MLS News
Clint Dempsey Out for Remainder of 2016 MLS Season with Irregular Heartbeat
MLS News
Tuesday, 27 September 2016 15:05

Seattle Sounders general manager and president Garth Lagerwey announced Tuesday that star forward Clint Dempsey would miss the remainder of the season because of an irregular heartbeat, according to Ryan Krasnoo of SoundersFC.com.

"If we prioritize this now, hopefully we can get Dempsey back in 2017," Lagerwey said, per Sounders Beat, adding, "Clint has overcome a lot, and I believe he can overcome this as well."

Sounders interim head coach Brian Schmetzer also addressed the media.

"The messaging was not that big of a shock to anybody," he said, according to Sounders Beat. "It's a sad story because Clint is an integral part of the team."

Schmetzer isn't worried about whether his team will fold without Dempsey in the mix as the Sounders pursue a playoff spot:

Dempsey's irregular heartbeat was discovered in August, and he hasn't appeared in a game since Aug. 21. He returned to training Sept. 14 but ceased training with the Sounders last week, per Krasnoo.

In total this season, he's made 17 MLS appearances, scoring eight goals and adding two assists.

He remains one of the best players in MLS and one of the truly important contributors for the United States men's national team, and his availability for the country's two World Cup qualifiers in November now seems unlikely.

Former player and current pundit Stuart Holden believes that to be the case:

For Seattle, Jordan Morris and Nicolas Lodeiro will have to continue and perhaps even improve upon their strong play in Seattle's attack to make up for Dempsey's absence as the club tries to fight its way into the postseason.

   

You can follow Timothy Rapp on Twitter.

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MLS Player Rankings: Morris, Kamara, Villa Make Big Moves After Week 29
MLS News
Tuesday, 27 September 2016 09:11

The season may have flipped from summer to fall last week, but the heat is being felt all over Major League Soccer by teams jockeying for playoff positions. 

Plenty of on-fire forwards helped their respective sides earn three points in the two playoff races in Week 29. 

Jordan Morris, Ola Kamara, Dom Dwyer and David Villa were among a plethora of top scorers who struck the back of the net in the last week. All of those players are in the top 10 of our latest Bleacher Report MLS Player Rankings. 

Our rankings take into account the last four performances from an individual, with the most recent showing holding more importance. 

Continue reading to see who landed where in the Week 29 edition of the MLS Player Rankings. 

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MLS Team of the Week: Morris, Manotas, Shelton Stand out in Attack-Heavy Week 29
MLS News
Monday, 26 September 2016 08:53

Week 29 in Major League Soccer belonged to strikers and attack-minded midfielders beginning at Yankee Stadium on Friday night and ending in Columbus, Ohio, on Sunday. 

Seven different players found the back of the net more than once over the last three days, and a pair of players dished out three assists, one of which was a defender. 

Since we couldn't fit all of those massive individual performances into a single Team of the Week, we selected three forwards whose showings on the pitch meant the most to their respective sides. 

As tempting as it was to name only forwards to the Bleacher Report best XI from the weekend, we aligned our squad in a 4-3-3 since there were some strong defensive performances as well. 

Continue reading to see who was named to the Week 29 Bleacher Report MLS Team of the Week. 

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Making Sense of the Mangled MLS Eastern Conference Playoff Race
MLS News
Friday, 23 September 2016 08:20

If the last weekend of play in Major League Soccer taught us anything, it's that we don't know a thing when it comes to predicting the playoff races, especially in the Eastern Conference. 

Only two of the 10 teams in the East took three points out of Week 28, and both of those results were road wins by the New England Revolution and Columbus Crew. 

Philadelphia lost on the road, D.C. United needed a late equalizer to tie the Chicago Fire, New York City FC played to level terms with FC Dallas, and Toronto FC came from behind to draw the New York Red Bulls at home. 

With a month left in the regular season, basically anything can happen in the East. Toronto are still the clear favorites to capture the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the postseason, but one more slip-up by Greg Vanney's men could open the door for either of the New York sides to slide into the top position. 

