Jurgen Klinsmann gets his lineup selection spot on again

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As the United States completed the 1-0 win over Honduras to pick up the full 9 points out of 9 possible in this round of World Cup qualifying matches, one thing became clear: not only has Jurgen Klinsmann found continuity in the U.S. lineup sheet, but also has fully capable backups in positions where needed.

In Salt Lake City, Klinsmann’s selections saw a slow yet methodical work rate on the pitch, plugging away at the Honduras defense until it cracked, with the opposition offering a few shots in return yet ultimately little danger.

Los Catrachos attempted to play for the 0-0 draw, funneling the U.S. into the middle where it remained considerably less dangerous than out wide.  It was a clear tactical maneuver, and worked for the entirety of the first half and into the second half.

Klinsmann’s lineup selection, however, continued to pick away until the dam gave way, and Jozy Altidore poked home from close range for the goal and three points.

Let’s look at the main talking points about the lineup Tuesday night:

– Klinsmann reinserted Jermaine Jones into the starting eleven, replacing Geoff Cameron who sparkled against Panama.  This was the easy route, as it would have taken serious guts to bench a healthy Jones, stick with Cameron and hope for more than just a one-hit wonder.  The main benefit of Cameron in the middle was allowing Michael Bradley leeway to venture forward into the attack.  With Jones back, Bradley disappeared again, but Jones was instrumental in the middle.  He fed the ball out wide, something which Honduras specifically attempted to prevent.

As the match went on, Jones pushed harder and harder to get the ball to Graham Zusi and Eddie Johnson on the wings.  The boss made the right move here.  It’s wonderful to know that Geoff Cameron is there when we need him, and he’s probably got a better long ball than Jermaine. But Jones is the guy and his point guard play in the beginning of buildups made the difference.  Jones had a few wonderful runs on the ball as well that pressed deep into the Honduras territory.

– Graham Zusi returned, replacing Fabian Johnson on the wing, and allowed Johnson to move back into left back.  It’s not exactly tactical brilliance considering this was the first choice setup before Zusi missed out against Panama for yellow card accumulation, but the two paired wonderfully yet again and it proved a number of things.

First, Fabian Johnson has established himself as the clear first choice left back.  DaMarcus Beasley has had an up and down (but mostly up) last year with the USMNT, but Johnson’s ability to cover the back and contribute out wide up front makes him an invaluable asset in the starting lineup.  It’s why I named him Man of the Match against Honduras.

Second, Zusi again provided both during open play on the wings and on set pieces.  The U.S. has proved its most dangerous when the ball is either out wide and crossed in, or on set plays.  Ever since Landon Donovan took his sabbatical, Zusi has been at the forefront of both those situations, and his accuracy has not only given the U.S. a venomous attack, but it’s also contributed to revitalizing Jozy Altidore’s international career.

– It must be pointed out that now eight members of Tuesday night’s starting lineup are sitting on a yellow card, and thanks to this idiotic rule, a number of them will most likely end up with another in the next few matches and be forced to sit out one in the near future. Those eight are: Jozy Altidore, Matt Besler, Michael Bradley, Brad Evans, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Fabian Johnson, and newly Jermaine Jones.  In addition, Geoff Cameron has himself a yellow as well.

Just by the nature of their positions, Besler, Evans, and Jones are probably the most likely to end up with a second.  Clint also early last night looked like he was on a mission to get his second, but settled down when he realized the referee wasn’t having it.

Thanks to relatively clean play, the U.S. has a full squad for Costa Rica on September 6, but Klinsmann will no doubt have to shuffle a few things going forward.  Mexico follows that on September 10, but the U.S. can theoretically clinch a World Cup berth with a win in Costa Rica and some help, so it remains to be seen how important the matches down the stretch are.

Barkley ineligible to make Chelsea debut in FA Cup replay

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Ross Barkley was expected — and himself expected — to make his Chelsea debut on Wednesday, when the Blues host Championship side Norwich City in a third-round FA Cup replay at Stamford Bridge.

Alas, the 24-year-old English midfielder has been ruled ineligible due to a lesser-known and -applied rules surrounding transfers and player registration.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup | Wednesday preview ]

Barkley completed his move from Everton to Chelsea, for $20 million, on Jan. 5, the day before Chelsea and Norwich drew 0-0 at Carrow Road. In order to be eligible for Wednesday’s replay, Barkley is required to have completed his transfer prior to the noon cut-off the day prior to the original tie. While the time of official approval is unknown, Barkley’s move wasn’t announced by the club until after 5 p.m. in the UK.

As such, Chelsea will attempt to set up a behind-closed-doors friendly this week, in order to provide Barkley a bit of game action as he builds fitness and sharpness ahead of a potential debut against Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com). Barkley hasn’t seen a single minute of first-team action this season after suffering a serious hamstring injury in the summer.

FA Cup preview: Three more PL sides face 3rd-round replays

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Three more Premier League sides, including a top-four fighter, attempt to join a dozen of their top-flight contemporaries in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Wednesday…

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup ]

Chelsea and Swansea City host Championship opposition in the form of Norwich City and Wolverhampton Wanderers, respectively, while Bournemouth will make the 500-mile roundtrip to take on League One side Wigan Athletic.

The Blues, who now sit fourth in the PL after their disappointing 0-0 draw with Leicester City, could manage only a scoreless draw with the Canaries at Carrow Road earlier this month. They are winless in their last four games across all competitions — all draws — including their League Cup semifinal first-leg draw with Arsenal last week; the last three of those all finished without a single goal scored. Chelsea, who are tied with Liverpool with the fourth-most FA Cups in their history (7), lost out to Arsenal in last season’s final at Wembley Stadium.

