Toronto FC v FC Dallas

Questions to answer in MLS preseason camp: FC Dallas


(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.)

The trend line is moving the wrong direction around Frisco in suburban Dallas.

In 2010, FC Dallas seemed to be the better team in the MLC Cup final, although David Ferreira and Co. could not get past stubborn and stingy Colorado.

Schellas Hyndman’s team made the playoffs in 2011 – but then made a quick exit. That was better than in 2012, however, when the club’s late summer surge just wasn’t enough to make up all the ground lost during lengthy injury absences to key elements Ferreira, Brek Shea, George John, Ugo Ihemelu and Blas Perez.

There is clearly a big “to do” list in preseason, with plenty of questions to answer:

  • Is Brek Shea part of the team or not?

The league’s earliest kickoff yet is adding some pressure to the ongoing Brek Shea transfer tussle. In the big picture, haggling over player value is probably an important and worthwhile exercise. But at micro-level, the team needs to know about its second-best player, about whether they need to go fetch a replacement.

In previous years, clubs had just a little more operating space; the March 2 kickoff means this needs a resolution ASAP.

Because if Shea is going to play at FC Dallas Stadium this year, he deserves a good, settled preseason training camp. That would give the big lefty the best chance to rally past last year’s injury-soaked, disappointing follow-up to the 2011 breakthrough.

Related, and whether Shea is part of the list or not, who are the outside midfielders on this club? Because there don’t seem to be many of them. Even Ricardo Villar, who has played along the outside at times, is awol now.

  • What is Jackson’s role?

The club’s Brazilian utility knife has certainly been a valuable tool in Schellas Hyndman’s belt. He has played more or less all over the field, and what a nice asset that has been.

But he’s not really a striker. He’s not really trustworthy enough to be a central midfielder. Jackson’s best spot seems to be along the outside, whether as a defender or in the midfield.

It’s on Hyndman and his staff to sort out depth chart, pinpoint where they need the pacey, skillful veteran most, and then get Jackson settled into that role. It would surely be best for everyone.

We do know this: they don’t need the guy at center back, where the fortune of being able to select Walker Zimmerman on draft day has created something of a logjam at the spot. So, they need to get that sorted out over the next few weeks, too.

  • Who fills the Daniel Hernandez role, and what’s the shape without him?

Hyndman had previously designed the system around Ferreira and Hernandez, a midfield destroyer and heady distributor, but one who was limited in range. So the formation has frequently been a hybrid 4-4-1-1 during Hyndman’s time, with a designated screener and a busy bee two-way man to hurry back and forth, supporting Ferreira on the attack and then sliding in next to the holding mid upon losing possession.

Incoming Frenchman Peter Luccin looks like the new Hernandez, so to speak. If he has a little more range in his central midfield game, the team may find itself settled into a more conventional 4-4-2.

MORE in ProSoccerTalk’s preseason camp series:

Next: Houston Dynamo

No clean sheet, no cake for Leicester at Rainieri’s birthday party

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 22:  Leicester City mascot Filbert Fox is seen prior to the Premier League match between Leicester City and Crystal Palace at The King Power Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
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It’s a happy birthday celebration for Claudio Ranieri, though cake will be missing for Leicester City’s players.

The manager turned 65 on Thursday, and was ready to share some of his gigantic birthday cake with his players if they fulfilled his requirements on Saturday.

[ MORE: Match recap | Fuchs’ great goal ]

The Foxes picked up a comfortable-enough 3-1 win through Ahmed Musa, Christian Fuchs, and Shinji Okazaki, but Yohan Cabaye‘s late goal means no dessert.

“I said I would share my birthday cake in the dressing room if I got a clean sheet,” Ranieri joked to the BBC. “They clearly don’t want a piece.”

Ranieri also explained Jamie Vardy‘s bench place being down to squad rotation after a busy week — Leicester beat Copenhagen in the Champions League — and said Musa is about ready to kick on after an adjustment period in England.

Birthday-boy Wenger plans to drown sorrows after Arsenal draw

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02: Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal looks on during the Premier League match between Burnley and Arsenal at Turf Moor on October 2, 2016 in Burnley, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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Arsene Wenger turned 67 on Saturday.

His Arsenal side didn’t reward him with the present of three wins as the Frenchman watched them labor to a 0-0 draw against Middlesbrough.

[ MORE: Bradley’s Swans solid ]

The Gunners thought they’d snatch victory at the death but Mesut Ozil’s goal was offside and although they dominated possession, Middlesbrough looked dangerous on the break with Adam Traore, Alvaro Negredo and Gaston Ramirez all going close.

Speaking to the BBC after the game, Wenger thought his Arsenal side looked a little bit tired following their 6-0 win in the UEFA Champions League at home against Ludogorets on Wednesday.

“It is a game where you had a lot of possession but there were tired legs and you are prone to counter-attacks. You make it difficult for yourself. 75% possession but you could have lost the game, that is modern football.  When you are not sharp, you lack creativity in the final third. I must say, we gave everything but we did not have the legs today.

“The energy levels were a bit down but we were intelligent enough not to lose it. We were exposed at times. When you cannot win, you must not lose. They had chances but our goalkeeper saved us today. Petr Cech had a good performance in decisive phases. We tried. You don’t win on command though. We lacked our creative potential around the box. That is part of it.”

He was also asked if he plans to have a drink to celebrate his birthday. Wenger’s response was classic…

“At least you can have a drink on your birthday. When you win you deserve it. When you don’t you need it,” Wenger said with a smile.

Regardless of a small slip up and an end to their six-game winning streak, Arsenal sits top of the Premier League on Saturday after the 10 a.m. ET games.

Surely that’s reason enough to have a few glasses of Champagne, Arsene?

Christian Fuchs’ bullet a highlight for Leicester City (video)

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Leicester City showed the class of champions on Saturday, improving its Premier League standing with a 3-1 win over Crystal Palace.

The King Power Stadium saw some dicey late moments thanks to a Yohan Cabaye goal, but first got to celebrate an absolute stunner from an unlikely source.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

While Ahmed Musa and Shinji Okazaki goals are more encouraging signs for the Foxes’ attack, it was a scintillating bit of work from Christian Fuchs that really stoked the fire.

Fuchs came onto a ball with Leicester leading 2-0 and lashed his left football through the ball for a venomous volleyed goal.

Bob Bradley “disappointed” as solid Swansea fail to take chances

SWANSEA, WALES - OCTOBER 22:  Bob Bradley, Manager of Swansea City claps the fans prior to kick off during the Premier League match between Swansea City and Watford at the Liberty Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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Bob Bradley got his first point as a Premier League manager on Saturday but the American coach knew it should’ve been more.

[ VIDEO: Pulisic’s late goal ]

Gylfi Sigurdsson hit the post and Mike Van der Hoorn produced a fine save from Hurelho Gomes as the Swans drew 0-0 with Watford at the Liberty Stadium in Bradley’s first home game in charge.

Making five changes to his Swansea City side which lost 3-2 at Arsenal last week, Bradley made the Swans much tougher to break down as Watford’s striking duo of Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo barely had a sniff at goal.

Young center back Alfie Mawson impressed, as Bradley changed three of the back four who looked shaky at Arsenal last time out, and for most of the season.

Speaking to the BBC about the 0-0 draw, Bradley was happy with the second half display and Swansea’s first clean sheet in eight Premier League games.

“The second half was strong and we came out right from the beginning looking for a goal. It didn’t happen but there are a lot of positives. It was important to get a clean sheet and the play from our center halves was solid as Deeney and Ighalo are difficult to play against. This is a step we can build on,” Bradley said. “Alfie (Mawson) impressed and it is not a surprise when you see him day in, day out. He is strong, good in the air and I am very happy with him.”

“I think the team we picked today made sense, we had a solid game but we are disappointed. It is a home match so we want three points, but you see the chances we are creating and we can feel good and try to move in the right direction. There is disappointment for sure, but a shared feeling of an all-round good effort.”

If you look at the stats below, it suggests just how tight Bradley’s side was at the back, with the expected goals map showing a 0.4 rating for Watford.

We all know that Bradley will bring defensive solidity and improved organization but the fact that he has done it so quickly at Swansea will be a big bonus for the New Jersey native.

Bradley knows that the goals will come with Sigurdsson and Modou Barrow particularly dangerous, once again, but the main thing which will help the Swans climb up the table and away from the relegation zone is clean sheets and nicking wins.

With the next four games handing Bradley two tough matches and two winnable ones — they face Manchester United and Crystal Palace at home and Stoke City and Everton away — the Swans will look to keep it tight and take their chances when they come.

They didn’t do that on Saturday but the progress is clear for all to see. For a team who is without a win in eight PL games, they aren’t letting it impact their play as Bradley continues to whip them into shape.