Questions to answer in MLS preseason camp: New York Red Bulls

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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.)

The New York Red Bulls are one of Major League Soccer’s most storied franchises. And by storied, I mean there sure are a lot of stories about the squad, most of them negative. It’s been a, um, tumultuous off-season in Harrison, New Jersey, with the parent company jetting in from Austria, cleaning house, and generally shaking things up in the most dramatic way possible. Plenty of faces from last year’s up and down and down again season are out, replaced by new men hoping they can play with Thierry Henry and a new manager hoping to simply control the mercurial Frenchman.

This isn’t necessarily a make or break year for the Red Bulls, but it’s starting to feel like that a little bit. Or perhaps that’s just the smell of desperation wafting out of that beautiful space-age bubble just off NJ Transit. Onward we move, to three questions that will make all the difference in 2013.

  • Is Mike Petke the answer as coach?

After attempting to hire people including Gary McAllister, Paulo Sousa, Fonzie, and Aladdin, the new management settled on interim manager Petke, the club’s all-time leader in games played with 169. Although he has exactly zero head coaching experience, he served under Hans Backe as an assistant last season and knows the team. (Plus, he’s one of five new MLS head coaches in the league this year who have never been in charge of an MLS team. Can you say “fresh blood”?) Petke’s success or failure likely depends upon his relationship with Henry, who can be a consummate teammate or a consummate jerk or both in the span of 15 seconds, and who controls the locker room with his presence. It’s a nearly impossible task for any coach, but it will be interesting to see how the early days play out. Petke has the advantage of knowing and working with Henry, which should help, and he’s a better choice than the other options the ownership group tried to hire because he understands the league. But honestly, getting through to late-career Henry might be a bridge too far for any coach not named Wenger.

  • Does stability exist in Harrison?

15(!) players on the New York Red Bulls roster at the end of 2012 will not be back at the start of 2013, courtesy of MLSSoccer.com managing editor and all-around good guy Jonah Freedman. (Be nice, he’s a Lakers fan.) That’s an astonishing figure and it needs to stop. Do it once, get it done, then build again. The new-look Red Bulls need a bit of patience — not the easiest thing for a team that needs to win now. But the owners over in Austria need to understand that the best teams in MLS build from within. It’s not a quick-fix, throw-money-at-the-problem type of place. The organization has taken some strong steps with its youth system and hopefully those will start to pay off. And having money, as the Red Bulls clearly do, is never a bad thing. But it’s not the only thing. 2013 is for patience. (Yeah, right.) But let’s start with Petke, the team’s 13th coach during a span in which no other team has had more than nine. Give the man a chance.

  • Is this finally the year?

They were one of the league’s best teams at points throughout the last two seasons. They have a strong base with Henry, Dax McCarty, a returning Ryan Meara, Heath Pearce, Connor Lade, etc. They have the money to go out and get another DP and/or some new players. The talent, as always, is there. But can the Red Bulls finally put together a complete season instead of just bits and pieces of one?

MORE in ProSoccerTalk’s preseason camp series:

Up Next: Philadelphia Union

Klopp: “Nobody thinks about” $100m Van Dijk fee anymore

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Virgil Van Dijk needed fewer than 12 months to justify the $100-million transfer fee Liverpool paid to secure his services in January, at least in the mind of manager Jurgen Klopp.

[ MORE: Pogba’s agent hits back at critics, dares Man United to sell Pogba ]

Van Dijk, whose price tag remains the world record for a defender, quickly settled in at Anfield and helped the Reds reach the Champions League final inside his first five months at the club. Now, after beginning what will be his first full season at Liverpool, the 27-year-old is drawing praise of the highest order from Klopp.

Following Monday’s 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace, Klopp not only opined that Van Dijk has proven a worthy investment already, but went so far as to joke that perhaps “he was too cheap.” While the gaudy fee grabbed all the headlines back in January, Klopp says, “Nobody thinks about it now” — quotes from ESPN.com:

“Quality costs a specific price. With cars, it’s the case, and with players, too. Nobody thinks about it now.

“He’s a player in this market who is worth it, and maybe now people think he was too cheap. He loves playing with these boys, and that’s the most important thing.”

The Reds are scoring goals for fun once again this season, leaving the defense as the only relative unknown this season. Through two games of the 2018-19 season, they are the only side in the Premier League to not have conceded a single goal.

