What we learned from Friday’s U.S. win over Guatemala

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Don’t take too much from this, because a young Guatemalan group was highly overmatched, even by a United States “B” team version.

But we can take some things from Friday’s showy 6-0 win in San Diego, especially in the attack. (Defensively, precious little can be gleaned from a match where the opposition never seriously made U.S. goalkeeper Nick Rimando to stretch or reach or even punch a ball.)

Stuart Holden is coming along nicely: The re-introductions of Holden and Landon Donovan into the active player pool are surely, in the big, big picture, the ginormous take-aways from an otherwise meaningless June friendly against painfully outmanned opposition.

In fact, getting those two going again prior to the Gold Cup made Friday’s exercise worth it, never mind anything else. Holden looked immediately up for the task, leaning into the game and fizzing up the tempo as Jurgen Klinsmann asked, driving the United States with an urgency that Jose Torres and Kyle Beckerman couldn’t do.

The quality and variety in his passing was especially nice to see. Next challenge for the Bolton man: to demonstrate he can do it over 90 minutes, and can rebound physically to supply the same a few days after that.

(MORE: U.S. player ratings from Friday)

Landon Donovan is back … or something close to it: As I noted in the ratings, the three-time World Cup veteran, looked surprisingly nervous with his first couple of opportunities on the ball.

Afterward – he was probably the best U.S. attacker overall. The sharp movement and sophisticated ability to find gaps, to change the angles with speed, is something missing at times from the U.S. attack (the full U.S. version, that is). Again, all of this is against Guatemala’s rebuilding bunch, but sure signs of the hop and pop finding its way back into Donovan’s game were encouraging – and that is a wonderful development ahead of Brazil.

Klinsmann showed some tactical flexibility: U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann always says the formation isn’t important; it’s the advanced pressure and high tempo that matter, regardless of the tactical arrangement.

That said, it’s still important to put players into the best places for possible success. When the central triangle in last night’s 4-2-3-1failed to get the spacing right (Edgar Castillo and Landon Donovan leaning into the middle further clogged the lanes), Klinsmann wisely reconfigured a few pieces. The switch to a 4-4-2, with Joe Corona moving out to the right and Donovan switching inside, but in a more advanced role alongside Herculez Gomez, the game opened up dramatically for the hosts.

Mix Diskerud and Brek Shea showed something: Klinsmann absolutely wants the men in this bunch to “get it,” to understand that time is running short. More specifically, opportunities to get into the final 23 for Brazil are in short supply – and, really, more than anything else, that’s what this year’s Gold Cup and Friday’s tuneup for it are all about.

Both second-half subs demonstrated an urgency that, frankly, not all players showed Friday. Or, perhaps some others wanted to press their cases, wanted to take the game by the scruff of the neck and show the boss a little something, but just do not have it in them.

Shea did. The final product wasn’t always razor sharp, but his clear desire to turn and burn, his ability to keep grinding on a tiring Guatemalan defense surely said something to Klinsmann.

Same for Diskerud, who may have lapped Jose Torres (for now, at least) with his 45 minutes. Simply put, he was more active off the ball than Torres, hunting diligently for opportunities to tackle or intercept, and was more assertive with the ball, less content to play laterally. Torres needs to study Diskerud’s tempo and make note: That is what Klinsmann wants from the linking position.

FIFA subjects 2026 Morocco World Cup bid to fresh scrutiny

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Morocco’s World Cup bid is facing fresh scrutiny this week with the arrival of another delegation from FIFA after an initial task force found deficiencies in the proposals for the 2026 tournament.

In a downbeat conclusion to the visit by the FIFA inspectors last week, Morocco’s bid leader acknowledged it had to improve the quality of the submission made to FIFA in March because inadequacies were identified by football’s governing body.

[ MORE: UCL semifinals predictions ]

The previously unplanned second inspection of Morocco is an indication of the more rigorous process introduced by FIFA following criticism in 2010 that World Cups were awarded to the riskiest nations in 2018 (Russia) and 2022 (Qatar).

There will also be closer scrutiny of human rights of the bidders before the vote on June 13 when Morocco is currently due to be taking on a joint challenge from the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The Associated Press revealed last week Morocco did not declare its anti-LGBT law to FIFA in the human rights risk assessment included in the bid book. The documents – along with the North American submission – will now be scrutinized for any gaps by human rights experts.