Philadelphia and Montreal seemed to be locks to qualify for the postseason a few weeks ago, and in all honesty, they should still make it, but a late surge by New England has put the fourth- and fifth-place clubs under a bit of pressure entering Week 29. 

Starting with Friday's clash between NYCFC and Chicago at Yankee Stadium, Week 29 presents us with a quintet of juicy affairs that could alter the landscape of the East further. 

The same can be said about the rest of the matchweeks leading up to the final day of the season on October 23, as the teams still in contention fight for the best spots possible. 

As we mentioned above, Toronto are still in charge of their own destiny despite dropping two points to the Red Bulls at BMO Field on Sunday. The Reds play four of their final five matches at home, including three in the next week starting with Philadelphia on Saturday. 

The formula is as straightforward as it gets for Toronto. If the Reds win the remainder of their home contests, they will secure the top spot in the East and challenge the top sides in the Western Conference for the Supporters' Shield. 

Jozy Altidore is in the form of his life, with eight goals in his last nine games. As if the Toronto attack wasn't scary enough, Sebastian Giovinco is preparing to return from injury. If Altidore and Giovinco are both in form entering the postseason, it will be hard not to pick against the Reds. 

The picture is cloudier once you look below Toronto in the standings. The Red Bulls and NYCFC are both two points behind Toronto, with the Red Bulls holding the tiebreaker advantage at the moment. But that could all change if Jesse Marsch's men continue to give away leads. 

The Red Bulls have let in a pair of goals when leading in three of their last five matches. Had they won at least one of those matches, they would've been in decent shape to challenge Toronto. Despite the incredible form of Bradley Wright-Phillips in front of the net, the Red Bulls haven't been able to put everything together defensively. 

There is no doubt Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan can carry them in the final third, and it's almost guaranteed either player will be involved in every goal scored by the club at this point in the season. However, until the Red Bulls shore up their back line, they can't be considered a lock to earn the second first-round bye. 

The Red Bulls will try to benefit from a closing stretch at home as they play their next three at home against Montreal, Philadelphia and Columbus before visiting the Union on the final day of the season. Nine points at home should be enough to keep the Red Bulls in the top two. 

If more mistakes are made in New Jersey, NYCFC will be prepared to pounce. Losing Frank Lampard to injury will hurt Patrick Vieira's side, but the first-year boss has built up some nice depth and should be able to get more out of his young playmakers like Jack Harrison, Thomas McNamara and Khiry Shelton down the stretch. 

Three points against the Fire is mandatory for City on Friday as is at least a draw in Houston in a week's time. If NYCFC can pick up a win against either D.C. or Columbus to end the season, they'll be assured of a home playoff game in the opening round. A win in the first round could set up a New York derby series that everyone wants to see in the postseason. 

Philadelphia were the sexy bandwagon team at the start of the season due to their revamped squad under new sporting director Earnie Stewart. The Union have plenty of talent to remain in fourth, but they aren't exactly a lock given their road woes in 2016. 

The Union, who are 3-8-4 on their travels this season, must get at least a point out of either Toronto or the Red Bulls to set up their final two-game homestand. A victory over Orlando in the penultimate week of the season should keep the Union in the top four, but there are some questions lingering around the club at the moment since they have just three wins since July 17. 

After the Impact took a point at the death from the Union at Talen Energy Stadium in Week 27, it looked like Mauro Biello's side were trending upward. However, Montreal fell at home to New England in Week 28. Now the Impact are holding on to fifth place and are in danger of being dragged into the competition for sixth. 

Montreal have a game in hand on sixth-place New England, but they only have two games left at Stade Saputo. The Impact are going to have to grind out results on the road in order to stay above the red line in October. The matchup with the Revolution on the final day of the regular season could mean more than the Impact want it to. 

Then there's the heated race for sixth, which could take its latest turn on Sunday if the Crew take care of business at home against the Revolution. New England are the hottest team in MLS right now, as they've taken nine points from three matches in September. 

Jay Heaps has tinkered with his formation to get the best out of Kelyn Rowe, Juan Agudelo and others in attack. The Revs have the experience to come out on top in the battle for the final playoff spot, but nothing can be taken for granted, especially after last weekend. 

New England can eliminate the Crew's hopes of a late surge from ninth with a win on Sunday at Mapfre Stadium. The Revs have a favorable schedule after Sunday, as they host Sporting Kansas City and Montreal as well as visit Chicago.

Everything is set up for the Revs to clinch a playoff position, but where they will be seeded is hard to predict given the recent play of the two teams directly above them. 

D.C. United and Orlando City are both facing an uphill climb entering Week 29, and we may see just one of those sides push the Revs in some fashion since they face off at RFK Stadium on Saturday night. United also have a chance to knock Columbus out of the race for good on Wednesday at home during their game in hand. Six points at home will give the Black and Red a chance heading into October, but they will have to match New England's result every week. 

Orlando's 2-6-6 road record doesn't set them up for success, with a two-game road trip against D.C. and Toronto ahead. The Lions must steal a point from D.C. on Saturday to keep in contact with the teams above them. Nothing is out of the picture yet for Jason Kreis' side, but with three out of their next four on the road, they could be too far out heading into their clash with D.C. at home on October 23. 

As for Columbus, they are still technically alive, especially with two games in hand on the Revolution, but a loss to New England on Sunday would put them 10 points back with six matches to play. If the Crew somehow pull out six points against the Revs and D.C. in the next few days, they'll be in the mix, but a three-game road swing to end the season, with the final two in New York, may be too much for them to handle. 

The East is set up for a thrilling and unpredictable finish to the regular season, and the postseason should be as wild as the chase for the six playoff positions. Toronto, both New York teams and Philadelphia look like they will hold form and remain in the top four. Montreal and New England have to be seen as the favorites to earn the final two spots. 

But with the high number of head-to-head matchups in the next month, anything can happen, with the four teams separated by four points fighting for fifth and sixth. 

 

Joe Tansey covers MLS for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @JTansey90. 

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MLS Player Rankings: BWP Reclaims Top Spot, Altidore Moves Close to Top
MLS News
Tuesday, 20 September 2016 08:08

Given the plethora of impressive in-form attackers in Major League Soccer at the moment, it takes something special each week to remain atop the Bleacher Report MLS Player Rankings.

A week after losing out to Giovani dos Santos for the No. 1 position, Bradley Wright-Phillips is back on top thanks to another brace for the New York Red Bulls.

Although Wright-Phillips is the top-scoring forward at the moment, there are a number of players lining up behind him, including Jozy Altidore, ready to pounce if he slips up at any point during the closing stretch of the regular season.

Our player rankings take into account the last four performances from each player, with the most recent showing carrying more weight.

Continue reading to see who fell where behind Wright-Phillips in the Bleacher Report MLS Player Rankings after Week 28.

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MLS Team of the Week: Altidore, BWP, Rowe Stand Out with Week 28 Braces
MLS News
Monday, 19 September 2016 08:50

It's becoming a weekly routine at this point in the Major League Soccer regular season to put Jozy Altidore and Bradley Wright-Phillips in our Bleacher Report Team of the Week. 

The pair of scorching-hot forwards once again marveled in front of goal in Week 28 as their teams played to a 3-3 draw at BMO Field. 

The six-goal affair in Toronto capped off an unusual weekend in MLS that saw only two home teams capture three points. In a league where winning on the road is one of the most difficult tasks, three teams picked up victories on their travels. 

Altidore and Wright-Phillips weren't the only players to score twice in Week 28 as Kelyn Rowe and Ola Kamara did so for their respective sides as well. 

We aligned our latest MLS Team of the Week in a 3-4-3 due to the large amount of goals that flew into nets across North America over the last three days. 

Continue reading to see who else was named to our best XI from Week 28. 

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Steven Gerrard, Robbie Keane Face Team of 30 Kids in LA Galaxy Soccer Challenge
MLS News
Friday, 16 September 2016 07:05

Former Premier League stars Steven Gerrard and Robbie Keane needed a late winner to see off a team of 30 eight-year-old schoolchildren as part of LA Galaxy's "Ridiculous Soccer Challenge." 

