Mexico v United States - FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier

Anxiety factor low, but opportunities still exist as U.S. readies to meet Jamaica in World Cup qualifying


KANSAS CITY – What a stinging irony, wonderful and just a little bit damaging all at once. By achieving something with flying colors, the United States has removed a little bit of valuable opportunity factor.

Here’s the deal:

The United States has qualified for the World Cup with two full games to spare. So that rings the bell of accomplishment, and pretty loudly. (Don’t think so? Look at Mexico, still fighting Friday for its World Cup life!)

On the other hand, qualifying for a World Cup was never the main mission for Jurgen Klinsmann and his team; it was always more of a weigh station along the road to Brazil, if we’re being honest. Getting to a World Cup was mostly a starting point for this group.

So any chance to improve as a group is a grand opportunity, right? Of course, but by qualifying 8 games into the 10-game final round, the United States has significantly diminished one of the few opportunities between now and next summer to assemble and test itself under pressure.

Ironic, eh?

But as Klinsmann likes to say, “It is what it is.” So the United States faces Jamaica at Sporting Park on Friday (6:30 p.m. ET on ESPN and on Spanish language UniMas), there’s virtually nothing on the line. Yes, the United States might possibly improve its chances of getting a more favorable draw in December when 32 qualifiers are placed into groups. But it’s a big “might,” and no one around the team seems to be talking or thinking about FIFA and its unpredictable, idiosyncratic seeding methodologies.

From the moment the United States clinched qualification – into a seventh consecutive World Cup – Klinsmann has been adamant that opportunities to fine tune would not be wasted, that his best players would be summoned.

There certainly are some opportunities here; 15-16 players probably have locks on roster spots for next summer in Brazil, which means seven or eight spots may still be there for the taking, with perhaps 14-15 players eyeballing those spots.

Friday represents one of five official FIFA dates between now at the opening of training camp for World Cup 2014, so if a Sacha Kljestan or a Brad Davis or an Aron Johannsson (just to name a few) wants to be noticed, he has to “say something” to the coaches on Friday against the Jamaicans, and he had better says it loud and say it strong.

Still, the mood at training on a brilliant fall Thursday afternoon at Sporting Kansas City’s Swope Park seemed jovial and quite loose. Again, that’s about a match that doesn’t mean anything. (By the way, there isn’t much on the line for the Jamaicans, either. The Raggae Bozy are in last place and have virtually no chance of getting that fourth-place playoff spot.) Is there a different feel to this U.S. camp compared to others?

“There’s not as much anxiety coming up the game,” American midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. “If we were in a different situation, like Mexico or Panama, you could feel the pressure mounting. Here it’s all about just putting in the work, becoming a better team and getting ready for Brazil.”

Beckerman did mention those opportunities. There are more of them due to injuries or other concerns for front line men like Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson and Omar Gonzalez. They are all in good shape in terms of getting to Brazil, but they aren’t in Kansas City today.

There is even some opportunity factor, although a different kind, for guys already in good shape to make the roster. (Yes, so much of the talk for the next six months is going be “roster chatter,” so we’ll go back to this topic again and again.)

For instance, the injury to Gonzalez means Matt Besler will require a central partner. Klinsmann said on Thursday that Geoff Cameron’s best spot is at center back, even if he plays right back for Stoke City and proved he could hold his own this summer as a holding midfielder. That versatility will help get former Houston Dynamo man to Brazil, but if he gets a shot at center back Friday alongside Besler, Cameron could possibly improve his positioning in the depth chart at that position.

It’s another chance for DaMarcus Beasley to show that he can hold down the left back spot, that he’s more than just a stop-gap there. (Remember, Beasley was an emergency option just a few months ago at left back.)

source:  Brad Evans may find himself at right back Friday, but veteran Steve Cherundolo remains in the conversation. So any chance for Evans to demonstrate his abilities cannot be wasted.

Between Sacha Kljestan (pictured left) and Mix Diskerud, there’s probably only room for one versatile, hybrid midfielder. Diskerud seems to have pulled ahead, so Kljestan may need to think more along the lines of “making up ground” on Friday.

“For all of us, it’s another audition,” said Landon Donovan, who is probably a little past the “audition stage” of his career, even if he is taking nothing for granted. “So at this point of the game, you really cannot take a step backward if you want to be on the World Cup roster. I think we all see it that way.”

Following Friday’s match at Sporting Park, the United States will close out final round qualifying four days later at Panama, inside Estadio Rommel Fernandez.

