Questions to answer in MLS preseason camp: Chivas USA

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(Over the next week we’ll look at two or three Major League Soccer clubs per day, considering what they need to accomplish and which questions most deserve answers during preseason training camp. Opening day in MLS is March 2.)

The trick right now around Chivas USA is narrowing down the list of questions to ask about the perennially wandering franchise.

Complicating the fact that new manager Jose Luis Sanchez Solá  (pictured) has been on site less than two weeks, the club’s personnel philosophy remains a shifting work in progress, now returning to the original developmental and cultural concept.

While Chivas USA may not be the sexiest side to examine (because of the lacking name recognition on the roster and due to the club’s historic lack of post-season or tourney success) it is probably among the most interesting of preseason studies. Really, this thing could go anywhere.

The players reported this morning into the Home Depot Center. Well, some of them, anyway. Read on …

  • Do we even know who will be with the team in six week?

So very many questions remain about the main men on Chivas USA’s roster – even as the team gets into camp in Southern California today. Will Oswaldo Minda return? Is Juan Agudelo moving to Celtic before the January transfer window closes? Is Shalrie Joseph, 34, still part of the plan?

Are they really going to jettison Dan Kennedy? (Was there an MLS player who elicited more sympathy in 2012 than beleaguered, besieged Chivas USA ‘keeper Dan Kennedy? An MLS All-Star who still allowed 54 goals? MLS may never see such a thing.)

So in one sense it’s surprising that Chivas may be looking to move the well-liked, highly respected 6th-year pro. But if the club is going to be all about bringing in Mexican players, so be it. Why wait? They should lean right into now, right?

  • Where does Carlos Alvarez fit it?

The No. 2 pick in last week’s draft looks like a real talent. Then again, playmakers don’t really begin making the game-changing plays in MLS at such a young age. Yes, UConn creator Carlos Alvarez was the hand-picked selection of Chivas USA’s new manager. But he seems more likely to start in a wide position, learning to be a professional from a slightly less demanding position. Putting too much on the young man straight away seems like a bad way to start. It’s asking for trouble.

  • Who are the veteran leaders?

The list of veteran players apparently or definitely not returning this year includes Juan Pablo Angel, Peter Vagenas, Ryan Smith, Alejandro Moreno and Danny Califf. Perhaps Kennedy, too.

In a sense, watching the club attempt to develop Mexican or Mexican-American talent is exciting. On the other hand, arranging the best chance of success for emerging talent means marrying the youngsters with a few been-there-done-that types.

Dumping all that salary has its advantages, for sure; the linked piece from Goat Parade helps explain how this is specifically applicable to Chivas USA. Then again, few teams will prosper without a reasonable balance of youth and experience.

MORE in ProSoccerTalk’s preseason camp series:

Spanish federation withholds approval of match in U.S.

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BARCELONA, Spain — The Spanish league’s plan to play a regular-season match in the United States was put in serious doubt Friday after the national soccer federation refused to give its approval, according to a person with knowledge of the decision.

The person told The Associated Press that the federation sent a letter to league officials withholding its authorization of playing of a competitive match between Barcelona and Girona on Jan. 26 in suburban Miami unless certain conditions are met. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the person is not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

According to the person, the federation told the league it has failed to show that the overseas match would comply with Spanish and international regulations and TV broadcast contracts, and that it would not harm the other 18 league clubs and the fans of Girona and Barcelona.

The federation requested more documentation from the league on the proposal, but the person with knowledge of the situation told the AP that it believed the “holes” in the league’s proposal are “insurmountable.”

Shortly after receiving the letter, Spanish league president Javier Tebas said he still hopes to hold the match in Miami.

“The game is still on,” Tebas said. “We believe we are right, and we will try to show that to the relevant authorities. We are going to respond to everything they say and we will keep working.”

Tebas said that the match was critical to increasing the league’s global reach and rivaling the richer Premier League in England.

“This match is very important in our strategic plan in the United States,” Tebas said. “I can assure you that we are not going to just accept that they tell us no.”

Tebas did not explain what possible options the league could have of circumventing the federation’s refusal, other than convincing federation president Luis Rubiales to change his mind.

Besides the Spanish federation, the match would also need to be approved by the U.S. soccer federation, plus continental bodies UEFA and CONCACAF.

The league asked the federation for authorization to play the match last week.

The refusal by the federation was first reported by Spanish radio station COPE.

While the Spanish league manages the country’s two top divisions of men’s teams and the women’s league, the federation is the official governing body that sets the rules and regulations for all soccer played in the country.

The Spanish players’ union and some fans have been critical of the plan to play competitive matches abroad.

Even though FIFA’s permission is not mandatory, president Gianni Infantino also expressed his doubts about the game earlier this week when he said that he would “prefer to see a great MLS game in the U.S. rather than La Liga being in the U.S.”

