Is it time for Zlatan Ibrahimovic to move to MLS?

Zlatan Ibrahimovic may be 35 years old and recovering from a serious knee injury but that doesn’t stop the Swede from being linked with some of the biggest clubs on the planet. Such is the pedigree of the striker who left Manchester United at the end of last season. The man who calls himself Zlatan has long been linked with a move to MLS and with the list of likely European destinations apparently growing shorter, is it now the right time for Zlatan to move to the States? LA Galaxy have been interested in the past but after the signing of Jonathan dos Santos, their new city neighbours LAFC could be the right destination for Ibrahimovic.

Career

There haven’t been many more successful players in Europe in the last few decades. He’s won trophies with six clubs, league titles with five and despite his age, Zlatan Ibrahimovic isn’t done yet. After spells in Sweden and the Netherlands, Ibrahimovic moved to Serie A in 2004 where his career really took off. He spent two years at Juventus before the Swede moved to Inter Milan where he won three consecutive league titles. After a less-than successful year at Barcelona, he returned to Italy with city rivals AC, helping the Milan side win the double in 2011.

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The forward then spent four incredibly successful seasons with PSG before moving to Manchester United for a single year just last summer. His move to Manchester United was something of a surprise. Ibrahimovic has long been linked with a move to the MLS, according to Bleacher Report and those links have returned now his time in England is seemingly over. His spell at Manchester United was cut short following a nasty knee injury picked up in April.

Links to MLS and injuries

LA Galaxy have long been admirers of Sweden’s all-time leading goalscorer, with reports earlier this year suggesting he had signed a pre-contract agreement with the club. It was believed at the time that Galaxy had ‘blown United out of the water’ with the deal offered to the Swede but that was back in March. The situation has changed immensely since then and the player’s injury a month later probably had a lot to do with that. The Galaxy looked elsewhere and completed the signing of Villarreal midfielder and brother of Giovani, Jonathan dos Santos in late July. That takes them to three Designated Players and effectively rules them out of a big-money move for Ibrahimovic unless they sell one of their current stars.

Galaxy were undoubtedly put off by Ibrahimovic’s injury but is it as bad as feared? Players far younger than Ibrahimovic had their careers ruined by similar injuries but the Swede’s agent gave these incredible quotes about the problem a few months ago.

“His knee is so strong that the doctors said they had never seen anything like it,” Mino Raiola said back in May.

“He has a knee that it is almost impossible for a football player with a 20-year career to have. It was quite clean, there was no harm in it.

“Zlatan is so strong that the doctor wants him back after his career to research on him.”

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It remains to be seen whether that’s true or an agent just trying to squeeze one last big money move from his client. Still, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is an incredible athlete. At 35 years old and after four seasons in France, the Swede came into the Premier League and controlled Manchester United at times last season. He scored a bucket load of goals and looked just as fit and strong as he did a decade ago. He would be a coup for almost any club on the planet but how many could actually sign him?

The Next Move

As of August 1, Manchester United are 31/50 favourites to re-sign the Swede, with any MLS club at 5/4 according to Betway. Italian sides AC Milan and Juventus are out at 6/1 and 8/1 respectively before a big jump out to 20/1 for Russian side Zenit St. Petersburg. Manchester United have, of course, signed Romelu Lukaku which makes a move for Ibrahimovic appear unlikely so the States now looks like the best bet.

Few sides could afford the Swede whose signing would carry many pros and cons. He’s a worldwide name and is the player MLS fans would like to see join the league most, according to a recent poll. Despite that, he won’t be able to play for a while and would require a huge contract which limits the number of realistic options. The best one out there is Los Angeles FC. The LA side will join MLS next season and they are in need of a star player after the appointment of head coach Bob Bradley. Zlatan Ibrahimovic would be perfect and could spend the next few months helping the club grow while recuperating from his injury ahead of the side’s MLS debut next season.

It’s unclear how likely a move is but Zlatan Ibrahimovic would be an ideal signing for LAFC. He’s one of the most successful players of the last twenty years and carries with him a global recognition. He may be recuperating from a nasty knee injury but LAFC won’t be playing until next March so he won’t be missing much for now. Ibrahimovic is just the sort of name that LAFC – and MLS – needs and would be a fantastic coup for both the club and the league.

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Getting Stuck In: Youth is being served

By David Lewis

The season is about to kickoff. Fresh signings. Fresh kits. Fresh expectations. For many clubs it’s time to roll out their newest, shiny (or rusty) DP that has more wear and tear on its tires than a “68 VW Beetle (See last year’s Drogba model.) But wait, something strange is going on. Front office execs are finally seeing the light. They no longer hang their hats on mid-thirty Europeans like Pirlo (he’s been ok with NYCFC) and Lampard (more Fat Frank than Super Frank). MLS is finally shedding their “retirement league” stigma and going for the twenty-something DP – and in many cases early 20’s. Ok, the league may still revert to their old ways and make a big splash from time to time to up the league’s profile and kit sales (Ibra and Rooney next maybe?), but that’s the exception, we hope.

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Side note: I expect LAFC to make some big over-the-hill signings next year when they join the league, but that’s because it’s Hollywood. It’s a star-driven city, whereas a place like Kansas City doesn’t have the pressure from their fan base to make the big European signing.

So why the seismic shift? Well, the bottom line is that clubs aren’t getting their money’s worth for these aging Euro stars. Gerrard and Lampard played parts of two season each in MLS. Both struggled with injuries which isn’t too shocking since they are geriatric in terms of soccer age. Gerrard played 34 games and Lampard limped around for 29. Considering there are 34 regular season games each year, well, let’s just say they spent more time with the physio than with their teammates. And when it comes to production, the two England internationals managed a combined 20 goals and 18 assists, which is about the same as an average season for Toronto’s Sebastian Giovinco.

Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, MLS: NYCFC vs. LA Galaxy

Yes, I was excited to see my hero Stevie G play in MLS. I even contemplated the sacrilegious move of a getting an LA Galaxy jersey (never did). But I wound up feeling sad that this once great man mailed it in and saw his 18-month stay in the states as a holiday. I will always remember Istanbul Stevie and will try to forget about the LA version.

I may be biased, but I feel (my) Columbus Crew started the trend: Get players in their prime, youngish, who want to play in MLS. Federico Higuain, the brother of Napoli star Gonzalo, has been one of the best midfielders in the league since he arrived at the soccer-prime age of 27. He played in Europe and South America and is the heart and soul of the Crew midfield, spraying passes all over the field with aplomb. His 39 goals and 35 assists over 123 games doesn’t tell the entire story. He’s dedicated to the league, has a great attitude, makes a sixth of what Gerrard made, and is the blueprint for what an MLS DP should be. And most importantly, he doesn’t need a cane to get around the field. (Other recent similar successes include: Giovani Dos Santos, Ignacio Piatti, Diego Valeri and Nicolás Lodeiro).

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2017 expansion side Atlanta United have taken it to a new level with their youth movement. Let’s call this MLS 3.0.

Instead of taking established players in their mid-to-late-twenties as their DPs, as has been the trend the last few years, they are blending in signing players with raw potential from Central and South America who are closer to teen age. That means some hefty transfer fees (by MLS standards) so they can beat out European clubs for player signatures. This has never happened before in MLS. Ever.

Here are some of the young blood DPs on MLS rosters right now, ahead of the opening weekend of the new season, some of whom are the envy of the soccer world:

  • Atlanta United have signed three South American DPs. Josef Martinez (23) from Venezuela is on loan from Serie A side Tornio with an option to buy at the end of the season. Hector Villalba (22) is from Argentina and Miguel Almiron (22) from Paraguay.
  • Houston Dynamo have Mauro Manotas (21), a Columbian Under-21 international and Alberth Elis (21) from Honduras, who is currently the youngest DP in MLS.
  • DC United have Luciano Acosta (22) from Argentina, looking primed for a fine second season in the league.
  • FC Dallas have Carlos Gruezo from Ecuador (21) and have added Christian Colman (22) from Paraguay this offseason, a man expected to fire in plenty of goals this year.
  • Vancouver Whitecaps have brought in Yordy Reyna (23) from Peru; not a DP but TAM was used to buy his contract down.

So yes, the Wayne Rooney’s of the world will probably make the trip stateside sooner rather than later. And hopefully Wayne will be more Robbie Keane and David Villa and less Lampard and Gerrard. But MLS 3.0 is the new trend. Hopefully these raw young talents will help MLS become a legitimate league that can grow a player’s career.

Youth might be wasted on the young. MLS can’t afford to do that in 2017.

Getting Stuck In: The Great American Hype Machine

The Getting Stuck In column delves into some of the more intriguing aspects in US Soccer and MLS, shining a light on the stories regarding the league’s teams and its most-loved characters. This week Dave Lewis looks into The Great American Hype Machine as the nation waits for a world class player to emerge…

I was used to waiting. It’s part of the deal when you interview celebrities. This time, in 2004,  I was waiting to interview a soccer prodigy.  He was supposed to call at 10am. It reached 1pm. I called the Nike representative that set up the interview and asked if she could call him. She rang back an hour later and said he would be calling me in ten minutes. Two more hours went by. I called the Nike rep back again. She apologized and said he was busy playing an intense game of FIFA with friends during some downtime. He finally called at 5pm and didn’t even apologize for making a grown man wait.

You see, Freddy Adu has been making everyone wait his entire professional career. He has shown glimpses of magic with US youth teams but he has been an utter dud everywhere else he has gone. He has played for 13 teams in eight countries over a 12-year career so far. But is it all his fault? He has to take some of the blame for sinking faster than the Titanic. Some say bad attitude, bad practice habits, laziness, no commitment to defence are among some of his problems. My buddy Eric and I theorize about why he continues to move from club-to club and we just assume that he does something behind the scenes to piss off his managers. Some would just say he sucks. But some blame the ‘Great American Hype Machine’.

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Yes, we Americans are guilty of cranking up the Hype Machine to epic levels. We are always waiting for our Messi, our Ronaldo, our Pele – but we just get Adu. When Adu signed a pro contract with MLS side DC United at the age of 14 (debatable), we were all swept up in the Hype Machine with no idea he would be spat out 12 years later. Before he ever kicked a ball professionally, Nike gave him huge money and soft drink company Sierra Mist created a cool ad that debuted during Adu’s first pro game. It featured him with Pele on a soccer field competing for the last bottle of Sierra Mist. The ad sprouted from the American soccer intelligentsia saying Freddy Adu was the “next Pele” (Hype Machine at its worst). Even Pele bought in: “His left foot is fantastic. It’s like Mozart. God gave Freddy the gift to play soccer. If he is prepared mentally and physically, nobody will stop him.” Pele may have been an all-time soccer talent, but he’s not an all-time talent evaluator.

