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April 9, 2019

Liverpool Player Ratings vs Porto Champions League Quarterfinals (April 09, 2019)

High Press 10 April 9, 2019

Liverpool had what most would consider the most favorable draw in the Champions League Quarterfinals by facing Porto. This was an open and fast-paced first-half. Liverpool dominated first-half possession (63-37%) and shots (8, 3 OT to Porto’s 4, 2 OT). Porto certainly had early opportunities though.

Liverpool didn’t create many quality opportunities in the second half (and no additional shots on target), but kept a possession advantage (64-36%) a clean sheet, and a 2-0 victory.

The win, coupled with Manchester City‘s 0-1 loss to Tottenham, (momentarily) makes Liverpool probability favorites to win the Champions League.

On to the ratings…

Manager

Jurgen Klopp (6) – So, Lovren in the starting XI? Another vote of confidence for Keita? What did Joel Matip do to deserve the drop for a cold Lovren?

The Keita call paid off big early, with the in-and-out-of-favor midfielder netting the opener in the 5th. The Lovren decision ultimately didn’t hurt the team. However, Klopp should’ve pushed harder for a second half goal. Yes, 2-0 is great, but Porto is an offensive team, will be at home for Leg 2, and a 3-0 win would’ve been significantly harder to overcome. #CrvenaZvezda #NeverForget

Goalkeeper

Alisson (7) – Worked harder than expected, coming up with two big saves around the 30th minute. Almost had a costly miscue with VVD, but a clean sheet is almost always going to get you at least a 7.

Defenders

Trent Alexander-Arnold (8) – His typical effective attacking self, delivered a perfect pass to Bobby Firmino for the second goal. A constant threat, making run after run. Had a beautiful link-up sequence with Salah in the 61st. Inspired play.

Virgil van Dijk (7) – Is ALWAYS is the right spot. Like a magnet to the ball when Porto was trying to play through-balls on counters. John W Henry’s tweet about him definitely applied today.

Was SUPER shaky at the start of the second half, miscommunicating with Alisson and then feebly clearing a ball in the box to a Porto attacker. Steadied himself again towards the end.

Dejan Lovren (6) – Yeah, so. Clumsy early. Caught on a link up in the 17th and bailed out by VVD. Did ably get back in the 39th to shut down an attack. Earns one extra point in his grade for not giving up an OG or penalty in the box. Low expectations.

James Milner (7) – Filling in for Andy Robertson (who is out for accumulating two yellow cards in the previous round), his gorgeous deep pass to Mane set up the opening Keita goal. Distributed well from the back all game, got up field, 👏👏👏

Midfielders

Naby Keita (8) – !!! No, seriously, !!! Keita makes it two games in a row with a goal. Sure, he got lucky off the deflection, but he was solid on-ball early as well. Linked up well with the attacking trio up front. Strong play supporting Milner in the 65th minute. Tailed off a little towards the end, but his best game in red.

Fabinho (6) – A solid-not-spectacular performance in the middle. Still, a steady presence with perfectly weighted passes distributed all over the pitch.

Jordan Henderson (9) – Provided that “creativity” that’s been lacking from the Liverpool midfield of late. Hockey assisted Firmino’s goal on a simply gorgeous pass to TAA. Had what should’ve been an assist on a shaky off-sides call early in the second half on a should’ve-been Mane goal. Was active all 90 minutes. Really strong showing.

Forwards

Roberto Firmino (9) – Creative as always, he assisted on the Keita opener. He finished TAA’s perfect feed for Liverpool’s second goal. We’ve written this before, but he’s so strong on-ball, hard to dispossess. When you’re directly responsible for both of your teams goals in a 2-0 game, you’re getting a strong grade.

Sadio Mane (6) – Like Salah, great work rate defensively. Missed a curler right before getting pulled out for Origi. Not the thunderbolt he’s been of late but not poor.

Mohamed Salah (7) – Needs to be stronger on ball, but great work rate early, helping stifle a counter in the 16th minute. Just missed two early finishes. Continued strong play in the second half, generating a number of opportunities. The difference between “Good Salah” and “HOLY CRAP SALAH!” is just inches, and he was just off today. Deserved a goal.

Substitutions

Divock Origi (5) – On in the 64th for Mane. Strong on ball but no real impact.

