MLS Cup 2015

AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Top American soccer stories of 2015

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U.S. women crowned again

For the first time since 1999, America has a world champion national soccer team. After the heartbreak of losing the 2011 World Cup final on penalties to Japan, the U.S. women’s national team seized redemption in the form of a 5-2 thrashing of the Japanese in this summer’s final.

[ MORE: All of PST’s festive features

It wasn’t always smooth sailing for the USWNT, though, as struggles during the group stage and early knockout rounds cast doubt in the eyes of an entire nation. Jill Ellis’s side had finally rounded into form once they reached the semifinals, though, and were able to send a whole host of USWNT legends into the sunset as world champions.


A year to forget for the U.S. men’s team

The U.S. men’s national team peaked in 2015 not long before the women’s side, in early June with a pair of friendly victories over the Netherlands and Germany. Here’s why that’s a problem: the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup kicked off 23 days later, and nothing close to the heights of knocking off two of Europe’s most powerful soccer nations was on the cards for Jurgen Klinsmann’s bunch.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage

While a fourth-place finish was the Americans’ worst at the Gold Cup since 2000 (fifth), the real USMNT story of 2015 was Klinsmann himself. This year the legendary German striker engaged in public spats with his players, the media, and MLS commissioner Don Garber. There were also excuses. Hopefully 2016 is a time where we can focus more on the USMNT’s positive results on the field, rather than never-ending debates over the head coach’s job.

Mexico, CONCACAF Cup 2015
Mexico, CONCACAF Cup 2015 winners

Giovinco takes MLS by storm

22 goals and 16 assists — never before has a player in MLS history put together a season like Sebastian Giovinco’s 2015, let alone done so in his debut campaign. From game 1 to game 34, Giovinco was beyond brilliant for Toronto FC, who with many thanks to Giovinco’s contributions, made their first playoff appearance in club history. Still only 28 years old (he’ll be 29 by opening day in March), it’s hard to imagine the diminutive Italian not continuing to dominate the league for a couple more years, at least.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage


Timbers reach the MLS summit

For the next 12 months, the Portland Timbers get to call themselves the reigning MLS Cup champions, which will massively annoying their Cascadia neighbors to the north, the Seattle Sounders, and further north, the Vancouver Whitecaps. Their 2015 MLS Cup triumph over Columbus Crew SC makes the Rose City side the first from the Pacific Northwest to wear MLS’s postseason crown. The best may still be yet to come from the Timbers, as Darlington Nagbe, who is now a USMNT player, finally has a permanent position.


Veteran European stars struggle in maiden MLS voyage

Thanks to Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo, 2015 might just go down as the year where MLS naysayers began to accept the league is no longer a retirement league for aging European stars looking for one last payday and an easy ride into the sunset. All three struggled to make a positive impact for their new sides (LA Galaxy for Gerrard; New York City FC for Lampard and Pirlo), though they did enter the league squarely behind the 8-ball as midseason signings, which rarely pay immediate dividends — Didier Drogba being the obvious exception to the rule.

Closely related: NYCFC’s massively underwhelming debut season in MLS, to those out there who thought the league would be a cakewalk for a club with big money.

Men in Blazers podcast: Chelsea got “Holly Holm’d” by Bournemouth

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Rog and Davo break down Stoke’s demolition of league leaders Manchester City, Bournemouth’s Holly Holm-esque win at Chelsea, and Portland Timbers’ MLS Cup victory.

Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

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MLS offseason kicks off with flurry of trades 24 hours after MLS Cup

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The 2015 Major League Soccer season came to a thrilling conclusion not even 24 hours ago, and the MLS offseason is already in full-swing after a number of teams began trading well-established, noteworthy players all over the place on Monday.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

A running, constantly-updated tracker and analysis of all trades and transactions made on Monday…

(All salary numbers taken from MLS Players Union salary release, found here.)

In return for Chris Pontius, D.C. United received allocation money and targeted allocation money (TAM) from the Philadelphia Union. Pontius, who is 28 and has started just 39 games the last three seasons (6 goals, 4 assists combined), counted $365,000 against the $3.49 million salary cap in 2015. Pontius turned in a 12-goal, four-assist season in 2012 to earn league MVP consideration, but a string of long-term injuries follower shortly thereafter and he has struggled to regain his form of four years ago.

[ MORE: Timbers top Crew SC to lift first MLS Cup trophy ]

Mr. Versatility, a title and trait which surely hurt Lamar Neagle’s long-term future with his hometown Seattle Sounders, has been shipped across the country to D.C. United, where he’ll likely become a full-time starter for the first time in his career. The only question that remains: where exactly is he going to play? During his time with the Sounders, Neagle featured as a winger on both sides of the field, as well as a center forward. Neagle is 28 years old and counted just $165,000 against the $3.49 million salary cap in 2015. In his last three seasons with the Sounders, Neagle racked up 21 goals and 15 assists.

[ MORE: MLS Cup Playoffs Best XI — Stars of the 2015 postseason ]

Cristian Maidana and Andrew Wenger are headed to the Houston Dynamo, where they’ll play for Owen Coyle. In exchange for the no. 10 attacking midfielder and winger/forward, the Philadelphia Union received allocation money, TAM and the Dynamo’s first-round draft pick in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft (6th overall). In his two seasons with the Union, the 28-year-old Maidana, who counted $203,500 against the $3.49 million salary cap in 2015, scored three goals and notched 26 assists. Wenger, the no. 1 overall SuperDraft pick of the Montreal Impact in 2012, scored just seven goals two seasons with the Union. His 2015 salary cap hit was $180,000.