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Adu is only 26 (debatable) and mentally and physically he seems shot. Many think his career has finally come to an end because he now plays for the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the NASL, a division below MLS. He shows glimpses of being a decent player but when I found this headline the other day I wondered if Freddy was doing ok: “Freddie Adu has gone from ‘next Pele’ to vacuum cleaner salesman on Twitter”.

This brings us to the next great product of the Great American Hype Machine: Borussia Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic. There is surely no way this kid will be the next Adu, right? Yes, the Machine has churned out hope-to-nope players like Julian Green and Juan Agudelo, and may take down Jordan Morris and Bobby Wood, but I think (and I hope) Pulisic is different. Here’s a few reasons why:

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  • He is 17 (not 14) and is being groomed with smarts by one of the best clubs for developing talent in Europe.
  • Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp loved him when he was Dortmund’s manager and saw him excel with their youth academy and destroy fools with the US U17 squad (20 goals in 34 appearances).
  • He is humble, respectful, hard working and technically sound (rare for an American player).
  • He is strong for his size, doesn’t back down from anyone (see his work against some of the strongest players in Germany).
  • He feels American. With all due respect to Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson and the other German-Americans on the US squad, he is from Hershey, Pennsylvania so he feels authentic.
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When Pulisic became the youngest player to score two goals in the Bundesliga this past spring, I went bonkers. It convinced me that he was for real. No fugazi. Legit. Not just a good American player but considered a great European prospect. I mean, when a headline like this appears in the Daily Mail, I believe the hype: “Liverpool face competition from Real Madrid and Manchester City in pursuit of Borussia Dortmund whizzkid Christian Pulisic.”

Are you kidding me? Pulisic wearing the kit of my beloved Liverpool? An American, dancing around the midfield to You’ll Never Walk Alone on one of those special European nights at Anfield? I just hope the Hype Machine leaves him alone. Because if he does come down with a bad case of Adu-itis, I don’t know how much more waiting I can take.

Has the time come for Arsenal to sack Arsene Wenger?

By Daniel McClue

Arsene Wenger has been Arsenal manager since 1996 and is the longest current serving manager in English football. Over the course of his reign, the Gunners have enjoyed incredible successes – most notably The Invincibles of the 2003/04 campaign.

But things haven’t been quite so successful in recent years, with Wenger now a man under intense pressure more often than not.

He has be in charge of Arsenal for a massive 1063 matches, winning 611 and accruing an average of 1.95 points-per-game in that time. In comparison, Jurgen Klopp gathered 1.90 points-per-game in 318 games for Dortmund, while Sir Alex Ferguson managed 1159 games for United, winning 2.10 points per match on average.

The Frenchman’s quality as a manager is undeniable, however, since the 2003/04 season when his team went unbeaten, Arsenal have only finished second once – that came the following season – after that they have finished either third or fourth ten times in a row, with that run looking set to stretch to eleven following Sunday’s final game of the season at home to Aston Villa.

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What this consistency guarantees is Champions League football year after year, a competition they have never won despite reaching the final in the 2005/06 campaign. But is this enough for Arsenal fans to be satisfied? Or is it time to change things up?

When Wenger retires his legacy will be remembered forever. He is often spoken of in the same vein as Sir Alex Ferguson as the pair are considered to be two of the greatest managers in English football history. What Wenger brought to Arsenal when he signed in the mid-nineties was incredible stability coupled with attractive, fluid football – all without (until recently) spending excessive amounts to revamp his squad.

Consistency is important in a league in which only six teams have yet to be relegated since the start of the Premier League in 1992, Aston Villa being the latest victims. However, in a time where social media has formed a route for people to voice their opinions, it is becoming more evident that this is not enough. Many Arsenal fans on Twitter aren’t wanting to reminisce on past successes with ‘#WengerOut’ trending after several disappointing results in recent months.

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Sports fans are fickle, it’s in our nature, particularly those supporting the top teams who have achieved success over and over again. We all want our teams to win and to do so every year. This results in an incredible turnover in managers for some teams. Some clubs have won many trophies with this method (look at Chelsea under Roman Abramovich) while others have fallen from grace (look at Leeds United’s collapse).

Wenger’s consistency is good, but for the fans it’s not good enough. They want trophies and something to brag about as “we’ve qualified for the Champions League 18 seasons in a row” may be remarkable but it still doesn’t quite equal “we’ve won the Champions League”. The club has enjoyed success in the FA Cup in recent years but that is not enough for a club as big as Arsenal.

After Arsenal went unbeaten over the course of a whole Premier League season in 2004 many fans expected them to create a dynasty. Expectations were to win several league titles in a row while pushing for a Champions League trophy.

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This never happened. The club, under the guidance of Wenger, never pushed on and instead seemed to settle into a groove while teams around them rose up. Both Chelsea and Manchester City invested millions into becoming top teams and in the process created a solid group of teams challenging for the same goal. The Invincibles season is now 12 years old and the club have not come close to producing a team with anywhere near as much quality in every position since.

This season has produced arguably the most incredible story in all of sporting history, as Leicester City have won the Premier League for the first time in their history despite being 5000/1 outsiders at the start of this campaign.

