Chances to impress growing precious and few; U.S. faces Bosnia-Herzegovina in a friendly in Sarajevo

  • Several important U.S. starters will sit this one out
  • The Eastern European nation is 13th in current FIFA rankings
  • Tim Howard, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore are the U.S. headliners

Jurgen Klinsmann has tinkered for more than two years now, experimenting with personnel and formations while working the levers to find the very best version of the current United States national team.

But time is growing short before the U.S. boss, now blessed with the nodding approval of most American soccer fans, begins closing out this “experimental phase” and looking to tighten up the operation. That means chances to impress will be precious and few going forward.

In fact, Wednesday’s friendly in against Bosnia-Herzegovina may be the one and only chance remaining for some of the faces who arrived into Sarajevo on Monday for a few quick practices and the mid-week match inside Asim Ferhatovic Hase Stadium. Kickoff on ESPN2 is set for 2:30 p.m. ET.

Klinsmann has summoned mostly European-based player to face the world’s 13th-ranked team according to FIFA. Bosnia-Herzegovina currently tops its World Cup qualifying group, although it’s a relatively weak assembly.

Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard, Roma midfielder Michael Bradley, Schalke midfielder Jermaine Jones and Sunderland striker Jozy Altidore (who is currently on a four-game scoring streak, a signature accomplishment at international level) are the front-line U.S. men in this particular group. Expect all to start.

Beyond them, there may be four U.S. men in Sarajevo who have more or less secured their spot for Brazil next year. (The United States has a place all but mathematically booked for the 2014 World Cup; expect that to happen during the pair of qualifiers coming up in early September.)

(MORE: Hearing from Jurgen Klinsmann on the Clint Dempsey omission)

That means the bulk of Wednesday’s 22-man roster – it was 23 before a hamstring injury removed center back Michael Orozco Fiscal from consideration – still has some proving ahead. A few of the ‘tweeners, like Eddie Johnson or Sacha Kljestan (pictured), are better positioned than others for spots on the 23-man World Cup roster.

But for a formerly forgotten man like Tim Ream, in his first U.S. camp in almost two years, or for versatile defender-midfielder Brad Evans, this chance is pure gold. If they get time, which seems especially likely in Ream’s case, they simply must make an impression on the boss.

Same goes for four youngsters getting their initial, up-close inspection from Klinsmann. They are mostly here for introductions into the full program, but that doesn’t mean they can’t surprise the coach with a special performance, if they happen to get on the field.

Among that foursome is promising center back John Brooks and Iceland-raised striker Aron Johannsson, whose paperwork from FIFA arrived only on Tuesday afternoon.

(MORE: Chances just increased of seeing Aron Johannsson on Wednesday)

This may be another chance for Geoff Cameron to prove his value as Klinsmann’s potential utility knife on next year’s roster. Having recently shown he can be a holding midfielder at international level, and having demonstrated in the Premier League that he can hold his own at right back, a shortage of center backs may require the former Houston Dynamo to take up his old spot in central defense Wednesday.

(MORE: Michael Orozco Fiscal withdraws due to injury)

Most of the MLS-based national team regulars aren’t in Sarajevo. That group includes Landon Donovan, commanding star of the show during the United States’ recent Gold Cup crowning, and Clint Dempsey, who just made a head-spinning move from England’s Tottenham to the Seattle Sounders of MLS. For a mid-week contest, and considering the MLS types are so critical to their teams’ ongoing playoff push, Klinsmann left them stateside for this one.

The United States remains on its record 11-match winning streak, which began June 2 with a 4-3 victory over Germany.

(MORE: A few notes and conclusions from U.S. roster announcement)

Barcelona, Neymar make it formal: Signed into 2021

BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 19: Neymar of Barcelona holds off pressure from Raheem Sterling of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League group C match between FC Barcelona and Manchester City FC at Camp Nou on October 19, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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T’s are crossed and i’s dotted on Neymar’s new contract, keeping him at the club through the 2020-21 season.

Neymar, 24, will make his 100th La Liga appearance with his next step onto the pitch.

Lionel Messi’s deal runs through 2017-18, and Luis Suarez’s goes through 2018-19.

[ MORE: Guardiola on Aguero omission ]

He’s scored 59 goals in league play, and has 91 total when you include all 150 of his matches in a Barca kit.

Neymar is on a similar scoring rate to last season, when he netted 31 times. The Brazilian also has 49 international goals in 73 caps.

