Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Franck Ribery to battle it out for Ballon d’Or

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The worst kept secret in the global game is out, now there’s just one more decision to make. It’s a big one.

On Monday FIFA released its three player shortlist for the Ballon d’Or award, which crowns the World Player of the Year.

Predictably, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Franck Ribery are the three finalists for the prestigious award that will be handed out in Zurich on January 13, 2014 to honor the best player in the last year.

Messi has won the Ballon d’Or award the last two years after it was re-branded and also has four consecutive World Player of the Year awards overall. But this season with his lengthy spells out through injury and Ronaldo’s sublime campaign it is the Portuguese attacker who many expect to claim the top individual honor in the game.

For Real Madrid and Portugal this season Ronaldo has already bagged 32 goals in just 22 games and is at the peak of his power. Messi has still scored 14 in 14 appearances but he is expected to finish a close second behind Ronaldo. And as for Ribery, the French midfielder has already come out to say he deserves to win the award but no matter how pivotal he was in Bayern Munich’s incredible campaign in 2012-13 when they won the Champions League and every domestic title in Germany, you simply can;t say he stands above Messi and Ronaldo on individual talent.

FIFA caused controversy when they reopened the ballot for this Ballon d’Or vote following Ronaldo’s sublime display in the World Cup qualifying playoffs when he scored all four of Portugal’s goals against Sweden to send them through to the World Cup. That angered many Messi fans as they duel between Real Madrid and Barcelona’s star attractions heats up on and off the field.

We’re witnessing two of world soccer’s greatest every players battle it out at the same time, that’s something we should cherish. But there can only be one winner.

Also, for fans of U.S. soccer Abby Wambach is once again nominated in the final three for the women’s award as the USWNT veteran striker continues to grow her legendary status across the world. Wambach is joined by Brazilian striker Marta and Germany’s Nadine Angerer.

FIFA’s glitzy award ceremony will take place in Zurich in January and here are the full list of nominees for each category, plus the FIFA Pro team of the year will also be announced.

Fifa Men’s Player of the Year:

Lionel Messi (Argentina)
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
Franck Ribery (France)

Fifa Women’s Player of the Year:

Nadine Angerer (Germany)
Marta (Brazil)
Abby Wambach (USA)

Fifa World Coach of the Year for Men’s Football:

Sir Alex Ferguson (Manchester United former coach)
Jupp Heynckes (FC Bayern Munich former coach)
Jurgen Klopp (Borussia Dortmund)

Fifa World Coach of the Year for Women’s Football:

Ralf Kellermann (VfL Wolfsburg)
Silvia Neid (German national team)
Pia Sundhage (Sweden/Swedish national team)

Ferenc Puskas Award for most beautiful goal:

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden v England in November 2012)
Nemanja Matic (Benfica v Porto, Liga in January 2013)
Neymar (Brazil v Japan in June 2013)

USMNT eyeing the table as it kicks off training camp

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (AP) Goalkeeper Tim Howard‘s uniform was filled with grass stains after the first day of training camp.

And this was considered a light workout.

“Just getting everybody back together, getting a sweat,” Howard said Monday after the U.S. squad went through a roughly 60-minute workout. “Day by day, we’re just trying to add on to the pile, put some concepts in and get some understanding between players.”

What awaits the squad in resumption of the final round of World Cup qualifying is certainly a gantlet. They have a game against Trinidad and Tobago on June 8 in Commerce City and then at Mexico three days later.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

There’s little margin for error, with the U.S. currently in fourth place in the six-team standings. They have three home and three away matches remaining. The top three teams qualify, with the fourth-place squad going to a playoff against Asia’s No. 5 nation.

“We need to keep climbing that table. We feel like this is a good opportunity to do it,” said Howard, now with the Colorado Rapids and who will feel right at home with the Trinidad game on his turf at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. “One game, that’s as far as you can look. You can’t look to next week or the week after or two months from now.”

For now, Howard will be coach Bruce Arena’s goalkeeper over Brad Guzan, Ethan Horvath and Nick Rimando, who all were invited to camp. But it’s an ongoing evaluation.

“We have good goalkeepers here. That’s the least of my worries, to be honest,” Arena said.

