MLS News
Ultimate Guide to MLS Weekend: Goalkeepers in Focus for Union-Rapids Clash
MLS News
Friday, 27 May 2016 05:00

No matter where the respective careers of Zac MacMath and Andre Blake take them, they will always be linked together. 

The pair of goalkeepers, who have been intertwined since the Philadelphia Union drafted Blake with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, will face off for the first time on Saturday, when the first-place side in the Western Conference, the Colorado Rapids, host Eastern Conference leader Philadelphia. 

Both netminders have taken a similar, but different, path to their current positions. Philadelphia's disastrous signing of Rais MBolhi in 2014 kept MacMath and Blake out of a starting role. MacMath was cast out on loan to the Rapids, but he didn't play in 2015. Blake has only started to establish himself as one of the league's top players at his position after the MBolhi debacle and injuries held him back. 

Despite both careers' upward trajectory, the former teammates may not face each other for quite some time due to a few factors. MacMath is set to hit the bench once again thanks to an incoming goalkeeper. After the Copa America Centenario concludes, Tim Howard will assume the No. 1 position in Colorado. Even if MacMath is in solid form, the Rapids don't have many reasons to justify sitting a multimillion-dollar acquisition every week. 

If you look at Blake's case, he may not be playing in Major League Soccer for years to come. The Jamaica international has shined so far this season for the Union, and no one would criticize the club for selling the 25-year-old to a major European club to make a profit. Just like Cyle Larin at Orlando City, Blake may end up having to move to Europe in order to get the best out of his talent at the club and international levels. 

As for Saturday's contest at Dick's Sporting Goods Park, it marks a vital measuring stick for both clubs before the Copa break hits after two days of midweek action on Wednesday and Thursday. The Rapids can become the first team to reach 30 points this season with a victory on Saturday. Colorado earned 37 points in the entire 2015 campaign. 

A road win in Week 13 would be a massive statement for the Union, who have played tough against some of the league's best but only have a growing collection of draws to show for it. Usually wins against out-of- conference foes don't matter much in MLS, but if Jim Curtin's men were to defeat the surging Rapids in their home stadium, it could cause quite a stir across MLS, and it would make the Union the first 20-point club in the Eastern Conference. 

The other big story to watch in Week 13 is how the Houston Dynamo respond to the sudden departure of manager Owen Coyle. The 49-year-old officially parted ways with the club late on Wednesday night during a time window the United States men's national team's pre-Copa friendly against Ecuador dominated. 

Coyle's time in Houston will go down as one of the bigger managerial failures in MLS history. The Scottish manager never fully adjusted to all the MLS quirks and proved once again how tough it is for foreign coaches to be successful over a long time in the one-of-a-kind league. 

The pieces are there for the Dynamo to be competitive in the Western Conference in the near future, but the front office must make a quality hire. Some of the job candidates include assistant Wade Barrett and Wilmer Cabrera. Cabrera, who previously managed Chivas USA before the club folded, currently leads the Dynamo's USL affiliate. 

Below we'll have a look at the rest of the Week 13 action in our weekend preview. 

 

Week 13 Schedule

D.C. United at Sporting Kansas City (Friday, 7 p.m. ET, UniMas) 

Houston Dynamo at Vancouver Whitecaps (Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

Toronto FC at New York Red Bulls (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

Real Salt Lake at Columbus Crew (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

Seattle Sounders at New England Revolution (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

LA Galaxy at Montreal Impact (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

Portland Timbers at Chicago Fire (Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

Philadelphia Union at Colorado Rapids (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

FC Dallas at San Jose Earthquakes (Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

Orlando City at New York City FC (Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) 

 

Players to Watch

Nick DeLeon, CM, D.C. United

How Ben Olsen aligns his D.C. United side for Friday's match against Sporting Kansas City is anyone's guess. The Black and Red will be without the injured pair of Chris Rolfe and Patrick Nyarko as well as Steve Birnbaum, who is on international duty with the USMNT. 

One player we can expect to see in midfield no matter where he plays is Nick DeLeon. The 25-year-old has found himself in more of a central role in 2016, but he could be shifted to the wing out of necessity in Week 13. 

Regardless of where he starts at Children's Mercy Park, DeLeon must provide a calming presence and help D.C. find a way to generate chances early on the road. If that doesn't happen, we could be set for another dull performance out of the Black and Red. 

 

Will Bruin, FW, Houston Dynamo

Houston has a chance to head into the Copa break on a positive wave of momentum, but achieving that won't be easy as road trips to Vancouver and FC Dallas await in the next week. 

