Three Good Questions: San Jose Earthquakes’ head coach Mark Watson

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PORTLAND, Ore. — One year ago, as San Jose left Portland’s Rose City Invitational, a slew of injuries to attacking players had then-coach Frank Yallop concerned ahead of the Earthquakes’ Supporters’ Shield defense. As the team struggled to replicate their 2012 form, Yallop’s premonitions proved true, with San Jose’s struggles eventually seeing the veteran boss move on from his place on the sidelines.

In stepped Mark Watson, whose move from assistant to interim head coach helped restore San Jose’s place in the Western Conference playoff race. Though the Earthquakes eventually fell short of the postseason, Watson’s results earned the former Columbus, New England, and DC United defender the full-time job.

Following Saturday’s preseason game against Jamaica’s Portmore United at Providence Park, Watson stopped for a brief Q-and-A with ProSoccerTalk.

PST: Last year at this time, it seemed injuries and the absence of Simon (Dawkins) were on coach Yallop’s mind. Can you compare the mindset now to the mindset last year?

Watson: I think we’re in better shape physically, in terms of injuries. Last year was incredible, just the number of guys who were out. It’s not that we don’t have little knocks, little injuries and stuff, but I think in terms of the first team players that are available, I think we’re in better shape. I prefer to have everyone completely healthy, but that doesn’t always work out like that.

On expectations for 2014.

Watson: I think we kind of feed off how we finished last season. We’re a really solid unit. We’re going build on that and try to get better. I think goals for this season, number one would be to try and make the playoffs. And then once you make the playoffs you look beyond that. Going into the season, making the playoffs in a very difficult Western Conference is our primary goal.

PST: You’ve replaced Rafa (Baca) with Jean-Baptiste (Pierazzi), and you’ve swapped out the fullbacks for new players. Do you feel there’s one particular area where this team is stronger? Which of your additions do you think is going to be most important?

Watson: I’d say in general we got a little bit better. We had to make a lot of decisions. It wasn’t always that we didn’t want the players, but when you work under a salary cap, you have to make things work on that side of it. We feel good about the squad right now, and I think everything’s really positive going into the start of the season.

On how San Jose stacks up to the teams that finished at the top of the Western Conference.

Watson: I’m not sure the exact math, but I think we finished the season two and three and four points behind [LA Galaxy, Real Salt Lake, and Portland], so there’s not a huge margin there. We know they’re good teams. They’ve all gotten  better, and we know that we’re going to have to perform very well to compete against those teams and get in the playoffs.

On matching up with the midfield strength of Portland, Real Salt Lake. 

Watson: For us, like you said, we’re a solid unit. Do we spend millions of dollars on big name players? No, we don’t. That’s not an excuse.

We’re really happy with our team. We want to continue being a solid defensive unit and work on a few little things as far as moving the ball better, being a little bit more varied in our attack. Ultimately, when we get the ball, we’re trying to score goals, and trying to get service to our strikers who are very good at putting the ball in the back of the net.

PST: This is your first full preseason. What are your thoughts (on the experience)?

I feel good. I feel very fortunate in the fact that we have a great group of guys to work with. They come every day prepared to work and give you everything they have. You can’t ask for much more than that.

Whether anything about his first preseason caught him by surprise.

As a coach, you expect the unexpected. You have a plan, but it rarely goes to plan. There’s always going to be little injuries. We missed guys for international games and media tours – there’s always little things. I think you just stay the course and stick to what you believe in, and having a good solid, honest, hard-working group of players is usually a good starting point.

 

Leicester City 0-3 Crystal Palace: Benteke the hero

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  • First away win, goals of season for Palace
  • Benteke with a goal, assist
  • Leicester’s first defeat in five
  • Palace unbeaten in seven, longest ever run in PL

Crystal Palace beat Leicester City 3-0 at the King Power Stadium on Saturday as first half goals from Christian Benteke and Wilfried Zaha set Roy Hodgson’s side on their way to a first away win of the season with Bakary Sako hammering home another goal in stoppage time.

Leicester’s run of four-straight wins came to an abrupt end as Claude Puel‘s side struggled from start to finish and Palace looked dangerous on the break with Benteke scoring one, setting up another and making amends for his missed penalty kick late on against Bournemouth last weekend.

To add to Leicester’s woes Wilfried Ndidi was sent off in the second half for picking up two yellow cards.

