Questions to answer in MLS preseason camp: Montreal Impact

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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.)

Only one of MLS’s last seven expansion teams have reached the playoffs in their first season, a success ratio that advises first-year franchises to be modest in their expectations. Montreal was not. The mid-season acquisition of Designated Player Marco Di Vaio (pictured) symbolized the ambition owner Joey Saputo brought to Major League Soccer. When his team didn’t make the playoffs, head coach Jesse Marsch lost his job.

With talents like Felipe, Patrice Bernier, and Alessandro Nesta on the roster, new head coach Marco Schällibaum has a team that’s capable of finishing in the East’s top five. His ability to steer them into the postseason will start with himself.

  • Can Schällibaum avoid imported coach syndrome?

The premise would be xenophobic if it hadn’t become an MLS truism (and it may still be xenophobic): Coaches without experience in North America have had little success in the league. Last season, Toronto’s Aron Winter became the latest example when his Reds stumbled to a record-setting (in a bad way) start to the campaign. Hans Backe’s inability to get a talented New York team to their promised land could also be evidence of this phenomena.

The rule’s not an absolute. When Englishman Gary Smith became Colorado’s coach in the middle of the 2008 season, he’d only been working in the country for five months. Just over two years later, he was lifting the MLS Cup.

The key is adaptation. Too many coaches have tried and failed to impose the ideas they’re importing. If Schällibaum approaches his new job with an open mind, there’s no reason he can’t eventually leverage his 25 years worth of head coaching experience.

  • Can they cut down the goals?

For much of the year, Montreal played a conservative style you don’t readily associate with shipping goals, but by season’s end, only one Eastern Conference team (Toronto) had conceded more. With Nesta, Nelson Rivas, Houssan Camara, and Matteo Ferrari, the Impact should have been better at goal prevention.

A full year of Troy Perkins in goal may help, as might the season’s experience gained by 24-year-old midfielder Collen Warner. Aiming for more possession may cut down the defense’s exposure, but ultimately, Schällibaum going to have to figure out how to shave off about 20 percent of Montreal’s 51 goals allowed.

  • Will the intensity be there?

Between normal expansion woes, early season stadium renovation, the late arrivals of Di Vaio and Nesta, and injuries to players like Rivas, Ferrari and number one pick Andrew Wenger, the Impact were a much weaker team at the start of the season than they were in the final months. Unfortunately , because of schedule that front-loaded their games, their strongest point of the season coincided with a point where their competitors had matches in hand. The timing was terrible.

But those expansion woes also contributed to a lack of intensity throughout the season. The team was in “building” mode for the first half, consolidating mode in summer, and were too far back for a real chase at the end. There was a never a point where the team really kicked it into gear.

If Montreal’s going to make up the 11-point gap that kept them from fifth, they’re going to have to find a stride early in 2013 season – a stride they never found in 2012. Teams like Houston can go months while trying to figure things out, but given Montreal at their best are playoff contenders, they can’t afford to spend the earlier part of 2013 figuring out what they have.

MORE in ProSoccerTalk’s preseason camp series:

Up Next: New England Revolution

Report: Crew valued at $150 million ahead of potential sale

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The Columbus Crew’s new ownership group will reportedly have to pay a large fee to purchase the club, effectively paying outgoing owner Anthony Precourt’s expansion fee to create a team in Austin, Texas.

According to a report in Forbes, it will take a fee of $150 million to buy the Columbus Crew. A potential ownership group featuring investors from the Columbus Partnership, local investor Pete Edward’s Jr. and the Haslam family are reportedly in discussions to purchase the team from Precourt and pour money into building a new soccer-specific stadium. The Crew currently play ihorrible scenario. n the nation’s first soccer-specific stadium, MAPFRE Stadium, located at the Ohio state fairgrounds, about 3.5 miles from the arena district in Columbus.

[READ: Paunovic is close to returning to the Fire]

While MAPFRE Stadium is still in good condition, it doesn’t contain any of the bells and whistles that many owners want from stadiums in 2018 and beyond.

The Forbes report, which added that Forbes recently valued the Crew at $160 million, second to last in the league, said that Precourt wouldn’t have to pay an expansion fee to move to Austin.

If this report is true along with the potential purchase, it’s a positive ending to a horrible situation, even if it leaves a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. $150 million is about the going rate for MLS expansion clubs in 2018, and while it’s frustrating that Precourt won’t have to pay that fee himself to start his Austin franchise, it will be worth it just to get him out of Columbus.

Regardless, a big offseason is approaching in Columbus. Head coach Gregg Berhalter is expected to leave, whether to coach the U.S. Men’s National Team or even move to his former club, LA Galaxy. Federico Higuain is only getting older, while Wil Trapp and Zack Steffan are coming off solid seasons and could test the waters in Europe or elsewhere in MLS. And the longer the protracted negotiations go, the more that potential Crew signings will avoid the club, not knowing whether they’ll be moved to Austin or not.

