Venue Guide: Check out where the USA will play at 2014 World Cup in Brazil

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With all the excitement of the World Cup draw last Friday for Brazil 2014, now seems like a good time to take a closer look at the cities and stadiums the U.S. national team will play in next summer.

As we all know, Jurgen Klinsmann’s side were handed and incredibly tough draw In Group G with Germany, Portugal and Ghana standing in their way of making it to the knockout stages. Ahem, ‘Group of Death’…

But what many have overlooked is the fact that in the group stages the USA will play in three of the four most Northern cities hosting games in the World Cup, which means unbearable heat, incredible humidity and will put plenty of extra strain on the players bodies as they play three games in 10 days.

FULL WORLD CUP DRAW ARCHIVE FROM PROSOCCERTALK

So, from the Amazon to the North East coastal resorts, here’s a look at what cities fans of the USMNT will be visiting if they’re lucky enough to be heading to South America to cheer on the Yanks. Plus, we take a cheeky look at the venues the USA may play at in the knockout stages, if they make it out of the dreaded ‘Group of Death.’

Warning: take plenty of sun block… and a hat.

source: Getty Images
Estadio das Dunas stadium, named after the famous sand dunes which are in the region of Natal, is a beauty.

NATAL – 16 June, 6pm ET: Ghana v USA

City: In the far North East of Brazil, a tropical climate awaits the USA (that will be a running theme here) as Natal enjoys over 300 days of sunshine per year and is known as ‘Sun City’ in Brazil. Heavy European influence adorns the buildings and architecture of the city and tourism plays a big part in the local economy due to wonders such as Ponta Negra, Genipabu, Redinha, Pipa, Pirangi and the fabulous beaches along the coast. This area has struggled for any domestic soccer success for quite some time as fierce rivals America Futebol Clube and ABC Futebol Clube have both struggled since the 1980’s.

Stadium: The Estadio das Dunas has been newly constructed and it’s fantastic curving shape emulates the sand dunes Natal is famous for. A capacity of over 42,086 means it’s the smallest stadium at the World Cup. Could prove difficult to get tickets for this one.

source: Getty Images
The Arena Amazônia is the host stadium in the humid confides of the Amazon rainforest. Will the USA handle the heat?

MANAUS 22 June, 6pm ET: USA v Portugal

City: One of the most spectacular, yet problematic, venues in World Cup history, the Amazonian capital of Manaus is host to the USA’s game against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal. Humidity around the 99 percent mark is likely to greet the USMNT, as well as heat in excess of 100 degrees in the heart of the Amazon rainforest but plenty of stunning sights, such as the convergence of the Negro and Amazon rivers, will make a trip to Manaus a one in a life-time experience. The most northern venue boasts quite a poor crime-record, so be on your guard.

Stadium: There are plenty of concerns over the heat and conditions deep in the world’s largest rainforest, as the kick off time has been moved backwards, but what a stadium they’ve built to welcome the world into the Amazon. Huge interwoven rafters mimics the wooden baskets this region is now far, but once again the capacity is only just over 42,000 so the USA will be playing in another of Brazil’s smallest host stadiums.

source: AP
The Arena Pernambuco has already hosted Confederations Cup games and is ready to go.

RECIFE – 26 June, 12pm ET: USA v Germany

City: Just down the coast from Natal, Recife is the state capital of Pernambuco and the fourth largest metropolitan area in Brazil. The gorgeous beaches close to urban areas makes this city unique and a heavy Dutch influence from the 16th century can be found amongst the architecture. Just like Natal and Manaus, this sprawling Northern city also enjoys searing temperatures and the USA’s noon kick off time vs. Germany may actually play in their favor. Well, at least more of the USMNT’s players will be used to playing in hot conditions compared to the Germans.

