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)

CCL wrap: FC Dallas disappoints; Club America struts (video)

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The CONCACAF Champions League returned Tuesday with Toronto FC’s 2-0 quarterfinal first leg win in Colorado, and a trio of ties began Wednesday across Panama, Costa Rica, and Honduras.

[ WATCH: Fred’s vicious free kick ]

Tauro 1-0 FC Dallas

Veteran striker Edwin Aguilar scored a big goal, and goalkeeper Oscar McFarlane did plenty of good things as the Panamanian side struck a wild first blow against its MLS visitors.

Here’s a random fact underscoring how remarkable of a failure this would be for FC Dallas: Only six of Tauro’s roster members have their own Wikipedia page.

Deportivo Saprissa 1-5 Club America

Cecilio Dominguez and Mateus Uribe each bagged a brace, and Renato Ibarra also scored as the tournament’s top team sauntered into and out of Costa Rica on Wednesday. Club America has been to seven CCL finals, and one every single one.

Motagua vs. Club Tijuana — 10 a.m. ET

Honduran hosts hope to have a leg to stand on — pun intended — once the tie heads to Mexico.

West Ham to friendly neighbors Dag & Red: “Will help save our club”

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English Conference Premier side Dagenham and Redbridge has seen better days, and is getting a hand from a Premier League pal.

[ WATCH: Fred’s vicious free kick ]

West Ham United will pay a visit to Dag & Red as part of the latter’s #SaveTheDaggers campaign, and the March 21 date will cost fans between $7 and $21 to see a top flight side at 6,000-seat Victoria Road.

Dagenham and Redbridge chairman Paul Gwinn said, “It really will help save our club.”

“So please come on down to the Chigwell Construction Stadium for an additional night of football. Bring a friend, or two, or more and we can use the gate takings to help get us back on track,” reads a press release.

Dag & Red was founded in 1992 and climbed as high as League One in 2011, and plays just 2.5 miles from West Ham United’s training ground. Newcastle’s Matt Ritchie and Dwight Gayle are among Dag & Red alums in the Premier League.

It’s a terrific gesture from West Ham, and is even more impressive in the United States where the growing club game is increasingly cutthroat (especially between non-synced leagues).

Angry Di Francesco extremely quotable after Roma loss

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AS Roma manager Eusebio Di Francesco absolutely roasted his charges after i Lupi tossed aside a Cenzig Under-inspired lead to fall 2-1 at Shakhtar Donetsk in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Wednesday.

Di Francesco had praise for Edin Dzeko, who assisted Under’s goal, as well as goalkeeper Alisson, but was mostly enraged by his side.

[ MORE: Recap + Fred’s vicious free kick ]

Rather than construct a narrative, we’re going to point out our five favorite selections from Di Francesco’s post-match talk.

4) “The difference was that in the first half we tried to hurt them while in the second we were looking to hold on – to what? I don’t know.”

— “To what? I don’t know” is hilarious. Di Francesco’s side has posted some serious wins this season, including killing off Chelsea 3-0 at home and coming back from 2-0 to draw the Blues at Stamford Bridge. He doesn’t preach sitting back.

3) “There were far too many schoolboy errors – even by players with a wealth of international experience.”

— Schoolboy errors!

2) “I saw two completely different teams out there today. There were lots of players I should have taken off after we conceded the first goal.”

— Again, one mistake by a number of players on Facundo Ferreyra is enough for Di Francesco. He’s not just happy to be here.

1) “I can’t imagine we’d get arrogant just because we’re winning an important game. It’s not as if Roma are used to reaching the final every year.”

— When you’re willing to essentially rip an entire club’s history — Roma’s been to just two UCL quarterfinals since losing the final to Liverpool in 1984 — you’re putting your footprints in new cement.

Europa League preview: Rating every second leg

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Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund are one of many teams with their UEFA Europa League fates realistically in the balance come Thursday’s second legs of the Round of 32.

[ MORE: Sevilla 0-1 Man Utd | Mourinho reacts ]

Aside from a sextet of big teams posting blowouts, there’s still hope for the Round of 16 and a step closer to an automatic berth in the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League.

Basically done

Atletico Madrid 4-1 Copenhagen — 1 p.m. ET
Sporting Lisbon 3-1 Astana — 1 p.m. ET
Arsenal 3-0 Ostersund — 3:05 p.m. ET
Milan 3-0 Ludogorets Razgrad — 3:05 p.m. ET
Athletic Bilbao 3-1 Spartak Moscow — 3:05 p.m. ET
Braga 0-3 Marseille — 3:05 p.m. ET

In four of these cases, the heavy favorites emerged with multiple goal leads and at least three away goals.

Actually done

CSKA Moscow beat Red Star Belgrade 1-0 on Wednesday to win 1-0 on aggregate.

Unlikely, but big club lurks

RB Leipzig 3-1 Napoli — 1 p.m. ET
Villarreal 1-3 Lyon — 1 p.m. ET

In the case of Napoli, their 3-1 home loss to Leipzig was stunning but it’s impossible to rule out a club with such firepower. Villarreal trails by two to Lyon, but is home and dangerous.

Advantage one side, but anyone’s guess

Lokomotiv Moscow 3-2 Nice — 11 a.m. ET
Lazio 0-1 FCSB — 1 p.m. ET
Zenit Saint-Petersburg 0-1 Celtic — 1 p.m. ET
Red Bull Salzburg 2-2 Real Sociedad — 3:05 p.m. ET
Atalanta 2-3 Borussia Dortmund — 3:05 p.m. ET

Salzburg’s two away goals in a draw feels like a one-goal lead, and the one-goal matches are especially interesting. In the case of Atalanta, 1-0 to the Serie A side could undo Michy Batshuayi‘s first leg heroics for BVB.

Wide open

Plzen 1-1 Partizan Belgrade — 1 p.m. ET
Dynamo Kyiv 1-1 AEK Athens — 1 p.m. ET

Yes, nil-nil will get it done for the hosts, but there wasn’t a 0-0 in the entire group of first legs.