Per Sky Sports, the younger team set up in an unorthodox 10-10-9 formation, packing the defence in an attempt to stifle the two 36-year-old Galaxy stars.

As can be seen below, Gerrard and Keane opted for a long-ball approach in the main—clearly hoping to make their height advantage count—with the former Liverpool midfielder opening the scoring before their opposition drew level:

Keane put his side ahead again at 2-1 after earlier spurning a chipped opportunity, but the team of 30 kids pegged them back and looked to have earned a hard-fought draw.

However, in a display of bravado, Keane launched a mazy run from just inside the opposition half late on in proceedings.

He skipped past numerous defenders before rounding the goalkeeper and all but walking the ball in for the winner to rob the 30 children of a famous draw.

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Chicago Fire Building Foundation for 2017 While Making Late Playoff Chase
MLS News
Friday, 16 September 2016 04:48

No team is ever officially out of the Major League Soccer playoff race. 

All you have to do is look at the Chicago Fire for the latest example of the parity that makes the league unique. 

The Fire were stranded in the basement of the Eastern Conference for the majority of the regular season until they struck for a nice run of form in August and the start of September. 

Veljko Paunovic's side took eight points from five matches, including a pair of 3-0 victories over Montreal Impact and Philadelphia Union, both of whom are expected to qualify for the postseason.

The lone loss during that span came at the hands of D.C. United on August 27 at RFK Stadium. The 6-2 defeat looks bad on paper, but if you dig deeper, Chicago put together a decent performance before Khaly Thiam was sent off. 

Instead of falling back to the bottom of the East after the blowout loss, the Fire responded with a home win over the Union. The ability to bounce back impressed Paunovic, especially with some winnable matches ahead on the schedule. 

"I think it was very important for us to come back, especially winning 3-0," Paunovic said. "It’s important after the loss. We also have to understand the game against D.C. was a completely different game from any game we played. We believe and we work hard so it doesn’t repeat. I think we just had a very bad day against D.C. and we move forward. I think we learned from that game. We all had the feeling that this can’t happen again, especially not until the end of the season."

The end of the regular season is rapidly approaching, and although they sit eight points out of the final playoff spot in the East after Saturday's 2-1 loss to Toronto, the Fire are hoping the belief instilled by Paunovic will help them challenge over the final seven matches. 

Hard work and perseverance have been preached by Paunovic and his staff since the new manager took over during the offseason. The results may not have shown up at the start of the season, but the team has made positive steps recently. 

Every player in the squad has followed that mentality whether it be in training or during matches. 

“We believe that everyone is important and we’ve had that approach since we started working together in preseason," Paunovic said. "And I think that proves what we are doing at this point."

"Having the opportunity in training and every session and fighting for your spot in every game gives us the competitiveness on the field, especially for the games where we have to make some adjustments and changes so we can have competitive guys ready to play," Paunovic continued. "That’s part of the plan we have and part of the demands and the approach we’ve had since we’ve started working together." 

The Fire enjoyed a boost in attack thanks to some midseason acquisitions. Dutch forward Michael de Leeuw, who last played with Groningen in the Eredivisie before joining Chicago, has three goals and two assists in his last three matches. 

In addition to his recent scoring form, the 29-year-old forward has opened up the Fire attack alongside Luis Solignac and David Accam. Solignac was picked up in a trade with the Colorado Rapids right before the end of the summer transfer window. Accam is the top playmaker in the squad, but he hasn't had enough support around him in the final third. 

“Everyone is important," Paunovic said. "But of course the guys who convert all these opportunities, in this case Michael, Luis, David and other guys, it’s important. For me, it’s a matter of being consistent in our work and approach, keeping our guys motivated and always pushing them forward to give their best performance." 

Midfielder Arturo Alvarez has also brought a dynamic presence to the Fire attack. The 31-year-old has produced five goals and five assists for the ninth-place side in the Eastern Conference. 

“I think Arturo is having one of the best seasons so far," Paunovic said. "We were able to manage together the load for the veteran players and the experience he brings to our team is very important. Everyone is very happy to see that he can even increase the number of goals he scores and assisting our players is something he always did very well.

