There’s no telling what’s going on with Zdenek Zeman at Roma

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There’s a familiar feel to what’s happening at AS Roma right now, and you don’t have to be an expert in all things Giallorossi to feel it. Had you no more than 12 months experience following the club you’d know that the new coach with the nice approach they brought in this year is close to going the way of the new coach with the nice approach they brought in last year.

Then it was Luis Enrique, a man Roma’s new American ownership tasked with bringing Barcelona to the Olimpico. He brought in nice soccer, had a few clashes with veterans, didn’t make Europe and moved on.

Now it’s Zdenek Zeman, the Czech whose intriguing summer return has resulted in the best attack in Italy. But because it has also led to the league’s worst defense and no league wins in over a month, Zeman’s job is under fire.

Yesterday, Roma gave up four at home to Cagliari, who came into the match with one of the worst attacks in Italy. The 4-2 loss keeps Roma in eighth, three points back of a European spot. Couple that with off-the-field conflict and Zeman’s job is under fire.

The new scrutiny actually began last week when a conflict with goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg highlighted the issue of discipline within the squad. The concern is one Zeman himself raised in the wake when discussing Stekeleneburg’s criticisms of the club’s transfer policy, specifically the loan acquisition of Uruguayan goalkeeper Mauro Goicoechea:

“I think it was an inopportune interview with many things he got wrong. He is still a Roma player and must be at the disposal of Roma. Don’t forget after the Parma game he was injured for a month,” …

“Unfortunately when there is a lack of discipline, there is a lack of team spirit. It is difficult to work at Roma, especially as journalists tend to write about incidents that occur behind closed doors. We’ve got no rules at the moment and every now and then something happens that shouldn’t.”

The comments elicited a worrying response from sporting director Walter Sabatini: 

“Zeman’s work is satisfying under certain aspects but it is clear that there are less positive things,” …

“It’s time to start asking ourselves some questions and, amongst the considerations, we’ll also think about a change of coach, even if only marginally.

Those concerns seemed to be alleviated after mid-week meetings restored Sabatini’s confidence:

“A doubt had arisen in our minds after his statements on Saturday and we wanted to resolve it,” the official said.

“The doubt was whether he wanted to continue with this team. I speak clearly, we all deepened the talks and are totally satisfied. We are ready to fight our battles together.”

Then came Friday. Roma conceded in the third minute, eventually drew even through Francesco Totti, but went on to concede the next three goals. Now the situation at Roma is being described as the clichéd soccer ‘crisis’, a head shaking description that still seems to encompass the mood around the capital. Like Enrique, Zeman appears to be a very good coach who just is not working in Roma.

Beyond Stekelenburg, the Giallorossi have a very specific squad makeup thanks to the presence of icons Totti and Daniele De Rossi. It was a dynamic with which Enrique struggled (running afoul of Totti early), and with Zeman also experiencing conflict with De Rossi, locker room management also appears to be an ongoing concern.

All of this would be a footnote if Roma was winning, but since they’re not, Sabatini needs to consider why the club is on the verge of another year without European soccer. That evaluation may lead to another coaching change, but facing a second failed attempt to being in a coach that can instill a different style of soccer, Roma’s management may be implicitly allowing their players to pick the coach. That doesn’t seem like a good way to solve a discipline problem.

Joint World Cup bidders: Trump hasn’t sparked voter concerns

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Organizers of the North American bid to host the 2026 World Cup insist FIFA members have not expressed concern about President Donald Trump’s harsh words about foreigners or the U.S. Justice Department prosecuting corrupt soccer officials.

[ MORE: Digging into the latest USMNT roster ]

“Look, this is not geopolitics,” new U.S. Soccer Federation President Carlos Cordeiro said Monday during a conference call. “We’re talking about football and what fundamentally at the end of the day, what’s the best interests of football and our footballing community, and we’ve had no backlash. We’re very focused on the merits of our bid.”

A joint bid by the United States, Mexico and Canada was submitted to FIFA on Friday along with a proposal by Morocco. The 207 other members of the international soccer governing body will vote on June 13 in Moscow.

Cordeiro, Mexican Football Federation President Decio de Maria and Canadian Soccer Association President Steven Reed spoke from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where they were meeting with members of the Association of South East Asian Nations, a subset of the Asian Football Confederation.

A solo bid by the U.S. for the 2022 World Cup was favored going into the 2010 vote but lost to Qatar. FIFA then changed the vote rules to give the decision back to the entire membership, which chose hosts prior to 1986, when the choice started being made by the roughly two dozen members of its executive committee.

“We believe that the member associations are going to judge us on the quality of the bids, on the merits of our bid, and that’s it,” Reed said. “We’re very confident about what we’re putting forward, and I don’t think that we’re concerned about politics.”

Sixty games would be played in the U.S. under the bid plan, including all from the quarterfinals on. Three cities were included from Mexico and Canada, and both of those nations would host 10 games.

Holding a tournament in the U.S. would subject many of the documents generated to subpoena by U.S. federal prosecutors, who have secured numerous guilty pleas to corruption charges from soccer officials since 2015 and obtained convictions at trial last year against Juan Angel Napout, the former president of South American soccer’s governing body, and Jose Maria Marin, the former president of Brazil’s soccer federation.