The Spanish league has never played a match in another country, but the Spanish federation held its season-opening Super Cup abroad for the first time in August. Barcelona beat Sevilla in Tangier, Morocco.

The league’s plan to play games in the United States is part of a new 15-year partnership with sports and entertainment group Relevent, which operates the International Champions Cup, a tournament played during the European offseason in July and August around the world.

MLS Weekend Preview: Fringe playoff teams get tough tests

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A number of Major League Soccer clubs fighting for playoff position have extremely difficult tasks this weekend as the MLS season reaches the final five or six matches of the year.

In the Eastern Conference, the two teams just above the playoff cut – Montreal and Philadelphia – both meet top-tier sides. Montreal meets NYCFC on Saturday, while Philadelphia hosts Western Conference leaderes Sporting KC on Sunday. With D.C. United off this weekend, the teams have an opportunity to pull away, with Philadelphia able to give itself an 11 point lead, a near certainty to make the postseason.

Meanwhile, the Vancouver Whitecaps sit four games back of Seattle for the final Western Conference playoff spot, and the Whitecaps welcome second-place FC Dallas to BC Place. Just above Seattle is Real Salt Lake, and they travel to Eastern Conference leaders Atlanta United.

So which team in the playoff hunt will fall into danger, and which will pick up key momentum?

Atlanta United vs. Real Salt Lake – Saturday 9/22, 7:00 p.m. ET

Real Salt Lake has lost just one of its last nine, but that will be put to the test with a visit to Mercedes-Benz Stadium to take on Atlanta United. San Jose did its best to hold on for dear life, but was ultimately unable to hold off the blazing guns of the visitors. The usual suspects were at it again for Atlanta in Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron, and RSL will have plenty to think about, especially having kept just one clean sheet since the start of August.

Montreal Impact vs. NYCFC – Saturday 9/22, 7:30 p.m. ET

Montreal took one major step towards securing a playoff spot with a win over Philadelphia, and now a much stiffer test awaits as they welcome NYCFC to town. The Eastern Conference’s third-placed side is coming off a bye week, last playing September 8. While the top of the table is out of reach for NYCFC, a few more points would secure positioning for the postseason. They have faded of late, however, without a win in over a month.

Philadelphia Union vs. Sporting KC – Sunday 9/23, 1:00 p.m. ET

Both teams have suffered just one loss over their last seven games, and while both teams have offensive capabilities, only one has the defensive structure to go with it. Outside of a 3-1 loss at Seattle, Sporting KC has conceded just one single goal in its last six matches. Meanwhile, Philadelphia will be without the suspended Jack Elliott, a major loss for a team that has improved drastically at the back since Elliott’s introduction to the starting lineup in early August.

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. FC Dallas – Sunday 9/23, 7:00 p.m. ET

Vancouver sits just one single position out of the playoffs, four points behind sixth-place Seattle, but lost to the Sounders last weekend and must pick up the pieces from that major Cascadia stumble. The first roadblock is a big one, welcoming the Western Conference’s 2nd placed team. Since being shut out by Real Salt Lake in early July, FC Dallas has bagged 19 goals in its last nine games, although they were blanked last time out in a 0-0 draw with Columbus after a forgettable 90 minutes.

LA Galaxy vs. Seattle Sounders – Sunday 9/23, 7:00 p.m. ET

The LA Galaxy are in slightly more peril than the Whitecaps find themselves in, and now they draw the side that beat Vancouver last weekend in the Sounders. Seattle had its winning streak finally come to an end at a relatively inopportune time, but there is still time to recover before the playoffs begin. In fact, they must recover – and fast – because Seattle is just four points above the cut line, sitting in sixth. A critical “six-pointer” at the StubHub Center will see the home side look to become the first team since the start of July to put two goals or more past Seattle.

Other games

LAFC vs. San Jose Earthquakes – Saturday @ 3:30 p.m. ET
NY Red Bulls vs. Toronto FC – Saturday @ 5:00 p.m. ET
Columbus Crew vs. Colorado Rapids – Saturday @ 7:30 p.m. ET
New England Revolution vs. Chicago Fire – Saturday @ 7:30 p.m. ET
Orlando City vs. Houston Dynamo – Saturday @ 7:30 p.m. ET
Minnesota United vs. Portland Timbers – Saturday @ 8:00 p.m. ET

PL Preview: Fulham vs. Watford

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  • Fulham has conceded at least 2 goals in its last 9 PL games
  • Watford has lost 8 straight PL matches in London
  • Fulham will become the 15th English team to reach 500 PL games

One team still sorting out the kinks, one team is off to a blistering start.

Fulham hopes to shore things up as the Whites host fourth-placed Watford at Craven Cottage Saturday at 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com. The hosts have been porous defensively, with 12 goals allowed through the first five matches of the season, the most in the Premier League.

