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Ukraine vs. United States: Grading the players who needed to impress

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On Tuesday night, we went through the list of U.S. Men’s National Team players who needed to impress against Ukraine in order to improve their World Cup stocks. They weren’t Clint Dempsey or Jozy Alitdore types – slumping players who, despite their club troubles, are destined to be with the team when it lands in Brazil. They were players who could have used Wednesday’s game to make their case to Jurgen Klinsmann, whether that case is to be on the 30-man provisional roster U.S. Soccer will name mid-May or the 23-man final team that will dress when the U.S. kicks off its Brazil 2014 against Ghana.

During a 2-0 loss in Larnaca, Cyprus, most of those World Cup aspirants failed to improve their positions. In some cases, players may have opened  doors for others to claim their spots, be those places on the list for May’s camp or seats on the charter that will take off for Brazil.

We highlighted eight cases yesterday. Here’s how they graded out. Obviously, we’re not grading on a curve:

Defense

John Brooks – The 21-year-old Hertha Berlin defender likely has a long international career ahead of him, and in that sense, Wednesday may be eventually been seen as a low point. Whereas Brooks had a chance to play himself into a spot in Brazil (particularly with players like Geoff Cameron and, potentially, Michael Parkhurst able to backup Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, and Clarence Goodson), his performance against Ukraine made it hard to justify the spot. He was badly, inexplicably out of position on the game’s opening goal. Grade: D.

Edgar Castillo – Castillo regularly draw negative reviews form onlookers for his performance in defense, but that’s part of Castillo’s game. The determining factor is whether he balances those deficiencies with influence going forward. On Wednesday, that influence was rarely seen, part of the reason why he was among the second  half’s first subs. Grade: D+.

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

source: Getty ImagesMidfielders

Alejandro Bedoya – With the U.S. rarely able to get anything going in attack (particularly in the first half), Bedoya and Fabian Johnson were  forgotten men, with their team unable to get enough of a hold on the midfield to make use of its wingers. Bedoya, who was a favorite to be in the final 23-man squad before Wednesday’s match, didn’t hurt his stock. Given the nature of the game, though, he also wasn’t given many chances to improve it. Grade: C+.

Sacha Kljestan – The Anderlecht midfielder was the main culprit in the team’s midfield problems. We discussed it in an earlier post, but you can’t have a player give the ball, go, and never get back in position to receive a pass (especially in a two-man midfield). In the second half, Kljestan was pulled off, with Clint Dempsey pulled back into the space he was forced to occupy anyway. Grade: D.

Brek Shea – Shea got limited minutes off the bench – a spell that determines how he should be judged. What you’re really looking for in that role is somebody who can come off the bench, provide a different (in Shea’s case, more direct) look, and give you another option to threaten the defense. Shea’s execution came up short on Wednesday, but we saw what he’s capable of doing. He may be another look in May. Grade: C+.

Danny Williams – That he only got 10 minutes speaks to the impression he made in camp, but once he came on in Cyprus, Williams provided a spark. At one point, the Reading man surged toward the penalty area in a way you couldn’t imagine from Wednesday’s Jermaine Jones. While that moment is unlikely to overshadow what Jurgen Klinsmann saw throughout the camp, it was enough to remind viewers of the player that used to be a regular call up. Grade: C.

(MORE: Ukraine vs. United States: Looking back on our five focal points)

Forwards

Juan Agudelo – Like Williams, the lack of time was telling. The new Utrecht (by way of Stoke) attacker only received a few minutes at the end of the match, hinting he hadn’t made enough progress in training to justify significant minutes. With Chris Wondolowski and Mike Magee impressing  in January camp, Agudelo’s chances of making the World Cup squad seem thin, at this time. Grade: C.

Terrence Boyd – Dressed, but did not play. His grade may be incomplete (because he didn’t hurt himself during the game), but having failed to win playing time this week, Boyd now looks a longer shot to be on the plane to Brazil. Grade: Inc.

Bonus

Geoff Cameron – Cameron’s spot on our list wasn’t about making the World Cup squad (he’s definitely going to Brazil). It was about winning the job at right back. On Wednesday, he treaded water. The defense was so bad that you don’t want to judge Cameron too harshly, but on a couple of occasions, he was a part of the chaos. Brad Evans should feel slightly better about his chances of starting game one in Brazil. Grade: C.

