Questions to answer in MLS preseason camp: Seattle Sounders

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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.)

Seattle finally flung one monkey off its back in 2012 when the club saw its first postseason triumph. Unfortunately, the glow of their Western Conference semifinal win over Real Salt Lake lasted only a few days, their lopsided loss at Home Depot Center three days later recasting the club’s lingering question: Can the team get done it in the playoffs?

It’s a strange, old-timey question that invites quips about sample size and confirmation bias. Regardless, the critique remains: One of the most talented teams in Major League Soccer has yet to truly push for an MLS Cup, something fans noticed after the team fell flat in LA.

This year, despite some major departures, expectations are the same. Seattle wants to content for this year’s title.

Here are some questions that will need to be answered:

  • Who replaces Fredy Montero?

You know he would have given you double-digit goals. And you know he would have been one of the team’s assists leaders. But now that Fredy Montero’s gone, you know Seattle have to replace him.

David Estrada’s work rate and versatility make him a good complement to Eddie Johnson, but Mauro Rosales could also be slid into a true No. 10’s role. Mario Martínez can come in, as could Steve Zakuani. You could even push Christen Tiffert forward while deploying Brad Evans in central midfield.

It’s too early to tell what Sigi Schmid will do, but he has options. The Sounder boss may need a few months of regular season play to see how his team develops.

  • Can Christian Tiffert’s adjustment continue?

Dropped into Major League Soccer half way through last season, the former Kaiserslautern midfielder went through an adjustment period, often struggling with the physicality of the whistle-shy league. By the end of the season, Tiffert’s game had adjusted, but his body had not. He seemed rundown by pace and intensity of the league’s last three months.

Amid all those hurdles, Tiffert showed skills that could perfectly complement Osvaldo Alonso’s, his ability to get to and win second balls rounding out what could be MLS’s best midfield. But with Fredy Montero gone, Tiffert’s going to have more of a presence going forward, adding the ability to create through the middle to his already excellent crossing.

  • Will Jeff Parke be missed?

Salary cap issues meant something had to give. Unfortunately, that meant more than losing Fredy Montero. Seattle also lots their best defender, with Jeff Parke traded to Philadelphia in December.

Patrick Ianni looks set to slide in next to Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, but with Parke gone, the performances of Alonso and goalkeeper Michael Gspurning become even more important. Last year, the duo were the key components of the league’s second-best defense, but with Parke gone, we’ll see how valuable to new Union defender was to last year’s success.

MORE in ProSoccerTalk’s preseason camp series:

Up Next: Sporting Kansas City

Nashville signs Mexican striker for MLS 2020 debut, loans him to USL

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Nashville has its first official Major League Soccer signing, and it’s raided a USL rival to land him for the 2020 season.

[ REPORT: New Chelsea deal for Kante? ]

Daniel Rios is the debut member of their MLS side, and the 23-year-old Mexican striker will spend the 2019 season on loan to USL side Nashville SC.

Rios is bringing an outstanding 2018 season west from North Carolina, where he scored 20 goals and 13 assists for NCFC.

A former Mexico U-20 player, Rios was on loan to NCFC from Chivas Guadalajara.

LIVE: USMNT vs. Italy – Pulisic wearing captain’s armband

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Christian Pulisic may be only 20-years old, but he’ll have to take a big step up in leadership on Tuesday evening.

Pulisic has been given the captain’s armband for the first time as the youth-laden U.S. Men’s National Team side finishes the 2018 calendar slate facing an experimental Italy side. The U.S. Starting XI has an average age of just 22-years and 71 days, making it the youngest lineup in the modern era.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s Joe Prince-Wright reporting LIVE from Genk, Belgium ]

It’s also a chance for fans to see Josh Sargent play alongside Pulisic, while two members of the New York Red Bulls, Tyler Adams and Aaron Long, both make starts on this cool Tuesday evening. Reggie Cannon and Shaq Moore earn the nods at wing back and Cameron Carter-Vickers also makes his return to the field, after Dave Sarachan went with Matt Miazga and John Anthony Brooks against England in central defense. The USMNT will play with a three-man backline against Italy.

Stay tuned to PST for wall-to-wall coverage, reaction and analysis of Thursday’s game as soon as the final whistle blows.

Report: Chelsea to double Kante’s wages

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Count Chelsea’s ownership and coaching staff among the many who value N'Golo Kante‘s talents, and are willing to pay big bucks for them.

According to a report in The Telegraph, Chelsea and Kante have agreed on a new five-year contract, worth $19.9 million per season. If true, Kante’s new contract doubles the French World Cup winner’s wages as he continues to prove his mettle as the top holding midfielder in the Premier League.

[READ: U.S. U-20s to face Mexico in CONCACAF U-20 Championship]

Kante’s so far scored one goal in 18 appearances in all competitions for Chelsea under new manager Maurizio Sarri, who has paired Kante in midfield with Jorginho. The Brazilian-born Italian serves as the deep-lying playmaker while Kante is the destroyer, winning the ball back before it gets into the final third.

The new contract is significant because in the past, mainly attackers have been given large contracts while defensive-minded players have had to settle for smaller wages. However, nearly $20 million per season is no small chunk of change, and this could raise the rest of the tide of holding midfielders across the Premier League.

For Chelsea, the club needed to re-sign Kante and keep him happy, in part because their title ambitions rest with him. The lure of playing for Paris Saint-Germain or Real Madrid can be strong, but with Chelsea paying his wages, he now has almost $20 million reasons not to leave Stamford Bridge.

UEFA to introduce VAR in Champions League knockout stage

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Following a successful run at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, UEFA is finally getting on board with adopting video assistant refereeing.

VAR will be in use during the Champions League’s knockout stage in 2019, according to a report from the Times of London, which states that UEFA’s executive committee is expected to approve VAR for this season at an upcoming meeting on Dec. 3 in Dublin. Video review was reportedly not supposed to be approved until the 2019-2020 Champions League campaign but recent refereeing errors in the face of successful trials of VAR changed UEFA’s mind.

[READ: Ibrahimovic back to AC Milan?]

Video review at the World Cup proved that VAR could be conducted in a speedy and accurate manner, ensuring the integrity of the game while adding some new drama to the game. Raheem Sterling‘s penalty kick in Man City’s match against Shakhtar Donetsk, when video replay showed he tripped over his own feet, only renewed calls from fans and the media for video assistant referees to be used in these big-time events.

Technology has improved to the point where it is imperative that referees are given all the help they can receive. Players are moving quicker than ever, and the human eye can only watch so much. The fact that referees get nearly every decision correct is in it of itself, an impressive feat. Hopefully, with VAR coming to the Champions League and the Premier League, referees can return to getting game-changing decisions correct.