Given the short amount of time between games, Arena fully plans on using more players than usual. One particular competition to watch will be at right back between Timmy Chandler and DeAndre Yedlin.

“I have a close eye on everything,” Arena said. “We have a bunch of good players here. … We’re watching everybody and thinking about how we can best utilize everyone.”

[ MORE: Kroenke, Wenger meet; Decision looms ]

The roster features a solid blend of youth and experience. Leading the youngsters is Christian Pulisic, the 18-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder who last weekend became the youngest American to win a club medal in Europe.

On the veteran side are players such as Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley and Howard, all of whom have more than 30 World Cup qualifying appearances.

“We’re past the experimentation phase. These are all guys who the manager believes in whole-heartedly,” Howard said. “They’re not here for anything other than to play minutes, play important minutes.”

Arena couldn’t agree more.

“This is a nice group we have here. Hopefully, we can find the right balance in the team, putting them in the right position to complement them both individually and collectively,” Arena said. “If we can accomplish that, there’s no reason to believe we can’t be successful in these two games.”

Joining the camp in Colorado are a few players who weren’t with the squad in March. Guzan, Chandler, Fabian Johnson, Bobby Wood and Yedlin are all on the field. Guzan didn’t participate because his wife was expecting their second child, while the others were dealing with injuries, illnesses and yellow-card suspension.

Now, it’s a matter of getting their timing down – and accustomed to the altitude.

“There’s no reason to make it an excuse,” midfielder Paul Arriola said. “Just doing the best we can to acclimate to it.”

Arena’s squad will get things rolling in a friendly against Venezuela in Sandy, Utah, on Saturday.

“That’s a good game for us,” Arena said. “It gives us a little bit of exercise at lower altitude, which isn’t perfect for what we need to do to get ready here and Mexico City, but it’s a start. Think it will be good to give a chance to 16 players and build from there – get us ready for Trinidad and Mexico.”

Stam after Reading playoff final loss: “Tough to take”

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Jaap Stam has won silverware in three different leagues for five different teams, and has a Champions League title from his time at Manchester United.

He’s used to winning, and that includes his first stop as a full-time manager. And that makes Reading’s loss in Monday’s playoff final sting a bit more.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

Reading lost in penalty kicks and it’s not like the Royals were thoroughly outclassed by Huddersfield Town. But it still burns. From Sky Sports:

“You don’t want to play football to be in the grey areas, you want to get the max out of your career, win trophies and play at the highest level.

“It’s tough to take, but it has to be difficult. It’s not good to lose a game like this, you need to feel it and experience it and then take that forward if you get into the same moment again. The good players do that.”

Reading loses a trio of loan players — Lewis Grabban, Reece Oxford, and Jordon Mutch — as well as American midfielder Danny Williams. It won’t be easy for Reading to get back into the playoffs without an injection of money, but Stam’s first rodeo as a manager was a good ride that came up just short.

Wenger, Kroenke meet; Board to learn decision Tues.

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Wenger watch is entering its final hours.

The BBC is reporting that Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke met with longtime manager Arsene Wenger on Monday to discuss the Frenchman’s future, and that the decision was going to be made together.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

It seems almost certain that Wenger is going to come back to the Emirates Stadium. From the BBC:

The outcome is unclear but the decision rests solely with Wenger and Kroenke and will be relayed to directors at a Tuesday board meeting.

Fresh terms were agreed in principle some months ago, but nothing is signed.

There have been questions about whether Wenger would accept a sporting director being placed above him, and if Kroenke believes the repercussions of keeping the boss would negatively impact the business.

Barcelona to keep goalkeeper Ter Stegen until 2022

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has reached a deal to extend the contract of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen until June 2022.

The club said the new agreement, which has a buyout clause of 180 million euros ($201 million), will be signed on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

Ter Stegen has been with the club since 2014, helping it win nine titles in three seasons.

The German goalkeeper has played 93 matches with Barcelona, conceding 90 goals in 71 wins, 10 draws and 12 losses.

Barcelona has already renewed the contracts of Javier Mascherano, Luis Suarez, Neymar, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic. It is still working on new deals for Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.