US centennial kit

Looking at the health of U.S. stars ahead of next week’s important World Cup qualifier

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We are one week and counting now from what promises to be a nervous moment for U.S. Soccer supporters. The United States meets Costa Rica in Denver in what looks to most of us like a “must-have.”

U.S. Soccer says that ain’t so – and the argument has technical merit. (It’s all about points available, places available, etc.)

But the problem was never the points per se. Rather, it’s about the strong pull of psychological riptides that could develop, about the jeopardy of mounting pressure and what it could do to the reach for Brazil 2014, about the media holler for Jurgen Klinsmann’s job that would surely rise, adding further tangle and distraction.

The looming red-tinged hue of a defeat next week, more than the black-and-white of three points from victory in the six-team table, makes the Costa Rican clash so crucial.

That’s why everyone will watch with interest as a group of Americans tries to get back on the field this weekend. Word is coming that Clint Dempsey will make the bench as Spurs meet his old team, Fulham, Sunday at White Hart Lane. Dempsey has been out since late February with a calf injury.

He has been training with Spurs this week (but did not make the trip into Italy for Thursday’s Europa League achievement – white-knuckle triumph though it was.)

Fabian Johnson appears to be healthy once again and set to feature in this week’s Bundesliga clash with Mainz. Hoffenheim, by the way, has some work ahead to avoid a drop; it may already be too late.

Johnson’s ability to get on the field in those fancy new Centennial Edition kits is vital given the lack of U.S. cover at left back.

Then there’s the case of Michael Bradley, who isn’t starting lately for Roma. The U.S. midfield general appeared as a sub two weeks ago but was suspended for last week’s draw with Udinese. Roma meets Parma on Sunday.

Any concerns over full fitness (cardiovascular fitness, that is, not just full health) are exacerbated by the contest’s location, at 5,000 feet above sea level in the Denver suburb of Commerce City.

(MORE: Tim Howard injured? No worries. Brad Guzan has got this)

Agent: “There’s no hatred” between Bale, Ronaldo

Gareth Bale & Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF
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Gareth Bale doesn’t at all dislike Cristiano Ronaldo — or vice versa — despite what may seem a lukewarm on-field relationship between the two Real Madrid superstars, insists Jonathan Barnett, agent of Bale.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Instead, Barnett insists that the two men with very different personalities have a healthy relationship, and competition, that pushes each Galactico to be the best player he can be.

Barnett, on Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo — quotes from the Guardian:

“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”

That’s a hilarious closing quote from Barnett, but he knows exactly how some folks are going to interpret it: “Bale thinks Ronaldo loves himself too much.”

[ MORE: Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott ]

There’s nothing better for the ultimate success of a team than healthy, friendly competition between teammates who are spectacularly talented as Ronaldo and Bale. The former will only be around to perform at his current level for so much longer, but at what point does the latter officially take the torch and supplant Madrid’s biggest star, and how accepting will he be of passing that proverbial torch?

Olivier Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott

Olivier Giroud, France
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Is it just me, or does the press really only ever get noteworthy quotes from players during international breaks?

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

I suppose it’s not surprising, given Premier League players get away from the mean ole British press, go back to their respective homelands and speak with journalists they’ve likely known since their early playing days, thus feel more comfortable opening up about key issues.

Anyway, today we have Olivier Giroud essentially calling himself out for having lost the starting striker’s job at Arsenal because he’s been outplayed of late by Theo Walcott. As discussed before, this is bad news for Giroud because he’s now falling down the depth chart for France with next summer’s European Championship on the horizon.

[ MORE: Aguero admits he wants Guardiola link-up ]

Giroud, on losing his place at Arsenal — quotes from the Guardian:

“At Arsenal, I am in competition with Theo for the striker position. But he is doing well at the moment, so there is no reason to change.

“Whether it was at Tours, Montpellier or Arsenal, I have never experienced a situation like this, I have often played from the start. I need to take positives and to harden myself mentally. It is something new for me.

“I was in [Walcott’s] place in previous seasons at Arsenal. I imagine what he must have been thinking. But I feel that the coach believes in me.”

Giroud goes on to cast into doubt his own confidence, stating in very certain terms he needs “to believe more in [his] abilities.” Giroud’s always come across as a bit of an existentialist, but it’s always strange to hear players publicly call themselves out — particularly their confidence — as if that’s not going to increase the pressure currently weighing down on them.

[ MORE: Rodgers reportedly chosen to take over at Aston Villa ]

The next eight months are going to be monumentally important in Giroud’s career, as the 29-year-old attempts to prove he’s worth keeping around at Arsenal and deserving of a place in the national team squad for next summer’s EUROs, which are to be played in France.