Big question: Is this United States squad the best in history?

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During the Gold Cup success early this summer, plenty of people were throwing around statements about this being ‘the biggest talent pool the U.S. has ever had’ and that this was the ‘strongest squad in USMNT history.’

Well… have they got a point? After the ease in which the U.S. qualified for the World Cup from the CONCACAF region this campaign (more on that from Mr. Davis coming up soon), it’s certainly worth considering.

Along the way there was an injury crisis or two, loss of form and plenty of new faces used as Jurgen Klinsmann revamped his entire squad to make sure they got to Brazil.

(MORE: Strongest U.S. national team in history? Check out these three starting XI’s)

But is picking the 23-man roster that will represent the United States of America at the World Cup the toughest job for any U.S. manger, ever?

That question springs up at around this time every four years once the WC qualifying cycle is coming to an end but there has been growing intrigue and debate about the topic this time out. Klinsmann has built a solid squad of top players from MLS, Liga MX and across Europe that may become the best squad U.S. soccer has ever seen.

(MORE: More than a scoreline, “Dos a Cero” signifies U.S. dominance over Mexico)

Before we get started, we have to take our hats off to the three U.S. squads who qualified for three of the first four World Cups in 1930, 1934 and 1950. But we won’t be delving that far back to Joe Gaetjens and other heroes because quite frankly it’s extremely difficult to compare the game back in the early 20th century to soccer today.

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Eric Wynalda helped lead a hard-nosed U.S. side at Italia ’90.

Let’s take this discussion back to the World Cup in Italy in 1990, then head to the USA’s 2002 World Cup campaign which saw them knocked out by Germany in the quarterfinals and finally compare it to today’s squad.

United States national team 1990 World Cup

With the likes of Tony Meola in goal, John Harkes and Eric Wynalda up front, the U.S. had a strong core of talented players who were playing across Europe. These guys weren’t necessarily playing on the biggest teams but they had experience that helped the USA qualify for their first World Cup since 1950. Paul Caligiuri’s ‘shot heard round the world’ made that possible and his play was a hallmark of how the U.S. set up. A tough defensive team with the likes of Marcelo Balboa, Tab Ramos and Peter Vermes, the USA were hard to beat in qualifying. But when they got to Italia ’90 everything went pear-shaped. A 1-0 defeat to hosts Italy wasn’t disastrous but a 5-1 loss to Czechoslovakia and a 2-1 reverse to Austria ensured the U.S. left Italy with zero points, two goals scored and their tails between their legs. An experienced squad full of fight and determination, I think today’s U.S. squad are head and shoulders above the revolutionary 1990 squad.

United States national team 2002 World Cup

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Clint Mathis was part of the exciting United States side that made the 2002 quarterfinals.

This side would take some beating, even by today’s standards. With a young Landon Donovan causing all kinds of problems for opposition defenses and with John O’Brien and Claudio Reyna breaking things up in midfield the U.S. had a solid defensive core to build from. Brad Friedel in goal was phenomenal and with a winger like DaMarcus Beasley whipping in crosses for Brian McBride, if I shut my eyes I can still recall that scintillating first-half display against Portugal in Suwon. Bruce Arena had a heck of a squad and just keeping everyone happy was tough. At the back veterans like Eddie Pope and Jeff Agoos kept everything together and it was a joy to watch them allow Donovan, Beasley and other youngsters dash forward and create havoc. Much like Klinsmann today, Arena had at least two players for every position and the 2002 World Cup side would push the current U.S. team all the way in terms of being the best squad in U.S. soccer history.

United States national team 2013 World Cup qualifying

source: Reuters
Jurgen Klinsmann has the likes of Altidore, Dempsey, Donovan and Bradley to choose from.

Ah, so here we go. This current U.S. team can boast accolades other incarnations could only dream of. Setting a record for consecutive victories with 12 straight wins, winning a Gold Cup with a ‘reserve’ squad and being able to boast players who are playing in some of Europe’s best leagues week in, week out. Without doubt Klinsmann has an incredibly hard job to whittle this squad down to just 23 for the World Cup next summer. The likes of Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Tim Howard can already pack their floral swim shorts and flip-flops, they’re on the plane to Rio. But with so much strength in depth this has to be the strongest ever pool of players. The sheer numbers of players playing regularly in the top European leagues (Cameron, Johnson, Jones, Guzan, Bradley, Howard, Altidore, Shea, Diskerud, Bedoya etc.) is phenomenal and all of Major League Soccer’s star U.S. players are now being given a chance and are impressing. The fact that someone of Donovan’s class was being kept out of the team for most of 2013 is a good indication as to how good this team is. At any other time period in U.S. soccer history leaving Donovan out of a squad would be akin to Argentina sitting Lionel Messi on the bench. It just wouldn’t happen. Talent in abundance.

Verdict

Anyway after all that, my mind is made up. The 2013 USMNT squad is the best group of players the United States has ever produced that are all playing together at the same time. Enjoy watching it folks, this is historic. But one more positive to finish on. This team is full of players just establishing themselves at international level and by the time the 2018 World Cup in Russia arrives, this squad could be even better. Have a think about it. Mind-boggling.

“This game belongs to the players” Wenger downplays Guardiola success

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Arsene Wenger has stressed that Pep Guardiola has not changed the game of soccer over the last decade or so, maintaining that the players are the ones who make a team truly great.

Asked if Guardiola has “raised the bar” of managing in his time at the top, Wenger said, “No, because you look at Barcelona and they are still the best team in Europe. You have to accept that the modern game has changed with the recruitment of the best players in a short number of clubs.”

[ MORE: EFL Cup final preview ]

“We, as managers, can maybe impart our philosophy but this game belongs to the players because the importance of the players has become bigger than ever before.”

In fact, Wenger showed a twinge of jealousy at all the attention Guardiola is getting with the team blowing out the rest of the Premier League this season, referencing trophies in the recent past Arsenal has hoisted. “We are maybe underdogs but we have to believe in our quality. The history, the fact we have done it before, shows why not do it again?”

“At the end of the day, you have to be cool,” Wenger said, “because Manchester City is dominating the league in the head of everybody and so maybe we are more underdogs than in the FA Cup semi-final [last season when Arsenal beat Man City].”

Deportivo wastes penalty kick, remains winless under Seedorf

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MADRID (AP) — Clarence Seedorf remained winless as Deportivo La Coruna coach after a 0-0 draw with Espanyol in the Spanish league on Friday.

Deportivo squandered chances including a second-half penalty kick taken by Lucas Perez. Its winless streak reached 10 games in all competitions.

It was the third game in a row without a victory since Seedorf took over to try to avoid relegation. Deportivo was 18th in the 20-team standings, in the relegation zone.

In addition to the missed penalty, Deportivo twice hit the posts in front of a supportive crowd at Riazor Stadium. The players left the field applauded by the local fans despite the setback.

Perez’s penalty attempt was saved by Espanyol goalkeeper Diego Lopez in the 65th minute. Lopez, who earlier this season stopped a penalty taken by Lionel Messi, dived to his right to stop Perez’s low shot.

The match marked the Deportivo debut of veteran Ghanaian midfielder Sulley Muntari. He played alongside Seedorf at AC Milan, and was signed this week after a trial period.

Espanyol, 15th in the standings, hasn’t won in seven matches, since it ended Barcelona’s 29-match unbeaten streak in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals. Espanyol’s last league win was in January, seven rounds ago.

Barcelona defends its seven-point lead in the standings when it hosts Girona on Saturday. Second-place Atletico Madrid visits Sevilla on Sunday.

Conte says he believes in his selection regarding Willian

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Antonio Conte has lashed out at anyone questioning why Brazilian winger Willian hasn’t played regularly until recently, saying

“Do you think that I am stupid when I put Willy on the bench?” Conte fired back at reporters when he was asked about Willian’s earlier lack of playing time at his pre-match press conference ahead of Chelsea’s match on Sunday against Manchester United.

[ MORE: Heynckes squashes Lewandowski to Premier League rumors ]

“I have to try and make the best decision for the team, no? Maybe last season we won the title, or did I forget something?”

The 29-year-old has made 29 Premier League appearances, but only 13 starts. He started in the midweek Champions League match against Barcelona and not only scored Chelsea’s only goal but also proved their most incisive player, prompting questions about his selection.

“Now he is playing because he deserves to play, not because there is some regret from the past,” Conte said. “For what? If a player deserves to play, and shows me during the training session that he is on top of his form, and wants to work defensively, he plays. If not, [he will] stay on the bench, stay in the stands.”

Instead of saying he wishes Willian had played more earlier in the season, he praised himself for giving the Brazilian the start at the appropriate time.

“He is playing now and I am very happy with my choice. Willian deserved to start in the previous game, and played well. I did a fantastic choice, and I want to take credit for that.”

EFL Cup Final preview: Arsenal, Manchester City fight for different types of glory

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  • These two clubs have never met in a major Cup final
  • With a win, Arsene Wenger would become the 8th PL manager to win all 3 major English trophies
  • Sergio Agüero has scored in all of his last 4 appearances against Arsenal

For Manchester City, it’s the first step of a potentially record-setting season. For Arsenal, it’s the Gunners’ best chance at securing a trophy.

The two teams are fighting for very different levels of glory as the two meet at Wembley Stadium on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. ET. Manchester City, despite losing to Wigan in the FA Cup just a week ago, would still be on track for a Double this season with a win against the Gunners. Meanwhile, Arsenal is outside the Premier League top four, and – as they have done each of the past two seasons in the FA Cup – could salvage an otherwise disappointing league season with a major Cup trophy.

Both teams will be struggling with selection in certain areas. Manchester City is likely missing Raheem Sterling, who could sit out due to an unspecified muscle injury according to Pep Guardiola in his pre-match press conference, while Fabian Delph is suspended after his sending off against Wigan in the FA Cup. That means either Danilo or 21-year-old Oleksandr Zinchencko would start at wing-back. Zinchenko is the likely candidate there, having appeared in four of City’s five EFL Cup games this season so far and playing almost every minute of those four matches. Gabriel Jesus, who missed more than two months with a knee injury, could be ready to make his early return. Claudio Bravo will continue to play in goal for the domestic Cup competitions.

Arsenal, meanwhile, is without new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan who is cup-tied to his previous club Manchester United, while Alexandre Lacazette is not yet recovered from his knee injury suffered in the North London derby, and Mesut Ozil could miss out with an illness. The Gunners are likely, however, to get Aaron Ramsey back in midfield after recovering from a groin injury, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can return to the lineup after his own cup tied absence in the Europa League midweek.

What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on playing Arsenal twice in a week: “We will be happy if we win, sad if we don’t but after the game we have another match against Arsenal. We are going to try and maintain our level, but finals are different, it is not what you have done in the past.”

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on playing Manchester City: “Manchester City have so many players that you think you have to stop that it is better to focus on the team plan than rather than on any individual. It’s true that I always used to use this competition with a youth team. For us it’s an opportunity. We’ll play with all the regular players.” 

Prediction

Arsenal has often come up big in hotly contested Cup matches, despite poor form in the surrounding competitions, so it would not be surprising to once again see Arsene Wenger hoist a trophy on Sunday to temporarily distract the fanbase and media from larger struggles. However, picking against this Manchester City team would be selection suicide, even after their disappointment against Wigan and considering the absence of under the radar star Raheem Sterling. Manchester City wins 3-1 with a pair of late goals to sink the Gunners, with a newly healthy Gabriel Jesus providing an influential injection off the bench in the final 20 minutes. Pep Guardiola raises another trophy at the site where he won the 2011 Champions League.