MLS 2017 Season Preview and Predictions

The 2017 MLS Season is here at last. A record-high 22 teams will battle for this year’s MLS Cup in what is Major League Soccer’s 22nd season. Two new expansion franchises enter the league this year, with Atlanta United joining the Eastern Conference and Minnesota United joining the West, while Orlando City’s brand new soccer-specific stadium will host MLS matches for the first time too. The top six in each conference will make the playoffs once again, but with 11 sides now in each, things are sure to be more competitive than ever before in what could be the most unpredictable season in the league’s history.

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The New Boys

It’s been a busy offseason for Atlanta and Minnesota, with both sides dealing with the challenge of building a squad that can jump straight into MLS and compete. No expansion side has made the playoffs at the first attempt since the Sounders did in 2009, and that will undoubtedly be the aim for both of this year’s new sides in 2017.

Atlanta have splashed the cash to build a team that, on paper at least, looks good enough to earn a place in the postseason at the first attempt. Former Barcelona head coach Tata Martino is the man in the hotseat tasked with getting a talented young group of players to deliver on their preseason promise. Three south American Designated Players have been signed – all under the age of 23, with each expected to get fans off their seats from the first whistle.

They’ll be plenty of fans in those seats too, given the fact Atlanta have already sold a staggering 30,000 season tickets before a ball has been kicked. Expansion sides tend to flatter to deceive in their first campaigns, but Atlanta looks like the sort of team ready to make a real splash.

By stark contrast, Minnesota United have been much more careful in terms of spending. They have not signed a single DP ahead of the opening weekend, with any big spending likely to take place in the summer once the squad has found its feet. Instead, Targeted Allocation Money has been spent to build the squad, along with some clever trading to bring in the likes of Johan Venegas and Kevin Molino. Molino in particular is expected to shine under former Lions boss Adrian Heath, who has his second chance to get an expansion side into the playoffs at the first attempt this season.

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The Loons have also kept a host of names from their NASL days, and they now have to hope that their trust in those players pays off in what is sure to be a fiercely competitive Western Conference. There have been some suggestions that this Minnesota side will be one of the worst in MLS history, but they look to have enough about them to prove those critics wrong.

Standout Signings

As always, there have been a host of changes to squads over the course of preseason. But unlike any other year, MLS clubs have started to look for younger talent as it has become clear all 22 sides are starting to prioritise longer-term goals. Atlanta’s trio of young DPs have already been mentioned, but they weren’t the only side to splash the cash on younger Designated Players this winter. FC Dallas have added striker Cristian Colman, Real Salt Lake have landed Albert Rusnak, Vancouver have brought in Yordy Reyna and Sporting Kansas City have moved to sign Gerso Fernandes. All of those names are sure to make an impression in 2017, along with a host of more ‘traditional’ DPs that have joined the league, although the following five are all still under the age of 30.

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LA Galaxy have added some raw pace by bringing in Roman Alessandrini from Marseille, NYCFC have added creativity by signing Maxi Moralez to replace Frank Lampard and Chicago have added firepower by bringing in Nemanja Nikolic. On top of that Portland have signed Sebastian Blanco, while Fredy Montero is back in MLS after four seasons abroad. He has joined the Vancouver Whitecaps and will be hoping to pick up where he left off with Seattle, where he scored 47 goals in 119 regular season games.

What’s for certain is that the new DP signings will give MLS a fresh feel in 2017. More quality should mean more entertainment and more goals. Oh, and more selection dilemmas for MLS Fantasy managers…

Emerging Stars

With MLS getting younger this year, there will be plenty of focus on some of the league’s emerging talents. Some were here last season and left an impression, while others are looking to prove their worth as early as possible. The average age of squads in MLS this season is now 26.3, with FC Dallas boasting the youngest squad with an average age of 24.31. Walker Zimmerman will look to continue his improvement as an MLS defender, but will also be hoping to make an impression on the international stage if he can keep getting better. Elsewhere, the likes of LA Galaxy’s Sebastian Lletget and NYCFC’s Jack Harrison will be looking to have breakout seasons so long as they can nail down regular starting roles.

Jack Harrison, MLS: NYCFC vs. LA Galaxy

Cody Cropper will be hoping this is the year he can become a standout goalkeeper. He had struggled for game time in England in the past but is now in New England, where he’ll expect to impress. While in New York, Sean Davis has the seemingly impossible task of trying to fill the void left by Dax McCarty’s departure to Chicago. But he should be giving the time on the field to prove his worth and will be looking to help lead the Red Bulls to the top of the East once more.

Who Will Be MVP?

As with any season, making a prediction like this before the first ball has even been kicked is brave stupid, but why not do it again? There are a host of new unpredictabilities all over the league this year but the same star names will expect to be challenging at the top end of the scoring charts, and for the MVP award too as a result. Sebastian Giovinco was probably shocked not to pick up the 2016 MLS MVP award, with David Villa instead scooping that award, and both attackers will once again be tipped to dominate defences from day one.

