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Number crunching: How many points will get the U.S. to Brazil?

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For Tim Howard, the United States need to get points when they open final round World Cup qualifying in Honduras on Wednesday, though the difference between one and zero points in the first match of a 10-round, double round robin format can’t be that vital. At least, it can’t be that crucial mathematically. While three road points may prove huge, the effects of losing in Honduras are more likely to be psychological than mathematical.

In the four final round tournaments CONCACAF has held since going to the current format ahead of World Cup 1998, a qualifying spot has only once been decided by a point: last cycle, when Honduras pushed Costa Rica into a playoff after the two nations finished on 16 points. To subscribe to the view that the U.S. needs a point in Honduras, you have implicitly predict some major slips over the tournament’s final nine games.

The top three finishers in The Hex make Brazil, and since 1998, the tournament’s third-place finisher has averaged 15.75 points. The highest total was the U.S.’s 17 in 2002 while Jamaica managed to qualify for France 1998 when their paltry 14 points claimed third place.

CONCACAF Qualifying – By The Numbers
Four tournaments give us very little data to crunch regarding CONCACAF’s final qualifying round, but if this year’s round robin plays out like years’ past, around 16 points should get you to Brazil, while 20 will likely take the group:

Place Avg. Pts STDEV “Span”
First 20.75 2.22 18.5-23.0
Second 18.75 2.37 16.4-21.1
Third 15.75 1.26 14.5-17.0
Fourth 13.75 1.71 12.0-15.5
Fifth 9.25 1.5 7.8-10.8
Sixth 5.25 2.5 3.8-7.8

STDEV – Standard Deviation
“Span” – A completely meaningless figure based on standard deviation and the place’s average points

All those numbers support the popular refrain about home and road performance. That version of conventional wisdom holds that taking care of business at home while scrounging road results will get you to Brazil. If a team were to win all their home games, they’d be at 15 points, right next to the average total that’s qualified teams for World Cups. Swipe a couple of draws on the road, and you’re in.

If you happen to lose one at home, it’s probably not that big a deal. After all, you’re a team that’s good enough to win four out of five at home. You’re probably capable of getting more than two points on the road.

Looking at fourth place

If you’re examining at qualifying from the U.S.’s point of view, focusing on the third place numbers may exaggerate the hurdle they’re trying to leap. Obviously, the U.S. has finished in the top three in each of the last four tournaments and are expected to do the same this cycle. Their question isn’t whether they can beat out the team likely to finish third; rather, can they stay ahead of the team that will probably finish fourth?

Since 1998, The Hex’s fourth place finisher has averaged 13.75 points. The highest total was Costa Rica’s 16 last cycle, while the Ticos also have the low total: their 12 points in `98.

Conceivably, just “taking care of business” at home should keep you ahead of fourth, though assuming you don’t actually take 15 at home and get none on the road, the approach’s success may depend on whom you get your road points against. If you draw away from home versus the teams that finish fourth and fifth, being awesome at home and terrible on the road would still work. You wouldn’t be giving your direct competition valuable three-point results.

Winning at home

The win at home theory might be born from the fact that no team has been able to qualify without some modicum of success at home. Jamaica’s 1998 was the worst  home qualifying campaign for qualifiers of the last four cycles, and they still went 3-1-1. The average top-three finsher takes 12.5 points at home, though there have been a number of teams that matched Jamaica’s 10 without cracking the top three.

Breakdown – Home vs. Road
No surprise, the teams that have finished at the top of The Hex have had the most road success. While the second and third place finishers have enjoyed similar home field advantages, they have been unable to find the same success abroad.

Place Avg. Pts
Home
Avg. Pts
Road
First 12.5 8.5
Second 13.5 5.25
Third 11.5 4.25
Fourth 9.75 4
Fifth 7.75 1.5
Sixth 3.75 1

In 2006, both Trinidad and Tobago as well as Guatemala took 10 points at home, yet they finished fourth and fifth. Trinidad and Tobago later qualified for Germany via a playoff. In 1998, Costa Rica had 11 home points but only 12 overall and finished fourth. Last cycle, the Ticos took 12 at home yet finished fourth before losing in a playoff.

The two Costa Rica examples hint that winning at home may not be enough. Or more readily, no team has been able to secure a top three finish in CONCACAF without some minimal success on the road. Of the 12 teams that have won top-three finishes since the `98 cycle, nobody has failed to win at least four points on the road, and only those `98 Jamaicans failed to record a victory away from home (their four road draws helped to keep the barrier to qualify low, points-wise).

Interestingly, while third place finishers have averaged 4.25 road points per tournament, fourth place finishers have averaged a near-identical four (a number skewed by the eight road points Honduras accumulated in 2002 while failing to qualify).

Twelve of the 14 teams that got to four road points ended up qualifying for their World Cups.

The games, and the order, matter

The aggregates and averages help describe the landscape, but it’s important to remember that individual games make up those totals, and when you’re talking about a tournament like CONCACAF’s, sometimes the order of the games influences the numbers. In 2006, Mexico won five of their first six games. With qualification all but assured, El Tri could afford to cruise to a second place finish. That same year, Panama collapsed to a Hex-low two points, their insignificant closing matches contributing to a seven-game losing streak. Had the order of their games been different, their tournaments could have played out differently, with late-Hex matches having a completely different, more competitive context.

At some point, it’s more helpful to sit down, consider each game and its circumstances, and factor in the historical data when assessing not only how the States will probably perform but what they’re most likely to need to get to Brazil.

Going through that exercise so also helps maintain perspective on the U.S.’s has to opening schedule. With three out of their first four games on the road, the States could be sitting with a superficially disappointing three-to-five points come their June 11 game hosting Panama. But if you play out the rest of the tournament’s results, you see that kind of slow start won’t necessarily sidetrack the U.S.’s qualifying hopes.

Break out the pencil and paper, check out the full schedule, and play along for yourself. We’ll spare you our individual match predictions, but here’s one wild guess at how things might stand come November:

1. Mexico – 25 pts.
2. United States – 18 pts.
3. Costa Rica – 13 pts.
4. Panama – 12 pts.
5. Honduras – 10 pts.
6. Jamaica – 9 pts.

That no Hex has ever played out like this is reason to complete disregard the entire prediction. Mexico at 25 points would be the most a team’s ever accumulated in final round qualifying, a prognostication which makes sense if you think this Mexican team is the best we’ve seen in the last 16 years. Their quality plus the lack of a truly weak team means points could be more spread out than usual between the second through sixth place teams. You may not need to get to 16 this year.

But it’s way too early to know, just like it’s way too early to be taking these kind of projections seriously. After Wednesday, 90 percent of The Hex’s matches will still be on the calendar. Neither a loss nor a draw in San Pedro Sula will have much of an effect on the U.S.’s qualifying hopes.

Replacement for Mahrez? Leicester linked with Polish winger Kapustka

MARSEILLE, FRANCE - JUNE 21: Ruslan Rotan of Ukraine and Bartosz Kapustka of Poland compete for the ball during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group C match between Ukraine and Poland at Stade Velodrome on June 21, 2016 in Marseille, France.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Leicester City have been linked with a move to Polish international winger Bartosz Kapustka following his impressive form in the European Championships this summer.

Kapustka played in four of Poland’s five games at EURO 2016 and was suspended for their Round of 16 win against Switzerland.

[ MORE: Spurs lose to Juve in ICC

Sky Sports believe that the Foxes have made a bid of $7 million for Kapustka and have been in talks with his club side Cracovia since he starred at EURO 2016 for Poland. Last season he had a breakout year in Poland’s top flight, scoring four goals in 33 appearances.

Just 19, Kapustka shone out wide with his speed, trickery and eye for goal.

Sound like someone else?

[ MORE: Pro, cons of winter break in the PL ]

Now, the biggest thought which comes to mind when you think about Leicester bidding for a promising, skillful winger, is that they could potentially be lining up a replacement for Riyad Mahrez.

Of course, Claudio Ranieri has insisted that Mahrez is going nowhere despite interest from Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Barcelona among others, plus he could just be bolstering his squad ahead of their UEFA Champions League campaign this season. With Jeffrey Schlupp linked with a move to West Bromwich Albion, maybe Ranieri just wants an extra wide player around at the King Power Stadium?

Regardless, reported interest in another winger will only add further tension to a situation Leicester’s fans will no doubt want clarified before the new season begins.

Multiple reports suggest Mahrez has been offered a new long-term contract at Leicester but he’s yet to sign it. With N'Golo Kante signing for Chelsea this summer, the Algerian winger may be reluctant to lock down his long-term future with Leicester. Maybe he will stay with the Foxes until January to see how their UCL campaign and PL title defense starts?

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Pogba’s move stalling due to agents fee

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 05:  Paul Pogba of Manchester United looks on during Paul Scholes' Testimonial Match between Manchester United and New York Cosmos at Old Trafford on August 5, 2011 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Paul Pogba to Manchester United is inching closer but Sky Italy is reporting a major snag is holding up the deal.

According to Sky Italy, Juventus and Manchester United are still disputing the transfer fee for Pogba, 23, with United offering $120 million for the French international midfielder with add-ons but Juve want over $130 million plus another $13 million in add-ons.

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However, the major point of contention isn’t the transfer fee: it is the fee paid to Pogba’s agent.

