No Dempsey, Bradley, but Klinsmann still names strong U.S. squad for final World Cup Qualifiers

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Clint Dempsey’s hamstring will cost him the U.S.’s final two World Cup qualifiers. And ankle injuries will keep Michael Bradley and Fabian Johnson in Europe. Yet despite the U.S. having already qualified for Brazil 2014, those are the only major omissions from the squad Jurgen Klinsmann named on Sunday, the United States national team boss set to use his team’s final two CONCACAF qualifiers as their first preparation for Brazil 2014.

“We want to win these games. We want to finish off the year on a high note, but we also want to make the game against Jamaica a special one,” Klinsmann said, his Q&A at USSoccer.com explaining his thinking going into the international break.

That break sees the U.S. host Jamaica Friday at Sporting Park in Kansas City, the place where the team clinched their spot in qualifying’s final round. Four days later, the team will play their final competitive game before next year’s World Cup, venturing south to face Panama.

“Everything we do now sets the tone for summer of 2014,” Klinsmann explained, “and therefore it’s important the players understand this is serious business. We want to see an improvement of the entire squad, and we want to see competition in every spot.”

After Panama, there are only two international breaks before the end of the European season (November, March), giving teams few opportunities to assemble full squads before pre-World Cup preparation ramps up in May. The United States traditionally has a training camp in January for its Major League Soccer-based players, but with so few opportunities to train together before May, Klinsmann has elected to call in a strong team for two otherwise meaningless games.

That means the three goalies who have solidified their spots — start Tim Howard (Everton), backup Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), and third-choice Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake) — are all in the team. None of their club have games scheduled for the international break. (The Premier League will be on break. Real Salt Lake’s next game is Oct. 19).

With Guzan’s performances at Aston Villa, there’s been increased talk of competition for the U.S.’s number one spot – a rarity for Howard, who is closing in on team records for shutouts and appearances. Not surprisingly, Klinsmann sees that type of competition as ideal:

“This is exactly what we have been talking about for the last two years. You want to have your established player that is No. 1 in his position being challenged. You want to have him on his toes and know that the next guy is waiting … This is what we are working on. It keeps you hungry and motivated and focused. With the goalkeepers, we have one of the best situations in the world.”

source: Reuters
Omar Gonzalez is one of two players to have started each final round World Cup qualifier for the United States, but with Clint Dempsey injured, he will likely be the last man standing after Oct. 15’s match in Panama. The price is likely to be LA Galaxy’s Oct. 16 game against Montréal. (Photo: Reuters.)

Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), one of two players to start every final round qualifier (Dempsey), was called in, as was his partner in central defense, Sporting Kansas City’s Matt Besler. Each player should miss one MLS game: Besler on Wednesday during Sporting’s trip to Houston; Gonzalez next Wednesday when Los Angeles hosts Montréal.

Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Edgar Castillo (Tijuana) and Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders) were also called in. Evans will miss Seattle’s games against Vancouver (Oct. 9) and Portland (Oct. 13).

Sounders teammate Eddie Johnson will also miss those matches. He is one of five forward Klinsmann has called in, along with Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna), Aron Johansson (AZ Alkmaar), and Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy). For an Galaxy team  in an unexpected fight for a Western Conference playoff spot, the losses of Donovan and Gonzalez could prove particularly harmful.

In the middle, Anderlecht’s Sacha Kljestan returns to a corps that includes Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), and Jermaine Jones (Schalke). For the former Chivas USA star, it’s a deserved return, with his coach understanding the frustration at not having won a regular spot with the team.

“From [Kljestan’s] perspective, [the lack of call-ups] is disappointing and a little bit bitter to swallow,” Klinsmann said, “but he also understands the competition there. When you look at the consistency he has built over the last few years, that speaks highly about him. He deserves to be back in this group. I wish I could give him more playing time, and I know he hasn’t played as much as he wanted to.”

Among the other notable players missing from the squad are San Jose Earthquakes defender Clarence Goodson (still recovering from a knee injury), Hertha Berlin’s John Brooks (arm), Augsburg’s Michael Parkhurst, Puebla’s Michael Orozco Fiscal, Tijuana’s Joe Corona, and Tigres’ Jose Torres.

The U.S. will go into Friday’s match ranked 13th in the world by FIFA. They’re also one point ahead of Costa Rica at the top of the Hex, with the team looking to finish first in CONCACAF final round qualifying for the third cycle in a row.

