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

Premier League Mornings Live coming to NYC

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The next “Premier League Mornings Live” fan fest is coming to New York City on December 8.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live

NBC Sports and the Premier League hosted the first fan fest of the season in Washington D.C. in September, as over 2,000 fans watched all of the action as the show was broadcast live from a rooftop overlooking Washington D.C.

Alan Shearer will return for the event in downtown Manhattan as a special guest alongside the entire Premier League on NBC crew, Rebecca Lowe, Robbie Earle, Robbie Mustoe and Kyle Martino.

Dec. 8 marks an incredible day of action, as the PL games kick off at 7:30 a.m. ET and continue across four consecutive windows with the final match starting at 2:45 p.m. ET. Bring. It. On.

Below is more from the official release on what you can expect in Manhattan, while here are details on how you can attend the event and watch all of the action.


The fan festival – which will span a four match windows from 7:30 a.m. ET to 2:45 p.m. ET, for the first time– returns to New York after NBC Sports’ debuted its innovative fan fest activation in November 2017. The event will feature a turf pitch, the Premier League trophy, club mascots, special guests, and more.

With widespread fan interest, NBC Sports will also bring cameras to additional markets for “live look-ins” across the nation for passionate Premier League viewers to join the celebration. Fans can make their voices heard and lobby for their city to be included in the event by using #MyPLmorning.

Alan Shearer said, “Premier League Mornings Live is a great opportunity for fans to come together and watch the day’s match action. The atmosphere at the recent Premier League and NBC event in Washington DC was fantastic. I met lots of extremely passionate and loyal fans and I look forward to meeting many more in New York in December.”

Supporters will arrive early in full-force to cheer on their teams ahead of the day’s matches, starting with Bournemouth v. Liverpool at 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN. Coverage continues with a slate of five matches at 10 a.m. ET, including Manchester United v. Fulham on NBCSN and Arsenal v. Huddersfield on CNBC.

The day’s afternoon fixtures kick off with the highly-anticipated Chelsea v. Manchester City match at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC. As the current third- and first-place teams, the midday matchup will highlight a day of energetic fandom. The day’s events will conclude with coverage of Leicester City v. Tottenham at 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Viewers across the country can share in the fun by checking in on social media using #MyPLMorning wherever they are watching. Select viewer photos will be featured on air that day.

Dortmund release update on Pulisic’s future. Should he leave?

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Christian Pulisic’s future at Borussia Dortmund has been under constant speculation in recent weeks.

This should keep that chatter going…

[ MORE: Pulisic hits out after USA’s defeat ]

Dortmund’s sporting director, Michael Zorc, has said that the USMNT star will be with the Bundesliga giants “at least until the end of the season” as his contract nears its end.

Pulisic, 20, is under contract with Dortmund until the end of the 2019-20 campaign, but reports have surfaced in recent days linking him with a move to both Chelsea and Liverpool in the Premier League. A transfer fee of around $90 million has been mentioned if Pulisic was to move in January, with any potential transfer fee dwindling if he moves into next summer without signing a new deal at Dortmund.

Zorc has said Pulisic will remain at the club until the end of the current campaign, as the German side are top of the Bundesliga and flying under Lucien Favre.

“We have known these rumors for many years. We plan at least until the end of the season with him,” Zorc told Kicker.

Pulisic lost his place in the Dortmund team for the 3-2 Der Klassiker win over Bayern Munich, as the emergence of English teenager Jadon Sancho and a few injuries has seen the Pennsylvania native endure an up and down start to the season.

Pro Soccer Talk spoke to Pulisic in London ahead of the USMNT’s game against England and asked him if staying at Dortmund was still his preference over a move to the Premier League.

“The Bundesliga has been a great platform for me especially and you can see other young guys as well it has been a great league. They trust in their young players. Dortmund has been an unbelievable start to my career. 100 percent,” Pulisic said. “It still is a great spot and that is why I am able to be a big part of this team and continue to grow. I think a lot of young players see that and they’re also moving to the Bundesliga and doing well there. Right now I’m finishing out, I’m still under contract with Dortmund, I am still enjoying every moment of it. Obviously we are having a great year, so I am enjoying it as much as I can. And when the time comes that is when I have my talks with Dortmund and see what I want to do moving forward.”

With Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and others circling, Dortmund could well look to cash in on Pulisic in January. But as they’ve shown in the past, they’d rather keep on to star players until the very last moment and forfeit extra funds from a transfer fee: see Lewandowski, Hummels and Gotze to Bayern.

