Questions to answer in MLS preseason camp: Toronto FC

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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.)

In terms of a lengthy preseason “to do” list, no team in the East has a longer one.

There really are more than three questions here. But the ones below are a starting point.

Once he arrives, new manager Ryan Nelsen will begin to build a back line that was pretty awful in 2012, make some order of a shapeless midfield and then line up some forwards amid ongoing personnel flux.

I mean, otherwise, things should be pretty smooth as TFC goes through another month and change of drills.

If we leave our biggest questions of philosophy and formations aside, here are some of the questions the club must answer during preseason:

  • How quickly can Nelsen catch up?

Yes, it’s totally bass-ackwards, players reporting and working out – and then welcoming the manager into camp. It should clearly be the other way around, but is that really so surprising considering this organization’s inability to do much right?

But we’ve probably covered that ground sufficiently, and it what it is now. Nelsen will take over on Feb. 1, which gives him about a month to sort out his depth chart, to assess who needs to play where – where does key man Torsten Frings best fit, for instance – to establish expectations on the practice field and on game day.

Yes, Nelsen has a long season to do all that stuff. But considering TFC’s history, and how the fans might be understandably jaded, the process will go much smoother if they don’t start slowly in 2013. Otherwise, everyone will suspect it’s more of the “same old.” And that’s not what TFC needs.

  • Does Eric Hassli want to be in Toronto?

Did he ask for a trade? Hard to know. The big striker insists he wants to stay – although he can’t have been overly pleased with the hardline stance of new president Kevin Payne. (Payne said the club would decide where Hassli plays this year, not the other way around. So take that.)

If Hassli does call BMO Field his home this year, he could find tough sledding once Danny Koevermans is at 100 percent speed and fitness. Even if Nelsen wants to play a 4-4-2, he doesn’t really need two target men; Hassli and Koevermans are fairly similar.

  • Is Stefan Frei ready to retake his spot?

Frei stood tall behind some pedestrian 10-men outfits at BMO. So his devastating ankle injury last March put talented understudy Milos Kocic into the starter’s seat.

Frei is back and apparently the starter (and Kocic isn’t too happy about it). So is he as sharp as before? Is he confident? Does he have the team’s confidence?

If Frei wobbles, or if those repaired ankle ligaments prove troublesome, Kocic has proven that starters’ ability rests in those gloves.

MORE in ProSoccerTalk’s preseason camp series:

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps

Gressel ties it in Atlanta United’s 1-1 draw with Timbers

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ATLANTA (AP) Julian Gressel tied it in the 56th minute and Atlanta United held on for a 1-1 draw with the Portland Timbers on Sunday.

A loose ball deflection off defender Larrys Mabiala bounced into Gressel’s path and he pounced on it with a right-footed volley. Atlanta (10-3-4) stayed atop the MLS standings and extended its unbeaten streak to five games.

Mabiala opened the scoring in the 32nd minute. Samuel Armenteros was the first to get a touch with a left-footed stab on Diego Valeri’s free kick. Goalkeeper Brad Guzan blocked it out, but Mabiala headed home the rebound and Portland took the early lead.

The Timbers (6-3-5) extended their unbeaten run to nine.

MLS: NYCFC beat TFC in new coach Torrent’s debut

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NEW YORK (AP) — Jo Inge Berget scored twice and coach Domenec Torrent celebrated his New York City FC debut with a 2-1 victory over Toronto FC on Sunday.

Berget made it 2-1 in the 68th minute, following Maximiliano Moralez’s direct pass up the right channel and slotting it home.

NYCFC (9-3-4) tied it at 1 in the 51st minute on Berget’s back heel from the top of the 6-yard box.

Víctor Vazquez opened the scoring for Toronto (4-8-3) in the 37th minute. Vasquez outran his defender on Auro’s long ball up the right side and sent a chip shot over the onrushing goalkeeper.

NYCFC’s David Villa left the game in the 28th minute with a non-contact injury.

Torrent replaced Patrick Vieira in New York shortly after Vieira’s departure for OGC Nice was officially confirmed. Torrent had been the right-hand man to Pep Guardiola for the last 11 years, most recently at Manchester City.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 12 — Time to settle Groups A & B

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Day 12 of the 2018 World Cup is up next, on Monday, and with it begins the final round of group games to decide the 16 teams headed to the knockout rounds. For the next four days, we’ll be treated to four games each day.

Also, the end of 8 a.m. ET kickoffs. Hooray for sleeping in.

[ SCENARIOS: Who needs what, to finish where, in final round of group games ]

First up, the conclusion of Group A, where both the hosts, Russia, and Uruguay have already advanced with wins in their first two games. Now, the two meet in the southwestern city of Samara to determine who’ll go through to the round of 16 as the group winners, and who’ll be the runners-up. Most likely awaiting either of them will be Spain and Portugal, pending the order in which they finish in Group B.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

Speaking of Group B, Spain will finish group play against fourth-place and points-less Morocco, while Portugal have a tricky meeting with third-place Iran, who sit just a point behind the reigning European champions. The winner of Group B will face the runners-up of Group A, and vice versa.

Below is Monday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Monday, June 25

Group A
Uruguay vs. Russia: Samara, 10 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Saudi Arabia vs. Egypt: Volgograd, 10 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group B
Spain vs. Morocco: Kaliningrad, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Iran vs. Portugal: Saransk, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Transfer rumor roundup: Emery raiding Sevilla; Wilshere’s suitor(s)

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Unai Emery has reportedly been in contact with at least one former player, Ever Banega, in an attempt to convince the Argentine midfielder to join him at Arsenal.

[ MORE: Latest transfer news

Banega, who’ll turn 30 on Friday, played two seasons under Emery at Sevilla — where they won back-to-back Europa League titles (Banega was only at the club for the second and third of three straight from 2013-2016).

With Banega reportedly on the fence about whether or not to leave Sevilla again — he only just returned last summer after one season at Inter Milan — Emery is said to have made a personal call after Arsenal’s bid of roughly $23 million triggered the release clause in Banega’s contract. Sevilla will join Arsenal in the Europa League next season after finishing seventh in La Liga.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Jack Wilshere announced last week that he will leave Arsenal this summer — thus opening up the handful of games for which he was healthy and fit to play each season, perhaps for Banega — which leads us nicely to the final bit of transfer talk for Sunday: West Ham are interested in the 26-year-old, but are reportedly only willing to offer him a one-year contract.

The Hammers’ hesitancy is, of course, a response to his years-long battle with injuries — he’s made just 66 appearances over the last four PL seasons (three with Arsenal, one on loan to Bournemouth).

Two other clubs to keep an eye on, as they’ve reportedly indicated interest in Wilshere and/or been in contact already: Everton and Juventus.