Preview: Five areas of focus for the United States against Ukraine

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From a distance, Ukraine looks like a solid opponent for a Europe-based United States roster to face their final call up before the pre-World Cup camp in May. Then you see that most of Ukraine’s players haven’t played in two months — that unrest at home is casting this game in a different, diminished perspective for Mykhaylo Fomenko’s team — and the match takes on a whole different meeting. If anything, the 90 minutes the U.S. will play Wednesday at Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium will be less important that the training that led up to it – nothing more than a confirmation of what Jurgen Klinsmann and his staff observed in the two days before kickoff in Larnaca, Cyprus.

For those of us excluded from those sessions (read: most of the world), we’re left reading the tea leaves from a 90-minute steep that starts at 2:00 p.m. Wednesday. Amid those patterns, here’s where we should look for answers from Wednesday’s performance.

1. Geoff Cameron’s chance to lay claim to the right back spot

Do you see the assumption we’ve cooking into the question? Yes, the Stoke City right back is likely to get the call at that position against Ukraine, but he’s also capable of playing central midfield or center back. If Cameron were to start at one of his more preferred positions, it wouldn’t even crack our Top 10 Most Surprising Things Jurgen Klinsmann’s Done list (please see our upcoming slideshow).

But if Cameron does start in his expected spot, watch how he performs going forward. Part of the reason Klinsmann chooses players like Brad Evans and DaMarcus Beasley at fullback may be their ability to read the game like natural midfielders – always putting themselves in positions to maintain those triangles needed to build play through the middle.

Cameron is the team’s best right back defensively. He also has no problem getting forward. He has the athleticism to do both. But can he read the game like Brad Evans or DaMarcus Beasley? That will define whether he can pass the Sounders’ midfielder on the right back depth chart.

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

source: Getty Images2. Is Jermaine Jones carrying any rust?

The Schalke loanee made his Besiktas debut on Friday against Antalyaspor, going 58 minutes in a 0-0 draw. Earning a start in his first appearance with Slaven Bilic’s team, Jones looks set to get the playing time he expected when he agreed to move to Turkey in January.

For the United States, that means he’ll have time to work himself into shape before the time the team assembles in May – something that renders Wednesday’s performance almost irrelevant. Even if jumped through Yevhan Konoplyanka’s knee and earned a red card in the first minute, he’d still be a first choice when the U.S. faces Ghana.

In the interim, watch how much rust the midfield ruffian has incurred during his two months on the sidelines. We’ll get a good idea of how far he has to go to be ready for Brazil.

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

3. Will “U.S. Jozy Altidore” transcend “Sunderland Jozy Altidore”?

We’ve seen Jozy Altidore work as hard as he can for Sunderland over the last six months, and it hasn’t been good enough. On Wednesday, Altidore needs to be more than willing. He needs to be effective. If not, questions about his suitability for a place in Klinsmann’s starting XI will persist through May, with Altidore potentially having little chance to regain his confidence this spring with the Black Cats.

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

4. Wanted: Clint Dempsey of 2012.

He started for Fulham in this weekend and gave one of the best performances of his two-month loan, but as one of the keys to the U.S.’s hopes of getting out of a tough World Cup group, 2014 Clint Dempsey needs to rediscover his 2012 form. That doesn’t mean scoring goals once every two games, but it does mean presenting that threat.

source:  On Wednesday, Dempsey has a chance to show more familiar surroundings can lead to more typical results.

5. Midfield spots up for grabs

A lot of names in defense and attack seem locked in three months ahead of Brazil. In midfield, however, few beyond the possible starters have more than one foot on the plane.

We know Jones and Michael Bradley are going, as are Graham Zusi and Kyle Beckerman. If Landon Donovan doesn’t go, at this point, something’s gone seriously wrong. For what’s likely to be four spots across the middle of the field, we’ve got five names who can plan their family’s trips to Brazil.

Others like Mix Diskerud seem close, but on Wednesday, the fight for those other three or four spots will be in focus. Alejandro Bedoya will try to build  on a strong Gold Cup. Brek Shea hopes to be that change of pace on the left. Sacha Kljestan tries to take advantage of the absence of Diskerud, while Danny Williams attempts to put himself back in the World Cup picture.

It’s the one place in the team were spots are still up for grabs, and while those spots are likely on the bench for the games that count, Wednesday will allow the likes of Bedoya, Shea, Kljestan and Williams to increase their stock. It’s their last chance before the U.S.’s Europe-based players see Klinsmann again in May.