Forward Will Bruin, who started the season with three goals and two assists in his first three games, has a chance to help himself and the Dynamo rebound from a rough week with a surprising win at BC Place.

Bruin's job won't be easy by any stretch of the imagination against a Whitecaps team that appears to be putting everything together at the moment, but if he can use his physical play and runs into the box to his advantage, Houston could leave British Columbia with at least a point. 

 

Jason Hernandez, CB, New York City FC 

Sunday presents New York City FC with a critical point in its brief two-year existence. 

Patrick Vieira's men are coming off a 7-0 drubbing at the hands of the New York Red Bulls, and they have to face a national audience once again on Sunday against Orlando City. 

All eyes will be on Jason Hernandez and the underwhelming NYCFC back four. If they produce another lackluster performance versus a dynamic attack led by Larin, questions will begin to circulate about the squad's motivation. The good news, if there is any at the moment, for NYCFC is it won't have to face Kaka, who was called into Brazil's Copa squad to replace Douglas Costa. 

 

Game of the Week

Philadelphia Union at Colorado Rapids

We touched on the conference leaders' clash above, but there is more to Saturday's contest in Commerce City, Colorado, than the storylines attached to the starting goalkeepers. 

The top matchup worth watching is Philadelphia's attack against Colorado's improving defense. C.J. Sapong will test the Rapids back line, which Axel Sjoberg leads, with his physical play for every second he's on the pitch. The Union also possess a nice creative backbone, led by Tranquillo Barnetta, who is beginning to round into form after missing the early parts of the season with an injury.

Colorado will have a challenge on its hands as it looks to replace Jermaine Jones' and Shkelzen Gashi's contributions. Jones, who is currently with the USMNT, has played the No. 10 role to near-perfection since returning from his six-game suspension, while Gashi, an Albania international, has adjusted well to MLS on the left side of midfield.

The Rapids will have Republic of Ireland forward Kevin Doyle at their disposal since he will leave for his country's Euro 2016 camp after Saturday. The 32-year-old will challenge the Union back line that is surprising many week after week. Shutdown right back Keegan Rosenberry, veteran left back Fabinho and third-year center back Richie Marquez will most likely play with center back Ken Tribbett for the first time since April 8 due to Joshua Yaro suffering an injury on Wednesday against Orlando. 

The only thing that could hinder an exciting match is the Union's traveling conditions. They have gone from central Florida's humidity to Colorado's mile-high atmosphere in a short period. If the elements get the best of the Union, it could be a one-sided affair. 

 

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

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MLS Player Rankings: Red Bulls' Kljestan, BWP Surge After Drubbing of NYCFC
MLS News
Tuesday, 24 May 2016 08:03

The one thing everyone who watches Major League Soccer was talking about after Week 12 was the New York Red Bulls' blowout win over New York City FC on Saturday. 

The victory by Jesse Marsch's side was an extension of a solid run of form that has taken the club into third place in the Eastern Conference. Sacha Kljestan, who has been the epitome of consistency during the Red Bulls' run of form, has earned a high place on our Bleacher Report MLS Player Rankings due to his individual showing at Yankee Stadium. 

In addition to Kljestan's surge up the list of the top-20 in-form players in the league, two other Red Bulls make their debuts on the chart after Week 12. 

Our rankings take into account the last four games individuals participated in, with the most recent match holding the most importance. 

Continue reading to find out which stars also landed a spot in our latest MLS Player Rankings.

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MLS Team of the Week: McCarty, BWP, Kaka, Larin Shine During Rivalry Week
MLS News
Monday, 23 May 2016 05:00

Major League Soccer's Rivalry Week may not have lived up to the hype in terms of competition on the pitch, but it certainly produced some interesting results. 

The biggest eye-popper from Week 12 was the New York Red Bulls' 7-0 thrashing of New York City FC at Yankee Stadium. Dax McCarty and Bradley Wright-Phillips bagged a brace each in the victory. The impressive performances from the Red Bulls duo placed them at the forefront of our Bleacher Report MLS Team of the Week.

Outside of the rivalry matches, FC Dallas, Colorado Rapids and Orlando City turned in solid 90-minute showings across North America. Each team has multiple players in Week 12's best XI. 

Continue reading to see who joined the aforementioned players in our latest MLS best XI.

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Ultimate Guide to MLS Weekend: Red Bulls, NYCFC Enter Rivalry Week in Solid Form
MLS News
Friday, 20 May 2016 03:03

The New York Red Bulls and New York City FC are set to renew hostilities for the fourth time in the history of their young rivalry on Saturday at Yankee Stadium. 

