(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.)
Next up in our peak around the MLS landscape are the Philadelphia Union. The third-year expansion franchise — can we really call it an expansion club anymore? — didn’t have a strong 2012 but has plenty of pieces to compete this season. John Hackworth will have a full year to earn his keep after taking over for Petr Nowak midway through last year’s campaign. The big question: Can he combine the wily veterans with a growing crop of talented youngsters to make a push for the playoffs? The answer to these three questions will help us decide.
- Can Jack Mac dominate?
The forward, who turns 21 on August 5, is coming off a kind of, sorta breakout season in 2012. After starting just five matches in 2011, he made the opening XI 18 times, netting eight goals. McInerney is one of the most natural finishers in the league, a talent not shared by too many young Americans. He is young, but entering his fourth season in MLS and could be primed to truly make an impact on every game he plays. The Union, who finished ninth in the Eastern Conference in goals scored, desperately need him to hit for a dozen or more.
- What to do about Freddy Adu?
We know one thing: The teen prodigy-turned-flameout won’t be playing for Hackworth. The coach said as much in his honest, infamous open letter to fans, saying Adu was “not part of our plans going forward.” Hackworth did not spell out those plans — nor does he have to — but it’s clear that the midfielder will find himself elsewhere or sitting out the season entirely. From a playing perspective, Adu’s final destination does not matter as the Union have enough talent to compete without him, but they are hamstrung by his salary. It would be better to be rid of him sooner rather than later, even if that means taking on a portion of that DP fee.
- Are they ready for “the Leap”?
In 2010, the Union got their bearings. In 2011, they surprised the league and made the playoffs. In 2012, they struggled under Nowak, then managed to find some stability with Hackworth but still finished in eighth in the Easter Conference. Anything could happen in year four. It’s doubtful that they will be one of the top teams in the conference, but a good year could see them compete for a playoff spot. If a few players can improve, the entire squad could follow. A lot of ifs, however.
Step back in 2012 after a strong 2011
MORE in ProSoccerTalk’s preseason camp series:
Up Next: Portland Timbers
Manchester City fell 2-1 to Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday in a massive battle in the Premier League title race.
[ RECAP: Man City 2-1 Spurs ]
While Christian Eriksen‘s late winner was the game’s deciding goal, it was Harry Kane‘s opener from the penalty spot that has caused some controversy.
Tottenham’s Danny Rose whipped in a cross that was blocked away by a jumping Raheem Sterling in the 54th minute. Sterling had his back to the ball, but the cross took a deflection off his elbow and referee Mark Clattenburg signaled for a penalty.
Speaking after the match, City boss Manuel Pellegrini was extremely angered by the decision, saying City were the better side until the penalty changed the flow of the match. Pellegrini also thought back to Tottenham’s win over Man City in September when the same official was in charge when Spurs scored two goals that looked to be offside.
It was a penalty that referee Mark Clattenburg wanted to sign for and he gave the sign. It was absolutely the wrong decision, it hit the back of Raheem Sterling then his elbow. Sterling was not even seeing the ball. It was the same referee in the first game where there were two clear goals in offside and we lost 4-1.
It was the key moment that decided the game; before that they did not shoot towards our goal and did not have any chances. We took the risks, the spirit of the team was good but it was not enough.
The rules regarding a hand-ball have been the topic of much conversation this season, as there seems to be a gray area where officials are forced to make judgement calls, with this decision very harsh.
[ MORE: Three things we learned from Tottenham’s win over Man City ]
Now six points behind leaders Leicester, Manchester City will take a break from Premier League action and play a string of important cup ties. First up is a fifth-round FA Cup match against Chelsea before a long trip to Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League, followed by the League Cup final against Liverpool.
Canada and Trinidad & Tobago face off for the top spot in Group B in CONCACAF Women’s Olympic qualifying today in Houston.
[ WATCH LIVE: T&T vs. Canada ]
With wins in their opening matches, both sides are tied on three points and will look to take sole possession of first place on the Road to Rio.
Canada started off qualification with an easy 5-0 win over Guyana, while Trinidad & Tobago needed two late goals to beat Guatemala 2-1.
[ WATCH LIVE: T&T vs. Canada live online via NBC Sports Live Extra ]
After taking home the bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics, the Canadians will be favorites along with the United States to qualify for the Rio Games from CONCACAF.
Sunday’s Premier League triple header on NBCSN delivered drama, goals and controversy by the time the dust settled on the day’s action.
[ MORE: Saturday’s action ]
All told, we saw 12 goals, a red card, two penalties and a tightened title race.
Let’s take a spin through those three matches.
Arsenal 2-1 Leicester City — RECAP
The Emirates Stadium crowd saw a little bit of everything. The Gunners went down 1-0 on a controversially drawn and lethally taken penalty from Jamie Vardy, then saw a glimmer of hope when Foxes defender Danny Simpson took two quick and silly yellow cards. Theo Walcott found the leveler and Danny Welbeck, out for 10 months, returned to score the winner in the fourth of four minutes of stoppage time. The Gunners are now two points back of Leicester and nine goals of differential behind No. 2 Tottenham.
Aston Villa 0-6 Liverpool — RECAP
Having two of your brightest attackers in the lineup can do a lot for an offense’s potency, and Philippe Coutinho found Daniel Sturridge to open the scoring very early at Villa Park. A deluge of goals followed, and Villa will be wondering if there’s any way out of the drop zone after James Milner, Divock Origi, Nathaniel Clyne, Emre Can and Kolo Toure also scored for the Reds to bury the home side’s goal differential with its table status.
Manchester City 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur — RECAP
If Vardy’s penalty was controversial, Mark Clattenberg’s decision to award one to Tottenham was cataclysmic. Raheem Sterling‘s leaping block of a cross was deemed to be a handball, and Harry Kane beat countrymate Joe Hart with a PK. Super sub Kelechi Iheanacho equalized for the Etihad set, but fellow late game entry Erik Lamela sprung Christian Eriksen for a tidy match winner in the 83rd minute.
FA Cup, Europa League, Premier League? Yes, please. Harry Kane wants them all.
Kane converted a penalty kick as Spurs bested Manchester City 2-1 on Sunday at the Etihad Stadium, moving to within two points of the Premier League’s top spot.
[ MORE: Match recap | Watch Eriksen’s winner ]
The big striker was euphoric after Christian Eriksen also scored to help Spurs pick up the win, and said the media can decide what it wants about their chances; He knows they can do it.
From the BBC:
“That is up to you lot if we are challengers, we know what we are capable of. We are still in three competitions and we are taking them all very seriously. We are confident we can beat anyone in the league, you saw that today and we came away victorious. We are buzzing.”
Spurs have captured 15-straight points in making their run to second. There’s plenty of time before March 5’s big North London Derby with Arsenal, but we’re looking forward to it.
Before then, Spurs have a pair with Fiorentina in the Europa League, an FA Cup date with Crystal Palace, and PL fixtures versus Swansea and West Ham.
Title race on!