U.S. push toward FIFA under-20 World Cup begins tonight

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Our blog is, by definition, about pro soccer. So why would we write about the U.S. under-20s, who are about to begin regional qualifying for the upcoming FIFA Under-20 World Cup?

Because a dozen members of Tab Ramos’s 20-man U.S. roster have already signed professional contracts. They include six men on MLS rosters and three each who are already earning paychecks from Mexican and German teams.

The United States under-20 team begins its qualifying push Monday against Haiti in Puebla, Mexico. Tonight’s match begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on FOX Soccer Channel.

It’s on Ramos and the young men to reverse a trend that is slipping toward “alarming.”

Two years ago a U.S. team directed by Thomas Rongen crashed out of regional qualifying, falling to Guatemala in the quarterfinals and failing to advance into the Under-20 World Cup in Colombia. It became harder to write that off as an anomaly when the United States’ under-23s flamed out in CONCACAF qualifying on the way to 2012 London Olympics.

The schedule and tournament details from U.S. Soccer are here.) What Ramos told U.S. Soccer in summing up his group’s prep for the 12-team tournament, from which four teams advance. (The quarterfinals represent “money time,” as all four quarterfinal winners move into the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey this summer.):

I believe we’re as ready as we can be. We’ve had eight camps already [this past year] and in this particular group we have guys who have all been here [in Mexico] before, We have players who are prepared and we’ve had a couple of great weeks of training. We are training in great facilities, playing in an excellent stadium, the temperature should be OK, so there are really no excuses for us but to do the best we can and try to get to this first game.”

A list of past CONCACAF qualifying teams is here from CONCACAF.com.

Good roster notes from U.S. Soccer’s communications staff are here.

The U.S. name to remember: Real Salt Lake’s Luis Gil, the club’s playmaker and most experienced man, as discussed thoroughly in this piece from RSL Soapbox. Just 19 years old, Gil (pictured above) has already appeared in 54 matches for RSL.

Just last week, RSL coach Jason Kreis mentioned to me how big a year this was for Gil, a California native already in his fourth pro season. Kreis wants to see the imminently talented attacker advance to the next rung in leadership and consistency. No better place to start than tonight in Mexico.

French league terminates goal-line technology contract

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PARIS (AP) The French football league has terminated the contract with its goal-line technology provider after a series of glitches.

The LFP had already suspended the use of GoalControl, the German system that was deployed at the 2014 World Cup.

According to L’Equipe newspaper, the league will launch a tender in February to find a new provider of the technology that determines whether the ball crossed the line.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

In recent months, the French league had repeatedly expressed its discontent with GoalControl.

Goal-line technology entered soccer after a goal was wrongly disallowed at the 2010 World Cup.

FIFA is already focused on fast-tracking the next phase of technology – video assistant referees – for the World Cup in June.

Goal-line technology and VAR were provided by Hawk-Eye at the Confederations Cup last year.

Bristol City’s Johnson: “They certainly have heard of us now”

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The Premier League world may see Bristol City next season, but it seems its manager has the personality to arrive on the top flight whether or not his Robins earn promotion this season.

Johnson, 36, earned plenty of plaudits after leading his Championship club to the League Cup semifinals, famously defeated Manchester United in the quarters.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

Before that, Bristol beat Premier League sides Crystal Palace, Stoke City, and Watford. The Robins beat third tier Plymouth Argyle 5-0 in the first round.

Johnson was beaming after the Robins took Man City to the edge, closing to within a goal of extra time before Kevin De Bruyne‘s stoppage time number ended the tie 5-3 on aggregate.

“Absolutely I’m proud. It’s not just tonight but over the course of the season, particularly the cup run. It was a fantastic occasion, I’m sorry we couldn’t get the win but we played against the best side that I have ever seen live. They have so many good individuals.

“We kept going and it’s taken two injury-time goals to beat us. They certainly have [heard of us] now…everybody knows what we’re about. It’s been great.”

Bristol City is in the Championship’s fifth place, bidding for its first top flight campaign since 1980. Johnson should be a hot prospect to earn a shot in the Premier League should the Robins not make the jump.

League Cup semifinal preview: Arsenal vs. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea has won 4-of-7 League Cup matches vs. Arsenal
  • Arsenal leads all-time series 74W-58D-62L
  • Clubs have drawn four times this season

Hardware hopes are on the line when Chelsea hits the Emirates Stadium for a League Cup semifinal second leg with Arsenal on Wednesday.

The sides drew 0-0 at Stamford Bridge, giving Chelsea the advantage of knowing a scoring draw would do the trick and set up a date with Manchester City at Wembley on Feb. 25, though Arsenal has home field advantage in pursuit of a win.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

Henrikh Mkhitaryan may debut for Arsenal, though the club released an interesting note on Tuesday: He’ll wear No. 7 in most competitions, but will have to use a different number in the Europa League because Alexis Sanchez wore it to start the tournament.

Chelsea’s Antonio Conte won’t have Alvaro Morata (back) and Cesc Fabregas for the match, though Andreas Christensen will be available for selection.

The clubs are no strangers to each other in big non-PL spots, squaring off in this season’s Community Shield (Arsenal won in penalty kicks) and last season’s FA Cup Final (Arsenal won).

Nothing has separated the sides on the field aside from those penalty kicks at Wembley Stadium, as Arsenal and Chelsea have drawn 1-1, 0-0, 2-2, and 0-0 since August.

What they’re saying

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger on Henrikh Mkhitaryan“He can play in different positions, but personally I see him first in a wide position, but I’m thinking about him a possibility to play through the middle. You are certain in our job of nothing, that’s absolutely sure. But you believe and I believe he has the qualities to do well, is a team player and our game is based on team attitude and movement and I think he can absorb the quantity of movement in our team.”

Chelsea’s Conte on the lineup: “Every game is different, you change the quality of your opponent and you must be intelligent enough to understand if you should continue with the same players or make some changes.”

Javier Mascherano leaving Barcelona after 8 seasons

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says defender Javier Mascherano is leaving the club after eight seasons.

Barcelona says there will be a farewell ceremony on Wednesday with Mascherano, club president Josep Bartomeu and the rest of the squad.

[ MORE: Man City to buy $86m CB ]

The 33-year-old Argentina international will say goodbye to the fans before Thursday’s game against Espanyol at Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey. He is reportedly going to play in China.

Mascherano, who also played as a defensive midfielder, arrived in Barcelona in 2010 from Liverpool and helped the Catalan club win 18 titles. He has made 334 appearances with Barcelona, but recently hadn’t been playing much.

The club earlier this month signed Colombia international Yerry Mina to boost its defense.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga