Chepo’s still a cloudy picture as Mexico returns from Brazil

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Broadly, your choice to replace a coach falls into one of two categories:

1.) You can get somebody better. Be it for soccer reasons, their personality, or some other compromising circumstance, you decide the person you have isn’t as good as the person you could get. Despite strong results, this is ultimately what U.S. Soccer chose to do with Bob Bradley.

2.) Yes, in another situation, your replacement might be a worse option, but something about the way your current guy fits with the squad means its time for a change. See San Jose’s recent divorce from Frank Yallop.

The first category’s the easy one. You know something is lacking, you’re confident the coach is part of the problem, and with another man in mind, you make the call. Even if it doesn’t work out, you can move forward in the knowledge you’re making a proactive, confident choice.

After their team’s performance at the Confederations Cup, Mexico still find themselves closer to situation number two, unsure whether they’ve reached a point where change for change’s sake is worth it. In Brazil, the team showed some improvement over their World Cup qualifying form, but the squad is still underperforming. Whereas a clicking Mexico would have competed with Italy for second in their group, the team ended the tournament fighting for third against Japan.

That high standard — expected to be notable better than a strong Asian champion — defines the perceived limbo of Chepo de la Torre, a man whose abilities have been proven at both club and international level. When Javier Aguirre left the team after the last World Cup, de la Torre’s record in Mexico made him a clear frontrunner for the job. That status was validated a year later when El Tri showed unprecedented dominance in winning the 2011 Gold Cup. The man can clearly not only coach, he can coach this team.

That’s what makes the FMF’s evaluation so difficult. As de la Torre said in Brazil, it doesn’t matter if you finish first, second, or third in in qualifying. Everybody makes it to the World Cup on even footing, yet results are the only way to judge how a team is evolving ahead of that goal. And if Mexico’s evolution is judged by their one win in six CONCACAF qualifiers or their step back from their Gold Cup form, they’re evolving the wrong way.

Is Chepo doing anything wrong? Perhaps. He seems out of ideas, and the changes he’s making to the team seem more like grasping at straws than a reflection of coherent plan. He’s reluctant to move away from playing Javier Hernández as part of a tandem, has been unable to get Gio dos Santos back to his Gold Cup effectiveness, and doesn’t have a solution for teams sitting back and waiting to hit them on the counter. The end result is a lack of goals, a series of draws, and doubts about Mexico’s direction.

If those doubts go away with a new coach, whether you think he’s better than de la Torre or not, you make the move. And maybe, after three years on the job, de la Torre’s no longer able to motivate his players and needs to move on. Maybe Mexico needs a man who will finally bring back Carlos Vela? Or maybe, with these particularly players, Chepo really is out of ideas.

But if you’re really switching coach just to shake things up, you have to be very, very careful. Because  with Chepo, if it doesn’t work, you may have just let the best man for the job walk out the door.

Albanian federation denounces “extremist acts” of their fans in Italy

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s soccer federation has strongly denounced the incident that halted the World Cup Group G qualifier with Italy for nearly nine minutes on Friday.

During the match, which was won by Italy, 2-0, a group calling itself Illyrian Elite threw flares onto the pitch.

“Such totally extremist actions from the grouping Illyrian Elite have nothing to do with the excellent Albanian fans” who were distinguished in the EURO 2016 finals in France for their friendship and camaraderie in their festivities, the statement added.

The federation said an coach Gianni De Biasi also was “upset by the flares,” adding that during five years he has been in charge “I’ve seen something that’s never happened before.”

USMNT: 4 players, including Brooks, Lletget, released; Arriola added

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Hours after his side’s 6-0 thrashing of Honduras to resuscitate dreams of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, Bruce Arena announced on Saturday five changes to the U.S. national team roster ahead of Tuesday’s qualifier against Panama.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

John Brooks (sinus infection), Sebastian Lletget (foot), Jordan Morris (knee) and Michael Orozco (knee) were all released back to their club teams, while Club Tijuana midfielder Paul Arriola was added to the squad.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Brooks dealt with the sinus infection throughout USMNT camp this past week, as Morris did his knee injury which he picked up last weekend. Lletget left Friday’s win over Honduras in the 18th minute and will undergo further tests to determine the severity of his injury; he was seen leaving the stadium on crutches and wearing a walking boot.

The USMNT’s roster for Tuesday’s qualifier in Panama City, Panama, now stands at 23 players, and reads as follows:

Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Rapinoe won’t back down on social issues despite U.S. Soccer policy

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Megan Rapinoe recently earned her spot back in the U.S. Women’s National Team squad ahead of next month’s friendlies against Russia, but the veteran won’t remain silent when it comes to her stance on the social climate of America.

[ MORE: Looking back on USMNT’s big win over Honduras ]

The 31-year-old was scrutinized for joining NFL player Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when they knelt during their respective sporting events, along with dozens of other athletes across the United States.

While Rapinoe admits that the form of protest is up for discussion, she also states that social inequality issues in the U.S. go far beyond that.

“What has surprised me the most, especially post-election, is that people are still sort of arguing against it. It’s really obvious that we have very serious inequality in this country across many different spectrums,” Rapinoe told the Guardian. “Yes, we can talk about the form of protest, or the way it’s done, or this or that. But it’s still not really the conversation that I think we desperately need to have more of in this country.”

A few weeks back, U.S. Soccer announced that it now requires all players that represent the Stars and Stripes to stand when the national anthem is played, and Rapinoe has agreed to do such.

While her days of kneeling on the pitch are in the past, Rapinoe believes she wouldn’t do anything different because she was simply trying to spark discussion amongst the American people.

“I don’t think there’s any perfect way to protest. I think if there was something else being done, something else would have been said about it. I can’t look back and say that I would have done this different, this different or this different.

“I can sleep at night knowing that I genuinely tried to have a really important conversation, or at least tried to open it up. I think I came to it with an open mind, an open heart and tried to get as many people to talk about it as I could.”

Report: Chelsea planning Hazard, Courtois pay raises

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Eden Hazard has returned to his old self under Antonio Conte this season, and now Chelsea is hoping to lock down their star attacker.

[ MORE: Lukaku says decision has been made on Everton future ]

According to the Mirror, the Premier League leaders are planning on offering up a pay raise to Hazard, who has 11 league goals this season for the Blues.

Hazard signed a nearly $250,000 per week deal two seasons ago, but the Belgium international will likely rake in significantly more under the reported deal as Chelsea hopes to keep the 26-year-old away from Spanish giants Real Madrid and others.

The Mirror is also reporting that goalkeeper and Hazard’s Belgian teammate Thibaut Courtois is likely to be handed a raise is salary as well.

The shot-stopper is set be handed a deal roughly in the range of what Hazard is currently making after allowing just 21 goals in 28 PL matches this season.