Questions to answer in MLS preseason camp: Houston Dynamo

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

For a team that finished in the middle of their conference last season, the Houston Dynamo carry surprisingly few questions into their 2013 campaign.

That’s because they’re not a fifth-place caliber team. Two years in a row, Dominic Kinnear has guided his team to an MLS Cup final, and while Sporting has claimed two conference titles in that time, there’s little doubt which team are currently kings in the East.

Bringing back the same core that clicked during last year’s playoffs, Houston should be expected to better their 2012 regular season finish. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some doubt.

  • Is the defense for real?

Houston lost Geoff Cameron and didn’t miss a beat. They made a change at right back mid-stream and never lost their edge. As with most Kinnear teams, Houston’s defense served as the bedrock for the coach’s approach.

That’s no guarantee everything will unfold the same this spring. Bobby Boswell may have has his best MLS season in 2012. Will that continue into 2013? Will Jermaine Taylor resume the same high level he carried through his time in Cameron’s spot? And how will Kofie Sarkodie respond to his first March as Houston’s first choice right back?

Expect all those questions to come back positive. At not point during last year’s run did the you watch this back four and think “this has to be a fluke.” But sample sizes being what they are, it’s worth watching to make sure our initial perceptions coincide with the long-term reality. Preseason will give us our first hints.

  • Can Rico play a more attacking part?

Ricardo Clark’s return from Germany allowed Kinnear to switch from the 4-4-3 he used through summer to his preferred 4-4-2. With Clark and Adam Moffat in the middle, the Dynamo had a tandem that could both destroy play and clean up the second balls.

This year, however, Ricardo Clark may need to expand his game. Both he and Dominic Kinnear had hoped he’d play a more attacking role when he came into the starting XI, but his presence rarely translated into something going forward.

Conceivably, Houston could be fine if Clark plays the same way he did down the stretch in 2013, but the Dynamo would be much more balanced (and ultimately, dangerous) if they didn’t have to rely solely on Brad Davis and Boniek Garcia. Preseason’s the perfect time for Clark to start taking some chances.

  • How does Houston reach the next level?

Making finals is nice and losing to the Galaxy is understandable, but at some point it’s going to get old. And there’s always going to be a talented team at the end of any championship road.

If Houston’s going to reclaim an MLS crowd, they need something else. Perhaps that’s Clark finding some creativity. Maybe it’s Will Bruin becoming an All-Star. Boniek Garcia may become one of the league’s elite players. Perhaps Tally Hall becomes MLS’s Petr Cech. If so, we may start to see it in preseason.

Any of these things may prove enough to give Houston that one missing quality they need to win (instead of merely compete in) their last game.

MORE in ProSoccerTalk’s preseason camp series:

Up Next: LA Galaxy

Offsides rules at 2022 World Cup: Explaining how VAR technology impacts referee calls

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The 2022 World Cup is underway from the Middle Eastern nation of Qatar and as the group stage continues, we’ve seen unexpected upsets and some new contenders emerge – but there’s still a long way to go until the tournament champions are crowned in late December.

Along the way, spectators have already seen most matches impacted in at least some capacity by VAR technology when it comes to determining penalties, possession and, frequently, offsides decisions. After introducing semi-automated offside technology at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, FIFA announced this summer that the tool would return for this year’s tournament. Read on to learn how offsides works and how VAR technology is utilized to make decisions at the 2022 World Cup.

RELATED: World Cup 2022 schedule – how to watch, groups, calendar, match schedule, brackets, dates

What is the offsides rule?

A player is in an offsides position when they are in the opponent’s half of the field and any part of their head, body or feet is “nearer to the opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent.” Simply put, a player needs to be entirely in front of the last defender when their teammate passes them the ball. The offsides rule exists to keep players from lingering near their opponent’s goal to try and scoop up scoring opportunities.

The offsides rule does not apply when the player receives the ball directly from a corner kick, throw in or goal kick.

RELATED: What are the group stage tiebreaker rules at the 2022 World Cup?

What is VAR?

By now a familiar acronym to any fans of year-round leagues like the Premier League, VAR stands for “Video Assistant Referee.” It refers to officials off the pitch who are watching the match with access to multiple cameras, angles and data points, as well as slow-motion replay, who can weigh in on decisions including goals and penalties, with the objective of making officiating more accurate.

RELATED: World Cup 2022 odds: Favorites, underdogs, group stage winners

How does technology impact offsides calls at 2022 World Cup?

In Qatar, FIFA is using multiple forms of VAR technology to support officials in determining offsides. This includes 12 tracking cameras constantly collecting data on the limb position of each player, as well as “connected ball technology,” a sensor within the official match ball sending kick-point detection data to the video operations room. Per FIFA, “by combining the limb- and ball-tracking data and applying artificial intelligence, the new technology provides an automated offside alert to the video match officials inside the video operation room whenever the ball is received by an attacker who was in an offside position at the moment the ball was played by a teammate.”

After the video referee and the officials on the pitch have confirmed a decision, a 3D visualization of the offsides penalty is available to clearly communicate the infraction.