MLS Team of the Playoffs — Stars of MLS Cup Playoffs 2015

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That’s it. It’s all over. MLS Cup 2015 was won by the Portland Timbers on Sunday, bringing to end the 2015 Major League Soccer season.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Not without one final MLS Team of the Week Playoffs, though. Unsurprisingly, this year’s Team of the Playoffs is heavy on players from the Timbers and Columbus Crew SC, Sunday’s finalists, with a few conference semifinalists sprinkled throughout.

[ MORE: Timbers top Crew SC to lift first MLS Cup trophy ]

Kei Kamara‘s four goals scored during the 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs were twice as many as any other player — one of which was Portland’s Fanendo Adi. Diego Valeri bagged four assists in five games played, which is mighty impressive until you read on and realize Mauro Diaz hit the same mark in just four games played. And then there was the two-way midfield work of Diego Chara, whose work rate was otherworldly en route to Portland’s first MLS title. Throw in defenders Nat Borchers and Jorge Villafana, and it becomes clear just why Portland were crowned champions.

Thoughts? Questions? Agreements? Disagreements? (Of course not.) Leave them in the comments section, as always. I’m not afraid to defend my picks.

[ MORE: 2015 MLS Team of the Week archive ]

MLS Team of the Week — MLS Cup playoffs

Goalkeeper: Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls)

MLS Goalkeeper

Defenders: Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew SC), Nat Borchers (Portland Timbers), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Jorge Villafana (Portland Timbers)

MLS Defenders

Midfielders: Diego Chara (Portland Timbers), Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers), Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas), Andreas Ivanschitz (Seattle Sounders)

MLS Midfielders

Forwards: Kei Kamara (Columbus Crew SC), Fanendo Adi (Portland Timbers)

MLS Forwards

Early goals, toothless Crew SC send Timbers to MLS Cup coronation

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From being inches — literally, on not one, but two posts, on the same kick of the ball — away from elimination in the first round of the 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs more than a month ago, to lifting the Philip F. Anschutz trophy at midfield of MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday, the 2015 postseason was one Portland Timbers fans won’t soon remember forget.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Sunday’s triumph over Columbus Crew SC in the 2015 MLS Cup final was yet another example of a crazy, unpredictable title-decider, in that it went completely against everything we thought we could forecast for this game. That tends to happen, though, when less than 30 seconds are on the clock and one team has already scored, doesn’t it?

Timbers quickest out of the blocks

Which is where we’ll begin our anlysis tonight. Portland weren’t just quickest out of the starting blocks on Sunday; they were the quickest team on the scoreboard in MLS Cup’s 20-year history. Diego Valeri’s goal 27 seconds into Sunday’s final was a sucker-punch to the proverbial jaw of Crew SC. Such a confident team all season, free-flowing and wide open with the belief that a goal was always just around the corner, Crew SC were shell-shocked and never really recovered from the early blow. They conceded the eventual winner six minutes later.

Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter:

“I think you could see a little bit of nerves. Steve [Clark] gets hundreds of balls, thousands of balls played to him during the course of the season and he rarely makes a mistake like that and you have to live with it. We support him and mistakes are part of the game. The start wasn’t good, the start was certainly not good. What I am pleased about is that we didn’t give up.

In fairness to Portland, the early goal won’t have changed all that much about Crew SC’s gameplan — they wanted to play quickly and aggressively beforehand, so nothing debilitating there — but it did allow the Timbers to defend with numbers, rather than to engage the Black and Gold in a counter-attacking track meet.

[ FULL RECAP: Timbers top Crew SC to take home first MLS Cup ]

They helped Diego Chara — a whole lot

My biggest worry for Portland ahead of the game was that Chara would be but a lone man constantly contending with a quartet of dangerous attackers, and would eventually succumb through no real fault of his own. As a knock-on effect of the early goal, those defensive numbers aided Chara more than anyone else in Green and Gold. Darlington Nagbe (and Valeri, to a degree) sagged deeper and deeper into midfield and forced Federico Higuain into a dismal performance when his side needed him at his most sublime.

Rodney Wallace and Lucas Melano provided serious cover for the full backs, Jorge Villafana, who was absolutely immense, and Alvas Powell. In the end, it was a full-team defensive effort from Portland, when the threat of them being stretched wide and made to chase the game seemed so real prior to kickoff. Crew SC, a side that led MLS in shots on target during the regular season (5.3 per game) managed just one in the biggest game of the season. Set pieces, of which there were alarmingly few for Crew SC, also failed them on Sunday when they had been such a weapon all season long.

[ MORE: PST staff predicts MLS Cup 2015 — how’d we do? ]

Timbers’ defensive shape picture-perfect

My other gigantic worry for Portland was that center backs Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell, neither of whom are particularly quick or athletic, would be torched when dragged out into open space to defend wingers Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram, both of whom were exceptionally poor by their standards and subbed off in the second half. The entire “why” for that duo, which combined for 18 goals and 18 assists during the regular season, being so poor was the defensive shape of the Timbers’ backline.

Villafana and Powell rarely ventured forward — thanks again, early goals! — and put in their best defensive shifts of the season. That meant Borchers and Ridgewell, 34 and 31 respectively, weren’t rushing out into space to emergency-defend against Finlay and Meram. Those two largely nullified, Kei Kamara, who scored 22 times during the regular season and three more times in the playoffs before Sunday, and he was feeding on scraps. Kamara managed just one shot all night — his goal — on 31 total touches over 90 minutes.