U.S. World Cup roster examination – Who is going to Brazil?: DEFENDERS

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Bruce Arena took eight defenders to World Cup 2006. Bob Bradley took just seven to South Africa four years later – although Ricardo Clark or Maurice Edu could both man a center back spot in a pinch.

Something interesting this year is that versatile men like Geoff Cameron and Fabian Johnson give U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann some similar latitude – although perhaps in reverse. Cameron plays right back for Stoke City, remember. Johnson spent most of his early appearances as an outside back, but has gradually drifted further forward.

He is better on the left, but who can also play right back (where he started in the World Cup clincher vs. Mexico). Either way, he’s on the charter.

Here we go:

DEFENDERS

(Estimated number of spots available: 7-8)

Start making plans, guys … you’re going to Brazil!: Fabian Johnson, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron, DaMarcus Beasley.

Besler and Gonzalez are the central defensive pairing until further notice. Klinsmann says Cameron’s best spot is center back, and he did fine last week against Jamaica, even if it wasn’t the most worthy test.

source: Reuters

We will add Steve Cherundolo to the list as soon as he gets into a U.S. game again, maybe one of these November dates in Europe. Clearly, the right back spot remains an issue, which is why we’re still talking about a 34-year-old defender who has been a bit brittle recently, and who hasn’t been in a U.S. match in months.

Left back remains an issue as well, although Beasley has shown he can handle it adequately.

Clarence Goodson is very close to this list “Going to Brazil” list, proving time and again that he can be trusted when called upon. The problem for San Jose’s newly established central force is that John Brooks, the talented young German-American who was so solid in his recent debut, may have more upside. Brooks may get the opportunity over the coming months to lap the veteran Goodson.

If Goodson / Brooks take a spot, and if Cherundolo remains in the mix, then there may be just one little, itty bitty spot between Edgar Castillo, Brad Evans and Michael Parkhurst. All have had their moments, especially Castillo lately. But all have deficiencies, either in one-on-one defending (Castillo) or in ability to get up the flank consistently to impact the game (Evans and Parkhurst).

Where does that put Michael Orozco, scorer of a couple of pretty huge goals? Well, injuries do happen, but he appears to be behind four or perhaps even five center backs at the moment.

You might notice that Timothy Chandler’s name has disappeared from the conversation. It’s just a hunch, but I get the feeling that Klinsmann has finally moved on, just not convinced that this guy – who has lost his starting spot with FC Nürnberg is serious about having an international career.

On the bubble: Clarence Goodson, John Brooks, Steve Cherundolo, Brad Evans, Michael Parkhurst, Michael Orozco, Edgar Castillo

Still in the conversation … but just barely: Tony Beltran, Justin Morrow

(MORE: Where the goalkeepers of the U.S. player pool stand) 

(MORE: Where the goalkeepers of the U.S. player pool stand) 

(MORE: Where the midfielders in the U.S. player pool stand)

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday