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MLS Season Preview: Real Salt Lake

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A new era is about to be ushered in at Real Salt Lake, as the Utah side are set for their first season since entering MLS in 2005 without Jason Kreis as a player or head coach.

But apart from that… not much has changed at RSL. New head coach Jeff Cassar was Kreis’ assistant at the Rio Tinto Stadium since 2007 and knows the club inside out, so settling in with the 2013 MLS Cup runners up wasn’t exactly difficult. Add to that the fact that RSL didn’t lose any of their stars and only a handful of youngsters and lower-league players arrived, and you could be forgiven for thinking Kreis is still around.

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Even though the coach who helped build the RSL organization into the well-oiled machine they are today is gone, newly appointed New York City FC head coach Kreis has left behind a legacy which should see the ’09 MLS Cup champions go far once again in 2014. Looking to make up for their defeats in the U.S. Open Cup and MLS Cup finals last season, a fired up RSL side led by veterans Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman and Alvaro Saborio await the rest of MLS.

Be warned, underestimate RSL at your peril.

Transfers In: Luke Mulholland (Undisclosed, Tampa Bay Rowdies), Jordan Allen (RSL – Arizona academy, Homegrown player), Ryan Neil (Drafted, first round), Joey Dillon (Drafted, third round), Daniel Jackson (Drafted, fourth round)

Transfers Out: Lovel Palmer (Trade for allocation money, Chicago Fire), Khari Stephenson (Released), Brandon McDonald (Released), Josh Saunders (Released), Enzo Martinez (Waived, Carolina RailHawks)

source: Getty Images
Saborio, left, is still the man RSL look to for goals. Can he deliver this season?

Key Player: Alvaro Saborio

Many would point to captain Beckerman in the engine room or Rimando between the pipes but if Sabo is firing on all cylinders, RSL’s machine slots into action seamlessly. The Costa Rican forward is fired up ahead of a trip to the World Cup and he’s scored three of RSL’s four goals in the Desert Diamond Cup this preseason. He’s red-hot after an injury-hit season in 2013. At 31, he’s been around the block a few times and knows how to manipulate even the best MLS’ defenses to his advantage. With his pace still a threat and a lethal set of shooting boots, Saborio will be hoping to better his MLS tally of 12 goals from 16 games last season. If he stays healthy, Salt Lake has a chance of lifting their second MLS Cup.

Manager: Cassar is a bit of an unknown quantity, but he’s been around MLS for a long, long time and knows exactly what makes a successful team tick. A goalkeeper during his playing days, which took him to Bolton Wanderers, Miami Fusion and FC Dallas among others, Cassar will be keen to keep RSL’s tradition of punching well above their weight going. Getting of to a good start is important for the new man in the hot seat at the Rio Tinto. Everyone is intrigued to see if he deploys the famous diamond in midfield and is able to take Kreis’s sterling work to the next level.

Outlook: As we’ve mentioned, not much has changed around RSL. The old saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” rings true here, as a solid spine of the side is still intact. With the playing philosophy set throughout the club from the academy level up, you have to think the youngsters who have been brought in can easily slot into Cassar’s side. With experienced heads likes Saborio, Beckerman and Rimando staying on and two near misses in both domestic finals last season, will those heartbreaks spur Salt Lake on this year? It could be the fuel to their fire, as another deep playoff run and a top three spot in the Western conference beckons. Under a new manager it will take time to readjust but I expect RSL to be up where they belong… with MLS’ elite as the underdogs. They thrive in that role and the rest of MLS’ knows better than to underestimate the team from the Rio Tinto.

Mancini reportedly not interested in Leicester City, De Boer says no

GENOA, ITALY - APRIL 20:  Head Coach of FC Internazionale Roberto Mancini looks during the Serie A match between Genoa CFC and FC Internazionale Milano at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on April 20, 2016 in Genoa, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Two top candidates to replace Claudio Ranieri at Leicester City have reportedly turned down any interest in the job.

Roberto Mancini, the heavy favorite out of the gates after Ranieri’s dismissal, tweeted his support for Ranieri after the news broke. “I am sorry for my friend Ranieri,” Mancini said. “He will be in the history of LCFC, in the hearts of Leicester fans and all football lovers.”

However, the fellow Italian has rebuffed Leicester’s informal advances towards his services. According to Sky Sports, Leicester sent “intermediaries” to “sound out” Mancini’s feelings towards the position, but came back empty-handed. The report states Mancini was turned off to the club after a short and unsuccessful spell there as a player in 2001.

That leaves a host of other names who have been linked to the job, with no clear favorite. One person mentioned was Dutch legend Frank de Boer, who is unemployed after an unusually short stint in charge of Inter Milan. However, De Boer’s agent went public to say he was not ever in the running.

“There is zero possibility that Frank could go to Leicester,” agent Guido Albers told Italian publication Tuttomercatoweb. “I too heard these rumors, but that’s all they are – rumors. I can affirm without doubt that Frank will not become the Leicester City manager. This will 100 per cent not happen.”