Stadium: Built through public and private funding, the stadium is now home to Clube Nautico Capibaribe, one of Recife’s three professional teams. With a capacity of 46,154, again it’s not the biggest stadium in Brazil but there’s sure to be a terrific atmosphere in the ‘capital of the North-east’ when the U.S. face Germany in their pivotal last group game. The stadium itself is located outside of the city proper and close to the region known as Grande Recife where huge poverty affects the local people, but this venue has regenerated the area by offering shops, jobs and other businesses to locals.

USA’s potential venues in knockout stages

Last 16: Porto Alegre on June 30 or Salvador on July 1

Quarterfinal: Rio de Janiero on July 4 or Brasilia on July 5

Semifinal: Belo Horizonte on July 8 or Sao Paulo on July 8

3/4 place game: Brasilia on July 12

Final: Maracana Stadium, Rio de Janiero on July 13

Aguero left off Argentina starting XI to face Bolivia

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Sao Paolo striker Lucas Pratto will receive a fantastic opportunity on Tuesday when Argentina faces Bolivia in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying.

[ PREVIEW: USMNT travels to Panama in CONCACAF WCQ ]

It just so happens that Pratto’s gain is a major letdown for one of the Premier League’s top strikers. The 28-year-old is tied for second this qualifying campaign for Argentina with two goals.

La Albiceleste have announced their starting lineup ahead of tomorrow’s clash in Bolivia, which features mainstays Lionel Messi, Angel di Maria and goalkeeper Sergio Romero.

Meanwhile, Aguero — who started in Argentina’s 1-0 win over Chile on Thursday — is the lone change from manager Edgardo Bauza.

The Copa America runners’ up are currently depleted with a combination of injuries and suspensions. Four players will miss Tuesday’s meeting in La Paz due to suspension, including Gonzalo Higuain, Nicolas Otamendi, Javier Mascherano and Lucas Biglia.

Elsewhere, Gabriel Mercado and Emmanuel Mas will each miss the match after sustaining respective hamstring and knee injuries.

Argentina currently sits third in the CONMEBOL table while Bolivia is in danger of elimination with a loss on Tuesday. La Verde have managed just seven points in the first 13 rounds of World Cup qualifying.

Three keys for USMNT against Panama

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Coming off of Friday night’s dominating effort against Honduras, the U.S. Men’s National Team looks for their second win in five nights when Bruce Arena and co. head to Panama.

[ PREVIEW: USMNT goes for second win in Hex on Tuesday ]

Strong performances from players like Clint Dempsey and Christian Pulisic have USMNT fans buzzing ahead of Tuesday’s clash in Panama City, but there are several questions that lie ahead for Arena as the U.S. goes for its second win in the Hexagonal.

How does Arena cope with injuries?

The only downside of the team’s 6-0 win over Panama on Friday was the aftereffects if the match. John Brooks, Sebastian Lletget, Michael Orozco and Jordan Morris are no longer with the USMNT after sustaining injuries/illnesses, leaving Arena shorthanded as the Stars and Stripes head into the Estadio Rommel Fernández.

While Clint Dempsey’s emphatic national team return will provide Arena with some assurances up front, along with the emergence of Borussia Dortmund star Christian Pulisic, there are some questions in the midfield and defense for the U.S.

Jermaine Jones is available to return from his one-match suspension and could potentially fill the void left by Sebastian Lletget after his injury on Friday. While, Alejandro Bedoya — who replaced Lletget in the Honduras match — will also be in line for a starting spot.

Defensively is where it gets a bit tricky though, as Arena has to make up for an already-depleted backline. There was no DeAndre Yedlin or Fabian Johnson coming into this round of qualifiers, and John Brooks’ release from camp leaves the defense even thinner. Tim Ream appears to be Arena’s next choice to start at centerback with Brooks unavailable, but will he stick with Omar Gonzalez in the center or slide Geoff Cameron back into the middle?

It seems like the latter choice, especially given Cameron’s experience in the central defense, but that would mean Arena has to slot somebody else into the right back position. Graham Zusi has had slight experience in that role as of late, but it could be a bit of a gamble for Arena in another high-stakes match.

