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

7 Comments

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.

Witness: Men accused of bribes negotiated sale to Qataris

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NEW YORK (AP) A sports marketing company whose owners have been charged with bribing top soccer officials tried to negotiate a sale to an entity associated with Paris Saint-Germain team president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, a witness testified Tuesday in federal court.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

Santiago Pena, a former executive of the Argentina-based Full Play Group, testified that he spent a lengthy period of time on secret negotiations called the “New York project,” given the name because the deal for 51 percent of Full Play was valued at $212 million – 212 is a New York City telephone area code.

Pena said the talks with Al-Khelaifi and the sovereign wealth fund Qatar Sports Investments ended on May 27, 2015, when U.S. prosecutors unsealed indictments against Full Play’s controlling principals, the father and son Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, for racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy. They were charged for payments to soccer officials in the Americas allegedly made for broadcast and marketing contracts.

Al-Khelaifi and Qatar Sports would have had the right to buy an additional 19 percent at a later date, Pena said.

Al-Khelaifi is a criminal suspect in Switzerland for bribery linked to Qatar-owned BeIN Sports’ broadcast agreements with FIFA for 2026 and 2030 World Cup rights in the Middle East and North Africa. He met on Oct. 25 with Swiss prosecutors in Bern.

Pena said that only he, Hugo and Mariano Jinkis and Full Play accountant Sergio Rabinovich were aware of the negotiations. Pena testified that after the indictments were made public, he deleted emails discussing the potential sale.

“I did it in order to protect the company,” he said.

Hugo and Mariano Jinkis have not been extradited to the U.S., and Pena said they remain in Argentina. Pena reached an agreement this year with U.S. prosecutors to testify in exchange for not being charged.

“I always considered myself a completely small fish in this issue,” he said.

Juan Angel Napout, the ex-president of Paraguay’s soccer federation; Jose Maria Marin, the former president of Brazil’s soccer federation; and Manuel Burga, the ex-head of Peru’s soccer federation, are on trial in federal court in Brooklyn for racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy.

Pena, who worked for Full Play from 2009-15, testified about a ledger he kept of payments that the Jinkises directed be made to top soccer officials. He said he knew only of what they told him were amounts owed to soccer officials. Pena said Napout was to be paid in cash, not by wire transfer, so he had no knowledge if any money was received.

“I simply wrote down the commitments based on other negotiations,” Pena said.

Pena completed testimony Tuesday and was followed by the stand by James Haggerty of Bank of America, who explained wire-transfer records, and Daniel Huntley of Hilton Worldwide Holdings, who detailed Napout’s reservation records.

UCL Wrap: Tottenham, Man City clinch groups

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The UEFA Champions League returned to action Tuesday with a bang, with goals flying in across Europe.

Two Premier League clubs secured key victories, with Tottenham winning 2-1 at Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City knocking off Feyenoord, 1-0. Liverpool, after taking a 3-0 lead inside 30 minutes, settled for a draw on the road after allowing three second-half goals.

The wins for Tottenham and Man City clinched them their groups and turned around some bad feelings around Spurs after the North London derby defeat last Saturday.

[MORE: Champions League score picks: Week 5]

Borussia Dortmund 1-2 Tottenham

After sub-par performances over the weekend, Harry Kane and especially Dele Alli looked like the stars they’ve been all season, leading Spurs on a 2-1 comeback victory over host Borussia Dortmund. Alli played provider for both goals in the second half, with Kane scoring the first and Son Heung-min scoring the second. It was a confident performance from Mauricio Pochettino‘s side. With the loss, Borussia Dortmund are eliminated from the Champions League knockout round, but could still drop into the UEFA Europa League.

Sevilla 3-3 Liverpool

A second-half surge from Sevilla helped the Spanish side come back from a three-goal deficit to draw Liverpool, 3-3. But it was Liverpool which was in control early, as Roberto Firmino scored a brace, including a cheeky no-look tap-in in the 30th minute, sandwiching a Sadio Mane strike. With the draw, Sevilla now just needs another point and a Spartak Moscow loss or draw to advance to the next round, while Liverpool missed out on clinching Group E.