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Strikers have dominated the MVP award over the past five seasons, but playmakers such as Diego Valeri, Ignacio Piatti and Sacha Kljestan will fancy their chances of making a case for the honour if they can have standout campaigns.

But it’s impossible to overlook Giovinco. The Atomic Ant has scored 39 goals and picked up 31 assists in 61 regular season games and is arguably the greatest player to ever play in Major League Soccer. If he stays healthy, he’s surely going to be MVP.

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Who Will Win MLS Cup?

The only thing that’s even more brave stupid to predict than the MVP is picking the team that will lift MLS Cup nine months on from now. But hey, why not give that a go too? The way the Sounders marched to MLS Cup glory last season from a seemingly lost position in the summer was incredible, but is unlikely to be repeated this term given the increased competition and quality in the league. No side has retained the trophy for four seasons but the Sounders still have the tools at their disposal to put up a strong defence. LA Galaxy are usually in the mix but they are set for a transitional year and don’t look to be in a position to go and get their hands on a sixth title this year.

MLS Cup Final 2016 - Toronto vs Seattle Sounders

What does look likely is that the winner will come from the Western Conference for the eighth time in nine seasons. FC Dallas have still never lifted MLS Cup, which seems insane considering they’ve finished top of the West for two-straight seasons. They have all the tools to go all the way this year. Mauro Diaz is out for the first four months of the new season, which is a huge blow, but he’ll be back at a key time of the season and will be able to help Oscar Pareja’s men go all the way in 2017.

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Vancouver Whitecaps also look like contenders this year, as the addition of Montero should make them much more of a force this term. Toronto FC were one shootout away from winning the title last term, and if Giovinco and Jozy Altidore can remain healthy for the majority of the campaign, they will likely be there or thereabouts again.

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The Dugout: Pep Guardiola’s new era at Manchester City

The 2016/17 Premier League season is fast approaching and a number of clubs will start the campaign with new managers. Fans will be expecting more from their team and here, ‘The Dugout‘ will assess whether Pep Guardiola can quickly adapt to life in the Premier League with Manchester City…

Manchester City fans have had a lot to cheer about over the past five or six years but the arrival of Pep Guardiola to The Etihad will have left supporters grinning from ear to ear since his appointment was announced on February 1. Guardiola is not just ‘the next manager’ to be tasked with getting City’s star-studded squad to achieve greatness, he is the man expected to deliver a lasting legacy along with consistent title wins – something the club have so far failed to do.

It is a new era for the club. A new badge has been unveiled and under Guardiola’s guidance, fans will be hoping to experience the most successful spell in the club’s history.

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City may have won the Premier League in two of the past five seasons but they haven’t been able to really dominate English football as they will feel they should. Guardiola will be expected to bring a first title in three seasons to the club in his maiden campaign in England. But he is coming into a new league in what is poised to be the most competitive season in Premier League history. The Spaniard admits he has taken the most challenging job of his coaching career by moving to Manchester but he is focused on the task at hand and City fans are right to be excited for the upcoming season.

So what can City fans expect from Guardiola’s reign at The Etihad?

Trophies… And lots of them…

Guardiola’s reign at Manchester City will be deemed a success or failure based on the number of trophies he is able to win. He arrives in Manchester after winning 22 trophies over nine seasons with European giants FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich – an average of 2.4 per year.

FC Barcelona 2008-2012: La Liga x3, Champions League x2, Copa Del Rey x2, Supercopa de España x3, UEFA Super Cup x2 & FIFA Club World Cup x2.

Bayern Munich 2013-2016: Bundesliga x3, DFB-Pokal x2, UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup

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Critics will point to the fact that he has coached extremely talented teams in leagues where competition is limited to two or three teams competing for the title. The same critics will be suggesting the 45-year-old is not cut out for life in the Premier League but he has responded to that theory by saying: “That’s why I’m here. To prove myself.”

Only time will tell if Guardiola is able to achieve success using his possession-based tactics with this Manchester City side, but he has proven to be a natural winner as a manager and supporters will be expecting silverware. The Citizens have only failed to win a trophy in one of their last six seasons, winning two Premier League titles, two League Cups, one FA Cup and a Community Shield over that time. It has been a great few years but the new manager is expected to do build further on those achievements.

Attractive football… 

Guardiola will bring a new style of football to Manchester City. His style. After achieving great success with Barcelona and Bayern using his philosophy of possession-based, high pressing football, City can expect to see a new-look approach over the course of the 2016-17 campaign. Mauricio Pochettino has turned his Tottenham team into a real force in England by playing a similar style, so there is no doubt it can work in the Premier League. Guardiola just needs to find the right balance between beautiful football and physicality.

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Speaking in his first press conference as City boss, Guardiola made it clear what he expects of his teams: “At the end what we want is so simple; when the opponent as the ball, take it back as quick as possible. When we have the ball try to move as quick possible, to create as much chances as possible. That’s all. And good team spirit. That is my target in my next life here in Manchester.”