Pulisic: Dortmund can win the league

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Christian Pulisic isn’t short on confidence these days.

The rising star for the U.S. Men’s National Team is currently in preseason training with Borussia Dortmund, and he believes his side can push Bayern Munich for the title. Bayern has won five-straight league titles, but the last team other than Munich to win was Dortmund itself in 2012.

“We’ve got a big chance to win the league this coming season,” Pulisic said, via German publication Kicker.

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Pulisic has been firing on all cylinders so far in preseason. During Dortmund’s tour of China, Pulisic had three assists in a 3-1 win over AC Milan, and he also started and went the full 90 against Bochum on July 22 back in Germany.

The 18-year-old is coming off a breakout season for the Black and Yellows, scoring five goals with 13 assists over 43 games between the Bundesliga, German Cup and UEFA Champions League.

“Last season was a good step in my development,” Pulisic said, noting he wants to be “more dangerous” in the attack. “I want to build on that.”

Of course, Pulisic followed the U.S. Men’s National Team at the Gold Cup, taking the title for the sixth time. In less than a year’s time, Pulisic will likely be on the field, starting for the U.S. at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, with the hopes and dreams of many Americans on his shoulders.

“(It was) a good victory,” Pulisic said of the final.

Transfer Rumor Wrap: Bale’s agent laughs off speculation

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It appears Gareth Bale has no plans of following Alvaro Morata and James Rodriguez out of Real Madrid this summer.

“It’s a ridiculous, stupid story,” Bale’s agent Jonathan Barnett told the BBC, following reports that Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane wouldn’t promise Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo that they’d staying with the club this summer.

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Of course, these prompted counter reports that Manchester United could take advantage of possible instability at the Santiago Bernabeu and swoop in for Bale, but it seems that Bale is not for sale.

Bale played just 27 times for Real Madrid last season in all competitions, scoring nine goals with three assists while dealing with multiple injuries. His entire career at Real Madrid in fact has been plagued by injury, but ahead of a World Cup year with Wales still in contention for a spot in Russia, Bale will be extra motivated to stay fit this season.

Here’s some more transfer rumors from around the world:

(more…)

Neymar storms off after training dustup with teammate

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Neymar just won’t stay out of the headlines.

As his long-rumored “will he, won’t he go” transfer saga between Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona continues, Neymar stormed out of training on Thursday after getting into a tussle with teammate Nelson Semedo.

A video from the Daily Mail shows Neymar pushing Semedo before walking off and removing his training bib.

Neymar has reportedly agreed to personal terms with PSG over a move to France, but PSG have yet to come up with the nearly $260 million it would cost to trigger Neymar’s release clause. The news of Neymar possibly leaving Barcelona came as a shock, as he’s been content since joining the club to play slightly in the shadow of teammates Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.

If this fight is any indication, Neymar’s head could be turned and should PSG trigger the release clause, Neymar could be heading to Paris once Barcelona returns this weekend from its American sojourn.

In spite of all the transfer speculation, Neymar has dazzled for Barcelona on its tour of the U.S., scoring three goals in two games and delighting the thousands in attendance.

Australian women beat US 1-0 in Tournament of Nations

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SEATTLE (AP) Tameka Butt scored in the 67th minute and Australia beat the United States for the first time in the 28-game series, 1-0 in the Tournament of Nations on Thursday night.

The Matildas also snapped the Americans’ four-game winning streak.

Just moments after Butt’s goal got past goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, Carli Lloyd blasted a cross from Megan Rapinoe at Australia goalkeeper Lydia Williams, who made a fantastic save. Lloyd had another chance that sailed just over the net.

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Japan and Brazil played to a 1-1 draw in the tournament’s opening game in the afternoon at CenturyLink Field.

Each of the four teams in the tournament is in the top 10 of the FIFA rankings. The top-ranked United States went into the game with a 25-0-2 record over the seventh-ranked Matildas.

Rapinoe, who plays for the NWSL’s Seattle Reign, had a good chance early on in the game but the Americans were unable to break through. Rapinoe has 12 goals to lead the NWSL in scoring this season.

The Matildas have been on the rise of the past several years, with quarterfinal appearances in both the 2015 World Cup and the Olympics last year.

Following the stop in Seattle, the tournament shifts to San Diego on Sunday before wrapping up in Carson, California, on Aug. 3.

U.S. Soccer is looking to host a Tournament of Nations each summer that there isn’t World Cup or Olympic competition.