Since the 2003/04 season only Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United have won the league. Those three dominant teams have struggled and seeing Leicester go on to claim the title must aggravate the Arsenal fans and will be seen as a missed opportunity, particularly given the Gunners’ position at the top of the table at the turn of 2016.

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This year also marks the first time in 21 years that arch rivals Tottenham look set to finish above them, with Spurs two points ahead of Arsenal entering the final game.

This season would have been the perfect year for Wenger to spend £100 million+ in the summer or overpay for a superstar in January to win the Premier League, instead Arsenal only signed Petr Cech and Mohamed Elneny. As good a signing as Cech was, the overall transfer business was not enough improvement for a squad that finished 3rd last season.

In 2011/12 Robin Van Persie was the league’s top scorer with 30 goals while leading the line for Arsenal, but that summer he was sold to Manchester United for £22.5 million. In 2011 star midfielder and club captain Cesc Fabregas was sold to Barcelona for £23 million, he would later sign for Chelsea, their London rivals. Other questionable transfer deals include sending Ashley Cole to Chelsea in return for William Gallas and selling Emmanuel Adebayor to Manchester City for £25 million a season removed from being the club’s top scorer.

What Wenger does for Arsenal, to the satisfaction of the board, is make sure the club breaks even every season. The amount of money received from finishing in the top four of the Premier League is over £21 million, which is then saved rather than immediately splashed out on expensive players and he isn’t afraid of instead selling stars to fund moves for more talent.

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The problem the board face is that top managers have become available in recent years with the likes of Klopp, Pep Guardiola, Antonio Conte all looking for new jobs, but Arsenal have not gambled on them, missing their opportunity to pick up a great coach out of contract, without needing to spend money to pay off a release clause.

Wenger is unlikely to be sacked, as the club have had the same results for too many seasons for them to pull the plug now. His current contract ends in 2017 and it is much more reasonable to expect them to wait until he leaves mutually, especially as he is now 66 and this could very well be his final coaching role with a team. This will also give the club a whole season to lineup a possible new manager.

It will be interesting to see which manager they go after, Diego Simeone is a highly regarded coach who would keep the team at the top, but his style of management and the way his team plays is the opposite to that of Wenger.

Other names linked with the job are Ronald Koeman, Joachim Low and Roberto Mancini but several more are expected to be lined up as and when Wenger’s time in the dugout comes to an end.

The board will be confident of finishing in the top four again next season, but what this year shows is how unpredictable football can be at times. Should they reach out for a new manager now? Or wait until 2017 to find a new leader? Wenger should probably be sacked, but he won’t.

MLS Fantasy Focus: Make the most of the DGW ahead of Round 10

By Jamie Dawe and Sam Martin

The headlines from Round 9 have all been about Kei Kamara and Federico Higuain’s mid-game row. Their exchange of words over a penalty that would have secured Kamara his hat trick – but was eventually taken by Higuain – is a story that has travelled around the world. It marred an incredible eight-goal game, but in this week’s Fantasy Focus, we promise to focus on the football being played, not the spats off the ball!

Round 9 Review 

The Good:

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The MAPFRE Stadium, home to Columbus Crew, undoubtedly provided us with the game of the weekend, where an incredible eight goals were scored in the 4-4 draw between the Crew and Montreal Impact. It had been a disappointing start to the season for Columbus, but two goals from both Kei Kamara ($11.1) and Federico Higuaín ($10.5) put Columbus 4-1 up with just over 30 minutes to play. Remarkably, the Impact came back from the dead to salvage a point thanks to Ignacio Piatti ($10.6), Didier Drogba ($11.8) and a last minute goal from Dominic Oduro ($7.6). We have once again entered the familiar territory of Piatti gaining the most points of any player this week – with an astounding 18! While Montreal may top the Eastern Conference, Colorado Rapids are the shock leaders of the Supporters’ Shield standings, following a 1-0 home victory against an equally impressive Real Salt Lake. Jermaine Jones ($8.2) netted the goal that was the difference between the two sides to earn his side three crucial points and further cement his place as one of the league’s top players even after his unceremonious exit from New England. Robbie Keane ($11.7) may have been sidelined with injuries for most of this campaign, but the Irishman netted a brace in the Galaxy’s fifth win of the campaign, picking up 13 points in his 59 minutes on the field. Furthermore, it couldn’t possibly be a good weekend without Seattle’s Jordan Morris ($8.3) getting a mention. The forward has now scored in four straight matches as Seattle won their fourth-straight home game against San Jose on Saturday.

The Bad:

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The only red card of the weekend was collected by Orlando’s Cristian Higuita ($6.7), who was sent off late on in his side’s 1-1 draw with New York Red Bulls. OCSC are now on a run of five games without a win and with star turns Kaka ($10.8) and Cyle Larin ($9.2) in their side – it is fair to expect more from the men in purple. Meanwhile, Dallas failed to score and lost for the third consecutive outing. It has to be worrying the Texans with forward Maximiliano Urruti ($8.5) needing to regain the form that got him three goals in the opening four MLS games. Portland Timbers’ winless away run continued after defeat at Vancouver, while Sporting Kansas City also suffered a defeat away to Houston Dynamo. SKC are now winless in six after winning four of their opening five. Designated Players Benny Feilhaber ($10.9) and Graham Zusi ($10.1) will be expected to produce their finest form in the coming weeks, starting with this week’s DGW.

