MLS News
MLS All-Star Game 2016: Live Stream, TV Guide and Final Predictions
MLS News
Thursday, 28 July 2016 12:00

An MLS All-Star XI featuring Clint Dempsey, David Villa, Didier Drogba and Kaka will face off against Premier League giants Arsenal in a friendly on Thursday, as Arsene Wenger's talented team visits the shores of the United States.

San Jose Earthquakes coach Dominic Kinnear takes the reins for the American side as they pit themselves against the north London mainstays from England's top division.

The game takes place at the Avaya Stadium, San Jose, California, as the Gunners improve their fitness before their new campaign kicks off against Liverpool on Aug. 14.

Here is how you can watch the entertaining friendly encounter:

   

Date: Thursday, July 28

Time: 7.30 p.m. ET / 12.30 a.m. BST (Friday)

TV: ESPN (U.S.), Sky Sports 3 and HD (UK) 

Live Stream: Sky Go (UK), WatchESPN (U.S.)

   

Match Preview And Prediction 

The biggest names in Major League Soccer once again convene to take on top foreign opposition as they welcome Arsenal to California on their pre-season endeavours.

For the second year running, Brazil legend Kaka of Orlando City will be given the armband to lead the MLS superstar team, as voted by American soccer fans, per MLS:

The All-Star squad features a mix of new blood and veteran names as they attempt to halt the Gunners finding form before the Premier League commences on Aug. 13.

On Thursday, U.S. men's national team hero Dempsey will share attacking duties with Spain legend Villa and former Chelsea icon Drogba.

According to MLSSoccer.com, Wenger has packed his squad full of talent for the trip to San Jose, but central defensive members Per Mertesacker and Gabriel Paulista did not make the flight. The Germany World Cup-winning defender has suffered a knee injury that could see him miss five months of season, per Sky Sports, while Gabriel is missing after a bout of tonsillitis.

Arsenal announced their travelling party via their official Twitter feed:

The presence of Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will guarantee the Gunners have credible goal threats in the final third, as the England trio look to impress Wenger in the hope of obtaining regular starting places.

Arsenal also include Berlin-born talent Gedion Zelalem, who is eligible to play for the United States after becoming a U.S citizen in 2015 and has represented the under-23 national side.

The MLS All-Star team have an inexperienced defensive core, with two young goalkeepers selected in David Bingham of San Jose and Andre Blake of Philadelphia Union, but Kinnear will hope his high-class attacking options will hurt the Gunners' back-four.

New York City striker Villa, a 2014 purchase from La Liga side Atletico Madrid, had a strong first campaign with the east-coast club, scoring 18 goals and providing eight assists, according to NYCFC.com.

If the game was taking place mid-season for Arsenal, they would be overwhelming favourites to conquer any contingent from MLS.

However, the Gunners' lack of fitness will be key to the result of the contest and allow the All-Stars the chance of an unexpected win.

Even with big names such as Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard missing for the All-Star team, the presence of experienced campaigners should give them the edge in the friendly match.

Arsenal will simply be hoping to obtain fitness over a positive result, allowing the hosts to push forward for a victory at the Avaya Stadium.

   

Prediction: MLS All-Star XI 2-1 Arsenal

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MLS All-Stars vs. Arsenal: Start Time, Live Stream, Form Guide and Predictions
MLS News
Thursday, 28 July 2016 02:00

Arsenal will be the opponents in this year's MLS All-Stars game as the Gunners continue their pre-season preparations ahead of the 2016-17 campaign.

The north London outfit have played just one friendly thus far—a 1-1 draw with French side Lens—while the All-Stars come together annually for a showpiece game, which typically pits them against an illustrious side from Europe.

The All-Stars have won their last two matches, beating Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 in 2015 and Bayern Munich by the same scoreline the year prior. A 3-1 defeat to AS Roma in 2013 was preceded by a thrilling 3-2 victory over Chelsea, meaning three of the last four have gone the way of the Americans.

Read on for a closer look at how the match might play out, but first here are the details you need to catch the game.

