United States national team depth chart: wide, wide open along the left

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Five U.S. matches over the last month has generated significant movement on the U.S. depth chart – perhaps more shuffling than in any month-long stretch in Jurgen Klinsmann’s time in charge, which is now approaching two years.

Over A few days we’ll continue to examine the U.S. depth chart, making our best educated guesses at how things stack up on Jurgen Klinsmann’s big board inside the manager’s Southern California offices.

Next up: LEFT-SIDED ATTACKER

While Graham Zusi has that MMA-level choke hold on the right, the U.S. left side has a much more wide-open feel to it.

Really, its “Kansas corn field” wide open.

Fabian Johnson can clearly handle the job – unless U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann wants him to attack from the back. Based on last week’s big stack of attack from the left back spot, Johnson remaining in defense seems quite possible. (Which is why Johnson appears at the top of the left back depth chart list, too. Kind of unstable, eh?)

In that case … the advanced position on that side is wide open as a Spaniard beating a ridiculously misplaced Nigerian offside trap. (That’s massively wide open, if you didn’t see Spain’s third goal the other day.)

DaMarcus Beasley (pictured) has re-inserted himself into U.S. depth pool conversations a full 11 years after Bruce Arena walked up to him on the bus in South Korea and told him “You are starting against Portugal.” (Still one of my favorite stories about Beasley, which he recently confirmed to me personally, that his response to Arena that day was an utterly nonchalant, “Cool.”)

If Brek Shea could get himself pointed in the right direction (seriously, dude … just play and knock it off already with the social media hijinks) he could print himself a bunch of money with a couple of big performances in Brazil. He still has the physical tools but needs to get into Stoke City’s lineup. That is the starting point for getting back into Jurgen Klinsmann’s good graces, because it sounds for all the world like the U.S. manager isn’t too happy with some of young Shea’s important career choices lately.

Tick-tock, young Brek. Don’t let this thing pass you by!

Eddie Johnson or Herculez Gomez could fill the role, at least situationally. Clearly, it’s not Johnson’s best position, but he’s certainly not displacing Jozy Altidore anytime soon. Nor will Gomez, so picking up work along the left may be their best chance of a starting assignment (so long as Altidore remains healthy, obviously).

Even Jose Torres could get back into the picture if the basic U.S. shape were to evolve and some of the creating needed doing in areas left-ish on the field.

And, of course, we simply cannot talk about any of these attacking positions without mention of Landon Donovan and Stuart Holden. Who they are, who they have been and their lingering potential to become critical elements in the bigger Brazilian picture, whether as starters or off the bench, means they must be part of the conversation.

I’ve got them both listed lower for the moment; both have the potential to leapfrog their way quickly up the order.

U.S. LEFT-SIDED ATTACKER ordering

  • 1. Fabian Johnson
  • 2. DaMarcus Beasley
  • 3. Herculez Gomez
  • 4. Eddie Johnson
  • 5. Brek Shea
  • 6. Landon Donovan
  • 7. Stuart Holden
  • 8. Sacha Kljestan
  • 9. Brad Davis
  • 10. Jose Torres

In review:

U.S. goalkeepers

U.S. right backs

U.S. left backs

U.S. center backs

U.S. holding midfielders

U.S. linking midfielders

U.S. right-sided attackers

Coming up tomorrow: Attacking midfielders and strikers

 

Manchester derby “the game of the season”

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Whatever way you slice it up, Thursday’s Manchester derby is huge.

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Manchester City host Manchester United (Watch, 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) at the Etihad Stadium with Pep Guardiola‘s side just one point ahead of United in the Premier League table.

City currently occupy fourth spot and the final UEFA Champions League qualification berth but are coming off the back of a damaging FA Cup semifinal defeat to Arsenal after extra time.

United and Jose Mourinho haven’t lost in 23 Premier League games, the longest current unbeaten streak across Europe’s top five leagues, and are in the UEFA Europa League semifinals as their banged up squad have stood tall in the final months of the campaign.

Speaking ahead of the derby, one of United’s stars this season believes everything comes down to this one game.

