U.S. national team discussion: The Alejandro Bedoya conundrum

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Before too long U.S. national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann has to make those difficult, final calls; he already has a good idea, I’m sure, of which 23 players he will ideally take to Brazil.

But there is one sticking point, I believe: What to do about Alejandro Bedoya?

Klinsmann needs wingers, or the closest proximity thereof. And he doesn’t have many of them. Brek Shea, whose minutes at Stoke City have been precious and few, is still in the conversation for one reason: see above. No wingers. Klinsmann just doesn’t have many options to stretch the field horizontally, guys to run at defenders with menace.

Landon Donovan could certainly still be that guy; but does he want to be that guy?

Graham Zusi can play out wide, but it’s really just a starting position for him. Zusi at his best has license to drift inside and find the spaces best for creating, as he does so well for Sporting Kansas City, rather than pinned to more restrictive role out wide.

So then we arrive at Bedoya.

If we’re honest, the 26-year-old winger has not made the best of recent starting opportunities afforded by Klinsmann. He’s been OK at best. But “OK at best” won’t cut it in the World Cup. We’ve said so all along about guys who hold their own in friendlies or in internationals against lightweight opposition. “Hold your own” is a starting point internationally; it gets you into the conversation, but it can never be seen as the port of arrival. International soccer is about something more.

And now this point cannot possible be overemphasized, not with Germany, Portugal and habitual U.S. troublemaker Ghana looming on the World Cup schedule. (Plus whoever might lurk in the second round, where the World Cup really gets difficult.)

The U.S. manager told us that Bedoya was getting those chances in the starting 11 because he was in such good form for his club, French Ligue 1 side Nantes. And those top shelf performances keep a’ comin’! Look what American Soccer Now just said about Bedoya’s latest output in a pair of matches for Nantes.

It is getting redundant to put Bedoya so high on this list every week but there is no question he deserves it. On Tuesday he scored and set up a penalty for Nantes in a 2-1 win over Valenciennes. On Friday he rose to the occasion again.

“With Nantes having a difficult task away against a talented Olympique Marseille team, Bedoya scored the game’s only goal in the first half to give Nantes a valuable three points which moved the club into fourth place in Ligue 1. It was not goal for the highlight reel but he did well to get into a scoring position and made the most of it.”

But where was that difference-making ability in recent friendlies against Scotland and Austria? Bedoya always provides energy, but that’s not enough. Telling crosses and moments that ask questions of defenders, that’s what he needs to deliver with far greater frequency.

You wonder if he he’ll keep getting the opportunities to deliver them?

FA Cup: Man Utd drawn vs. Brighton in QF; Chelsea to face Leicester

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Three more Premier League sides joined Chelsea and Leicester City in the quarterfinals of the 2017-18 FA Cup on Saturday, followed by the draw for the final eight…

[ WATCH: Lionel Messi finds Luis Suarez with a brilliant through ball ]

Huddersfield Town 0-2 Manchester United

Romelu Lukaku‘s first season at Man United has been, on the whole, quietly fruitful (12 PL goals, plus another 8 in other competitions), though his $96-million price tag continues to loom large. On Saturday, the big Belgian fired the Red Devils into the final eight with a brace against fellow Premier Leaguers Huddersfield.

It was 1-0 after just three minutes, when Lukaku slotted home to finish a quick counter attack set forth by a brilliant through ball from Juan Mata.

Mata made it 2-0 just before halftime, but the goal was wiped away after utilizing the video-assistant refereeing system. They don’t get much closer than this one.

United’s second came 10 minutes into the second half, when Alexis Sanchez took his turn playing Lukaku into acres of wide open space.

When the draw was made following the conclusion of Saturday’s game, we learned that United will host another PL side, Brighton & Hove Albion, in the next round.

Brighton & Hove Albion 3-1 Coventry City

That’s because Brighton brushed aside League 2 side Coventry City to reach their first quarterfinal since 1986.

Jurgen Locadia, Connor Goldson and Leonardo Ulloa bagged the goals for the ‘Gulls.