Manuel Pellegrini was criticised for his tactical setup on several occasions during his tenure but City fans can expect the football to be a lot more attractive under Guardiola, whether they are successful or not.

Emphasis on youth…

Jose Mourinho sparked national debate in relation to his youth policy during his first Manchester United press conference. Whatever your thoughts on the new United boss, Guardiola’s success working with youngsters has been a lot more evident over his managerial career.

Having worked with Barcelona’s B team before stepping up to the senior squad, he knew all about the club’s young stars. At Bayern, he installed a new ‘tactical culture’ to the club, from the first team all the way through to the academy and the same will now be expected at The Etihad.

Guardiola moulded the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, Pedro and Thiago Alcantara into world-class players during his time in Barcelona. He will give players opportunities and more importantly, will be patient with them as they develop.

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He has already mentioned how impressed he has been by some of the current City youngsters and they will be looking to impress when giving opportunities by the new coach: “Now I realise in a short time we are working with 9-10 players in the second team and most of them I’m really impressed with their quality.”

Composure…

Pep Guardiola is a composed man. He is not going to be able to match the likes of Antonio Conte, Slaven Bilic and Jurgen Klopp when it comes to animated touchline drama. But that doesn’t mean he is any less passionate about his job or his players.

“I need time but as soon as possible we are going to try to create team spirit,” he has said. “That is the most important thing. After you can create tactics but we have to create something special with ourselves.”

The Spanish manager will be seen issuing tactical instructions on the touchline but he will go about his job calmly and with a measured approach. He knows what he wants from his players. That will be made clear from the word ‘go’. So long as his players respond positively, Guardiola and Manchester City should be able to enjoy huge amounts of success over the next few years.

Will Pep Guardiola be an instant success at Manchester City? Can he win the Premier League at the first attempt?

2016 MLS Season Preview: Vancouver Whitecaps

As the 2016 MLS season edges closer, we’ll be publishing each team’s MLS 2016 Season Preview. Today we take a look at what Vancouver Whitecaps will be hoping to achieve this season.

The 2015 season was the Vancouver Whitecaps’ best to date. Supporters will be thrilled with their team’s performance as they finished second in the Western Conference after racking up their highest points total in what was their fifth season in MLS. The playoff exit to eventual winners, and Cascadia rivals, Portland Timbers will have hurt but they will be pleased with how last year went and now face the tough task in trying to repeat their achievements over the course of 2016. That will be difficult in an ever-competitive Western Conference, and with teams around them strengthening, Vancouver need to improve again if they are to challenge as high up as they did last term. Carl Robinson is a great coach and has built a young, hungry squad in Vancouver. There have been some key changes to the squad this offseason and so trying to hit the ground running will be vital.

Last season’s finish:

Western Conference – Position: 2nd – P34 – W16 – D5 – L13

Seattle Sounders vs Vancouver Whitecaps Pa-Modou Kah

What needs to change this year?

The Whitecaps don’t need to change much to be successful in 2016. But the biggest challenge will be replicating their performances from last season. The Whitecaps conceded the fewest goals in MLS (36) in 2015 and will need to try and remain tight at the back once again. They also picked up the most points away from home (24), although their form at BC Place could have been better. They will hope to take more from home games this year, while starting well will be important. Vancouver ended the 2015 regular season with just one win from their last six and so they will hope that was just a temporary dip in form, rather than anything more long-term.

Key changes to squad:

Ins: Masato Kudo – Forward, Christian Bolanos – Midfielder, Fraser Aird – Defender, Cole Seiler – Defender & Blas Perez – Forward

Outs: Steven Beitashour – Defender, Robert Earnshaw – Forward, Gershon Koffie – Midfielder & Mauro Rosales – Midfielder

Key Player:

Photo: MLSSoccer.com

Photo: MLSSoccer.com

Kendall Waston – Defender – Perhaps a surprise choice as the Whitecaps’ key player, but Kendall Waston was consistently good in 2015 and was one of the key reasons they had the best defensive record in Major League Soccer. The Costa Rican defender scored two goals, proving his effectiveness at either end, and led the team in interceptions with an average of 4.2 per game. He is a great reader of the game and is vitally important to Vancouver. 

One to Watch:

Christian Bolaños – Midfielder – Vancouver’s biggest offseason acquisition was that of Costa Rican playmaker Christian Bolaños. The 31-year-old joins the Canadian club in a transfer from Saprissa and will hope to make an immediate impact in MLS. He will bring experience to a young squad and is capable of scoring goals from almost anywhere. He will be an exciting player to watch, so long as he can find his feet quickly.

