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Questions to answer in MLS preseason camp: New England Revolution

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No one will begrudge Jay Heaps a learning curve. Being a first-year head coach is challenging enough – and doing so last year at rebuilding New England was always going to be a tough climb.

But it’s fair to ask for progress this year following a deflated 2012 campaign, one where playoff aspirations were drifting from view by August.

The attacking elements are all there. But Heaps, a former defender, and his staff have some ground to make up in that wobbly defense if they want to avoid missing the playoffs a fourth consecutive season.

Considering that this time last year Heaps (right, with Saer Sene) was running his first professional practices – Ever! – he’s presumably better equipped to answer the burning questions heading into preseason camp in 2013:

  • Where is the defensive leadership?

A lot of that depends on an important sub-set of that question: who is in goal?

Matt Reis remains the longtime incumbent, and he seemed to kick the game up a notch after a mid-season benching in 2012. On the other hand, Bobby Shuttleworth has always been a bright understudy, so the position may not be exactly “up for grabs,” but it’s no lead pipe lock for Reis, either.

Some of the Revs’ defensive frailty in 2012 could be pinned on lack of communication and leadership in the back. No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Farrell has the physical tools to be a central defensive force at Gillette Stadium, but is he ready mentally?

Darrius Barnes and Kevin Alston (and perhaps even third-year man A.J. Soares) are getting to places in their careers where they can’t just be “players,” where they need to reliably be voices, instructors on the field.

Someone has to take command back there.

  • Where do all the fascinating midfield parts fit it?

Andy Dorman is back for his second Revolution “go round,” and there are lots of ways Heaps can use the midfield veteran, coming off a moderately productive five-year stay in Scotland and England.

What of Lee Nguyen, who was so effective after being claimed on the cheap 11 months ago from Vancouver that U.S. international Benny Feilhaber was deemed surplus at Gillette? (Yes, it was surely more complicated than that with Feilhaber, but same difference as it relates to Nguyen and the bigger personnel puzzle going into 2013.)

And then there’s lefty specialist Juan Toja, one of the truly intriguing figures in MLS going into this 18th season. We know the guy can play. The questions with Toja have always been along the lines of “Where’s his head at?”

Dorman and Nguyen are fairly versatile, willing and able to play centrally or out wide. Toja tends to drift inside, even when stationed ostensibly on the left, so perhaps a little less so on his end. With all that, there are talented, younger men to factor in, too.

Of course, it’s not all about attacking. Somebody’s got to screen and support that iffy back line – and Clyde Simms or Stephen McCarthy can’t do it all themselves.

  • What does the forward depth chart look like?

If you can’t find a quality forward around the Revs’ ongoing training camp in Casa Grande, Ariz., you aren’t looking very hard. It’s on Heaps and staff to make some order within the stack-up of striking ability.

Saer Sene is coming off knee surgery, but team officials say it’s “so far, so good” on his rehab. The club’s first double-digit goal scorer since Taylor Twellman (Sene had 11 last year) probably won’t be at top speed by the club’s March 9 opener, but he seems on pace to be there soon after.

He and Honduran international Jerry Bengtson, who had his moments after last year’s late-summer signing, seem like options Nos. 1 and 2.

But Diego Fagundez is a bright young prospect, and Dimitry Imbongo might be as well. Plus, the team’s first two draft picks, Donnie Smith and Luke Spencer, may have something to say about it.

And let’s not forget that Heaps could use Dorman, Nguyen or Toja somewhere along a front line, depending on the formation.

MORE in ProSoccerTalk’s preseason camp series:

Up Next: New York Red Bulls

New reports claim Mourinho in talks with Manchester United

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New reports from various outlets in the UK claim that Jose Mourinho and Manchester United have held talks about him becoming the new man in charge at Old Trafford.

[ MORE: Klopp missing with illness ]

Mourinho, 53, has been out of worked since being fired by Chelsea back in December, but rumors have been rife that he will land at United.

The latest gossip claims that Mourinho and his agent, Jorge Mendes, have held talks with the United hierarchy about replacing current boss Louis Van Gaal this summer.

Van Gaal, 64, has a contract through the end of the 2016-17 Premier League season, but with United currently languishing five points off the top four and knocked out of the UEFA Champions League at the group stage, the Dutchman’s time appears to be running out.

After spending $375 million on new talent over the past 18 months, LVG’s team have blown hot and cold and this season have struggled to score goals or entertain fans on a regular basis. In the recent defeat to Southampton at home Van Gaal and his players were booed and jeered throughout but they’ve won two-straight games in the league and cup since then, scoring six goals and conceding just once.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

That said, with crosstown rivals Manchester City announcing that the most sought after coach on the globe, Pep Guaridola, will be arriving as their new boss in July on an initial three-year contract, United may feel the need to hire Guardiola’s old sparring partner from their days back in Spain coaching Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Manchester United vs. Manchester City is already pretty spicy. Imagine adding the Iberian passion of Guardiola vs. Mourinho to the mix. It’s gone off in the past when these two have met and having the two most successful coaches in the game today coaching in the same city would be something to behold.

Let’s see if this latest round of rumors is just that, or if United will make their move.

It was widely expected that Mourinho would take over from Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013 when he retired but reports claimed that the directors at United didn’t want Mourinho, despite his resume as a winner wherever he has gone.

United needs to be rebuilt and Mourinho needs to rebuild his reputation after being fired by Chelsea just seven months after he delivered the Premier League title, his third in five full seasons in charge of the Blues.