Daniel Sturridge (N/R) – Came on for Firmino in the 82nd. Didn’t make an impact.

MEN OF THE MATCH: Henderson and Firmino earn the honors. Not splitting hairs with those two. Both were superb.

Champions League Quarterfinals Content Round-Up

High Press 10 April 9, 2019

The Champions League Quarterfinals kick-off today. Here’s a rundown and recap of High Press Soccer‘s Champions League coverage:

Previewing the Ajax-Juventus Champions League Quarterfinal Match-Up

Tyler Everett April 9, 2019

Before Ajax hosts Juventus in the Champions League quarterfinal first leg on Wednesday, let’s look at what both teams need to do to win, as well as the key players to watch.

Ajax will win if …

They play with the same enthusiasm and fearlessness they displayed when they stunned Real Madrid in the second leg of the Round of 16. We at High Press Soccer liked Ajax’s chances to upset Los Blancos going into that match. But even as believers, we were overwhelmed by the way they picked apart RM on March 5.

Against Juventus, the Dutch club will need to remain creative with its passing and clinical with its finishing in the final third. How it plays without the ball, though, will be even more important. Atlético Madrid was shredded in Turin as the Italians recovered from a 2-0 deficit thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo’s most recent Champions League magic. Midfielders Frenkie de Jong and Donny van de Beek, as well as defender Matthijs de Ligt and the rest of the back line, will need to do what Atleti failed to in their loss: prevent service to Ronaldo. Any ball in the air in Ronaldo’s vicinity is trouble for Ajax, so they must limit those opportunities.

Juventus will win if …

Is it too obvious to say Juve is advancing to the semifinals if Ronaldo has another game anything like his last UCL performance? I think so. Juventus has a massive advantage in experience, so as long as they’re on a level playing field going into the second leg in their backyard, they’re going to be dangerous. That means a draw in Amsterdam, especially if they can produce an away goal or two, would be huge.

The clash of styles between these teams is why many are calling this match-up the most intriguing of the quarterfinals. When Ajax has the ball, will they be able to take on Juve defenders with the same success they enjoyed against RM? Or will the physicality and experience of players like Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini — whose status is reportedly unclear after he injured his calf in practice on Monday — neutralize Ajax’s young talent?

Ajax’s most important player and secret weapon are de Ligt and Dusan Tadic, respectively.

De Ligt is about to be a very rich man this summer, and he can ratchet up the demand for his services even further if he’s able to help Ajax contain Ronaldo. It’s hard to imagine he’ll be asked to do so single-handedly, but he’s the leader of a back line facing CR7, so his importance cannot be overstated. Skeptics will point out that Ajax is not nearly as battle-tested as the other seven teams still alive in the UCL. The doubters will have to find a new criticism of this team if it advances past Juve.

Tadic lit up Real Madrid in memorable fashion the last time we – excluding those of us who regularly watch the Eredivisie – saw him. Can he do to Juventus what he did to the winners of last year’s UCL? It’s hard to imagine him humiliating the likes of Bonucci and Chiellini for an entire afternoon, but a moment or two of brilliance could be all his team needs.

Juve’s most important player and secret weapon are Ronaldo and Moise Kean, respectively.

Say what you will about whether Ronaldo still has as much all-around impact as Lionel Messihe does not, IMO – but that doesn’t make him any less dangerous in front of the net. His strength and leaping ability make him a nightmare in the box. Those gifts, coupled with his ever-so-understated confidence from owning Europe’s top competition for a while now, mean he is – in shocking news – easily the most important player in this game.

The 19-year-old Moise Kean is red-hot right now, with five goals in his last five Serie A matches. He did not play in the first leg of the UCL Round of 16 in Madrid and did not come on until the 80th minute in Turin. He figures to see more action against Ajax, unless Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri is too concerned his lack of experience will be a factor on the big stage. Whether he starts or not, though, expect a player with seven (!) goals in his last eight games for club and country to make an impact at some point in one of these games.

Latest Ajax vs Juventus Odds

Ajax +230Draw +220Juventus+130

Despite being at home and favored in probability models, Ajax find themselves an underdog again. Odds are from FanDuel Sportsbook NJ


Also Read: Champions League Quarterfinal Predictions

Previewing the Manchester United-Barcelona Champions League Quarterfinal Match-Up

Tyler Everett April 9, 2019

Ahead of the BarcelonaMan United Champions League quarterfinal first leg Wednesday at Old Trafford, here’s a look at what both teams need to do to win, as well as the key players to watch.