Report: Regardless of Brexit, FA still pushing to cut down on foreign players

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The Premier League could look very different in the years ahead if the FA gets its way.

The Guardian reports that the FA is pushing ahead with its plan to cut the number of non-homegrown players in Premier League squads (effectively, players born or raised outside the United Kingdom) from 17 to 13, regardless of whether England leaves the European Union. As it stands, D-Day for the United Kingdom is March 29, 2019, when either there will be a deal to leave or there will be a “hard” exit, with the UK leaving the European body with no trade or customs deals in place.

[READ: What’s next for USMNT?]

In response, the Premier League released a lengthy statement, stating their opposition to the FA’s plan. The Premier League stated, “…Brexit should not be used to weaken playing squads in British football, nor to harm clubs’ ability to sign international players.”

The FA previously stated its intention to lower the amount of non-homegrown players to 12, per the Times of London, and now appears to be pushing through its mandate regardless of cooperation from Premier League clubs. The Guardian report states that Premier League club executives rejected the proposal from FA CEO Martin Glenn at a recent owners meeting.

It’s important to remember that the FA and the Premier League have different goals. The FA, which has a bumper crop of talented English youngsters from their World Cup winning Under-17 and Under-20 teams, wants to create more high-level opportunities for their players domestically. The Premier League meanwhile wants to make money, whether that’s using domestic or foreign players.

If the FA’s plan went through, it would force massive changes across the Premier League, especially at the Big 6 clubs who primarily rely on foreign-born players. Currently, five clubs including Manchester United and Tottenham have the maximum 17 registered foreign players, while a further four clubs have 16 registered non-homegrown players. A player is considered a homegrown player if they’ve been registered at a Premier League club for three years before their 21st birthday. This has enabled some players, such as Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin and former Arsenal (current Chelsea) midfielder Cesc Fabregas to be considered homegrown players even though they were born abroad.

In addition to massive changes in the Premier League, this plan could also have a negative reaction on the U.S. Men’s National Team. If it wasn’t already hard enough for American players to get work permits in England, it could become even more difficult, as the player will have to be good enough to be one of the 12 or 13 non-homegrown players.

Report: Paunovic close to returning to Fire, Casillas on team’s radar

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The Chicago Fire brass appear to be sticking with embattled manager Veljko Paunovic for the foreseeable future.

Despite being out of contract, the Athletic reports that the Fire and Paunovic have been negotiating for weeks and are close to bringing the Serbian back on a multi-year contract. Keeping Paunovic could be a way for the Fire to keep one of its marquee players, Bastian Schweinsteiger, who is also out of contract this summer.

[READ: O’Neill, Keane out as Republic of Ireland coaches]

The Fire are coming off a disastrous season, in which the side finished second-last in the MLS Eastern Conference and fourth-worst overall. It was a huge change from 2017, when Paunovic, Schweinsteiger and co. led the Fire to third place in the Eastern Conference regular season standings. The season ended on a sour note though as the New York Red Bulls came to Chicago and romped past the Fire, 4-0.

It was all downhill from there, as the Fire struggled to build momentum and keep clean sheets in 2018. The 61 goals allowed was third-worst in the Eastern Conference.

While Paunovic will be looking to upgrade his defense, his side could be adding another huge name from European soccer. According to a report in Spain, former Real Madrid great Iker Casillas is on the Fire’s radar, and should he announce his intention to leave FC Porto, the Fire would be ready to make an offer.

Considering that Paunovic started Richard Sanchez, Stefan Cleveland and Patrick McClain at various times last season, the team could use an experienced goalkeeper who can give the backline come confidence.

It’s a big leap of faith for the Fire ownership group to stay with Paunovic after a horrendous 2018, but they must see something that they like in him to bring him back. Hopefully for the club’s sake, they have more performances like they did in 2017 to bring fans back to Toyota Park.

Former Arsenal striker Bendtner drops appeal, will serve time

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) Former Denmark forward Niklas Bendtner will have to serve a 50-day jail sentence after dropping his appeal against an assault conviction.

Early this month, Bendtner was found guilty of beating and kicking a cab driver in the Danish capital on Sept. 9. The 30-year-old Dane admitted to hitting the man but said he had acted in self-defense after a quarrel over the fare.

[READ: What’s next for the USMNT?]

Bendtner was sentenced to 50 days in prison and fined 1,500 kroner ($230).

The State Prosecutor of Copenhagen wrote on Twitter that it also abandoned its appeal after Bendtner’s move, adding “the verdict is therefore final.”

It was not immediately clear when Bendtner would serve his time.

Bendtner, a former Arsenal and Juventus forward who now plays for Norwegian club Rosenborg, has not been selected for his national team in recent months because of his poor shape.