Swansea are undoubtedly the side on highest Cupset alert, as Wolves are the runaway leaders and champions-elect in the Championship (10 points clear after 27 of 46 rounds played), thus able to devote more attention to the FA Cup than the typical second-division side. With the two sides separated by just a single place in the English footballing pyramid (Swansea, 20th in the PL; Wolves, 1st in the Championship), they appear destined to swap places by the end of May.

Meanwhile, Bournemouth’s punishment for conceding a pair of early goals to a side currently 32 places below them in the pyramid, is the long, midweek trip from the south coast to the DW Stadium in the northwest of England. It was the Premier Leaguers who needed a two second-half goals, including Steve Cook‘s 90th-minute equalizer, to draw level at home in the first meeting.

Tuesday’s FA Cup replay actionFULL ROUNDUP

Leicester City 2-0 Fleetwood Town
West Ham United 1-0 (AET) Shrewsbury Town
Mansfield Town 1-4 Cardiff City
Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 Carlisle United
Reading 3-0 Stevenage

Agent: 37-year-old Ronaldinho has retired

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SAO PAULO (AP) The brother and agent of 2005 Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldinho announced Tuesday that the former Brazil and Barcelona playmaker has retired from football.

Roberto Assis made the announcement to Brazilian media on behalf of the 37-year-old midfielder, who played his last professional match in 2015 for Brazil’s Fluminense.

“Ronnie’s professional career is over. He wants to be a football ambassador, do charity, and work with his friends in music from now on,” Assis told The Associated Press.

Assis hopes to schedule some farewell matches for Ronaldinho after the World Cup in Russia, which ends July 15. The initial plan is to play games in Brazil, Europe and Asia and to also get Brazil’s national team involved, Assis said.

Last July, Ronaldinho said on the sidelines of a friendly in Chechnya that was he was “too old” to return to action.

The Brazilian’s decorated career also includes one World Cup title (2002), one Champions League victory (2006) and two Spanish league titles with Barcelona, and two FIFA world player of the year awards (2004 and 2005).

Ronaldinho started his professional career at Gremio in southern Brazil in 1998. He left for Paris Saint-Germain in 2001 and was signed by Barcelona two seasons later.

At the Camp Nou, he was the engine of a team that took Barca back to the limelight. However, after a series of club trophies, Ronaldinho’s career took a downturn. He was often accused by Brazilian and Spanish media of lacking professionalism, despite his mentoring of a then youthful Lionel Messi.

In 2008, with Messi then leading Barcelona, Ronaldinho left for AC Milan. Despite being part of a team that won Serie A in 2011, he failed to reach his previous heights as a player.

When returning home became a real option, Ronaldinho frustrated Gremio’s efforts to re-sign him and joined Flamengo instead.

Disappointing performances in Rio de Janeiro took him to Atletico Mineiro, a club that then was more often fighting against relegation than for titles.

Yet a more mature Ronaldinho took Atletico to a different level.

In his last great run, Ronaldinho carried Atletico with his superb passes and dazzling dribbles to second place in the 2012 Brazilian Championship.

A year later, he was the key to his club lifting its first Copa Libertadores, South America’s most prestigious club trophy, but his hopes of playing at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil were dashed.

Ronaldinho left to play for Mexico’s Queretaro in 2014-15, but was mostly on the bench.

He played his last seven matches as a professional for Fluminense, though his performances were a far cry from his best days in Spain.

Now living in Rio, he has appeared in advertisements all over the world since leaving Fluminense.

USL granted 2018 2nd-division sanctioning by U.S. Soccer

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U.S. Soccer has officially granted the United Soccer League second-division sanctioning, behind first-division Major League Soccer, for the upcoming 2018 season, as well as first-division status for the National Women’s Soccer League.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan unveiled by Liga MX side Club Leon ]

USL, which will feature 33 teams in 2018, had been granted temporary second-division sanctioning, alongside the North American Soccer League, in 2017. As NASL’s demise continued and accelerated — the league will not begin play this spring, opting instead for a late-summer kickoff, after a number of its teams either folded or jumped ship to USL — USL, with the help of MLS, quickly pounced to capitalize — from U.S. Soccer’s statement:

Sanctioning allows NWSL and USL to operate a Division I and II league, respectively, during the 2018 season and includes a two-year pathway to full compliance with the Professional League Standards. USL has demonstrated substantial progress toward reaching full compliance since being granted provisional Division II sanctioning in 2017.

Conspiracy theorist’s take: USL supplanted NASL as the U.S.’s second-most viable professional men’s league — and more importantly, being granted official second-division status — paves the way for MLS to, at some point well down the line — say, 2030 or so — implement its own multi-tiered system of promotion and relegation, featuring anywhere between 60 and 80 teams, while still remaining a single-entity structure closed to the lower reaches of the sport in America, as the lines separating MLS and USL have only become more and more blurred in recent years.

[ MORE: Donovan ready to “win championships” after ending retirement ]

MLS realizes that public demand for promotion and relegation in the U.S. has grown significantly louder in recent years — particularly given the climate of the sport after the men’s national team failed to qualify for the World Cup, and subsequent ongoing presidential-election campaign — thus an open-but-not-really-open system which satisfies neither side will eventually be the end result.