VIDEO: Previewing all 10 Premier League games

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28:  Jose Fonte of Southampton and Sergio Aguero of Manchester City compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Southampton at the Etihad Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images
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A busy midweek for Premier League teams in Europe sees some high-profile match-ups when league play resumes this weekend.

Chelsea is hosting former manager Jose Mourinho, Arsenal looks to keep up its red-hot play, and Manchester City is hoping an extra day’s rest on Southampton makes a difference to its recent dry spell.

[ STREAM: Every PL game on  NBC Sports 

Below you will find video previews of all 10 games coming up this weekend in the PL.

Manchester City vs. Southampton — Sunday, 8:30 a.m. ET, watch online via NBC Sports

Burnley vs. Everton — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, watch online via NBC Sports

Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, watch online via NBC Sports

Liverpool vs. West Bromwich Albion — Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, watch online via NBC Sports

Swansea City vs. Watford — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, watch online via NBC Sports

Bournemouth vs. Tottenham Hotspur — Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, watch online via NBC Sports

Hull City vs. Stoke City — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, watch online via NBC Sports

Chelsea vs. Manchester United — Sunday, 11 a.m. ET, watch online via NBC Sports

West Ham United vs. Sunderland — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, watch online via NBC Sports

Arsenal vs. Middlesbrough — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, watch online via NBC Sports

PST EXTRA: Will Mourinho go ultra defensive vs Chelsea? (video)

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After Thursday’s thumping of Fenerbahce, Manchester United’s focus turns to Chelsea.

You can bet Jose Mourinho has been daydreaming of this day from the moment he started jockeying for a new Premier League job; leading a team onto the Stamford Bridge pitch to face his former club.

[ MORE: Mourinho says Pogba needs time ]

Two years ago, Mourinho was leading Chelsea to the Premier League title. He didn’t last the next season, as a run of shocking results motivated Chelsea to cut ties with its “Special One”.

Joe Prince-Wright is here with another PST Extra, breaking down Sunday’s big match between Mourinho’s Red Devils and Antonio Conte‘s Blues at 11 a.m. ET.

Manchester United: Pogba explains why he took PK over Rooney

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 20:  Paul Pogba of Manchester United runs with the ball during the UEFA Europa League Group A match between Manchester United FC and Fenerbahce SK at Old Trafford on October 20, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba scored a pair of goals in Thursday’s big Europa League win over Fenerbahce, but the first was up for discussion.

Wayne Rooney started the game and has handled plenty of penalty kicks in his day, but the captain bowed to Pogba’s request to break the deadlock.

[ WATCH: Pogba’s fantastic goal ]

Pogba would later score a much better looking goal, but many debated the PK duties for much of the game (ad nauseam). Anthony Martial converted United’s second penalty of the night in a 4-1 win, but it was Pogba’s that was at the center of discussion.

From the BBC:

“I told Wayne (Rooney) I wanted to take the penalty and he let me. I am very happy to score that penalty and from a player like him to let me it is big respect so I am very glad.

“I feel comfortable with all of the team. It is just at the start of the season and there is still a long way to go and we want to go up and do our best and be top of the league.”

Pogba certainly knows the right way to turn a phrase, proffering plenty of praise for Rooney. Pogba had a very good game aside from a few early misplaced passes, and this performance could put his form in a fine place for Sunday’s match against Chelsea.

Mourinho says Pogba needs time to adjust to Premier League intensity

Manchester United's Paul Pogba, centre, celebrates scoring his sides third goal during the Europa League Group A soccer match between Manchester United and Fenerbahce at Old Trafford stadium in Manchester, England, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson)
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Paul Pogba had a very good match for Manchester United in the Europa League on Thursday, but manager Jose Mourinho still wants supporters to pump the brakes as the French midfielder continues adjusting to life in the Premier League.

Pogba, 23, has been under the microscope since returning to Old Trafford after a tremendous stint with Juventus. That scrutiny tends to come with a world record transfer fee.

[ MORE: UEFA Europa League roundup ]

On Thursday, he scored a pair of goals in United’s 4-1 defeat of Fenerbahce, a win that boosted the Red Devils back atop their Europa League group.

Mourinho was obviously asked about his midfielder’s starring performance.

“Paul Pogba needs time. I was in Italy, I know Italian football. To be in Italy for four or five years and come back I was not expecting it to be a click of the fingers for intensity. He needs time.”