Just over a month ago, the match between the teams separated by the Hudson River was set to be a battle of disappointing clubs in search of a needed victory. 

Since April 24, the pair of New York-area clubs have combined for six wins, three draws and one loss in 10 games. Jesse Marsch's Red Bulls are responsible for the lone blemish during the string of recent results. The Red Bulls fell 2-0 to D.C. United a week ago in a rivalry game that carries as much—if not more—importance than the one they will partake in on Saturday afternoon.

The Red Bulls responded to the defeat at RFK Stadium with a 1-0 win over the Chicago Fire on Wednesday, but one has to think they're saving their best performance for their trip to the Bronx. 

One player in particular who may break out for the team based in Harrison, New Jersey is Bradley Wright-Phillips, who scored four goals across three rivalry showdowns in 2015.

The Englishman has scored on just three occasions in 2016, but the opportunity to hit the net is almost always there against a NYCFC defense that has been mired in criticism since the club's inception. 

The scoring prowess of David Villa and the drama surrounding the waste of money that is Frank Lampard have taken the spotlight away from the susceptible back four this season, and rightfully so since the pair of legends are major parts of the squad. 

Villa has found the back of the net 26 times since joining Major League Soccer and on eight occasions in 12 contests so far in 2016.

The 35-year-old has four strikes in his last three starts, and he enters Saturday with fresh legs after starting on the bench against Toronto FC on Wednesday. 

As for Lampard, his saga will continue until he becomes a regular fixture in Patrick Vieira's starting 11.

Everything about the 37-year-old's arrival on American shores has been shrouded in controversy; from his short stint at Manchester City before coming stateside last summer to his current injury problems. Lampard is currently one of the biggest busts in MLS history. 

The Red Bulls know exactly how that player-acquisition strategy works. In the years before Marsch's arrival in Harrison, big names—most notably Rafa Marquez—entered the club and failed to make an impact before leaving. 

Now the Red Bulls are the polar opposite of NYCFC as they have a flourishing academy that most recently sent Matt Miazga into the first team before the defender was sold to Chelsea in January.

Sean Davis, Connor Lade and Alex Muyl are among the homegrown players who could make a mark on the final result at Yankee Stadium. 

There is no doubt MLS wants the Hudson River derby to be the top rivalry in the league. Sides have been drawn across New York City and its surrounding areas, and the matchup will be front and center two more times this season, but there are plenty of fans in the Pacific time zone that will tell you the league's best rivalries come from that side of the continent. 

Those claims will be put to the test on Sunday as the Portland Timbers host the Vancouver Whitecaps in the Cascadia Cup, and the LA Galaxy face off against the San Jose Earthquakes in the California Clasico. 

The other big showdown between hated opponents comes from Children Mercy's Park as Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake renew their always-thrilling series.

Then there's the curious case of Philadelphia versus D.C. United. The two Eastern Conference sides are being forced into a marriage by MLS so that their true rival—the Red Bulls—can join NYCFC on the Rivalry Week marquee. 

Regardless of what rivalry you think is the best, Week 12 is guaranteed to produce fireworks that we'll be talking about well after Sunday.

Below is a look at the players and top game to watch over the next three days. 

 

Week 12 Schedule

D.C. United at Philadelphia Union (Friday, 7 p.m. ET, UniMas) 

New York Red Bulls at New York City FC (Saturday, 3 p.m. ET, Fox) 

Houston Dynamo at Chicago Fire (Saturday, 5 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

Columbus Crew at Toronto FC (Saturday, 5 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

Montreal Impact at Orlando City (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

FC Dallas at New England Revolution (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

Real Salt Lake at Sporting Kansas City (Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

Colorado Rapids at Seattle Sounders (Saturday, 10 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

Vancouver Whitecaps at Portland Timbers (Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

San Jose Earthquakes at LA Galaxy (Sunday, 7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1) 

 

Players to Watch

Thomas McNamara, CM, New York City FC

The true X-factor in Saturday's showdown at Yankee Stadium could be NYCFC midfielder Thomas McNamara. 

McNamara has proved to be a better option in midfield than both Kwadwo Poku and Mix Diskerud, and he continues to improve under the tutelage of Vieira. 

Look for the former Chivas USA man to open up gaps between the Red Bulls trio of Felipe, Sacha Kljestan and Dax McCarty in order to create more space in the final third for Villa and the other attackers in the NYCFC lineup. 

