Stacked and packed days for a busy United States national team in Brazil

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Jurgen Klinsmann and his U.S. national team keep squeezing and squeezing, attempting to extract as much as possible from this ongoing Brazilian leg of the annual January camp, holding workouts and training matches in South America for a few more days before returning stateside.

This Sao Paulo-based stretch of the U.S. team’s annual January camp is about two things: getting in the effective workouts, same as they would back in California during any other January camp, and; doing as much to acclimate and familiarize themselves with Brazil, removing some mystery and looking for potential snags at the site of this summer’s World Cup.

No other team has this opportunity, after all, to bring about half the men that will make up this year’s World Cup roster – a full complement of 26 American players are in Brazil, but only about a dozen will make the final 23-man list for this summer in Brazil – to train and stay where they will train and stay this summer.

It’s about removing any hardship borne of the known unknown and the  unknown unknowns for players, coaches and staff. And it is about building relationships with support staff and potential allies at hotels, training grounds, the U.S. Embassy, etc.

How much this familiarization efforts will really help can be debated; at some point, soccer matters are decided by 11 v. 11 on the field. Then again, it can’t hurt, right? It’s a World Cup, after all, and dotting “Is” and crossing “Ts” certainly seems like the prudent and thorough approach.

So the busy days continue. To help keep fans informed, U.S. Soccer has been sending back diaries, like this one on the first “double-day” session from Brazil.

The team has had one closed door training game, a 2-1 loss to national power Sao Paulo.  Details are sketchy, although some intrepid journalists did manage to stow away with the details you see in that piece (linked just above.)

Journalists weren’t as lucky the following day, when U.S. security staff nailed them trying to film some of the workout. Apparently the team’s security staff is slowly plugging the leaks, getting acclimated to the weak spots, too.

The U.S. players visited the Estadio Das Dunas in Natal (pictured above), site of the team’s group opener against Ghana. (Remember, getting out of this tough World Cup group is all about winning that first one over Ghana.) I spoke to U.S. national team communications director Michael Kammarman in Brazil this afternoon; he reported that players and staff thought the building looks fantastic.

Meanwhile, Klinsmann and some other staff members did more complete site inspections today at Natal and at the stadium in Recife.

Assistant coaches Martin Vasquez and Andreas Herzog ran the U.S. workouts on the field while the big boss was site inspecting. Masa Sakihana, the team’s fitness coach, had the players for a gym session later in the day.

See what I mean … the days are stacked and packed.

The team has yet another training game Monday. Details will be scarce once again. Why?

U.S. Soccer typically resists providing details on these closed-door matches because they are so informal that only incorrect or wholly imprecise conclusions can be drawn. That’s the theory, at least.

In last Thursday’s training match – which we might call a “scrimmage” in our parts … but since  the world wouldn’t know anything about that American football term, we’ll call it what the rest of the globe calls it – 24 out of 26 U.S. players got on the field. The outside backs played 30 minutes each, in no particular order, so there’s not much to infer from that.

It’s more “glorified practice” than “match.” At least, that’s what I’ve been told before by U.S. staff.

Who are the favorites to take over at Arsenal?

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With Arsene Wenger announcing he will leave Arsenal at the end of the current season, the immediate focus switches to who will take charge of the Gunners beyond this season after almost 22 years of Wenger.

The bookmakers are having a field day slashing the odds of several managers previously linked with the job with nobody really knowing what direction Arsenal’s board will go with their next appointment.

Will they appoint an experienced manager? Or will it be a young coach with a fresh outlook a la Wenger back in 1996?

Here’s a look at the main contenders, according to Oddschecker.


Patrick Vieira (4/1) – Wenger spoke on Thursday about how Vieira has the potential to manage Arsenal but did mention now may be too early. The NYCFC manager has done a fine job in MLS but will Arsenal really hand the reins to their former captain and midfield general? Vieira’s appointment would be welcomed by fans who idolized him but maybe he is the man who should follow the man who replaces Wenger. That said, he is the early favorite to take charge of Arsenal.

Thomas Tuchel (5/1) – Out of work for 12 months, it was heavily reported that Tuchel had agreed to take charge of Arsenal a few months ago. The German coach did well at Borussia Dortmund as they won the German Cup and got the latter stages of the Champions League and he is known for giving youngsters a chance to shine. This would make a lot of sense given Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, his former players at Dortmund, arriving at Arsenal in January and the likes of Mesut Ozil around.

Joachim Loew (7/1) – Although the German national team manager has a contract through the 2020 European Championships, later this summer, after the 2018 World Cup, could be the time when Loew steps down from the German national team. He has built a World Cup-winning squad and may feel like he has done everything he can with Die Mannschaft. Loew hasn’t had experience of coaching a club on a day-to-day basis and that may be something which will concern Arsenal’s board.

Brendan Rodgers (7/1) – The odds have been slashed on Celtic’s manager taking charge of Arsenal. The former Liverpool manager (who came so close to winning the Premier League title in 2013/14) has certainly rebuilt his reputation at Celtic and we all know that Rodgers loves to play an attacking style. That fits in seamlessly with what Wenger has built at Arsenal, but would Rodgers’ appointment excite the Arsenal fans? Probably not. Also, with Rodgers known for his teams struggling defensively, there’s a sense that he will just be another Wenger and little progress will be made.