Arsenal’s majority shareholder, Stan Kroenke, buys $725 million Texas ranch

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Well, Arsenal fans, you know that big splash in the transfer market you were hoping for? Umm, this is awkward.

[ MORE: Leicester fan set for huge bet win ]

Okay so maybe the majority shareholder of the Gunners, American billionaire Stan Kronke, isn’t directly responsible for pumping Arsene Wenger‘s transfer war chest full of money but imagine if he’d offered to give Arsenal $725 million rather than buying this incredible ranch in Texas?

[ VIDEO: Ferrell – “I got Mourinho fired”

Kroenke sealed the deal for the legendary Waggoner Ranch in Texas — the largest ranch within one fence-line — and he now owns over 865,000 acres of land which easily placed him among the top 10 largest landowners in the USA.

That land also equates to three times the size of the City of Los Angeles which is the city, coincidentally, that Kroenke has just moved his Rams NFL franchise to from St. Louis.

SO, what do you get for $725 million at the Waggoner Ranch? 14,000 cows, 500 horses and 1,100 producing oil wells to start with. It also lies in six counties, has 30 cowboys on the property and 120 employees overall.

[ MORE: Report – Mourinho tells friend he will take over at United

What would you get in the soccer world for $725 million? Well, Wenger could probably sign Lionel Messi, Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo plus pay their wages and still have some cash left over.

Don’t get carried away though, Arsenal’s sustainable business model has seen them rise up the rankings in Forbes’ rich list and there will be no haphazard spending anytime soon. Much to the annoyance of every super-ambitious Arsenal fan out there.

That includes you, Piers Morgan…

Here’s a few pictures of what Kroenke has just bought. Preseason tour to Texas for a but of lassoing with Alexis Sanchez, Mr. Wenger?

Solo: USWNT finding new identity ahead of Olympic qualifying opener

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With the U.S. women’s national team set to kick off their CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament on Wednesday (Watch live, 8:30 p.m. ET online via Live Extra) against Costa Rica in Frisco, Texas, goalkeeper Hope Solo knows the reigning World Cup and Olympic champs will have to reinvent themselves.

She’s been here before.

[ STREAM: Olympic qualifying live ]

Following the retirement of several key players — Abby Wambach, Shannon Boxx, Lauren Holiday and Lori Chalupny among them — after their 2015 World Cup win in Canada, Jill Ellis’ team has been trying to create a new identity over the past few months.

It’s something that’s easy to say but a lot tougher to do.

“It’s really interesting. I’ve been on this team for quite some time and I’ve heard many times ‘let’s create a new identity. We have to find our own identity, this team moving forward,” Solo said. “It’s something I’ve heard quite a bit but it’s never easy to do. We’ve lost some big name players, a lot of players have retired. We have young players coming in and the Olympics are right around the corner. We have to find a way to play to the best of our ability with some older players, brand new players and everybody in-between. It’s not easy but it is not foreign to us.”

Despite all the upheaval the USWNT are still the favorites to win their fourth Olympic gold on the spin at Rio 2016 this summer.

Placed in Group A for CONCACAF qualifying for the 2016 Olympics — the top two teams from the eight-team tournament advance — alongside Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and Mexico, the U.S. should breeze into the knockout rounds where they will likely face old foes Canada in the final.

Remember, over the next 11 days you can stream all 15 games live online via NBC Sports Live Extra with up to four games also shown on NBCSN.

Here’s the full schedule as Solo and Co. aim to seal their spot in the 2016 Olympics with minimum fuss.

Leicester fan will win $50,000 from $10 bet if Foxes win Premier League

Leicester’s Jamie Vardy celebrates after scoring against Manchester United, his eleventh consecutive goal in the Premier League, during the English Premier League soccer match between Leicester City and Manchester United at the King Power Stadium, Leicester, England, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015. Vardy becomes the first man to score in 11 consecutive English Premier League soccer matches after finding the back of the net against Manchester United today.(AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
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As their odds of winning the Premier League title continue to be slashed, tales of Leicester City fans set to win an incredible amount of cash continue.

The latest story is a beauty.

[ VIDEO: Ferrell – “I got Mourinho fired” ]

On the eve of the 2015-16 Premier League season one Leicester City fan, Chloe Cope, decided to put $10 on her side to win the title. The odds were 5,000 -1. So, with the Foxes five points clear at the top of the table with just 13 games to go, the first league title in Leicester’s 132 year history would not only bring unbeliavable amounts of jubilation to the East Midlands city but also plenty of cash for its fans. $50,000 for this Miss Cope, in fact.