Pogba has been seen laughing and joking on vacation in Miami with his agent, Mino Raiola, but it is believed that deal is being held up due to the teams not agreeing on who should pay the reported agent fee of up to $22 million.  No wonder Raiola is having a good time…

Until someone steps down, the fee is waived or another solution is reached, it seems like an impasse has been reached in the Pogba deal. Even though Juve sealed the $98.7 million transfer of Gonzalo Higuain from Napoli on Tuesday which would suggest they are expecting to receive some very serious cash very soon.

With Jose Mourinho talking about other players available to United, maybe they will instead move for Blaise Matuidi who would deliver defensive solidity as well as marauding runs from midfield. He’d be much cheaper and even though he’s six years older than Pogba, is the asking price from Juve and the agents fee just getting a bit too insane even for a club as rich as United?


With Napoli all but sealing star striker Higuain to Juventus, another player could be leaving the side who finished second in Serie A last season: Kalidou Koulibaly.

According to his agent, via RMC, Koulibaly is apparently leaving Napoli this summer. Both Everton and Chelsea have been linked with a move for the powerful central defender and the Senegal international is certainly capable of slotting straight into either team.

[ MORE: Spurs lose to Juve in ICC

Chelsea have John Terry, Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanovic and Matt Miazga as central defensive options, plus Kurt Zouma who is continuing his comeback from a horrific knee injury suffered against Manchester United last season. As for Everton, they have Phil Jagielka, Ramiero Funes Mori and John Stones. The latter has been linked with a move to Manchester City this summer so Ronald Koeman is said to be on the lookout for another central defender as Jagielka is now 32 and was riddled by injuries last term.

Koulibaly, 25, would cost in excess of $60 million if he was to move from Napoli which could be a huge stumbling block as Napoli look to make it difficult for him to leave.

Lyon rejects bid of $38.5 million for Lacazette from Arsenal

LISBON, PORTUGAL - JULY 23: Lyon's forward Alexandre Lacazette reacts during the Friendly match between Sporting CP and Lyon at Estadio Jose Alvalade on July 23, 2016 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images)
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LYON, France (AP) Lyon has refused an offer of 35 million euros ($38.5 million) from Premier League side Arsenal for striker Alexandre Lacazette.

[ MORE: Spurs lose to Juve in ICC

Lyon says “Lacazette is irreplaceable and one of the main leaders” in coach Bruno Genesio’s team.

The 25-year-old Lacazette top-scored with 27 league goals in the French league two seasons ago – outscoring even Zlatan Ibrahimovic – and netted 21 last season.

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He is under contract at Lyon until 2019.

In a statement on its Twitter page, Lyon denied a local newspaper report saying it turned down a higher offer of 48 million ($52.9 million) from Arsenal.

Higuain to seal $98.7 million Juve move; Pogba to Man United closer?

DOHA, QATAR - DECEMBER 22:  Paul Pogba of Juventus is tackled by Gonzalo Higuain of Napoli during the 2014 Italian Super Cup match between Juventus FC v SSC Napoli at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium on December 22, 2014 in Doha, Qatar.  (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
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A major domino has fallen in the summer transfer window pack.

Gonzalo Higuain has completed his monster move from Napoli to Juventus in Serie A.

Juventus confirmed the deal for Higuain has been completed with the Argentine ace arriving in Turin for a transfer fee of $98.7 million (his release clause) and on a four-year contract believed to be worth over $8.2 million per season.

[ MORE: Spurs lose to Juve in ICC

Higuain, 28, scored 36 goals in 35 games for Napoli last season and has scored 71 goals in 104 Serie A appearances since arriving from Real Madrid in 2013. Obviously he can score goals but is he worth $98.7 million? At his age, maybe not, and especially with Juve making so many impressive signings already this summer as Miralem Pjanic, Mehdi Benatia and Dani Alves all on board, plus Paulo Dyabla looking razor sharp in preseason.

That $98.7 million transfer fee would make Higuain the third-most expensive signing of all-time, although he could be overtaken by one man very soon: Paul Pogba.

Apparently Juve are locked in talks with Manchester United to try and finalize a move for Pogba, 23, and this huge outlay of cash on Higuain could suggest they’ve agreed the reported $130 million transfer of the French international midfielder.

[ MORE: Winter break pros and cons for PL ]

Pogba has been seen laughing and joking on vacation in Miami with his agent, Mino Raiola, but it is believed that deal is being held up due to the teams not agreeing on who should pay the reported agent fee of up to $22 million. No wonder Raiola is laughing.

Seriously, though, let’s see how this plays out but it is highly unlikely Juve would’ve dropped that much cash on Higuain if they didn’t have some major cash coming in from selling a certain player.

We all know who that is…