Questions to answer in MLS preseason camp: Seattle Sounders

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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.)

Seattle finally flung one monkey off its back in 2012 when the club saw its first postseason triumph. Unfortunately, the glow of their Western Conference semifinal win over Real Salt Lake lasted only a few days, their lopsided loss at Home Depot Center three days later recasting the club’s lingering question: Can the team get done it in the playoffs?

It’s a strange, old-timey question that invites quips about sample size and confirmation bias. Regardless, the critique remains: One of the most talented teams in Major League Soccer has yet to truly push for an MLS Cup, something fans noticed after the team fell flat in LA.

This year, despite some major departures, expectations are the same. Seattle wants to content for this year’s title.

Here are some questions that will need to be answered:

  • Who replaces Fredy Montero?

You know he would have given you double-digit goals. And you know he would have been one of the team’s assists leaders. But now that Fredy Montero’s gone, you know Seattle have to replace him.

David Estrada’s work rate and versatility make him a good complement to Eddie Johnson, but Mauro Rosales could also be slid into a true No. 10’s role. Mario Martínez can come in, as could Steve Zakuani. You could even push Christen Tiffert forward while deploying Brad Evans in central midfield.

It’s too early to tell what Sigi Schmid will do, but he has options. The Sounder boss may need a few months of regular season play to see how his team develops.

  • Can Christian Tiffert’s adjustment continue?

Dropped into Major League Soccer half way through last season, the former Kaiserslautern midfielder went through an adjustment period, often struggling with the physicality of the whistle-shy league. By the end of the season, Tiffert’s game had adjusted, but his body had not. He seemed rundown by pace and intensity of the league’s last three months.

Amid all those hurdles, Tiffert showed skills that could perfectly complement Osvaldo Alonso’s, his ability to get to and win second balls rounding out what could be MLS’s best midfield. But with Fredy Montero gone, Tiffert’s going to have more of a presence going forward, adding the ability to create through the middle to his already excellent crossing.

  • Will Jeff Parke be missed?

Salary cap issues meant something had to give. Unfortunately, that meant more than losing Fredy Montero. Seattle also lots their best defender, with Jeff Parke traded to Philadelphia in December.

Patrick Ianni looks set to slide in next to Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, but with Parke gone, the performances of Alonso and goalkeeper Michael Gspurning become even more important. Last year, the duo were the key components of the league’s second-best defense, but with Parke gone, we’ll see how valuable to new Union defender was to last year’s success.

MORE in ProSoccerTalk’s preseason camp series:

Up Next: Sporting Kansas City

Steven Gerrard bashes Arsenal following Saturday’s defeat

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Steven Gerrard may no longer play against Arsenal on the pitch, but the former Liverpool midfielder wasn’t shy with his words on Saturday about the Gunners following the club’s 1-0 defeat at Stoke City.

[ MORE: PL roundup — Man United rolls, Arsenal stumbles at Stoke ]

The ex-Reds skipper — turned BT Sport pundit — went off on Arsene Wenger‘s side after the loss, and stated that the London side cannot be considered Premier League title contenders.

“They don’t compete well enough, they’re not solid enough, they’re wide open to counter attacks,” Gerrard said. “They got away with one here, it was a fantastic save from Petr Cech.

“You see it here on the edge of the box, one missed tackle, then he drives into the midfield, (Hector) Bellerin’s late on the press, (Alex) Oxlade-Chamberlain’s tackle is weak, (Granit) Xhaka doesn’t want to know and he skips past Bellerin again.”

Gerrard was describing the build up to Stoke’s lone goal on the day, which came through loanee Jese Rodriguez less than two minutes into the second half.

The Gunners, who conceded last three a week ago in their wild 4-3 victory over Leicester City, have looked shaky defensively through their first two outings, and Gerrard believes that the club can ill-afford to continue this way when they face the PL’s elite.

“It’s just weak defending and against better opposition they would get punished for this like Leicester did last week,” Gerrard continued.

“To be a top team and to compete for this Premier League, you have to be really good in possession and Arsenal are, they’re a fantastic team.

“But to be a top, top side you have to compete out of possession, you have to be horrible to play against. Arsenal are too easy to play against.”

[ MORE: Atletico closing on $52 million deal for  Chelsea’s Diego Costa ]

Arsenal’s next time out will be against Gerrard’s former club, Liverpool, next Sunday.