Predicted Finish:

Western Conference – 5th – The 2016 season should be another promising one for the Vancouver Whitecaps, but finishing as high as second seems tough to envisage heading into the new season. The squad has changed over the offseason, with the losses of Steven Beitashour and Gershon Koffie likely to have an effect. They ended 2015 in poor form and will need to try and start quickly. They can be expected to make the playoffs again, but might have to settle for a lower finish than second.

What are you expecting from Vancouver Whitecaps in 2016?

2016 MLS Season Preview: Toronto

As the 2016 MLS season edges closer, we’ll be publishing each team’s MLS 2016 Season Preview. Today we take a look at what Toronto will be looking to achieve this year…

A sixth placed finish in 2015 would’ve been a slight disappointment for Toronto, given how good they were at times. But there were mitigating circumstances, as eight of their first nine games were away from home due to expansions and upgrades to their BMO Field stadium. Five defeats, a draw and just three wins from those nine fixtures immediately put them behind schedule, so they did well to recover. Had they not lost their final two games of the regular season though, they could’ve finished second and avoided the conference knockout round, showing how little there was between the Eastern Conference sides. It meant they faced Canadian rivals Montreal Impact in the MLS Cup knockout round and suffered a disappointing 3-0 defeat. The margins between success and failure were paper thin in 2015, and the 2016 campaign is likely to be a similar story – fine tuning the minor details will be key.

Last season’s finish:

Eastern Conference – Position: 6th – P34 – W15 – D4 – L15

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What needs to change this year?

The Reds were exhilarating going forward in 2015, thanks in most part to Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore who bagged 35 of Toronto’s 58 goals between them. As a result, Greg Vanney’s side had the second most lethal attack in MLS – only New York Red Bulls managed to score more (62). As good as they were offensively, they were equally as bad at the other end of the pitch. They leaked far too many goals (58) meaning they had the worst defensive record in the league alongside Chicago Fire and New York City. If they have aspirations of finishing higher up the conference and thus having a better seeding come the postseason, they must tighten things up.

Key changes to squad:

Ins: Clint Irwin – Goalkeeper, Drew Moor – Defender, Steven Beitashour – Defender, Will Johnson – Midfielder

Outs: Joe Bendik – Goalkeeper, Chris Konopka – Goalkeeper, Ahmed Kantari – Defender, Jackson – Midfielder, Robbie Findley – Forward, Luke Moore – Forward

Key Player:

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Sebastian Giovinco – Forward – The Italian was quite simply sublime in 2015. He became the first player in MLS history to top both the goalscoring and assists charts. He scored 22 and set-up 16 goals in 33 appearances and quite rightly scooped the 2015 MLS Landon Donovan MVP Award. Everyone will be eagerly anticipating the start of the 2016 season and hoping that Giovinco can replicate last year’s performances.

One to Watch:

Marco “Marky” Delgado – Midfielder – The youngster was a regular feature in the Toronto side last season, making 20 appearances and contributing three goals and three assists. At just 20 years of age, he’s an extremely exciting prospect and playing in a team with the likes of Giovinco, Altidore, Michael Bradley and Benoit Cheyrou will only help both his experience and quality grow. 2016 will be another big year in his development.

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Predicted Finish:

Eastern Conference – 3rd – Unlike many of the teams in MLS, Toronto have done well to limit the amount of offseason activity in terms of players coming in and out of the squad – the main acquisition being Will Johnson from the Portland Timbers. It means they’ve kept things fairly stable and for that reason, they should be raring to go in 2016. These players have spent a significant amount of time together now and should have really developed a strong understanding between one another. It leaves them in a great position to push on to bigger and better things this season, so don’t be surprised to see them climbing the Eastern Conference. There’s no reason that Toronto shouldn’t be aiming for an MLS Cup win this year.

What are you expecting from Toronto in 2016?

2016 MLS Season Preview: Orlando City

As the 2016 MLS season edges closer, we’ll be publishing each team’s MLS 2016 Season Preview. Today we take a look at what Orlando City will be hoping to achieve in their second season.

Orlando City will have undoubtedly enjoyed their first season in MLS last year, as they provided entertainment and drama throughout. They will obviously be disappointed not to have made the playoffs, but that should spur them on to go one better than their seventh place finish last season. Adrian Heath has made more changes to the squad this offseason and will hope that the whole club will improve following the experiences of their inaugural campaign in Major League Soccer. The challenge this time around will be to start much better, as the Lions only won one of their first five games in MLS a year ago. But having ended 2015 with five wins from six, there is reason for optimism in Florida. Huge wins over LA Galaxy (4-0), Columbus Crew (5-2) and the Red Bulls (5-2) proved they can cope with the biggest clubs in MLS and so they could be dark horses for success in 2016.

Last season’s finish:

Eastern Conference – Position: 7th – P34 – W12 – D8 – L14

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What needs to change this year?