Round 10 Preview

Double Gameweek Must-Haves:

Jermaine Jones ($8.2):

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The Rapids are in tremendous form and it was sparked by Jermaine Jones’ entrance to the team. Fresh from his contract dispute with the Revs and his six-match ban for making repeated physical contact with referee Mark Geiger, the fire is very much within Jones’ play. Thrust into a more attacking role, he’s playing as well as he ever has – even at the age of 34.

Andrew Wenger ($7.2):

Houston have finally returned to some sort of form with a win over SKC and Wenger was instrumental in achieving the victory. Fixtures against San Jose and Real Salt Lake aren’t easy – but they’re certainly not the most difficult cards to be dealt at this point in the season. I would be shocked if Wenger didn’t pick up 10 points across the two games this week. If you don’t fancy Wenger, teammate Alex ($6.1) is bound to pick up a solid number of points at a cheap price.

Fanendo Adi ($10.3):

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The pinpoint in the Timbers’ MLS Cup winning attack, Adi is in fine form and with Diego Valeri ($10.5) pulling the strings behind him, he looks set to keep firing in goal after goal. He may be whisked away for international duty with Nigeria in Round 12, but he will be back in a flash – unlike other forward options like Giles Barnes ($8.5) and Chris Wondolowski ($10.7), who will exiting the league for the Copa America Centenario.

Maynor Figueroa ($6.7):

This is a risky one. Dallas may’ve lost three on the trot, but the former Wigan defender has performed solidly throughout and is still garnering plenty of bonus points. If Dallas were to keep a clean sheet in either of their two home games this week against the Sounders or the Timbers, it would be a shame to miss out on almost certain double figures. It’s also hard to ignore that Dallas are the only side to play both their games at home this week and Figueroa represents a solid pick.

Which players will you transfer in for Round 10’s DGW?

MLS Fantasy Focus: Drop your Revs defenders ahead of Round 9

By Jamie Dawe & Sam Martin

Another double gameweek provided us with the full return to form of 2015 Supporters’ Shield champions New York Red Bulls, NYCFC’s first home victory of the season and the frighteningly common sighting of another beautiful Didier Drogba goal. Five years ago, who could’ve imagined David Villa, Didier Drogba and Giovani Dos Santos all scoring on the same weekend in the same league – with that league being in the U.S.!!?

Week 9 Review

The Good:

Seattle Sounders vs Columbus Crew Jordan Morris

Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris ($8.2) scored for his third-straight league game as Seattle made it three home wins in a row. The Sounders are certainly making up for their sloppy start to the season – possibly affected by finally having real grass at their home stadium, CenturyLink Field. Likewise, the Red Bulls, having won just one of their opening seven fixtures, made it back-to-back wins with their 4-0 victory over a previously high-flying FC Dallas side this week. Mike Grella ($8.1) has scored in both of their last two games and picked up 9 points for the week, impressively adding to his 14 from the week before. Remaining in New York, NYCFC’s Spanish legend David Villa ($11.4) netted yet another double in his side’s 3-2 win against an uncharacteristically poor Vancouver. This brace, plus a solid performance against Montreal on Wednesday, gained Villa an unbeatable 21 points for the week. Despite Villa adding his 5th and 6th goals of the season, it was only NYCFC’s second win of the year and their first at home! Carlos Rivas ($9.4) netted a 90th minute equaliser to earn his Orlando side a point on their travels away to New England Revolution. However, OCSC are still on a four-match winless run that they will be desperate to curb.

The Bad:

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It was a poor week for LA Galaxy and especially their former Chelsea defender Ashley Cole ($7.7), who picked up two yellow cards within 32 seconds of each other. The first was for time wasting, with the second given out for a poor tackle, which saw LA reduced to 10 men. This was Cole’s first red card since 2012 and meant he obtained 0 points for the week…and at least a one match ban. San Jose’s Anibal Godoy ($7.2) saw red a short way into the second half in his team’s 1-1 draw away to Philadelphia. The Earthquakes remain winless on the road this season and Godoy’s contribution certainly didn’t help their cause last weekend. It was also a poor weekend defensively for FC Dallas, who let in four against a Red Bulls side that had previously lost their ability to score! Following a 3-0 defeat in Round 7 against the Whitecaps, Dallas have lost top spot in the Western Conference. Goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez ($5.9) will be bitterly disappointed with the loss, as he has only just been reinstated as the No. 1 after being ousted by Chris Seitz ($4.7).

Week 10 Preview

Quick Tips:

The Easy Choice: Sebastian Giovinco ($12.4)

If you are one of the small proportion of managers that does not own this Italian maestro, now is certainly the time to sign him up. Toronto play their first home game of the season against a Dallas side that have conceded seven goals in their last two games. With Giovinco’s ability to gain bonus points without even scoring, he’s a must have for Round 9.

Sebastian Giovinco Toronto FC 2016

The Low-Budget Superstar: Lamar Neagle ($7.7)

Neagle has been performing terrifically for DC United this season and it would be a shock if he fails to build on his terrific form (which has seen him pick up an average of over 5.5 points a game) against a defensively weak NYCFC backline.

The Form Pick: Shkelzen Gashi ($9.2)

Gashi has been in terrific form over the past few gameweeks, picking up two goals and two assists in April alone. His Rapids team face a strong Real Salt Lake side this weekend but that surely won’t stop the twice Swiss League top scorer from using all of the tricks in his incredibly vast book.

