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Vancouver, Dallas feel pinch of MLS scheduling over FIFA dates

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Nowhere will the sticky issue of playing over FIFA international dates be more contentious and affecting than in Vancouver.

Six Major League Soccer teams play on Wednesday, a designated FIFA fixture date for internationals. FIFA rules require that teams release players for these dates, but doesn’t mandate that clubs or leagues necessarily vacate the date.

Hence, FC Dallas travels to Vancouver in one of three matches.

FC Dallas will be without three important internationals: Brek Shea (U.S.), Julian de Guzman (Canada) and Carlos Rodriguez (Panama). Shea is the toughest blow, although both of the others have started games recently.

But they’ll get zero sympathy from Vancouver, where defender Carlyle Mitchell, wingers Dane Richards and Russell Teibert and strikers Etienne Barbara and Darren Mattocks will be away with their national teams.

Mattocks and Richards are the only starters in the group, and they are important ones. Kenny Miller, the team’s freshly arrived Scottish international, softens the Mattocks blow, at least.

Now, however, Jay DeMerit has been ruled out after a collision last week with goalkeeper Brad Knighton. And midfielder Gershon Koffie, who is having such a great season, will miss due to yellow card accumulation.

As for DeMerit (pictured, on left), the club’s aggressiveness in the summer transfer window will pay off here, too. Andy O’Brien was another recent acquisition; his presence should mostly mitigate DeMerit’s absence.

3 key battles for USMNT against Canada

CARSON, CA - JANUARY 31:  Jozy Altidore #17 of the United States chases down a pass against Iceland during the first half at StubHub Center on January 31, 2016 in Carson, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The United States takes on Canada in the second of two matches throughout January camp to test those brought in and see who stands out.

They took out Iceland in the first match, and now the Canadians stand in the way at the Stubhub Center in Carson, CA at 10:30 on Friday night.

[ PREVIEW: Get the full look at US vs Canada ]

Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann no doubt has already run through is list of positives and negatives in the win over Iceland. While the win is nice, the overriding purpose here is to both evaluate certain players and determine the best formula for success moving forward into World Cup qualifying, the Copa America, and the Olympics.

So, with that in mind, here are three key matchups to keep an eye on as the USMNT players battle both Canada and each other for spots on the roster in future meaningful games.

1) United States attack vs Canada’s organization

The US was solid in possession against Iceland, but it came against an opponent that showed a more attacking intent and also appeared to have limited motivation. Canada would not be what you call a “defensive” team, but they are very organized under Benito Floro, and it shows. They’ve conceded 1 or 0 goals in each of their last 13 matches, losing just once across that time. Their goalscoring numbers have suffered, but it’s translated into marginal success.

To hold the ball against Iceland, the US used a slow build-up process beginning with Jermaine Jones (who stayed surprisingly composed and centralized during his time on the field) who fed Michael Bradley and Lee Nguyen further up the pitch. That tactic may not be as effective against a less erratic opponent, but it will be interesting to see how Klinsmann decides to break down the Canadian defensive unit. The wide areas may be vital.

The 0-0 scoreline has been a fixture in this matchup, finishing goalless the last two times and in four of the last eight, so the US will no doubt be looking to break that deadlock early lest they get frustrated as time progresses.

2) USMNT full-backs vs wide play

Michael Orozco and Brad Evans were sent back to their clubs, leaving the United States incredibly thin at a position the nation has already been weak at for years. Jurgen Klinsmann has been searching far and wide for an answer to this question, and with young Kellyn Acosta slightly out of his depth or potentially star-struck in his debut against Iceland, there are a few other question marks.

The options are limited. Acosta could get another shot if Klinsmann likes what he sees in training, or he could move to the likes of Brandon Vincent or Matt Polster. The latter logged 30 matches for Chicago last year as a rookie, while Vincent was just drafted by FC Dallas and has yet to even make a professional appearance. Either way, it’s likely Canada targets the wide areas as a point of weakness for the US, so whoever plays will be in the spotlight.

[ VIDEO: Bobby Wood scores skillful goal for club ]

3) Central defenders vs Akindele and Larin

Whether Floro decides to play Larin centrally by himself, or partner him with Akindele, the striker(s) will be the main target for Canada’s attack. Larin and Akindele both have not seen the scoresheet since a 4-0 win over the Dominican Republic in World Cup qualifying last June, so they will be itching to get back on board. Should one be deployed centrally, look for the lone wolf to split the central defenders and receive service from wide areas where Canada may exploit the aforementioned weaknesses along the outside of the US back line.

How do you see the US matching up against Canada, and visa-versa?

VIDEO: Bobby Wood splits defenders, scores beautiful solo goal for Union Berlin

DUBLIN, IRELAND - NOVEMBER 18:  Bobby Wood of USA during the International Friendly match between the Republic of Ireland and USA at the Aviva Stadium on November 18, 2014 in Dublin, Ireland.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Bobby Wood may not be in January camp, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t able to catch the eye of USMNT supporters, and more importantly head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

All he has to do is channel his inner Lionel Messi, split a couple of hapless “defenders” with a stunning display of ball control, and bag an 86th-minute equalizer by beating a goalkeeper at his near post.