The Lions must try and shore up defensively. They conceded 56 goals – the second highest amount of in MLS – last term and need to work on shutting teams out more regularly, having kept just seven clean sheets in 34 games. They could also benefit massively from improving their home form. The Citrus Bowl became one of the loudest stadiums in MLS last year but the players let their fans down too many times on home soil. Orlando had the fifth-worst home record in MLS in 2015 and need to try and make the Citrus Bowl more of a fortress this season.

Key changes to squad:

Ins: Joe Bendik – Goalkeeper, Richmond Laryea – Midfielder, Hadji Barry – Forward, Devron Garcia – Midfielder & Antonio Nocerino – Midfielder

Outs: Tally Hall – Goalkeeper, Corey Ashe – Defender, Eric Avila – Midfielder, Lewis Neal – Midfielder, Estrella – Midfielder & Danny Mwanga – Forward

Key Player:

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Kaka – Midfielder – It’s impossible to look at anyone else as the key player for Orlando. Kaka is the captain and the most influential man in the team. He ended 2015 with nine goals and seven assists in 28 games and will expect to build on those numbers this time around. He is 33 years old now but still has the quality to create a chance from anywhere on the field. Orlando need Kaka to be at his best if they are to challenge high up the Eastern Conference this year.

One to Watch:

Devron Garcia – Midfielder – The 20-year-old Honduran international is one of six players to have been signed this offseason but is certainly one with plenty of scope for success. Garcia joins Orlando from Honduran side CD Vitoria, where he scored three goals in 39 matches, but it’s his contributions on the defensive side of the ball that really count. He thrives in the defensive midfield role and will hope to force his way into the first-team lineup quickly, despite competition for places in that area of the Lions squad. He has already represented Honduras at U17 and U20 levels and will be hoping to make an impression in 2016.

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Predicted Finish:

Eastern Conference – 7th – The 2016 season should be another exciting one for Orlando City and it would be a shock if they were to go backwards in their second campaign. We’ve predicted they will end the season in seventh place once again, but they have the potential to finish higher and will be expecting to make the playoffs. The Eastern Conference is set to be even more competitive this year and it will be fascinating to see how Orlando City perform in their second campaign. If Cyle Larin can repeat his fine season, and that’s a big ‘if’, they should do very well, while the addition of Antonio Nocerino is one that could prove to be an extremely good piece of business.

What are you expecting from Orlando City in 2016?

2016 MLS Season Preview: Philadelphia Union

As the 2016 MLS season edges closer, we’ll be publishing each team’s MLS 2016 Season Preview. Today we take a look at what Philadelphia Union will be looking to achieve this year…

Philadelphia Union endured one of their most disappointing year’s in MLS in 2015. A ninth placed Eastern Conference finish and 18th place finish overall is the lowest in their short history so far. The season started slowly with just one win from their opening 11 games and they never strung a run of games together in an inconsistent campaign. The Union did manage to reach the final of the US Open Cup, where they agonisingly lost on penalties to Sporting Kansas City. But in MLS, it was a year with few highlights to reflect on and it’s certainly a case of onwards and upwards from now on. All that has gone before needs to be brushed under the carpet so that head coach Jim Curtin can rebuild and focus on achieving better results in the future.

Last season’s finish:

Eastern Conference – Position: 9th – P34 – W10 – D7 – L17

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What needs to change this year?

Philadelphia Union have never been as defensively poor as they were in 2015. They leaked 55 goals, which is more than they have conceded in any other season previously. The offseason has seen the Union revamp their squad, giving it a very different look, with 15 players departing and 12 new faces coming in. They’ve signed six new defenders in an attempt to steady the ship and give themselves strength in depth at the back. But it isn’t just defensive issues that need addressing. They had the least potent attack in the Eastern Conference last year, scoring 42 goals – only four teams scored less across the whole of MLS. Jim Curtin must find a way for his side to be more competitive offensively as well.

Key changes to squad:

Ins: Matt Jones – Goalkeeper,  Anderson Conceicao – Defender, Joshua Yaro – Defender, Keegan Rosenberry – Defender, Taylor Washington – Defender, Cole Missimo – Defender, Ken Tribbett – Defender, Chris Pontius – Midfielder, Walter Restrepo – Midfielder, Roland Alberg – Midfielder, Ilsinho – Midfielder, Fabian Herbers – Forward

Outs: Zac MacMath – Goalkeeper, Ethan White Defender, Steven Vitoria – Defender, Cristian Maidana – Midfielder, Andrew Wenger – Midfielder, Fred – Midfielder, Michael Lahoud – Midfielder, Zach Pfeffer – Midfielder, Fernando Aristeguieta – Forward, Conor Casey – Forward

Key Player:

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Chris Pontius – Midfielder – The experienced 28 year old arrives at Philadelphia Union after six successful years with DC United. He’s just the type of player the Union need in the centre of the park and he will bring with him the kind of winning mentality that’s been missing. The likes of CJ Sapong and Sebastien Le Toux up front should benefit from having Pontius in the side.

