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Everyone take a breath: The United States national team HAS been here before. Every year, it seems

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The rise and fall of national regard for Jurgen Klinsmann’s national team looks like a heart rate monitor, a continuing patterned series of sharp rises and steep falls.

And on it goes …

Fans and voices in the chattering class were about fed up last year as World Cup qualifying in the semifinal round seemed be wandering off the rails. But restoration of faith came in three wins to close the round and all was sweet peaches and plums in placid Klinsmann Valley.

Well, until a listless draw with Canada to open the 2013 calendar, followed by a stinker at Honduras. And we were all fed up again.

Well, until a determined and gritty night in Denver, followed by a determined and gritty defensive stand in Mexico. In a five-day period, faith was dutifully restored. “Say, when do tickets go on sale for Brazil 2014?”

Well, until …

A rising European power worked the United States defense the way a Belgian brewmaster works the lagers and ales. And now … well, you get the idea.

(MORE: United States defense exposed in 4-1 loss to Belgium)

But here’s some important information, especially as Klinsmann’s forces prepare for another toughie on Sunday against Germany, which might help supply some context:

This is something of a May-June rite for the United States national team, which seems to find itself getting dressed down annually once or twice about this time of year.

  • Surely everyone remembers last year about this time, when U.S. fans and media were falling over backwards about the 4-1 loss to Brazil? Even Klinsmann was hacked about that one; noting rather notoriously his team’s flagging “nastiness.”
  • In 2011, Spain delivered the punishing reminder of a yawning gap between the United States and global soccer’s ruling class. The message came via a 4-0 win outside Boston. Words like “thoroughly embarrassed” and “dominated” careened with a menace through the internets. A week later, a loss to Panama seem to confirm it once and for all: The United States would never win another match. Ever.
  • In 2010, a close loss to Netherlands in Amsterdam could be forgiven. A robust Dutch side did, in fact, go on to finish second in South Africa that summer. But a 4-2 loss on home soil to the Czech Republic was certainly a basis for fist-slamming concern, especially where Oguchi Onyewu was concerned. Too bad the warning didn’t seem to take; Bob Bradley’s faith in the big center back, who was recovering from injury, proved misplaced.
  • The first team was on the field in 2009, when Bradley’s team got conked on the head in Costa Rica, 3-1. It was a double whammy because that was a World Cup qualifier, and because it was painfully close to the 2009 Confederations Cup. Speaking of which, the United States lost its first two matches there by a combined 6-1 – Time for pitchforks and lanterns? – before the big summer rally, including a huge upset over Spain, a signature victory for Bradley’s time a charge.
  • The team was shut out three consecutive matches over 12 days in 2008, by England, Spain and Argentina (all quality teams, of course.) A scoreless draw with Argentina outside New York was the punctuation mark, and that doesn’t sound too bad – until you consider that Tim Howard had to wear two super hero capes just to keep the United States from being run plum off the field that night at Giants Stadium.

So, yes, you can see that this is something of an annual moment for U.S. Soccer. That doesn’t excuse a mistake-strewn performance against Belgium, and there are certainly problems around the field (not just in the back, by the way) that require quick address.

But if we can take a step back and inhale, we can see this, at least: We’ve all been here before.

(MORE: United States misses its “brain,” Michael Bradley)

Ranking the top 20 players at Rio 2016 Olympics

Brazil's Neymar celebrates his goal on a penalty kick against the United States during the second half of a friendly soccer match Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
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It is just one week until the Olympic soccer tournament kicks off at Rio 2016.

Pumped? Yeah, I thought so.

[ STREAM: Watch Olympic soccer here ]

With the likes of Neymar, Hirving Lozano and Manuel Lanzini in the men’s tournament, plus Carli Lloyd, Marta and Alex Morgan on the women’s tournament, the battle for Gold is always intense and we often see plenty of rising stars come of age at the Olympics.

Below is a list of the top 20 players in both the men’s and women’s competitions in Rio.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments section below.


Men’s

  1. Neymar (Brazil)
  2. Gabriel Barbosa (Brazil)
  3. Julian Brandt (Germany)
  4. Marquinhos (Brazil)
  5. David Selke (Germany)
  6. Max Meyer (Germany)
  7. Hirving Lozano (Mexico)
  8. Lars Bender (Germany)
  9. Felipe Anderson (Brazil)
  10. Manuel Lanzini (Argentina)
  11. Thiago Maia (Brazil)
  12. Teo Gutierrez (Colombia)
  13. Ali Adnan (Iraq)
  14. Oribe Peralta  (Mexico)
  15. Son Heung-min (Korea Republic)
  16. Gabriel Jesus (Brazil)
  17. Angel Correa (Argentina)
  18. Giovanni Simeone (Argentina)
  19. Matthias Ginter (Germany)
  20. Jonathan Calleri (Argentina)

Women’s

  1. Carli Lloyd (USA)
  2. Marta (Brazil)
  3. Alex Morgan (USA)
  4. Christine Sinclair (Canada)
  5. Eugenie Le Sommer (France)
  6. Amandine Henry (France)
  7. Dzsenifer Marozsan (Germany)
  8. Camille Abily (France)
  9. Anja Mittag (Germany)
  10. Alexandra Popp (Germany)
  11. Becky Sauerbrunn (USA)
  12. Forminga (Brazil)
  13. Hope Solo (USA)
  14. Lotta Schelin (Sweden)
  15. Caroline Seger (Sweden)
  16. Saskia Bartusiak (Germany)
  17. Megan Rapinoe (USA)
  18. Kosovare Asllani (Sweden)
  19. Julie Johnston (USA)
  20. Tobin Heath (USA)

Zlatan to MLS? David Beckham wants him in Miami

PARIS, FRANCE - MAY 18: Zlatan Ibrahimovic of PSG celebrates with team mate David Beckham after scoring to make it 3-0 during the Ligue 1 match between Paris Saint-Germain FC and Stade Brestois 29 at Parc des Princes on May 18, 2013 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Zlatan Ibrahimovich is keen on Major League Soccer.

