Questions to answer in MLS preseason camp: Vancouver Whitecaps

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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.)

Vancouver may have made last year’s playoffs, but having stumbled into the postseason after a mid-season makeover, 2013 comes with more questions than answers. Thankfully, there’s still a strong base of talent featuring the kind of veteran cornerstones that make create envy in more MLS bosses.

But players like Jay DeMerit and Lee Young-Pyo only provide a foundation – a fail safe ensuring one half of the Whitecaps’ game will be fine. Vancouver’s problem last year was going forward, with the team scoring seven fewer goals than any other playoff team. It’s difficult to imagine a return to the postseason unless the Whitecaps can find some more goals.

  • How good will Darren Mattocks be?

In 21 appearances and 15 starts, the 22-year-old Mattocks put up seven goals (1300 minutes). That’s a decent debut in an absolute sense, but compare that with the other forwards taken high in the 2012 SuperDraft: Andrew Wenger had four goals; Casey Townsend scored once; Sam Garza, Ethan Finlay, Chandler Hoffman, Dom Dwyer and Colin Rolfe failed to score. Mattocks scored more goals than the rest of the first round forward combined. Add in the mid-season reshuffle at BC Place and the demands of World Cup Qualifying and Mattocks’ rookie season looks impressive.

He was more impressive on the field. The raw abilities he showed forced you to imagine an attack that could do more than dump balls behind the defense. That will always be a huge part of the burner’s game, but Mattocks is capable of much more.

If Martin Rennie can harness that talent and put a system behind Mattocks’ inevitable improvement, Vancouver could have one of the more dangerous strikers in the league. But out your calculator, up his minutes, and bump up the numbers to account for some improvement and more help around him, and you can see a player challenging 14-15 goals. Even if it’s low double digits, that would solve a lot of Vancouver’s scoring problems.

  • What now without Barry Robson?

Scottish international Barry Robson is gone, and that’s a good thing. Martin Rennie was enamored with the midfielder, built his attack around him, and it cost the team. Vancouver was worse after Robson came into the lineup, with the former Celtic man see more success venting his frustrations than creating goals.

How they move on may depend on Omar Salgado’s health. He’s still coming back after last year’s foot injury, but when he returns, he’ll have to play, something that will influence Rennie’s deployment. Does he play on the left again? Or up top? Regardless, when you combine Salgado with Mattocks, Vancouver has two formidable (if emerging) talents in attack. That’s their future.

The midfield, however, looks thin. Once a position of depth, now Rennie only has Jun Marques Davidson, Gershon Koffie, and Matt Watson returning from the corps he used last season. Alain Rochat seems destined to see time here, but that doesn’t solve the position’s main problem: There’s little to offer in attack. This preseason, Rennie will need to identify the player that’s going to make the connection between the Koffie-level and Mattocks.

  • What has Martin Rennie learned?

Rennie looked like a perfect fit at the beginning of last season. In the middle, he got a little ahead of himself. With the departure of Robson, it’s clear there’s been some reconsideration of last year’s moves.

Call it a learning experience, but it remains to be seen what the lessons were. Surely Rennie has learned a lot about what his players can do, but how does that transfer onto those mid-season adjustments the Whitecaps will have to make during the summer window?

Hopefully Rennie gets comfortable with his squad before March so the changes Whitecaps fans see in the middle of the season are more gradual than last summer’s dice roll. The team has the talent to challenge for the playoffs again. Since it’s hard to imagine a mid-season overhaul that would change that state, Vancouver would best served trying to get the most out of now rather than waiting for their team to re-form in July.

MORE in ProSoccerTalk’s preseason camp series:

Spanish report claims Coutinho (not Liverpool) agrees deal with Barca

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According to Sky Sports’ transfer centre, Spanish radio station RAC1 reports that Barcelona has agreed a deal with Liverpool midfielder Philippe Coutinho.

The report comes on the heels of the half-hour delay of Barca’s nightly press conference, though that could be coincidental.

It also states that the agreement is between Barcelona and Coutinho, and that no fee has been agreed between Liverpool and the La Liga giants. That’s a huge obstacle, with Liverpool maintaining that no offer will work this summer, so the idea of a transfer being imminent could be beyond the pale.

[ MORE: Van Dijk to Liverpool after all? ]

A sale like this risks overturning Jurgen Klopp‘s apple cart, as the Reds boss was quoted this week as saying, “The very important message is that we are not a selling club and that’s how it is.”

Mohamed Salah is good, but he’s no Coutinho. Meanwhile, Coutinho has the potential to be as close to a like-for-like replacement for Neymar — one of the Top Five players in the world — as there is on the market.

The two clubs have done business before, and in more trying circumstances; Barcelona bought Luis Suarez from Liverpool within a month of the Uruguayan striker being banned for a biting incident at the 2014 World Cup.

A spectacular deal, Liverpool would have to make such a move this early in the summer when it can invest what would have to be a wild amount of money given the fees splashed about this transfer window.

Source close to Van Dijk expects Liverpool move within window

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It wasn’t too long ago that Liverpool apologized for its pursuit of Southampton center back Virgil Van Dijk, ending its quest for the big Dutchman.

Is it apology accepted and then some at St. Mary’s? Sky Sports reporter Kaveh Solhekol says not much has changed since the big sorry toward Anfield, but that a source close to Van Dijk expects Van Dijk will be a Red “by the end of the window.”

[ MORE: JPW’s take on the Van Dijk saga ]

That said, Sky’s report makes it unclear what’s changed to lead to such a proclamation.

There is no suggestion that Liverpool have done anything wrong since they apologised and ended their interest. Southampton’s position remains that Van Dijk is not for sale but Chelsea and Manchester City are also interested.

So… it’s happening then? Money does talk, and a massive fee from Liverpool could make Southampton’s life easier in explaining the sale to its fans. It would also mean Saints sold Van Dijk and Jose Fonte within a year. For more on the possible transfer, here’s JPW’s take.

Van Dijk averaged 1.9 tackles, 2.6 interceptions, 6.8 clearances, and 4.7 aerials won per Premier League matches last season, his second since a Summer 2015 move from Celtic.

[ MORE: Milan talk to Costa, Falcao agent ] 

Ex-Brazil midfielder Ederson says he has testicular cancer

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) One-time Brazil midfielder Ederson says he has testicular cancer and won’t be able to play for his Flamengo club for months.

The disease was detected last Saturday and he will undertake surgery on Monday, the 31-year-old footballer said in a news conference on Monday.

Ederson has played for Nice and Lyon in France, and for Lazio in Italy. He represented Brazil once in 2010, and joined Flamengo in 2015.

[ MORE: Dom Dwyer traded ]

Flamengo doctor Marcio Tannure said there was a 99 percent chance of total recovery for Ederson, who was contracted to the club to Dec. 31.

Tannure said the disease was discovered after Ederson failed doping tests after three matches of the Brazilian championship in May. The substance beta-HCG, which stimulates the production of testosterone, was discovered by medics in his urine samples.

Flamengo chairman Eduardo Bandeira de Mello said Ederson will have the club’s full support regardless of the end of his contract. He expects the midfielder to play for the Rio de Janeiro giant again.

“When we had the first news of the anti-doping we kept our full confidence in him, he is an example of an athlete,” de Mello said. The cancer was detected after blood and image exams.

[ MORE: Milan talk to Costa, Falcao agent

An emotional Ederson said he was still processing the discovery.

“I am upset, but also confident about the next days. It will be another battle and I have won a few in my life,” he said. “I am sure that I will win this one, too, to play football as soon as possible.”

Tannure said only after surgery will it be clear how serious the tumor is.

“There is a chance he will go through chemotherapy, but that depends on the biopsy. But the prospects for recovery are indeed good.”

Milan reportedly meeting with Mendes re: Costa, Sanches, Falcao

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AC Milan’s big summer could get downright massive, according to a sensational report out of Italy.

It’d be fair to assume some think it already has been, given the captures of Leonardo Bonucci, Andre Silva, Mateo Musacchio, Franck Kessie, Ricardo Rodriguez, Hakan Çalhanoğlu, and Lucas Biglia.

Right?

[ MORE: Dom Dwyer traded ]

Well, Sky Sports in Italy is reporting that super agent Jorge Mendes is meeting with i Rossoneri regarding not one but three of his clients, each of whom is well-known by European soccer fans.

The biggest name is Diego Costa, who would likely be gone from Chelsea already if Atletico Madrid wasn’t under a transfer ban.

The report also names AS Monaco striker Radamel Falcao and Bayern Munich youngster Renato Sanches, who was considered one of the top summer transfers this time last year.

The 31-year-old Falcao scored 30 goals for Moncao in his return from the Premier League, while Sanches had this to say about a potential move away from the Allianz Arena:

“I’m young, I have to play a lot. I think the chance to do so is greater in Milan than in Munich.

“I want to play more consistently and [a move to] AC Milan is a very interesting option. If the two clubs reach an agreement, I would be happy to join the Rossoneri.”

Milan is participating in the Europa League this year in addition to Serie A, and already has terrific depth to take a chance at winning both.