Matt Besler & Omar Gonzalez

Five U.S. stars who’ve emerged during World Cup qualification

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After yet another “Dos a Cero” win against Mexico in Columbus on Tuesday night, the U.S. national team qualified for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

The USA’s qualification has been all but secured for quite some time now, but you never know until that fat lady starts flexing her vocal chords… Last night she sang loud and proud in Ohio.

So, now that the U.S. is officially heading to Brazil for the big dance next summer, let’s take a closer look at the qualifying campaign that got them over the line. One thing that popped straight into my mind is that plenty of USMNT players, who are now starters, weren’t even in the picture when WC qualifying began in 2011.

(MORE: Dos a Cero again! … United States qualifies for 2014 World Cup after 2-0 win over Mexico)

Let’s find out who which players have propelled themselves into the spotlight during the USA’s domineering display in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. There’s still two games left in October… but I think it’s safe to say that these guys have made a good impression.

And remember, these are five names who previously were out of the picture. But if we were looking for revival artists, Eddie Johnson, Kyle Beckerman and Clarence Goodson have all shone.

source: Getty ImagesMatt Besler

On January 29, 2013 Besler made his U.S. debut in a dour -0 draw with Canada in Toronto. And ever since then, the Sporting Kansas City defender has looked as solid as a rock as the starting left center back. Having dueled against Besler as a youngster at Notre Dame, I’ve always rated his ability to read the game and step in where necessary to stop plays developing. But the most impressive aspect of his play since being called up to the U.S. squad is that his physical presence and pace hasn’t been lacking. In the crucial 0-0 draw at the Azteca in March, Besler was incredible in keeping Javier Hernandez off the score-sheet and stepped in to help the USA bring home Gold Cup success during the knockout stages. He’s an old head on young shoulders and the partnership he has with Gonzalez has seen them both flourish as defenders of international caliber. One question mark surrounds his experience heading into the World Cup, after Costa Rica’s Joel Campbell tricked the referee into giving Besler a yellow card to leave him suspended for the Mexico clash. But Besler will pick that experience up over the coming years where he will surely be a regular for the USMNT.

source: APOmar Gonzalez

Klinsmann’s overhaul of the central defensive position continued with another young defender from MLS stepping in to excel; step forward Omar. The 24-year-old LA Galaxy center back has formed a formidable partnership with Besler at the heart of the USA’s defense. Gonzalez’ stock has risen considerably since being drafted out of Maryland and recently he was handed a Designated Player contract by LA to keep him in the league. The towering Mexican-American defender has flourished with the increased amount of pressure on his shoulders and has hardly put a foot wrong since starting alongside Besler against Canada back in January. That “Why not?” interview about possibly representing Mexico at national team level seems a long time ago as Gonzalez has solidified himself as one of the essential parts of the U.S. roster heading to Brazil.

source: Getty ImagesGeoff Cameron

In Major League Soccer circles we all knew exactly what Cameron was capable of after being solid and dependable for the Houston Dynamo. Yet his move to Premier League Stoke City last August really caught Klinsmann’s attention after not appearing for the U.S. once in 2011. Able to play in a variety of positions, Cameron is to the USMNT what Owen Hargreaves was to England; Mr. Versatile. However he’s really made the right back slot his own during this qualifying cycle and a calamitous fall from grace aside, Cameron will be play plenty of minutes in Brazil. Some pundits aren’t big on Cameron stepping into midfield as a backup holding midfielder, and he has been shaky in recent games playing in that role. The loss to Costa Rica last Friday saw Cameron have a poor game and give possession away cheaply but his role for the U.S. going forward will surely be at right back instead of in midfield. He has a fantastic engine and epitomizes the team spirit Klinsmann has engineered over the last 12 months.

source: Getty ImagesGraham Zusi

Okay, some of his sparkle may have vanished in recent qualifiers… but it’s still been a breakout few years for Graham Zusi. The 27-year-old Floridian ousted Landon Donovan out of Klinsmann’s plans for most of 2013, and that takes some doing. But apart from that Zusi has matured and adapted to the pace of playing at international level and proved to be a valuable asset for the USA. As I mentioned, the Sporting KC winger lost his starting spot to the more experienced internationals in the 2-0 win over Mexico but he’s still a regular in the squad and has gone from a U.S. maybe to important squad member in the space of six months. Zusi made his full national team debut in 2012 and has definitely used this World Cup campaign to springboard himself into the World Cup picture. Training stints in Europe over the offseason put his MLS future in doubt but the Maryland product has since signed a new deal with SKC. A bright future lies ahead for Zusi as his battle with Donovan for a starting spot intensifies.

