone potentially stretch that streak to 19. Not only do you have to be very good and incredibly consistent, but because of the thin margin of error in professional soccer, sometimes you have to be mistake free. One mis-step from a defender – an errant boot trying to make up for getting beat on a misread bounce – and your streak is toast.

Here are your highlights: