Major League Soccer team previews: MONTREAL IMPACT

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Each day from now until the beginning of Major League Soccer’s 18th season, we will preview one Eastern Conference team and one from the West. First kick is March 2.

No. 9 in the East is the Montreal Impact:

Significant additions and subtractions: Foremost was the removal of Jesse Marsch as head coach (by mutual consent) after just one season in charge of the expansion team. The new boss is Marco Schallibaum, who is spending the preseason trying to get the team to think quicker and play quicker, with more one- and two-touch interchange.

Newcomers Blake Smith, Andrea Pisanu and Andrés Romero give the new coach plenty of options for outside midfield.

Strengths:  Alessandro Nesta and Matteo Ferrari will be a strong central defensive pairing if Nesta can avoid being isolated, one-on-one, too far from goal. Not as quick as in his salad days back in Italy, the Italian veteran can be had out there.

Patrice Bernier went from unknown figure in MLS to one of the league’s top central midfielders last year. The Impact’s MVP in 2012 is back, although questions persist about whom best to partner him in the middle of Stade Saputo. Collen Warner, Calum Mallace and the impressively versatile Hassoun Camara are among Schallibaum’s options there.

Judging by one preseason lineup, captain Davy Arnaud looks like another central option, as well. The MLS veteran has played in the middle before, back with Kansas City.

The team went 10-4-3 at home last year.

Pressure points: The organization made a bold call in not retaining Marsch. By almost any standard of measure the club’s first year in MLS was a ringing success. The expansion Impact finished ahead of three teams in the East and was among the league’s stronger sides through the summer, once settled and past some of the lesser avoidably young club blues. Yes, the separation was by mutual consent, but never mind that. If the Impact takes a step backward in its sophomore season, that’s on the organization for not reaching compromise with the man (Marsch) who over achieved as a first-time coach.

With team captain Arnaud, Justin Mapp and Sanna Nyassi already in place at Stade Saputo, now being pushed by the new additions, the coaching staff has lots of options for two flank midfield spots. They need to get that one right or team accord could be in jeopardy.source:

Preseason reports say Pisanu is already on the same page with striker Marco Di Vaio, which means that Arnaud’s spot could be in jeopardy. We sure know that Pisanu can score goals, and isn’t afraid to try the audacious. Watch this one from a preseason game.

Difference maker: That’s a little bit of a problem. It could be Bernier, but there are a lot of miles to log over an MLS season for a 33-year-old central midfielder. It could be Di Vaio, but his rate of production has to rise from last year’s modest totals (5 goals in 17 appearances).  It could be Nesta (pictured at right), whose ability to shepherd the back four is substantial, but whose vulnerability to younger, quicker type (as mentioned before) could be the rear guard’s undoing here and there.

If you have three guys who might be a difference maker, then you might not have one at all.

Potential breakout player: Pisanu, on loan from Bologna, has logged plenty of Serie A time, but is far from a known name in the new world.

Bottom line: The club is built around Bernier, Nesta and Di Vaio, all of whom are on the wrong side of 30. If they hold up, and if a new manager isn’t caught off guard by any MLS peculiarities, Montreal could possibly slip into the playoffs in its sophomore MLS season.

(MORE: the entire roster of ProSoccerTalk’s Major League Soccer previews and predictions)

Wenger, Kroenke meet; Arsenal board will be told decision Tues.

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Wenger watch is entering its final hours.

The BBC is reporting that Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke met with longtime manager Arsene Wenger on Monday to discuss the Frenchman’s future, and that the decision was going to be made together.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

It seems almost certain that Wenger is going to come back to the Emirates Stadium. From the BBC:

The outcome is unclear but the decision rests solely with Wenger and Kroenke and will be relayed to directors at a Tuesday board meeting.

Fresh terms were agreed in principle some months ago, but nothing is signed.

There have been questions about whether Wenger would accept a sporting director being placed above him, and if Kroenke believes the repercussions of keeping the boss would negatively impact the business.

Barcelona to keep goalkeeper Ter Stegen until 2022

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has reached a deal to extend the contract of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen until June 2022.

The club said the new agreement, which has a buyout clause of 180 million euros ($201 million), will be signed on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

Ter Stegen has been with the club since 2014, helping it win nine titles in three seasons.