With the win Palace move on to 17 points and push out of the relegation zone and into 14th place, while Leicester remain on 26 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Palace started well early on with Jeffrey Schlupp pulling a ball back across goal which was crying out to be finished, then Ruben Loftus-Cheek broke free on the edge of the box but his low shot was well saved by Kasper Schmeichel.

Leicester looked threatening on the break as the first half wore on but Puel’s side failed to create clear cut chances and they were hit with a hammer blow.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Neat build-up play on the right saw the ball fall to Andros Townsend and his delightful inswinging cross found Benteke who nodded home Palace’s first away goal of the season.

There was a sense of relief for Benteke and a deserved lead for the Eagles, but soon after Benteke almost headed into his own net but his defensive clearance flew inches wide and then Jamie Vardy went close for the hosts.

Benteke then created Palace’s second goal as he drove forward with the ball, played in Zaha and the Ivory Coast international drilled home. 2-0.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Palace sat back and soaked up plenty of Leicester pressure in the second half, with the Foxes going close with Riyad Mahrez having a low shot saved well by Julian Speroni and Benteke heading wide at the other end.

On the break the Eagles threatened as the second half wore on and Leicester pushed to get back into the game, but Ndidi then picked up two yellows cards with the second for a shocking dive in the box.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Hodgson’s men held on comfortably to continue their impressive recovery and added a third goal in stoppage time with Sako smashing home.

January exits at Manchester United?

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Jose Mourinho has already stated his opinion that he isn’t a big fan of the January transfer window but he may buy this year, and it appears he could be willing to sell a few players next month too.

With the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Luke Shaw out of favor at United and linked with moves away from Old Trafford, Mourinho was asked if he was happy to let players leave in January.

Citing the sale of Memphis Depay and Morgan Schneiderlin last January, Mourinho didn’t hesitate to leave the door open for players who want out.

“For the right price, that is my approach as a manager in case the club advise. Every player has a price,” Mourinho said. “If a player is not happy and if a player brings with him a request with the number that we consider is a good number it happened with Memphis (Depay) and Morgan (Schneiderlin), I would never say no.”

In a word, if you’re not in Mourinho’s plans now and you aren’t happy, there’s the door.

Mkhitaryan leaving to return to Borussia Dortmund wouldn’t be a huge surprise as they’d likely get a large chunk of the $35 million transfer fee back that they paid for him in the summer of 2016.

Shaw’s situation is a little different, with United perhaps wanting to use the left back in any potential deal for Danny Rose and Tottenham do not seem to be willing to sell Rose until the summer.

Still, both appear to have no future at United and Mourinho is nudging them towards the exit.

With Mourinho also leaving the door open for a potential signing in January, could United spend big to try and put pressure on league leaders Man City? It seems unlikely, but it appears Mourinho is lining things up for somewhat of a shakeup next month.

Watch Live: Leicester City v. Crystal Palace

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Leicester City host Crystal Palace on Saturday at the King Power Stadium (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with both teams in fine form recently.

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Claude Puel has led Leicester to four consecutive wins and the Foxes have surged up the standings since he took charge in October with Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy in fine form.

Palace are unbeaten in six games, winning twice, as Roy Hodgson has turned them into an incredibly tough team to beat.

In team news Leicester bring in Demarai Gray for Shinji Okazaki despite the Japanese international scoring twice in the win over Southampton in midweek.

Palace bring in Martin Kelly and James McArthur for Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Luka Milivojevic.


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Luan, Gremio looks to dethrone Real Madrid at Club World Cup

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“He’s a wonderful person. He’s got lots of titles, so maybe he can just leave this one to us.”

That’s Gremio youngster Luan after being told Real Madrid star and countryman Marcelo said he has a huge future in the game.

Luan and his teammates could make a lot more noise with a win in Saturday’s Club World Cup final against Real.

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Gremio edged Pachuca in extra time of its semifinal after Real came back to beat Al Jazira, and now hopes to become just the second non-European club to win the Club World Cup since 2007.

Brazilian clubs won the first three CWCs between 2000-06, but Corinthians claimed the lone Brazilian title since when it beat Chelsea in 2012.

Spanish clubs have won the last three finals, with Real sandwiching two around Barca’s 2015 win over River Plate.

The 24-year-old Luan won Olympic gold with Brazil in 2016, and has two caps with the national team.