Questions to answer in MLS preseason camp: Toronto FC

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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.)

In terms of a lengthy preseason “to do” list, no team in the East has a longer one.

There really are more than three questions here. But the ones below are a starting point.

Once he arrives, new manager Ryan Nelsen will begin to build a back line that was pretty awful in 2012, make some order of a shapeless midfield and then line up some forwards amid ongoing personnel flux.

I mean, otherwise, things should be pretty smooth as TFC goes through another month and change of drills.

If we leave our biggest questions of philosophy and formations aside, here are some of the questions the club must answer during preseason:

  • How quickly can Nelsen catch up?

Yes, it’s totally bass-ackwards, players reporting and working out – and then welcoming the manager into camp. It should clearly be the other way around, but is that really so surprising considering this organization’s inability to do much right?

But we’ve probably covered that ground sufficiently, and it what it is now. Nelsen will take over on Feb. 1, which gives him about a month to sort out his depth chart, to assess who needs to play where – where does key man Torsten Frings best fit, for instance – to establish expectations on the practice field and on game day.

Yes, Nelsen has a long season to do all that stuff. But considering TFC’s history, and how the fans might be understandably jaded, the process will go much smoother if they don’t start slowly in 2013. Otherwise, everyone will suspect it’s more of the “same old.” And that’s not what TFC needs.

  • Does Eric Hassli want to be in Toronto?

Did he ask for a trade? Hard to know. The big striker insists he wants to stay – although he can’t have been overly pleased with the hardline stance of new president Kevin Payne. (Payne said the club would decide where Hassli plays this year, not the other way around. So take that.)

If Hassli does call BMO Field his home this year, he could find tough sledding once Danny Koevermans is at 100 percent speed and fitness. Even if Nelsen wants to play a 4-4-2, he doesn’t really need two target men; Hassli and Koevermans are fairly similar.

  • Is Stefan Frei ready to retake his spot?

Frei stood tall behind some pedestrian 10-men outfits at BMO. So his devastating ankle injury last March put talented understudy Milos Kocic into the starter’s seat.

Frei is back and apparently the starter (and Kocic isn’t too happy about it). So is he as sharp as before? Is he confident? Does he have the team’s confidence?

If Frei wobbles, or if those repaired ankle ligaments prove troublesome, Kocic has proven that starters’ ability rests in those gloves.

MORE in ProSoccerTalk’s preseason camp series:

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps

LIVE – Champions League playoff: Nice-Napoli headlines action

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With Celtic (just about) booking their spot in the UEFA Champions League group stage on Tuesday, four more teams will join them.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ] 

Napoli, Olympiacos, Sevilla and Hapoel Be’er Sheva all have narrow leads heading into the second legs which sets things up rather nicely for the winner takes all second legs. Olympiacos and Be’er Sheva will be feeling particularly nervous after conceding at home in the first leg.

On Wednesday five more ties takes place across Europe with Liverpool looking to book their spot in the UCL group stage against Hoffenheim.

Below is the full schedule for Tuesday’s games, which kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET, while you can click on the link above to follow live commentary on all four matches.


Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League playoff second legs

Nice vs. Napoli (Napoli lead 2-0 on aggregate)
Astana 4-3 Celtic (Celtic advance 8-4 on aggregate)
Rijeka vs. Olympiacos (Olympiacos leads 2-1 on aggregate)
Sevilla vs. Istanbul Basaksehir (Sevilla leads 2-1 on aggregate)
Maribor vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva (Hapoel Be’er Sheva lead 2-1 on aggregate)

LIVE – Premier League clubs enter League Cup

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Seven Premier League teams enter the League Cup second round on Tuesday with plenty of potential upsets lined up.

[ LIVE: Follow League Cup scores ]

All 13 PL clubs (six more are in action on Wednesday) face teams from the lower leagues with the likes of Crystal Palace, Leicester City, Bournemouth and Swansea City all on upset alert.

U.S. national team players to watch out for include Lynden Gooch who starts for Sunderland and Emerson Hyndman who is on the bench for Bournemouth.

Below is the schedule for the League Cup games on Tuesday with all games to kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET unless otherwise stated.


Tuesday
Crystal Palace vs. Ipswich Town – 2:30pm
Aston Villa vs. Wigan Athletic
Leeds United vs. Newport County
Middlesbrough vs. Scunthorpe United
Norwich City vs. Charlton Athletic
QPR vs. Brentford
Fulham vs. Bristol Rovers
Cardiff City vs. Burton Albion
Carlisle United vs. Sunderland
Doncaster vs. Hull City
Grimsby Town vs. Derby County
Brighton vs. Barnet
Accrington Stanley vs. West Brom
Sheffield United vs. Leicester City
Birmingham City vs. Bournemouth
Watford vs. Bristol City
MK Dons vs. Swansea City
Reading vs. Millwall – 3pm
Bolton vs. Sheffield Wednesday – 3pm

Celtic qualify for UEFA Champions League group stage

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Celtic survived a scare in Kazakhstan to qualify for the group stage of the UEFA Champions League for the second season on the trot.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule ]

Brendan Rodgers‘ side beat FC Astana 5-0 in the first leg of their playoff last week at Celtic Park but the trip to Kazakhstan proved much trickier with Astana leading 4-1 late in the game which had pulled the score back to 6-4 on aggregate.

However, Scott Sinclair had scored a priceless away goal to make it 1-1 at half time and despite a late flurry of goals for the hosts Olivier Ntcham scored a deflected effort and Leigh Griffiths wrapped things up late on as Celtic lost 4-3 on the night but went through 8-4 on aggregate.

Last season the Scottish champions went out in the UCL group stage after being drawn with Manchester City, Barcelona and Borussia Monchengladbach and will be hoping for a kinder draw this time around.

Premier League clubs on League Cup upset alert

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The second round of the League Cup (known as the Carabao Cup in 2017-18 for sponsorship reasons) kicks off on Tuesday with 13 Premier League clubs in action.

[ MORE: League Cup scores live ]

All 13 have been drawn against lower-league opposition and those klaxons you can hear signify upset alerts.

Below is a look at how each Premier League club will get on as they enter the competition on Tuesday and Wednesday with a ranking on each game out of 10, with 10 being the most likely for an upset to occur.

Remember: the seven PL teams in European competition will enter the League Cup in the third round.


Upset alert ranking for PL clubs

Tuesday
Crystal Palace vs. Ipswich Town – 8/10
Brighton vs. Barnet – 4/10
Accrington Stanley vs. West Brom – 7/10
Sheffield United vs. Leicester City – 6/10
Birmingham City vs. Bournemouth – 7/10
Watford vs. Bristol City – 5/10
MK Dons vs. Swansea City – 5/10

Wednesday
Newcastle United vs. Nottingham Forest – 6/10
Southampton vs. Wolves – 7/10
Huddersfield Town vs. Rotherham United – 7/10
Cheltenham vs. West Ham United – 8/10
Stoke City vs. Rochdale – 6/10
Blackburn Rovers vs. Burnley – 6/10