West Bromwich Albion 1-2 Southampton

Southampton are also through to the quarterfinals, thanks to their 2-1 victory away to West Brom. Salomon Rondon’s stunning volley undoubtedly stole the headlines (WATCH HERE), but Saints are the ones to advance, thanks to goals scored by Wesley Hoedt (11th minute) and Dusan Tadic (56th).

In the next round, Southampton will be away to the winner of Wigan Athletic vs. Manchester City (Monday, 2:55 p.m. ET).

Sheffield Wednesday 0-0 Swansea City

The last thing relegation battlers Swansea City would have wanted is for a replay to be shoehorned into their remaining schedule, but Carlos Carvalhal’s side was unable to best Championship side Sheffield Wednesday, thus a replay at the Liberty Stadium on a yet-to-be-determined date over the next month.

Full quarterfinal draw

Sheffield Wednesday/Swansea City vs. Rochdale/Tottenham Hotspur
Manchester United vs. Brighton & Hove Albion
Leicester City vs. Chelsea
Wigan Athletic/Manchester City vs. Southampton

Sunday’s FA Cup schedule

Rochdale vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 11 a.m. ET

Monday’s FA Cup schedule

Wigan Athletic vs. Manchester City — 2:55 p.m. ET

Bundesliga wrap: Bayern wins it late, Leverkusen goes second

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It looked like Bayern Munich was on pace to drop points for just the fifth time this season, but then the club’s star striker stepped up in the biggest of moments.

[ MORE: TFC on the brink of adding Athletic Bilbao midfielder Ager Aketxe ]

The German leaders came back to pick up a 2-1 victory on the road at Wolfsburg after Robert Lewandowski converted a penalty kick in stoppage time.

Sandro Wagner’s second-half header had pulled the match level off of an Arjen Robben cross in the 64th minute. Robben atoned for an earlier penalty-kick miss, which would have tied the match ten minutes prior.

Meanwhile, Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke were each big winners on the day, with the two clubs moving into the top four.

Leverkusen’s 2-1 win on the road against Hertha Berlin saw Heiko Herrlich and his side move up to second place in the Bundesliga, albeit a lengthy distance behind leaders Bayern.

Schalke took care of business at home against Hoffenheim, bringing the Miners one step closer to the top four. The side is now level on 37 points with Borussia Dortmund for fourth, but the Christian Pulisic and Co. currently boast a superior goal differential.

Below are all of Saturday’s scores from around Germany’s top flight.

Cologne 1-1 Hannover 96
Hertha Berlin 1-2 Bayer Leverkusen
Freiburg 1-0 Werder Bremen
Wolfsburg 1-1 Bayern Munich
Schalke 2-1 Hoffenheim

Rodchenkov to AP: Russian footballers immune from drug bans

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Russian doping whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov claims he helped soccer players in the country to avoid being caught doping after he followed government orders to ensure cheating was covered up.

[ MORE: Mourinho denies Pogba exit rumors ]

The former Russian anti-doping laboratory director told The Associated Press in response to questions through his lawyer that an instruction to avoid scandal came from Vitaly Mutko. Mutko is the former Russian sports minister who serves as deputy prime minster despite being at the center of the doping deception controversy exposed by Rodchenkov.

The focus is sharpening on doping practices in Russian soccer with the World Cup kicking off in Moscow in four months.

Rodchenkov says “Russian footballers were immune from doping-control actions or sanctions.”

Rodchenkov claimed Mutko said “avoid any scandal by hiding positive results” and that “doping would be handled internally”.

Video: Rondon’s exquisite volley not enough to save West Brom

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Salomon Rondon’s second-half volley was not only a beauty, but one of tremendous difficulty.

Unfortunately for he and his West Bromwich Albion side, though, it wasn’t enough for the Baggies to survive in this season’s FA Cup fifth-round tie against Southampton.

[ MORE: Brilliant Messi through ball sends Suarez in for Barcelona opener ]

The Saints progressed to the quarterfinals on Saturday behind goals from Wesley Hoedt and Dusan Tadic, and join fellow Premier League sides Chelsea, Brighton & Hove and Leicester City in the final eight.

Tadic’s goal came in the 56th minute, doubling the Southampton lead, but Rondon’s quality volley two minutes later provided West Brom with a temporary moment of relief (below).