       

Date: Thursday, July 28

Time: 4:30 p.m. (Local), 7:30 p.m. (ET), 12:30 a.m. (BST, Friday)

Venue: Avaya Stadium in San Jose, California

Live Stream: Sky Go (UK), Watch ESPN (US)

TV Info: Sky Sports (UK), ESPN (US)

       

All-Stars Look to Maintain Winning Streak

Major League Soccer's best have not won three successive All-Star matches since claiming four in a row from 2005 to 2008 when the opponents became European sides rather than the previous East-West matchup.

There are plenty of All-Star names this year who will be familiar to Arsenal fans, with the likes of Didier Drogba, David Villa, Andrea Pirlo and Kaka included in the squad. Here it is in its entirety, per MLS:

The 38-year-old Drogba has been proving that age is just a number, rolling back the years with Montreal Impact and racking up eight goals and four assists in 12 MLS games this season.

On Sunday, he netted a hat-trick against Philadelphia Union, his second in the United States, per ESPN's Paul Carr:

Two of his goals were assisted by Ignacio Piatti—also included in the squad—and he's been in exceptional form himself with 12 goals in MLS this year. Should the pair get on the pitch, their chemistry will make them quite a handful for Arsenal.

Drogba also gives the All-Stars added firepower from set pieces, along with Sebastian Giovinco, as Carr reveals:

The All-Stars are more than capable of causing problems in open play as well. Their players are midway through the season, while the Gunners have played just one pre-season friendly so far and are likely to be less sharper than their opponents.

It was clear in their friendly with Lens—who were ahead of Arsenal in their preparations when they met on Sunday—that the Gunners still have some way to go before they're ready to compete in the new season, and they often failed to convince against the fitter French side.

The Gunners were still able to produce some moments of quality, though, not least this exceptional effort from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, per Arsenal:

It may require a similar moment of magic to trouble the All-Stars' defence on Thursday—not only will they be fitter than Arsenal's attacking lineup, but the Gunners are missing Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud.

Without their most effective creator and with their forward options consisting of just Chuba Akpom, Joel Campbell, Alex Iwobi and Theo Walcott, the Premier League side could struggle in the final third.

Ultimately, Arsenal are too early in their pre-season preparations to seriously trouble the All-Stars and lack the personnel who might have been able to make up the gap in fitness with sheer talent.

Prediction: MLS All-Stars 2-0 Arsenal

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MLS Player Rankings: Piatti, Kljestan Climb High, BWP, Drogba, Giovinco Return
MLS News
Tuesday, 26 July 2016 08:09

Week 20 in Major League Soccer gave us a good idea of which clubs will be contenders over the final three months of the season.

The weekend slate of matches also gave us a preview of which stars will be dominating the headlines during the stretch run of the regular season. 

Ignacio Piatti, Sacha Kljestan, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Didier Drogba and Sebastian Giovinco stood out the most for their respective performances in the Eastern Conference. 

Wright-Phillips, Drogba and Giovinco all moved back into the Bleacher Report MLS Player Rankings thanks to their exploits on the pitch in Week 20, while Piatti and Kljestan continued their rise to the top. 

Continue reading to see which players landed where in our MLS Player Rankings after Week 20.

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MLS Team of the Week: Giovinco, BWP, Drogba Shine in Week of the Striker
MLS News
Monday, 25 July 2016 08:54

Week 20 in Major League Soccer belonged to the strikers. 

Didier Drogba and Sebastian Giovinco both netted hat-tricks north of the border in Canada for their respective sides, while Bradley Wright-Phillips extended his ridiculous form in the New York derby on Sunday. 

The performances from the forward position were so good in Week 20 that we had to leave one player out of our Bleacher Report Team of the Week. 

We shaped our Week 20 best XI in a 4-3-3 due to the plethora of impressive attacking performances. 

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

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New York Derby Growing in Hate but Not in Competitiveness After 2 Years
MLS News
Sunday, 24 July 2016 19:00

HARRISON, N.J. — The hate and passion are evident in the New York derby. 

All you have to do to realize that is look at the comments New York City FC boss Patrick Vieira made about New York Red Bulls manager Jesse Marsch after the Red Bulls' 4-1 win at Red Bull Arena on Sunday. 

The former Arsenal midfielder accused Marsch of influencing the decisions of referee Mark Geiger due to comments he made during the week about refereeing in Major League Soccer.