"He has an abundance of talent.  I think that’s something that was very important for us so far, but we will continue doing the same thing and asking the best from Arturo because we believe there is still a lot to give from him and we expect he will do that." 

Chicago has the belief to win, and it's been evident over the last month that the plan set in place by Paunovic is finally working. Like all managers at a new club, the former Serbia U20 boss just needed to get the right players into the team to fit his system. 

In order to make a late run at the sixth playoff position in the Eastern Conference, the Fire must earn revenge against D.C. on Friday night at Toyota Park. A win over the Black and Red, who are one point out of the playoffs, would inch the Fire closer to the current pack of three fighting for sixth that also includes Orlando City and the New England Revolution. 

After Friday's match, the Fire head to the road for three consecutive matches against New York City FC, Seattle and Columbus. At least a point is mandatory from the first two games before they face the worst team in the Eastern Conference. 

"There’s still a long way to go and we still have to keep that approach and there is a lot of games to play," Paunovic said. "I think we have a great opportunity in front of us, starting with the next game, of course seven games that will be seven finals for us." 

Two games in a row, one on the road and one at home, against the Crew could spark a late run, or at least allow the Fire to play the role of spoiler against the Revolution on the penultimate day of the season. Chicago could be thrust into the same role a week later against a Toronto FC side searching for the top seed in the Eastern Conference and the Supporters' Shield. 

The Fire may be too much of a long shot to make up eight points on Orlando with seven games left, but nothing is to be counted out when it comes to the wild and unpredictable MLS playoff race.

Even if Chicago fail to hit their postseason goal in 2016, they have built a solid foundation with Paunovic at the helm to make a charge from the start in 2017. 

The combination of De Leeuw, Solignac and Accam should be able to create enough chances over 90 minutes for themselves or others to be able to finish, with players like Alvarez behind them in support if need be. 

The Fire are also building a solid young core led by midfielder Matt Polster and defenders Jonathan Campbell and Brandon Vincent. Goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who is 27, has been a part of the defensive spine for quite some time, and he is expected to help usher the young defenders into the squad as they adjust to the complexities of the league. 

Paunovic and general manager Nelson Rodriguez will also be able to add some new parts during the offseason to strengthen a roster that is just a few players away from contending. 

If their recent run has taught us anything, it's that the plan that Paunovic and Rodriguez instilled is already working, and it will reap more success in time. 

 

Joe Tansey covers MLS for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @JTansey90. 

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MLS Player Rankings: Dos Santos, BWP in Tight Showdown for Top Spot
MLS News
Tuesday, 13 September 2016 08:51

The competition for the No. 1 position in the MLS Player Rankings is the fiercest it's been all season. 

Bradley Wright-Phillips and Giovani dos Santos are both in stellar form for their respective sides as the postseason inches closer.

Wright-Phillips is on track to win his second Golden Boot award in three years, while Dos Santos is stealing the majority of the headlines for the LA Galaxy, even with Landon Donovan back in the squad. 

Our player rankings take into account the last four performances from each player selected, with the most recent showing counting more.

Continue reading to see which superstar snagged the top spot in the Bleacher Report MLS Player Rankings after Week 27. 

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MLS Team of the Week: Dos Santos, Dwyer, Howard Star in Week 27
MLS News
Monday, 12 September 2016 05:03

All the talk entering the weekend of action in Major League Soccer surrounded the return of Landon Donovan. 

Although the Los Angeles Galaxy man's entrance as a substitute on Sunday was a major headline, it was far from the most important thing to occur in Week 27. 

The Western Conference playoff race experienced quite the shakeup on Saturday as Colorado handed FC Dallas their first home loss of the season. The Galaxy took advantage of that result with a win over Orlando City on Sunday. 

Over in the Eastern Conference, Toronto FC continued to distance themselves from the pack as a few results didn't go the way of home teams in the division where no one wants to lock up a playoff position. 

Since there were a bevy of impressive performances at the forward position, we shaped our Bleacher Report MLS Team of the Week in a 4-3-3.

Continue reading to see who was named to the best XI from Week 27.

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