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

Watch Live: Man United, Man City, Liverpool in action at 10am ET

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Six Premier League games are coming your way at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday, with Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United all in action.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ] 

Let’s see if the big boys can rotate their squads expertly after UEFA Champions League action a few days ago.

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You can access additional games by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold which also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: “Goal Rush” here ]

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of being similar to the NFL RedZone with action shown from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window. More info is available here.

The schedule for all four games at 10 a.m. ET is below and you can stream each game live by clicking on the links.


10 a.m. ET: Liverpool vs. Southampton – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Cardiff City vs. Manchester City – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Burnley vs. Bournemouth – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Crystal Palace vs. Newcastle United – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Leicester City vs. Huddersfield Town – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Manchester United vs. Wolves – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

Fulham fight back to draw with Watford

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  • Gray put Watford ahead after 87 seconds
  • Mitrovic equalized in second half
  • Serbian striker has scored 17 league goals in 2018
  • Fulham have worst defensive record in PL, conceding 13 

A game of two halves saw Fulham and Watford draw 1-1 at Craven Cottage on Saturday in the Premier League.

Andre Gray fired Watford into an early lead but Aleksandar Mitrovic equalized in the second half and almost won it late on but he headed against the crossbar.

With the point Fulham move on to five for the season, while Watford have 13 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 

Watford had the perfect start to the game as Gray slotted home with less than 90 seconds on the clock following busy work from Will Hughes.

The chances kept coming for the Hornets, as Christian Kabasele somehow failed to convert a header from close range and then Gray was superbly denied by Marcus Bettinelli after Alfie Mawson‘s huge error.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

At the other end Mitrovic had a shout for a penalty kick waved away after he looked to be bundled over by Kabasele but Watford looked far more dangerous as Roberto Pereyera curled just wide of the far post in a first half the Hornets dominated.

Fosu-Mensah was lucky to be on the pitch after a high challenge on Troy Deeney as Fulham had a woeful first half.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

At half time Denis Odoi and Floyd Ayite came on for Fulham as Jokanovic switched things up, and at the start of the second half Andre Schurrle clipped in a great cross for Mitrovic but the Serbian striker nodded over.

Mitrovic went close soon after and was a real handful for Watford’s defense as the Hornets tried to protect their lead. They couldn’t.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Mitrovic punished Watford for all of their missed chances as he flicked home Luciano Vietto‘s cross at the near post to equalize as his fine 2018 continued.

Deeney squared late on when he should have had a shot on goal and Issac Success went close for Watford as they regained their composure.

However it was Mitrovic who forced Ben Foster into a fine late save and then from the resulting corner he hit the crossbar with a header, as Watford held on for a point.

USMNT legend Clint Dempsey honored by Fulham

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Fulhamerica is still going strong.

After announcing his retirement in August, U.S. men’s national team legend Clint Dempsey has been lauded for his contribution to the game.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Fulham Football Club were the latest to celebrate the Nacogdoches, Texas native, with Dempsey, 35, coming onto the pitch at half time of their Premier League clash with Watford on Saturday.

Dempsey played for the Cottagers from 2007-12 and scored 60 in 232 appearances in all competitions. He led Fulham to the final of the UEFA Europa League in 2009-10 where they lost to Atletico Madrid after extra time. Dempsey scored more Premier League goals than any other Fulham player and any other American in PL history.

His status as a Fulham legend remains, with their current American owner, Shahid Khan, cementing the American connection, plus Tim Ream and Luca De La Torre in the first team squad continue the strong U.S. link for the Cottagers.

The forward was appreciative of the welcome he received back in west London. Take a look at the scene as Dempsey was celebrated at the Cottage.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic to stay in MLS but leave LA Galaxy?

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic isn’t a subtle human being. But has he dropped a subtle hint he will not be with the LA Galaxy beyond the 2018 season?

The veteran striker has flourished in his debut campaign in Major League Soccer with 18 goals, but with LA’s season petering out after Sigi Schmid left as coach and a playoff appearance increasingly unlikely, Zlatan appears to be thinking about moving on.

According to LA Times writer Kevin Baxter, Ibrahimovic said his future in MLS with the LA Galaxy “isn’t a sure thing” which suggests he’d like to stay in North America’s top-flight but head elsewhere.

That is likely because Zlatan is only signed on a contract until the end of the 2019 season and he’s only paid $1.5 million per year, due to the fact that LA could only pay him via Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) as they already had three Designated Players. Therefore, he’s testing out the waters to see if other MLS clubs are interested in his talents.

So, where else could Zlatan go?

The obvious choice would be Inter Miami but David Beckham’s new MLS franchise isn’t set to begin play until 2020 and by that time Zlatan would be 38 years old.

After his serious knee injury, Ibrahimovic’s fitness isn’t a concern and as we have seen with LA this season, he is more than capable of scoring close to 20 goals in a single MLS campaign. Some of his strikes this season have been majestic (see: his goal from 40-yards in the LA derby after coming off the bench and a flying side volley versus Toronto for his 500th career goal).

With clubs such as D.C. United making a splash to sign Wayne Rooney as a veteran striker this season, the impact these ageing superstars can have on and off the pitch in MLS are clear for all to see. Would Zlatan prefer a move to New York City FC? Maybe heading across Los Angeles to new boys LA FC? Perhaps a club like Minnesota United would want to bring in Zlatan with their new stadium opening later this year and a large Scandinavian population?

The only thing we do know is that Zlatan will be a man in demand if he decides to leave LA over this offseason.

But what is more than likely happening here is that Ibrahimovic wants a vastly improved contract to remain in LA beyond the end of his current deal which runs out in December 2019. The Galaxy would be misguided to do anything but offer Zlatan what he wants.