“The referees, they all have the same rules," Vieira said. "They all read the paper like everybody else so we’re talking about all of them. You get influenced by what you read and what you hear. And I don’t think it’s appropriate to come out in a week when there’s a derby and there’s a reason why you can not."

"We just feel like we don't ever get the benefit of the doubt," Marsch said on Thursday, per Daniel Falkenheim of NJ.com. "I'm waiting for the referees, I'm waiting for anyone to recognize the fact that we have an honest team, that plays in an honest way, and gets punished for calls, for plays, for penalties, the whole bit, across the board and we hardly ever get rewarded."

Marsch returned fire after the match on Sunday with his own criticism of Vieira. 

“He never said anything to me," Marsch said. "That’s all I can say. He didn’t want to shake my hand in the hallway. I’ve seen this from him after the game before so it’s not a problem. I’m going to focus on us, and I think the game was decided by players in every way." 

The main talking point for the days to come will be Vieira's rant directed at everyone but his players. However, the true focus should be on the one-sided nature of the rivalry and the problems that still exist in making the derby competitive. 

Over the last two years, the Red Bulls have outscored NYCFC 18-5 and earned a record of five wins and one loss. Forward Bradley Wright-Phillips has found the back of the net three more times than City have as a whole in 540 minutes of action. 

The two victories by the Red Bulls in 2016 were a 7-0 thrashing at Yankee Stadium on May 21 and Sunday's 4-1 result. NYCFC came out on top on July 3 by a 2-0 score at home against a Red Bulls side weakened by three games in the span of eight days. 

Players and coaches on both sides will agree that the rivalry—and the bad blood that comes with it—have grown since the first derby contested at Red Bull Arena on May 10, 2015. However, the New York derby has a long way to go before it's considered an actual rivalry. 

"It has grown," Marsch said. "It's been there since day one. I think that's what's pretty awesome about it. From the fanbases to the organizations to the players, I think there's been a lot of energy and pride from both sides." 

In order for the New York derby to outmatch every single clash of rivals in MLS, it must become more competitive. NYCFC appeared to have a chance to grab the momentum in the series on Sunday as they entered in first place in the Eastern Conference and with a league-best away record of 6-3-1. 

However, the match was dominated by the home side from the first minute on. Sacha Kljestan and Bradley Wright-Phillips found plenty of holes in the much-maligned NYCFC back line, while the rest of the attack originated its moves through the gaps in the center of the park. 

"With the way that they pressure, we felt like we could do certain things to gain advantages in certain parts of the field, which would then lead Sacha to find gaps in their team," Marsch said.

"And then whenever Sacha is catching balls in important spots, he knows that his first option is Brad. So his ability to sort of move and see things and then slip a ball to Brad the right way that sets him up to execute around the goal, that's what makes their relationship special, and that's what makes each one of them good. I think they really work off of each other to make each other better." 

"Obviously the game meant a lot to us in many different ways," Kljestan said. "We lost the last one, so we wanted to, you know, make sure we won the season series while also moving ourselves up in the standings. That was the most important thing for me in the end." 

Not only did Kljestan and Wright-Phillips control the attacking side of the pitch, the Red Bulls defenders kept David Villa and the rest of the NYCFC front line in check for the majority of the contest. The lone strike of the match from City came on a beautiful blast off the boot of Thomas McNamara in the 43rd minute. 

Other than McNamara's long-range effort, chances were few and far between. City's attack had functioned well since the resumption of league play following the Copa America Centenario break.

Villa, who leads MLS in scoring with 13 goals, recorded a meager 28 touches in 90 minutes, per WhoScored.com. Englishman Jack Harrison, whose entrance into the starting XI helped fuel more success, was silenced all day by Connor Lade. 

Marsch pinpointed the success Harrison had in the second meeting at Yankee Stadium as one of the things the Red Bulls had to stop on Sunday. 

"Jack made two big plays last time we played in New York City, but they were both when Connor wasn't around him," Marsch said. "I think that we really like that matchup. We like Connor; he's our best one-vs.-one defender. It's partly his low center of gravity, but it's partly he takes so much pride in it. He wills himself to win some of these battles." 