“It is going to be the game of the season,” Ander Herrera said. “We are one point behind them. If we win we have the chance to finish in the top four, if they win it is going to be very difficult. It is the game of the season.

“Make or break? Probably. Both teams are in a good moment so if one of us wins the game we are not going to lose a lot of games, or make mistakes after that. Us or them. It is going to be key. I don’t know the ‘winner takes all’ expression but it is going to be a massive game. We are in a very good moment, a very good run and we respect them but we are doing a lot of good things and we have to show it on Thursday.”

Herrera’s comments say it all.

It is fair to say that both Manchester clubs have flattered to deceive for much of this season with Guardiola’s tactics yet to flourish in England and Mourinho’s rebuild hampered by injuries and a lack of goals at crucial moments.

On Thursday there will be a raucous atmosphere at the Etihad as both teams are aware of what is at stake.

More of the pressure may well be on City who now have just a place in the top four to focus on and with many previously giving United no chance of finishing in the top four, a win at City would take them above their “noisy neighbors” and into the UCL spots.

Former Czech Republic defender Rajtoral kills himself

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PRAGUE (AP) Former Czech Republic defender Frantisek Rajtoral, who won the domestic league title four times before joining Turkish club Gaziantepspor, died on Sunday. He was 31.

[ MORE: Bayern scouted Kyle Walker, Alex Sanchez this weekend ]

The Czech football federation said in a statement that Rajtoral had “committed suicide in Turkey.”

His agent Pavel Zika confirmed the player’s death, describing it as a “huge tragedy.”

Gaziantepspor announced Rajtoral’s death in a brief statement on its website.

Rajtoral played 14 international matches for the Czech Republic.

In the top Czech league, he won four titles with Viktoria Plzen and played in the group stage of the Champions League twice for the club. He moved to Hannover in the Bundesliga in 2014 for half of the season, on loan.

He left Viktoria Plzen last year to move to Turkey.

Bellerin wants to represent Spain U21s despite Wenger’s wishes

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Arsene Wenger has made it clear about Hector Bellerin representing Spain this summer but the Arsenal defender is prepared to go against his manager’s wishes if he is selected.

[ MORE: Bayern scouted Kyle Walker, Alexis Sanchez over the weekend ]

The 22-year-old has said he hopes to play for Spain’s Under-21 side this summer during the 2017 European U-21 Championship but Wenger has been weary of Bellerin’s injury status and wants his fullback to maintain a clean bill of health throughout the offseason.

“I really want to play,” Bellerin told IBTimes. “Representing Spain is very important. If [Albert] Celades gives me the chance I’ll be there.

“Those are opinions of the managers. I have to keep working. The truth is that I had a difficult injury but I think that I am at 100% now and I’ll try to prove it when I get the chance.”

Bellerin signed a six-and-a-half year deal with the Gunners in November, where he has resided since coming up in the club’s academy. He has made 102 appearances for Wenger’s team in that span over all competitions.

Roma boosts bid for 2nd in Serie A by beating Pescara 4-1

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PESCARA, Italy (AP) Roma boosted its bid for second place in Serie A and automatic entry into the Champions League with a 4-1 win at Pescara, which was mathematically relegated on Monday.

[ MORE: Newcastle joins Brighton in promotion to Premier League ]

Roma moved four points clear of third-placed Napoli, which drew against Sassuolo 2-2 on Sunday. Third place in Serie A receives a Champions League playoff.

Pescara remained 15 points behind Empoli. There are only five matches left and Empoli has the better head-to-head record, which is the deciding factor if two teams finish level on points.

There were 48 goals in total in the 33rd round, matching the record set in October 1992.

Roma took control shortly before halftime, with Kevin Strootman breaking the deadlock after Stephan El Shaarawy unselfishly rolled the ball across the area.

Radja Nainggolan, who earlier hit the bar, doubled Roma’s lead two minutes later.

Mohamed Salah extended Roma’s advantage three minutes after the break and the winger doubled his tally on the hour following a swift counterattack.

Ahmad Benali got a consolation for Pescara and a Cristiano Biraghi free kick also hit the post for the home side.