Emulating the match day experience on display at JELD-WEN Field is something high on Orlando's to-o list.

U.S. Soccer budging on qualifiers in Portland, Seattle

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Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl released these little nuggets last night on his Twitter feed, updates which could influence which venues get next year’s five U.S. Men’s National Team World Cup qualifiers:

[tweet https://twitter.com/GrantWahl/status/284070895264337920 align=’center’] [tweet https://twitter.com/GrantWahl/status/284074446610907137 align=’center’]

Even with the caution implied by the second tweet, this is good news for Portland and Seattle. At least, it’s progress. Whereas before it was thought CenturyLink and Jeld-Wen fields were long shots to get any of The Hex’s games, now it seems U.S. Soccer is willing to be flexible in order to get final round qualifying matches in two highly desirable venues.

Seattle’s virtues are obvious. True, it’s a big football stadium in a day and age when Soccer Specific Stadium is becoming dogma, but consider the upside. It’s a huge football stadium, meaning we could see around 70,000 people backing the U.S. for a meaningful match.

And unlike other places that can draw similar crowds, Seattle’s is likely to be heavily pro-U.S. That’s something you couldn’t say in Los Angeles or Dallas. Even New York’s crowds tend to include a large number of non-USMNT supporters. When was the last time the national team played in front of a supportive crowd that large?

source: Getty ImagesPortland’s virtues lie on the other end of the spectrum, but with the charged atmosphere Columbus’s Crew Stadium was able to generate for a recent qualifier, U.S. Soccer seems interested in pursuing similar venues – locations which may not sell tons of tickets but will generate an imposing, bandbox atmosphere.

That’s Portland. Jeld-Wen can’t hold much more than 20,000 people, but it might have best atmosphere in Major League Soccer. The full voice of the field’s crowded north end would give the U.S. the type of unique setting that proves problematic for teams not used to a venue.

There seem to be few drawbacks to trying to get Portland and Seattle in the rotation. Travel is often cited as a deterrent, but in instances where the U.S. is plays the first of a two qualifier set on the road, the extra distance from Europe is a non-issue.

Ultimately, this game with Portland and Seattle has to stop. We’ve heard the reasons why U.S. Soccer avoids the venues, but the reasons seem thin compared to the sacrifice of leaving two potentially strong home field advantages out of the rotation (and two large fan bases out of the loop).

And sometimes, it all feels like a game of chicken. Who will flinch first? Each side seems to think they have some leverage. U.S. Soccer makes the final decisions and are trying to use that power, but Portland and Seattle know they offer enough distinct virtues to hold firm on some basic issues. Until now, both sides seemed to be holding out.

So while the idea of qualifiers in the northwest is exciting, the big news to glean from Wahl’s reporting is some movement in that stalemate – an apparent compromise. U.S. Soccer is willing to play on something that isn’t permanent grass while Portland and Seattle have to bring in the sod.

It’s good news, even if the debate itself is a bit of a farce.

More on the farce of the fake stuff later on the blog.

U.S. Soccer announces Players of the Year nominees

HARRISON, NJ - JUNE 01:  John Brooks #6 of United States and teammates Clint Dempsey #8,Michael Bradley #4,Geoff Cameron #20 and Julian Green #16 wait for the corner kick in the second half against Turkey during an international friendly match at Red Bull Arena on June 1, 2014 in Harrison, New Jersey.The United States defeated Turkey 2-1.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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U.S. Soccer unveiled the finalists for its top 2016 Male, Female, and youth awards on Monday.

MLS stars Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, and Clint Dempsey are joined by Geoff Cameron and Bobby Wood as top men’s player nominees. The winner will be announced on the eve of Saturday’s MLS Cup Final.

[ MLS: Best XI has historic American low ]

Stoke City’s Cameron and Hamburg’s Wood are the European-based players on the list, while Fabian Johnson did not make the cut. Dempsey has been limited by heart problems, but still found a way to the list.

John Brooks and Christian Pulisic are also notable exceptions, though the latter is a finalist for the younger award.

The five-woman list for Female Player of the Year sees Crystal Dunn, Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath, and Becky Sauerbrunn vying to finish second behind Carli Lloyd (Sorry, we couldn’t resist even with Heath’s incredible season).

The Young Male award promises to be a showdown between Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund) and Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), though it’s difficult to see the latter edging the former. Also in the frame are Spurs back Cameron Carter-Vickers, Atlanta United teenager Andrew Carleton and U.S. U-17 star Josh Sargent.

The Young Female nominees are midfielders Emily Ogle and Andi Sullivan, defenders Kaleigh Riehl and Karina Rodriguez and forward Ashley Sanchez.

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MLS Best XI has just two Americans (and that’s fine)

FC Dallas defender Matt Hedges, center, heads the ball near Seattle Sounders defender Zach Scott, second from left, in the second half of an MLS soccer playoff match, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016, in Seattle. The Sounders beat FC Dallas 3-0. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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MLS released its season’s Best XI on Monday, and it’s the least American bunch in the history of the award.

Some have asked whether this be a concern. The short answer is: As long as you’re not a xenophobe, probably not.

There’s no question the league is better than ever, so in that sense no one should worry that only Matt Hedges and Sacha Kljestan earned nods in the league’s 3-4-3.

[ MORE: Atlanta signs second DP ]

Several times the league saw five Americans in its Best XI, and once it was four, but this year’s duo marks a new low.

MLS Best XI
GK – Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union / Jamaica)
D – Matt Hedges (FC Dallas / USA)
D – Jelle van Damme (LA Galaxy / Belgium)
D – Axel Sjoberg (Colorado Rapids / Sweden)
M – Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas / Argentina)
M – Giovani Dos Santos (LA Galaxy / Mexico)
M – Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls / USA)
M – Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact / Argentina)
F – Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls / England)
F – David Villa (New York City FC / Spain)
F – Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC / Italy)

Now of course the next question is, “Where do players 12-24 come from?” Let’s make a quick second XI (and include Nicolas Lodeiro despite his half-season status because, well, did you watch any MLS this year?):

GK – David Bingham (San Jose / USA)
D – Ronald Matarrita (New York City / Costa Rica)
D – Laurent Ciman (Montreal / Belgium)
D – Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas / USA)
M – Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle / USA-Cuba)
M – Darlington Nagbe (Portland / USA)
M – Benny Feilhaber (Sporting KC / USA)
M – Diego Valeri (Portland / Argentina)
M – Nicolas Lodeiro (Seattle / Uruguay)
F – Dom Dwyer (Sporting KC / England)
F – Ola Kamara (Columbus / Norway)

A bit better, huh? And Dwyer could be American in under a year. Next up would probably be several Americans (Dax McCarty, Luis Robles, Michael Bradley, Jordan Morris, Drew Moor).

The idea of better players shouldn’t be about Americans racking up the top spots, rather U.S. players being improved by the level of competition.

Look at the Premier League’s Best XI, the PFA Team of the Year, which had a total of four Englishmen (five if you include English-born Jamaican back Wes Morgan). While some will argue for a cap on foreign players — which MLS has — you don’t mess with what makes it great.

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After latest loss, Hull City gets blunt: “We need help”

MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 05:  Curtis Davies of Hull City jumps with Calum Chambers (25) and Victor Valdes of Middlesbrough (26) during the Premier League match between Middlesbrough and Hull City at Riverside Stadium on December 5, 2016 in Middlesbrough, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
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Hull City players and staff are not being bashful.

Mired in the drop zone and following yet another loss, this one a relegation six-pointer at the hands of hosts Middlesbrough, Tigers were speaking out on the talent at the KC Stadium.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

Manager Mike Phelan said “hopefully” there will be action by the club in the January transfer window, as the club continues its quest to stay in the Premier League.

Phelan said the club is lacking “firepower”, and veteran defender Charlie Davies put it even more plainly.

From the BBC:

“We need help. We made signings in the summer and they have done their bit but they were all last-minute. We are thin up top and we need someone who can put the ball in the net.”

Hull went through a mess during the summer, with player acquisition problematic and manager Steve Bruce quitting the club. After a hot start led to Phelan getting the job on a permament basis it’s clear that, like Swansea boss Bob Bradley, this isn’t about who’s in the dugout.

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Boro boss Karanka vows no complacency

MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 05:  Aitor Karanka manager of Middlesbrough and Mike Phelan manager of Hull City look on from the touchline during the Premier League match between Middlesbrough and Hull City at Riverside Stadium on December 5, 2016 in Middlesbrough, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
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Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka stayed level-headed after a controlling 1-0 win over Hull City at the Riverside Stadium on Monday.

Aside from a couple of heart-in-throat moments near the 90th minute, Boro was all over the Tigers in earning three points and jumping into 13th place.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

“We deserved to win this game because we had a lot of chances,” Karanka said after the match on NBCSN. “We scored the goal, had a lot of possession, and were confident on the pitch. When we scored the goal, we had the spirit to manage this kind of game. It’s a game to be really proud of the team. It’s difficult to play Monday.”

He was asked whether Boro was better than being a relegation candidate.

“We have to fight relegation because we are a recently promoted team. We have to keep winning games, if you’re in the Premier League you’re going to pay if you’re complacent. We have done nothing yet.”

Boro appears to have the quality to stay up, and has an interesting road through the congested holiday season of fixtures: at Saints, home for Liverpool and Swansea, at Burnley and Manchester United, then home to Leicester on Jan. 2.

Find 7-8 points in there, and perhaps there will be some exhalations a few days into 2017.

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