Throughout the first six matches of the rivalry, the Red Bulls have shown the ability to adapt more than NYCFC. City still struggle with the high press of their adversary from across the Hudson River, and their back four continues to be an absolute mess thanks to needless turnovers and poor positioning. 

NYCFC tried to inject more passion into Sunday's game right away to get under the skin of the opposition in order to earn a result, but all that did was motivate the Red Bulls further to achieve three points. 

In the middle of his epic rant that will go down in MLS lore as one of the most entertaining and strange press conferences, Vieira admitted his team didn't show up for the biggest game of the season to date. 

“I think we didn’t defend well as a team," Vieira said. "I think as a team we gave them too much space. I believe that as a club the way we planned to defend, we didn’t respect it.

"It was too easy for them to penetrate centrally and we were sometimes exposed against two players and I believe that from the front players, we didn’t work hard enough to make it more difficult for them." 

Frank Lampard chimed in with a similar response from a player's perspective. 

"Below par," Lampard said. "I think we were off the mark slightly, we didn't defend well enough as a group, I think, from front to back, which meant we were chasing a bit too much and then when we had the ball we weren't as effective as we have been in recent weeks. Simple as that." 

If the problem continues to persist for City into future derby contests, the Red Bulls will continue to have a stranglehold on the record books. Time and time again under Marsch, the team have proved they are up to the challenge of beating their newest and biggest rival. 

The heart and the passion were visible from the first minute on both sides of the pitch, but the final result remained the same. Until NYCFC can fix their issues against the Red Bulls in the derby, the rivalry will not be taken as seriously as the ones in the Pacific Northwest and California. 

One day the New York derby could be the marquee match in MLS every year, but for now, it's just a one-sided rivalry with the winning side reveling in victory and the losing side trying to stay relevant despite poor showings. 

 

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

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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Sunday's New York Derby the Most Important in Rivalry's Short History
MLS News
Friday, 22 July 2016 00:00

Major League Soccer's youngest and fastest-growing derby takes center stage for the final time during the regular season Sunday at Red Bull Arena as the New York Red Bulls host New York City FC. 

It may be difficult to call Sunday's meeting between the two Eastern Conference titans the most important in the rivalry's history given the short span they have been pitted against each other, but three points for either Jesse Marsch's or Patrick Vieira's side could be crucial in building momentum in the playoff race and in the rivalry itself. 

As hard as it may be to imagine, especially after their rocky start, NYCFC enter Sunday as the favorite to capture a victory in the final New York derby of the regular season. City carry a three-point advantage over the second-place Philadelphia Union into the weekend, and they have opened up a five-point gap on the Red Bulls. 

Vieira and company also come into Red Bull Arena with a road record that could turn into one of the best in the league's 21-year history. City are 6-3-1 on their travels this season with a baffling home mark of 3-3-5 in a league where home field usually is a difference-maker. 

Since the Copa America Centenario break, City have earned road victories at Seattle, New England and Montreal as well a vital home win over the Red Bulls to finally gain a foothold in a rivalry that was getting too one-sided to even be labeled with that tag. 

NYCFC have five wins in their last six games, and a fully loaded lineup causing all sorts of trouble thanks to the strong play of their three high-profile designated players Frank Lampard, David Villa and Andrea Pirlo. Lampard, who was cast off as the worst designated player in MLS history just two months ago, is proving his worth in a major way in the middle of the park. 

Lampard's success has mirrored that of his team since the resumption of play on June 18. The 38-year-old former Chelsea great has found the back of the net in five of the last six games. In the one match Lampard failed to score, he notched an assist. 

Villa hasn't been on the same hot streak as Lampard, but he's been as important to the club's success in 2016. The current Golden Boot leader has scored on 13 occasions over 21 matches. The Spaniard's also been the most active player in front of the net as he leads MLS in shots on goal with 49. Sebastian Giovinco is second to Villa with 36. 

With cracks apparent in the Red Bulls back line as recent as Sunday's 2-2 draw with the Union in which they conceded a penalty and an equalizer off similar plays, Villa should be licking his lips during training this week. The forward is also looking to further instill his presence on the rivalry. Villa's first New York derby tally came in the July 3 2-0 victory at Yankee Stadium. 

