United States excited, but still business-like, ahead of Gold Cup semifinal clash with Honduras

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ARLINGTON, Texas – U.S. players and coaches sound genuinely excited about a chance to perform in Jerry Jones’ billion dollar colossus, and they don’t mind a bit that so much of a sold-out crowd at Cowboys Stadium will arrive to see the back half of Wednesday’s Gold Cup semifinal doubleheader, a contest involving Mexico.

U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann in particular sounds stoked about the opportunity and remains ever eager to learn yet more about this personnel group as they get pushed by a determined Honduras in a race for Sunday’s tournament final.

But make no mistake, the highly professional, decidedly business-like mentality Klinsmann keeps force-feeding to the players still prevails, and he wants badly to claim this tournament

“Obviously, to play in a place like this here is not happening very often,” Klinssman said Tuesday from inside the splashy venue. “So the players take it all in. Cowboys Stadium. A semifinal. A very, very difficult opponent. That’s what you all want! So, that’s the next benchmark for us.”

Klinsmann acknowledged that ongoing evaluations remain important, getting a “better picture,” as the manager says, of the players’ abilities individually and within a team concept. But clearly there is a balance to be achieved.

“The priority, when it comes down to the day before the game is the game!” he said. “It’s necessary to win those games. Therefore, the guys are already, they are pumped up.  They want to do well. An opportunity like tomorrow night doesn’t come along very often, in a huge, fantastic stadium. We always keep the big picture in mind, but we badly want this trophy this year.”

It is a swell place, and the roof will be closed Wednesday when Honduras and the United States kick off just after as 7 p.m. ET (Fox Soccer Channel), followed by Mexico and Panama at 10 p.m. ET.  Winners meet at historic Soldier Field on Sunday in Chicago.

While the venue is tops, the field isn’t. Another of these dicey, problematic temporary fields (this one struggling even more without the benefit of natural sunlight or proper air circulation) will be a talking point, especially as the narrow width plays into tactics that could potentially benefit Honduras.

(MORE: The field in a word at Cowboys Stadium: awful)

The United States, as always, hopes to keep the tempo high and the press Honduras near its own goal, while the visitors are more likely to attack with some caution and hope to strike on the counter. It has been ever thus in the Gold Cup as the United States has hopscotched across the big land, now playing in its fourth time zone during the semi-annual tournament.

Klinsmann has rotated players extensively during a competition with such a brutal pace of travel and rapid-fire matches. Counting a pre-tournament friendly against Guatemala, Wednesday’s semifinal will be the United States’ sixth match in 20 days, with travel between each stop.

So chance are high of seeing a new face or two in the lineup, even if the 11 deployed Sunday managed the quarterfinal task quite nicely, eventually chewing up El Salvador pretty good in a 5-1, Landon Donovan-inspired quarterfinal triumph.

Still, Eddie Johnson seems likely to replace Chris Wondolowski in the U.S. lineup. And big defender Omar Gonzalez, having met the team in Dallas after getting one more match in with his LA Galaxy, seems sure to feature along the back line.

Stuart Holden, left on the bench Sunday for the first time in the tournament, could come in for Mix Diskerud or even for holding midfield specialist Kyle Beckerman.

(MORE: Three Good Questions for U.S. midfielder Stuart Holden)

Honduras, a country where the soccer fortunes seem to rise annually now, arrived with a win Sunday over Costa Rica, the same team that gave the United States a pretty hard time in the Gold Cup group stage finale. Andy Najar, who made his professional bones with D.C. United before moving his pro career to Europe, had the Honduran goal in the quarterfinal victory.

Honduras, like the United States, has brought a “B” team version for the tournament. But some of the players remain familiar as these nations meet for a third time this year. A 2-1 World Cup qualifier loss in Honduras back in February was the last U.S. loss in a meaningful match (and was a “turning point” moment in some eyes, although Klinnsmann has said the February setback was more about the logistical challenges of players arriving in from Europe, unaccustomed to the Central American heat.)

Jozy Altidore’s goal was enough to push the United States past Honduras as the teams met again in qualifying for Brazil 2014 in June, this time on U.S. soil in Utah.

This is also the teams’ third semifinal meeting in a Gold Cup, with the United States posting wins of 2-1 and 2-0 in en route to the tournament finals in 2005 and 2009.  Clarence Goodson, a U.S. center back starter in this year’s tournament, had the game-winner in 2009.