“That process involves an expert third-party assessment of the robustness of the human rights content of both bids that will directly inform the administration’s own evaluation,” Rachel Davis, who sits on FIFA’s human rights advisory board, told the AP.

“We are confident that the process will result in a fair assessment of the human rights situation in all four countries involved in the bids, and a roadmap for how to deal with any deficiencies that FIFA will then require the successful bidder to commit to.”

Davis, who is managing director of the Shift human rights organization, said an evaluation of the human rights in the bidding nations will be included in a report to the FIFA Council, which will also assess the verdict of the evaluation task force. A bid with low scores can be blocked by the council from advancing to a vote of up to 207 football nations at the FIFA Congress on June 13.

While Morocco has said it needs to spend almost $16 billion on infrastructure for the 48-team World Cup, including building or renovating all 14 stadiums, North American does not require any tournament-specific building work. Morocco bid president Moulay Hafid Elalamy said at the end of the FIFA inspection that officials “made some remarks on the conditions of some of the stadiums.”

The new batch of technical staff being deployed from FIFA HQ to Morocco did not make a similar follow-up visit to North America after the task force inspected the rival bid’s facilities this month.

“Following the visit of the 2026 bid evaluation task force to Morocco last week, it was decided to have an additional working visit this week to complement the initial analysis of the task force and clarify some aspects of the bid,” FIFA told the AP.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Watch Live: Everton v. Newcastle

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Everton host Newcastle United on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Toffees and Magpies both sitting pretty in midtable.

[ LIVE: Stream Everton-Newcastle ]

Sam Allardyce and Rafael Benitez have both been around the block a few times but at the moment Allardyce is under pressure and Benitez is working miracles with four wins on the spin as the newly-promoted Magpies have stayed solid defensively all season.

In team news Everton start Tosun, Walcott and Bolasie in attack with Wayne Rooney in midfield.

Newcastle make one change with Islam Slimani making his first start for the Magpies as he comes in for Dwight Gayle.

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UEFA Champions League semifinal predictions

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With the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League to kick off over the next few days, let’s take a look at both games and predict which teams will make it to the final in Kiev on May 26.

[ MORE: Champions League scores

Liverpool or Roma? Real Madrid or Bayern Munich?

Here’s the lowdown as two eagerly anticipated games take center stage across Europe.


Liverpool vs. AS Roma
First leg: Apr. 24, 2:45 p.m. ET at Anfield
Second leg: May 2, 2:45 p.m. ET at Stadio Olimpico

This should be one heck of a tie with defending optional for both teams but both have very different ways of playing. Jurgen Klopp will unleash the fluid trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino on an often brittle Roma defense but the Italian giants have a giant in their own up top in the shape of Edin Dzeko. How Virgil Van Dijk and Liverpool’s defense deal with the threat of Dzeko will likely decide the outcome of this game. Liverpool will look to feed off the famous Anfield atmosphere to wrack up a big first leg lead before they head to Roma for Leg 2, and I fancy Salah to blow his old team away in the first leg. Liverpool to advance 4-2 on aggregate.

Bayern Munich vs. Real Madrid
First leg: Apr. 25, 2:45 p.m. ET at Allianz Arena
Second leg: May 1, 2:45 p.m. ET at Santiago Bernabeu

A proper heavyweight clash as Bayern and Real do battle knowing that whoever wins will be the favorites in the final. Cristiano Ronaldo is in the form of his life (again) after a slow start to this season and Zinedine Zidane’s side made hard work of it against Juventus in the last round but are on course for a third-straight UCL trophy. As for Bayern, they have been in imperious form and you feel like Robert Lewandowski can get the better of Real’s center backs. Expect this to be a tight game with extremely high quality from both teams. Real being at home in the second leg is a big advantage. Real Madrid to advance 3-2 on aggregate. 

Cologne’s Hector extends contract despite likely relegation

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COLOGNE, Germany (AP) Germany defender Jonas Hector has shunned reported interest from Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund by extending his contract with Cologne – despite the club’s almost certain relegation from the Bundesliga.

Cologne, eight points from safety with three games remaining, says its 27-year-old captain has signed a two-year extension to 2023 instead of using a release clause in his contract.

Hector, who has been at the club since 2010, says, “It wouldn’t have been a problem to switch to another club after this season but it didn’t feel right for me. I belong to Cologne and want to tackle the new season with the team and the fans behind us.”

Cologne sporting director Armin Veh says Hector’s decision is, “a great signal for the team, the club and our fans.”