Is now the right time for Pulisic to arrive in the Premier League? It appears a January move could be the right situation for everyone.

Dortmund would get a huge transfer fee, Pulisic would leave the German giants close to winning the title (they sit four points clear right now) and one of the Premier League giants not only has a hugely talented player but also a hugely profitable one when it comes to a commercial standpoint.

It appears that Pulisic’s mind is definitely made up that he will one day play in the Premier League. He isn’t shy in saying that but many believed he would remain in the Bundesliga for a few more seasons.

This situation is a fast moving one and Pulisic’s next move will likely be the biggest of his career. If he remains at Dortmund and battles for a starting spot he could risk losing playing time, but the same could be said if he moves to Chelsea or Liverpool given their potent attacking lineups.

Tottenham would probably seem like the best fit for him right now, but Chelsea seem to be more serious suitors.

Pulisic could also play regularly right now at Stamford Bridge, with Willian and Pedro hardly spring chickens and there is also the potential for Eden Hazard to depart in the next few years. Plus, Maurizio Sarri‘s attacking, possession-based philosophy would suit Pulisic’s skill set a little better than the raw pace and power of Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool. And trying to get in front of Firmino, Mane and Salah would surely prove extremely difficult for Pulisic right now.

It seems like he has two options: stay at Dortmund and sign a new deal. Head to Chelsea and start a fresh challenge after four years in Germany.

There should be no rush for him to make this decision but if he doesn’t sign a new deal at Dortmund by January, the chances of him moving to the Premier League will increase exponentially.

How will USMNT line up v Italy?

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The U.S. men’s national team play Italy in Genk, Belgium on Tuesday to end their 2018 campaign.

[ MORE: VAR to be used for Italy-USA ]

Over his 13-month spell in charge interim head coach Dave Sarachan has introduced more debutants than any other USMNT head coach in history in their first 11 games at the helm, and he is expected to give a few more youngsters a chance to shine for the Stars and Stripes.

Weston McKennie, Kenny Saief and Luca De La Torre are all out of the squad due to injury, so Sarachan has 23 players to choose from.

Italy boss Roberto Mancini has hinted at a much-changed lineup for the Azzurri, so we could see the U.S. experiment a little in what is expected to be Sarachan’s final game in charge before a new permanent head coach is put in charge.

Below we take a look at a few options for Sarachan at Luminus Arena on Tuesday.


Option 1: Possible USMNT lineup (4-3-3)

—– Horvath —–

— Moore — Carter-Vickers — Long — Villafana —

—- Acosta —- Adams —- Gall —- 

—- Weah —- Sargent —- Pulisic —-


Option 2: Possible USMNT lineup (3-4-2-1) 

—- Horvath —-

—- Carter-Vickers —- Long —- Brooks —-

—- Moore —- Adams —- Delgado —- Acosta —-

—- Pulisic —- Lletget —-

—– Sargent —–


Evaluation

Sarachan talked up Evan Horvath last week and it would be cool to see the youngster who plays in Belgium for Club Brugge get another shot to play for his national team in Belgium. We know what Brad Guzan can do, so why not give Horvath some minutes? In defense, the lack of another left back leaves Sarachan with a problem. Does he play Jorga Villafana for the second time in a few days ahead of his monster trip back to the West Coast to play for Portland in the MLS Cup conference final? Probably not. Yedlin could slot over to left back, or maybe Sarachan switches to a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 formation and has someone like Acosta or Adams who can get up and down the flank. Ahead of their Eastern Conference final showdown, giving Guzan, Aaron Long and Tyler Adams a rest may also be beneficial too.

In midfield Tyler Adams, Lletget and Delgado should all get a run out after not starting against England, while up top Josh Sargent is no longer an injury doubt so Christian Pulisic could support him and Tim Weah in attack with Bobby Wood given a rest. I’d go with Option 2 from above and play as many players who didn’t start or feature against England at Wembley as possible. At this point, get as many players international experience and hand over the reins to the next man (ahem, Gregg Berhalter).

VIDEO: Watch Romelu Lukaku rap

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Romelu Lukaku has been spitting some rhymes.

The Manchester United and Belgium striker, 25, tried his hand at rapping, in partnership with Puma and BR Football.

Before you chime in with comments about Lukaku ‘missing a beat’ or ‘not finishing his verse’ have a listen and see if he has what it takes to make this a side gig.

Most intriguing part of this for me: his Belgian accent disappears and is replaced with an American twang.

Below is a look at Lukaku in full flow, on the mic.