United States' Gonzalez celebrates their victory over Mexico in their FIFA World Cup qualifying soccer match in Columbus

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)

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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