Questions to answer in MLS preseason camp: Columbus Crew

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(Over the next week we’ll look at two or 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.)

Anyone else thinking that manager Robert Warzycha has to get it right this year?

Things started well enough when the former Polish international took over for Sigi Schmid back in 2009. A Supporters Shield was claimed and the team made the playoffs.

That’s been the high water mark, however. Two subsequent playoff appearances have helped maintain a certain level of success, although the club is still looking for its first post-season win since claiming the MLS Cup under Schmid back in 2008.

Last year saw a back slide as the Crew failed to qualify for the playoffs; they just couldn’t keep the momentum going from Federico Higuain’s fantastic start.

So as camp begins in 2013, the pressure is surely building. Answering these three questions would things begin moving the right direction.

  • Can the new faces get acquainted quickly?

It seems a little early for a roster re-do, seeing as the Crew pretty much took a sledgehammer to the side just two years ago. But here we are.

Dilly Duka, brimming with potential, wants a trade. Chilean midfielder Milovan Mirosevic has just moved on. Sebastian Miranda, Cole Grossman and Emilio Renteria are out of there, as well.

Longtime No. 1 William Hesmer is gone, having lost his spot to Andy Gruenebaum. Gruenebaum will start in goal, but they’ll need a reliable backup. So the team will need to integrate lots of replacement parts.

MLS vet Tyson Wahl has made Columbus his latest stop. Brazilian veteran Gláuber was just signed to partner with Chad Marshall in the center of Columbus’ defense. Club GM Mark McCullers says several new signings may be announced over the coming days and weeks; the blog Massive Report says defensive midfielder Matías Sánchez may be one of them.

  • How best to build around and capitalize on Higuain?

Over 17 MLS seasons, few players have landed with such a ferocious impact as the Argentine attacker did last season. Higuain started only 11 matches and yet still managed to generate some league MVP chatter.

Clearly, the Crew have found something potentially quite special in their 28-year-old forward / attacking midfielder, whose resume includes stops at Boca Juniors and River Plate, and whose brother Gonzalo is among the Galacticos of Real Madrid.

“Something special” means one thing: you build around the guy, fitting the parts and designing the system concentrically around his particular set of abilities. Warzycha and his staff didn’t have time to do so last year. Now they do.

  • How to get the best from everyone?

I love Eddie Gaven and continue to see him as one of Major League Soccer’s most underrated men. Then again, wouldn’t it be nice to see the team’s busy flank midfielder get more than two assists (to go with those nine goals, which, to be fair, is above average production for his position). No one has quite unlocked Tony Tchani’s full potential, which is mostly about making him more consistent. Chad Marshall can still dominate, but he can have his off nights, as well.

Once Warzycha and McCullers fill in the roster gaps, getting the best from the familiar faces around Crew Stadium will certainly help the cause and ease the significant transition ahead.

MORE in ProSoccerTalk’s preseason camp series:

Up Next: D.C. United

Sweden announces Zlatan Ibrahimovic will not return for World Cup

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s public flirtation and seeming committal to returning to the Swedish national team for the World Cup was a big tease.

Whether it’s his call or not is up for debate.

The Swedish Football Association reports that it’s spoken with Ibrahimovic and the 35-year-old LA Galaxy striker has declined the chance to return to the fold.

[ MORE: Fulham, NFL owner to buy Wembley? ]

Sweden’s sporting director Lars Richt says Ibrahimovic has not changed his mind on international retirement despite his own words.

Sweden’s current team may have a role in that.

We imagine Richt and Sweden may be cushioning the blow for Ibrahimovic, especially if national team goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson is speaking on behalf of a team vibe when he speaks of Zlatan being “an individualist” who could ruin Sweden’s team-first concept.

Report: Fulham, NFL owner Khan agrees $700m price for Wembley

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Fulham owner Shad Khan also owns a National Football League team, and could have two top-flight teams from different nations playing in England soon.

For Fulham, the Cottagers are currently very much in the race for automatic promotion to the Premier League and at the least will have a chance at qualifying through the playoffs.

[ MORE: TFC loses CCL Final in PKs ]

For the Jaguars, who have rarely needed all the seats in their stadium, it could mean a move to London if Khan goes through with what’s being reported as an accepted $700 million bid to buy Wembley Stadium.

Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium was also built with the design to host NFL games.

Here’s how ProFootballTalk’s Michael David Smith puts a bow on it (on one of the biggest days of the NFL calendar, nonetheless):

So it’s possible that there could soon be two iconic soccer stadiums in London with strong NFL ties, one which was built with NFL games in mind, and another that is owned by an NFL owner. The league is pouring serious resources into London.