The Must-Sell: New England Revolution Defenders

With both Je-Vaughn Watson ($6.9) and Chris Tierney ($8.1) out injured, the Revs defence is looking depleted. They still have Andrew Farrell ($8.0) and Jose Goncalves ($8.0) fit, but I can’t see them keeping many clean sheets or gaining many bonus points with both Watson and Tierney missing. However, MLS is a notoriously unpredictable league and it’s open for the Revs backline to prove me wrong…

MLS Fantasy Focus: Week 9 tips ahead of latest DGW

By Jamie Dawe

With another double gameweek just hours away, MLS Fantasy managers will be scrambling to make sure they have signed on the players who are expected to shine this week.

Here are some players for you to ponder before tonight’s deadline:

Megabucks – David Villa ($11.2)

Even when his side aren’t performing, ‘El Guaje’ is still racking up the points. With two home matches in a row this gameweek, I’m sure the World Cup winner won’t be far from the back of the net during both games. He costs a lot, but he should deliver the goods this DGW.

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Bargain-Priced Superstar – Diego Fagundez ($8.1)

The Revs are another side that haven’t been performing to their usual standards and for the last few games, nor has Fagundez. He may not have ever quite recaptured his form from his stunning 2013 season, but he is a reliable points scorer and is expected to start both games for the Revs this week – which like NYCFC, are both at home.

The Low Budget – Fraser Aird ($6.6)

The Scottish/Canadian wingback and his Vancouver side are looking to push on after their sumptuous victory over Supporters’ Shield leaders FC Dallas on Saturday. Aird has been ever present so far this season and with his side facing SKC at home, followed by a trip to the Yankee Stadium – there’s certainly potential for clean sheets and assists too.

The Shot Stopper – Bobby Shuttleworth ($5.8)

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For me, Shuttleworth has been one of the standout ‘keepers so far this season, even if his defence has repeatedly let him down. Even with DC United putting three past him on Saturday, he managed to pick up 4 points, which is extremely impressive. Just imagine how many points he would collect if he were to keep a clean sheet against either the Timbers or Orlando at Gillette Stadium this week.

The Outsider – Kei Kamara ($10.9)

Kei Kamara and his comrades play just once this week, away to Seattle. ‘Why would you pick him?’, you may ask. Well, Seattle evidently still haven’t fully grown comfortable with playing on grass at home and Kamara and the Crew are finally hitting form, winning their last two, with Kamara picking up two goals. After this week, the Crew have consecutive home fixtures against Montreal Impact and Colorado, so if he doesn’t score this week, he’s bound to garner some precious points across the next few.

Getting stuck in: Could MLS survive with promotion and relegation?

The Getting Stuck In column delves into some of the more intriguing aspects in US Soccer and MLS, shining a light on the stories regarding the league’s teams and its most-loved characters. This week Dave Lewis looks into whether promotion and relegation is a possibility for Major League Soccer…

Every weekend from August to May I sit on my lumpy couch, remote in hand, ready to watch Premier League matches until my eyes bleed. Liverpool games are always my main meal, but I have some other dishes I like to munch on. Maybe a U.S. player like DeAndre Yedlin, Geoff Cameron, Brad Guzan or Matt Miazga is playing? Or I might dig into an intriguing Manchester derby. This year I will watch anything Leicester City. But nothing gets the little hairs on my head to stand up more than a relegation battle.

Ah, promotion and relegation. That strangely un-American and un-Canadian system that has been exhaustively debated from coast-to-coast since MLS came around 20 years ago. In a recent ESPN poll, MLS players were asked if they would favour promotion and relegation in MLS. The results saw 49 percent say “yes” and 51 percent answer “no”. And that seems to be where we are: pretty much split down the middle.

But the person who really counts is MLS Commissioner Don Garber. He recently said: “We play in a country where the major leagues are really successful. There is no promotion and relegation in hockey and basketball and they work really well. It is not happening in MLS any time soon.”

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So we are stuck with a quirky playoff system that rewards 60 percent of the league, with very little punishment for the remaining 40 percent. But could promotion and relegation work? No is the answer with the way the league is presently constructed. No owner would pay an expansion fee of $100 million just to be relegated. That is what would’ve happened to NYCFC last season when they amassed a paltry 37 points in their inaugural season.

Ok, let’s start with the basics of how relegation and promotion might work. First, you need a league for MLS teams to be relegated to. Like in the Premier League, there needs to be tiers. Could MLS (Division I) work with the NASL (Division II) and USL (Division III) to form a three-tier system? It would certainly take a lot of work from all three leagues to get aligned, but it is doable.

Now for the stadium issue. The USL and NASL, for the most part, play in – and I use this term loosely – small stadiums. Here’s a scenario: FC Edmonton win the NASL and gets promoted to MLS. They make peanuts on tickets sales, concessions and parking because their rinky-dink stadium holds a mere 5,000 people. They won’t be staying up for long with that kind of revenue.

Let’s look at the reverse. NYCFC gets relegated to the NASL. I doubt David Villa, Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo will accept going down when they have to play Rayo OKC at the Yukon High School. While I seriously doubt they will be able to convince their European pals to join them with this kind of pitch: “Hey Ronaldo, you should really come check out soccer in America. Not sure where I am, but I think I am playing on a high school field in front of a few friends and family.”

