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New coaches have lots to sort out in Tucson
by Paul Kennedy, February 18th, 2014 6:02PM
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TAGS:  chicago fire, chivas usa, colorado rapids, mls, new england revolution, real salt lake


[MLS PRESEASON: Desert Diamond Cup] Three of the five MLS teams in the FC Tucson Desert Diamond Cup, Chicago, Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake, have new head coaches, and a fourth, Colorado, still hasn't named a head coach for the 2014 season, so there's a lot new about the teams in the Arizona tournament that kicks off Wednesday. For a look at what the five MLS teams have to sort out in the final two weeks of preseason.

Wednesday Schedule:
Game 1: Chivas USA v. FC Tucson, 1 pm MT
Game 2: Colorado Rapids v. Chicago Fire, 3:30 pm MT
Game 3: Real Salt Lake v. NE Revolution, 6 pm MT
(All games at North Stadium at Kino Sports Complex)

What needs sorting out. At least two of the Chicago backline positions will be new as Jamaican Lovel Palmer, a backup left back at RSL, has a line on the right-back position left vacant by Jalil Anibaba's trade to Seattle. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni moved to Chicago, giving the Fire four proven MLS center backs for two positions. For the time being, Hurtado looks to be ahead of incumbent Austin Berry, while Bakary Soumare holds down the other spot.

The Bradenton camp was highlighted by the play by youngsters making strong cases that new coach Frank Yallop should give them regular playing time sooner rather than later: Harrison Shipp, the Notre Dame star, Benji Joya, picked up from Santos in the weighted lottery; Victor Pineda, the Fire academy product and Joya's former U-20 partner and finally healthy; UC Irvine draft pick Marco Franco; and English trialist Grant Ward from the Tottenham academy program.

Preseason results. FGCU 1-0, D.C. United 2-0, Orlando City 3-0, D.C. United 1-0.

What needs sorting out. Another new coaching staff to start the season -- their third in three seasons -- along with another roster makeover is norm for the course with the Rojiblancos. But so far, the results have been positive. They headed to Tucson with a 3-0-1 record.

On top of new players like Adolfo Bautista, Mauro Rosales and New Zealand World Cup player Tony Lochhead, Carlos Bocanegra and Erick Torres are entering their first full season with Chivas USA so this is very much a much-improved team from the team that began the 2013 season with little more than spirit of its coach, Jose Luis Sanchez Sola, also known as "Chelis."

On the to-do list: deciding about 31-year-old defensive midfielder Agustin Pelletieri, who has been in camp. An early surprise has been Clemson rookie Thomas McNamara, taken with Chivas USA's first pick of the draft, in the second round.

Preseason results. LA Galaxy 2-2, Orange County Blues 2-0, Real Salt Lake 1-0, Colorado 2-1.

What needs sorting out. The Rapids head into the Desert Diamond Cup still without a head coach, the latest a team has gone in preseason without a permanent boss. Pablo Mastroeni, who retired after the 2013 season, has been running the team in preseason and a big fan favorite, but he's not the only person who has been interviewed for the job left vacant when Oscar Pareja returned to Dallas.

The big hole in the Rapids' lineup is the one Mastroeni held for many years before post-concussion symptoms slowed him down. Hendry Thomas was shipped to FC Dallas, and Spaniard Jose Mari, as yet without a contract, was brought in with the idea he'd fill the Honduran's spot at holding midfielder.

Otherwise, it's a big battle for the four attacking roles. Vicente Sanchez and Gabriel Torres are around for their first full season, Edson Buddle is healthy after missing the 2013 preseason with a knee injury, Cameroonian Charles Eloundou finally joined the team, Honduran international Marvin Chavez is seeking a fresh start with the World Cup on the horizon, and Homegrown product Dillon Serna is pushing for playing time. And, oh, Dillon Powers and Deshorn Brown are back for their sophomore seasons, meaning there's lot of talent for whoever gets the coaching job to work with.

Preseason results. Houston 3-2, Houston Baptist 3-0, UNLV 4-0, Chivas USA 1-2.

What needs sorting out. The Revs surprised a lot of folks with their third-place finish in 2013, but they'll need to continue to improve if they want to hold off the likes of big-spending Philadelphia and Toronto in the Eastern Conference.

UPDATE: Revs pick up Bunbury from Sporting KC

With lots of young players in the lineup -- Andrew Farrell and Scott Caldwell are now second-year players and Kelyn Rowe moves into his third year -- there's still room for improvement, but there are two big question marks up front.

First of all, Dimitry Imbongo or Jerry Bengtson up front? Bengtson scored nine goals in 12 World Cup qualifiers for Honduras but has scored only three goals in two seasons with the Revs. Of the big-name attacking players MLS has brought into the league in the last two years, Bengtson may be the biggest disappointment. Imbongo only scored four goals over the same period but got the nod last year over Bengtson late in the season because of his ability to play as the lone striker in Coach Jay Heaps' favored 4-1-4-1 formation.

The other question up front: Who will replace Juan Agudelo's production? He ended up playing only 14 games for the Revs before bolting as a free agent to Europe, but he scored seven goals and made everyone around him better. Heaps' task is complicated because Saer Sene is sidelined with a broken ankle. A pair of draft picks, Hermann Trophy winner Patrick Mullins and Frenchman Pierre Omanga out of Division II Southern New Hampshire, both saw time in Florida, but neither is the short-term answer if the Revs want to increase their scoring output of 49 goals in 2013.

Finally, Heaps will have to made a decision about who to go with in goal, where Matt Reis has retired. Bobby Shuttleworth and Brad Knighton both got to work full games in Florida.

Preseason results. Malmo FF 1-1, Philadelphia 1-1, Ft. Lauderdale Strikers 2-1.

What needs sorting out. RSL returns every starter from its team that fell to Sporting Kansas City in a shootout in MLS Cup 2013, so it's more about getting everyone healthy and up to full speed than fitting new players in new spots as it goes through its four games at Kino.

Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman and Luis Gil -- who all played in the USA's 2-0 win over South Korea -- are back from national team duty, but more important Tucson will allow new head coach Jeff Cassar to get injured Tony Beltran and Chris Schuler re-inserted into the lineup in the back.

Players pushing for more playing time in 2014 include Carlos Salcedo at center back, Sebastien Velasquez in midfield and Devon Sandoval and Olmes Garcia up front. Rookies hoping to get into the mix include Ryan Neil at right back and Jordan Allen on the left side of the midfield diamond.

Preseason results. RSL AZ 1-1, UC Irvine 1-1, Chivas USA 0-1.

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