The story gets even better. Check this out.

[ MORE: Report – Mourinho tells friend he will take over at United

Miss Cope’s flutter on her beloved Foxes was actually her first-ever bet. She opened up an online betting account last summer in the UK with Sky Bet and was rewarded a free $30 bet which she used to make a bet that Leicester would finish in the top six this season. That’s virtually assured so she will win another $637.

The two bets she made back on August 7 2015 are shown in the Tweet below via Jacqui Oatley.

A few other Leicester fans are also in line to win plenty of cash, but this one seems to have the most riding on it.

Will big changes in Europe threaten UEFA Champions League’s future?

FC Barcelona, 2014-15 UEFA Champions League winners
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With talk of the UEFA Champions League being threatened by a “super league” of some sort, that notion has been undermined by some of Europe’s top teams.

For now.

[ MORE: What is USMNT’s best XI?

On Wednesday in Paris the European Clubs’ Association (ECA) met at its 16th annual congress and confirmed it will seek to change the way the UEFA Champions League and Europa League is run when the current term of agreement cycle expires at the end of the 2017-18 season.

With over 200 member clubs the ECA represents many of the biggest teams on the planet with Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Juventus, Bayern Munich and Chelsea all included.

In the past there has been a growing notion for a European “super league” to replace the Champions League and that perennial European giants should not have to rely on qualifying for Europe via their domestic competitions.

That is one of the factors currently being discussed by the ECA, as they released the following statement after the congress in France this week.

“In light of the upcoming 2018-21 UEFA Club Competition Cycle, the clubs are currently discussing the future of UEFA’s main club competitions, namely the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League. As in the past, the clubs are in constant dialogue with UEFA to further develop and improve both competitions. All ECA Member Clubs have gathered in informal working groups to exchange initial thoughts and ideas.”

[ MORE: Reports claim Mourinho to United is “done deal”

The current ECA chairman and chairman of Bayern Munich, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, also spoke about the need to revamp both club competitions.

“I believe both ECA and UEFA are interested in an evolution of the competitions. Stagnation means regression,” Rummenigge said. “We have always jointly looked into ways to further develop and improve the competitions. It is important to find a good and balanced solution for everyone involved.”

So, overall, it seems that for now both ECA and UEFA is willing to work together to improve the current format of the UCL rather than go their separate ways and the ECA member clubs beginning their own competition, as had been mooted by Rummenigge and other high-ranking officials in the past.

What changes could be discussed for the 2018-21 UEFA Club Competition Cycle?

For me, it seems like it would be a good idea to somehow reduce the number of UCL teams who enter the group stage. That would help it preserve its elite status and potential shave two matchdays off the schedule to lessen the pressure on teams. Currently 32 teams qualify in eight groups of four teams and a total of 78 teams from across UEFA’s 54 member nations qualify for the UCL each season. 46 fall by the wayside in the qualifying rounds and many of those teams are too small to ever dream about getting anywhere near the group stages.

[ PHOTOS: New PL logo released

Perhaps just having one playoff round to make the UCL and limiting the number of spots for nations with lower UEFA coefficients is the way to go. That way those nations would back their teams competing in the Europa League and that competition will gain more prestige as a direct correlation between teams performing well in the Europa League will lead to certain nations being granted places in the UEFA Champions League. That’s the case now, but adding extra emphasis to the Europa League should be a big part of the next cycle.

The biggest situation the ECA seem to want to sort out here is how some of Europe’s biggest teams did not qualify for the UCL. The overriding notion seems to be that the ECA wants them to qualify each year. Even though the likes of past UCL winners Liverpool, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Borussia Dortmund weren’t involved in Europe’s elite competition this season, did the tournament really suffer because of it? In terms of gate revenue, perhaps, but it seems that the ECA is conflicted about the best way to get as many of its member teams involved in the elite competition as possible.

Another idea I’m just throwing out there could be to hand teams a spot in the UCL based on their current coefficient which takes into account their previous performances in UEFA Club Competitions. Perhaps four spots per season could be reserved for teams who don’t qualify for the UCL domestically, but have the highest coefficient of the non qualifiers. Just a thought.

There’s clearly plenty to sort out but it seems like — for now, at least — we haven’t seen the end of the UEFA Champions League. But tweaks will need to be made to stop it regressing.