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Players who need to make an impact for the U.S. on Wednesday (and there are a lot of them)

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If Steve Davis’s rundown of the U.S. Men’s National Team landscape is anything close to correct, most of the seats on this summers’ plane to Brazil have been locked up. You might disagree with a name here or there, but the 19 players he’s tabbed as being locks for World Cup 2014 are strong bets to get the call, with a handful of Mix Diskerud and Alejandro Bedoya types already making strong claims to spots 20-23.

With only Wednesday’s game and a short window in May to impress head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, the handful of players vying for those last few spots need to seize their opportunities. Eight of those men are in camp ahead of tomorrow’s kickoff against Ukraine:

Defense

John Brooks – Three central defenders are definitely going to Brazil: Matt Besler, Clarence Goodson, Omar Gonzalez. With Geoff Cameron and (potentially) Michael Parkhurst also able to play in the middle, Klinsmann may not need to pick a fourth true central defender. If he does, however, he can afford to give a young guy experience, meaning the door is open for Hertha Berlin’s Brooks to show he can fit in this summer.

Edgar Castillo – With Fabian Johnson and DaMarcus Beasley on the plane, there may not be room for another left-sided defender/midfielder. But given the positional flexibility Klinsmann has at forward and central defense, the U.S. can afford to triple-up at one or two positions. Castillo can still make his case that left back should be one of those positions.

(MORE: Losing time at Sunderland, Jozy Altidore needs to impress for U.S.)

Midfield

Alejandro Bedoya – Opinions on Bedoya’s play were highly polarized during the Gold Cup. Some saw him as a revelation. Others wanted to see more. Regardless, Bedoya provides a true winger on a team were few exist. That’s an advantage he can build on with a strong camp.

Sacha Kljestan – Kljestan’s been on the fringe of a regular place since Bob Bradley was the boss, but he’s never given that one, convincing performance that put him over the top. With Mix Diserkud missing this week’s camp, the Anderlecht regular will likely see big minutes against Ukraine.

Brek Shea – In terms of World Cup hopes, Shea’s move to Stoke has been a disastrous. Though his ability to play as a true winger gives him the same advantages afforded Bedoya, he’s fallen behind the Nantes man in the pecking order. If Shea’s going to Brazil, he needs a strong performance on Wednesday, one that will keep him in the conversation come May.

Danny Williams – The former Hoffenheim, current Reading pivot man has the skill to be a valuable backup in Brazil, but like the other players who’ve lost traction over the last two years, he needs to impress from here on out. With Kyle Beckerman already on the plane, there may not be another spot for a deep midfielder who will backup Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones.

(MORE: Fear not, U.S. Men’s National Team fans: Ukraine is on the ground in Cyprus)

Forwards

Juan Agudelo, Terrence Boyd – With Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan capable of augmenting Jozy Altidore, Aron Johannsson, and Eddie Johnson, forward is another position where versatility can make up for more traditional depth. It’s up to Boyd and Agudelo to show the options they provide outweigh the benefits an extra midfielder or defender.

In that sense, Agudelo and Boyd are probably competing for one spot, at most. What each provides, however, is totally different. If Agudelo makes it, it will be as somebody who can score and create goals. If Klinsmann goes with Boyd, goals will be a part of a package that’s also provides size and a solid work ethic – the type of guy you’d put on late to help preserve a one-goal lead.

As a fourth forward, Boyd is a better fit. That doesn’t mean Agudelo can’t beat him out.

Bonus

Geoff Cameron – He’s a lock to go, but he’s far from a lock to start. Fans see him as the top choice at right back, but he’s not there, yet. Cameron, however, can start to seize that spot tomorrow, where he’s likely to start at fullback. A key will be for how he combines down the flank with Klinsmann’s midfielders, helping promote a possession game.

If Cameron starts anywhere else (central defense, midfield), we’ll have another hint at how Klinsmann sees the versatile Potter fitting into his squad. We’ll also have a few more fans wonder what Cameron has to do to win that job.

