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USA’s World Cup opponents: What to expect from Germany, Portugal and Ghana

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We all knew this World Cup was going to be difficult, but the U.S. have certainly been handed a tough task to make the last 16. Drawn in Group G alongside European powerhouses Germany and Portugal and another meeting with old foes Ghana, Jurgen Klinsmann’s side couldn’t have got a tougher draw as they’re entrenched in a dreaded “Group of Death.”

(MORE: 2014 World Cup Draw – USA in Group of Death with Germany, Portugal, Ghana – Schedule, times, venues)

It’s not all doom and gloom, as the USA face Ghana in their opening game before battling it out with Germany and Portugal, both of whom are ranked in the worlds top five… Wowzer. Let’s take a quick gander at the three teams the USA face in the Group G and what we can look forward to next summer.

GERMANY (FIFA WORLD RANKING – #2) Klinsmann will face his home nation in the final group stage game, you just knew it would turn out likes this? Klinsmann’s former assistant for the German national team, Joachim Low, has taken the side to greater heights since the the U.S. coach left and the German national team are now stacked with some of the most exciting young talent in world soccer. Low has the likes of Mesut Ozil, Marco Reus, Mario Gotze, Lukas Podolski, Andre Schurrle and Thomas Muller amongst a whole host of other to choose from… and that’s just his attacking midfield spot. Germany are one of the favorites and although the USA beat the three-time World Cup winners in a friendly in Washington D.C. last summer, that was a weakened German side. At full strength and with all their players on form, Germany may be the favorites for this summers tournament. They’ve made the semifinals in the past three World Cups as USMNT head coach Klinsmann helped reignite the country’s hopes. Is he the man to dash them at Brazil 2014? Key Players: Mesut Ozil, Philip Lahm, Manuel Neuer

source: Getty Images
Ronaldo will spearhead a talented Portuguese team. Can the U.S. defense stop him?

PORTUGAL (FIFA WORLD RANKING – #5) They had to go through the European playoffs to make the World Cup, but make no mistake about it, Portugal will be one of the favorites to lift the trophy in Brazil. Spearheaded by Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese swept aside Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden in style as the Real Madrid star scored four goals over the two legs. Former Portugal defender Paulo Bento is the manager and his side are stacked with experienced players and stars such as Joao Moutinho, Nani, Helder Postiga and many more, on their day Portugal are one of the worlds best teams. One man will cause the USMNT problems: Ronaldo. If Klinsmann’s defense can somehow keep the man many expect to be named World Player of the Year quite, they’ll have a chance. Key Players: Cristiano Ronaldo, Joao Moutinho, Helder Postiga

GHANA (FIFA WORLD RANKING – #24)

source: Getty Images
Can the Black Stars knock the USA out of a World Cup once again?

Ah, you again! The U.S. know Ghana only too well, as the African nation sent home Bob Bradley’s men from the last World Cup in South Africa in 2010 and beat the USA in the group stages of 2006 with the same 2-1 scoreline. That last 16 defeat over three years ago still rattles many cages of U.S. fans and plenty of national team supporters wanted another pop at the “Black Stars” to put things right. Well, now you have it. Coached by Ghanian James Appiah, they are solid and dependable and absolutely obliterated Bob Bradley’s Egypt in the finally qualifying round to make the World Cup. Their main striker Asomah Gyan has spent time in the Premier League and was a star in the last World Cup when Ghana were just a penalty kick away from being the first African side to make it to the semifinals. Expect a well-organized unit full of pace and skill on the wings. Revenge would be sweet, if they can deliver, against Ghana. Key Players: Asamoah Gyan, Sulley Muntari, Harrison Afful

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)
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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