One to Watch:

Roland Alberg – Midfielder – The Dutchman has signed from Eredivisie side ADO Den Haag where he made 105 league appearances, scoring 22 goals and making 16 assists. He’s likely to slot straight into the Union side and could bring valuable experience having played for a number of years in Europe. At the age of 25, he’s approaching the peak of his career, so the Union will be hoping they’ll see the best of him.

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Predicted Finish:

Eastern Conference – 9th – Philadelphia Union are certainly doing everything they can to make things work in 2016 with so much offseason activity. With so many changes, it’s going to take time for this team to gel. That’s not to say that things won’t fall into place eventually, but there are numerous other teams in MLS that appear to be in better shape than Philadelphia right now. It’s easy enough to point out the areas that need improving – they’re clear for all to see – but it’s a whole different task putting it into action and getting results on the pitch. The Union would be proving a lot of people wrong if they were to break into the top six this year, so it would certainly be a pleasant surprise if they could take the league by storm.

What are you expecting from Philadelphia Union in 2016?

2016 MLS Season Preview: Seattle Sounders

As the 2016 MLS season edges ever closer, we’ll be publishing each team’s MLS 2016 Season Preview. Today we take a look at what the Seattle Sounders could achieve this season.

Seattle Sounders had a solid 2015 campaign, finishing 4th – nine points off top spot – but they will still be disappointed they fell short in the playoffs once again. They reached the Conference Semifinals, before being knocked out on penalties to eventual winners and fierce rivals Portland Timbers. The Sounders will expect nothing less than reaching the playoffs once again in 2016 as head coach Sigi Schmid has made some key additions to his squad. He has lost a talisman in Obafemi Martins but there is plenty to be positive about heading into the new campaign. Seattle ended the 2015 regular season unbeaten in eight games and will now hope to start 2016 in the same rich vein of form.

Last Season’s Finish:

Western Conference – Position: 4th – P34 – W15 – D6 – L13

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What Needs To Change This Year?

Seattle need to lose less games – it’s as simple as that. They only won two more games than they lost, which ultimately cost them from potentially winning the Western Conference in 2015. The Sounders are a side quite capable of beating any opponent but they mustn’t rely too heavily on their key players. Clint Dempsey is obviously a massive influence on the side, so if in the unfortunate occurrence of him picking up knocks, they have to find a way of still picking up points. Schmid’s side have three of their first five fixtures at CenturyLink Field so they need to make that a fortress once again and get off to a flyer.

Key Changes:

InsTyler Miller – Goalkeeper, Joevin Jones – Defender, Jordan Schweitzer – Midfielder, Michael Farfan – Midfielder, Nathan Sturgis – Midfielder & Jordan Morris – Forward

Outs: Troy Perkins – Goalkeeper, Andres Correa – Defender, Leonardo Gonzalez – Defender, Michael Azira – Midfielder, Gonzalo Pineda – Midfielder, Thomas – Midfielder, Andy Rose – Midfielder, Lamar Neagle – Midfielder, Marco Pappa – Midfielder, Chad Barrett – Forward & Andy Craven – Forward

Key Player:

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Clint Dempsey – Forward – The obvious choice. Dempsey is a standout performer for Seattle and deals amazingly well with the pressure of providing not only for his side, but also for the fans. His 2015 campaign was riddled with injury but the USMNT star was highly influential in the games he featured in – contributing to an average of a goal or assist per game (ten goals and ten assists in his 20 appearances). Seattle only lost three of the 20 games in which Dempsey played in so we can see how much he means to his side.

One to Watch:

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Jordan Morris – Forward – There is a lot of expectation on the new signing. He has penned the highest paid contact for a homegrown player in Major League Soccer history. With the departure of Obafemi Martins, Morris has some huge boots to fill, but that could play to his advantage and the youngster could quite quickly become a fan favourite for Sounders. Morris is expected to come in and play on the right side of the attack and get at opposition defenders with his pace from day one.

Predicted Finish:

Western Conference – 4th – We expect another solid season from Seattle and they should make a playoff spot quite comfortably. Sounders fans may well be expecting more than 4th from their side but as we keep mentioning the Western Conference is extremely competitive. The loss of Martins may have some impact on Sounders but we don’t consider it to be crippling to them and expect a repeat of last season’s finish in the regular season.

What are you expecting from Seattle Sounders in 2016?

2016 MLS Season Preview: Real Salt Lake

As the 2016 MLS season edges ever closer, we’ll be publishing each team’s MLS 2016 Season Preview. Today we take a look at what the Real Salt Lake could achieve this season.

Real Salt Lake head into the new season with plenty of room for improvement after a disappointing ninth-place finish in the Western Conference last campaign. Head coach Jeff Cassar has added some new faces to his side in an attempt to freshen things up but this is going to be a tough season ahead and they are going to have to work extremely hard to improve. The fans will not want another season of struggles, so with sides around them becoming stronger, they must remain competitive in what is a fiercely competitive conference. The aim will be to make the playoffs, after missing out for the first time in eight years in 2015.

