United States face desperate Jamaica in tonight’s huge World Cup qualifier

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The friendlies are over, the time to talk has gone and now the US national team returns to World Cup qualifying.

Tonight in Kingston, Jamaica, the USMNT face the Reggae Boyz (9:30pm ET, beIN Sport) in a crucial clash that could have huge implications for the USA’s chances of qualifying for the World Cup in Brazil next summer.

Jurgen Klinsmann’s side will be full of confidence, following their massive 4-3 friendly win over powerhouse Germany at RFK Stadium last Sunday. But they will want to exorcise some ghosts from Kingston, after losing 2-1 in the previous stage of qualifying back in September 2012.

That defeat showed what Jamaica are capable of, but the Caribbean outfit are without several starters and will be much changed since they defeated the US last year.

Rumors today from Jamaica have the pacy duo of Ryan Johnson and Darren Mattocks (both playing in Major League Soccer, with the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps respectively) starting up top, after Johnson cut a forlorn figure during Jamaica’s crushing 1-0 loss at home to Mexico in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday night.

(MORE: Three things to watch for US national team vs. Jamaica)

Klinsmann’s US side must be on their guard, as the Reggae Boyz know that anything less than a win tonight at the National Stadium, could spell the end for their World Cup hopes.

After the USA’s impressive display against Germany last weekend, Klinsmann is set to remain with the same starting lineup for one of the only times during his tenure with the US national team.

(MORE: U.S. news and notes as team arrives in Jamaica)

Brad Evans is set to remain at right back, with Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley the lynchpins in midfield.

Getting service to the red-hot Jozy Altidore will be key, as the 23-year-old forward is coming off a record goalscoring season in Holland with AZ Alkmaar (31 goals) and teamed up superbly with captain Clint Dempsey during the offensive masterclass against Germany last Sunday in the nations capital.

(MORE: Mexico tops Jamaica – and what it means for the United States)

The US are 11-1-8 all-time against Jamaica. But when the two nations have met in World Cup qualifying, results tend to be pretty even as the US has yet to win on Jamaican soil, with one loss and four draws.

After accumulating four points from their first three games in the Hexagonal tournament so far — a 2-1 loss to Honduras, a 1-0 win over Costa Rica and a 0-0 tie with Mexico — the US national team know a win tonight is crucial if they’re going to make the World Cup in Brazil in 2014.

What they’re saying

Theodore “Tappa” Whitmore, Jamaica’s head coach: “All is not lost, all is not lost. We did it already, and I’m sure we can do it again. We are on a positive vibe, because the last two training sessions have been good. We are confident because we know what we have to do, and that is to get three points … that is very important for us, and so we are looking forward to a good game.”

Donovan Ricketts, Jamaican captain: “Right now everyone is in a desperate position because we are all scrambling for points. But we are at home and you definitely need home games. Hopefully we can come out and play good football. We haven’t won since the [Hex] stage’s start, so hopefully we can get that right.”

Clint Dempsey, US captain : “Things can change quickly. And if you make a mistake you can find yourself on a bad run of form. So we can’t let that happen. We have to hit the ground running.”

Jurgen Klinsmann, US head coach : “We learned back in February that when you only come in two days before to a place where it is 90 degrees and really high humidity, it is simply not possible to adjust. So we will get in a few training sessions and experience what the field will be like, and we will be well prepared for Friday.”

Probable lineups

Jamaica (4-1-3-2): Ricketts; Powell, Mariappa, Woodbine, Gordon; Austin; Hue, McCleary, Watson; Johnson, Mattocks

USA (4-2-3-1): Howard; Evans, Gonzalez, Besler, Beasley; Bradley, Jones; Zusi, Dempsey, F. Johnson; Altidore.

Timbers sign Peruvian winger Andy Polo from Liga MX’s Morelia

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Portland Timbers have acquired winger Andy Polo on loan from Liga MX club Monarcas Morelia for the upcoming season.

The 23-year-old native of Peru played in 25 matches last year for Morelia and made six starts with two goals.

He’s also World Cup-bound, having appeared in Peru’s two-legged playoff against New Zealand in November. Peru won 2-0 on aggregate. Overall, he’s appeared with the Peruvian national team 15 times since his senior debut in 2016.

“Andy is a versatile, young player who will add another element to our attack, and we believe that he has further upside to his development,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said in a statement.

The Timbers used targeted allocation money and have a purchase option. Polo’s arrival is pending a physical and receipt of a visa.

He will occupy an international roster spot.

Can Man United still sign Sanchez without Mkhitaryan swap?