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Ok, teams like AFC Bournemouth in England, who are NASL-esque, made it work. They climbed up the divisions and brought along a dated ground with them to the Premier League. But they didn’t have to rely on gate receipts. The amount of money they got for being promoted is substantial. The pittance teams would get from getting promoted from USL to NASL to MLS would be laughable. And where would the parachute payments come form? TV money?

MLS has come a long way with securing decent TV deals. Fox, ESPN and Univision pay $90 million a year, which is a huge amount compared to what MLS was getting in 1996. But compared to the Premier League’s shiny new multi-billion dollar TV deal, well, the MLS TV deal looks pretty puny.

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For all the reason stated above, and many more I left out, I don’t see promotion and relegation happening in my lifetime. But there’s a good argument for it to happen sooner than later. One anonymous MLS player put it this way when talking to ESPN: “Whether you’re playing for promotion or to avoid relegation, it makes every game that much more important. In MLS, if you’re having a bad season, some guys just ride out the last couple [of] months because they know they’ll be in the league next year.”

MLS is two decades old, so maybe it’s just too early for such a radical change. But to truly be accepted as a top league in world football, it probably has to happen one day. There’s just too much at stake.

MLS Fantasy Focus: Time to invest in Crew attackers for Week 7?

By Jamie Dawe and Sam Martin

Double delirium for the Rapids in Week 6, alongside a duo of poor performances for the Red Bulls made last week a complete reversal of form from the 2015 season. However, FC Dallas have stayed true to last season’s form and top the Supporters’ Shield rankings with 17 points from 8 games, six of which were gained in Week 6 with comfortable wins over SKC and the Timbers. A first goal for Seattle’s Jordan Morris ($8.1) could signal the start of things to come from this much-hyped youngster. Overall, Week 6 was a positive one, with plenty of things to build upon in the coming weeks of the campaign.

Week 6 Review

The Good:

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Only six minutes into his MLS return for Montreal, Didier Drogba’s ($11.5) cheeky back heel leveled the score up at 1-1, as Montreal went on to earn three huge points away to Chicago. Impact teammate Ignacio Piatti ($10.6) netted a stunning 90th-minute winner with a curled effort from the edge of the box in a game dominated by Montreal. Meanwhile, the Sounders’ revival continues as Seattle beat Philadelphia 2-1 with defender Chad Marshall ($8.6) heading home from a corner to score for the second consecutive week. While it may have been a disappointing defeat for New York City, World Cup winning forward ‘El Guaje’, David Villa ($11.3) netted a brace – his third and fourth goals of the season. An emphatic victory for LA Galaxy was was started and continued by a Giovani Dos Santos ($10.9) double, with the Galaxy running away as 4-1 winners in Houston. Portland’s Fanendo Adi ($10.2) also continued his fine form, netting his second brace of the campaign against San Jose. Michael Barrios ($8.1) netted in both of Dallas’ games, which leaves the Western Conference leaders on a six-game unbeaten run. On the theme of unbeaten runs, Real Salt Lake remain the only MLS side yet to lose a league match this season. Juan Manuel Martinez ($8.5) netted early in the second half to make it consecutive 1-0 victories. How long can this incredible run continue for RSL?

The Bad:

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Philadelphia midfielder Roland Alberg ($8.1) picked up two yellow cards within 53 minutes of his side’s 2-1 defeat to Seattle. Columbus Crew’s Tyson Wahl ($6.0) conceded a penalty that teammate Michael Parkhurst then saw red for in a case of mistaken identity in his side’s eventual win over NYCFC. Wahl has since been handed the suspension that Parkhurst was wrongly given. Portland’s Diego Valeri ($10.3) also saw red in the dying moments of Portland’s 3-1 triumph, picking up a 90th minute yellow and 95th minute red card. The Red Bulls made it six defeats from seven as the star club from the 2015 season are being let down by key attacking players such as Bradley Wright-Phillips ($10.5), Lloyd Sam ($8.9) and Mike Grella ($7.8), with the team having only netted five goals from their seven matches so far. A club with such high expectations will be expecting to push on sooner rather than later. Houston Dynamo dropped to the bottom of the Western Conference after being outclassed by LA Galaxy, despite taking the lead within the first minute. The Dynamo have only managed one win so far this campaign (admittedly it was a resounding 5-0 romp against Dallas, with this being Dallas’ only defeat). It summarises the thrilling unpredictability of the league!

Week 7 Preview

Must Buy:

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With Columbus finally returning to form in their victory over NYCFC, now’s the time to stock up on their star players. When Kei Kamara ($10.9), Ethan Finlay ($10.7) and Federico Higuain ($10.3) are firing on all cylinders, they are an unbeatable side. Looking ahead to upcoming DGW’s, adding some SKC players would certainly seem wise. Nuno Coelho ($8.3) is quickly building a name for himself in Kansas City, along with their only two other ever-present starters, goalkeeper Tim Melia ($5.7) and French fullback Amadou Dia ($6.0).

Must Sell:

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Chicago Fire only play once in the next three weeks, so budget-hogging players like David Accam ($9.2) and Kennedy Igboananike ($8.1) need to be discarded for now. Portland are relying incredibly heavily on Adi and the now suspended Valeri, and won’t play in Week 7. Even when they do return to action, it might be worth transferring out Lucas Melano ($8.7), who is extremely pricy for a player that’s yet to really shine. Injuries to Marco Pappa ($8.2), Matt Hedges ($9.0) and Alvas Powell ($7.1) mean these three players will be dead weight for at least the next two or three game weeks and replacements should be brought in.

