Ukraine 2-0 USA: Disjointed U.S. display sees fired up Ukraine prevail

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The U.S. national team fell to Ukraine 2-0 in Cyprus on Wednesday, as goals in either half from Andriy Yarmolenko and Marko Devic inflicted defeat on Jurgen Klinsmann’s side.

Throughout the game the USA’s makeshift backline looked off the pace and Ukraine could have won by a more comfortable scoreline, with only Alejandro Bedoya and Jozy Altidore having half chances to score for the U.S. in a much brighter second half display.

In the first half Yarmaleko was found by Denys Garmash after a long ball over the top caught out U.S. central defenders John Brooks and Oguchi Onyewu as Ukraine took a 12th minute lead. Several other good chances fell the way of Ukraine, but it wasn’t until Devic’s strike in the 67th minute that the Eastern Europeans were out of sight. The U.S. did not look like dragging themselves back into the game, as Aron Johannsson’s volley was cleared off the line as the USMNT were easily shutout.

That said, it was only the USA’s third defeat in 19 games, as Klinsmann will have learned an awful lot from his squad as the build up to this summer’s World Cup continues.

(MORE: Three things we learned in USA’s defeat to Ukraine)

In an eerily silent Antonis Papadopoulos stadium in Cyprus, the U.S. started cautiously as Ukraine were fired up and ready to go.

And it took just 12 minutes for the “home” side to take the lead, as a defensive mix up saw Brooks play Ukraine midfielder Garmash onside and after his initial shot was saved, the ball fell to Yarmolenko to slot home easily and give Ukraine a 1-0 lead.

The U.S. backline looked shaky throughout a dominant first half from Ukraine, as time and time again dangerous balls saw the Eastern European side cause all kinds of problems for defenders Onyewu and Brooks.

In the 29th minute Yarmolenko got in behind Castillo at left back and surged towards the U.S. goal but took a little to long to settle himself before dragging his effort wide of Howard’s far post. Geoff Cameron was making some long runs from right back and delivered some inviting crosses in a timid first half from Klinsmann’s side. The only chance of real note for the U.S. came in the 40th minute as a corner was headed towards goal but Cameron couldn’t direct his effort on target.

(MORE: Emotional, poignant U.S. vs. Ukraine game reveals defiant Ukrainian spirit, as war looms)

After the interval the U.S. looked much better, as Kljestan clipped in a delightful ball that was knocked down to Bedoya at the back post and the Nantes midfielder rifled a volley towards goal which was heroically blocked by Ukraine. In the 50th minute Altidore then headed just over as a cross from the right saw the Sunderland man climb highest but failing to direct his effort on target.

That good start to the second half pepped up Klinsmann’s men as Bedoya fizzed an effort just wide and Clint Dempsey was thwarted by Ukraine ‘keeper Pyatov when clean through. Midway through the half Klinsmann made his first changes of the game, as Johannsson and Brek Shea came off the bench to try and add some extra attacking impetus as time was running out.

Just as the U.S. were beginning to dominate, another long ball over the top found substitute Devic who had his first effort brilliantly saved by Howard but the rebound was calmly tucked home to put Ukraine 2-0 ahead. Shea made some decent runs as he tried to get the U.S. back in the match after coming off the bench, but Yarmolenko almost scored his second and Ukraine’s third of the match with a cheeky lob from distance that Howard stumbled and then palmed clear. That chance came after another mishap from young U.S. defender Brooks as the German-American didn’t have a stellar outing.

The remainder of the game saw Klinsmann throw in some of his squad players, but the U.S. didn’t create any chances as they lost to Ukraine in a valuable learning experience before the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

LINEUPS

United States: Howard; Cameron, Onyewu, Brooks, Castillo (Shea, 64); Jones (Williams, 81), Kljestan (Johannsson, 64); Bedoya (Boyd, 90), Dempsey, Johnson; Altidore (Agudelo, 86)

Ukraine: Pyatov; Khacheridi, Shevchuk, Kucher, Fedetskiy; Tymoshchuk, Yarmolenko (Morozyuk, 90), Rotan (Edmar, 78), Konoplyanka (Gusev, 66), Garmash (Bezus, 46); Zozulya (Devic, 64)

Goals: Yarmolenko (12′), Devic (67′)

Barkley ineligible to make Chelsea debut in FA Cup replay

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Ross Barkley was expected — and himself expected — to make his Chelsea debut on Wednesday, when the Blues host Championship side Norwich City in a third-round FA Cup replay at Stamford Bridge.

Alas, the 24-year-old English midfielder has been ruled ineligible due to a lesser-known and -applied rules surrounding transfers and player registration.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup | Wednesday preview ]

Barkley completed his move from Everton to Chelsea, for $20 million, on Jan. 5, the day before Chelsea and Norwich drew 0-0 at Carrow Road. In order to be eligible for Wednesday’s replay, Barkley is required to have completed his transfer prior to the noon cut-off the day prior to the original tie. While the time of official approval is unknown, Barkley’s move wasn’t announced by the club until after 5 p.m. in the UK.

As such, Chelsea will attempt to set up a behind-closed-doors friendly this week, in order to provide Barkley a bit of game action as he builds fitness and sharpness ahead of a potential debut against Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com). Barkley hasn’t seen a single minute of first-team action this season after suffering a serious hamstring injury in the summer.

FA Cup preview: Three more PL sides face 3rd-round replays

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Three more Premier League sides, including a top-four fighter, attempt to join a dozen of their top-flight contemporaries in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Wednesday…

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup ]

Chelsea and Swansea City host Championship opposition in the form of Norwich City and Wolverhampton Wanderers, respectively, while Bournemouth will make the 500-mile roundtrip to take on League One side Wigan Athletic.

The Blues, who now sit fourth in the PL after their disappointing 0-0 draw with Leicester City, could manage only a scoreless draw with the Canaries at Carrow Road earlier this month. They are winless in their last four games across all competitions — all draws — including their League Cup semifinal first-leg draw with Arsenal last week; the last three of those all finished without a single goal scored. Chelsea, who are tied with Liverpool with the fourth-most FA Cups in their history (7), lost out to Arsenal in last season’s final at Wembley Stadium.

Swansea are undoubtedly the side on highest Cupset alert, as Wolves are the runaway leaders and champions-elect in the Championship (10 points clear after 27 of 46 rounds played), thus able to devote more attention to the FA Cup than the typical second-division side. With the two sides separated by just a single place in the English footballing pyramid (Swansea, 20th in the PL; Wolves, 1st in the Championship), they appear destined to swap places by the end of May.

Meanwhile, Bournemouth’s punishment for conceding a pair of early goals to a side currently 32 places below them in the pyramid, is the long, midweek trip from the south coast to the DW Stadium in the northwest of England. It was the Premier Leaguers who needed a two second-half goals, including Steve Cook‘s 90th-minute equalizer, to draw level at home in the first meeting.

Tuesday’s FA Cup replay actionFULL ROUNDUP

Leicester City 2-0 Fleetwood Town
West Ham United 1-0 (AET) Shrewsbury Town
Mansfield Town 1-4 Cardiff City
Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 Carlisle United
Reading 3-0 Stevenage

Agent: 37-year-old Ronaldinho has retired

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SAO PAULO (AP) The brother and agent of 2005 Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldinho announced Tuesday that the former Brazil and Barcelona playmaker has retired from football.

Roberto Assis made the announcement to Brazilian media on behalf of the 37-year-old midfielder, who played his last professional match in 2015 for Brazil’s Fluminense.

“Ronnie’s professional career is over. He wants to be a football ambassador, do charity, and work with his friends in music from now on,” Assis told The Associated Press.

Assis hopes to schedule some farewell matches for Ronaldinho after the World Cup in Russia, which ends July 15. The initial plan is to play games in Brazil, Europe and Asia and to also get Brazil’s national team involved, Assis said.

Last July, Ronaldinho said on the sidelines of a friendly in Chechnya that was he was “too old” to return to action.

The Brazilian’s decorated career also includes one World Cup title (2002), one Champions League victory (2006) and two Spanish league titles with Barcelona, and two FIFA world player of the year awards (2004 and 2005).

Ronaldinho started his professional career at Gremio in southern Brazil in 1998. He left for Paris Saint-Germain in 2001 and was signed by Barcelona two seasons later.

At the Camp Nou, he was the engine of a team that took Barca back to the limelight. However, after a series of club trophies, Ronaldinho’s career took a downturn. He was often accused by Brazilian and Spanish media of lacking professionalism, despite his mentoring of a then youthful Lionel Messi.

In 2008, with Messi then leading Barcelona, Ronaldinho left for AC Milan. Despite being part of a team that won Serie A in 2011, he failed to reach his previous heights as a player.

When returning home became a real option, Ronaldinho frustrated Gremio’s efforts to re-sign him and joined Flamengo instead.

Disappointing performances in Rio de Janeiro took him to Atletico Mineiro, a club that then was more often fighting against relegation than for titles.

Yet a more mature Ronaldinho took Atletico to a different level.

In his last great run, Ronaldinho carried Atletico with his superb passes and dazzling dribbles to second place in the 2012 Brazilian Championship.

A year later, he was the key to his club lifting its first Copa Libertadores, South America’s most prestigious club trophy, but his hopes of playing at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil were dashed.

Ronaldinho left to play for Mexico’s Queretaro in 2014-15, but was mostly on the bench.

He played his last seven matches as a professional for Fluminense, though his performances were a far cry from his best days in Spain.

Now living in Rio, he has appeared in advertisements all over the world since leaving Fluminense.

USL granted 2018 2nd-division sanctioning by U.S. Soccer

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U.S. Soccer has officially granted the United Soccer League second-division sanctioning, behind first-division Major League Soccer, for the upcoming 2018 season, as well as first-division status for the National Women’s Soccer League.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan unveiled by Liga MX side Club Leon ]

USL, which will feature 33 teams in 2018, had been granted temporary second-division sanctioning, alongside the North American Soccer League, in 2017. As NASL’s demise continued and accelerated — the league will not begin play this spring, opting instead for a late-summer kickoff, after a number of its teams either folded or jumped ship to USL — USL, with the help of MLS, quickly pounced to capitalize — from U.S. Soccer’s statement:

Sanctioning allows NWSL and USL to operate a Division I and II league, respectively, during the 2018 season and includes a two-year pathway to full compliance with the Professional League Standards. USL has demonstrated substantial progress toward reaching full compliance since being granted provisional Division II sanctioning in 2017.

Conspiracy theorist’s take: USL supplanted NASL as the U.S.’s second-most viable professional men’s league — and more importantly, being granted official second-division status — paves the way for MLS to, at some point well down the line — say, 2030 or so — implement its own multi-tiered system of promotion and relegation, featuring anywhere between 60 and 80 teams, while still remaining a single-entity structure closed to the lower reaches of the sport in America, as the lines separating MLS and USL have only become more and more blurred in recent years.

[ MORE: Donovan ready to “win championships” after ending retirement ]

MLS realizes that public demand for promotion and relegation in the U.S. has grown significantly louder in recent years — particularly given the climate of the sport after the men’s national team failed to qualify for the World Cup, and subsequent ongoing presidential-election campaign — thus an open-but-not-really-open system which satisfies neither side will eventually be the end result.