(MORE: Three U.S. men who have upped their value with Gold Cup performance)

Vidal rips Ronaldo ahead of Confederations Cup semifinal

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Chile hopes to make a statement on Wednesday when it faces EURO 2016 champions Portugal and Ballon d’Or champion Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 2015 and 2016 Copa America champions can lay claim to another inter-confederation title with two more wins in the 2017 Confederations Cup, beginning with the semifinal in Kazan.

[ MORE: Chelsea sells Traore ]

Chile finished behind Germany in Group B but didn’t lose a match and only allowed two goals. That’ll be tested by Portugal and its seven goals in three matches.

Two of those goals came from Ronaldo, but don’t tell that to Arturo Vidal. Chile’s hard-edged midfielder doesn’t like him much.

From Goal.com:

“Cristiano is a smart ass,” he told reporters. “For me he does not exist.

“I have already told my Bayern Munich team-mate Joshua Kimmich that we will meet again in the final.”

Germany will have to take care of Mexico to make that happen, though we have a feeling a certain smart ass will have a thing or two to say before it’s all said and done.

Vidal has spoken loudly of his desire to get Chilean teammate Alexis Sanchez, a former Barcelona man, at his club Bayern Munich. If Ronaldo is on the market, this isn’t a great recruiting tool. Ah, jokes.

Trio of Crew players in Ghana roster to face USMNT, Mexico

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Ghana’s team to face the United States men’s national team on Saturday in East Hartford will look somewhat familiar to fans of Major League Soccer.

Columbus Crew players Harrison Afful, Mohammed Abu and Jonathan Mensah join David Accam of the Chicago Fire, and Gershon Koffie of the New England Revolution on a unit with Kwadwo Poku of the NASL’s Kwadwo Poku.

John Boye, Asamoah Gyan, and Mensah are the only three players from the loss to the USMNT in the 2014 World Cup.

[ MORE: Full FIFA-Qatar report leaked? ]

Like the U.S., this is a less than full-strength squad. Missing are a number of Black Stars standouts, with Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew, Afriyie Acquah, Daniel Amartey, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Christian Atsu, Jeff Schlupp, and Baba Rahman not with the team.

Saturday’s match is the last USMNT outing before the Gold Cup begins on July 8 in Nashville against Panama.

Goalkeepers: Addo Joseph (Aduana Stars), Richard Ofori (Wa All Stars)

Defenders: Lumor Agbenyenu (Munich 1860), Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew),  Nicholas Opoku (Berekum Chelsea), Jerry Akaminko (Eskiserhispor),  John Boye (Sivasspor), Rashid Sumalia (Al Gharafa), Jonathan Mensah (Columbus Crew), Samuel Sarfo (Liberty)

Midfielders: Mohammed Abu (Columbus Crew, Isaac Sackey (Alanyaspor), Ofori Ebenezer (Stuttgart), Kwadwo Poku (FC Miami), Winful Kwaku Cobbinah (Hearts of Oak), Frank Acheampong (Anderlecht), Thomas Agyepong (NAC Breda), Gershon Koffie (New England Revolution)

Strikers: Asamoah Gyan (Al Alhi), Raphael Dwamena (FC Zurich), Majeed Abdul Waris (Lorient FC), David Accam (Chicago Fire)

Timo Werner abused in Germany but key to World Cup defense

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) The abuse has followed Timo Werner for months, gathering pace as rapidly as the striker has amassed goals.

No German player was more prolific in the Bundesliga last season. No player was as ostracized.

But Werner is now a full-blown Germany international, scoring his first goals at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, and he could hold the key to the World Cup defense next year.

[ MORE: USMNT’s 23-man roster questions ]

That could require Germany supporters to forgive a player they jeered at during his first competitive game for Joachim Loew’s team earlier this month.

“Kobe Bryant has also been booed everywhere and he always been the best,” Werner reflected ahead of Germany’s Confederations Cup semifinal against Mexico on Thursday, seeing a kindred spirit in the basketball great. “I do not want to say that I am the best like him, but (the abuse) is a bit of an incentive.”

If playing for the ascendant but deeply unpopular Leipzig wasn’t bad enough, a dive in December by Werner provided a focal point for the animosity – jealousy, perhaps – toward the Red Bull-funded team.

The insults have even been hurled far from Germany, far from soccer stadiums. The dive won a penalty against Schalke, and provided Werner with one of the 21 goals that helped to propel Leipzig into second place and a Champions League debut next season.