Barcelona will win if …

It avoids crucial injuries. Man U is talented, but was lucky to beat a PSG team that was missing Neymar in the Round of 16. Barcelona is much deeper and more balanced than the Parisian club, and it’s going to show. As long as Barça’s top players are fit, I expect a fairly one-sided affair.

Lionel Messi (who somehow keeps getting better with age) and Luis Suárez have dominated the headlines in recent weeks, but their team also lacks any clear weakness. In addition to the Argentine and the Uruguayan up top – who have combined for an absurd 14 goals in Barcelona’s last six matches – Barça is stout defensively. Gerard Piqué and Marc-André ter Stegen, among others, have been excellent all season in big games. Yes, there have been hiccups like last week’s 4-4 draw against Villarreal — when Barcelona was by no means playing its best XI. But the Catalans have been tough to crack when it matters. They allowed a total of one goal in the two round of 16 matches against Lyon and in three recent games against Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid, they were not scored on.

Man U will win if …

They score quickly on Wednesday and David de Gea has a performance for the ages. It’s going to take several players turning in incredible efforts for the Red Devils to pull this off, but the most likely scenario for an upset involves an early goal followed by the Spaniard doing something unforgettable (something he is certainly capable of doing). Man U does not lack for dynamic weapons who can create chances. Those players’ fresh legs – their last game was April 2, while Barcelona is coming off a physical battle with Atleti on Saturday – could allow the Red Devils to strike first at Old Trafford.

The EPL club has not, however, been sound enough defensively – and honestly, who has been, considering Barcelona’s form? – for me to expect them to stifle Messi and Co. That means they’ll need de Gea’s A-plus game. We saw in Man U’s upset of PSG that if they keep things close, anything could happen in the closing minutes. Could they get another fortunate bounce at the right time to make an improbable appearance in the UCL semifinals?

Barcelona’s most important player and secret weapon are Lionel Messi and Philippe Coutinho, respectively.

The case for Messi as the most important player on the pitch goes without saying at this point.

There are plenty of candidates when thinking about the X-factor for Barcelona, but why not the former Liverpool star? With Ousmane Dembélé sidelined due to injury, Coutinho has started his team’s last three games in place of the Frenchman. To this point, Coutinho hasn’t presented Ernesto Valverde with a conundrum – when Dembélé is available, he’ll be right back in the starting lineup – but he should have a massive opportunity on Wednesday (as long as Dembélé remains out). At this point, Barcelona’s opponents should sell out to limit Messi and Suárez, which should mean space for the Brazilian. Can he capitalize?

Man U’s most important player and secret weapon are Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku, respectively.

Pogba has to play smarter than he did in the first leg against PSG, when he got himself suspended for the return leg in Paris. We saw last summer during the World Cup that at his best, he’s one of the most dangerous players in the world. This season, he’s been credited as a big reason for his team’s turnaround under OGS. Barcelona’s midfielders and defenders are skilled but are not blessed with the same physical tools as Pogba. If he’s able to take over the game and facilitate for Lukaku and Co. — while occasionally threatening Barcelona’s back line himself — Man U may have a shot after all.

Most fans came away from this team’s comeback win in Paris fixated on the French club’s mistakes, the call that resulted in a spot-kick for Marcus Rashford and the Englishman’s subsequent game-winner. But it was Lukaku who got his team a 2-1 lead with some opportunistic finishes in the early going. Like Pogba, Lukaku has the raw physical ability to give even a well-organized defensive team like Barcelona problems.

Latest Manchester United vs Barcelona Odds

Manchester United +280Draw +250Barcelona -105

Odds are from FanDuel Sportsbook NJ

Also Read: Champions League Quarterfinal Predictions

Let’s Go Shopping: Manchester United Summer Transfer Edition

Chops April 9, 2019

With the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as permanent manager, Manchester United have an interesting and active summer ahead.

Solskjaer will reportedly have £158 million to spend. Math math math…that’s a lot! Will he spend it wisely? Sacked boss Jose Mourinho spent £362 million on 11 players, and outside of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and maybe (maaaaybe) Romelu Lukaku, he saw little return on that investment.