The superstars aren't the only players working magic in the NYCFC lineup at the moment. Rookie Jack Harrison has brought a needed element of support in the final third alongside Villa. Cult hero Thomas McNamara has drifted out of the spotlight recently due to the exploits of others, but he popped up again with a two-assist performance in the 3-1 win over Montreal on Sunday at Stade Saputo. 

As they have been since the inception of the franchise, the questions circling the City defense are out there leaving plenty of doubters of the club's MLS Cup credentials. However, the current defense in question in the New York metro area belongs to the Red Bulls.

Marsch and company have had a target on their backs as the team to beat in the East since he controversially took over for club hero Mike Petke ahead of the 2015 regular season. Just like the LA Galaxy in the West, the Red Bulls usually face the best efforts of every opponent due to their historic stature in MLS. 

For 65 minutes on Sunday at Talen Energy Stadium, the Red Bulls appeared to have three points in the bag leading up to the lone derby at Red Bull Arena this season, but they took their eyes off the prize and failed to finish off 10-man Philadelphia on the road. Now instead of featuring in the role of the hunted like they have for so long, the Red Bulls are hunting the leader of the pack in East. 

That role may actually benefit the Red Bulls on Sunday and throughout the duration of the regular season. Every club needs a moment that lights a spark under it, and Sunday's disappointing draw may have been that for the Red Bulls with an important match ahead of them on their home soil. 

The Red Bulls also have a rare full week of training to dwell on their shortcomings in Chester, Pennsylvania. If one of the longest-tenured sides in the East used their time in training the right way over the last few days, they will turn in an inspired performance on one of the league's biggest stages. 

The perfect remedy for their current bad form could be a back-to-basics approach that could force NYCFC into a good amount of vulnerabilities. The high-pressing system used by Marsch should cause some trouble in the NYCFC midfield, especially if Lampard and Pirlo are forced to work more on the ball. 

As was mentioned above, there are still plenty of concerns surrounding the ability of the City defense to perform, especially in high-profile matches like Sunday's. In the first New York derby of 2016, the Red Bulls opened up NYCFC on set pieces and won 7-0. If the Red Bulls' front five consistently use the press to wreak havoc among the City defense, chances could come early and often for Bradley Wright-Phillips. 

The pressing effort will also allow captain Dax McCarty and Sacha Kljestan more space to operate in the final third. Following Sunday's tie against Philadelphia, the pair of midfielders were the most frustrated members of the Red Bulls squad. If they can light a fire underneath their teammates in preparation for the derby, the hosts have the potential to resurrect their season. 

A win over City would allow the Red Bulls to create plenty of momentum heading into an important string of five matches in which they can gain ground on NYCFC. Marsch's men have winnable matches against Chicago, D.C., Montreal and New England coming up on their docket, while they also have a chance to steal points from the Galaxy on August 7 at StubHub Center. 

Three points on the road and a second win over the Red Bulls would hand NYCFC an upper hand in the rivalry heading into 2017 as long as the two sides don't meet in the postseason. A victory would also propel City to an eight-point advantage over the Red Bulls in the standings, with the Union being the only side within a game's reach of them heading into August. 

Even though there will be three months left in the regular season after Sunday's contest, the final result could go a long way in determining the respective fates of both clubs, and it also has the potential to shift the momentum in one of the derbies everyone in MLS plays attention to. 

 

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

All statistics obtained from MLSSoccer.com. 

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MLS Player Rankings: Diaz Goes Top, Lampard Continues Surge Up List
MLS News
Tuesday, 19 July 2016 01:25

The presence of Mauro Diaz, Frank Lampard and countless others in their respective Major League Soccer lineups has altered results over the last few weeks. 

The majority of players listed in the Week 19 edition of the Bleacher Report MLS Player Rankings carry the same game-changing qualities. 

We also witnessed the opposite end of the spectrum with some stars in Week 19, especially in Portland and Montreal. Without their key playmakers in the lineup for specific games over the last seven days, both teams dropped points at home. 

Our MLS player rankings take into account the last four performances from a certain player, with the most recent showing carrying the most importance. Since many clubs participated in midweek games on Wednesday in Week 19, some players were judged on matches in a short time span. 