Albers explained that De Boer is only interested in joining a club in the offseason, preferring to enter a project with a blank slate rather than joining midseason with particular goals already clearly laid out. With Leicester, it seems De Boer is turned off by the notion of a relegation battle.

Win over Las Palmas again has La Real on edge of CL spot

GETAFE, SPAIN - DECEMBER 11:  Xavi Prieto of Real Sociedad in action during the La Liga match between Getafe CF and Real Sociedad de Futbol at Coliseum Alfonso Perez stadium on December 11, 2015 in Getafe, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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All it took was one mistake. Real Sociedad’s Xabi Prieto capitalized, and has La Real once again on the verge of next year’s Champions League.

La Real finished 7th in 2013/14, and 9th in 2015/16, and this year, they’re closer than ever. Preito’s goal on the mistake by Las Palmas goalkeeper Javi Varas gave Real Sociedad the 1-0 road win and has them just a point off a Champions League place.

[ MORE: Antonio Conte pulling from experience to keep Chelsea on top ]

That could be even closer next week, as fourth-placed Atletico Madrid has to welcome Barcelona to the Calderon tomorrow, leaving the door open for La Real to make another move next weekend.

The goal down the stretch is not just to win the games they should, but make the teams above them work. La Real has won seven of their last ten matches, but the three losses came to Real Madrid, Villareal, and Sevilla, all teams fighting at the top of the table. They still have chances down the stretch, with matches against Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, and Eibar coming up, with the latter on the docket next weekend.

Conte pulling from prior experience as title race pushes on

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea looks on during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Chelsea at Molineux on February 18, 2017 in Wolverhampton, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte has recalled some painful memories to push himself and his players forward despite their commanding lead at the top of the Premier League table.

Chelsea sits eight points clear of Manchester City, and has the chance to go even further in front with many of the top teams off this weekend, but that won’t give the Italian any better sleep at night.

In the 1999/2000 season, Conte was nearing the end of his 13-year Juventus tenure. He’d won three league titles already, plus two league cup trophies and a Champions League title with the Serie A giants. With a comfortable nine point lead after 26 matches, the club became complacent. They would lose four of their final eight matches, collapsing on the final day in the pouring rain, allowing Lazio to come roaring back to win the title.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks for Week 26 ]

“I was captain of the team,” Conte said. “I remember after this game I must go to the European Championships with the national team. I didn’t sleep for six days because it was a shock for me to lose the title.”

Clearly, that still haunts him. “I have experienced this,” Conte continued. “When I continue to repeat that there are 13 games, there are 39 points… there is a long time before we can say we won the title. We must be focused, we must go step by step.”

The Blues host Swansea City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday before a trip to West Ham next weekend. If anyone believes the Chelsea players are complacent holding such a significant lead with 13 matches to go, it’s clear that’s not nearly the case. Anything can happen in three months.

Sean Dyche says Joey Barton should have a TV show

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Joey Barton of Burnley (L) and Matt Rhead of Lincoln City (R) exchange words during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Burnley and Lincoln City at Turf Moor on February 18, 2017 in Burnley, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Burnley manager Sean Dyche says Joey Barton‘s life is chock full of fascinating moments, so much so that he should have his own TV show.

Except when he’s behind closed doors at Burnley, of course. Then he’s a stand up individual. Right, sure.

“It could be a TV series,” Dyche said in his pre-match press conference ahead of an away tilt with Hull City. “Being Joey. It’d be interesting. Never a dull moment.”

But of course, immediately after that, Dyche switched gears. “Unless he’s in here, training with me,” he backtracked. “I think it’s pantomime stuff. I’ve seen a lot more controversy around Joey than that. If that’s as far as it goes, I’ll be a happy man.”

“That” referred to Barton’s embarrassing dive in the FA Cup loss to non-league opponents Lincoln City where the midfielder play-acted after nothing more than a brush of the elbow from Matt Rhead, falling to the ground and clutching his head. Barton was involved in a number of heated moments during that match, adding to his already massive list of controversial moments in a mercurial career.

“Joey’s been terrific,” Dyche said. “I thought by a mile, by an absolute mile, he was the best player on the pitch last weekend. So he’s been absolutely fine. He’s in good nick – as you can see – and he’s definitely up for the challenges that come in front of us.”

But word of Joey Barton apparently hasn’t reached London. A few weeks ago, ahead of Chelsea’s 1-1 draw at Burnley on February 12th, Blues manager Antonio Conte was asked if he was familiar with Burnley’s squad and Barton in particular – an admittedly leading question – and Conte was unable to give an immediate answer. He instead asked his press officer muttering, “Joey Barton?” under his breath. The press officer embarrassingly tried to save face before Conte stepped back in giving a generic answer that they had already played once and he was familiar with the squad.