What does United need? What kind of players fit Solskjaer’s system? Does whether or not Man U qualify for the Champions League change the calculus on anything? Let’s explore in our latest edition of Let’s Go Shopping.

Who’s Out?

Chops: Before jumping in with who the Red Devils will splurge on and likely overpay for minimal return this summer, who is likely to leave Old Trafford? Marouane Fellaini and his hair are already off to China. Paul Pogba is fanning smoke signals towards Madrid. Marcus Rashford has callers lining up. Is anyone of note out the door? Who is most likely to bounce?

Katya Gokhman: Although a lot of talk has been about Pogba leaving to Madrid, I have a feeling that won’t be the case. Pogba seems to love the spotlight and being the superstar out on the field — not sure he would get the attention he wants at Real considering how many other superstars they have and are about to have. With this being said, it sounds like OGS is happy with Pogba and may possibly try to build the team around him. With such an enticing offer on the table, I think Pogba will be happy to stay and see what happens. The other big question mark is Marcus Rashford. Barcelona are after him and who can say no to playing alongside Messi at the club that seems to currently be back “en fuego.” However, Rashford is an English lad and United is his childhood club – I think with some convincing from OGS and flashing of some extra cash, Rashford will be persuaded to stay.

Alexis Sanchez will surely be gone as soon as he gets a reasonable offer.  However, I’m not sure how simple or how soon that that will be considering the ridiculous amount of money he makes at Manchester United (around 500,000 pounds a week). I’m sure that he’s ready to go and I think he’s made peace with the fact that it just didn’t work out for him at Manchester United but he’s also not stupid. He won’t leave that easily while making that much money.

Tyler Everett: I promise I won’t just say that every big star, and especially the French ones, will join Zidane at Real Madrid, but I do think Pogba’s a player who’s going to give a move to Los Blancos a lot of thought. I’ll be fascinated to see how United finish the season. Nothing too groundbreaking here, but If they qualify for the Champions League for next season, I like their chances of keeping someone like Pogba infinitely better. I think they lose him, though, if they’re not in the UCL next year — I just don’t see a player of his profile being happy on a team outside Europe’s top competition, even if it’s only for a year. No matter how much a player has enjoyed playing for OGS, failure to qualify for the UCL would make an exit tempting for anyone drawing serious interest from a top European side.

And we can’t talk possible departures without mentioning Ander Herrera and Juan Mata, whose contracts expire this summer.

Another factor that all of Europe, and especially United fans, will be watching closely is how the club handles its front office. The current lack of a technical/sporting director does not make any sense, at least not to me. Will Ed Woodward finally hire someone for what most would consider a crucial role? An article by ESPN.com’s Andy Mitten in February indicated the club will look to make a hire for this role, and explored what the job description might look like if and when this happens. The impact such a move will have on how the club handles this summer will obviously be massive.

Let’s Go Shopping

Chops: Ok, so I asked my Cousin Joe, a die-hard United fan, who he’d want to see them buy. He responded, “Ronaldo, Rooney, and a fucking time machine.”

The point is, they might not be “one player away.”

Don’t get me wrong, £158m isn’t chump change, but in today’s market, that’s one or two top-tier talents. If Liverpool has taught us anything, it’s no matter how good you are you can’t win the Premier League when a club with almost no history gets bought by a trillionaire and breaks all of the rules to sign players on an unlimited budget what a difference a world-class center back can do for your team. 15 months ago, Liverpool could aggressively build leads and improbably lose them better than any top flight squad in the world. Now? They’re on pace for the fourth best season in Premier League history and are doing so almost entirely due to their defensive efforts.

Tyler: The latest player who reportedly wants out at RM is Frenchman Raphael Varane. The 25-year-old center back seems to me like a natural fit at United. He won’t be cheap, though, as he remains under contract. It appears that despite his (emphasis on reported) desire to leave, the La Liga club will insist that his suitors activate his €500M release clause. That tells me he’ll probably be back at the Bernabéu next year.  

Katya: Like Chops mentioned, one of the biggest lessons Liverpool taught us last year is how crucial one player can be — especially on your back line. United need to first, and foremost, get a center back and outside right back. Lindelof has had tremendous growth as a player but he needs someone alongside him that will lead the way.  I agree with Tyler – I think that Varane is an ideal choice but I just don’t see it happening. Real Madrid and Zidane are holding on to Varane as tightly as they can. Zidane has always seen the value in Varane – he was the one that recommended him to Real Madrid when Varane was a teenager. Even if he is ready to leave the club for a new challenge, it doesn’t seem that he will be affordable anyways.

