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

Premier League sets start date for 2019-2020 season

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Mark it down.

The Premier League announced that the 2019-2020 season will begin on Saturday, August 10. That’s just 90 days after the 2018-2019 season will finish on May 12.

In addition, the Premier League is continuing with closing their summer transfer window before the start of the season. August 8, at 5 p.m. local is the next transfer deadline day.

Additional news about next season’s schedule is expected to be announced in the coming months.

Manchester United opened the 2018-2019 season on Friday, August 10 with a 2-1 win over Leicester City.

Arsenal, Chelsea cruise into Europa League Round of 16

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Arsenal looked right at home back in the friendly confines of the Emirates Stadium.

After losing twice on the road this month, including a surprise 1-0 defeat last Thursday to BATE Borisov, Arsenal took care of business at home. The Gunners defeated BATE, 3-0 on the night (3-1 on aggregate), with goals from centerbacks Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulous, while BATE’s Zakhar Volkov scored an own goal early to tie the scoreline between the two legs.

[READ: Premier League Power Rankings]

South of the Emirates Stadium, Chelsea built on their 2-1 aggregate lead over Malmo FF with a resounding 3-0 win. Malmo finished with ten men and the game was highlighted by goals from Callum Hudson-Odoi and a Ross Barkley free kick.

With the wins, both Premier League sides advance to the Europa League Round of 16. The draw for the Round of 16 will be held on Friday, with matches taking place March 7 and 14.

Arsenal took an unexpected lead in the fourth minute of the match. A seemingly harmless cross from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was somehow turned into his own net by BATE centerback Zakhar Volkov. After some shaky moments early, Arsenal settled in and controlled the match, leading to the go-ahead goal. Granit Xhaka played the first of his two assists as Mustafi got on the end of a corner kick to head the ball in for a goal.

In the 60th minute, Sokratis’ header off a corner kick put the game away and allowed Arsenal fans to relax for the final half-hour of play.

Chelsea, meanwhile, didn’t get the early goal like Arsenal but didn’t end up needing it.

Maurizio Sarri sat Jorginho, David Luiz and Marcos Alonso and it led to a better defensive performance, albeit Malmo isn’t a world beater. Olivier Giroud opened the scoring in the 55th minute with a tap-in after great work from N’Golo Kante and Willian. It was Giroud’s sixth Europa League goal this season.

Barkley delighted the Stamford Bridge crowd with a terrific free kick from the edge of the box in the 74th minute and Hudson-Odoi put the cherry on top with a right-footed strike ten minutes later.

Former Premier League midfielder Diarra leaves PSG, announces retirement

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PARIS (AP) Veteran midfielder Lassana Diarra announced his retirement on Thursday, hours after he terminated his contract with French league leader Paris Saint-Germain by mutual agreement.

The 33-year-old Frenchman joined PSG in January 2018 and his contract was set to expire in June. Diarra’s career ends after 15 years and many high profile stops. He played for Arsenal, Chelsea and even Portsmouth in England, as well as spending three strong seasons with Real Madrid.

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Le moment est venu de « raccrocher les crampons » comme on dit . Pour le football , j’ai beaucoup donné . Grâce au football , j’ai énormément reçu . Le sport de haut niveau est une véritable école de courage , de persévérance et de respect . Il ne s’agit pas de faire l’unanimité mais d’honorer , en professionnel , avec volontarisme et loyauté la confiance que l’on vous accorde . Je ne dis pas que j’ai tout fait parfaitement mais je l’ai fait avec coeur , passion et bienveillance . Merci à tous ceux et toutes celles qui m’ont encouragé tout au long de ma carrière sportive . Une pensée pour les clubs , entraîneurs , éducateurs et coéquipiers qui ont fait partie de mon quotidien pendant toutes ces années . Je n’oublie pas ma première sélection avec la France en 2007 . Porter le maillot de la sélection nationale est le rêve de tous les footballeurs . Je tourne donc la page mais je n’oublie rien . Je vais continuer à œuvrer avec enthousiasme , détermination et sincérité dans mes nouveaux projets . Amitiés LASS

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After Real Madrid, Diarra became a journeyman, playing two seasons in Russia and part of a season in the United Arab Emirates. With PSG, Diarra made 10 league appearances last season under former coach Unai Emery, and has made only three in the league this season in Thomas Tuchel’s team.

Diarra made 34 appearances for France and was a regular starter during the qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup.

Europa League, LIVE — Chelsea look to close out Malmo at home

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Chelsea did themselves plenty of favors by winning 2-1 away to Swedish side Malmo last week in the Europa League round of 32, leaving themselves a straightforward job to do in Thursday’s second leg.

[ FOLLOW: Europa League scores ]

With an aggregate lead, plus two away goals in hand, Maurizio Sarri‘s side can perhaps bounce back from a rough run of results in recent weeks. With fans calling for him to be fired, the Italian will take any boost he can get.

Elsewhere, Arsenal have done well to overturn their 1-0 deficit to BATE Borisov and lead 3-0 at the Emirates Stadium in the day’s early round of games.