Continue reading to see who placed where in the latest Bleacher Report MLS Player Rankings.

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MLS Team of the Week: Portland Timbers Trio Shines in Rivalry Win over Seattle
MLS News
Monday, 18 July 2016 08:47

The biggest stars on the winning team shone in Major League Soccer's premier rivalry match on Sunday as the Portland Timbers downed the Seattle Sounders 3-1.

Thanks to the stellar performances of a few Portland players, Caleb Porter's side dominates our Week 19 Team of the Week. 

In addition to the trio of Timbers, a resilient defender and a masterful winger were added as top stars in Week 19.

We shaped our team into a simple 4-4-2 formation, and the midweek set of matches were taken into consideration for selection when applicable.

Continue reading to see who made the Week 19 Bleacher Report MLS Team of the Week. 

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Seattle Sounders Still a Work in Progress Heading into Cascadia Cup Clash
MLS News
Friday, 15 July 2016 02:25

Sometimes winning can cure everything for a team in turmoil.

But for the Seattle Sounders, their 5-0 home win over FC Dallas on Wednesday night was just a temporary bandage that covered a litany of issues that still linger around the ninth-place club in the Western Conference. 

Sure, the optics look great for the struggling Sounders since they thoroughly defeated the club that will probably win the Supporters' Shield, but the three points at CenturyLink Field also came at a steep price. 

Star forward Clint Dempsey, who isn't exactly the coolest head in the Sounders lineup, was sent off in the first half for putting his hands in the face of Juan Esteban Ortiz. Dempsey is now unavailable for the vital rivalry clash with the Portland Timbers on Sunday at Providence Park. 

Earning a victory against a depleted FC Dallas side is one thing, but picking up three points on the road against a hated rival has the potential to turn around the dismal season in Seattle. However, achieving that feat will be quite the task given the problems the Sounders still need to address. 

The top immediate issue at hand is replacing Dempsey in one of Major League Soccer's top environments. Providence Park is always dripping with excitement for a soccer match, and that will be amplified tenfold for the Cascadia Cup clash with the Sounders in what is still the league's top rivalry. One day the New York Red Bulls and New York City FC will get there, but the two Eastern Conference sides need to build more history before that happens. 

In the six matches Dempsey has missed in 2016, Seattle has earned a grand total of four points and has been outscored 11-5. Among the doom and gloom surrounding the absence of the United States men's national team star is optimism that rookie and fellow USMNT forward Jordan Morris is ready to embrace the pressure and lead the line. 

The Stanford University product impressed in the last game Dempsey missed on July 2 as he powered the Sounders to a 1-1 draw at BMO Field against Toronto FC. But some will put an asterisk next to that match since the Reds trotted out a weakened side due to injuries and Sebastian Giovinco being out of form at the moment. 

Morris started as the focal point of a 4-3-3 formation for most of June, and there is a strong possibility he will do the same on Sunday as the Sounders try to break down a sturdy Timbers back line led by Nat Borchers and Alvas Powell.

Portland showed some weaknesses in its midweek draw with Montreal on Wednesday at home, but the Impact are much more organized in the final third than the Sounders will be without Dempsey. 

In addition to solving a temporary problem in the biggest game of the season to date, the Sounders still have some season-long issues to work out in order to come close to resembling a postseason contender by the time fall moves into North America. 

The biggest issue staring Sigi Schmid's side in the face this season has been the absence of chemistry between Dempsey and a fellow attacker. The preseason exit of Obafemi Martins to Chinese side Shanghai Shenhua threw off the rhythm Seattle was in during the first two seasons of Dempsey's tenure in the Pacific Northwest. 

A player of Martins' stature isn't going to make an appearance on the Sounders roster anytime soon. Whoever Schmid and general manager Garth Lagerwey opt to bring in during the summer transfer window at forward will have to develop a chemistry with Dempsey, Morris and the other providers in the Seattle attack.

In addition to that, if a new signing is brought in, the player will have to adapt to the unique qualities of the league. Usually it takes a midseason acquisition a full offseason with the club to fully grasp the features of MLS. 