It seems that Kalidou Koulibaly is their best choice.  He’s 27 and has the experience to not only keep the Man. United defense organized and composed but to give Lindelof the support he needs while he continues to grow and evolve.  He had a good run at Napoli but I don’t see why he wouldn’t go ahead and give Manchester United a shot. Real Madrid just confirmed their signing of Éder Militão and we already know how eager they are to hold on to Varane, so Manchester United just might be in luck for getting Koulibaly.

Chops: I don’t view United as offensively challenged, especially with a rejuvenated Pogba. However, if you think United isn’t going to try and land some fire power you’re sorely mistaken. There’s going to be a bidding war for Jadon Sancho this summer. If Christian Pulisic goes for $73.1M USD, how high is Sancho’s price tag? And is he the right fit for Man U?

Tyler: To answer the first question in two words: much higher. Pulisic is a great young player, and I’d like to add that I’ve never seen a U.S. player quite like him, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. I love how Sancho would fit at United. An attacking trio of Rashford, Sancho and Anthony Martial would be among the most entertaining in Europe. The bad news for the Red Devils is that they’ll likely be in a bidding war for the 19-year-old with the likes of Real Madrid and PSG, which means the “winner” of that that race will be paying a sum that will make the Pulisic fee look like chump change.

Katya: Former BVB coach, Otmar Hitzfield, said that Sancho reminded him of a “young Frank Ribery.”  Dortmund love him and he’s already getting comfortable with the English national team.  Needless to say, this kid has a lot going for him. As Tyler mentioned – with the likes of Rashford, Sancho, Martial in the attack with Pogba underneath them, the Manchester United attack would be one giant force to be reckoned with.  So with this being said, Sancho will go for a lot more. The word on the street is that he’ll go for about $58 million (around 100 million pounds total asking price) more.

So my question is, will he be worth spending on if the major problems Manchester United currently have are in their defense?  If they purchase both Sancho and Koulibaly, who else will they have room to purchase? Sanchez is sitting on a pretty hefty sum at MU and until they get rid of him, they may or may not have a tough time clearing space for more than a few quality players.

Chops: Another name bandied about is little Philippe Coutinho. Whether or not his house is jinxed isn’t for us to determine. The bottom line is he’s not been the same since leaving Anfield. At Liverpool, he was a creative breaker of defenses and constant attacking threat. Since arriving at Camp Nou, he’s been the opposite of that. Should Manchester United bring him into the fold?

Tyler: Chops, you’re right, your beloved Coutinho has not found a position this year in Barcelona. The Catalans are already intimating that they’ll be happy to part ways with the Brazilian if any club is willing to pay him €100 million or more. That’s a big if considering his form this year, but he’s still only 26 years old, and is not far removed from his time at Anfield.

He’s among a slew of players still alive in Europe whose price tag could change dramatically based on how they perform in April and May. As we’re all aware, Barcelona has some huge games ahead. Ousmane Dembélé’s fragility means the opportunity is there for the taking for Coutinho. Will we look back at his goal last Tuesday against Villarreal as a springboard to a strong finish to the season? Time will tell, and it’s also hard to know how Barcelona will react if he suddenly rediscovers his mojo. Would they be excited to see his value improve before they sell him? Or would it remind them of why they made him one of the highest-paid players on the continent, and make them reluctant to let him go?

Katya:  Reflecting back on our discussion about Sancho, the price tag on Coutinho will be similar to Sancho’s if Barcelona decide to sell him.  So, I think it would either be Sancho or Countinho that Manchester United would fight for, not both. If I were to look at this from my perspective of being a former professional soccer player, I would say that Coutinho may not be the player we remember him to be.  He is still young, but with his ups and downs in Barcelona, his confidence is not what it used to be. He would need to build that up again. Meanwhile, Sancho seems to be going in the direction of where Coutinho was when he was at Liverpool. For the similar price tag, Sancho seems like more of a solid choice.

Chops: Ok so you’re Ed Woodward. Who would your top target be?