Guardiola seethes at reports Aguero unwanted at Man City

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 14: Sergio Aguero of Manchester City is congratulated by Josep Guardiola manager of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League match between Manchester City FC and VfL Borussia Moenchengladbach at Etihad Stadium on September 14, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Pep Guardiola is seething with reports that claim star striker Sergio Aguero is not in his plans for Manchester City’s future.

Aguero started on the bench for Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League loss at Barcelona, inspiring talk that the Argentine star wasn’t long for the Emirates Stadium.

[ MORE: Conte on Mourinho, Pogba ]

Guardiola says that’s garbage, and that he simply needed more midfielders for his attack. Next time, just ask.

From the BBC:

“It was a tactical decision. I wanted one more midfielder, I tried to keep the ball in the Camp Nou and when you have the ball, Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez don’t.

“I spoke with Sergio and he was understanding, I thought in the last 30 minutes, with the Barcelona centre-halves tiring, he could help a lot from the bench. When Sergio decides to leave it will be his decision. Next time before you (the media) decide he is not in my plans you can call me.”

Still, not using Aguero is risky business.

The striker believes, rightly, that he’s among the most dangerous players in the world. Guardiola has said as much, too.

While few would put him in the class of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, it’s difficult to imagine either being sat for tactical reasons against one of the best teams in the world.

Chelsea: Conte expects warm reception for Mourinho; Terry is fit

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26:  A fan wears a Chelsea scarf with the image of the club's former manager, Jose Mourinho before the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Watford at Stamford Bridge on December 26, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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The managers are meeting the media ahead of this week’s Premier League matches, and many eyes are trained on one specific match-up.

Chelsea and Manchester United meet on Sunday, the first time Jose Mourinho will manage against his old side since his unceremonious exit last winger.

[ USWNT: Holiday has tumor removed ]

Mourinho, of course, led Chelsea to the 2014-15 title only to see a miserable start to the following campaign. He was hired at Manchester United this summer, but Conte thinks Mourinho’s Chelsea laurels have earned him some love from Stamford Bridge.

“I have great respect for Mourinho. He deserves a good reception. He was an important man for Chelsea and wrote part of the club’s story.”

Conte also touched on Paul Pogba‘s decision to head back to Old Trafford. Pogba is coming off a starring role in United’s 4-1 win over Fenerbahce, and Conte guided the French midfielder during their time at Juventus.

“It was Paul Pogba’s dream was to return to Manchester United. I wish him well, but only after this game.”

Conte said John Terry is available to return for Chelsea, and that could be invaluable against a big, strong forward like United’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic. With the Red Devils having played Thursday, Conte will like his chances a bit more than usual.

Canada vs. U.S. among top-notch CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals

VANCOUVER, CANADA - JUNE 20:  Gershon Koffie #28 of the Vancouver Whitecaps brings the ball up field against Dax McCarty #11 of the New York Red Bulls at B.C. Place on June 20, 2012 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jessica Haydahl/Getty Images)
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The bracket is set for the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, and ensures that at least one MLS vs. Liga MX semifinal will happen next Spring.

No. 1 seed New York Red Bulls will cross the continent to meet No. 8 Vancouver Whitecaps, with the winner moving on to face the victor of Mexico’s Tigres UANL vs. Pumas UNAM.

[ VIDEO: Previewing all 10 PL matches ]

The possibility of an all-Liga MX or all-MLS final still exists, with Pachuca and FC Dallas on opposite sides of the bracket. Arabe Unido gives Panama hope for its first CCL semifinalist, while Saprissa can be Costa Rica’s first semifinalist since 2011.

Of the remaining teams, only Pachuca has won a title in the CCL era (2008-present). Tigres lost in the 2016 final, the only other team to make it that far.

Full schedule
New York Red Bulls (1) vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (8)
Tigres UANL (4) vs. Pumas UNAM (5)
Arabe Unido (2) vs. FC Dallas (7)
Pachuca (3) vs. Saprissa (4)

The first legs will be played in late February, and the bright side to the intra-league quarters will be one MLS side waiting a round before facing a more in-form club playing a traditional season schedule (though that’s an overblown excuse at this point).

Some fans don’t care much for the tournament, while others — myself included — are extremely keen to see an MLS team win the CCL and represent North America in the Club World Cup, where it can get a high profile litmus test in a serious competition (Real Madrid beat Cruz Azul 4-0 in a 2014 semifinal).