PL Sunday preview: Chelsea, Spurs clash in early London derby

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Manchester United continued its strong early-season impression on the Premier League on Saturday, but Sunday’s slate of matches features two of last year’s elite meeting at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Man United runs rampant on Swansea in victory ]

Tottenham and Chelsea will clash in their first London derby of 2017/18 at the historic ground, while a meeting between two promotion sides precedes the encounter.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]


Huddersfield Town vs. Newcastle United — 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN

In the first clash this season between newcomers, Huddersfield will go for its second consecutive win as David Wagner‘s side plays host to Newcastle.

The Terriers kicked off their ’17/’18 campaign in style last Saturday with a 3-0 win over Crystal Palace, and the side looked quite dominant for most of the match.

Newcastle saw their fortunes change drastically against Tottenham after Jonjo Shelvey was sent off after halftime. The Magpies struggled to handle the talent of Spurs after the sending off, conceding twice after Shelvey’s dismissal.

Joselu could also make his debut for Newcastle on Sunday after joining the club from Stoke this summer.

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Chelsea — 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN

Antonio Conte‘s second season in the Premier League began with an anything but ideal result last weekend as Chelsea fell to Burnley, 3-2, at Stamford Bridge.

To make matters worse, red cards for Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas rule the two players out for Sunday’s clash against Spurs. With Eden Hazard and Pedro still likely to miss the match due to injury, Chelsea does have some good news as Victor Moses returns from suspension and Tiemoue Bakayoko could make his PL debut — although it will likely come off the bench.

New striker Alvaro Morata looks to build off of his goal and an assist performance from last weekend up front, and the Spaniard could very well start for Chelsea after coming off the bench against Burnley.

Meanwhile, Spurs looks to build off of its victory against Newcastle last weekend, which featured goals from Dele Alli and Ben Davies.

Mauricio Pochettino‘s side went out and made their first major signing of the summer this week with the acquisition of Ajax defender Davinson Sanchez, and the Argentine manager says his club isn’t done adding players.

Bundesliga wrap: Pulisic shines (again); Schalke tops RB Leipzig

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The Bundesliga dipped its toes into a new season on Friday with Bayern Munich’s win over Bayer Leverkusen, then dove right into the waters on Saturday.

[ MORE: Premier League roundup ]


Hertha Berlin 2-0 Stuttgart

Australian attacker Mathew Leckie had a heck of a debut for Hertha, scoring in each half of a win over newly-promoted Stuttgart. Former USMNT player Julian Green was not in the 18 following reports that Stuttgart could sell the winger.

Schalke 2-0 RB Leipzig

Last season, Schalke finished a shocking season at mid-table while RB Leipzig went from newly-promoted to second in the league.

Order was restored for a weekend on Saturday, as ex-Spurs man Nabil Bentaleb converted a penalty kick before halftime to give Schalke a 1-0 lead. Yehven Konoplyanka added insurance in the second half as Schalke started the season right.

Wolfsburg 0-3 Borussia Dortmund

Christian Pulisic scored Borussia Dortmund’s first goal of the Bundesliga season, the cued up Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with a inch-perfect pass through the six to make it 3-0 at Wolfsburg. Marc Bartra also scored for the visitors.

Elsewhere

Bayern Munich 3-1 Bayer Leverkusen — Friday
Mainz 0-1 Hannover 96 — Martin Harnik scores
Hamburg 1-0 Augsburg — Bobby Wood plays 87 mins
Hoffenheim 1-0 Werder Bremen — Kramaric scores
Freiburg vs. Eintracht Frankfurt — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Koln — 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday

Wenger: Arsenal lost a game it should have won

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Saying, “You don’t want to lose games that you should win,” Arsene Wenger lamented everything that went against his men in Arsenal’s 1-0 loss at Stoke City on Saturday.

“It’s a difficult defeat to swallow,” Wenger said. “We had chances. We should have won the game comfortably.”

The Gunners had a pair of penalty shouts go unheard and saw an Alexandre Lacazette goal called back for offside.

[ RECAP: Stoke City 1-0 Arsenal ]

If it was offside, it was as thin as the garlic in Paulie Cicero’s “Goodfellas” sauce.

“We scored a goal that is not offside. It’s a very easy decision. When the ball is kicked he is not offside, Lacazette.”

And those thin margins are what cost title contenders their season-ending goals. Here’s Wenger (all quotes from the BBC):

“I believe some teams will get something here, that is why if you want to play at the top you have to consider it three points dropped.”

Arsenal had 77 percent possession, but allowed Jese Rodriguez to score on one of the few times the Potters had the ball. Of that, Wenger said “I was not convinced by our central defense today.”