Usain Bolt hopeful of contract after first session in Australia

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GOSFORD, Australia (AP) — Star sprinter Usain Bolt says he passed up the chance to trial with clubs in Europe before accepting an offer to trial for a professional contract with the Central Coast Mariners in Australian football’s A-League.

[ MORE: Pogba’s agent hits back at critics, dares Man United to sell Pogba ]

Bolt trained with the Mariners for the first time on his 32nd birthday Tuesday, taking part in light passing drills and agility tests in front of a gallery of almost 100 reporters and photographers.

He has pledged to stay with the club for an “indefinite” trial period in the hope of achieving his long-held ambition to play professional football, a year after his retirement from the track.

The eight-time Olympic champion has trialed unsuccessfully with clubs in Germany, South Africa and Norway but is optimistic of breaking through with the Mariners, who finished last in the most-recent A-League season.

[ MORE: Woodward to appoint director of football at Manchester United ]

Mariners head coach Mike Mulvey said he is happy for Bolt stay with the team for a year if that is what he needs to fulfill his ambition.

Bolt said he had specifically targeted the A-League.

“We got offers from teams in Spain, France and stuff like that,” Bolt told reporters. “But for me it’d be harder because you have to learn a new language. It wasn’t in the top division.

[ MORE: Klopp: Let’s not worry about sending statements to Man City ]

“Australia is somewhere I enjoy coming. This is a start and I’m really appreciative of everything the Mariners have done.”

Asked in what position he hoped to play, Bolt said he is “good at center forward but open to playing anywhere on the park.”

“I look forward to scoring as many goals as possible and bringing home the trophy,” he said. “But I’m just trying to get over the first hurdle now, that’s to get a contract.”

Pogba’s agent hits back at critics, dares Man United to sell Pogba

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Mino Railoa, the agent of Paul Pogba, has emptied a can of gas onto the already-raging inferno that is Manchester United, daring the club to sell his superstar client if anyone around the club is unhappy with his performances.

[ MORE: Woodward to appoint director of football at Manchester United ]

Raiola’s comments came Tuesday morning, in the wake of harsh — but fair — criticism over Pogba’s performance in Man United’s 3-2 defeat to Brighton & Hove Albion on Sunday. United legend Paul Scholes merely echoed much of what the 25-year-old Red Devils captain said of himself and his teammates during post-game interviews.

“There’s a lack of leaders in the team. We thought Paul Pogba might be the ideal candidate to be that leader, but he wasn’t there today. He had another really poor game. He’s so inconsistent.

“Pogba’s playing the ball out of play, he’s overhitting passes, he’s hitting passes short, he’s getting caught in possession.

Still, it didn’t sit well with Raiola, thus he launched a Twitter attack early Tuesday morning, facetiously advising Scholes to “become United’s sports director and advise [chief executive Ed] Woodward to sell Pogba.”

The reality is, of course, that every time Pogba completes a transfer, Raiola pockets a massive windfall of cash. It was reported that he received a $29-million agent’s fee following the Frenchman’s move from Juventus to United in the summer of 2016.

[ MORE: Klopp: Let’s not worry about sending statements to Man City ]

Gary Neville and Mike Phelan, Scholes’ former teammate and assistant manager, respectively, wasted little time in hitting back at Raiola. Jose Mourinho, who spent the latter part of the summer criticizing Pogba — and plenty of his teammates — has not yet weighed in on Raiola’s comments, but his response will undoubtedly arrive in short order.

The five-alarm fire burns brighter and hotter than ever before.

Reports: Spurs’ USMNT back Carter-Vickers moving toward loan

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American defender Cameron Carter-Vickers may be set for another loan from Tottenham Hotspur to the English second tier.

CCV, 20, played 17 times each during loans to Sheffield United and Ipswich Town last season, scoring a goal with two assists for the Blades.

[ MORE: Klopp on beating Palace ]

He’s made four Cup appearances for Spurs, all in 2016-17 and all 90-minute performances at center back.

Carter-Vickers also has four USMNT caps, and is likely to get a call-up for next month’s friendlies.

Reports have linked the center back with defense-starved Swansea City, a return to Ipswich Town, or a move to Sheffield Wednesday. All have hopes of promotion to the Premier League, though the latter two have started poorly.

CCV is behind Jan Vertonghen, Davinson Sanchez, Toby Alderweireld, Eric Dier, and probably Juan Foyth on the Spurs depth chart.