Katya:  As the saying goes “defense wins games.”  They need to go for Koulibaly. It’s not like the offense at Manchester United is lacking with the likes of Pogba, Martial, Rashford and even Lukaku.  I would love to see Jadon Sancho on that list as well but I think the first priority should be the back line. Once they square that away, they can move their way up to the attack.

Tyler: I’d say they should do whatever it takes to land Varane, but that release clause is exorbitant, even for a team with pockets as deep as United’s. With Varane likely unavailable, I’d say go after Sancho with everything you have. Already-proven players at his age are incredibly rare, and valuable, even if there’s nothing cheap about them.

Chops: Sancho seems like an obvious target. Also, if United don’t invest heavily on defenders, a #10 like Paulo Dybala would be a good fit. His creativity could help unlock Lukaku, Rashford, etc. Given that world-class center-backs don’t grow on trees, maybe a young attacking right-wing-back, a need as Katya mentioned, like 20 year-old Ruben Vinagre from Wolverhampton, helps bolster both the defense and the attack simultaneously (think what Robbo and TAA do for Liverpool).

United have the funds to pursue almost anyone, and still have a brand that will attract quality players. To put themselves back into contention for domestic and European trophies, they need to avoid the mistakes you see in American pro sports like football (Dallas Cowboys earlier this decade) and basketball (New York Knicks under James Dolan) by not over-spending for any talent just because they strike out on their top targets.

Also read: Let’s Go Shopping: Real Madrid Summer Transfer Edition

Is LAFC the Best Team in MLS?

April 9, 2019

LAFC, at five wins and a draw in six games, sit atop the MLS standings. They picked apart D.C. United in a marquee weekend matchup, winning 4-0 and upping their goal differential to a monstrous +14. They’ve won their last two matches by a combined 9-0. Their attacking nuance and creativity sets them apart.

How LAFC is dominating

Carlos Vela is staking a very real campaign for being the best player in the league, leading MLS in both goals and assists. Diego Rossi is second in goals, and Latif Blessing is tied for second in assists. LA attacks with firepower and has found balance down the lineup, freeing the Vela-Rossi attacking combo to run into space and combine.

Blessing, though, has been a big difference-maker. Having started the season as an every-position utility player, Blessing is now a ball-moving number 8, rotating the ball everywhere and slithering into half-spaces. He has grown exponentially as a passer, and begun to realize how his dribbling abilities unlock passing opportunities.

Next to Mark-Anthony Kaye, Blessing patrols large swaths of the field and puts the ball in good areas with help from Eduard Atuesta, a calm, competent presence on the ball. If we learned anything from the We are LAFC documentary on ESPN+, it’s that Andre Horta won’t be much of a factor for this team in the future, but the emergence of Atuesta and Blessing have assuaged concerns over a missed opportunity with Horta.

Central midfield had often been LA’s weakest point in their expansion season, especially after a devastating Kaye injury in July. Opponents sliced through it, and the slow, over-aggressive center back tandem of Walker Zimmerman and, for the first half of the season, Laurent Ciman was not the right personnel to deal with it. With Blessing, Kaye and Atuesta, LAFC now have one of the best passing midfields in MLS.

The backline has solidified as well. Zimmerman is in the USMNT pool. Eddie Segura, LA’s biggest off-season get, has proven a valid starter. Jordan Harvey and Steven Beitashour are experienced MLS vets manning the flanks. Tyler Miller is growing into a top 10 goalkeeper in MLS. It’s a deep starting XI all the way through.

But the front three, with Vela, Rossi and either Christian Ramirez or Adama Diomande, shreds opponents. Vela darts inside from the right flank and fills space behind the center forward, cutting in on his magical left foot and probing outside the box. With Rossi seeing everything Vela sees, the attack hums at a pace too fast for MLS defenders.

Rossi is a clinical finisher who knows who to put himself in goal-scoring positions, only he does it off the wing — adding a runner, poacher and creator to an attack revolving around Vela and the striker. Diomande and Ramirez make the right runs and see chances as a result.

This all happens without sacrificing too many bodies going forward. Bob Bradley has the well-oiled machine he wants, and has found exactly the right role for his superstar in Vela. LA look like the league’s best team as others (like the Red Bulls and Atlanta) drop unexpectedly. They have the depth, system and top-tier talent to stick at the top of the Western Conference.

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