Chelsea hits another low in loss at Southampton

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Nobody could blame Rafa Benítez for trying to balance Chelsea’s priorities on Saturday, but after losing at Southampton with a weakened XI, the Blues boss has put his team in a terrible position. Chelsea are now in fourth place, only two points above Arsenal, while give back the head start built under Roberto Di Matteo. Even worse, the team now seems set to fight on three fronts, with an interim manager steering a regressing side potentially prioritizing cup competitions over a top four finish.

Look too deep into that statement and it becomes unfair to Benítez, as it wasn’t unreasonable for him to think a half-strength Chelsea could get win at St. Marys. Had he suspected his team could lose 2-1, Benítez surely would have started Eden Hazard. Or David Luiz, Demba Ba, Ramires, or Ashley Cole (wow, this list is long). He wouldn’t have started Marko Marin or Fernando Torres, and Yossi Benayoun – who (amazingly) was on the pitch at fulltime while Ba sat on the bench – wouldn’t have made the trip at all.

Instead, Benítez saw his excessively weak team given up first half goals to Jay Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert, with only John Terry’s 33rd minute conversation getting his team on the board. At fulltime, it was hard to argue Chelsea deserved more than their 2-1 loss to Southampton.

Chelsea, with one of the most expensive playing squads in the world, were outshot and out-possessed by a team that came into the day battling relegation, and while those indicators don’t necessarily tell you how the match unfolded, they strongly suggest a team whose talent should roll through St. Mary’s failed to dictate the teams of the game. The Blues didn’t control play. They lacked urgency. They just weren’t that good.

source:  And that’s becoming a common refrain with Chelsea. Yes, there are frequent glimpses of the team’s talent, hints Rafa Benítez may have some idea of how to steer this barge home. But four months into his time at Stamford Bridge, Benítez has taken a third place team in Champions League that was on course to win the League Cup and crashed out of both competitions while allowing his team to be drawn into a fight to finish top four. This is not the level the club imagined when they bought Eden Hazard.

All of these references to Chelsea’s talent, wages, expectations – they got old months ago. Nothing’s changed. Ever since Benítez came on board, we’ve been able to recycle the same post: huge talent; deep pockets; few results; no apparent plan. Under Benítez, Chelsea have become a bloated, clumsy seal, destined to lose hope and roll off its iceberg, sinking out of significance.

He may hope silverware, be it the FA Cup or Europa League, will create a legacy. Just as he walked away from Inter Milan with faux redemption after winning the Club World Cup, Benítez may dream of lifting a trophy and thumbing a nose as he walks out the door. Nobody remembers that Inter was mid-table when he left, he might think. He may be kidding himself into believing nobody will remember fifth place if Chelsea snare Europa League or an FA Cup.

Putting aside the fact Chelsea have the type of resources to avoid either-or scenarios, finishing top four is much more important than winning the FA Cup. It’s much more important than winning Europa League. Finishing top four may not give Benítez the line on his resume he can spin going forward, but the Champions League money is much more important to the club.

On Saturday, Benítez’s priorities were wrong. His team didn’t play well, and he made poor choices while trying to get a response. As a result, Chelsea are only two points ahead of Arsenal, and they’re worse off today than they’ve been at any other point of the season.

Report: Sarachan’s contract with USMNT extended through June

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U.S. Soccer will wait until after the World Cup to decide on a new head coach for the U.S. Men’s National Team.

The Washington Post reported on Monday that U.S. Soccer had extended interim coach Dave Sarachan’s contract through June, after his original deal was set to expire this month. Sarachan has led the U.S. since the resignation of Bruce Arena last October. Sarachan was Arena’s long-time top assistant coach with the LA Galaxy and USMNT before taking the reigns.

[READ: Manneh added to USMNT squad]

Sarachan has led the U.S. to a pair of draws with Portugal and Bosnia and Herzegovina, with two U.S. starting lineups stocked with youngsters as the preparation for the 2022 World Cup gets underway.

Sarachan and the U.S. are currently holding a training camp in Cary, N.C. ahead of a friendly match next Tuesday against Paraguay. Sarachan will also coach the U.S. against Bolivia, Ireland and France before departing.

By extending Sarachan through June, it makes it more likely that U.S. Soccer will either look abroad for its next coach or pick a coach who is currently a free agent – like Caleb Porter – or already within the system – like Tab Ramos. It’s possible, but unlikely, that U.S. Soccer could sway Peter Vermes, Oscar Pareja or Gregg Berhalter to leave their clubs halfway through the season for the national team job, and it’s equally unlikely that U.S. Soccer would hold the position open until the next MLS offseason.

Joint World Cup bidders: Trump hasn’t sparked voter concerns

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Organizers of the North American bid to host the 2026 World Cup insist FIFA members have not expressed concern about President Donald Trump’s harsh words about foreigners or the U.S. Justice Department prosecuting corrupt soccer officials.

[ MORE: Digging into the latest USMNT roster ]

“Look, this is not geopolitics,” new U.S. Soccer Federation President Carlos Cordeiro said Monday during a conference call. “We’re talking about football and what fundamentally at the end of the day, what’s the best interests of football and our footballing community, and we’ve had no backlash. We’re very focused on the merits of our bid.”

