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Hey guys, chill the heck out: Brad Guzan has got this

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News of Tim Howard’s back injury, unfortunate though it is for the longtime U.S. No. 1, should be nothing more than a little fender dent on the U.S. bus toward Brazil.

Brad Guzan will do fine.

The Aston Villa man has shown again and again this year that he can stand the test. Just because Villa is not competing for top spots in England – not ever threatening to sniff top-table glory this season – doesn’t mean there isn’t pressure aplenty at the Birmingham ground. In fact, the pressure around Villa Park is immense. Countless players and managers have spelled it out for me over the years: there is no pressure like the weight of a relegation fight.

And yet, Guzan delivers one outstanding performance after another, with no signs of slippage, no signs of cracked confidence due to Villa’s losing or to a goals against ledger that teeters somewhere between “brutal” and “unspeakable.” He was a game-changer once again Saturday as Villa prevailed in a huge “six-pointer” over Reading.

(MORE: Crucial win sees Aston Villa move out of drop zone) 

Further, Guzan’s international experience in the U.S. shirt may shade toward the limited side, but it’s hardly down at zero.

Guzan, 28, has appeared in five World Cup qualifiers (a 3-1-1 mark). In most of his matches the United States already had sufficient qualifier points in pocket, or they were matches where Bob Bradley’s team would win comfortably.

But there one was a biggie as the United States neared its ticket punch for World Cup 2010, although it was anything but across the finish line.

That was in 2009, during a contest in El Salvador. (And we all know how these Central American contests can prove uncomfortably tricky.) Tim Howard was serving a one-game suspension, so it was Guzan between the posts that night during a 2-2 draw at the Cuscatlán Stadium, San Salvador.

So, nothing that will happen in Denver on March 22 will faze the Illinois born-and-bred Guzan. Plus, there’s this:

The United States needs three points from these two matches (against Costa Rica in suburban Denver, then four nights later at Mexico.) The pressure will be on that match in Denver; the United States must emerge from DSG Park with a “W” and nothing else. From there?

If we’re honest, no one expects Jurgen Klinsmann’s side to win in Mexico – never mind that historic win in a friendly eight months ago. If they drag out a point out of Azteca Stadium, well, wonderful! If they manage to sneak away with a win, bust out the bubbly for three “bonus” points earned en route to Rio! But no one expects it.

But if the United States can carry the Denver night and scoop up all three points against Costa Rica in potentially chilly Colorado, you can stamp “Mission Accomplished” on this so called FIFA World Cup qualifier “double date.”

The United States, rebuilt back line and all, backstopped ably by Guzan, should be plenty to handle that task.

Premier League Preview: Burnley vs. Watford

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  • First-ever meeting in PL
  • Watford looking for third-straight win
  • Burnley haven’t won in last three
  • Clarets without suspended Gray

Burnley host Watford on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports) at Turf Moor in the first-ever Premier League meeting between these two teams.

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Watford is on a roll with Walter Mazzarri‘s side beating Manchester United 3-1 last time out and the Hornets are looking to make it three wins on the spin in the Premier League. Burnley have just one win to their name back in the PL which was at home in the second week of the season against Liverpool. In home games against Hull City and Swansea they’ve conceded goals late on which is a trend manager Sean Dyche (former captain and manager at Watford) will look to end on Monday with his side going three games without a win in the PL.

In team news Burnley are without Andre Gray as the striker was banned three games by the FA for homophobic comments he made on social media back in 2012. Ashley Barnes is out injured for Burnley, while Watford will be without right back Daryl Janmaat plus Younes Kaboul and Jose Holebas are both fitness doubts.

What they’re saying

Dyche on his time at Watford: “It’s well-documented I’ve always had respect for the club. The situation, the business changed etc etc but I mean every word when I say I had a fantastic time there as player, youth coach, assistant manager and manager. Because business changes and you lose your job it doesn’t mean I hold any baggage at all, I certainly don’t. It’s a lot of water under the bridge and they’ve gone on to become a Premier League club so their model of working has worked for them.”

Mazzarri on Troy Deeney: “Of course he is international level. I would be proud and really happy if Deeney went to the national team He has improved physically and he is much fitter now. He is a strong striker – he just needs to look after his fitness. I respect the England manager and his decision, and I am biased as he is one of my players.”

Prediction

Despite Gray’s absence being a big blow for Burnley, I fancy the home side to get all three points. On a chilly night in Lancashire, Burnley have a stacked midfield which can dig deep and frustrate Watford. With the Hornets playing a 3-5-2 formation, this game will be won in midfield and the creativity of Steven Defour and the bite of Jeff Hendrick may get them over the line for a big win. 2-1 to Burnley.

Bob Bradley to take over at Swansea City?

Bob Bradley, Stabaek Fotball
AP
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Bob Bradley is continuing to be linked with jobs in the Premier League.

[ MORE: Chelsea clear out? ]

After a poor start to the season Swansea City’s current manager Francesco Guidolin is under plenty of pressure with reports suggesting he could lose his job with Ryan Giggs the favorite to replace him.

However, a report in the Sun newspaper says Swansea’s U.S. owners want to speak with current Le Havre head coach Bradley, 58, about potentially replacing Guidolin at the Liberty Stadium.

The former U.S. men’s national team coach has carved out a wonderful resume since leaving the USMNT in 2011. From taking the Egyptian national team to the brink of World Cup qualification amidst some of the most difficult circumstances in world soccer, he then took tiny Stabaek in Norway to third-place in the top flight and European qualification.

Bradley was also one goal away from getting Le Havre  promoted to Ligue 1 last season as on the final day of the 2015-16 campaign they came agonizingly close to getting out of France’s second-tier.

With the Swans losing four of their six games in the Premier League so far this season, it is clear the fans and perhaps the board aren’t happy with the direction the club is going in under Guidolin’s guidance. The veteran Italian manager arrived in the second half of last season and despite keeping the struggling Swans up quite comfortably, losing the likes of Ashley Williams and Andre Ayew this summer hit him hard.

[ MORE: Donovan talks about Swansea role ]

When it comes to Bradley the reports says American investors Jason Levien and Steve Kaplan — who now own a majority share of the club after their takeover this summer — are concerned about the lack of experience Giggs has as a first team manager. They believe Bradley would be the perfect candidate to build something sustainable and it is hard to argue with that.

Wherever Bradley has been he’s worked miracles on a shoestring budget and often against all odds he has surpassed expectations. Swansea is a club which won’t spend big but will buy young players and hope to develop them while still being able to maintain their PL status, five years after they gained promotion to the top-flight.

Although Giggs still seems like the favorite if Guidolin does leave the Liberty Stadium, it will be intriguing to see if Bradley will finally get a job his abilities as a coach clearly deserves.

After reportedly coming close in the past for the main job at West Bromwich Albion and being linked to Aston Villa, Hull City, Fulham and countless other gigs in the Premier League, the New Jersey native has always been overlooked for whatever reason. He  That’s something he spoke about at length here as he doesn’t believe there’s much difference between himself and the managerial juggernauts such as Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp.

“I’ll tell you what, maybe I’m stupid but I think I am a manager in and around that level. I’m not saying I am better than those guys, I haven’t had those kind of opportunities,” Bradley said. “But I think that people who have played for me have always feel the experience in the team was different, that training was challenging, that there were a lot of things done to help them become better players and better people. I believe in my work. I don’t go around every day complaining, I just roll up my sleeves, try to show people what I’m all about and see what happens.”

Maybe, just maybe, Bradley will finally get to show what he’s all about in the Premier League.

Report: Chelsea set to overhaul defense with clear out

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At times during Chelsea’s 3-0 defeat at Arsenal on Saturday, Antonio Conte looked like he was going to cry.

The defending was that bad.

[ MORE: Conte bemoans defending ]

Chelsea gave up three first half goals, the first in calamitous fashion as Gary Cahill was inexplicably caught on the ball to let Alexis Sanchez in to score, and Conte was seething in his post-match press conference about the level of defending and the fact that Chelsea has now conceded at least twice in each of their last four games.

