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2014 World Cup: How does it look for CONCACAF?

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When CONCACAF found out its teams would be grouped in Pot 3, away from Europe, Africa and South America, it knew it was in for a tough World Cup draw. There would be no Iran, no Australia… it would be a battle just to find games where CONCACAF would be favored.

In the end, the results were a mixed bag. Costa Rica and the United States have their work cut out for them, Mexico faces a challenge to their attacking skill while Honduras may be the Confederation’s best hope.

Both Mexico and the U.S. made their way to the knockout rounds in 2010 — Honduras finished last in its group — but how many nations will survive the group stage this time around.

The United States and its fortunes are directly tied to whether its Top 15 ranking is a true indicator of where they — and CONCACAF — stand. The Yanks have done loads of good during a record-setting 2013, but have been eliminated from the World Cup by two of their group mates: Germany and Ghana. The States kept Portugal from advancing in 2002, so there’s history everywhere. Is Portugal as deep? No, but they have the man who almost single-handedly took them to Brazil in Cristiano Ronaldo.

Mexico’s challenge will be dictating their game to the opposition. Free-wheeling is going to be a challenge when it comes to stingy Croatia and Cameroon, while beating hosts Brazil would seem prize-enough for a Mexico team that’s been on quite the roller coaster ride. They’ll go as Oribe Peralta (pictured) goes, and his work against the Ivory Coast in their highest-profile win (outside of the playoff with New Zealand) was superb.

He’s scored in seven of Mexico’s last eight matches, producing a total of 11 goals.

Poor Costa Rica. Their reward for finishing second in CONCACAF qualifying is a team that will match their physicality (England), another that will out-flash them (Uruguay) and perhaps the finest defensive, counter-attacking country of all-time (Italy). They finished 31st in their last World Cup appearance (2006) and have to hope that England and Italy fare poorly on the other side of their world.

Honduras is playing in a group that quite literally could find any two teams advance out of the group. France is a wild card, with immense talent but uncertainty lurking after a simply horrible experience in 2010. Switzerland has been looked-past, which is hilarious given they’re the No. 7 team in the world. That said, where will the goals come from? No Swiss player other than Tranquillo Barnetta has 10-plus goals in their international career. Which brings us to Ecuador.

La Tri is captained by Antonio Valencia and haven’t been out of the Copa America’s first round, let alone World Cup, since 1997. Their Round of 16 finish in the 2006 World Cup seems ancient history, but again, this is a South American tournament. Honduras has won a single World Cup game in its two appearances, though one its draws came versus Switzerland. As many as five MLS player could feature for the Hondurans, who will lean on New England’s Jerry Bengtson and Guizhou Zhicheng’s Carlo Costly to score and score early.

Wales manager says Arsenal could have avoided Aaron Ramsey injury

GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN - AUGUST 07: Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal during the Pre-Season Friendly between Arsenal and Manchester City at Ullevi on August 7, 2016 in Gothenburg, Sweden. (Photo by Nils Petter Nilsson/Ombrello/Getty Images)
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Wales manager Chris Coleman says Arsenal could have prevented Aaron Ramsey‘s current hamstring injury had they left him out of the early-season matches.

Ramsey was withdrawn in 62nd minute of Arsenal’s season opener against Liverpool after pulling up, and Coleman believes it happened for a reason. “It’s disappointing he’s got an injury. Could it have been prevented? Possibly, yes,” Coleman told the media ahead of the international window. “I think we all expected him to [miss the start of the season]. So I don’t know what happened between then and when he ended up on the pitch. Obviously only Arsenal can answer that. I think, to a man, if you were looking at [Arsenal’s team-sheet], it was a bit of a surprise he started.”

Ramsey helped Wales progress to the Euro 2016 semifinals. Many starts from countries that went deep in the Euros got a rest to start the season. Many of France’s team members, including Dimitri Payet and even Ramsey’s Arsenal teammate Olivier Giroud saw time off to start the Premier League season.

“When you’ve got a player as good as Aaron, take him out of any team and you are going to know about it,” Coleman said. “He is irreplaceable. He makes a huge impact for us. He is a great player and it’s a shame he’s not here. He’s a loss to any team.”

Wales has a World Cup qualifier against Moldova on September 5.