Full roster:

GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS (6): DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City) Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Jermaine Jones (Schalke), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
FORWARDS (5): Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders FC)

MLS (afternoon) roundup: Historically awful MNUFC spanked again

Photo credit: New England Revolution / Twitter: @NERevolution
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The fourth (partial — playing during international breaks should be banned) MLS Saturday of 2017 is two-thirds of the way complete. A quick roundup of the day’s early games…

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New England Revolution 5-2 Minnesota United

What else needs to be said about Minnesota at this point? What else can be said? The number of goals they’ve conceded in their first four MLS games: 5, 6, 2, and 5. While (we think) a bit of luck will eventually go their way, and they’ll curtail the goals they’re conceding (we can’t be sure anymore), Adrian Heath’s side is on pace to conceded 153 goals this season.

Anyway, New England picked up their first win of the season. The quality (and ease) of goals scored will tell you everything you need to know about Minnesota’s defending.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

New York Red Bulls 0-0 Real Salt Lake

Five days after firing head coach Jeff Cassar, RSL returned to their inept, toothless ways in a scoreless draw away to New York. Through four games, the Claret and Cobalt have scored all of one goal, and genuinely look the league’s most lifeless side; Minnesota have at least shown signs of quality in the attacking half.

On Saturday, New York created the majority of the game’s best chances — a pair of shots from distance, masterfully saved by deputy goalkeeper Matt VanOekel — but the chance that will live in the memories of RSL fans for a lifetime came and went in agonizing fashion.

Albanian federation denounces “extremist acts” of their fans in Italy

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s soccer federation has strongly denounced the incident that halted the World Cup Group G qualifier with Italy for nearly nine minutes on Friday.

During the match, which was won by Italy, 2-0, a group calling itself Illyrian Elite threw flares onto the pitch.

“Such totally extremist actions from the grouping Illyrian Elite have nothing to do with the excellent Albanian fans” who were distinguished in the EURO 2016 finals in France for their friendship and camaraderie in their festivities, the statement added.

The federation said an coach Gianni De Biasi also was “upset by the flares,” adding that during five years he has been in charge “I’ve seen something that’s never happened before.”

USMNT: 4 players, including Brooks, Lletget, released; Arriola added

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Hours after his side’s 6-0 thrashing of Honduras to resuscitate dreams of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, Bruce Arena announced on Saturday five changes to the U.S. national team roster ahead of Tuesday’s qualifier against Panama.

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John Brooks (sinus infection), Sebastian Lletget (foot), Jordan Morris (knee) and Michael Orozco (knee) were all released back to their club teams, while Club Tijuana midfielder Paul Arriola was added to the squad.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Brooks dealt with the sinus infection throughout USMNT camp this past week, as Morris did his knee injury which he picked up last weekend. Lletget left Friday’s win over Honduras in the 18th minute and will undergo further tests to determine the severity of his injury; he was seen leaving the stadium on crutches and wearing a walking boot.

The USMNT’s roster for Tuesday’s qualifier in Panama City, Panama, now stands at 23 players, and reads as follows:

Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Rapinoe won’t back down on social issues despite U.S. Soccer policy

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Megan Rapinoe recently earned her spot back in the U.S. Women’s National Team squad ahead of next month’s friendlies against Russia, but the veteran won’t remain silent when it comes to her stance on the social climate of America.

[ MORE: Looking back on USMNT’s big win over Honduras ]

The 31-year-old was scrutinized for joining NFL player Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when they knelt during their respective sporting events, along with dozens of other athletes across the United States.

While Rapinoe admits that the form of protest is up for discussion, she also states that social inequality issues in the U.S. go far beyond that.

“What has surprised me the most, especially post-election, is that people are still sort of arguing against it. It’s really obvious that we have very serious inequality in this country across many different spectrums,” Rapinoe told the Guardian. “Yes, we can talk about the form of protest, or the way it’s done, or this or that. But it’s still not really the conversation that I think we desperately need to have more of in this country.”

A few weeks back, U.S. Soccer announced that it now requires all players that represent the Stars and Stripes to stand when the national anthem is played, and Rapinoe has agreed to do such.

While her days of kneeling on the pitch are in the past, Rapinoe believes she wouldn’t do anything different because she was simply trying to spark discussion amongst the American people.

“I don’t think there’s any perfect way to protest. I think if there was something else being done, something else would have been said about it. I can’t look back and say that I would have done this different, this different or this different.

“I can sleep at night knowing that I genuinely tried to have a really important conversation, or at least tried to open it up. I think I came to it with an open mind, an open heart and tried to get as many people to talk about it as I could.”