source: ReutersFabian Johnson

We all knew the Hoffenheim man was available and impressing in Germany but he was hardly a regular in the U.S. setup before this qualifying campaign began. One of the much talked about German-Americans Klinsmann helped bring into the squad, Johnson has been the biggest success story out of the likes of Timmy Chandler, John Brooks, Danny Williams and others. 25-year-old Johnson made his debut against Guatemala on 12 June 2012 and has been around ever since switching his allegiances from Germany in 2011. Now he’s a starter and richly deserves the chance to play in the World Cup in Brazil after switching . Johnson has operated in a variety of positions during the Hex, twice filling in a right back against Mexico to varying degrees of success but mostly starring down the left-hand side as a defender or pacey winger. Not afraid to take on a full back or whip in an inviting cross, Johnson’s link up play with the U.S. forwards has been key throughout qualifying success. A shoe-in for the left hand side when the USA lineup in Brazil next year.

Courtois: Chelsea can still win title without Costa

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26:  Thibaut Courtois of Chelsea celebrates his team's second goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge on November 26, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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A week from now, Diego Costa may still be a Chelsea player; he may also very well be off to the Chinese Super League by then.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The beauty insanity of the transfer market — and a volatile figure like Costa, in particular — is that no one knows which path he’ll take. After being made to train on his own on Monday, the best anyone can tell you is, “It’s 50-50.”

There aren’t many sides in the world that could stand to lose the league’s top goal-scorer (14 goals in 19 appearances this season; Chelsea have played 21 games) and still win the league title, but Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois believes that the current Blues squad is one that could hold onto its seven-point lead with 17 games remaining — quotes from FourFourTwo:

“Of course we have enough quality to replace Diego. Diego is important for us, but if he’s not there for one game, we know we can handle it as well.

“Was this a message to our rivals? Yes, just to see Chelsea won 3-0 and that loss at Spurs didn’t affect us and we can play without Diego if need be. I think everybody hoped for us to drop points and we didn’t so that was very good.”

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Eden Hazard has chipped in with nine goals of his own this season — his performances have been bordering on brilliance at points — while Pedro and Willian each have five league goals to their name. 19 goals from three secondary-type scorers is what champions are made of, until you consider the only other true striker currently in the squad, 23-year-old Premier League newcomer Michy Batshuayi, has 1) made just 13 PL appearances (all as a substitute); 2) scored just once, all the way back in August.

Louis van Gone: Ex-Man United, Barca boss LvG retires from coaching

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 21:  Louis van Gaal Manager of Manchester United celebrates after winning The Emirates FA Cup Final match between Manchester United and Crystal Palace at Wembley Stadium on May 21, 2016 in London, England. Man Utd won 2-1 after extra time.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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It wasn’t supposed to end like this for Louis Van Gaal.

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In his mind, he probably imagine himself manager Manchester United for the duration of his three-year contract before riding off into the sunset after restoring the Red Devils as Premier League champions four months from now. At the very least, he’d agree to stay on one more season to complete a bit of unfinished business after narrowly missing out on the title in his third season in charge at Old Trafford.

Instead, he was fired last May, two days after lifting the FA Cup at Wembley Stadium, and has been out of a job ever since. Van Gaal’s unemployment will now continue for the rest of his days, as the 65-year-old announced on Monday that he has retired from coaching after 26 years at Ajax, Barcelona (twice), AZ Alkmaar, Netherlands (twice), Bayern Munich and Manchester United — quote from the BBC:

“I thought maybe I would stop, then I thought it would be a sabbatical, but now I do not think I will return to coaching.”

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

After the stress put upon his shoulders while at Man United, the last eight months must have felt like heaven to Van Gaal. Why on earth would anyone ever go back?

AFCON: DR Congo go top of Group C with win; Ivory Coast, Togo draw

Congo's Lomalisa Mutambala, right, with Morocco's Faycal Fajr, left, during their African Cup of Nations Group C soccer match between Congo and Morocco at the Stade de Oyem in Oyem, Gabon, Monday Jan. 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
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A roundup of all of Monday’s action in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations…

Ivory Coast 0-0 Togo

OYEM, Gabon (AP) Ivory Coast’s Europe-based stars stumbled in the heat of northern Gabon in their African Cup of Nations opener, with the defending champion held by Togo to 0-0 on Monday in another twist to start the tournament.

Ivory Coast’s title-winning coach fared worse as Congo beat Herve Renard’s Morocco 1-0 in the day’s second game.

Congo, a team that was on strike and refusing to train two days ago, finished with nine men on the field and on top of Group D.

Ivory Coast created few clear chances against Togo, with Wilfried Zaha‘s blocked shot in the second half after a clever run probably its best. Zaha was substituted two minutes later and, although Ivory Coast pressed hard in stages, it never broke open Togo’s well-drilled defense in the first game in Group C in the northern jungle town of Oyem.