[ WATCH LIVE: Fulham vs. Watford live on NBCSports.com ]

Still, manager Slavisa Jokanovic has rebuffed calls to set the tactics up more defensively, instead calling on his team to be “more brave” as the season rolls on, pushing forward with the “offense is the best defense” mindset. Jokanovic, who coached Watford to promotion in 2015 but left before Premier League play after failing to agree to a new deal, has been praised for his steadfastness in his tactical style but also criticized for the early results.

Watford took time to find true stability in the Premier League without Jokanovic, finishing one place above relegation last season, but under Javi Gracia the Hornets have sprung to life over the past few weeks. Gracia is the one with stability now, having named the exact same starting lineup for every Premier League game so far, and Watford could become only the fifth English club ever to name the same starting lineup for the first six games of a Premier League season. Gerard Deulofeu and Tom Cleverley are both long-term absentees, while Nathaniel Chalobah is the only real question mark as he recovers from a serious knee injury, and he is likely to return to the squad, Gracia said.

The Fulham squad, on the other hand, is a mess. Captain Tom Cairney is out with an ankle injury, a massive miss for a team that focuses on possession and build-up. American defender Tim Ream is also out with a knee problem, back in training finally but still yet to debut this season after winning the club’s Player of the Season award last year. Without Ream, Jokanovic has struggled to find his best defensive partnership, with Denis Odoi plus new signings Calum Chambers, Maxim Le Marchand, and Alfie Mawson all showing weaknesses. The Whites are also without winger Neeskens Kebano who suffered an ankle injury in a Cup match against Exeter City in late August.

What they’re saying

Fulham manager Jokanovic on his team’s attacking mentality: “People are asking if we can be a little more pragmatic but, for me, being pragmatic is being brave. The brave choice for me is the best way to win the game. I think we are still not brave enough. Why would we be scared, why are we not braver and trusting in ourselves?”

Watford manager Gracia on bouncing back from first loss: “They do not need good results to know the performances have been good and, in this moment, the players are confident they will be able to keep their performance levels up. We will try to keep our style of play, maintain our mentality and be aggressive.”

Prediction

Watford started the season with a bang, but have not kept a clean sheet since the second match of the year. That could pose problems facing a team that loves to push forward, and there should be goals in this match. It will likely end in a 2-2 draw.

PL Preview: Liverpool vs. Southampton

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  • Southampton has not scored a PL goal vs. Liverpool since 2016, a run of 4 games
  • Liverpool has never won its first 7 matches in a season in club history
  • Southampton has not won vs. any of last season’s PL top 6 teams in 24 games

Liverpool finally showed a weakness. Liverpool was finally human.

Until they weren’t.

When the Reds toppled Paris Saint-Germain in the 91st minute on Tuesday, it struck fear into the hearts of the rest of Europe. Can anyone actually stop this whirring machine? Sure, you might score some goals against Liverpool, but can you score enough?

[ WATCH LIVE: Liverpool vs. Southampton on NBCSports.com ]

Southampton visits Anfield hoping to avoid becoming Liverpool’s next victim Saturday morning at 10:00 a.m. ET live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com. The Saints have been a mixed bag so far this season, but coughing up a 2-0 lead at home to Brighton last weekend was a less than ideal way to send the team off to Anfield. Not only that, but they’ll have to match the Reds without top scorer Danny Ings, who is ineligible to play against his parent club.

That thrusts strike partner Shane Long into a solo role, or forces Mark Hughes to bring on the misfiring Manolo Gabbiadini to pair with Long, although the Italian is struggling with a hamstring injury himself and will require a late fitness test to make the squad. Either way, it appears a daunting task for the visitors to Merseyside.

For the Reds, Roberto Firmino is fully healthy, having recovered completely from his eye injury suffered last weekend against Tottenham. Adam LallanaDivock Origi, and Dominic Solanke are all out injured but otherwise the squad is nearly complete. Only Dejan Lovren remains on the sidelines, but even the Croatian is nearing a return from his pelvic injury.

What they’re saying

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp on playing at home: “Are we ready to create the best atmosphere of all games? That would be cool. We need to show Southampton how difficult it is to come to Anfield.”

Southampton manager Mark Hughes on playing Liverpool: “It’s a game that is going to test us because the team we are facing looks on top of their form in terms of individuals and the collective functioning really well.”

Prediction

Southampton has looked promising this season in spurts, but this isn’t the game where they put it all together. Liverpool is a nearly unstoppable force at home, and there’s no reason that should change. The only concerning bit of information for Liverpool heading into this match is last season’s record following Champions League games, when they won just once while losing once and drawing four, but this year has proven Liverpool has a new gear. The Reds will win 3-1, with things shaky for some time down the stretch until a late insurance goal puts the game away.