The Daily Mail reports that the Italian manager has seen enough from both Cahill and struggling right back Branislav Ivanovic and he will “phase them out” in the coming weeks at Stamford Bridge.

With captain John Terry set to come back from injury, plus Kurt Zouma close to a return too, Conte has other options and it seems likely he will now use those.

Per the report, Conte is also looking elsewhere to bolster his defensive options with Burnley’s Michael Keane and Middlesbrough’s Ben Gibson both linked with a January move to the Blues with the west London said to be scouting both players closely.

It will be intriguing to see how Conte changes things up in the games to come, especially as the Blues face tough tests against Hull City, Leicester City and Manchester United in their next three Premier League games.

Chelsea played the final 35 minutes at the Emirates in a 3-5-2 formation which is one Conte mastered at Juventus and with the Italian national team in the past. That formation may well get the best out of Terry, the erratic David Luiz and perhaps Zouma alongside them. Truth be told, Ivanovic and Cahill have both struggled for the last 12 months and it is about time they were held accountable for some of the defensive mistakes they’ve made.

Whatever Conte does, it has to be something drastic because the way he sets his team’s up they won’t win games 5-0. As long as Chelsea keep things tight, they’ll do well under the Italian manager. But right now that’s a big ‘if’ for the Blues.

As I wrote from the Emirates this weekend, Conte knows he has a huge job on his hands to transform their defense.

FIFA disbands racism task force ahead of World Cup in Russia

PRATO, ITALY - APRIL 13: General view during the FIFA Futsal playoff match between Italy and Hungary on April 13, 2016 in Prato, Italy.  (Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images)
Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images
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MANCHESTER, England (AP) FIFA has disbanded its anti-racism task force, declaring the work complete despite ongoing concerns about discriminatory behavior in 2018 World Cup host Russia.

FIFA wrote to members of the task force to say that it has “completely fulfilled its temporary mission” and “is hereby dissolved and no longer in operation.”

“I wish I could say that I am shocked by the decision, but unfortunately I am not,” task force member Osasu Obayiuwana told The Associated Press on Sunday. “The problem of racism in football remains a burning, very serious and topical one, which need continuous attention.

“I personally think there remained a lot of very serious work for the task force to have done – the 2018 World Cup in Russia being one such matter. But it is evident the FIFA administration takes a different position.”

The task force was established in 2013 by then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter and headed by Jeffrey Webb, a vice president of world soccer’s governing body until he was arrested in 2015 as part of the American investigation into soccer corruption.

Webb, who pleaded guilty to racketeering charges, was replaced exactly a year ago as task force chairman by Congolese federation president Constant Omari, who also sits on FIFA’s ruling council.

“We never had a single meeting under his chairmanship,” Obayiuwana said. “I wrote him, more than once, asking for when a meeting would be held. But I never received a reply from him.”

Obayiuwana, a journalist, broadcaster and qualified lawyer, received the letter from FIFA on Friday announcing the end of the task force.

“The FIFA Task Force Against Racism and Discrimination was set up with your help on a temporary basis to develop recommendations for FIFA,” wrote Gerd Dembowski, FIFA’s diversity and anti-discrimination manager.

“We are therefore delighted to inform you that all of the task force’s recommendations have been implemented and all resulting projects are ongoing.”

FIFA pointed to the introduction of an anti-discrimination monitoring system at matches, the launch of a “Good Practice Guide ,” starting a team of footballing legends and a new diversity award. Fatma Samoura, FIFA’s first female and non-European secretary general, will present the award on Monday at the SoccerEx convention in Manchester.

FIFA also told task force members that its own initiatives “actually exceed the working group’s recommendations” – trumpeting its “Say No to Racism” campaign, women’s leadership conferences and programs in Russia. There are less than nine months until Russia stages the Confederations Cup, the warm-up event for the 2018 World Cup.

The most recent research from the Moscow-based SOVA Center and the UEFA-affiliated FARE Network reported a surge in the number of racist displays by Russian soccer fans, with most cases going unpunished. Researchers logged 92 incidents of discriminatory displays and chants by Russian fans in and around stadiums in the 2014-15 season, against a total of 83 for the previous two seasons put together.

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