“We haven’t had any of those concerns raised by any of the members that we’ve met so far,” Cordeiro said. “The reforms that FIFA undertook some years ago I think were spot on and we feel very confident that ultimately the right decision will be made.”

Morocco’s bid envisions spending almost $16 billion, including $3 billion to construct nine new stadiums, refurbish five others and build or renovate 130 training grounds.

[ MORE: Brazil to face Austria in final World Cup tune-up match ]

The North American bid proposed venues be selected from among 23 stadiums that exist or already are under construction, including three each in Mexico and Canada. Sixteen of the U.S. stadiums are sites of NFL teams.

“The split of matches that we have proposed to FIFA frankly reflects the resources of the three countries,” Cordeiro said. “We in the United States are blessed with some very substantial resources in terms of stadium infrastructure, of cities and so on, and that reflects the 60 matches that we have on the table. But at the end of the day there is a reason why FIFA have asked for or have encouraged joint bids and we do think that our joint bids taken together provide for a vastly superior bid than our competition.”

AP Sports Writer Rob Harris contributed to this report.

Ailing LA Galaxy could miss as many as 10 players this weekend

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We’re less than a month into the new Major League Soccer season, and one club is already left scrambling to find players for its next match.

[ MORE: A deeper look at the USMNT roster ]

Between injuries, international call ups and a suspension, the LA Galaxy could be without as many as 10 players this weekend.

Ola Kamara, Romain Alessandrini and Giovani dos Santos are among the notable names likely to be absent for Saturday’s match against the Vancouver Whitecaps, but seven more players could be left unavailable for Sigi Schmid’s squad.

Kamara was the latest player to be named to his respective national team, with the striker being called up to Norway on Monday.

Meanwhile, both Giovani and Jonathan dos Santos have earned call ups to Mexico, and Emrah Klimenta has been selected by Montenegro for its next friendlies against Cyprus and Turkey.

Both Dos Santos brothers are battling injuries of their own, so they may not feature for El Tri, but that won’t necessarily help the Galaxy either as they are kept sidelined.

Of the ten players possibly missing the Whitecaps match, five of them (Michael Ciani, Cole, Gio dos Santos, J. dos Santos and Kamara) started in the Galaxy’s last game — a 2-1 loss to New York City FC.

Report: Chelsea, Real Madrid could make sensational swap

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Real Madrid’s interest in a certain Chelsea star has been well-noted for some time, and with the World Cup nearing this summer, Los Blancos may finally be able to get their man.

[ MORE: Brazil to play Austria in final World Cup tune-up ]

Eden Hazard has long been a Madrid target, and with the Belgium international seemingly more and more interested by a move away from Stamford Bridge, the veteran attacker could see himself join Real after the World Cup in Russia.

According to Spanish outlet Diario Gol, Real could secure a move for Hazard this summer, while sending young attacker Marco Asensio to Chelsea.

While hypothetical at this point, the move makes sense for both clubs, particularly from a Blues perspective as they look for young attacking players.

The 22-year-old Asensio has been seeking regular minutes at Madrid, and with Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale regularly included in the starting squad, that has been nearly impossible for the Spanish international.

Meanwhile, Real would be gaining another incredibly talented attacking piece to go along with Ronaldo and Bale, although the latter has been linked with a move away from the Santiago Bernabeu for some time.

Real has also been strongly linked with a move for Paris Saint-Germain winger Neymar, who has spent less than a season in France.

It’s a ways away from happening, but a front three of Hazard, Ronaldo and Neymar would certainly make El Clasico even more intriguing than usual, with Real facing off against a Barcelona squad that currently boasts Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho.

Andrija Novakovich: “It’s a good feeling” to earn USMNT call up

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As the U.S. Men’s National Team continues its transition towards qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, a new face has emerged for the Stars and Stripes ahead of its upcoming friendly against Paraguay.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Kekuta Manneh to roster ahead of Paraguay friendly ]

Striker Andrija Novakovich earned his first call up on Sunday when U.S. manager Dave Sarachan named the Telstar player in his squad, which will play the South American side on March 27 in Cary, North Carolina.

The 21-year-old forward has been nothing short of brilliant in his first season with the Dutch second-division club, scoring 18 league goals for Telstar — who sit fourth in the Eerste Divisie.

“It’s a good feeling to get the call-up and hopefully it will be a very good experience,” Novakovich said. “They [the U.S. national team] sent the club and myself an email saying that I was on the preliminary roster and we were just waiting, and then this week I got another email saying I was on the final roster.

“I called my Mum right away and she’s proud, she’s happy.

“I’m just there for the experience — of course I want to play, of course I want to get the opportunity and hopefully that will happen, It’s an honour to be called up and I’m very proud and very happy.”

Novakovich, a Wisconsin native, is currently on loan at Telstar from English Championship side Reading.

The young USMNT player moved to England back in 2014 to join Reading’s academy, despite originally planning on playing for Marquette University following high school.

Despite this being his first senior-team call up, Novakovich is familiar with the U.S. national team setup. Novakovich has previously represented the Under-17, U-18 and U-20 national teams.