Bradley must control the middle once again

Forget Michael Bradley’s superb goal, which lifted the U.S. lead to 2-0 on Friday, it was the captain’s overall performance that is exactly what should be expected from the center midfielder.

Bradley completions/MLSSoccer

In 90 minutes of play against Los Catrachos, Bradley only missed on six passes while also making several successful tackles and recoveries to limit the Honduras attack.

The loss of Lletget is definitely a significant one for the Americans, given his lively movement going both ways. However, LA Galaxy teammate will likely be in line to replace the vibrant midfielder on Tuesday as he returns from a one-match suspension.

In regards to Bradley though, the U.S. veteran is at his best when he is able to move freely throughout the midfield, but Jones’ inclusion could present more of a burden for the Toronto FC player.

Jones is still a very capable midfielder, but he simply doesn’t have the pace to match that of a Lletget, which leaves Bradley more liable for covering ground defensively in front of the backline.

On top of that, the back four will see more changes on Tuesday after Brooks’ exit from the USMNT, making Bradley’s role all the more critical when facing players like Luis Tejada and Gabriel Torres.

[ MORE: CONCACAF qualifiers resume Tuesday afternoon ]

Dempsey/Pulisic bond continues to evolve

It couldn’t have gone much better for the pair on Friday night as Clint Dempsey and Christian Pulisic were directly involved in five of the game’s six goals.

The budding relationship between the two key attackers though is an intriguing one, and will likely determine just how successful this USMNT can be down the road. At 34, Dempsey is certainly on the back end of his career, however, his effort against Honduras shows just how dangerous the Seattle Sounders man can be, even after missing significant time due to a heart problem.

Meanwhile, Pulisic continues to shine in European with giants Dortmund, appearing both in the Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League. The two likely won’t be together on the international scene for long, perhaps only until the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but the partnership is something to monitor over the next year-plus.

Not only does the duo represent a dangerous one-two punch in the attack but also a changing of the guard. Dempsey has been one of the most talented USMNT players in the nation’s history, and many believe Pulisic has the talent to match or even surpass that of the 55-time goalscorer.

We’ve seen it before when Landon Donovan was phased out of the U.S. squad and Dempsey was essentially handed the reigns of the attack, and this time Pulisic will be doing so with much more time to make an impact. The 18-year-old already has four international goals in 12 appearances, and if he improves on that goalscoring pace the U.S. will be enjoying his presence for many years to come.

At long last, Butland returns to full training with Stoke

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Stoke City’s long-coming goalkeeping dilemma will come to a head soon, as Jack Butland is back in training.

A year ago today, the Potters confirmed that star backstop Butland would miss EURO 2016 with a broken ankle. He’d need multiple surgeries as recovery dragged on and on.

[ MORE: Complete Panama-USMNT preview ]

That was more palatable thanks to the play of Lee Grant, who arrived on loan from Derby County but became a permanent Potter in January. Grant has been a key part of Stoke’s season.

Butland is contracted to Stoke through 2021, and he’ll ascend to the starting gig sooner rather than later. But Grant is in the catbird seat for now, and at least will have made himself attractive to other clubs seeking a keeper.

Report: Everton linked with $4 million swoop for Canada’s Larin

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The Sun only hits on a few of the many transfer rumors it tosses around, but this one bears a second look for fans of Everton, MLS, and Canada.

Everton is already eyeing replacements for Romelu Lukaku, according to the report, and is hunting for a bargain in Canadian national teamer Cyle Larin.

Larin, 21, was the first overall pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft by Orlando City SC after an electric career at UConn.

[ MORE: Complete Panama-USMNT preview ]

He’s since scored 35 goals in 63 matches for the Lions, picking up three in his first two matches of the 2017 season. The 6-foot-1 Ontario native has five goals for Canada in 19 caps.

The Sun says Larin would cost close to $4 million, a fraction of what the Toffees will get if they sell Lukaku.