FA Cup to trial using a fourth substitute this season

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 21:  Manchester United players celebrate victory with the trophy after The Emirates FA Cup Final match between Manchester United and Crystal Palace at Wembley Stadium on May 21, 2016 in London, England. Man Utd won 2-1 after extra time.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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A fourth substitute will be made available for FA Cup games which go into extra time in the quarterfinals, semifinals or final during the 2016-17 season.

The English FA announced the change on Wednesday with the new method used for the first time to try and see if it helps teams combat fatigue during extra time periods.

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Another change to the 2016-17 FA Cup is that there will be no replays in the quarterfinal stage, meaning the games will finish on the day with extra time and penalties to take place if required.

In a statement on the FA’s website the governing body of English soccer revealed the proposal is subject to IFAB approval but will be used to test the effectiveness of one extra sub.

[ MORE: EFL Trophy includes 10 PL teams ]

The format was used in the Copa America Centenario this summer and FA chief executive Martin Glenn is intrigued to see how it works.

“With The Cup now adopting a straight knockout format from the quarter finals onwards, the introduction of a fourth substitute in extra time will bring extra intrigue and interest. Also, from a technical point of view, it will be interesting to see how managers use the chance to make an additional substitution in such high-profile games and the impact it has on the final result.

“Player welfare and being mindful of the number of games people play at the elite level has also been a consideration.”

This may spice plenty of extra time periods which usually peter out and become a warm of attrition with both teams unwilling to take risks and clinging on for penalty kicks.

Having an extra sub may help spark added energy to proceedings but with both teams having a sub, they may just cancel each other out.

Anyways, kudos to the FA for trying something new.

Marko Arnautovic signs new contract at Stoke City

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 27:  Marko Arnautovic (C) of Stoke City celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Aston Villa at Britannia Stadium on February 27, 2016 in Stoke on Trent, England.  (Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images)
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The man bun will be sticking around at Stoke City.

Marko Arnautovic, 27, has signed a new four-year contract with the Potters with the team announcing the deal on Wednesday from Orlando, Florida.

[ MORE: Guardiola bans pizza ]  

The Austrian international forward was Stoke’s leading scorer in the Premier League last season with 11 goals and he came up clutch in several big wins over Manchester City and Chelsea.

Everton were rumored to be interested in Arnautovic with the layer having just one year left on his deal but he’s moved to end all of that speculation by signing a new contract.

Via his Instagram page, Arnautovic had the following message after signing a new deal.

“I am proud and thrilled to finally let you know that I am going to stay a Potter and will continue playing with my team and for my fantastic fans. I suppose some times it takes a bit longer to make the right decision and this one comes from my heart. My family and I could not be happier. Can’t wait for the season to begin!”

“Arnie” was seen as a difficult character in the past but he seems to be maturing with his work rate unquestioned for much of last season as he often battled hard up front on his own with little support away from home.

[ MORE: Real Madrid in for Pogba? ]

Alongside Bojan Krkic, Xherdan Shaqiri and Ibrahim Affelay he seemed to come into his own as a new-look Stoke recorded yet another impressive ninth-place finish in the Premier League.

With Mark Hughes signing Joe Allen and promising Egyptian attacker Ramadan Sobhi this summer, plus looking to seal a deal for Saido Berahino from West Brom, the Potters are looking strong going into the new campaign.

The news that Arnautovic has committed his future to the club means Stoke will now push on with their plans to try and recruit a central striker. The trio of Arnautovic, Bojan and Shaqiri behind a lone forward will bamboozle most defenses in the PL.

Hughes’ team will play Orlando City in two friendlies on Wednesday and later this week in Florida before facing Hamburg SV in Germany on Aug. 6 in their final preseason friendly before kicking off the new season at newly-promoted Middlesbrough on Aug. 13.

