Questions to answer in MLS preseason camp: Sporting Kansas City

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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.)

A U.S. Open Cup trophy and an Eastern Conference regular season crown landed at formerly named Livestrong Sporting Park in 2012. But who can blame Peter Vermes and Co. (and the club’s peppy supporters) for feeling just a little unfulfilled?

Vermes, heading into his 5th season as SKC’s manager (fourth full season), has all the elements in place to make a mark on MLS yet again. It’s mostly about tinkering, tuning up and turning up the best roles for a couple of talented, experienced additions.

Sporting Kansas City seems to have a lot of upside – again. Even more perhaps if Vermes and his club can answer these questions over the next five weeks:

  • Where does Benny Feilhaber fit?

Losing midfield workhorse Roger Espinoza could have been a powerful blow but for the opportunity to scoop up Benny Feilhaber (pictured) at relatively low cost.  The U.S. international is equally as talented as Espinoza, although not the same player. Whereas Espinoza, the Honduran international who just took up with Wigan Athletic, was an industrious ball-winner who could also contribute on offense, Feilhaber is a passing and attacking specialist who can help out on defense.

Sporting Kansas City’s attack system requires loads of effort from the two central midfielders (in front of the holding man) and the wingers. Feilhaber has to show that he’s willing to put in his share of the work load, and that he’ll press, track and defend the way everyone does in Vermes’ high-energy system.

There is also a hole to fill where the departed Julio Cesar played last year, but Paulo Nagamura is a better fit there. Given the busy season ahead, they’ll need a little extra cover and will need to identify at least one more who can provide minutes in the screening role.

  • Does Bobby Convey have a role?

Convey was a big part of SKC’s big start in 2012, but injuries interrupted his progress and in the end the former U.S. international was limited to 14 starts and 18 appearances. By season’s end, he was available but not part of the regular rotation.

He’s on the books for about $215,000 this year, quite a stack of cash in MLS for someone who cannot earn regular minutes.

Convey looked like the perfect left-wing weapon when he came east in a trade from San Jose a year ago. Now, Vermes and the SKC management need to figure out if Convey can be part of the plan around Sporting Park. (It’s no longer Livestrong Sporting Park, you know.)

  • How best to configure the forward line?

There are all kinds of options along a front line that can be configured in several ways.

Incoming Argentine newcomer Claudio Bieler, a Designated Player, will presumably be front-and-center in the plan. So what are the supporting roles around them for Convey, Kei Kamara, Teal Bunbury, C.J. Sapong, Jacob Peterson and others?

Related to the above: Is Kamara still part of SKC, or will the big attacker be moving on? Is Bunbury healthy and set for an effective Sporting Park return? Where does Zusi best fit, tucked inside in the midfield or out wide along the front line?

Again, it’s about tinkering and arranging. That doesn’t mean the choices are easy, but they are positive choices to have.

MORE in ProSoccerTalk’s preseason camp series:

Up Next: Toronto FC

Watford signs Will Hughes from Derby County

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Watford has completed the capture of 22-year-old central midfielder Will Hughes, a fantastic transfer for one of England’s younger talents.

Hughes, despite his young age, racked up 189 appearances for Derby County (despite missing significant time in 2015 for an ACL tear) and now gets his first shot at the Premier League, and with it potentially a chance to push his way into the England fold. Hughes has been a staple for the England youth system, making 22 appearances for the country’s U-21 side but is yet to feature for the senior team.

The fee for the transfer was undisclosed but reports have tabbed the amount at around $10 million.

Hughes came close to making the Premier League with Derby County on multiple occasions, reaching the Championship playoffs in both 2014 and 2016. Now, he’ll battle the likes of Valon Behrami, Tom Cleverley, Etienne Capoue, Abdoulaye Doucoure for a spot in Watford’s midfield.

The club release confirmed that Hughes has not yet completed his medical, and will do so when he returns to the U.K. from competing in the U-21 European Championships in Poland.

New Zealand 0-4 Portugal: Ronaldo, Portugal win Group A

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New Zealand gave the 2017 Confederations Cup all they had, but they go home empty-handed as Portugal won the Group A finale 3-0 to advance to the knockout round.

Portugal held much of the possession as expected, but they found little at the end early on. The first true chance fell to Cristiano Ronaldo in the 24th minute, who latched onto a Ricardo Quaresma cross from wide right and produced a powerful header, but it was poorly directed straight to New Zealand goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic for the easy save.

