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)

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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.

Could Iniesta succeed at Manchester City

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It appears more likely with each passing day that Andres Iniesta will leave Barcelona at the end of the season.

The general feeling around Iniesta’s future is that he’ll either follow former teammate Xavi Hernandez to a club in Qatar or the United Arab Emirates, or follow Javier Mascherano to a club in China.

But according to reports in Spain, Iniesta has received a request from a manager who is inextricably linked with his career.

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Per Diario AS, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has reached out to Iniesta to try and gauge the 33-year old’s interest in coming to England. It’s a surprising move, considering Iniesta has appeared to have lost a step, and while his skill on the ball is still world class, he hasn’t played as big of a role for Barcelona this season as in years past.

But the big question for Iniesta – as hard as it is to believe we’re asking this – is where he’d fit into the side, and who he’d push out.

If Guardiola sees Iniesta as part of his best XI, and Iniesta played his usual position on the left side of a midfield trio or at left wing, that would see either David Silva or Leroy Sane losing their spot in the team. That’s hard to see, considering how big of an impact those players had.

Sane has scored nine goals and dished out 12 assists in the Premier League while Silva has a nearly-identical stat line, with nine goals and 11 assists in league play.

However, if Guardiola, who played a very small squad this season, wants to have a world-class player to bring off the bench some games or spot start in the UEFA Champions League, he couldn’t do much better than signing Iniesta.

After being given time to adjust to the physicality of the Premier League, there’s no reason why, even at his advanced age, Iniesta can’t make a big impact in 25-30 games for Man City in the future. You can imagine the Spanish maestro setting up 10 to 15 goals and scoring a few himself as he plays for another title-winning side.

Of course, Iniesta likely won’t earn as much money with Man City as he would in the Arab world or in China, so he has a big decision to make coming up.

Iniesta won three La Liga titles, two Copas Del Rey, two UEFA Champions League and two FIFA Club World Cup titles under Guardiola as Barcelona shined as the best club in the world during that era. Iniesta also made UEFA’s Team of the Year all four years.

Perhaps reuniting with Guardiola can bring the best out of Iniesta once again.

Report: Man United to target Rose, other full backs this summer

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Jose Mourinho has identified perhaps the most underrated position on the pitch as a place he needs to upgrade his squad this summer.

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According to a report from The Guardian, the Manchester United manager is looking to sign Tottenham wing back Danny Rose and potentially another full back in the summer transfer window. With Luke Shaw likely to leave the club, Mourinho is left with incumbents left back Ashley Young and right back Antonio Valencia, both on the wrong side of 30-years old and both converted wingers playing out-of-position.

Mourinho last December decried crosstown rivals Man City for spending more than $140 million to sign wing backs Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker last summer. Though Mendy missed most of the season with a torn ACL, Walker and fellow outside back Danilo helped give Man City’s attack another dimension out wide, as the wing backs in the 3-4-3 or Man City’s 4-1-4-1 with Fernandinho dropping back into the centerback pairing become ever more important.

Rose has had a contentious last 18-months or so at Tottenham and could be looking to leave this summer. But it will likely take a bid north of $75 million, around what it cost Man City to sign Walker last summer, to buy Rose out of his Tottenham contract.

Matteo Darmian meanwhile, another potential outside back for Man United, could also be departing the club this summer, as Man United looks to replenish its side.

Errors down, penalty kicks up after introduction of VAR in Italy

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The implementation of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in Italy has been controversial, but according to a look at the statistics, it has for the most part done its job to fix clear and obvious errors.

Italian sports paper Gazzetta Dello Sport compiled all the times VAR has been used through 346 matches, 330 in Serie A and 16 in the Coppa Italia. There were 1,736 checks (916 goals, 464 penalties and 356 red cards) with 105 corrections and just 17 errors where the referee and assistant made the wrong decision. Eight of those errors did affect the result, which is an issue that will surely be addressed by the Italian officiating organization.

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But overall, Gazzetta found that in the VAR era, referee errors only amounted to 0.98 percent during a match, as opposed to 6.03 percent in the past. In addition, fouls are down 8.8 percent, red cards are down 6.4 percent, and yellow cards are down 14.7 percent. On the flip side, penalty kicks are called 4.3 more percent of the time.

The Premier League voted recently not to add VAR to its league matches next season, while top leagues in Germany, Italy and in Major League Soccer and the United Soccer League continue to use it.

Report: New Arsenal manager will have small budget to re-shape squad

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Whoever takes the helm as Arsenal’s next manager will have to do some math gymnastics this summer to stretch every penny available.

According to a report from The Telegraph, Arsenal is giving Arsene Wenger‘s successor a little less than $70 million to work with in this summer’s transfer market, citing back-to-back transfer windows with club-record signings (Alexandre Lacazette last summer and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in January) and three raises given to players. Arsenal paid around $78 million alone to sign Aubameyang and around $65 million for Lacazette.

[READ: UCL Preview: Liverpool vs. Roma]

That means whoever comes in next to lead Arsenal will likely have to sell one or two players this summer to raise additional money for world-class signings.

For the last decade, Arsenal has been crying out for a new pair of centerbacks and a holding midfielder in the mould of Patrick Vieira. In addition, with Petr Cech getting older, the prospect of needing a new goalkeeper is also on the horizon.

Luckily for Arsenal, they seem to be just fine up front. From Aubameyang and Lacazette to Mesut Ozil, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Aaron Ramsey, the club has the talent to challenge for a title next season in that department.

A dozen different names have been bandied about as to who will be Arsenal’s next manager, with out-of-contract and former Barcelona manager Luis Enrique reportedly on the shortlist. Vieira, former Arsenal midfielder Mikel Arteta, Germany National Team coach Joachim Low, Juventus boss Max Allegri and Hoffenheim’s Julian Nagelsman have all also been linked with the job.