MLS Snapshot: Orlando City SC 1-2 Toronto FC

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07:  Sebastian Giovinco #10 of Toronto FC dribbles the ball during the second half of an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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The game in 100 words (or less): The Orlando City defense played a 75 minute match, and those 15 minutes off cost them the match. A pair of sleepy moments early and late in the match saw Toronto bag two goals on the road and leave Citrus Bowl Stadium with all three points. Sebastian Giovinco had the assists on both, a pair of perfectly timed through balls – one over the top and one through the middle – sprung the Toronto strikers.

Three moments that mattered

7′ – Toronto had a dream start just seven minutes in when a looping ball from Sebastian Giovinco found Tousaint Ricketts. He torched Tommy Redding down the right, breaking free on goal and finishing the one-on-one chance around Joe Bednik cooly.

56′ – Greg Vanney’s anger was doubled. First, the Toronto FC manager was left seething at a foul called as Marco Delgado clipped Matias Garcia and gave Orlando a set-piece opportunity. In the ensuing spell of possession, a cross from Luke Boden met the head of Clye Larin, who deposited it into the back of the net. A stone-faced Vanney was left seething on the bench as the home side leveled it up at 1-1.

86′ – Jozy Altidore came off the bench to finish off the game, and while he had a horrible miss just minutes into the game, he atoned at the end. The visitors again caught the Orlando defense completely asleep, with the back line pressed way high up the pitch. Altidore timed his run perfectly, and the hosts didn’t even attempt to catch up. One-on-one, the USMNT striker finished easily.

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Man of the match: Sebastian Giovinco

Goalscorers: Ricketts 7′, Larin 56′, Altidore 86′

Men In Blazers podcast: Leicester vs. Arsenal, plus wins for Mourinho, Pep, and Conte

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Rog and Davo recap the discordant draw that was Leicester vs. Arsenal and break down perfect starts for Mourinho, Pep and Antonio Conte.

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Hope Solo suspended from USWNT for 6 months, contract terminated

KANSAS CITY, KS - JULY 22:  Goalkeeper Hope Solo #1 of the United States in action during the game against Costa Rica at Children's Mercy Park on July 22, 2016 in Kansas City, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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U.S. Soccer has announced that Hope Solo has been suspended from the USWNT for six months following the comments she made about Sweden’s performance in the quarterfinal match that saw the U.S. eliminated from the 2016 Olympics in the quarterfinals.

Sweden played a defensively-minded match, which finished in a 1-1 draw and progressed to penalties, where Sweden defeated the reigning World Cup champions. Solo told reporters following the match that “I think we played a bunch of cowards” and “the best team did not win.”

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“The comments by Hope Solo after the match against Sweden during the 2016 Olympics were unacceptable and do not meet the standard of conduct we require from our National Team players,” said U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati in a statement on Wednesday evening. “Beyond the athletic arena, and beyond the results, the Olympics celebrate and represent the ideals of fair play and respect. We expect all of our representatives to honor those principles, with no exceptions. ”

The statement said that prior incidents were considered “as well as the private conversations we’ve had requiring her to conduct herself in a manner befitting a U.S. National Team member” when determining the length of the suspension. Solo was suspended in 30 days back in 2015 for a build-up of conduct issues. Even considering her prior conduct problems, the length of suspension is surprising for simply inflammatory comments, but U.S. Soccer made it clear in the statement that there is likely more to this than meets the eye.

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With the six-month layoff, Solo will be eligible to return to the team in February of 2017. The team has just two more matches scheduled for the remainder of 2016. She can still play for her club team Seattle Reign during the suspension. There was another term of punishment levied on Solo:

Other reports have confirmed that, because U.S. Soccer pays her club contract as well, only her national team portion of the contract was revoked.

“During our current National Team camp, Hope made a poor decision that has resulted in a negative impact on U.S. Soccer and her teammates,” coach Jill Ellis said in a separate statement. “We feel at this time it is best for her to step away from the team.”

Solo responded to the suspension, saying, “I apologize for disappointing my teammates, coaches and the Federation who have always supported me,” she wrote. “I think it’s best for me to take a break, decompress from the stress of the last several months, and come back mentally and physically ready to positively contribute to the team.”

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While Hope Solo seems to accept the decision, the player’s union isn’t so much.