Who will you be transferring in for Week 7?

MLS Fantasy Focus: Time to load up on Quakes stars for latest DGW?

By Jamie Dawe and Sam Martin

If you are squeamish, don’t click on the following link. Nigel De Jong’s horror tackle on Darlington Nagbe overshadowed all other gameplay this weekend and if you want to indulge yourself in this footballing monstrosity, you can watch the challenge here. However, there were some more positive goings on this week in MLS. A total of 14 players picked up a score in the double digits and there were some standout performances from unexpected stars, as well as contributions from the usual suspects.

Week 5 Review

The Good:

It was a more enjoyable experience for the spectators who could enjoy ten 11vs11 matches, the way football should be played, as no red cards were issued this weekend. It was a good week for DC United who picked up only their second win of the season and their first in front of their own supporters. Regular starter Fabian Espindola ($10.1) and late substitute Alvaro Saborio ($7.7) both netted braces in an emphatic 4-0 win over the Whitecaps, bringing them 14 and 11 points respectively and making Espindola the highest point scorer of the week. Also standing out this weekend, Real Salt Lake extended their unbeaten run to five games with star of the season so far, Joao Plata ($9.5) netting his fourth goal of the season.

At the other end of the Western Conference, Seattle Sounders’ defender Chad Marshall ($8.5) equalised in the 94th minute to save a point for the Sounders against Houston as he picked up 10 points for the gameweek himself. Having heavily criticised the Chicago defence on the opening game of the season (conceding four goals at home to New York City), it’s clear their players must have been paying attention to the criticism, as they have gone on to concede just one goal from their next four matches and are yet to lose since the opening day. This meant that ‘keeper Matt Lampson ($4.7), along with defenders Johan Kappelhof ($7.7), Jonathan Campbell ($5.1), Rodrigo Ramos ($6.1) and Michael Harrington ($5.3) all picked up between 6 and 10 points this weekend. Houston Dynamo striker Giles Barnes scored a fine goal, which also deserves a mention here as he casually looped the ball over Stefan Frei’s head to put the Dynamo in the lead. It’s certainly worth a watch and you can do just that right here.

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The Bad:

For the first time all season, there was not a single red card in any match during the weekend! However, one sour point was Nigel De Jong’s ($9.1) tackle on USMNT star Darlington Nagbe ($9.0), which was certainly a tackle worthy of a red. It does seem that De Jong has been retrospectively banned, but we’re yet to find out how long for.

Whilst it may not have been a weekend for red cards, there were a large quantity of own goals and defensive disasters to talk about. Portland Timbers’ Nat Borchers ($7.7) netted a late own goal to rescue LA Galaxy a point as Portland continued their winless run that has lasted since their only victory of the season on opening day. Also guilty of scoring at the wrong end, San Jose defender Victor Bernardez ($7.5) chalked up Dallas’ equaliser in a 2-2 draw at Toyota Stadium. Defensively, it was a horror show for the Vancouver Whitecaps, who let in four goals away to DC United, with none of their back four picking up anymore than 2 points this week. Meanwhile in the Eastern Conference, Bradley Wright-Phillips ($10.7), a man who netted 18 goals last season, is yet to score a goal this term. He fired ten shots on Saturday (more than anyone else in a single game so far this season) and missed a perfect opportunity to end this drought, missing from the penalty spot against Sporting Kansas City. New York have failed to score in four out of five games this season, although ironically it has been their defence that has been hit by injury, so their first-choice attack has no excuse for not racking up the goals so far.

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Week 6 Preview

Must Buy:

It’s double gameweek time! The second DGW of the MLS season gives you the opportunity to bring in an impressive points haul. With San Jose playing two out of form teams in the New York Red Bulls and Portland Timbers, my money would be behind them for banking some top scoring players. My main suggestions would be the ever reliable Chris Wondolowski ($10.7), who will also take any penalties, along with key men Quincy Amarikwa ($7.6) and Marvell Wynne ($7.0), both of whom will surely start both games. If you’re looking for value for money out of the double gameweek players, look no further than the Rapids’ Ugandan midfielder Micheal Azira ($5.5) and towering Swedish centre-back Axel Sjoberg ($5.5). Returning SKC captain Matt Besler ($8.7) might also be a good shout if you’re looking for a big name defender to bolster your squad.

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Must Sell:

Chicago Fire only play twice in the next two gameweeks, whereas other teams will tally several games in that period – so it’s worth getting value for money and removing Fire players (aiming at the 14.4% of you that have Brandon Vincent ($5.0). Replace him with a Rapids defender (they play five times in the next four weeks) or stick with a reliable points scorer like Justin Glad ($5.1) or Daniel Steres ($5.2). Anyone who has Darlington Nagbe ($9.0), might want to put their money to better use, as he could be out for an indefinite period of time after leaving the pitch on a wheelchair against the Galaxy on Sunday. Also, SKC defender Kevin Ellis ($6.9) could be about to miss an extended period of time after a nasty groin injury against the Red Bulls – so if you’re the owner of one of the 2,000+ teams that Ellis is in – you might want to look elsewhere for a few weeks.

Who will you be putting in your team for the upcoming DGW?