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)

UCL wrap: Napoli, Celtic win big; Nwakaeme volleys beauty (video)

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A day after three of five road sides felt good with their work in first legs of the UEFA Champions League playoff round, it was the hosts time to celebrate good results.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s UCL first legs ]

Home sides in Italy, Scotland, Greece, and Israel posted wins. Spanish side Sevilla did manage a road win.

Napoli 2-0 Nice

Chances and even possession was at a premium for the visitors, and Napoli found its breakthrough from one of the more overlooked gems in the world. Dries Mertens scored in the first half, his sixth career UCL goal, and Jorginho converted a second half penalty to give Napoli a foot in the group stage.

Adding insult was a pair of red cards in the 80th minute, the first to Vincent Koziello for a dangerous tackle (it was a harsh call) and Alassane Plea was given a second yellow for protesting the sending off.

Mertens’ goal was smooth as silk:

Celtic 5-0 Astana

A pair of Scott Sinclair goals joined an Astana own goal as the Bhoys went a long way towards avoiding the tight tie that made the last round tricky.

Olympiacos 2-1 Rijeka

Heber gave the visitors a halftime lead in the 42nd minute, but Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe equalized in the 66th minute to minimize the damage for Olympiacos, who would go on to win.

Istanbul Basaksehir 1-2 Sevilla

Remember Eljero Elia? The Dutchman’s on his eighth club and third since leaving Southampton after just a half season, but he’s given his Turkish side hope against mighty Sevilla after Sergio Escudero gave the Spanish side an early lead and Wissam Ben Yedder nabbed the winner.

Hapoel Be’er Sheva 2-1 Maribor

Goals from Anthony Nwakaeme and Shir Tzedek boosted the Israeli hosts to a come-from-behind win.

In the case of the former, it was a beauty:

Brighton breaks transfer record (again) with Izquierdo (video)

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Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Brighton and Hove Albion have broken its transfer record.

A week after setting a new club standard with the signing of Davy Propper from PSV Eindhoven, the Gulls have signed electric Colombian attacker Jose Izquierdo from Club Brugge for over $15 million.

[ MORE: Matuidi medical at Juve ]

Izquierdo averaged a goal every other match for Brugge last season and broke through to the Colombian national team with two caps this summer, scoring in a friendly against Cameroon.

With Propper and Izquierdo, manager Chris Hughton has two more playmakers who can better set the table for a strike corps that has been questioned at the Premier League level.

Brighton lost to Man City 2-0 on Saturday and next faces Leicester City at King Power Stadium.

Matuidi having a medical at Juventus ahead of move from PSG

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Blaise Matuidi was having a medical at Juventus on Wednesday ahead of a potential move to the Serie A club.

Juventus said that Matuidi arrived at Turin airport in the afternoon and was undergoing tests.

Juventus will reportedly pay PSG 20 million euros ($23 million) plus bonuses for the 30-year-old Matuidi, who had a year left on his contract with the French club.

[ MORE: Wenger issues updates on Alexis, Ox, Wilshere ]

PSG, which is also trying to balance the books after buying Neymar for 222 million euros, could not afford to lose Matuidi on a free transfer.

Matuidi played nearly 300 games for PSG in all competitions after joining from Saint-Etienne in 2011.

After a difficult first season, he quickly became an integral part of the team for successive managers, Carlo Ancelotti and Laurent Blanc.

He flourished from a largely defensive midfielder to a robust, tireless runner with an eye for goal and an enormous work-rate.

Overcoming some technical deficiencies in his game, Matuidi gradually earned himself a place in the France lineup and became a key player at the 2014 World Cup and last year’s European Championship.

At the beginning of last season, after Blanc was fired and replaced by Unai Emery, he expressed a desire to leave PSG and already wanted to join Juventus. But the club blocked his move, considering him too important to leave, and he stayed for another season.

Altogether, Matuidi has scored 33 goals for PSG in 295 appearances, becoming a well-respected player among fans and teammates alike, often taking a public stance when others would not and when tensions arose within the club.

In all, Matuidi has won four league titles, three French Cups and four League Cups with PSG.

This story has been corrected to show that Neymar’s fee was 222 million euros, not 220 million euros.

Furious Cristiano Ronaldo responds to five-game ban

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Cristiano Ronaldo has hit out at the Spanish soccer federation after his five game ban for pushing a referee in the back was upheld.

Ronaldo, 32, pushed the ref after he was shown a second yellow card in Real Madrid’s 3-1 win in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup at Barcelona on Sunday.

It capped an eventful El Clasico for Ronaldo who arrived in the second half as a sub, then scored a stunner to put Real 2-1 up.

He received his first yellow for taking off his shirt and holding it up to the Nou Camp crowd to mock Lionel Messi for doing the same in a goal celebration in April at the Santiago Bernabeu. Ronaldo then received a second yellow for going down in the box under a challenge.

In an Instagram post the Real Madrid forward had the following to say about the decision which sees him banned for the second leg ag the Bernabeu on Wednesday as well as Real’s next four games.

“It seems to me exaggerated and ridiculous, this is called persecution.”