Questions to answer in MLS preseason camp: Real Salt Lake

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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.)

What an eventful off-season this has been around Rio Tinto, across all levels of the franchise.

First came the personnel upheaval as one of the league’s more stable clubs turned its roster on its head. GM Garth Lagerwey and manager Jason Kreis, recognizing that things had gone a little stale, dropped some bold moves as quickly as possible into December. Gone were bedrocks Jamison Olave, Fabian Espindola and Will Johnson.

Later, in moving to recreate some of that bedrock stability, playmaker Javier Morales saw his contract extended.

But as preseason drills began, some “wobbly” returned club with the out-of-nowhere announcement  that ownership was in flux.

Salt Lake City may represent one of the smaller markets and may dwell in a so-called fly-over state, but Rio Tinto Stadium is certainly no boring place at the moment. As far as on-field activity, here’s what Jason Kreis and Co. need to address in preseason:

  • What the 2013 back line looks like, especially early while dealing with injury?

Jamison Olave, a lineup staple at Rio Tinto for the last four seasons, is gone, now in New York. Nat Borchers had recent quadriceps surgery and his return is perhaps the biggest mystery clouding preseason camp. Truly, club officials don’t seem to have a good handle on whether this is a long-term process or something shorter.

Chris Wingert has a broken foot, which might not be as concerning but for the pile-up of injury and roster attrition around it.

Chris Schuler and Tony Beltran will be the stability providers early, with steady veteran goalkeeper Nick Rimando providing the calm reassurance and useful information from behind. Still, Kreis will need to sort out the best defensive structure and personnel rotation, probably with Plan A, B and C to account for various scenarios.

  • Where is Robbie Findley’s head?

With Espíndola gone and Costa Rican international Alvaro Saborio likely to miss matches here and there for international operations, Findley sets up as a major part of the goal-scoring plan around Sandy this year.

That would be fine if this was the same Findley who left Utah back in January of 2011, having hit for a respectable 29 goals over four seasons. But is he the same guy?

Things did not go well in Findley’s efforts to elevate his career abroad; slowed by injury, the 27-year-old striker never gained a foothold at Nottingham Forest.

There are wincing parallels here to Edson Buddle, who left for Europe about the same time as Findley, experienced a similarly flawed outcome and then returned to MLS a different, lesser figure.

Findley says confidence remains high. We’ll see, and we know that confidence means everything for strikers. So, how is Findley’s? And how can Kreis manage matters in preseason to reinforce it?

  • What, exactly, are the expectations for 2013?

We cannot look at a team with U.S. international Kyle Beckerman (pictured), Morales, Rimando, Borchers, Beltran and Olave as a team in rebuilding mode. But with key components gone and with Borchers’ availability in question, the club does seem to be in some level of transition.

Kreis must decide how much, and how soon, to mash the gas pedal, how much to demand. There’s a sweet spot between aiming too low and setting unrealistic expectations, therefore setting up the side for disappointment.

If things fall right, RSL remains a contender. But if a couple of things go wrong, they may need to downshift and look for smaller victories, at least for the time being.

MORE in ProSoccerTalk’s preseason camp series:

Up Next: San Jose Earthquakes

Last-16 games to be hosted by home teams in Champions League

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GENEVA (AP) The remaining four games of the Champions League’s round of 16 can be hosted by the home team, UEFA announced Thursday, instead of playing them in neutral Portugal.

The competition was halted in March because of the coronavirus and is set to conclude with a mini-tournament at an empty stadium in Lisbon next month, starting with the quarterfinals.

However, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus and Manchester City will be allowed to host the second leg of their last-16 matches at home.

[ MORE: New Premier League TV schedule ]

UEFA confirmed Thursday it had clearance from public authorities in Spain, Germany, Italy and England to let the teams play at home on Aug. 7 and 8. Few or no fans will be allowed in the stadiums.

UEFA also said no tickets will be sold to fans for mini-tournament in Lisbon.

“In light of the current situation, the UEFA executive committee felt it prudent to conclude that UEFA matches should take place behind closed doors until further notice,” the governing body said.