“There was a dive, he made a mistake and he admitted it,” Loew said, “but he is very, very young player.”

And a potentially very important one for Loew at the World Cup in Russia next year. Germany’s striking options are being assessed at the eight-team Confederations Cup as Loew still seeks a long-term successor to Miroslav Klose as target man for the world champions.

[ MORE: Chelsea sells Traore ]

Werner opened his account for Germany on his fourth appearance, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over Cameroon on Sunday in Sochi.

“Werner put in a lot of legwork,” Loew said. “He showed how dangerous he is and that he’s got a great nose for goal. Both of his efforts were very well taken.”

Werner’s rivals for a place in the squad next year include fellow squad newcomers Lars Stindl and Sandro Wagner. They are both close to 30, while the 21-year-old Werner has youth, strength and speed on his side. Even Wagner said he has “never seen such a good striker at that age.”

That’s a result of Werner fusing his pace with intelligence on the ball, mastering dribbling at high speed first with Stuttgart and then at Leipzig.

“There’s no recipe for it,” Werner said. “The quickest players just know how to do it automatically. I like to knock the ball three or four meters ahead of me when I’m on the counter or have space in front of me, that way I can increase the distance between a defender and myself.”

Such proficiency should help Werner win over fans beyond Leipzig. Time, he hopes, will heal the fractures, and there’s certainly support from his new international teammates.

“I wish him well because of the issues he has had to endure,” captain Julian Draxler told Germany’s ARD television.

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

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup

USMNT Gold Cup 23-man roster leaves some questions

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We have Bruce Arena’s 23-man United States men’s national roster for the Gold Cup, and there are more than a few surprises left out of the bunch.

Often a chance to experiment, those who thought this year’s Gold Cup roster would be one aimed at reclaiming glory with authority may be surprised to see the status quo.

Jurgen Klinsmann brought most of his big guns to the 2015 party — which didn’t go well for Brad Guzan and Co. — but Arena will roll into this summer’s tournament without most of his big names. There’s no Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey, nor Jozy Altidore.

Those aren’t huge surprises, though who Arena neglected from his original 40-man short list is a bit of a shock to the system (Players can be called into the mix after the group stage, which is a fairly simple affair for the USMNT to navigate versus Panama, Martinique, and Nicagarua).

Arena is going with Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, and Bill Hamid in a trio that fails to impress. Hamid does have a big crowd of fans who’d like to see him get a chance to assert himself as the future, and hopefully either Johnson or Hamid finds time between the sticks against a serious opponent like Panama. No surprise that Tim Howard and Joe Bendik didn’t leap into the trio (EDIT: This post initially questioned the omission of Jesse Gonzalez, but his one-time switch from Mexico to the USMNT has yet to go through).

We’ll ignore the omission of Danny Williams for the most part considering he was absent from the 40-man list, but he must have said something seriously awful to Arena or someone at U.S. soccer.

The group of forwards leaves little to complain about, as Juan Agudelo and Dom Dwyer very much deserve their chances to compete for playing time with Sounders star Jordan Morris, but the midfield provides some head-scratching. Gyasi Zardes may be a longtime Arena favorite, but the Galaxy man has been ice cold in MLS. The 25-year-old has a single assist in almost 1000 minutes of play this season, and that came back on April 8. Tommy McNamara has not lighting the league on fire and Chris Pontius and his six assists are 30 years old, so much of the grief should be directed at the 40-man again, but Zardes has to embrace this opportunity. And maybe it’s a way to help the Galaxy and Zardes get a little mojo.

As an aside, Wil Trapp is among leaders in several MLS passing stats, which leads me to believe Arena is going to play Dax McCarty and Kellyn Acosta a ton and doesn’t see much of a need for Trapp in this tournament, not ever.

Defenders Steve Birnbaum and Jonathan Spector were not rewarded with looks, though Graham Zusi was included in what must be an arm reaching out for USMNT experience. Birnbaum is leading MLS in aerials won per game and Spector is by far Orlando’s top rated player since returning from England. Yes, Spector is 31 but this is about still qualifying for next summer’s World Cup, not the 2022 cycle. Spare a thought for Matt Polster, who has been decent since returning from a knee strain. This is nothing against Zusi, a consummate professional who won’t kill the team by any means and will be an tremendous asset in leadership.

What about you? Any other gripes? Or do you love the bunch?