U.S. players react after losing their 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer match against Honduras at Olimpico stadium in San Pedro Sula

Re-evaluating what we know about CONCACAF after round one

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Three surprise results later, it’s far more difficult to know what to make of CONCACAF. Even the results that were somewhat explicable developed in ways that prompted new questions. Are the U.S. defenders a bigger problem than we thought? Is Mexico really that far ahead of the rest of the region? Is Panama ready?

One round into CONCACAF’s final stage, it’s time to pause and reevaluate The Hex – assess our new knowledge and determine to what extend that we need to change our outlook for the rest of the tournament.

Let’s go from winners to losers:

Honduras – There’s a temptation to label winning at home as merely holding serve, a description which might be true for Mexico and the United States. But Honduras is not a perpetual World Cup qualifier, even if they did make 2010’s show. To take three points that their competitors for third are less likely to grab is a huge result. Perhaps more importantly, if the midfield led by Roger Espinoza and Boniek Garcia performs like this through the next nine rounds, the Catrachos are unlikely to be pulled into a battle for third. This is a team that could compete closer to the top of the standings.

Costa Rica – Particularly after failing to qualify for South Africa, the Ticos have become the region’s neglected power. For half an hour on Wednesday, Costa Rica dwelled in realms of the forgotten as they spotted Panama two goals. But coming back to claim a point, the Costa Ricans gave us a nudge, woke us up, and reminded us they’re weren’t that far from qualifying for a third straight World Cup in 2010. While Bryan Ruiz’s overhead, game-tying goal may be the type of effort you can’t write into the game plan, Jorge Luis Pinto’s team put themselves in position to benefit. A valuable road point should open our eyes, a little.

Jamaica – This game had blowout written all over it before kicking off, but Jamaica were able to get the round’s most surprising result. Parts of the Reggae Boyz’ result reek of an underdog riding a goalkeeping blinder, but applying that description to the entire match would understate Jamaica’s performance. They had real chances to take full points, and while earning a surprise result at Azteca shouldn’t vault them to the top of our Most Likely to Qualify lists, the draw was reminds us Jamaica have enough talent and athleticism to frustrate anybody in the region. Even Mexico.

source: ReutersMexico – They came out flat, and their fans let them know it. Second half boos and ironic cheers for the Jamaicans reminded El Tri that they’re playing under higher expectations. Whether the standard’s fair or not, teams like Jamaica aren’t supposed to trouble Mexico, especially at home. Still, it was only 90 minutes of a 900 minute tournament, and while ‘Chepo’ de la Torre’s side performed well below expectations, nothing we saw on Wednesday should convince us their round one disappointment was more than a one-off.

Panama – It’s hard to call any team a “big loser” one match into the tournament, but Panama was the team that lost the most on Wednesday. Not only did they give up a two-goal lead, they capitulated to one of the two teams they should be targeting for third place. We alluded to it in yesterday’s preview: The inability to play to the stakes could hurt the Canaleros early in the tournament. Their inexperience may have cost them two points they’re unlikely to reclaim at Estadio Saprissa.

United States – The somewhat strange-cum-freakish way it happened overshadowed the remainder of a disappointing performance, but Wednesday’s loss didn’t tell us anything new about the United States. They’re still not generating enough chances, have problems in defense, and have a surprising number of questions in midfield (both in personnel and style). But even though the team is not playing to fans’ expectations, they still project as the second-best team in the region. The fact that they almost got a result against a good Catracho team (that got strong individual performances) only affirms that status.

Europa League qualifying roundup: West Ham falls in Slovenia

NYON, SWITZERLAND - AUGUST 08:  The UEFA Europa League trophy is displayed during the 2014/15 UEFA Europa League Play-off round draw at the UEFA headquarters, The House of European Football on August 8, 2014 in Nyon, Switzerland.  (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)
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In what is often described as more of a distraction than anything for English teams, the Europa League third qualification round is under way, and a Premier League club is in danger of crashing out of the competition prior to the group stage for the third straight season.

West Ham fell 2-1 at NK Domzale, the third-placed finishers in the Slovenian league last season. Mark Noble grabbed an 18th-minute penalty, the only takeaway from an otherwise depressing road result. On the other side, 24-year-old Matic Crnic scored twice to put Domzale through.

Last season, the Hammers also dropped out of the competition in the third qualification round, to Romanian club Astra Giurgiu, although they had wins in the first and second rounds after entering the competition via fair play. In addition, Southampton also crashed out of last year’s Europa League in the playoff round to Danish side FC Mitdjylland. Hull City dropped out of the tournament two seasons ago in the playoff round.

West Ham has the opportunity to turn things around at home in a week as they host Domzale at the Olympic Stadium on Thursday, August 4 in what will be West Ham’s first competitive in their new home.