The Manchester United striker, 34, just linked up with his new team for the first time on their return to Europe and is ready to get going in preseason ahead of his first-ever season in the Premier League. .

[ MORE: Guardiola bans pizza

However, in an interview with Goal.com he has revealed that former teammate at Paris Saint-Germain, David Beckham, wants him to join his MLS expansion side in Miami.

Here’s what Zlatan had to say about a potential link-up with Becks once again:

“David is a good friend of mine, and he has asked me to play for his [Miami] team,” Ibrahimovic said. “For now, I want to achieve big things with Manchester United, but I have a lot of respect for the MLS, and anything is possible. I am not ruling out the MLS. Once I had decided to leave PSG there were many offers, but with Zlatan that is normal.

“I know that teams from the MLS were interested, but the opportunity to play for Manchester United, and of course to work with my good friend Jose Mourinho again, was impossible to turn down. I would never rule out the MLS in the future. I have a contract with Manchester United, but I feel in great shape. I feel as though I could play until I am 40. It is impossible to predict the future.”

So, there you go. The enigmatic Swedish striker is certainly keen on a move to MLS and who wouldn’t be if this Miami franchise ever gets off the ground?

[ MORE: EFL Trophy includes 10 PL teams

Although a stadium site is almost sorted in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood, Beckham and his ownership group still have plenty of hurdles to overcome to make his team a reality.

It would certainly help if Zlatan was around though — both on and off the pitch — and the towering striker has only signed a one-year deal with Manchester United so unless he rips it up in the Premier League this season, expect the Zlatan-to-MLS talk to fire up around January 2017.

Chelsea’s Antonio Conte questions sustainability of big spending

VELDEN, AUSTRIA - JULY 20:  Head coach Antonio Conte of Chelsea looks on prior the friendly match between WAC RZ Pellets and Chelsea F.C. at Worthersee Stadion on July 20, 2016 in Velden, Austria. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)
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Chelsea boss Antonio Conte is amazed by the “crazy” transfers occurring this summer.

The new Chelsea manager has spent over $85 million himself on just two players — Michy Batshuayi and N'Golo Kante — but he believes the huge transfer fees being seen across European soccer cannot continue.

[ MORE: Guardiola bans pizza

Speaking in the U.S. ahead of Chelsea’s opening 2016 International Champions Cup game against Liverpool at the Pasadena Rose Bowl on Wednesday, Conte laughed as he tried to get his head around fees such as Paul Pogba set to leave Juventus for over $130 million and Gonzalo Higuain joining Juve for $98.7 million.

“We are seeing a crazy market, no? It is incredible. When you want a player it is very difficult because you must pay a lot of money. A lot of money,” Conte said. “I don’t know if this situation can continue. We are starting to speak about 100 million, 120 million or 95 million, these prices are incredible, no? They are incredible.

“We must keep and maintain the patience for this sport. I think this is the most important thing. The money is important but not all. It is important for the club to reach the right target and not only to spend because we want to spend money. No. It is not right for me. It is right to take the player and adapt in our idea of football.”

Conte’s belief is admirable but how realistic is it?

With Chelsea the fourth-highest spenders in European soccer this summer — only Juventus, Barcelona and Liverpool has spent more — he can’t exactly say his club isn’t part of the big money transfers he seemingly isn’t a fan of.

[ MORE: Real Madrid in for Pogba?

The Blues may need at least one or two new players before the season begins and if things aren’t going well for Conte then in January you’d expect him to be given even more cash from Roman Abramovich.

What the former Italian national team manager is trying to say is that he aims to mold the players into his style rather than making wholesale changes. Chelsea has plenty of quality for Conte to work with in their squad but can the Blues really afford to get left behind in the great arms race for star players currently happening?

FA Cup to trial using a fourth substitute this season

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 21:  Manchester United players celebrate victory with the trophy after The Emirates FA Cup Final match between Manchester United and Crystal Palace at Wembley Stadium on May 21, 2016 in London, England. Man Utd won 2-1 after extra time.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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A fourth substitute will be made available for FA Cup games which go into extra time in the quarterfinals, semifinals or final during the 2016-17 season.

The English FA announced the change on Wednesday with the new method used for the first time to try and see if it helps teams combat fatigue during extra time periods.

[ MORE: Guardiola bans pizza

Another change to the 2016-17 FA Cup is that there will be no replays in the quarterfinal stage, meaning the games will finish on the day with extra time and penalties to take place if required.

In a statement on the FA’s website the governing body of English soccer revealed the proposal is subject to IFAB approval but will be used to test the effectiveness of one extra sub.

[ MORE: EFL Trophy includes 10 PL teams ]

The format was used in the Copa America Centenario this summer and FA chief executive Martin Glenn is intrigued to see how it works.

“With The Cup now adopting a straight knockout format from the quarter finals onwards, the introduction of a fourth substitute in extra time will bring extra intrigue and interest. Also, from a technical point of view, it will be interesting to see how managers use the chance to make an additional substitution in such high-profile games and the impact it has on the final result.

“Player welfare and being mindful of the number of games people play at the elite level has also been a consideration.”

This may spice plenty of extra time periods which usually peter out and become a warm of attrition with both teams unwilling to take risks and clinging on for penalty kicks.

Having an extra sub may help spark added energy to proceedings but with both teams having a sub, they may just cancel each other out.

Anyways, kudos to the FA for trying something new.