It seems unlikely Khan would move Fulham from Craven Cottage, but there are other repercussions of this move for soccer in England.

There’s the potential for the England national team to no longer utlizie a permanent home, and the FA Cup and League Cup both potentially requiring new or rotating venues for their final rounds.

A lot to monitor here, and we’ll surely have all the details as they emerge from Khan’s crew.

TFC on CCL loss: “Feels the heart has been ripped from the chest”

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Michael Bradley went 90 minutes at center back, Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco scored, and Toronto FC nearly, oh-so-nearly, became the first Major League Soccer side to win a continental title in the CONCACAF Champions League era.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

“We wanted to be the first (MLS side) to lift the CONCACAF Champions League trophy,” said goalkeeper Alex Bono, according to MLSSoccer.com. “We failed in that goal; that’s massively disappointing. … This is the way the game goes, it’s unjust; it feels the heart has been ripped from the chest sometimes.”

Bono made some big saves in regulation as TFC flipped its 2-1 first leg loss on its ear over 90 minutes, but Chivas Guadalajara scored all four of their penalty kick attempts as Jonathan Osorio hit the bar and Bradley set his effort on a path to the moon.

That part was possibly academic, as Chivas could’ve sealed it with their fifth penalty, but Marky Delgado’s miss of a perfect Sebastian Giovinco stoppage time cross is what sent the match into kicks.

Here’s how The Toronto Sun’s Kurt Larson framed his post-match interview with Delgado, described as one of the few players not to walk past the media after the loss:

“That’s football sometimes,” Delgado searched for words. “Sometimes you win. Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes it goes in. Sometimes it doesn’t. It’s heartbreaking.”

It felt cruel to keep him standing there any longer.

“Wherever we are, we want to win,” the soft-spoken American said. “Unfortunately today we didn’t, but we know we dominated the game.”

And Bradley, in the season after Toronto won a trouble but also 18 months removed from missing a PK in the MLS Cup Final — not to mention marshaling the USMNT midfield in its monumental failure to qualify for the World Cup was mostly good in playing out-of-position.

“In the biggest moments, we threw caution to the wind and played with balls, bravery, and pride in ourselves, in each other, in our club and our city,” Bradley said on Canadian television outlet TSN.

They did, and now they must hope to win the Canadian Championship, MLS Supporters’ Shield, or MLS Cup to get another shot at qualifying for the Club World Cup.

Toronto loses CONCACAF Champions League in PKs

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Chivas Guadalajara scored on all of its penalty kicks to clinch a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League Final, breaking the hearts of Toronto FC in Mexico on Wednesday and earning a berth in the 2018 Club World Cup.

Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore scored in regulation as Toronto FC picked up a 2-1 win to reverse their first leg loss and push it to kicks.

Orbelin Pineda scored Chivas’ goal.

Hometown kid Jonathan Osorio hit the cross bar on Toronto’s second PK and Michael Bradley sent the fifth offering into outer space.

[ MORE: Bayern 1-2 Real Madrid ]

Toronto flew out of the gates, and Rodolfo Cota came flying off his line to deny Altidore a 10th minute chance.

Alex Bono collected a header off a Chivas corner kick earned by a counterattack.

Pineda then made Toronto’s task even harder with a 19th minute goal, cooking Auro’s mark to reach a through ball and dancing around Bono for 1-0.

But Altidore was somehow unmarked for Nic Hasler’s pass despite five Chivas defenders and Cota inside the six-yard box, and TFC leveled the second leg at 1.

And TFC got the next goal through Giovinco, slipped through by Marky Delgado and taking advantage of a yard of space and a second to shoot with his fourth goal of the CCL knockout rounds.

The Reds kept coming in the second half, with Delgado winning a big 50-50 ball deep in Chivas territory and Victor Vasquez ripping a shot that Cota dove to smother.

Chivas found its footing in 58th minute, sending a shot over the bar before Jesus Godinez hit the post in the 61st (though his dive seemingly had the near post covered). Bono the next knocked a free kick over the bar from a similar position as the ball that beat him in the first leg.

Javier Lopez curled a vicious attempt just over the goal in the 72nd. He’d have the next best chances moments after Altidore subbed off with an apparent hamstring injury, but dribbled onto Bono’s lap and fired off the keeper.

Giovinco worked a 1-2 with Osorio and cruised a shot just wide of the far post in the 87th minute. Delgado then mailed a sitter over the bar in the first minute of stoppage time.