Last Season’s Finish:

Western Conference – Position: 9th – P34 – W11 – D8 – L15

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What Needs To Change This Year?

Real Salt Lake must tighten up at the back. They conceded 48 goals last season, while netting just 38. They need to ensure they pick up points from sides around them in the Western Conference as clashes with fellow promotion chasers are fiercely competitive. Cassar’s side need to score more goals as their tally of 38 was the second-lowest across both conferences. Signings have been brought in to try and add to the goal tally, while the return of Joao Plata will hep. They lost 15 games last term – the most in one campaign since 2007 – and ensuring they don’t repeat that mistake will put them in a better position.

Key Changes:

InsChris Wingert – Defender, Danilo Acosta – Midfielder, Omar Holness – Midfielder, Sunny Obayen – Midfielder, Emery Welshman – Forward & Yura Movsisyan – Forward

Outs: Elias Vasquez – Defender, Chris Schular – Defender, Abdoulie Mansally – Defender, Pecka – Midfielder, Luis Silva – Midfielder, Sebastian Saucedo – Midfielder & Sebastian Jaime – Forward

Key Player: 

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Nick Rimando – Goalkeeper – As mentioned, the Real Salt Lake goalkeeper saw his side’s goal breached 48 times last season, so he can expect yet another busy campaign between the sticks. He is a top performer for his side, despite the fact that RSL struggled in the 2015 season. The veteran will turn 37 in the 2016 campaign but as we know, age is less relevant with goalkeepers and his experience could be key as RSL look to pick up more points and cause a few upsets.

One to Watch:

Yura Movsisyan – Forward – The Armenian forward returns to Real Salt Lake for a second spell – his previous stint coming between 2007-2009 where he helped RSL to lift the 2009 MLS Cup, scoring once in the playoffs. The 28-year-old striker joins RSL on loan from Russian side Spartak Moscow and is a player that the Claret and Cobalt fans will be looking forward to watching again. His MLS record stands at 20 goals in 81 outings for Real Salt Lake and Kansas City, so he has already shown he is capable in front of goal. The league has changed since he was last involved and he will need to adapt quickly. There is pressure on him to help RSL improve on last season and if he gets off to a good start he could have quite an impact.

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Predicted Finish:

Western Conference – 9th – It may be a downer for Real Salt Lake fans but their current squad doesn’t seem to be one which can improve on last season. They have lost more players than they have signed and squad depth is important – so they could struggle from the off. RSL lost four of their last five of the 2015 campaign and face a tough start to 2016, with three of their first five games away from home. They must ensure they pick up points wherever possible early on to avoid confidence being shattered. There are reasons for optimism, with Joao Plata’s return from injury and the signing of Movsisyan likely to help the team improve but it is difficult at this point to see them climbing the conference.

What are you expecting from Real Salt Lake in 2016?

2016 MLS Season Preview: San Jose Earthquakes

As the 2016 MLS season edges ever closer, we’ll be publishing each team’s MLS 2016 Season Preview. Today we take a look at what the San Jose Earthquakes could achieve this season.

The 2015 season saw San Jose Earthquakes move into their new Avaya Stadium but unfortunately, they were unable to make the postseason once again. It was a season of some fantastic highs but the ultimate low was missing out on the playoffs for a second-straight season – something head coach Dominic Kinnear will be desperate to fix. The Quakes finished four points behind sixth-placed Sporting Kansas City in the end, but ended relatively well and should push on this term. The loss of DP forward Innocent Emeghara was a bitter pill to swallow early in the season, but he should be back and will look to score the goals to fire San Jose into a playoff berth. Victories away at the likes of Seattle, SKC and DC United showed they could cope with the league’s best but they need to make that form last longer. Dominic Kinnear knows the formula to win MLS Cup, having won it twice with Houston Dynamo in 2006 and 2007 and he would love to lift the title with San Jose come the end of the 2016 season.

Last Season’s Finish:

Western Conference – Position: 7th – P34 – W13 – D8 – L13

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What Needs To Change This Year?

San Jose must improve their away form, following ten defeats on the road in 2015. That’s just not good enough if you are looking to make the top six. Despite boasting the third-best defensive record in MLS last term, their offensive play let them down. They ranked third from bottom in terms of goal output, having netted just 41 times. More goals will lead to more success. Chris Wondolowski knows how to score goals and he keeps on getting them, having now reached over 100 in MLS – being the fastest to achieve this feat. But the rest of the squad need to chip in with their fair share to ease the burden on the American. Chad Barrett has come in from Seattle Sounders and will look to help, while Simon Dawkins will be tasked with getting assists. It has potential to be an enormous season for the Quakes if they can learn from last year’s deficiencies.