Other notable scores from Europa League qualification include:

  • Lille 1-1 Gabala FC
  • Panathinaikos 1-0 AIK
  • Genk 1-0 Cork
  • Pandurii Targu Jiu 0-3 Maccabi Tel Aviv
  • Videoton 0-1 Midtjylland
  • Hertha BSC 1-0 Bronby
  • AZ Alkmaar 1-0 Giannina

Napoli chief calls Gonzalo Higuain a “traitor,” striker hits back

Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain shows the Juventus' jersey as he arrives in the team headquarters in Turin, Italy, Wednesday July 27, 2016. Italian champion Juventus said Tuesday it has signed  Higuain from Serie A rival Napoli for 90 million euros ($99 million). (Alessandro Di Marco/Ansa via Ap)
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Gonzalo Higuain’s summer move to Juventus has not come without bad blood.

When the 28-year-old striker moved from Naples to Turin thanks to Juventus activating his release clause, it left Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis with a sour taste in his mouth. “There are those who say that talk of betrayal is an exaggeration, but I think the opposite,” De Laurentiis told Corierre dello Sport. “Because, in this decision, there is the full sense of betrayal, which also includes ingratitude.”

“We never seriously thought he would leave. Nor that he would have erased in a flash the memories of his three years in Naples.”

That didn’t sit well with Higuain, who fired back that it was de Laurentiis who drove him out of his former club.

“It was my decision to leave, but it was [De Laurentiis] who pushed me into making it,” Higuain told the media at his Juventus unveiling. “I’d like to thank the fans and my teammates, but not De Laurentiis. I no longer had a relationship with him; I couldn’t stand another minute with him.”

Higuain was more celebratory about his time at Stadio San Paulo. “These have been three amazing years,” Higuain said, “and I can only say thanks for all the love I was given, but this was a decision I took for my own reasons. I can understand that they are angry with me and I’ve seen the insults, but it is something I had to do and I’m happy about it.”

Napoli visits Turin in Serie A play on October 30, while Juventus will not travel to Naples for the return fixture until early April of 2017.

Pep Guardiola says he benched Samir Nasri because he’s “a little bit overweight”

BEIJING, CHINA - JULY 24:  Samir Nasri of Manchester City attends the pre-game training ahead of the 2016 International Champions Cup match between Manchester City and Manchester United at Olympic Sports Center Stadium on July 24, 2016 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
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Samir Nasri‘s soccer career has taken a nosedive since his seven-goal, nine-assist season in 2012/13, both internationally and domestically.

The 29-year-old winger has retired from the French national team after to being frozen out by Didier Deschamps, and has seen a decline in playing time for Manchester City two seasons in a row. Now with a new manager and a fresh start at the Etihad, things aren’t exactly off with flying colors out of the gates.

Nasri hasn’t featured thus far in Manchester City’s preseason, and manager Pep Guardiola said it’s because of his fitness. “Samir arrived a little bit overweight,” Guardiola said following the team’s win over Borrusia Dortmund in International Champions Cup play from China. “He’s much better now, but still there is a little bit of weight. Last season he was injured and we want to avoid that.”

City took down Dortmund on penalties following a 1-1 draw. The squad fell 1-0 to Bayern Munich last week in the team’s first pre-season match. Nasri did not appear in either, and defender Gael Clichy – without naming names – said that Guardiola has forced those with fitness issues to train on their own.

“We have a few players who are not training with the team yet,” Clichy, a former teammate of Nasri’s at Arsenal, said on Wednesday. “If your weight is too high, you’re not training with the team. You have to know that if your weight is 60 kilos and you are on 70 kilos, then you cannot play football.”

Guardiola backed up his policy on Wednesday following Clichy’s comments. “The weight is so important. When you are not fit, danger is coming. You’re not fast enough or quick enough in the head. That’s why you need to be fit.”

Leicester City inks Ben Chilwell to new contract, warding off Liverpool interest

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Liverpool wanted to get younger at the back, but they’ll have to look elsewhere.

Despite reportedly heavy interest from Anfield, 19-year-old defender Ben Chilwell has signed a new five-year deal with Leicester City, tying him down through the summer of 2021.

The Leicester City defense desperately needs Chilwell’s youth as it ages yet another year following their run to the Premier League title. Robert Huth is 31 years old, Wes Morgan – also on a new deal this summer – is 32, and backup Marcin Wasilewski is 36. On the left edge, where Chilwell is most proficient, first-choice left-back Christian Fuchs is 30, while Jeffrey Schlupp provides the only other true bit of youth at 23. On the right, Danny Simpson is 29 and Richie De Laet is 27.

The youngster was reportedly a high-priority target for Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, lodging a number of bids with the news that Brad Smith would move to Bournemouth. According to reports in England, the Reds made one last effort to bid for Chilwell prior to his extension, but it did not bear fruit.

“Ever since I arrived in Leicester, Ben has been a young player that has shown a lot of promise,” Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri told the club’s official website. “He has all the attributes you would want in a defender and shows a lot of maturity for a player of just 19. He has come back for pre-season in very good condition and is already showing that he is ready to push for a place in the team.”

Chilwell, a Leicester City academy product, has yet to make a Premier League appearance, but has featured for the England youth teams at multiple levels.