Germany v Japan: Group E - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022

World Cup 2022 schedule, start time, dates, how to watch live

  • When: November 20, 2022 to December 18, 2022
  • Group stage game kick-off times: 5am, 8am, 10am, 11am, 2pm (all ET)
  • Location: Qatar
  • TV channels en Español: Telemundo, Universo, Peacock
  • Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)

Follow along with ProSoccerTalk for the latest news, scores, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2022 World Cup, and be sure to subscribe to NBC Sports on YouTube!

World Cup Today – Latest news, analysis, reaction on 2022 World Cup in Qatar

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During the 2022 World Cup we are breaking down all the action and will be discussing all of the key storylines from Qatar.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]  

From upsets to powerhouses flexing their muscles, from the USMNT to new stars emerging and everything in-between, we have you covered.

Joe Prince-Wright, Andy Edwards and Nick Mendola will provide updates, analysis and reaction across our platforms here at NBC Sports.

[ LIVE: Watch World Cup en Espanol en Peacock

Below you can find every episode of their World Cup shows and above is the latest edition to make sure you’re up to date with everything you need.


World Cup Today – Day 8 (November 27)


World Cup Today – Day 7 (November 26)


World Cup Today – Day 6 (November 25)


World Cup Today – Day 4 (November 23)


World Cup Today – Day 3 (November 22)


World Cup Today – Day 2 (November 21)


World Cup preview show (November 17)

Saudi Arabia vs Mexico: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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Mexico needs a win to have hope of reaching the World Cup knockout rounds, while Saudi Arabia’s hopes of the final 16 may require the same at Stadium 974 in Doha on Wednesday.

The Saudis stunned Argentina 2-1 In Lusail to open the tournament but could not repeat the feat against Poland at Education City in Al Rayyan on Saturday to leave themselves with three points through two matches.

STREAM LIVE SAUDI ARABIA vs MEXICO

Mexico remains without a win after their scoreless draw versus Poland led to a Lionel Messi-inspired loss to Argentina In Lusail.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Here is everything you need for Saudi Arabia vs Mexico.


How to watch Saudi Arabia vs Mexico live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 2pm ET, Wednesday Nov. 30
Stadium: Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

The Saudis have arguably been the most fun team at the tournament amongst non-powers, always running and getting exceptional goalkeeping. Salem Al-Dawsari was very good in both games but his missed penalty before halftime against Poland looms large of a match that could’ve been 1-1 going to the break and instead ended 2-0.

Mexico has not scored at the tournament so far, and Raul Jimenez has only been used as a super sub. Hirving Lozano and Alexis Vega combined for just three shot attempts before being subbed out of the Poland loss, while Lozano and Henry Martin combined for two versus Poland (Vega attempted five). They need better up top to keep up their streak of making Round of 16 appearances at the World Cup.


Saudi Arabia quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 51
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 5
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from AFC (Won Group B)
Coach: Herve Renard
Key players: Salem Al-Dawsari, Fahad Al-Muwallad, Mohammed Al-Owais

Mexico quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 13
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 16
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CONCACAF (2nd place)
Coach: Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino
Key players: Guillermo Ochoa, Hector Herrera, Raul Jimenez

Poland vs Argentina: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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Poland and Argentina surely didn’t plan to reach the marquee match of World Cup Group C with their knockout round status in doubt, but it’s been that kind of tournament in Qatar.

Poland remains unbeaten in Qatar after beating Saudi Arabia 2-0 in Al Rayyan, adding to the point it earned from a scoreless draw with Mexico In Doha to give it top billing in the group heading into Wednesday’s match.

STREAM LIVE POLAND vs ARGENTINA

Argentina, meanwhile, rebounded from a 2-1 tournament-opening loss to Saudi Arabia In Lusail to bear Mexico 2-0 behind a goal and an assist from Lionel Messi.

Saudi Arabia’s three points means it can still advance with a win over Mexico, who itself can add to its one point. So everyone’s alive in Group C.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Here is everything you need for Poland vs Argentina.


How to watch Poland vs Argentina live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 2pm ET, Wednesday, Nov. 30
Stadium: Stadium 974, Doha – 2pm
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

The storyline for every Argentina game this tournament from this point forward — and really since the lead-up to the Mexico match — is that any loss means the end of Lionel Messi’s World Cup career (at least according to the living legend). The Albiceleste would be thrilled to get something more out of Lautaro Martinez, while Paulo Dybala’s yet to make his tournament debut.

Robert Lewandowski finally has a World Cup goal on his resume, while Piotr Zielinski has been very good for Poland. Former Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny was sensational in the win over Saudi Arabia.


Poland quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 26
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 8
How they qualified: Qualified from UEFA via playoffs, Path B
Coach: Czeslaw Michniewicz
Key players: Robert Lewandowski, Wojciech Szczesny, Piotr Zielinski

Argentina quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 3
World Cup titles: 2 (1978, 1986)
World Cup appearances: 17
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CONMEBOL (2nd place)
Coach: Lionel Scaloni
Key players: Lionel Messi, Angel de Maria, Lautaro Martinez