 

Ola Kamara, FW, Columbus Crew

Ola Kamara's second audition for the vacated forward role in the Columbus Crew attack comes on Saturday against Toronto. 

The 26-year-old Norway international was ineffective as a target forward in Week 11 as he attempted to replace the traded Kei Kamara. 

If the Columbus striker fails to succeed in his second start of 2016, Crew manager Gregg Berhalter may have to call on veteran Conor Casey to get the job done. 

 

Zarek Valentin, RB, Portland Timbers

Trying to recover from a shocking home loss to NYCFC will not be an easy task for the Timbers as the surging Whitecaps come to Providence Park on Sunday. 

Zarek Valentin will be one of two full-backs charged with keeping Kekuta Manneh and Christian Bolanos under wraps on the wing. Manneh had a breakout performance against Toronto in Week 11, and Bolanos has scored in four of the last five games. 

If the Timbers leave the pitch with three points after 90 minutes, they will most likely have to thank Valentin in some fashion for his contributions. 

 

Game of the Week

Vancouver Whitecaps at Portland Timbers

There are a few matches in Week 12 that are crucial to the Western Conference playoff picture, but none of them are more important than the Cascadia Cup clash in Portland. 

The Whitecaps come into Oregon on the heels of a six-point week in which they dispensed of Chicago and Toronto. The recent performances of Manneh and Bolanos have been able to mask the team's struggles at forward.

Portland could force Blas Perez or Octavio Rivero to create the majority of the scoring chances if its full-backs choke out the influence of the wingers. 

Portland comes into Rivalry Week in ninth place with 12 points and a loss to Vancouver would drop them at least six points below sixth place heading into the final weekend of May. In order to avoid that fate, Caleb Porter's men will have to rely heavily on Fanendo Adi and Darlington Nagbe. 

We could also be treated to a masterful goalkeeping display on Sunday as David Ousted and Jake Gleeson come into Week 12 in good form.

Gleeson, who is filling in for the injured Adam Kwarasey, made 11 saves in the first meeting between the two sides on May 7. 

 

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

All statistics obtained from MLSSoccer.com.

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Kaka, Frank Lampard Among MLS' Highest-Paid Players for 2016-17 Season
MLS News
Thursday, 19 May 2016 11:28

Orlando City's Kaka ($7.167 million) and Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco ($7.115 million) are the MLS' highest-paid players in the 2016-17 season, the MLS Players Union (via Steven Goff of the Washington Post) revealed Thursday.

Toronto FC's Michael Bradley ($6.5 million), the Los Angeles Galaxy's Steven Gerrard ($6.132 million) and New York City FC's Frank Lampard ($6 million) round out the top five.

The majority of the remaining top earners in the MLS are either stars on the United States men's national team (Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard) or former stars in Europe (Andrea Pirlo, David Villa, Robbie Keane, Didier Drogba). 

That trend is likely to continue, as stars from Europe continue to trickle into the MLS at the end of their careers to earn big contracts before retiring while the MLS budget continues to grow. The latest European star who is rumored to make the jump to MLS is PSG superstar striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, per Loic Tanzi of Goal.com, and Ibra would surely become the league's highest earner upon his arrival.

According to Tanzi, "It has also been reported that Ibrahimovic has a concrete proposal from MLS worth $580,000 per week—the same figure that he earns in Paris."

While Ibra would likely garner a small fortune if he made the leap to American soil, six teams—FC Dallas, D.C. United, the Houston Dynamo, Sporting Kansas City, the New York Red Bulls and the Philadelphia Union—do not have a single player who is earning $1 million or more this season.

Of that bunch, the Union have been notoriously frugal. Their payroll this season is $5.67 million, according to Jonathan Tannenwald of Philly Sport, which means six MLS players alone are making more this season than the Union are spending on their entire team payroll.

Tannenwald shared more information on team salaries:

Giovinco, meanwhile, has been worth every penny for Toronto FC. The 2015 league MVP led the MLS in both goals (22) and assists (16) last season and has continued his strong play in 2016, scoring eight goals and adding five assists in 11 games this season.

Last year's champions, the Portland Timbers, have just one player in the league's top 20 earners. Liam Ridgewell, the team's captain and star defender, is earning $1.25 million this year, the 19th-highest wage in the league.

 

You can follow Timothy Rapp on Twitter.

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MLS Player Rankings: Giovinco Goes Top, Bolanos and Manneh Debut After Week 11
MLS News
Tuesday, 17 May 2016 07:55

It was going to take a special individual showing in Week 11 to take Giovani dos Santos out of the top spot of our weekly MLS Player Rankings. 