The potential new acquisition also has to be well-versed in the No. 10 role. On countless occasions this season, the link-up play between the midfielder and forwards in the Seattle lineup has let the club down. In Dempsey's first game back against the LA Galaxy, the Sounders produced 21 shots, but only five went on target. 

In the 1-0 defeat to the perennial contenders for the MLS Cup, the Sounders displayed plenty of positive qualities in certain parts of the pitch, but they missed the presence of a functional No. 10 dearly. If someone can come into the side and fill the need in that role, Seattle will take a step forward. 

Due to the lack of a true No. 10 in the squad, Schmid has been forced to fit square pegs into round holes in recent weeks in an attempt to create a spark. The experiment that gained the most attention was the alignment of Joevin Jones in the front three instead of at his normal left-back position. 

Back at his natural position, Jones has turned in a decent season alongside his defensive teammates as they've let in just 21 goals. Despite the low total of goals conceded, the Sounders' back line has been put under pressure to be perfect for 90 minutes due to the inability of the attack in the finishing department. 

Seattle didn't necessarily have a terrible match on the defensive side of the pitch in the 1-0 loss to the Galaxy, but it was punished for a lapse of effort in the box on the lone goal of the contest. In past years, defensive errors have been washed away by the dominant attack, but that has not been the case in 2016. 

The addition of Roman Torres, who is working his way back from an ACL tear, should help Seattle reinforce its defensive setup in front of goalkeeper Stefan Frei in the coming weeks and months. Yet the Panamanian won't be able to help on Sunday against the Timbers, who possess an aerial threat in Fanendo Adi and a creative midfielder in Diego Valeri who can pick opposing defenses apart in an instant. 

Sunday's contest in Portland, Oregon, also contains a psychological aspect to it since Portland currently owns the title the Sounders have coveted but have come up short in earning every season since they joined MLS. 

If the defending MLS Cup champions have their way with the Sounders, the pressure from the fanbase on Schmid and the squad will grow. Losing to Portland is unacceptable in any scenario, but dropping the first league game against the Timbers since they hoisted the MLS Cup in December would be as close to a knockout blow to the Sounders as possible given the way this season has gone. 

If we were talking about an Eastern Conference side in this situation, we'd claim it's still in the playoff race and one winning streak will get it back in the mix, but out in the treacherous Western Conference, you need multiple wins and help from other teams across the league. 

The Sounders currently sit eight points back of the sixth-place Vancouver Whitecaps. Since FC Dallas and Colorado appear to have postseason spots locked up if they continue their recent form, there will be a pack of eight teams fighting for a quartet of playoff berths over the last four months of the season. 

The good news, or bad news depending on your outlook for the Sounders at the moment, is Seattle plays 14 of its final 16 matches against Western Conference opposition. But that also means the presumably easy point grabs against the Eastern Conference are almost gone. 

With three games against Portland and one each against Sporting KC, Real Salt Lake and the Galaxy before the end of August, Seattle's fate may be determined by the end of the final regular-season meeting with Caleb Porter's Timbers. 

If you've learned anything about MLS, it is the unpredictable can happen. It already has to an extent in Seattle this season due to the club's unexpected struggles. But the Sounders may deliver the biggest surprise of the season if they somehow work their way back into the playoff mix. The potential push to play in November starts on Sunday in Portland for a side that is in need of upward movement in the table. 

 

 

 

 

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

All statistics obtained from MLSSoccer.com.

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MLS Player Rankings: Ola Kamara Rises to Top; Lampard, Keane Debut
MLS News
Tuesday, 12 July 2016 08:45

Since the resumption of play in Major League Soccer after the Copa America Centenario break, a few attackers have gone on impressive scoring runs. 

The Columbus Crew's Ola Kamara and New York City FC's Frank Lampard are two of the high-profile stars who have been on the national radar since the Copa due to their scoring prowess. 

In addition to Kamara and Lampard, a few other players have flown under the radar since June 18 for their respective clubs. Four of the five new entrants in our MLS Player Rankings have caught fire in front of the net since the Copa, while the other is in terrific defensive form.

Our player rankings take into account the last four matches a player has participated in, with the most recent game carrying more weight.

Continue reading to see who ended up where in the Week 18 edition of the Bleacher Report MLS Player Rankings. 

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