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The answer to the (first) titled question is, undoubtedly, yes.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

The latter question — the “will they?” — remains a relative unknown at this point, but if reports out of the UK are to be believed, Manchester United are just as likely to send $40 million (or so) Arsenal’s way in exchange for Alexis Sanchez, should Henrikh Mkhitaryan refuse the move by declining any contract offers from the Gunners.

[ MORE: Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies ]

The thinking, at least for the last few days since Man United somewhat unexpectedly entered the Sanchez sweepstakes, was that swapping the Armenian for the Chilean was the obvious — and, perhaps only — way forward. Call it special circumstances or an obvious audible, but that’s not necessarily the case — from the Guardian:

“It is understood that if Mkhitaryan does not leave Mourinho believes that, given the club’s robust finances, [Man United executive vice-chairman] Ed Woodward could still sanction a move for a player who would potentially vastly improve United.”

By the time Sanchez is signed, sealed and delivered, United will have also paid Sanchez and his agent, Fernando Felicevich, massive signing-on fees that could total another $30 million. No matter the order in which the Sanchez-Mkhitaryan saga plays out, United will come out ahead with a superior player at a massively discounted price — should Sanchez ultimately move to Old Trafford, of course.

Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies

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If the FA, English football’s governing body, is insistent upon testing video-assistant refereeing (VAR) as they have done in recent FA Cup and League Cup fixtures, Antonio Conte believes they should darn well use it.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Following his Chelsea side’s penalty-shootout victory over Norwich City in an FA Cup third-round replay on Wednesday, Conte was equal parts frustrated and confused by the fact that video-referee Mike Jones failed to prompt referee Graham Scott to consult the on-trial system on multiple occasions.

Most notably, Chelsea’s 92nd-minute (extra-time) penalty shout following Timm Klose‘s tackle on Willian. Scott, instead, booked the Brazilian for diving — one of three cards, all shown to Chelsea players, for simulation on the night — and that was that.

“If you watch the replay you see very clearly it is a penalty,” said Conte after the game — quotes from the BBC:

“I think that there was a penalty but not on [Alvaro] Morata — on Willian.

“With Willian, the referee heard what the other referee watched and decided to continue to play. If we want to try to use this new system, it is important for the referee to wait, especially in this incident that is not so clear.

“And then when the referee that is watching had a doubt, he has to call the referee to watch and he can make a decision. The referee on the pitch has to make the decision, not one off the pitch.

“We can improve it for sure but we need to try to take the best solution. The final decision is for the ref on the pitch. Otherwise, why is there this ref?

“The mistake wasn’t of the ref on the pitch but the person watching. When you see this, you have to call the referee.”

VAR was used in another third-round replay, on Tuesday, and helped to correctly rule Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho as being in an onside position when he scored his side’s second goal. While offside/onside calls are much clearer, cut-and-dry decisions to make — and with the aid of a natural stoppage in play — clearly much work lies ahead with regard to the process of determining whether the referee has made a “clear and obvious error,” which remains the threshold for using VAR, in instances of fouls/diving.

Copa QF: Messi misses PK, Barca’s 29-game unbeaten run ends

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MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi missed a penalty and Barcelona conceded late as its 29-match unbeaten streak ended in a 1-0 loss to city rival Espanyol in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal on Wednesday.

Messi failed from the spot in the 62nd minute, his shot brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Diego Lopez.

Youngster Oscar Melendo netted the winner for the hosts in the 88th with his first goal as a professional.

“I have no words, I was looking forward to this first goal,” said the 20-year-old Melendo, who had come on as a substitute in the second half.

It was Espanyol’s first win against Barcelona at its RCDE Stadium.

The second leg of the Catalan derby is next week at Camp Nou.

Barcelona hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat by Real Madrid in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Aug. 16. It had won 23 of its last 29 matches in all competitions.

“We knew we would lose one day,” Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said. “The positive thing is that in a week we have a chance to rebound and advance.”

Messi had his chance from the spot after Sergi Roberto was fouled by Esteban Granero, but his low shot into the right corner was stopped as Diego Lopez dived to his left to tip the ball away.

It was a rare miss for Messi, who is having a stellar season and is the Spanish league’s top scorer with 17 goals.

“The penalty save gave us the boost that we needed,” Melendo said. “We were playing too defensively.”

Melendo netted the winner with a low shot from the middle of the area after a well-timed pass by Marc Navarro.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde did not use all of the team’s regular starters, leaving players such as Luis Suarez on the bench.

The match was interrupted for a few minutes in the 76th after Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was hit by an object thrown by fans behind his goal.

Barcelona midfielder Paulinho was replaced in the second half because of a foot injury.