The German goalkeeper has played 93 matches with Barcelona, conceding 90 goals in 71 wins, 10 draws and 12 losses.

Barcelona has already renewed the contracts of Javier Mascherano, Luis Suarez, Neymar, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic. It is still working on new deals for Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.

Report: Wenger ready to pay Ozil, Sanchez club record deals

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Arsenal knows its departure from the UEFA Champions League has to be a short one, and that keeping its two best attackers around is imperative.

That’s why Arsene Wenger is preparing to make Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez the top paid players in Arsenal history, according to a report from The Telegraph’s Jeremy Wilson.

The contract status of both players has been a touchy one this season, and Sanchez especially has been linked with some of the biggest clubs in Europe (including London neighbors Chelsea).

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

But perhaps the Gunners’ FA Cup triumph over Chelsea has Ozil and Sanchez feeling good vibes about the Emirates Stadium set, and Arsenal is ready to pounce. According to the report:

Wenger has told the board that he thinks he can win the Premier League if this group stays together and is supplemented by no more than two or three key additions. Ozil is understood already to have been offered more than £250,000 a week and the club are ready to go to around £280,000 for both him and Sanchez.

The Gunners need both players healthy and happy heading into next season, and appropriate additions as well (A top striker is a must. Again). Wage structure is important, but Arsenal will have a blessing in disguise if another player can make a legit case he deserves to be paid like Ozil and Sanchez any time soon.

West Ham, Everton, and the superstar striker’s need for the Champions League

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Come up with a list of active elite level strikers, and it’s likely to be a short one filled with names from UEFA Champions League clubs.

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Costa, Luis Suarez, Robert Lewandowski, Edinson Cavani, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Harry Kane, even Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Rarely do names like these move to a non-UCL club while in their prime, and it’s just as uncommon to see them stay at clubs which have failed to qualify for the UCL.

The money, the prestige, the endorsements; All are amplified by the world stage. Given the massive import of their domestic stage and spotlight, Premier League sides have bucked this trend on occasion — see Romelu Lukaku — but it’s the exception to the rule.

That’s what puts an ambitious club like West Ham United between a rock and a hard place. The Irons have been vocal about their desires to bring in a top-end striker, and it’s likely they’d be happy to spend what it takes to attract Alexandre Lacazette, Aubameyang, or Cavani to town.

Lyon reportedly rejected a $45 million bid for Lacazette last season, admitting that ultimately the player’s desires would determine his future. Higuain, too, was linked to chairman David Gold’s wallet before moving to Juventus. Carlos Bacca also saw his future connected to the Irons.

Instead, Gold landed Andre Ayew from Swansea, and had to hope Andy Carroll could stay healthy or Enner Valencia would deliver. Not a striker, Dimitri Payet apparently decided to skip town soon after West Ham’s Europa League exit at the hands of Astra Giurgiu.

Now it’s Kelechi Iheanacho being linked to the London Stadium, another hopeful swing from the Irons that points a strong finger at the problem: West Ham can be as ambitious as it likes, but it’s going to need a miracle to pull an elite striker to London without European football.

And it shouldn’t happen, but what if Everton is bumped from the UEL in the third qualifying round or playoff next year? Will Lukaku follow Payet’s lead and sink another team from joining the discussion? Though an argument can be made it’s better for Everton to lose those summer games, the Toffees very much need to succeed in the UEL qualifying and also show signs of strength in the early PL docket. That’s the unforgiving life of sitting on the outskirts of the powerful tier.

Every team at every level is searching for the next elite striker. Some, like West Ham, will need to luck into a young buck on the rise or a flawed striker finding his potential. And how do they hold onto that player, one who will have alerted the big boys to his arrival, without qualifying for Europe? It’s improbable.

The ability of teams like Chelsea and Liverpool to compete for a European slot in the PL standings thanks to missing out on the UCL the year before signals hope for clubs like Everton and West Ham. And five Premier League sides competing in the UCL this year could extend an invitation to stay longer in the Top Seven discussion for sides like Southampton and Leicester City, too.

So this summer’s striker captures are huge for Slaven Bilic and David Gold. This is a window the league’s “next group” won’t have open annually, and West Ham’s hopes of barging into the discussion again hinge on who shows up by August.