Funny, because that’s exactly what he did today as Union Berlin drew 2-2 with Kaiserslautern in 2.Bundesliga league play.

Should you set this defensive display to Yakety Sax? It would fit. Is the goalkeeper’s positioning laughable? Absolutely. Nonetheless, the 23-year-old Hawaii native shows he is building his skill set in Germany and is becoming a useful piece of the puzzle for Klinsmann’s talent pool.

The goal is the eighth of Wood’s 2.Bundesliga season in 20 appearances. The club has lost just one match in its last eight, pulling away from the drop zone into a virtual 3-way tie for 11th position. They sit seven points above the relegation zone and nine off a promotion slot.

African confederation backs Shiekh Salman, not Sexwale, for FIFA presidency

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - MAY 02:  Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain poses after he was elected as the 11th President of the Asian Football Confederation during the 2013 AFC Congress at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on May 2, 2013 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Stanley Chou/Getty Images)
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The African confederation (CAF) announced today in a statement following a meeting in Kigali, Rwanda that they would be unanimously backing Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa for the FIFA presidency.

The AFC has unrivaled power in the vote for the FIFA presidency, and with 54 votes, decided to push all their support into one bloc. The choice to back Salman comes at somewhat of a surprise, given that Tokyo Sexwale was a favorite in the region as he is a South African native, and the CAF has long campaigned for one of its own to be put into office.

Sheikh Salman is the current head of the Asian confederation (AFC), serving in that position since he was voted into office in May of 2013. The AFC signed a cooperative agreement with the CAF just last month

“I am humbled by the support of CAF’s Executive Committee and tremendously encouraged by the unanimous decision to support my bid for the office of FIFA president,” Sheikh Salman said in a statement following the announcement. “I am deeply honored to have earned the trust of many of our African friends at this crucial stage of the campaigning effort.  The two endorsements only mean that there is a strong groundswell in favor of my candidacy. What they don’t mean, is that I can sit back and relax. This campaign will be decided on the day of the vote, not before. Naturally, I am confident that I now have a reasonably strong position to work from with such support.”

In a twist, just hours after the announcement by the CAF, fellow presidential candidate Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein revealed on Twitter that he had the backing of the Egyptian Football Federation, which is a member of the CAF. The original tweet came from an account created to support his presidential bid, but it was retweeted by Prince Ali’s personal verified account.

No word has been announced on whether the CAF had accepted Egypt’s apparent rogue nature. The initial statement by the CAF announcing support for Sheikh Salman read, “While respecting the principle of democracy, the sovereignty, and latitude of each member association to vote for the candidate of its choice, the Executive Committee urges all the 54 member associations of the Confédération Africaine de Football to reserve their votes for Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa during the 26 February 2016 elections for the presidency of FIFA in Zurich.”

The CAF is headquartered just outside Cairo, Egypt.

LVG says Man United back in title race if they beat Chelsea

Manchester United's manager Louis van Gaal looks on ahead of the Champions League Group B soccer match between Manchester United and CSKA Moskva at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
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Look out, current Premier League title chasers, for the big, bad wolf of the PL, Manchester United, is coming for you — if you take stock in anything that comes out of Louis Van Gaal‘s mouth, that is.

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Van Gaal, who’s reportedly offered to resign from his post as Man United manager on more than one occasion this season and been regularly booed off the field at Old Trafford, thinks his side can get back into the title race this season, if only they can knock off Chelsea, that pesky, little, 13th-place side, on Sunday (Watch live, at 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) — quotes from the Guardian:

“I have the feeling [that we are back in the title race] if we can beat Chelsea. That is not simple, though, that is very difficult. They haven’t lost since Guus Hiddink took over but if we beat Chelsea then I think our league is starting again, so that is very important. Michael Carrick said that to me and I had the same feeling. The competition is not yet finished, not for Manchester United or the other teams.

“We have the feeling, and that’s because we are winning twice in a row, with sparkling football, with goals, clean sheets, against opponents who were in great form – Stoke City played Liverpool off the pitch in the Capital One Cup but they lost on penalties.”

Of course United would still be alive in the title race should they win on Sunday, but when you consider they’re currently 10 points back of leaders Leicester City, seven back of the “noisy neighbors” Manchester City, and five back of each Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal — all of whom are good teams and will continue to win points three at a time as the season winds down — are they really “in the race?”

[ MORE: Top 5 Premier League storylines in Week 25 ]

Also, it’s mighty reactionary of Van Gaal to pat his own back for the “sparkling football” and the goals — oh, the goals — in two games, when we’ve got more than a season and a half of… well, not sparkling football, and not so many goals, to tell us scoring three goals per game — which they did against a Championship side and a PL side that had played an extra 120 minutes the week leading up to — might not be sustainable for this particular United side, under Van Gaal.

From the brink of resignation and/or termination, to Premier League title challengers in the span of 180 minutes — only 90 of which were played in the PL — Man United truly are the great underdog story of their time.