Preview: Can US national team beat Guatemala in Gold Cup tuneup?

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  • US have 13-4-6 all-time record against Guatemala
  • Landon Donovan makes return to US national team
  • Yanks Gold Cup campaign begins July 9 vs. Belize

The USA face Guatemala in San Diego on Friday night (watch live on NBC Sports Network, 11pm ET) for their only warm-up match before the 2013 Gold Cup begins.

Jurgen Klinsmann will get to have one final look at his inventive roster, as players push their cause for a starting spot before the tournament opener against Belize in Portland on Tuesday night.

Guatemala will provide a tough test, as the US square off against their familiar foe once more. The last time these two met was during the semifinal stage of World Cup qualifying, where the US defeated Los Chapines 3-1 in Kansas City last October.

Klinsi will be hoping his squad, mixed with veterans and youngsters hoping to make next summer’s World Cup squad, can make a strong start to the Gold Cup tournament with minnows Belize and Cuba the USA’s first opponents during their group games. While the final game of Group C on July 16 will provide the toughest test, as Costa Rica stand in their way.

Landon Donovan is back in the national team fold for the first time in almost a year, and the LA Galaxy star is delighted to be involved. “I am very excited to be back,” Donovan said. “It’s been a long year or so since I’ve been in. I’m in a little bit of a different place than I was before. And now, I am very much on the outside looking in. I’ve got to make my way back in, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Donovan has been handed a chance to prove his international credentials, as Klinsmann looked elsewhere while the former USMNT captain took a self-imposed break from the game during the 2013 off-season and beyond.

(MORE: Gold Cup dress rehearsal against Guatemala promises “a good test” for USMNT)

The US have a strong record against their Central American counterparts, with a 13-4-6 all-time record against Guatemala. The last time Los Chapines defeated the Yanks was way back in 1988, 19-games have passed without a US defeat since.

Tonight’s game won’t just be a friendly, as the US players will be fighting for starting spots in the Gold Cup. And Klinsmann has already said that the starting-11 this evening will be his first choice lineup for the Gold Cup. Thus raising the intrigue for US fans, and those traveling to San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium to cheer on the Nats.

DaMarcus Beasley has been named captain and will likely start at left back, but many other positions are up in the air. Real Salt Lake’s skipper Kyle Beckerman is set to occupy the hold midfield role while Stuart Holden can finally stamp his name on the team sheet after a horrendous time with injuries. Joe Corona, Mix Diskerud and Jose Torres provide plenty of midfield options while veterans Donovan and Herculez Gomez have proven quality up front or out wide. The big question marks going forward lie at the feet of Jack McInerney, the Philadelphia Union’s predatory striker who leads MLS in scoring with 10 goals.

The US are aiming for Gold Cup success, to help seal their passage to the 2017 Confederations Cup. So Klinsmann won’t look kindly on any poor performances in tonight’s friendly.

(MORE: Donovan to get chance with US national team)

As for Guatemala, they are a tough and physical outfit who often push CONCACAF’s best teams all the way during qualifying. The fell just short of making the final round of World Cup qualifying, as they lost out to Jamaica due to an inferior goal differential.

Tough to break down and solid defensively, the US national team will see a mirror image of this from plenty of teams throughout the Gold Cup next month.

“They will make it very tight, they will have all the numbers behind the ball, and we have to find ways to break them down,” Jurgen Klinsmann said. “I think they can give us a good test for what we can expect in the Gold Cup. That’s the reason why we asked them to play the friendly. It’s going to be tricky.”

Find out how tricky it will be by tuning into NBC Sports Network to watch the US face Guatemala at 11pm ET tonight.

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

[ PREVIEW: Tuesday’s Premier League action ]

“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.