A joint bid by the United States, Mexico and Canada was submitted to FIFA on Friday along with a proposal by Morocco. The 207 other members of the international soccer governing body will vote on June 13 in Moscow.

Cordeiro, Mexican Football Federation President Decio de Maria and Canadian Soccer Association President Steven Reed spoke from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where they were meeting with members of the Association of South East Asian Nations, a subset of the Asian Football Confederation.

A solo bid by the U.S. for the 2022 World Cup was favored going into the 2010 vote but lost to Qatar. FIFA then changed the vote rules to give the decision back to the entire membership, which chose hosts prior to 1986, when the choice started being made by the roughly two dozen members of its executive committee.

“We believe that the member associations are going to judge us on the quality of the bids, on the merits of our bid, and that’s it,” Reed said. “We’re very confident about what we’re putting forward, and I don’t think that we’re concerned about politics.”

Sixty games would be played in the U.S. under the bid plan, including all from the quarterfinals on. Three cities were included from Mexico and Canada, and both of those nations would host 10 games.

Holding a tournament in the U.S. would subject many of the documents generated to subpoena by U.S. federal prosecutors, who have secured numerous guilty pleas to corruption charges from soccer officials since 2015 and obtained convictions at trial last year against Juan Angel Napout, the former president of South American soccer’s governing body, and Jose Maria Marin, the former president of Brazil’s soccer federation.

“We haven’t had any of those concerns raised by any of the members that we’ve met so far,” Cordeiro said. “The reforms that FIFA undertook some years ago I think were spot on and we feel very confident that ultimately the right decision will be made.”

Morocco’s bid envisions spending almost $16 billion, including $3 billion to construct nine new stadiums, refurbish five others and build or renovate 130 training grounds.

[ MORE: Brazil to face Austria in final World Cup tune-up match ]

The North American bid proposed venues be selected from among 23 stadiums that exist or already are under construction, including three each in Mexico and Canada. Sixteen of the U.S. stadiums are sites of NFL teams.

“The split of matches that we have proposed to FIFA frankly reflects the resources of the three countries,” Cordeiro said. “We in the United States are blessed with some very substantial resources in terms of stadium infrastructure, of cities and so on, and that reflects the 60 matches that we have on the table. But at the end of the day there is a reason why FIFA have asked for or have encouraged joint bids and we do think that our joint bids taken together provide for a vastly superior bid than our competition.”

AP Sports Writer Rob Harris contributed to this report.

Ailing LA Galaxy could miss as many as 10 players this weekend

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We’re less than a month into the new Major League Soccer season, and one club is already left scrambling to find players for its next match.

[ MORE: A deeper look at the USMNT roster ]

Between injuries, international call ups and a suspension, the LA Galaxy could be without as many as 10 players this weekend.

Ola Kamara, Romain Alessandrini and Giovani dos Santos are among the notable names likely to be absent for Saturday’s match against the Vancouver Whitecaps, but seven more players could be left unavailable for Sigi Schmid’s squad.

Kamara was the latest player to be named to his respective national team, with the striker being called up to Norway on Monday.

Meanwhile, both Giovani and Jonathan dos Santos have earned call ups to Mexico, and Emrah Klimenta has been selected by Montenegro for its next friendlies against Cyprus and Turkey.

Both Dos Santos brothers are battling injuries of their own, so they may not feature for El Tri, but that won’t necessarily help the Galaxy either as they are kept sidelined.

Of the ten players possibly missing the Whitecaps match, five of them (Michael Ciani, Cole, Gio dos Santos, J. dos Santos and Kamara) started in the Galaxy’s last game — a 2-1 loss to New York City FC.

Report: Chelsea, Real Madrid could make sensational swap

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Real Madrid’s interest in a certain Chelsea star has been well-noted for some time, and with the World Cup nearing this summer, Los Blancos may finally be able to get their man.

[ MORE: Brazil to play Austria in final World Cup tune-up ]

Eden Hazard has long been a Madrid target, and with the Belgium international seemingly more and more interested by a move away from Stamford Bridge, the veteran attacker could see himself join Real after the World Cup in Russia.

According to Spanish outlet Diario Gol, Real could secure a move for Hazard this summer, while sending young attacker Marco Asensio to Chelsea.

While hypothetical at this point, the move makes sense for both clubs, particularly from a Blues perspective as they look for young attacking players.

The 22-year-old Asensio has been seeking regular minutes at Madrid, and with Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale regularly included in the starting squad, that has been nearly impossible for the Spanish international.

Meanwhile, Real would be gaining another incredibly talented attacking piece to go along with Ronaldo and Bale, although the latter has been linked with a move away from the Santiago Bernabeu for some time.

Real has also been strongly linked with a move for Paris Saint-Germain winger Neymar, who has spent less than a season in France.

It’s a ways away from happening, but a front three of Hazard, Ronaldo and Neymar would certainly make El Clasico even more intriguing than usual, with Real facing off against a Barcelona squad that currently boasts Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho.