Which EPL managers are under pressure already?

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The beach towels are packed away, the running shoes have somehow found their way out of the closet and the brand new stopwatches are ready to roll.

Preseason is here. Welcome to a soccer players nightmare.

Most English Premier League sides returned to training this week as managers, players and the coaching staff are preparing themselves for the long, hard slog between now and the end of the season in May 2014.

But it is perhaps, surprisingly, some of the managers who are already beginning to feel the strain of life in England’s top flight.

This may be crazy to talk about six weeks before the season even begins, but the odds are already out on which managers will be fired first in the EPL.

Preseason has just begun. But so has the dreaded sack race.

With the new bumper TV deal landing EPL clubs a cash windfall, last season saw intense pressure heaped upon the shoulders of managers. Some chairman actually resisted the urge to fire managers as they didn’t want too much upheaval leading to relegation.

But the upheaval has been immense since the last ball of the 2012-13 season was kicked on May 19, 2013. Of the current 20 EPL managers, 10 weren’t in charge of their current sides for the start of the 2012-13 EPL campaign.

So they’ve had their settling in period or summer of bedding in. The honeymoon is over and plenty of head coaches will be sweating in the English sun when August 17 arrives.

Let’s see who the contenders are to win the dreaded EPL ‘sack race.’

Steve Bruce (Hull City)

Yes, he just got Hull City promoted. But Bruce’s squad is in need of a major overhaul to compete in the EPL. They were the surprise package of the Championship last term and if things go pear shaped early on, expect Bruce to make a sharp exit.

Paolo Di Canio (Sunderland)

The eccentric Italian manager could guide Sunderland to the top six… or they could crash and burn. Di Canio has overhauled the squad and isn’t making many friends with the playing squad previous manager Martin O’Neill assembled. Di Canio has until Christmas to turning the Black Cats into a top ten team.

Alan Pardew (Newcastle United)

Newcastle United’s controversial appointment of Joe Kinnear as Director of Football has left Pardew in an incredibly tough position. Couple that with the Geordies relegation threatened season last-time out, and Pardew could be packing his bags by November. Plenty of new signings didn’t perform from January onwards, Pardew needs them to improve or his it out.

 Mauricio Pochettino (Southampton)

This is a bit of a long shot but the Argentine manager knows he must deliver a top ten finish for the St. Mary’s outfit. Southampton are planning to splash the cash between now and August and their ambitious chairman wants to kick on and challenge for a European spot. If they falter after a relatively easy start to the campaign, Pochettino could be packing his bags.

Martin Jol (Fulham)

Last season was a peculiar one at Craven Cottage. At times Martin Jol’s Fulham side looked like world-beaters but on other occasions they were reminiscent of an average League Two outfit at best. Jol is walking a tight-rope as fans are getting restless with the lack of progress on the banks of the River Thames.

USMNT eyeing the table as it kicks off training camp

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (AP) Goalkeeper Tim Howard‘s uniform was filled with grass stains after the first day of training camp.

And this was considered a light workout.

“Just getting everybody back together, getting a sweat,” Howard said Monday after the U.S. squad went through a roughly 60-minute workout. “Day by day, we’re just trying to add on to the pile, put some concepts in and get some understanding between players.”

What awaits the squad in resumption of the final round of World Cup qualifying is certainly a gantlet. They have a game against Trinidad and Tobago on June 8 in Commerce City and then at Mexico three days later.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

There’s little margin for error, with the U.S. currently in fourth place in the six-team standings. They have three home and three away matches remaining. The top three teams qualify, with the fourth-place squad going to a playoff against Asia’s No. 5 nation.

“We need to keep climbing that table. We feel like this is a good opportunity to do it,” said Howard, now with the Colorado Rapids and who will feel right at home with the Trinidad game on his turf at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. “One game, that’s as far as you can look. You can’t look to next week or the week after or two months from now.”

For now, Howard will be coach Bruce Arena’s goalkeeper over Brad Guzan, Ethan Horvath and Nick Rimando, who all were invited to camp. But it’s an ongoing evaluation.

“We have good goalkeepers here. That’s the least of my worries, to be honest,” Arena said.

