Question to answer in MLS preseason camp: D.C. United

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(Through the week we’ll look at three Major League Soccer clubs per day, considering what they need to accomplish and what questions deserve answers during preseason training camps. Opening day in MLS is March 2.)

Some clubs use preseason to build or rebuild. Some are down to adjusting and tweaking.

The luckiest (Hello, D.C. United!) can use winter rehearsals to refine, fine tune and generally keep things pointed in the right direction.

That isn’t to say that D.C. United manager Ben Olsen and his club don’t have work ahead. They do, especially on defense.

But given the upward trend around RFK and all the talented young players, there’s a lot to be excited about for a club that came quite close to safe arrival into last year’s MLS Cup final.

In the first of 18 preseasons without longtime club staple Kevin Payne at the top of the organizational chart, here are the questions Olsen and Co. need to answer:

  • Are the right pieces present to build a better back line?

It’s a tough call. Major League Soccer’s restrictive salary policies mean clubs can seldom be strong all over the field. Center backs Dejan Jakovic and Brandon McDonald aren’t bad, but they aren’t MLS elite class. Nor are the outside backs Daniel Woolard, Robbie Russell and Chris Korb.

There’s plenty of “pretty good,” but is that enough? Consider that last year’s defense was 7th among 10 playoffs teams in goals allowed in the regular season (43). Again, not bad … but nothing special.

A big piece of the back line preseason puzzle will be unwrapped when United finds out once and for all about Andy Najar, whose extended loan to Belgium power Anderlecht looks more and more like a transfer in the making.

  • Just exactly what is the best spot for Chris Pontius?

Let’s be clear about this: Pontius can be successful as an attacking presence out of midfield or as a striker. But in his fifth year as a pro, it should now be about getting the very best out of Pontius. (By the way, now that Omar Gonzalez has finally found his way into an extended U.S. national team camp, Pontius officially replaces the Galaxy center back for most U.S. supporters as the talented man who most needs to be recognized internationally for his, you know, talent.)

It’s all tied, of course, to where Olsen uses De Rosario in 2013.  Whatever the arrangement, the club should get Pontius into a spot and let him be the best that he can be – which is surely a lot.

  • What’s the best preseason approach for a hectic year ahead?

There is so much attacking talent around RFK, but several of the critical pieces come with their own set of 2013 challenges. May as well begin dealing with them now, in the preseason.

Dwayne De Rosario turns 35 in May, and he’ll presumably be part of Canada’s Gold Cup squad in the summer. He’ll need proper pacing.

Pontius is coming off injury and doesn’t need any preseason setbacks. Bet on seeing him in the U.S. assembly for Gold Cup, by the way.

Nick DeLeon slumped in the middle of the year, and it’s fair to speculate that the dreaded “rookie wall” had something to do with it. He needs the right kind of long-term conditioning during preseason.

MORE in ProSoccerTalk’s preseason camp series:

Up Next: F.C. Dallas

LA FC continues active offseason with addition of Laurent Ciman

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It seems like Major League Soccer’s latest expansion team is taking a page out of Atlanta United’s playbook in its buildup to the 2018 season.

[ MORE: NYCFC provides stadium details for Belmont proposal ]

After selecting five players in Tuesday’s MLS Expansion Draft, Los Angeles FC announced that it will be sending two of those players to the Montreal Impact.

LA FC will be sending Jukka Raitala and Raheem Edwards to the Impact.

The return? Bob Bradley and LA FC will acquire Impact center back Laurent Ciman — who has proven to be one of the best defenders in MLS since arriving in 2015.

“Laurent is a top defender who provides leadership and great distribution,” Bradley said upon acquiring Ciman. “His experience in the league and with the Belgian National Team will be invaluable as we build our club.”

With the addition of Ciman now in place, LA FC has built a strong central defensive partnership after the club also brought in former FC Dallas defender Walker Zimmerman in a trade on Sunday.

The expansion side already made a major splash with its first Designated Player signing this year, bringing in Mexican international Carlos Vela.

Huddersfield 1-3 Chelsea: Blues bounce back on the road

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Chelsea picked up a convincing road victory on Tuesday as the Blues topped Huddersfield Town, 3-1, at the Kirklees Stadium.

[ MORE: Gremio reaches Club World Cup final ]

The Blues came out hungry following Sunday’s defeat at West Ham, and an unlikely goalscorer gave  Conte’s group the lead.

Sloppy passing at the back saw Willian with the ball at the top of the Huddersfield area, before the Brazilian brilliantly played Tiemoué Bakayoko in on goal for his second finish of the season.

Willian — who played a key role throughout the match — extended the Chelsea advantage three minutes prior to halftime when his header snuck past Terriers goalkeeper Jonas Lössl.

Chelsea was clicking on all cylinders after halftime, when Willian helped set up Pedro for his third goal of the Premier League season.

Meanwhile, Laurent Depoitre pulled a goal back late for the hosts, but it was too late to rescue a result for Huddersfield.

Crystal Palace 2-1 Watford: Eagles storm back late, move up to 17th

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All things were pointing towards Watford’s direction on Tuesday, but a late change in fortune gave the Eagles a share of the points.

[ MORE: Burnley climbs into Premier League top four ]

A pair of late goals gave Crystal Palace a 2-1 win over Watford at Selhurst Park, and pulled Roy Hodgson’s side out of the relegation zone.

Bakary Sako and James McArthur each found the back of the net after the 87th minute to complete an important comeback for the Eagles. Now, Palace sits 17th in the PL standings on 14 points.

The big moment of the match came in the 87th minute, when Tom Cleverley was sent off after picking up his second yellow card.

Three minutes into the match, Daryl Janmaat struck for the visitors after the Dutchman headed home Richarlison‘s cross from close-range.

Burnley 1-0 Stoke City: Barnes’ late strike guides Clarets into top four

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Don’t look now, but the Clarets have climbed into the Premier League top four.

Burnley found a way Stoke City late on Tuesday, picking up a 1-0 win at the Turf Moor behind Ashley Barnes‘ late finish.

[ MORE: Gremio reaches Club World Cup final, awaits Real Madrid or Al Jazira ]

The Clarets, who have now secured 31 points over their first 17 matches this season, leapfrogged Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham with the victory. However, all three sides will be in action on Wednesday.

Steven Defour nearly put Burnley ahead on 69 minutes, when the front man tested Stoke keeper Jack Butland — who had to make a sprawling save to his right.

While Stoke mustered up several quality chances, it was Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s blast in the first half that nearly found the top left corner.

Next up for Burnley will be a date against Brighton on Saturday, while Stoke travels to Huddersfield the same day.