In the Europa League, six clubs including Manchester United can also host their outstanding second-leg games in the round of 16 ahead of a mini-tournament in Germany.

Starting on Aug. 12, the Champions League quarterfinals will be played on four straight nights in single-leg knockout games at the home stadiums of Benfica and Sporting Lisbon.

The semifinals are on Aug. 18 and 19, and Benfica’s Stadium of Light hosts the final on Aug. 23.

In the remaining round-of-16 games, Bayern is the clearest favorite to advance having won 3-0 at Chelsea in the first leg in February.

Man City leads 2-1 over Real Madrid, Juventus trails 1-0 against Lyon, and Barcelona resumes at 1-1 against Napoli.

Atalanta, Atlético Madrid, Leipzig and Paris Saint-Germain already advanced to the quarterfinals in March.

[ MORE: Solskjaer hopeful of new long-term Pogba deal ]

The quarterfinals and semifinals pairings will be drawn Friday at UEFA headquarters.

The final was postponed from May 30 at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul. It will host the 2021 final.

In the Europa League, six second-leg games will now be hosted on Aug. 5 and 6 by Man United, Bayer Leverkusen, Shakhtar Donetsk, Wolverhampton, Basel and Copenhagen.

The first-leg games were played in March with four in empty stadiums. Only İstanbul Başakşehir and Rangers had fans in the stands for games against Copenhagen and Bayer Leverkusen, respectively.

The two remaining pairings – Inter Milan-Getafe and Sevilla-Roma – could not be played in Italy or Spain in March as those countries were hit hard by the spreading coronavirus. Those pairings will be settled in single knockout games in neutral Germany, also on Aug. 5 and 6.

The quarterfinals are scheduled for Aug. 10-11 in Cologne, Duisburg, Düsseldorf and Gelsenkirchen. The semifinals are Aug. 16-17.

The final is Friday, Aug. 21 in Cologne, replacing the postponed May 27 final in Gdansk, Poland.

By GRAHAM DUNBAR
AP Sports Writer

Aston Villa – Manchester United stream: How to watch, start time, prediction

Aston Villa - Manchester United preview
Photo by Neville Williams/Aston Villa FC via Getty Images)
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Aston Villa – Manchester United preview: Manchester United can pull within a point of fourth place by beating desperate Aston Villa at Villa Park on Thursday (Watch live at 3:15 pm ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)

There’s also the potential for Premier League history, as United can become the first team to win four-straight matches by three or more goals come Thursday.

STREAM ASTON VILLA – MANCHESTER UNITED LIVE

Villa sits 18th place, four points behind West Ham and Watford for the last two safe spaces on the PL table. Villa plays West Ham on the last day of the season.


Team news

United does get Victor Lindelof despite an injury suffered versus Bournemouth, while Axel Tuanzebe and Phil Jones remain out.

Tyrone Mings and Jack Grealish are both ready to go despite minor knocks, while Matt Targett and Bjorn Engels are out for Villa.


What they’re saying

Dean Smith on Villa needing to get production from forwards“I’ve just been talking to our front three. They want to get involved with our build-up play at times, but I want them to go and get inside our six-yard box. As I get judged by results, they get judged by goals. Our goals return hasn’t been great for the five games but we have actually created chances. We’ve put some really good crosses into the box at Newcastle, Sheffield United and Liverpool but we weren’t able to execute them chances so it’s something been working on this week.”

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on stopping Jack Grealish“There’s been lots said and talked about him and we need to be aware of him. Whoever is close to him, if he’s off the left, in the middle, on the right. What he does is attract players to him and create space for others, so there’s not just one player in that Villa team. There’s many of them.”


Odds and ends (Full matchweek odds)

Villa’s a big underdog at +900, while DraftKings sees United at -315.

A Victor Lindelof goal completed a United comeback in a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford earlier this year, Jack Grealish and Tyrone Mings on the board for the Villans.


Prediction

The question is whether United will tempt blowout history. They may come up just short. 2-0 United.


How to watch Aston Villa – Manchester United stream, start time

Kickoff: 3:15 pm ET Wednesday
TV Channel: NBCSN
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Bournemouth – Tottenham, Everton – Southampton: Stream, how to watch

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Bournemouth – Tottenham and Everton – Southampton take place on Thursday as the Cherries need the win to try and save themselves from relegation, while Spurs need to stay in the top four hunt. (Watch live at 1pm ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth have been awful since the restart, losing all four games, and are in deep trouble in the bottom three with a very tough run of games to end the season.

Jose Mourinho and Tottenham beat Everton 1-0 last time out and they are still in the hunt to finish in fifth place, which could be a Champions League spot.

BOURNEMOUTH – TOTTENHAM STREAM LIVE

EVERTON – SOUTHAMPTON STREAM LIVE

As for the other early game on Thursday, Everton host Southampton with just one point and one place between them. Everton sit in 11th on 44 points, while Saints are in 12th on 43 points after their shock win against Man City last weekend.

Here’s a look at the team news for the two games at 1pm ET.


Team news

Bournemouth bring back Callum Wilson as he returns from suspension, while Dan Gosling comes back into the midfield.

Tottenham bring Jan Vertonghen into central defense to replace the injured Dier, while Steven Bergwijn and Erik Lamela come into the starting lineup with Heung-min Son on the bench.

Everton bring Anthony Gordon and Yerry Mina into the team with Gylfi Sigurdsson on the bench and Mason Holgate out injured.

Ralph Hasenhuttl names the same Southampton team which beat Manchester City on Sunday, while Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is fit enough for a place on the bench.


 

Odds and ends (Full matchweek odds)

DraftKings have Tottenham (-157) as the heavy favorites at Bournemouth (+425) with the tie at +310. Anything other than a big Spurs win would be surprising but we all know the Cherries have a few shocks up their sleeves.

As for the game at Goodison, Everton have a great all-time home record against Southampton and the Toffees are the favorites (+100) but Southampton (+270) have been in sensational form away from home for most of this season. The draw at +255 looks very interesting.


How to watch Bournemouth – Tottenham stream, start time

Kickoff: 1 pm ET Wednesday
TV Channel: NBCSN
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

How to watch all Premier League games

Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

MLS: Black Lives Matter protests; Nashville out due to COVID; Orlando, Philly win

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The MLS is Back tournament kicked off in Orlando, Florida over the last 24 hours and the headlines have been centered around the moving Blacks Lives Matter protests, Nashville SC leaving due to COVID-19 cases and wins for Orlando and Philadelphia.

[ MORE: MLS is Back schedule, how to watch ]

First up, the Black Lives Matter protests on Wednesday evening before the Orlando City SC v. Inter Miami CF game lasted for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

That was the length of time police officer Derek Chauvin had his knee on the neck of George Floyd.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage

Players from all teams got together to lead the protests, as the Black Players for Change in MLS group organized the show of solidarity for the movement.

The other main headline off the pitch is that first-year MLS team Nashville SC is heading home after nine players tested positive for COVID-19.

Reports had surfaced from The Athletic about multiple cases within the squad ahead of their arrival in Orlando and MLS commissioner Don Garber said late Wednesday a decision would be made on Nashville’s involvement in the tournament.

Sources have told ProSoccerTalk that Nashville are out of the tournament, although official confirmation has yet to arrive. If confirmed, as expected, then the tournament will now consist of 24 teams after FC Dallas were also unable to compete. Chicago would move from Group A to Group B so that all groups have four teams for the tournament.

On the pitch, the first-ever meeting between Orlando City SC and Inter Miami saw the tournament hosts win 2-1 thanks to a late winner from captain Nani. Juan Agudelo had given Miami the lead but Chris Mueller equalized off Nani’s cross before the Portuguese legend secured the win.

The first early morning game took place on Thursday as the Philadelphia Union beat New York City FC 1-0 thanks to a fine strike from captain Alejandro Bedoya. Union goalkeeper Andre Blake made a string of fine saves to deny NYCFC.

Before the game the Union players all wore the names of Black people who have been killed by police on the back of their jerseys rather than their own surnames as a moving tribute to their memory.