Massimiliano Allegri (10/1) – The Juventus manager is being linked with Chelsea and Arsenal this summer and it is easy to understand why. Allegri has led Juve to three-straight Italian doubles with a solid defensive approach, something Arsenal need more emphasis on if they’re going to make it back to the top four. Allegri has also reached the UEFA Champions League final in two of the three seasons. Seems like it would be a good appointment to improve Arsenal’s defensive unit and play.

Carlo Ancelotti (10/1) – The veteran Italian manager has won everything and he has won it everywhere but he usually takes over established teams with stars delivering. That’s not the case at Arsenal right now. Ancelotti has delivered success at AC Milan, PSG, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, but he will have to be trusted with a lot of cash to rebuild this Arsenal squad. The former Chelsea manager certainly knows the Premier League well after winning the title and the FA Cup in 2010, so there are no problems there.

Arsene Wenger to leave Arsenal

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After almost 22 years in charge, Arsene Wenger has called time on his Arsenal reign.

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Wenger, 68, announced on Friday that he will be leaving the Gunners at the end of the current 2017/18 campaign despite having one year remaining on his contract.

Here is the statement from Wenger in full which was posted on Arsenal’s website with the heading “Merci Arsene” taking center stage.

“After careful consideration and following discussions with the club, I feel it is the right time for me to step down at the end of the season,” Wenger said. “I am grateful for having had the privilege to serve the club for so many memorable years. I managed the club with full commitment and integrity. I want to thank the staff, the players, the Directors and the fans who make this club so special. I urge our fans to stand behind the team to finish on a high. To all the Arsenal lovers take care of the values of the club. My love and support for ever.”

The Frenchman is a man who revolutionized the Premier League when he arrived in 1996 and he will be remembered as a bastion of attractive, possession based soccer as his Arsenal team of the 2003/04 season, dubbed the “Invincibles,” will always be remembered for going through an entire PL season unbeaten en route to winning the title.

Wenger has won three Premier League titles, seven FA Cups and seven community shield trophies during his time in charge of Arsenal, as well as leading them to 20-straight seasons finishing in the top four of the Premier League and qualifying for the UEFA Champions League.

That run ended last season as they finished in fifth and in the past few seasons there have been fan protests with “Wenger Out” or “Wenger In” dividing the fanbase.

However, Wenger’s tenure can end on a high in the Europa League as Arsenal face Atletico Madrid in the semifinals and he is essentially three wins away from returning Arsenal to the Champions League.

Wenger has so far managed Arsenal for 1,228 games with 704 wins in all competitions. His final game in charge will be the Europa League final in Lyon, if Arsenal get there. But his final Premier League game in charge of Arsenal will be away at Huddersfield Town on May 13.

The focus will now switch to who will take over from Wenger this summer with the likes of Diego Simeone, Carlo Ancelotti, Brendan Rodgers and Thomas Tuchel all linked with the job.

But in the more immediate future the final few weeks of the 2017/18 campaign in England will turn into an appreciation of Wenger and all he has achieved over the last two decades in charge of Arsenal.

France veteran Malouda loses appeal in Gold Cup case

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) Former France winger Florent Malouda has lost his appeal against being ruled ineligible to play for French Guiana at the 2017 Gold Cup.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport says its judges dismissed Malouda’s appeal against North American soccer body CONCACAF.

French Guiana fielded Malouda in a 0-0 draw against Honduras last July despite being told he was not eligible. CONCACAF awarded a 3-0 win to Honduras and suspended Malouda.

The Gold Cup uses FIFA eligibility rules which bar players from transferring allegiance after playing a competitive game for one country.

Malouda played 80 times for France including a 2006 World Cup final loss against Italy.

The French Guiana soccer federation hoped Malouda, now aged 37, could play in the Gold Cup because it is not a FIFA member.

Report: Bobby Wood unlikely to come to MLS this summer

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A U.S. Men’s National Team forward will probably have to wait a bit longer to come to Major League Soccer if that is the path that he chooses.

Reports have recently surfaced linking Bobby Wood to MLS at the conclusion of the Bundesliga season, however, MLSSoccer.com is reporting that a move for the American likely won’t come in 2018.

Wood, who remains under contract for three more seasons at Hamburg, is currently fighting relegation in Germany with his club side.

Hamburg currently sits 17th in the German top flight, eight points buried in the relegation zone with four matches remaining.

The MLSSoccer.com report suggests that MLS clubs aren’t willing to compensate Wood at the current rate of his contract in Germany.

Currently, Wood is making “several million dollars” per season, and even if Hamburg is relegated in 2017/18 Wood’s contract wouldn’t decrease to a number that clubs are comfortable paying.

If Wood was to join MLS, he would be considered a Discovery signing as he is not currently on the MLS player allocation list. The Washington Post previously reported that an MLS club has Wood included on their Discovery list, although the team’s identity isn’t known.