[ RECAP: Mexico eliminates Russia with 2-1 comeback ]

Ronaldo had another headed chance minutes later, but he rocketed the attempt back off the post. Portugal would eventually find the opener just past the half-hour mark via the penalty spot. Danilo was clearly shoved by a pair of defenders on a set-piece, and Ronaldo easily dispatched the spot-kick for a 1-0 lead.

The favorites would double their lead just a few minutes later as Eliseu on the overlap came down the left flank and cut horizontally into the box. He fed a charging Bernardo Silva, and the in-demand Monaco attacker jumped to meet it and poked home. Silva was unable to celebrate after turning his ankle heavily on the landing, but he would come back onto the field.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

Portugal finished things off with 10 minutes to go in the game as Andre Silva burst through the midfielder, shucked his defender, and fired past Marinovic to seal the game for good. Nani added a fourth The win means Portugal finishes level on points with Mexico at the top of Group A, winning the group on goal differential thanks to Silva’s final goal.

Mexico 2-1 Russia: Comeback seals semifinal place

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Mexico again produced a poor first half, but were saved in the final 45 minutes as Juan Carlos Osorio led the CONCACAF squad to the semifinals of the 2017 Confederations Cup.

Right off the bat, there was a controversial moment. Just five minutes into the game, Yuri Zhirkov burst into the Mexico box and went to ground under a challenge from Hector Moreno. The referee waved play on, but it appeared on replay that Moreno tripped Zhirkov. Nevertheless, no call was made and no word came from the video assistant referee.

[ RECAP: Portugal eases by New Zealand 4-0 ]

The hosts had another huge penalty shout, but the referee again waved play on as Fedor Smolov was sent flying to ground as Nestor Araujo contacted his leg from behind in the 17th minute. After about a minute of play, the VAR called for a review, but even after a look at the monitor, the referee decided there was not obvious reason to reverse the call.

With Russia applying all the pressure, they would find the breakthrough in the 25th minute. A pair of fantastic saves from Memo Ochoa went for naught as Alexandr Erokhin whiffed, but he was able to find Aleksandr Samedov who struck low past Ochoa for the opener.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

The lead wouldn’t last long. Mexico didn’t exactly seem sparked by the deficit, but they would draw back level against the run of play just past the half-hour mark. It appeared that Nestor Araujo’s looping header was meant to set up a teammate at the far post, but it ended up chipping Igor Akinfeev and tucking inside the woodwork for the equalizer.

After halftime, Mexico scored completely out of nowhere. A bombed clearance out of the back by Hector Herrera seemed an easy collect for Akinfeev, but as the ball bounced high up into the air, Hirving Lozano charged it down and headed the ball under feeble pressure from the Russian goalkeeper. The ball bounced unchallenged into the net, and Mexico took a shock 2-1 lead.

Mexico appeared to have a third to pad the lead, but VAR took 34 seconds to correctly reverse the call as replay spotted goalscorer Hector Moreno in an offside position on the delivery. Russia was doomed to defeat when Zhirkov was given a second yellow card for a clear elbow to the face of Miguel Layun. Somehow, the hosts still had one big chance in the 72nd minute despite the disadvantage, but Igor Smolinkov somehow missed the net on what should have been a tap-in.

The win for Mexico sees them into the knockout stage, but they fail to win the group, finishing level with Portugal on 7 points but coming up short on goal differential by one. Mexico will be without Andres Guardado in the semifinals, as he was shown his second yellow card of the tournament in the first half.

Report: Arsenal owner calls Bellerin to state intentions

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According to a report by Spanish radio station Cadena SER, Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke has personally called defender Hector Bellerin to tell the Spaniard he would not be sold.

The 22-year-old experienced a serious regression at the Emirates last season, and with media speculation surrounding his potential departure, Kroenke wanted to make sure his intentions were clear. Reports had linked Bellerin with a return to his home country, most notably to Barcelona.

With Bellerin under contract through 2021 having just signed his extension last summer, it’s clear the club has decided who they believe keeping should be a priority.

The defender lost his place briefly down the stretch run last season, finding himself on the bench in seven of the club’s final 17 Premier League matches. Despite that, Arsenal still clearly values Bellerin’s talent and durability and hope to ward Barcelona’s interest off. Bellerin didn’t help cool speculation when he bought a house in Barcelona just a short time ago.

Reports say that Arsenal would not take any less than $57 million for their right-back.