Klopp to miss Liverpool vs. Sunderland through illness

Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool FC
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Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has suffered a bout of suspected appendicitis and will not be at Anfield for the clash against Sunderland on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra).

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Klopp, 46, will miss his first game since joining the Reds last October and it comes on the same day supporters groups are planning a mass walkout in the 77th minute to protest against new tickets prices for the 2016-17 season which were released earlier this week.

Liverpool Football Club released the following statement confirming Klopp’s absence:

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp will be absent from today’s Barclays Premier League fixture against Sunderland at Anfield, after suffering a suspected bout of appendicitis.

First-team duties will be overseen by the remaining members of the coaching staff, including Zeljko Buvac, Peter Krawietz, Pepijn Lijnders and John Achterberg.

A win against Sunderland would momentarily move Klopp’s side up to seventh place in the Premier League table and see them on 37 points for the season.

Watch Live: Manchester City vs. Leicester City (Lineups, Live Stream)

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 29:  Jamie Vardy of Leicester City and Joe Hart of Manchester City in discussion after the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester City at The King Power Stadium on December 29, 2015 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Manchester City host Leicester City at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) in a huge clash between the top two teams in the Premier League table.

Leicester, the surprise package of the season by far, lead the way and are three points ahead of Man City heading into this monster clash.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE VIA LIVE EXTRA

Both teams are in sensational form, with the home side unbeaten in seven games and Leicester without a defeat in six. Will Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez torment City’s banged up back line? Or can City’s expensively assembled squad show their class and put the Foxes in their place?

In teams news City start with Nicolas Otamendi and Martin Demichelis at center back, while Raheem Sterling starts out wide in support of lone forward Sergio Aguero. Leicester line up in a familiar 4-4-2 formation with Vardy and Shinji Okazaki leading the line.

LINEUPS

Manchester City: Hart; Zabaleta, Otamendi, Demichelis, Kolarov; Delph, Fernandinho; Sterling, Toure, Silva; Aguero. Subs: Caballero, Clichy, Sagna, Fernando, Garcia, Iheanacho, Celina

Leicester City: Schmeichel; Simpson, Morgan, Huth, Fuchs; Drinkwater, Kante, Mahrez, Albrighton; Okazaki Vardy. Subs: Schwarzer, King, Gray, Ulloa, Dyer, Wasilewski, Chilwell

3 things we learned from the USMNT win over Canada

PORT OF SPAIN, TRINIDAD & TOBAGO - NOVEMBER 17: Jermaine Jones #13 keeps the ball in play during a World Cup Qualifier between Trinidad and Tobago and USA as part of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers for Russia 2018 at Hasely Crawford Stadium on November 17, 2015 in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago. (Photo by Ashley Allen Getty Images)
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The United States played to a disjointed and sloppy win over Canada to wrap up January camp. It was promising at times, but mostly a cringe-worthy display by both sides. Here are the key notes from the 90 minutes at StubHub Center in California.

1) Jermaine Jones should never play CB again

Look, this probably wasn’t ever the plan, and it probably never is. It’s the “break glass in case of emergency” option. With Matt Miazga likely supposed to start one or both these games before he left for Chelsea, and the departure of Michael Orozco and Brad Evans, the U.S. was thin at the back.

Still. Yikes…

Jones was flat out awful. Just days after he played well in a midfield distribution position against Iceland, he was a total mess at the back. Jones was miserable on the ball, giving it away with ugly touches, he lunged in on challenges including one on Cyle Larin early that very well could have resulted in a Canadian penalty. And he charged forward – something a central defender can never do – leaving his teammates caught out at the back. This ended with Matt Besler getting a yellow card:

Please, Jurgen. Never again.

2) Jordan Morris is developing into a useful player

In his first cap since signing a professional contract with the Seattle Sounders, Morris gave his critics much to think on. Many said the 21-year-old would come and go without much staying power, but he partnered well with Jozy Altidore. There wasn’t much service up front during his time on the field, but when there was, Morris drew defenders off Altidore, and he provided a solid foil to his bigger partner with his speed and precision. He didn’t have many opportunities, but when he did, he made his presence known.

3) Playing players out of position very rarely bears fruit

Soccer coaches often have two choices at their disposal when building a lineup: either pick the best 11 players and position them into a formation that fits their skills best, or pick a formation and then select the 11 players that fit that formation the best. Klinsmann prefers neither. Instead, recently he’s been picking 11 players he wishes to play, choose a formation he feels will fit the opponent, and then tries to force the players he chose into the formation he selected.

It hasn’t worked, especially not today. He tried to force 3 center-backs onto the back line. He tried to force three central midfielders (and Zardes) into a flat four midfield that occasionally looked like a flat diamond. Neither worked. It’s an experimental environment, sure, but the benefits of his choices aren’t entirely clear.

We know what doesn’t work, but we still don’t really know what works, and isn’t the latter what January camp was for?

4) Jozy Altidore needs to work on his heading…oh

Bonus! So, as the game wound down, I had written that Jozy needed to work on his heading in front of net. The 26-year-old had a few headed opportunities in the box throughout the game, and he failed to capitalize. He looked to drill it into the ground on multiple occasions, but from the distance most of his efforts came from, he likely should have looked to aim his headed shots rather than use the ground pound technique.

Then, you know, he scored the late winner on a header. So, yeah. Never mind. But still. Yeah. Whatever.

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