Togo was competitive in the first half and had two good openings with around 10 minutes to go, when Kodjo Laba missed with a header from in front of goal and Mathieu Dossevi’s deflected shot dropped onto the roof of the net.

Four of the first six games at the African Cup have been draws, with Ivory Coast’s fellow title challenger, Algeria, held to 2-2 by Zimbabwe, a team that hasn’t qualified for the African Cup in over a decade. Also, host Gabon couldn’t beat outsider and tournament debutant Guinea-Bissau in the opening game.

“After Algeria-Zimbabwe and Gabon-Guinea-Bissau, we were very careful,” Ivory Coast coach Michel Dussuyer said. “But we still have two (group) matches so we are still confident.”

Togo even started better, and Dossevi was clear on goal in the 29th minute only for Ivorian goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo to smother the chance.

Zaha was at the heart of Ivory Coast’s two best attacks, first in the first half when he sped down the right wing and sent across a dangerous low cross that was scrambled away. Then, in the 68th minute, he tricked his marker with a clever turn, cut inside, and hit a low shot that was headed to goal before two Togo defenders managed to get in the way.

Senegal and Congo are the only teams to win at the tournament.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

DR Congo 1-0 Morocco

Junior Kabananga got the winner for Congo in the 55th minute after a mistake from Morocco `keeper Monir el-Kajoui. Congo’s Lomalisa Mutambala was sent off for a wild tackle in the 81st and played the last six minutes of normal time plus six minutes of injury time with nine men when captain Gabriel Zakuani went off injured with all their substitutes used up.

Still, victory was a major mood-changer for Congo, whose players refused to train on Friday and Saturday, claiming they hadn’t been paid tournament bonuses. They also posted a video on social media during their strike, where they complained about their treatment.

On Monday, Morocco was the one frustrated: Midfielder M’Bark Boussoufa hit the crossbar in the second minute. Goalkeeper El-Kajoui tried to block a cross with his feet and managed only to divert the ball to Kabananga to score the winning goal. Then, substitutes Youssef En Nesyri and Youssef el-Arabi missed late chances.

Although Ivory Coast and later Renard failed their first tests at the tournament, the Stade d’Oyem held up despite a desperate race to be ready in time, which saw workers scrambling around the venue finishing all sorts of jobs on the day of the game. Television viewers won’t have seen the construction debris that surrounds the outside of the stadium, which juts out of dense jungle canopy around 15 kilometers outside of Oyem.

Even organizers couldn’t do anything about the heat during the opening match, though, with Togo coach Claude le Roy’s shirt covered in dark sweat patches after urging his team on to a promising draw against the defending champion Ivorians.

“It was very hot. We were sweating so much,” Le Roy said. “We did what it takes. We are satisfied with the draw.”

Tuesday’s AFCON schedule

Ghana vs. Uganda — 11 a.m. ET
Mali vs. Egypt — 2 p.m. ET

Report: RBNY send McCarty to Chicago for hefty allocation fee

New York Red Bulls midfielder Dax McCarty reacts towards the fans after an MLS playoff soccer match against the D.C. United, at RFK Stadium, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015, in Washington. McCarty scored the only goal and New York won 1-0. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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UPDATE: The Fire and Red Bulls have officially announced the trade. The deal will send $200,000 of allocation money to RBNY in 2017, and $200,000 again in 2018.

Don’t look now, but the Chicago Fire are building something noteworthy in Bridgeview.

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Three weeks after signing three-time MLS Cup-winning (LA Galaxy) midfielder Juninho to anchor the midfield in Veljko Paunovic’s second season in charge, the Fire sent a hefty chunk of general allocation money to the New York Red Bulls in exchange for do-everything stalwart Dax McCarty, who’ll partner the Brazilian in comprising one of MLS’s toughest midfield duos.

According to a report on FourFourTwo.com, the Fire will send $400,000 of general allocation money to the Red Bulls, which represents the largest sum of MLS dollars to change hands since the league began announcing figures during the 2017 SuperDraft on Friday (New York City FC traded $250,000 to the Fire in exchange for the no. 3 overall pick, which helped fund the acquisition of McCarty). In total, McCarty made 169 regular-season appearances for the Red Bulls, serving the last two seasons as club captain, and helping the red half of New York to the only two major trophies in club history, the 2013 and 2015 Supporters’ Shields. The 29-year-old (he’ll turn 30 in April) is currently participating in January camp with the U.S. national team.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

The Fire also signed 28-year-old Hungarian striker Nemanja Nikolic to a Designated Player contract last month. Nikolic has nearly 200 goals to his name in 326 career games played.

With seven weeks still to go before First Kick 2017, the Fire’s opening-day starting lineup is shaping up to look something like this…

Nikolic

Accam — De Leeuw — ???

Juninho — McCarty

Vincent — Meira — Campbell — ???

Bava

The Fire might be good this year.