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.

Errors down, penalty kicks up after introduction of VAR in Italy

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The implementation of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in Italy has been controversial, but according to a look at the statistics, it has for the most part done its job to fix clear and obvious errors.

Italian sports paper Gazzetta Dello Sport compiled all the times VAR has been used through 346 matches, 330 in Serie A and 16 in the Coppa Italia. There were 1,736 checks (916 goals, 464 penalties and 356 red cards) with 105 corrections and just 17 errors where the referee and assistant made the wrong decision. Eight of those errors did affect the result, which is an issue that will surely be addressed by the Italian officiating organization.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

But overall, Gazzetta found that in the VAR era, referee errors only amounted to 0.98 percent during a match, as opposed to 6.03 percent in the past. In addition, fouls are down 8.8 percent, red cards are down 6.4 percent, and yellow cards are down 14.7 percent. On the flip side, penalty kicks are called 4.3 more percent of the time.

The Premier League voted recently not to add VAR to its league matches next season, while top leagues in Germany, Italy and in Major League Soccer and the United Soccer League continue to use it.

Report: New Arsenal manager will have small budget to re-shape squad

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Whoever takes the helm as Arsenal’s next manager will have to do some math gymnastics this summer to stretch every penny available.

According to a report from The Telegraph, Arsenal is giving Arsene Wenger‘s successor a little less than $70 million to work with in this summer’s transfer market, citing back-to-back transfer windows with club-record signings (Alexandre Lacazette last summer and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in January) and three raises given to players. Arsenal paid around $78 million alone to sign Aubameyang and around $65 million for Lacazette.

[READ: UCL Preview: Liverpool vs. Roma]

That means whoever comes in next to lead Arsenal will likely have to sell one or two players this summer to raise additional money for world-class signings.

For the last decade, Arsenal has been crying out for a new pair of centerbacks and a holding midfielder in the mould of Patrick Vieira. In addition, with Petr Cech getting older, the prospect of needing a new goalkeeper is also on the horizon.

Luckily for Arsenal, they seem to be just fine up front. From Aubameyang and Lacazette to Mesut Ozil, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Aaron Ramsey, the club has the talent to challenge for a title next season in that department.

A dozen different names have been bandied about as to who will be Arsenal’s next manager, with out-of-contract and former Barcelona manager Luis Enrique reportedly on the shortlist. Vieira, former Arsenal midfielder Mikel Arteta, Germany National Team coach Joachim Low, Juventus boss Max Allegri and Hoffenheim’s Julian Nagelsman have all also been linked with the job.

Tunisian player who collapsed in Spain regains consciousness

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MADRID (AP) Spanish third-division club Toledo says a Tunisian player who collapsed from heart failure during practice 10 days ago has regained consciousness.

The club says doctors removed sedative medication and Lassad Nouioui was responding well to treatment on Monday.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

They will consider removing the 32-year-old Nouioui from the intensive care unit if his condition keeps improving. Nouioui has played for a number of clubs during his 14-year professional career, notably a four-year stay at Deportivo La Coruna and a one-year spell with Celtic.

Nouioui collapsed on April 14.

The game against Real Madrid B the following day was postponed because of the problem with Nouioui.

FIFA force pace on $25B Club World Cup, global league plan

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GENEVA (AP) FIFA is forcing the pace on talks over a $25 billion offer to revamp the Club World Cup and create a global national team competition.

FIFA says President Gianni Infantino hosted a meeting last Friday with invited officials from some top European clubs.

[ MORE: Everton gets past Newcastle behind Walcott strike ]

The European Club Association has strongly opposed FIFA’s hope for a four-yearly club tournament starting in 2021, which could rival the UEFA-organized Champions League.

UEFA has also proposed a Global Nations League. A similar project is tied to the FIFA-controlled $25 billion, 12-year offer from a consortium including investors from Saudi Arabia and China.

FIFA says it’s holding “informal ongoing discussions with different stakeholders on the topic of the future Club World Cups.”

Infantino is set to meet confederation presidents and general secretaries “in the near future,” FIFA says.