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After another blown lead, is it time to reconsider our assumptions about Real Salt Lake?

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Here’s what we thought we knew about Real Salt Lake, even if we hadn’t explicitly discussed it:

  • Despite winning only three of its first seven games, the team appeared to have picked up where it left off last season when they won the Western Conference;
  • The transition from Jason Kreis to Jeff Cassar appears to have been a smooth one, with the team’s characteristic formation, style, and performance preserved;
  • The backbone of the team — Nick Rimando, Nat Borchers, Kyle Beckerman, Javi Morales, and Álvaro Saborío — appeared as strong as ever, particularly with a healthy Chris Schuler.

After Saturday’s night’s 2-2, come-from-ahead draw against visiting Vancouver, however, it may be time to reconsider our assumptions. With late goals from Nicolas Mezquida and Sebastian Fernandez, the Whitecaps became the fourth team to snare a comeback draw against RSL – the second to come back from a two goals down.

That RSL had it so easy in the game’s opening minutes made the comeback even more surprising. When João Plata (2′) and Saborío (9′) had the team up two before the 10-minute-mark, it looked as if the league’s last undefeated team would cruise. Ensuring chances for Plata and Saborío were denied by David Ousted and the cross bar, but RSL remained in control. Going into the final moments, there was no indication this would be San Jose all over again.

Then, in the 86th minute, the defense broke, allowed Darren Mattocks to have a crack on Rimando, and let Mezquida pounce when their keeper spilled the shot down in front of goal. Eight minutes later, a heavy touch from Saborío as RSL tried to break out of its own end eventually allowed Fernández to tee off from 30-plus yards. Rimando, failing to get down for the shot, gave Vancouver a point, relegating RSL to its fifth draw in eight games.

From the pure number of goals allowed, to the timing of them, to their effect on the final results, this is not the type performance we expect from one of the league’s best teams, and while it’s difficult to imagine the season ending without Real Salt Lake among the circuit’s strongest sides, Saturday forces us to question whether Cassar’s team is there right now. On one hand, they are undefeated – the only MLS team that can make that claim. On the other hand, the team’s last three performances have failed to impress. They weren’t convincing against (what we now see as) a poor Philadelphia, they had trouble with a winless Portland, and they dropped points at home to Vancouver.

Let’s go back to what we thought we knew, implicitly acknowledging each of item (and more) is part of the complete RSL package – one that would leave the team among the best in Major League Soccer. The identity is in place, the backbone has typically played well, but they haven’t quite picked up where they left off.

In these late match capitulations, we see flaws that weren’t present in November and December. We see a particular defensive frailties that only surface at the end of games. We see an inability to control the moments that matter most.

We may also be seeing nothing more than a phase. But in that phase, is Real Salt Lake really as good as, say, Seattle? Thankfully for them, the question’s pretty meaningless, right now.

Report: USMNT forward Picault could be off to MLS

http://www.fcstpauli.com/profis/news/9628

FC St. Pauli
www.fcstpauli.com/profis/news/9628
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Remember Fafa Picault?

The FC St. Pauli striker became a surprise name in USMNT circles when former coach Jurgen Klinsmann shouted him out on Twitter, later calling him into U.S. camp.

Picault, 25, is a center forward who has battled back trouble at times this season, limiting him to six appearances for the 2.Bundesliga side.

[ MORE: Transfer window names to watch ]

He broke out last season, scoring four goals and adding two assists in 16 appearances last season. The former NASL player was capped by Klinsmann in May, going 19 minutes in a 3-1 win over Puerto Rico.

Philadelphia is the top spot for Picault, according to Bild and translated by VAVEL reporter Jonny Walsh. It’s just agent talk, but we’d like to get a closer look at the American man.

How might the USMNT lineup against Serbia?

U.S. men's national soccer team coach Bruce Arena, left, talks to captain Michael Bradley during a practice session Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, in Carson, Calif. Coach Arena opens camp with the team in the same training complex where he spent the past eight years running the LA Galaxy. Arena returned to the U.S. team in November to salvage its run for World Cup qualification. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
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It’s six days to Sunday, the first time we’ll see Bruce Arena manage the United States men’s national team since his rehiring late last year.

The Yanks host Serbia in San Diego before moving to Chattanooga for a match against Jamaica. Both matches should be open-and-shut wins, as the Americans’ MLS-only lineup get “B-teams” from Serbia and Jamaica.

[ MORE: Serbia, Jamaica rosters ]

Possible starting center back Matt Hedges and his FC Dallas teammate, Kellyn Acosta, will miss through injury, while Arena sent Kekuta Manneh to Wales for Vancouver Whitecaps camp.

That leaves 28 names — full roster at bottom — and the level of competition means Arena can take risks, like his choice to try Graham Zusi at right back.

Arena used several different formations with the Galaxy last season, opting for anything from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-1-1.

Here are some options against Serbia.

4-2-2-2

Arena could steady the middle of the pitch while using a pair of attack-minded veteran midfielders with points to prove.

Robles

Rosenberry — Birnbaum — Zimmerman — Beasley

Bradley — McCarty

Feilhaber —————————Kljestan

Morris — Altidore


4-4-2 (diamond) — Veteran heavy

Arena likes his veterans, and may want to give them the benefit of the doubt in front of fans and the eyes of U.S. Soccer.

Rimando

Zusi — Marshall — Evans — Beasley

Bedoya — Bradley — Jones — Kljestan

Altidore — Zardes


4-3-3

Bingham

Rosenberry — Birnbaum — Zimmerman — Garza

Bradley

Nagbe — Bedoya

Zardes — Altidore — Morris


Full roster

Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls), Brian Rowe (LA Galaxy)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Unattached), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Greg Garza (Atlanta United FC), Taylor Kemp (D.C. United), Chad Marshall (Seattle Sounders FC), Keegan Rosenberry (Philadelphia Union), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Jermaine Jones (Unattached), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Dax McCarty (New York Red Bulls), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Chris Pontius (Philadelphia Union), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC)

Forwards: Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)

Reports: Krul, Lopez could replace Begovic at Chelsea

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 22: Tim Krul of Newcastle United in aciton during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Newcastle United at Old Trafford on August 22, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images
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It may seem unimportant at first blush, but Chelsea’s backup goalkeeper situation may be in a state of flux right now.

That means the Blues’ very strong title hopes are only a Thibaut Courtois injury away from making it matter a whole bunch more.

Eddie Howe wants Chelsea No. 2 Asmir Begovic to head down south to join Bournemouth,  and the keeper seems interested in a move.

[ MORE: Big changes for CONCACAF Champions League ]

Chelsea’s current No. 3 is Portuguese national teamer Eduardo. The Blues could wait to sell Begovic until summer, but The Express thinks the move is on.

AC Milan backup backstop Diego Lopez is in the frame for Chelsea, according to that report, but a more intriguing name is Newcastle ‘keep Tim Krul. The Dutchman is on loan with Ajax.

Either would be a fitting replacement for Begovic. Will Conte allow the change in the middle of a relatively-stable (Diego Costa aside) title run?

CONCACAF Champions League gets reboot; MLS benefits

Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey, right, clears the ball away from Club America midfielder Rubens Sambueza (14) during the first half of a CONCACAF Champions League soccer quarterfinal, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
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Changes to the CONCACAF Champions League will benefit Major League Soccer in a big way.

Long requested by MLS, the North American league will only have to send its clubs to the CCL for the final four rounds, which will be home-and-away affairs.

Previously, clubs competed in a group stage from August to October, then joined the knockout rounds in February.

[ MORE: Transfer window names to watch ]

While MLS sides may still be just starting their seasons and have to contend with clubs who have been playing meaningful games, they will also be less likely to draw successful Liga MX sides in the Round of 16.

All of the details are here, but here’s a simplified takeaway:

— The 16 teams that qualify for the CCL, which will begin in February, will include four U.S. teams, one Canadian team, and four Mexican teams.

— The next six sides will be the Caribbean Club Championship winner and the champions of Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Panama.

— The remaining side will win its spot via a new tournament which includes 13 Central American teams and three from the Caribbean.

For those of us hoping to see an MLS side in the Club World Cup, the odds will become better come the 2018 CCL. As for this year, MLS will again have to deal with the split season.