Manchester City 1-0 Feyenoord

A late Raheem Sterling goal made it five wins out of five for Manchester City, which clinched Group F in a 1-0 win over Feyenoord. It was looking as if both teams would end up with a point each but Sterling scored his fourth goal in as many Champions League games, looping the ball over Feyenoord goalkeeper Brad Jones for the goal in the 88th minute.

 

APOEL 0-6 Real Madrid

It was a vintage Real Madrid performance as a Cristiano Ronaldo brace led Real Madrid to a 6-0 rout. Luka Modric, and Nacho both scored while Karim Benzema had a brace as well. The win clinches a place in the last 16 for Real Madrid.

Spartak Moscow 1-1 Maribor

A late goal for Jasmin Mesanovic saved a point for Maribor and stunned host Spartak Moscow, which now must beat Liverpool in the final matchday to make it into the Champions League knockout round. The draw wasn’t enough for Maribor, but they’ll take the confidence boost after Mesanovic’s stoppage time goal canceled out Ze Luis’ 82nd minute finish.

Tuesday’s UCL Scores

Group E

Spartak Moscow 1-1 Maribor

Sevilla 3-3 Liverpool

Group F

Manchester City 1-0 Feyenoord

Napoli 3-0 Shakhtar Donetsk

Group G

Besiktas 1-1 FC Porto

Monaco 1-4 RB Leipzig

Group H

APOEL 0-6 Real Madrid

Borussia Dortmund 1-2 Tottenham

Griezmann: “No regrets” rejecting Man United move in summer

Getty Images
Leave a comment

After flirting with the idea of moving to Manchester last summer, Atletico Madrid star Antoine Griezmann is in one of the worst goal-scoring droughts in his career.

It’s been seven games since he last scored and with just three goals total, it’s been an underwhelming season so far for the Frenchman. But Griezmann doesn’t regret turning down the chance to join Manchester United last summer.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

“I don’t regret staying at Atleti,” Griezmann told French TV program Telefoot. “It was my decision and I’m happy with what I chose to do – even if I have gone seven games without scoring”.

Griezmann was booed off the pitch in Atleti’s scoreless draw with city rivals Real Madrid, as both clubs dropped to 10 points behind La Liga leaders Barcelona in the standings. There have been rumors swirling that Griezmann could even leave Atletico in January, with Diego Costa set to join the club.

On his game, with good service from midfield, Griezmann is one of the best attackers on the planet. But with Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, and more, Manchester United already has the firepower to compete with the top of the Premier League

LIVE, UCL: Liverpool, Man City in action; Dortmund-Tottenham

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Three Premier League teams are in UEFA Champions League action on Tuesday with Liverpool knowing a win at Sevilla will see them qualify for the knockout stage for the first time since 2009.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ] 

Jurgen Klopp‘s side head to Spain in good form after three consecutive wins in the Premier League and are in a very healthy position in Group E.

Tottenham Hotspur head to Borussia Dortmund with Spurs’ place in the last 16 already secured and Dortmund (Christian Pulisic is out of the squad with an injury) needing a win to keep their faint hopes of reaching the knockout stage alive with Real Madrid heading to APOEL Nicosia in Group H.

Manchester City have also secured their spot in the last 16 and host Feyenoord in Group F. The Dutch side have lost all four of their UCL games so far this season but have taken a huge number of traveling fans to Manchester and they can still qualify for the Europa League via finishing in third spot ahead of Shaktar Donetsk.

Elsewhere Monaco host RB Leipzig in a pivotal clash in Group G.

Click on the link above to follow commentary on all the action, while below is the full schedule as we will have reaction and analysis on all the UCL action on Tuesday.

All games kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET, unless otherwise stated.


Tuesday’s UCL schedule

Group E
Spartak Moscow 1-1 Maribor – FT
Sevilla vs. Liverpool

Group F
Manchester City vs. Feyenoord
Napoli vs. Shakhtar Donetsk

Group G
Monaco vs. RB Leipzig
Besiktas 1-1 FC Porto – FT

Group H
Borussia Dortmund vs. Tottenham Hotspur
APOEL vs. Real Madrid