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Whitecaps’ Williams charged with assault in domestic case

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) Vancouver Whitecaps defender Sheanon Williams was suspended by Major League Soccer on Friday, a day after he was arrested and charged with assault in a domestic case.

[ MORE: NYCFC completes comeback against Sounders behind Villa brace ]

MLS suspended Williams indefinitely pending investigations by the league and Vancouver police. MLS said Williams will be assessed by doctors under its Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program.

“We are working closely with MLS and local authorities and fully support the league’s swift action to suspend the player while further investigation takes place,” the Whitecaps said in a statement. “Vancouver Whitecaps FC is a values-based organization and we expect all members of the club to act in a manner that reflects our values both on and off the field.”

The 27-year-old Williams, from Boston, has two assists in 11 games this season – his first with Vancouver. He has seven goals and 24 assists in 188 career games in nine seasons with the Philadelphia Union, Houston Dynamo and Vancouver.

Also Thursday, the Whitecaps – who also field a team in the lower-tier United Soccer League – said two minors have been charged with sexual assault after an incident last week at the team’s training facility in Burnaby. The players were indefinitely suspended by the Whitecaps and the team pressed charged with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Chicago trades Austin Berry to Philadelphia

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Oddly, Austin Berry was apparently odd man out in Chicago, which has recently reinforced its roster with two experienced center backs, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni.

Chicago traded Berry today to Philadelphia, which is a bit of a head-scratcher. Berry, the 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year, is probably just as talented and every bit as dependable as the newest central defensive arrivals into Toyota Park.

Yes, both are more experienced, but that’s the one advantage they offer over Berry. Ianni, in fact, has been a part-time starter during most of his eight years at Houston and Seattle. Compare that to Berry, who got into the Fire lineup early last year and hasn’t missed a match since.

The Union sent an undisclosed amount of allocation money to Chicago, but John Hackworth’s club gets a lot in return. In fact, it’s a lot easier today to see Philadelphia as a playoff team.

There was already a lot to like about Philadelphia, where so much young talent (Zac MacMath, Amobi Okugo, Sheanon Williams and Jack McInerney for starters) is aligned with quite a few trusty vets (Sebastien Le Toux, Brian Carroll and the recently signed Maurice Edu for starters).

But the hole was at center back, where Okugo needed a quality partner. Now, you look up and down the lineup around PPL Park and find yourself nodding affirmatively. (There’s a good look at this post on the Union’s potential opening day lineup.)

There is one caveat here: Berry was better as a rookie, and it’s not so hard to sort that one out. He benefitted greatly from playing alongside Arne Friedrich, a talented and highly professional former German international. When injuries forced Friedrich into retirement last year, Berry wasn’t quite the same.

That doesn’t mean he can’t play without a seasoned vet leading the way alongside, it’s just something to watch and consider.

MLS Preview: Philadelphia Union vs. Montréal Impact

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  • Montréal’s regained first place in the Eastern Conference
  • Philadelphia coming off a 5-1 loss; Impact coming off 5-0 win
  • Amobi Okugo suspended; Sheanon Williams to play in the middle

Sporting Kansas City. New York Red Bulls. Philadelphia Union. They’ve all had their chance to take control of the East, and to this point, they’ve all fail. After Saturday’s 5-0 thrashing of Houston, Montréal’s regained the conference’s top spot.

Throughout the summer, as the Impact struggled to keep up their torrid spring pace, the East was there for the taking, yet over the last two weeks — with the conference’s other contenders failing to impress — Marco Schällibaum’s team has regained control. Back-to-back league not only have Montréal two points clear in the East but back on pace for the Supporters’ Shield, the team holding the highest points-per-game mark in MLS.

It’s no coincidence this minor surge has coincided with Argentine midfielder Hernán Bernardello settling into Montréal’s starting XI. As Schällibaum tried a two-striker system through much of the summer, it was unclear why his team had moved away from their effective three-man midfield. Davy Arnaud’s fitness was an excuse, but even after the captain came back, the Impact seemed intent on getting Daniele Paponi to work up top with Marco Di Vaio. In the meantime, the rest of the East caught up and passed Montréal.

Bernardello’s acquisition has moved Montréal back to three in the middle, and although the Impact lost their first match with their new Designated Player in the starting XI (2-1 at Chicago on Aug. 10), they’ve won their last two, with last weekend’s thrashing of the Dynamo portending a possible return to form. Replicating their spring formula, Montréal has lost the possession battle in each of their last two games, relying on a strong defensive shape and opportunistic attacking to reclaim their spot atop the East.