Key Changes:

Ins: Chad Barrett – Forward, Simon Dawkins – Midfielder, Andres Imperiale – Defender, Andrew Tarbell – Goalkeeper & Alberto Quintero – Midfielder

Outs: Mike Fucito  Forward, Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi  Midfielder, Khari Stephenson – Midfielder, Paulo Renato – Defender, Tomas Gomez – Goalkeeper, Leandro Barrera – Midfielder

Key Player:

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Innocent Emeghara – Forward – The Swiss striker will feel like a new signing for San Jose, having only made seven appearances last season before his season-ending knee injury. With 76 goals scored in his professional career, he will look to put the Earthquakes back on the map and into the playoff picture as he looks to win his first major honour. If he can stay healthy, he could prove to be one of the league’s deadliest strikers in 2016.

One to Watch:

Simon Dawkins – Midfielder – The ex-Tottenham Hotspur midfielder has returned back to San Jose, having won the Supporters’ Shield with the club back in 2012. He could be the lucky omen that gets the Quakes into the playoffs once again and will hope to shine on his return to MLS. He has more than 50 MLS games under his belt and that experience should help Dawkins to settle straight back into the league. It’s now time for the 28-year-old to flourish again.

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Predicted Finish:

Western Conference – 6th  This time round we expect the Quakes to make the playoffs. They are a team that is battling in a very tight and competitive Western Conference but they had the third-best defence in MLS last term and have strengthened this offseason. Chris Wondolowski will get goals, as will the likes of Quincy Amarikwa and Innocent. They have a fine manager in Dominic Kinnear, who knows the league inside out and things look good for the Quakes. The teams around them have done some very good business and San Jose will struggle to challenge high up the standings, but they should be able to secure a top six finish. Here’s to what could be a great season in San Jose, California.

What are you expecting from San Jose Earthquakes in 2016?

2016 MLS Season Preview: New England Revolution

As the 2016 MLS season edges closer, we’ll be publishing each team’s MLS 2016 Season Preview. Today we take a look at what New England Revolution will be striving for this season.

New England Revolution will be disappointed with the way the 2015 season went, considering they were runners-up in the 2014 MLS Cup Final. 2015 marked a drastic drop in performance despite strengthening their squad with the addition of Juan Agudelo. The highlight of last term was the six-game win streak from the beginning of August through to the middle of September. However, the five-game losing streak in June through to July balanced that out to make it a rather average season. With only one win in their final five matches they also failed to finish strongly and they will need to turn things around quickly in 2016 to ensure they remain competitive at the very top of the Eastern Conference.

Last season’s finish:

Eastern Conference – Position: 5th – P34 – W14 – D8 – L12

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What needs to change this year?

It sounds so simple, but they will need to score more goals and stop conceding so many if they are to improve this year. On various occasions last term they failed to have the clinicism needed to see out games and that is something that needs addressing this year. On the defensive side of the ball, they shipped a total of 35 goals away from home compared to just 12 at Gillette Stadium, which speaks volumes for their defensive performances in front of their own fans. But their poor away form negates the good work of that home form. Consistency is key in every aspect of football and a more consistent Revs team may surpass expectations this term. They will need to adapt to the loss of Jermaine Jones and doing so quickly will dictate how they perform in 2016.

Key changes to squad:

Ins: Sambinha – Defender, Jordan McCrary – Defender, Xavier Kouassi  Midfielder & Gershon Koffie  Midfielder

Outs: Trevor Spangenberg – Goalkeeper, Kevin Alston – Defender, Jeremy Hall – Defender, Timi Mulgrew – Midfielder, Tyler Rudy – Midfielder, Jermaine Jones – Midfielder, Andy Dorman –Midfielder & Sean Okoli  Forward

Key Player:

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Lee Nguyen – Midfielder – USMNT international Nguyen was the most creative player for the Revs once again last season, despite failing to match his fine numbers from the 2014 campaign, and we’re expecting another influential season this year. The loss of Jermaine Jones will affect him the most as it means he may have to drop deeper to receive the ball but his effortless poise on the ball should see New England remain dangerous in the final third regardless. He is one of league’s most creative playmakers and needs to continue to be a catalyst for the Revolution.

One to Watch:

Diego Fagundez – Midfielder – Young midfielder Fagundez is yet to make a major impact on MLS, despite impressing over the past few seasons. He has a lot of potential going forward and will hope to feature more as a starter this year as opposed to having to settle for substitute appearances. He’s been with the Revs since 2011, after signing a professional contract from their academy, so it’s time he made his mark in the team. He’s entering his sixth MLS campaign but is remarkably still just 21 years of age.

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Predicted Finish

Eastern Conference – 8th – The Revs have lost one of their key men in Jermaine Jones and will find it hard to bounce back from such a loss this term. Their late season form last season might be a glimpse of what is to come with a tougher spell for the franchise possibly on the way. We expect them to endure a tough transitional year, with a playoff push perhaps out of reach. Jay Heaps is a great coach, however, and he will be doing all he can to ensure New England Revolution remain competitive in 2016.

What are you expecting from New England Revolution in 2016?