Questions to answer in MLS preseason camp: San Jose Earthquakes

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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.)

How many MLS sides would relish a list of preseason questions to answer as short as San Jose’s?

No, the Earthquakes didn’t quite get where they wanted to be in 2012. But some of that was about running into the league’s hottest team, the eventual champs.

Otherwise, you could argue that Frank Yallop’s men did just about everything right in a record-breaking – let’s scratch that and call it a “record-shattering” – season.

The Supporters Shield winners migrated into preseason camp earlier this week with most of last year’s Supporters Shield winning side intact. They have a to-do list, just like every club; theirs just doesn’t take as long to go over.

Some top questions to begin answering as the team sets up this week in Arizona:

  • Will Simon Dawkins return?

His time at Buck Shaw Stadium has been courtesy of loan agreements with Tottenham Hotspur, where he remains under contract and, depending on whom you ask, may or may not be considered fairly valuable property.

Dawkins’ availability in 2013 doesn’t drastically alter the team one way or the other, but he does provide some valuable depth in a season that promises to be busier than last year’s around the Bay, mostly due to CONCACAF Champions League involvement.

Club officials certainly want him back; he’s a fantastic finisher out of the midfield and his pace helps add balance to an attack well equipped with ample bulk closer to goal.

  • What does the striker situation look like behind Chris Wondolowski?

I’m sure Yallop will tell us that no starting spot has been awarded, that they must be earned. And I know that, Yallop being an honest man, he’ll mean it.

On the other hand, a returning 27-goal scorer who reliably works his socks off in practice is most likely going to start. So let’s look at the stack-up of striking talent behind Chris Wondolowski.  There’s a lot to consider.

Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart are back to provide all the hustle, bustle and muscle they did in 2012. Marcus Tracy once had some “next big thing” wrapped around him. And former Seattle Sounders man Mike Fucito is in camp and ready to pounce should any one of them slip even a wee little bit.

  • Will Yallop deliver a slightly different preseason message?

Show me someone who says he saw the Earthquakes fabulous 2012 campaign coming, I’ll show you a liar. Or someone I want sitting next to me on my next trip to Vegas, at least.

Here’s the thing: it’s a little tougher to be all that when everyone expects it. I’m not saying it can’t happen; I now say that you doubt San Jose at your own peril.

But it may take slightly different approach, and  preseason is perfect tone-settin’ time.  Even with no adjustment, San Jose will be fine in 2013. But if we’re talking about fractions of improvement to get over the championship hump, perhaps a fresh message would help re-spice the stew.

MORE in ProSoccerTalk’s preseason camp series:

Up Next: Seattle Sounders FC

Chinese clubs to pay 100% tax on foreign transfers

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The days of Chinese Super League sides spending eye-popping figures on a handful of international superstars are over — either that, or those figures are about to double — for now, at least.

[ MORE: Oscar given 8-game ban for petulant display in China ]

China’s Football Association announced Thursday that, effective immediately, any foreign player signed for a fee exceeding $6.63 million would be subject to a 100-percent tax on top of the fee paid to acquire the player. The tax will remain in effect until the end of China’s ongoing transfer window, July 14. The tax will also apply to Chinese players signed for a fee exceeding $3 million.

It’s Chinese authorities’ latest attempt to prevent big spending by CSL clubs, which has in every instance been detrimental to the development of young Chinese players making their way through the academy system. The taxed money will then be reinvested in “youth training, construction of public sporting facilities and scientific progress in football development,” according to a statement by the CFA.

Just last week, China was eliminated from contention to qualify for next summer’s World Cup in Russia. The only time China has ever qualified for the World Cup was in 2002.

Young Englishman Oxford goes abroad, to Gladbach, on loan

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MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany (AP) Borussia Moenchengladbach has signed English central defender Reece Oxford on loan for the season from Premier League club West Ham.

Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl says “Oxford has gone through all the England youth teams and is one of the biggest defensive talents in Britain.”

The 18-year-old Oxford, who spent the second half of last season on loan at second-division club Reading, is Gladbach’s fifth arrival of the off-season.

Qatar stadium safety concerns again raised by death investigation

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An investigation into why a British man fell to his death on a building site for the 2022 Qatar soccer World Cup has raised concerns about stadium roof safety.

World Cup organizers on Thursday released partial findings of an assessment of the accident at the Khalifa International Stadium, but said the full report cannot be released while local authorities continue their own investigation. It is one of two work-related deaths detailed in Qatar’s latest welfare report on preparations for the 2022 soccer tournament, which currently involves 12,367 workers on eight construction sites.

The 40-year-old British man fell 39 meters in January after one end of the roof catwalk he was installing dropped and a safety rope snapped.

“During the course of the investigation, the team had raised concerns with the method of installation of the raised catwalk system,” the welfare report from Qatar’s World Cup organizers stated. “This required further investigation regarding the method itself and the supervision skills of the specialist contractor staff.”

It has led to “corrective and preventative actions” being implemented by the contractor, a joint venture between Belgian and Qatari firms, along with safety checks across all stadium sites, the report said.

“These included a review of all working-at-height activities across all SC projects, an enhanced process when reviewing specialist activities within construction sites, and a detailed review of all roof and gantry designs,” the Supreme Committee overseeing stadium projects added.

The British man is the only European working on Qatar stadiums to have died in a country relying on a low-paid migrant workforce from south Asia to prepare for the first World Cup in the Middle East. Six non-work related deaths have been announced by organizers, with most suffering from heart or breathing problems.

Hassan Al Thawadi, the supreme committee’s secretary general, said medical staff are trying to raise awareness of the “importance of healthy lifestyles” by evaluating diets and identifying health issues, including hypertension and diabetes. Cooling helmets have also been developed in an attempt to make it safer for workers on outdoor sites during the searing summer heat.

World Cup preparations have been dogged by concerns about the welfare of workers since the natural gas-rich Gulf nation won the FIFA vote in 2010. Mounting international pressure led to Qatar raising living standards and worker rights. Inspections led to three contractors being blacklisted and 14 entities “demobilized” from projects for failing to tackle welfare issues, the World Cup report reveals.

“There is still work to be done to ensure our workers’ welfare standards continue to have a tangible impact on the ground and we are comprehensive in our attempts to tackle the myriad of issues facing migrant workers across the SC program,” Khalid Al-Kubaisi, who oversees worker welfare at the Supreme Committee, said in a statement.

The report has been released as Qatar is gripped by a diplomatic crisis that has seen it isolated in the region. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar earlier this month and blocked air, sea and land traffic over its support for Islamist groups and ties with Iran. Qatar denies the charges and says the allegations are politically motivated.

Official (finally): Salah completes move from Roma to Liverpool

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It was the summer’s first transfer rumor-turned-real-story-turned-never-ending-saga that seemed to refuse to cross the finish line, but it’s finally come to pass: Mohamed Salah is a Liverpool player.

Salah’s move from Roma to Liverpool took so long to complete that the club’s poor social-media manager probably never wants to read the words “Announce Salah” for the rest of his/her life.

The deal will cost Liverpool something in the neighborhood of $50 million — a new Liverpool club record — and completes the utterly terrifying attacking quartet Jurgen Klopp can’t wait to unleash on the Premier League come August — Salah on one side, Sadio Mane opposite, Philippe Coutinho in the middle, and Roberto Firmino at striker. Salah, by the way, will take over Firmino’s no. 11 shirt, with the Brazilian switching to no. 9.