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)

Dempsey, Sounders steal a point on wild night in Portland

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The game in 100 words (or less): An entire game can change in the blink of an eye. For the Seattle Sounders, that blink came in the 44th minute of Sunday’s 2-2 draw with the Portland Timbers. Up 1-0 by way of Joevin Jones’ opener in the 27th minute, the defending MLS Cup champs were poised to head into halftime with a one-goal advantage and every belief imaginable that they’d been the better team for the entire first half. Blink. Brad Evans wrapped his legs around Darlington Nagbe, giving away a penalty and earning himself a red card, just like that, in the blink of an eye. Fanendo Adi stepped up to convert from the spot, but it still was to be a hard-fought 1-1 scoreline from Seattle’s perspective. Then, Dairon Asprilla got loose, completely unmarked atop the six-yard box, on a corner kick, and it was 2-1 after four minutes of first-half stoppage time. 45 more minutes pass, and the Timbers… blink. Clint Dempsey, 34 years old but fresh off the bench 40 minutes earlier, out-leaps everyone in the box and heads past Jake Gleeson to steal a point for Seattle.

[ MORE: San Jose fire Kinnear after 2.5 seasons ]

Three Four moments that mattered

27′ — Jones gets two chances, puts the second away — It’s a classic case of “I dropped my controller” from Alvas Powell, who just stops as Jones cuts across the penalty area. There’s no reason Jones should get a second look on this one.

44′ — Evans brings down Nagbe in the box, sees red — Goodbye, lead. Goodbye 11 versus 11. Things would unravel very quickly for Seattle.

45+4′ — Asprilla rises above to make it 2-1 — Seattle’s marking of Asprilla was nonexistent, and the Colombian showed off some serious hops to get his head to David Guzman’s corner kick.

90+4′ — Dempsey heads home deep in stoppage time — A costly turnover by Asprilla, a hit-it-and-pray cross by Roman Torres, and Dempsey snatches a point at the death.

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Man of the match: Cristian Roldan

Goalscorers: Jones (27′), Adi (45′ – PK), Asprilla (45+4′), Dempsey (90+4′)

Russia has reasons for optimism despite Confed Cup exit

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MOSCOW (AP) When the anger subsides after another group stage exit and another goalkeeping blunder, Russian fans might find they can be proud of their team at the Confederations Cup.

Russia failed to reach the knockout rounds of a fourth major tournament in a row, but there’s no shame in losing by one goal to European champion Portugal and North American champion Mexico.

“We will move on,” coach Stanislav Cherchesov said after Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Mexico. “We have won (the fans’) hearts and minds to a certain extent in this month that we have been together … I think that we have given some reasons to feel optimistic about us.”

If Russia’s fans agreed with Cherchesov that Russia had done well to limit Portugal to a single Cristiano Ronaldo goal, there was frustration that Russia hadn’t done better against a poor Mexican side.

Russia wasted chances to exploit Mexico’s ragged defending and add to Alexander Samedov’s opener, while goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev performed an inexplicable lunge which allowed Hirving Lozano to head in the winner. Akinfeev was lucky not to be red-carded, too, after his foot caught Lozano in the chest.

Akinfeev was the immediate scapegoat for Russia’s exit, with fans and newspapers calling for his removal.

The most-capped player in the squad – the Mexico game was his 101st international appearance – Akinfeev’s bulletproof consistency in the Russian Premier League has kept him the undisputed national-team No. 1 for years.

When the world is watching, though, he gets flustered and makes mistakes.

Against South Korea at the 2014 World Cup, an innocuous long shot slipped from his grasp and went in, paving the way for another early Russian exit from the tournament. There have been more than a few blunders in the 43 games since Akinfeev last kept a clean sheet for CSKA in the Champions League, too.

But it’s hard to see who could replace him. The naturalized Brazilian reserve keeper Guilheme is agile but injury prone, while Vladimir Gabulov is a solid but unspectacular veteran. Zenit St. Petersburg’s Yuri Lodygin challenged Akinfeev for a while, but was brought low by his own tendency for embarrassing errors.

On the positive side for Russia, defender Georgy Dzhikiya was solid in all three group games after having only made his debut on June 5, and Cherchesov’s three-man back line was mostly reliable.

Less successful was Cherchesov’s attempt to bolster the midfield by starting Roman Shishkin – usually a defender – in a defensive midfield role against Portugal and Mexico, while 33-year-old ex-Chelsea winger Yuri Zhirkov did his World Cup hopes no favors with a red card Saturday.

Russia’s run of injuries before the tournament weakened the midfield in particular, with Alan Dzagoev and the promising Roman Zobnin both missing out. Forward Artyom Dzyuba’s absence left Cherchesov relying heavily on Fyodor Smolov, who showed touches of class but missed a good chance against Portugal.

Perhaps the biggest damage from Russia’s Confederations Cup exit will be to Russian pride.

Officials have often bragged that the home advantage for next year’s World Cup could drive Russia to new heights, perhaps a repeat of South Korea’s charge to the semifinals in 2002. Those expectations are now being reviewed.

Just one World Cup host in history – South Africa in 2010 – has failed to get out of the group stage. Avoiding a repeat may be the most Russia can hope for.

FOLLOW LIVE: Timbers host Sounders in PNW showdown

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They don’t get much bigger, or more heated, than this one in MLS — it’s Portland versus Seattle, the Timbers versus the Sounders, tonight at Providence Park (10 p.m. ET).

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Timbers vs. Sounders ]

To keep up-to-the-second informed on proceedings in Portland this evening, hit the above link, or click right here.

Seattle won the first meeting between these sides, 1-0 back on May 27, on their home turf at CenturyLink Field. Cristian Roldan, who’ll depart for U.S. national team camp following Sunday’s game, scored the only goal that afternoon in Seattle, a 4th-minute header from three yards out.

Mustafi: Arsenal players powerless, hope “brilliant” Sanchez will stay

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Shkodran Mustafi admits that he, along with his Arsenal teammates, feels helpless with over the ongoing transfer saga of Alexis Sanchez.

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

The Chilean superstar is linked with a move away from Arsenal this summer, as the Gunners fell out of the Premier League’s top-four and the 28-year-old’s contract is set to expire next summer. Perhaps most importantly, Sanchez hasn’t so much as publicly stated a desire to remain at the club, which, from the outside, appears to have left his future in even greater doubt.

Mustafi admits he hasn’t a clue how things will shake out in the coming weeks, but he’s quick with a pleading sales pitch for Sanchez to stay — quotes from Goal.com:

“I have no idea. Obviously the other players cannot make that decision, he has to make that decision.

“I’m not too much involved. I hope he stays because he is a really brilliant football player but there’s nothing in my hands that I can do.”

[ MORE: De Boer set to be named new Crystal Palace boss ]

Arsenal would likely have to double (if not more) Sanchez’s current $180,000 weekly wages in order to convince him to forego a season in the UEFA Champions League and commit his long-term future to a club presently trending in the wrong direction.