This Jekyll and Hyde, good versus bad Montréal makes the teams’ early meeting that much more instructive. In late May, the Impact scored five times at Stade Saputo, never trailing during their 5-3 win over the Union. That game, however, saw Montréal use their less-effective two-front, starting Andrew Wenger up top with Di Vaio. The Impact handled the Union while using their less effective setup, one they’re unlikely to employ Saturday at PPL Park.

It won’t help the Union that they’re set to be without starting central defender Amobi Okugo, suspended for Saturday’s match. An injured Ray Gaddis may also miss the game, while John Hackworth’s midfield could be without Keon Daniel. Coming off a 5-1 thrashing last week in New England, the Union are destined to have momentum, fitness, and suspensions working against them against Montréal.

With Conor Casey up top and the sometime susceptibility of the Impact’s central defense, Philadelphia have a route to victory. But they are underdogs. Given the state of the conference, the Union should be happy to get a stalemate in lieu of the three points they need to bridge the gap between themselves and Montréal.

What they are saying

Montréal forward Marco Di Vaio: “The next two games won’t be easy, but we have to do more if we want to make the playoffs. We have to pick up points away like we did early this season. It’s very important: it might be the difference between fifth place leading to the wild card game and the top of the table sending us directly into the playoffs.” [source]

Philadelphia head coach John Hackworth, on last week’s result: “It’s tough to move on from that, but we do our video and then our process is that we do move on. So I think from a coaching standpoint and from our staff and from our players, what we’ve all said is that we have to move on, we have to move on.” [source]

Philadelphia right back Sheanon Williams, on playing center back: “I’m comfortable doing it. I’ve done it before and it’s not something that doesn’t come natural. Regardless of where you are on the back four, you should be ready to play all of the positions.”

Prediction

Based on the teams’ first meeting, form, the injury and suspension status of both teams, everything points in Montréal’s favor. Hackworth may have to significantly change things up to protect an already suspect defense from the East’s most prolific attack, potentially slowing the game down to make set pieces decisive. But the pick: Montréal, 3-2.

 

MLS Week in Review

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Abbreviated schedule: Most MLS weeks will come and go with nine matches, but league officials shaved Round 15 to just five contests. That was the compromise for playing over the dates officially designated by FIFA for World Cup qualifiers. This week will be another one, with just five MLS games set for kickoff. Which brings us to …

Missing men: It’s not a bad choice like New Coke or a third Hangover movie, but playing through World Cup fixture dates continues to be a bad idea. Several teams were missing important pieces. For instance, it’s impossible to think that Los Angeles isn’t missing center back Omar Gonzalez, having given up eight goals in two matches. The latest was Saturday’s 3-1 loss to Real Salt Lake in Utah.

Portland had to do without its starting goalkeeper, Jamaican international Donovan Ricketts, and a communications issue was in play on Chicago’s opening goal at Toyota Park.

Real Salt Lake and Seattle were missing significant pieces, as well. But both of them won, both at home. So perhaps those absences don’t smart as much in the long run.

First coaching dismissal of 2013: Frank Yallop had the second longest tenure going among MLS managers, in place at San Jose since the club’s 2.0 version began passing and trapping in 2008. But he’s no longer manager around Buck Shaw Stadium today; the club fired him Friday. And in all honesty, the move doesn’t make much sense.

The streaks to talk about: Portland keeps rolling. Saturday’s 2-2 tie in Chicago extended the team’s unbeaten streak to 12 games. It’s not as showy, but New England is unbeaten in in five matches. They weren’t stretched much defense, so Bobby Shuttleworth (pictured) needed to make just one save to extend the team’s impressive shutout streak to 395 minutes. All that happened in a 0-0 draw at home with D.C. United.

Ben Olsen’s United is now winless in 12. Yuk.

Worst refereeing decision:  We have a tie!

In Seattle, referee Hilario Grajeda got it wrong, refusing to point to the 12-yard spot when Whitecaps midfielder Jun Marques Davidson lunged and brought down Sounders striker Obafemi Martins a half yard inside the 18. Would a quick word with the linesman have helped?

In Utah, Drew Fischer, working just his 14th MLS match, thought he saw the Galaxy’s Marcelo Sarvas trip RSL’s Ned Grabavoy along the left wing. Thought he saw it. Sure looked like Grabavoy managed to avoid the flung-out foot. If it was just a foul, it wouldn’t matter. But it was a yellow card. And it put the Galaxy midfielder over the limit, which means he’ll miss the next match.

Craziest six minutes this year: Philadelphia was scoring barely over a goal a game at home this year (7 in 6 matches before Wednesday). So scoring three over a six-minute period … are you kidding me? Perhaps craziest of all is that league leading scorer Jack McInerney didn’t get in on the quick-fire sequence, which happened early in the home team’s 3-0 win over Columbus.