Given the short amount of time between games, Arena fully plans on using more players than usual. One particular competition to watch will be at right back between Timmy Chandler and DeAndre Yedlin.

“I have a close eye on everything,” Arena said. “We have a bunch of good players here. … We’re watching everybody and thinking about how we can best utilize everyone.”

[ MORE: Kroenke, Wenger meet; Decision looms ]

The roster features a solid blend of youth and experience. Leading the youngsters is Christian Pulisic, the 18-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder who last weekend became the youngest American to win a club medal in Europe.

On the veteran side are players such as Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley and Howard, all of whom have more than 30 World Cup qualifying appearances.

“We’re past the experimentation phase. These are all guys who the manager believes in whole-heartedly,” Howard said. “They’re not here for anything other than to play minutes, play important minutes.”

Arena couldn’t agree more.

“This is a nice group we have here. Hopefully, we can find the right balance in the team, putting them in the right position to complement them both individually and collectively,” Arena said. “If we can accomplish that, there’s no reason to believe we can’t be successful in these two games.”

Joining the camp in Colorado are a few players who weren’t with the squad in March. Guzan, Chandler, Fabian Johnson, Bobby Wood and Yedlin are all on the field. Guzan didn’t participate because his wife was expecting their second child, while the others were dealing with injuries, illnesses and yellow-card suspension.

Now, it’s a matter of getting their timing down – and accustomed to the altitude.

“There’s no reason to make it an excuse,” midfielder Paul Arriola said. “Just doing the best we can to acclimate to it.”

Arena’s squad will get things rolling in a friendly against Venezuela in Sandy, Utah, on Saturday.

“That’s a good game for us,” Arena said. “It gives us a little bit of exercise at lower altitude, which isn’t perfect for what we need to do to get ready here and Mexico City, but it’s a start. Think it will be good to give a chance to 16 players and build from there – get us ready for Trinidad and Mexico.”

Stam after Reading playoff final loss: “Tough to take”

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Jaap Stam has won silverware in three different leagues for five different teams, and has a Champions League title from his time at Manchester United.

He’s used to winning, and that includes his first stop as a full-time manager. And that makes Reading’s loss in Monday’s playoff final sting a bit more.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

Reading lost in penalty kicks and it’s not like the Royals were thoroughly outclassed by Huddersfield Town. But it still burns. From Sky Sports:

“You don’t want to play football to be in the grey areas, you want to get the max out of your career, win trophies and play at the highest level.

“It’s tough to take, but it has to be difficult. It’s not good to lose a game like this, you need to feel it and experience it and then take that forward if you get into the same moment again. The good players do that.”

Reading loses a trio of loan players — Lewis Grabban, Reece Oxford, and Jordon Mutch — as well as American midfielder Danny Williams. It won’t be easy for Reading to get back into the playoffs without an injection of money, but Stam’s first rodeo as a manager was a good ride that came up just short.

Wenger, Kroenke meet; Board to learn decision Tues.

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Wenger watch is entering its final hours.

The BBC is reporting that Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke met with longtime manager Arsene Wenger on Monday to discuss the Frenchman’s future, and that the decision was going to be made together.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

It seems almost certain that Wenger is going to come back to the Emirates Stadium. From the BBC:

The outcome is unclear but the decision rests solely with Wenger and Kroenke and will be relayed to directors at a Tuesday board meeting.

Fresh terms were agreed in principle some months ago, but nothing is signed.

There have been questions about whether Wenger would accept a sporting director being placed above him, and if Kroenke believes the repercussions of keeping the boss would negatively impact the business.

Barcelona to keep goalkeeper Ter Stegen until 2022

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has reached a deal to extend the contract of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen until June 2022.

The club said the new agreement, which has a buyout clause of 180 million euros ($201 million), will be signed on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

Ter Stegen has been with the club since 2014, helping it win nine titles in three seasons.

The German goalkeeper has played 93 matches with Barcelona, conceding 90 goals in 71 wins, 10 draws and 12 losses.

Barcelona has already renewed the contracts of Javier Mascherano, Luis Suarez, Neymar, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic. It is still working on new deals for Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.