And, oh yeah, looks like that man bun is now blonde…

10 Premier League teams enter Football League trophy

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 15:  Sesc Fabregas (L) of Chelsea celebrates scoring his team's first goal with his team mates Gary Cahill (C) and Tammy Abraham (R) during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Leicester City at Stamford Bridge on May 15, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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10 Premier League teams have accepted an invitation to play in a revamped version of the Football League Trophy during the 2016-17 season.

Relaunched as the “EFL Trophy” the competition was previously only open to teams in League One and League Two, the second and third tiers in the English soccer pyramid, but in a one-off trial the Football League has included 16 Category A academy teams from both the Premier League and English Championship to participate.

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Chelsea, Leicester City, West Ham United, Everton, Southampton, Stoke City, Swansea City, Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion and Middlesbrough are the 10 PL teams who have decided to enter the competition.

A number of other Premier League clubs declined the invite and some purists in England are concerned that essentially “B teams” from the top two tiers will run away with the competition and easily win it. For example, PL side Southampton won the Football League Trophy in 2010 when they were in the third tier but now their U-21 side will be competing in the competition.

Shaun Harvey, chief executive of the Football League, explained the reason to mix things up as member clubs in the Football League voted in favor of the changes this summer.

“When opting to make these innovative changes to the competition, at the very heart of our thinking was to ensure younger players got an opportunity to test themselves in competitive games against experienced professionals. By involving them much earlier at senior level, we have a real chance of developing more and better home grown players.”

A regional group stage draw took place on Wednesday with eight groups in the south and eight in the north. Each team will play three games and the top two teams from each group will then compete in a knockout tournament with the final at Wembley Stadium in April.

The full schedule for the upcoming tournament can be found in the link below.


Zidane suggests Real Madrid in the hunt to sign Paul Pogba

Real Madrid's headcoach Zinedine Zidane follows a Champions League, round of 16, first-leg soccer match between Roma and Real Madrid, at the Rome Olympic stadium, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
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Zinedine Zidane is a mischievous so and so.

With Juventus sealing a $98.7 million move for Gonzalo Higuain on Tuesday, everybody is expecting the Italian champs to sell Paul Pogba to Manchester United in the next few days for a fee in excess of $130 million.

[ MORE: Guardiola bans pizza ]

Well, hold your horses. Real Madrid could be back in for Pogba.

Speaking to the media ahead of Real’s opening 2016 International Champions Cup game against Paris Saint-Germain in Columbus, Ohio on Wednesday, Zidane has

“I do not know if he’ll come. Until August 31 anything can happen,” Zidane said. “Pogba is a great player and when you’re with Madrid you always want the best. But today he is not a Madrid player, he is with Juventus. I cannot say anything else.”

Zinedine, my friend, quickly try and screw the lid back on that can of worms you’ve just opened.

[ MORE: How did Yedlin, CCV do for Spurs? ]

Pogba, 23, is currently on vacation in Florida with his agent Mino Raiola and it has been reported that his potential world-record transfer to Manchester United has hit a snag. Raiola is in line to make over $22 million on the deal but reports suggest Juve and United are at odds over who pays Pogba’s agent that fee.

All of that aside, do Real really need Pogba?

Yes, he’s a fine player but as we’ve already discussed at PST, is he really worth over $130 million? As his up and down form at EURO 2016 proved, he may still not be the complete player but his athletic ability combined with his deft touches and penchant for taking over games with his lung-bursting runs are his biggest assets. The lure of working with Zidane, a French national team legend, could be strong for Pogba and of course Zizou knows all about switching Juve for Real Madrid as he made the same move during his playing days for a then world record fee.

Zidane already has Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Casemiro and Mateo Kovacic in central midfield but maybe the reigning European champs will look to strengthen further by adding yet another glittering star to their ranks.

If Pogba does head to Real Madrid, then surely the Los Galacticos nickname will be back in full force.