One of the few stars in Major League Soccer capable of producing more skill than the Mexican showed off his tremendous abilities on Saturday in a losing effort. 

Thanks to his performance against the Vancouver Whitecaps, Sebastian Giovinco returned to the spot he called home for most of 2015.

As for the victorious team at BMO Field in Week 11, Vancouver produced two of the five new entrants to the list of the top 20 in-form players in MLS. 

Our rankings take into account the last four games individuals participated in, with the most recent match holding the most importance. 

Continue reading to see which stars earned a spot in the Bleacher Report MLS Player Rankings after Week 11.

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MLS Team of the Week: Manneh, Giovinco Star in Shootout, Nguyen, Beasley Feature
MLS News
Monday, 16 May 2016 05:00

Major League Soccer handed us a few unexpected twists in Week 11 as Vancouver Whitecaps and New York City FC produced a pair of unlikely results on the road. 

The Whitecaps defeated Toronto FC at BMO Field in a wild seven-goal affair three days after they downed the Chicago Fire at home. NYCFC turned plenty of heads on Sunday with their 2-1 win over defending champions Portland Timbers at Providence Park.

The stars of each of those performances are a part of a group of players from nine different teams that make up our Week 11 MLS Team of the Week. 

Because there were five games on Wednesday in addition to the regular weekend slate, some players were judged for our best XI off two performances.

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

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MLS Player Rankings: LA Galaxy Stars Dominate Top 2, Morris, Drogba Move Up List
MLS News
Tuesday, 10 May 2016 08:43

The LA Galaxy attack has lived up to its potential in Major League Soccer over the last month as Bruce Arena's side has found the back of the net on 14 occasions since April 15. 

It comes as no surprise that two of the Galaxy's stars find themselves in the top two positions in our weekly Bleacher Report MLS Player Rankings. 

Choosing the correct spot for each player on the list was a difficult task this week as nine of the top 10 and 15 of the top 20 recorded either a goal or an assist in Week 10. 

Our rankings take into account the last four games individuals participated in, with the most recent match holding the most importance. 

Continue reading to see which stars feature on the latest list of the top 20 in-form players in MLS. 

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MLS Team of the Week: Kamara, Higuain, Drogba, Keane Star in Week 10
MLS News
Monday, 09 May 2016 02:35

The stars of Major League Soccer left us with plenty of things to discuss following Week 10's matches. 

The major talking point from the weekend's action came from Columbus, as Kei Kamara caught everyone's attention for his post-match remarks regarding Federico Higuain. The pair shined throughout the first half before everything went awry for the Crew. 

In the same match, Didier Drogba and his Montreal Impact teammates produced a three-goal comeback to earn a point on the road at Mapfre Stadium. 

Out in the Western Conference on Sunday, Robbie Keane produced a two-goal showing in his return to the pitch for the LA Galaxy.

Due to the plethora of impressive attacking performances in Week 10, we shaped our Team of the Week in a 3-4-3 formation.

Continue reading to see who joined Kamara, Higuain, Drogba and Keane in our weekly best XI. 

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LAFC Stadium Gets Final Planning and Environmental Approval from City Council
MLS News
Friday, 06 May 2016 14:22

Los Angeles Football Club announced Friday that the Los Angeles City Council has granted final planning and environmental approvals for a soccer-specific stadium. 

Based in southern Los Angeles, the new stadium will hold 22,000 seats and will be ready for the club's inaugural season in 2018.   

The new club that gained admission into the MLS in 2014 proposed this new stadium in May 2015, which LAFC Fan Club showed the renderings of:

LAFC managing partner and owner Henry Nguyen spoke after the City Council's decision:

LAFC’s promise is to unite the world’s city through the world’s game. Today, through the collaborative vision and efforts of the City Council and the people of Los Angeles, we continue to work towards that promise.  Everyone has invested a tremendous amount of time, hard work, thought and energy and we are now one step closer to making our shared vision a reality.

The new stadium will be on the site of the Los Angeles Sports Arena, which will be demolished this summer. It is right near the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the iconic stadium that is the home of USC football and now the Los Angeles Rams

It's already been a busy year for the MLS' newest club as it unveiled a new co-owner along with its crest and colors, via Major League Soccer:

With a state-of-the-art stadium now all but confirmed, LAFC can focus on building its brand to compete with soon-to-be city rivals Los Angeles Galaxy and becoming a competitive side in MLS upon arrival in 2018.  

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