Best Match: The field may not have been in the best shape (yes, we are going to keep talking about that), but it sure didn’t hurt the match, a real cracker jack as Seattle went up early, fell behind and then rallied for a 3-2 win over Vancouver in front of an NFL-size crowd. Both sides were missing some important players, so perhaps the quality wasn’t what it could have been. But for entertainment value, this one was cranked up to 11!

Best goal:Watch the wonderful placement on Ben Zemanski’s shot for the Timbers, a ball that curls perfectly around Chicago Fire goalie Sean Johnson. (And Johnson is long and athletic, so it took some perfection in the placement.

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Most athletic goal: Philly’s Sheanon Williams once looked like a future U.S. international at right back. If he can sort out some of the defending, maybe the 23-year-old Union defender can get there, because he sure has the attacking audacity. And the athleticism. Watch this goal:

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Major League Soccer team previews: PHILADELPHIA UNION

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Each day from now until the beginning of Major League Soccer’s 18th season, we will preview one Eastern Conference team and one from the West. MLS first kick is March 2.

No. 6 in the East is the Philadelphia Union:

Significant additions and subtractions: After two injury-slowed years, Conor Casey is healthy and motivated by the sounds of it. If the former Colorado Rapids striker, who moved east in an offseason trade, can find 2010 form (he hit 13 times, tied for sixth best in MLS) the Union will have that veteran finisher so dearly missed last year.

Along with popular forward Sebastian Le Toux, who remains the team’s all-time leading scorer despite a year away, is back thanks to a January trade with New York.

Elite center back Carlos Valdes has been loaned to a Colombian club; Jeff Parke, acquired from Seattle in December, isn’t quite of Valdes’ quality, but he’s a reliable MLS defender.

And then there’s Freddy Adu, who isn’t yet technically gone, but he’s certainly not with the team, either. Keep reading.

Strengths: everything to like and not to like is contained in the brat pack of wonderful young talent around PPL Park: Zak MacMath, Jack McInerney , Roger Torrres, Antoine HoppenotAmobi Okugo, Sheanon Willliams are all 22 or younger. The Farfan brothers, Michael and Gabriel, are just 24. Most of them have MLS All-Star potential.

Of course, they are still young. Head coach John Hackworth, blessed with ample patience and equipped with plenty of experience working with younger types, is the right guy to have around them, to nurse them through the inevitable boo-boos and rough patches. That said, there will be mistakes and rough patches.

There’s plenty of playmaking potential in Torres and Michael Farfan. And with Casey and Le Toux around, the 20-year-old McInerney need not feel the crushing pressure of having to arrive as a scoring force now.

Guys like Casey, Parke and Brian Carroll add some wizened stability to a locker room full of youth.

Pressure points: When Hackworth talks about roster “constraints” and “challenges,” we all know what he’s talking about: Adu, whose career wanderings continue. Hackworth wants to move on without the mercurial playmaker, but the club is hog-tied until it can get Adu’s DP salary off the books.

We are all assuming center back Bakary Soumare still looks like the game-changer we knew in Chicago, but it has been four years since he ruled as such a force at Toyota Park.

The talented MacMath, 21, had more than his share meaningful mess-ups last year. It seems naïve to believe he’s completely past all of them.

There still may be some hangover effect of 2012, and what an odd year it was around PPL Park. Then-coach Peter Nowak tore apart a playoff team, one that seemed to be on the rise. Things clearly were strained behind the scenes and Nowak was fired in June, later to get tangled in a nasty lawsuit with the club.

Hackworth must find the best spot for young Okugo, who filled in splendidly at center back in 2012 but seems set to occupy a holding midfield role for ‘13.

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Difference maker: LeToux (pictured right) departed Philadelphia a year ago and got completely lost. He scored five goals while moving coast to coast mid-season, from Vancouver to New York. Perhaps being back in his happy place at PPL Park, where Le Toux struck for a whopping 25 goals between the 2010 and 2011 seasons, can make an All-Star of the Frenchman once again.

Potential breakout player: It could be Michael Farfan – but only if he can hold off Torres as Hackworth’s creative influence. Farfan had some remarkable moments last year but the final production (one goal, five assists) must improve. It should, considering the measurably better striker in front of him now.

Bottom line: Last year was all about stabilizing a listing ship; now with a full off-season (short as it was) and with a talented young roster more to his liking, Hackworth can try to move things forward. Whether his team has enough experience to get there … we’ll see.

(MORE: the entire roster of ProSoccerTalk’s Major League Soccer previews and predictions)