Kick Off: Columbus say they are "championship caliber"

Kick Off - Columbus Crew 2008 MLS Cup

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An offseason ago they were talking “rebuilding.” What a difference a year makes in Columbus.

The Columbus Crew may have discarded their leading goal scorer and brought in several new pieces during this offseason, but technical director Brian Bliss has high expectations for the group that he and manager Robert Warzycha have assembled: “Barring anything unforeseen, like a bunch of bad injuries, I think we have a championship-caliber team. I really do.”

The emphasis for the Crew this season will be scoring more goals and getting production from more players. Last year nearly 50 percent of their goals came from forwards Emilio Rentería and Andrés Mendoza.

Scoring goals is the last thing on Seattle Sounders winger Steve Zakuani, who participated in full training but admits he’s still far off: “I still have a picture in my head of how I played before, so I’ll get the ball and try to do something that used to come naturally before and I’m not able to do it. My abilities aren’t 100 percent.”

Fans may be staring at a clone of Zakuani in Supplemental Draft pick Jason Banton, an Englishman who also grew up in the Arsenal system. Banton admits playing the same “stylish” way: “Yeah, I’ve seen a few videos of Steve, and I play quite similar, as well.”

The Sounders look to have their roster practically set, but GM Adrian Hanauer does not rule out a potential big-name move: “There could be a jaw-dropping addition, but there would probably be an equally jaw-dropping subtraction, if that were the case,” he said.

It’s not the jaw-dropping addition Hanauer was talking about, but there is a report that Jamaican defensive midfielder Andrew Vanzie will be on trial in Seattle, while his goal-scoring teammate at Jamaica’s Portmore United, Alanzo Adlam, will be spending two weeks with D.C. United.

We’ll see if there’s a future for Ipswich Town goalkeeper Richard Wright at FC Dallas. He’s reportedly returned to England after a brief trial with the club but he apparently has a clause in his contract that allows him to leave the English side.

We know what Houston Dynamo manager Dominic Kinnear was up to this weekend: He was in Honduras observing players in a match involving Real España and Motagua. He was even quoted as saying that, “Honduras will surely qualify for the World Cup.” (SPANISH)

Was Kinnear in town for the meeting that Olimpia’s head coach refers to in this article? Apparently there’s a summit to talk about a possible signing of dynamic two-way midfielder Oscar Boniek García later today. (SPANISH)

But word is that Olimpia do not want to let their captain go and so Boniek García’s mom took to flashing a sign in the stands that featured a pretty elaborate message: “Olimpia, we ask for an opportunity for Boniek García to play overseas.” (PHOTO)

Here are two names that the New York Red Bulls are chasing on the international transfer market: 20-year-old Icelandic midfielder Victor Palsson and journeyman Tom Williams from England, who’s apparently already been tweeting with a few Red Bulls players and claiming to be joining training today. This comes in addition to a goalkeeper, who says he has already put pen to paper.

While a host of MLS teams kick off training camp today including the MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy, the expansion Montreal Impact already have a game under their belt after tying 0-0 against a Chivas de Guadalajara reserve side on Sunday. In the meantime, Alessandro Del Piero’s agent/brother spoke out about reported talks with Montreal: “I don’t know who the coach at Montreal is and I’ve never spoken to him.” (FRENCH)

Turning to the US national team, among a handful of notable performances in Saturday’s 1-0 win by the USA over Venezuela (watch highlights here) was Houston Dynamo central defender Geoff Cameron, and manager Jurgen Klinsmann was showering him with praise: “We asked him to guide the back line, together with Michael Parkhurst, to push it high up, and to kind of develop his [passes] and play his [passes] straight into midfield and even into forwards. We’re impressed at how he’s doing that. We knew he had the talent to do that, but then to implement it is another story. … He did that tonight.”

This morning the USA fly to Panama ahead of a second exhibition match on Wednesday against a team that now features three new MLS players. Find out their names and the rest of the squad in this article.

Out in Europe, ex-New England Revolution star Clint Dempsey stole the show among the Americans abroad, netting a hat trick against Newcastle (watch all three goals here). He hopes people are finally taking notice back home: “I think in the last year or so, people are starting to take a lot more notice and I think that's because there's a lot more coverage. Even when I was doing well before, a lot of it wasn't being talked about whereas now it is and it feels good to be recognized for doing a good job.”

LA Galaxy forward Robbie Keane scored twice for Aston Villa in a 3-2 league win at Wolverhampton, but he didn’t engage in his patented celebration out of respect for the club which gave him his start (watch his goals here). After the match, the press prodded Keane about a permanent return: “It was my choice to go over there [to MLS] and I haven't really missed the Premier League. I'm only here for a short time. I wasn't looking to come back [when I signed for Villa]. But it was too long a time for me to be sitting around waiting for preseason.”

Manchester City’s Mario Balotelli may have scored the game-winning PK to give the league leaders another win, but many argue that he shouldn’t have been on the field after his stamp on a Tottenham player (watch both incidents here). (VIDEO)

Former US national team manager Bob Bradley, who is now heading up Egypt’s quest to make the 2014 World Cup, speaks to Goal.com about his experience living in the country and getting used to the ways Egyptians live their soccer, including the media: “I've had many situations already where there's been things that come out where I'm quoted for things that I 100 percent never said.”

While Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger defends a costly substitution and José Mourinho is reportedly leaving Real Madrid this summer, former MLS coach Juan Carlos Osorio is on the hot seat at the helm of Mexico’s Puebla after another loss, this one at home to Atlante. He says he is not resigning and instead he’s asking every player to come to practice on Monday with a written explanation of what went wrong in the weekend’s match.

On TV today, fans will have to settle for some Championship soccer from England’s second division as Southampton host Leicester City (2:30 pm ET, Fox Soccer Plus).

Lastly, we leave you with an image from London. Visa issues are still keeping Luke Rodgers back home? Doesn’t stop him for continuing his work for the Red Bulls, including placing a NYRB jersey on the Thierry Henry statue outside the Emirates. Now that’s more like it. (PHOTO)

MLSsoccer.com Must-Reads:

Ratings for USA vs. Venezuela: Klinsmann earns high marks for tactics

Ching says he’s “100 percent committed” to helping the Montreal Impact

Portland Timbers look ahead to the start of preseason training camp


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